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Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): My right hon. Friend referred in his statement to the removal of failed asylum seekers. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) referred in his question to the fact that there was already legislation on the statute book to deal with such cases. Why did my right hon. Friend, in responding to the hon. Gentleman, fail to refer to the case of the failed asylum seeker in Manchester who stood in the council elections as a Liberal Democrat candidate and was elected? He returned to the country from which he claimed he had been seeking asylum to attend a wedding, and remains in this country now only because he benefited from an amnesty granted by my right hon. Friend's predecessor.
My right hon. Friend was the first Member of Parliament to visit me on the day I was appointed Home Secretary. He took me to his constituency officejust off the Lobbyto show me the filing cabinets full of constituents' cases that had not been properly dealt with by the system that was in place at the time, and about which he had made representations. He said to me, "You've got to get this sorted out", or words to that effect. He was right. The point that he made was that the problem went back over a long period, well into the term of the previous Conservative Administration. That is what we are trying to put right, and I am determined to achieve that.
Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): Last week, I asked the Home Secretary whether the people who had committed serious sexual offences were put on the sex offenders register before they were released, as that was vital for maintaining confidence that the register could help our local police forces. His reply was:
"I assure the hon. Lady that precisely the same procedures on the sex offenders register applied to the foreign nationals whom she has described as apply to anybody who commits a sex offence." [Official Report, 26 April 2006; Vol. 445, c. 588.]
If that is the case, how come senior police officers have said recently in the national press that there are serious offenders, including sex offenders, of whom they have
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no details whatever? Will the Secretary of State fill me in on whether he feels his statement last week reflected the true situation?
Mr. Clarke: I am not sure to which statement the hon. Lady is referring, but I do not believe that those views are right. The police have been intimately involved in this approach through their national command centre in Portsmouth, and they have dealt with a large number of issues through the police national computer. I do not think that the specific remarks that the hon. Lady reports are correct, but perhaps she could drop me a note with their particulars, and I will answer them in detail.
Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): Sharon Beshenivsky lived at Hainworth, in my constituency, until her murder. My colleagues from Bradford and I attended her funeral at Bradford cathedral. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the most precious of human rights is the right to life itself? I welcome his comments, and I am impressed that we seem to be moving in the right direction. The Prime Minister also commented just now on overhauling the system and changing the rules. If we are, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) mentioned, to have a presumption in favour of deportation, would Mustaf Jamathe prime suspect in Sharon's murderbe capable of being deported if he were to come before the people who discuss deportations? Given the changes that are to be introduced, would he now be capable of being deported? Will my right hon. Friend also comment on the letter that the Leader of the Opposition waved at us earlier when he was talking about prisoners switching to become asylum seekers before they were deported? I had understood that we had put an absolute stop to that switching.
Mr. Clarke: I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for taking up the case of her former constituent. She and I discussed the matter yesterday after the press reporting of the situation. I cannot confirm that any legislation will have a particular impact on any individual caseI am not going to comment on specific circumstancesbut I can say that the whole intent of the legislation is to change the balance of assumption in favour of the rights of people who want to avoid having crimes committed against them, rather than the rights of individual criminals. That is what we are proposing, and that is what I think should happen.
On my hon. Friend's final point, I will examine the case that she mentioned, and I am sure that the Leader of the Opposition will let me have a copy of the letter that he was brandishing in the House today. I will respond in detail to my hon. Friend on that point, but I believe that steps have already been taken to deal with those matters.
Dr. William McCrea (South Antrim) (DUP):
Do the Home Secretary, the Home Office and the police know where all the dangerous foreign national criminals are? If they do not know where they are, how will they remove or deport them?
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Mr. Marsha Singh (Bradford, West) (Lab): Can my right hon. Friend understand the anger of my constituents in Bradford, and of people in general, when they discovered that one of the people wanted in connection with the murder of Sharon Beshenivsky was a convicted criminal and a foreign national who had not been recommended, even in principle, for deportation? Why was he not recommended even in principle? Who are these people who cannot see right from wrong? Why was this man not tracked? I welcome much of my right hon. Friend's statement today, but he himself has talked about the systemic failures in the Home Office. How can we have any faith that the new measures will not end up in the same shambles as the previous ones?
Mr. Clarke: I certainly can understand the anger that my hon. Friend describes. He and I also discussed this matter yesterday. I hope that he will acknowledge that the case to which he refers was not one of the specific cases that we have been talking about. As I said yesterday, however, and I say to the House today, it does raise precisely the kind of general questions that my hon. Friend has raised. That is why we need the type of legislative change that I have described. However, my hon. Friend is right to suggest that, after the failures in the Home Office's handling of these matters, we have to win back people's confidence in our capacity to deal with them. I hope that, when he considers those failures, he will set them side by side with our successes, and acknowledge that both have to keep moving forward in a strongly positive direction.
Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): The Home Secretary will be aware that the language that he has used about the removal of these prisoners was very different from the language used by the Prime Minister just a few minutes earlier from the same Dispatch Box. The Prime Minister said that these criminals would "automatically" be deported. The Home Secretary says that they can expect to be deported unless there are circumstances that would make it inappropriate to do so. Will the Home Secretary now acknowledge that what the Prime Minister said was wrong, and that the Prime Minister was, as usual, using language that he thought would make an effective soundbite, but which was a considerable distance away from the truth?
Mr. Clarke: No, I will not. I do not believe that there was the distinction in language that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has made. If we are being candid about these matters, we should look back to the time during the previous Conservative Government, before he was Home Secretary, when the noble Lord Ferrers said in answer to a question that, of a total sentenced population of 34,000 in December 1991, about 2,600 were known to be foreign nationals, and that the nationality of a further 5,900a fifth of the prison populationwas not recorded. That was the state of affairs that we had to deal with, and it is what we are now putting right.
Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab):
On the subject of soundbites, will my right hon. Friend guard against
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the soundbitesthe murmurings about meltdownthat I have heard from Opposition Members? Will he also guard against calls for action from a party that, while it was in power, took no action whatever, collected no figures and cut 2,000 Home Office jobs? I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his announcement today. When he is considering what the House should do next about this problem, will he balance the need to protect our constituents from those who wish them harm against ensuring that the people who come here to make a proper contribution to our economy and our culture still feel welcome to do so?
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