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The Council adopted Conclusions welcoming the DPA and calling for its rapid implementation, reiterating the EU's readiness to contribute to the reconstruction and development of Darfur, including through AMIS; and restating the EU's support for transition from AMIS to a UN mission.
The Council agreed Conclusions welcoming recent elections, calling for further democratisation and urging the Government of Uganda and the international community to work towards peaceful resolution of the conflict in Northern Uganda and in the Great Lakes region. The Conclusions also reiterated the Council's call for the Government of Uganda and neighbouring countries to work together to effect the arrest warrants of the Lord's Resistance Army commanders indicted by the International Criminal Court.
The Council discussed concerns about human rights abuses and the deteriorating economic situation in Zimbabwe. The EU had a clearly determined Common Position, including benchmarks: it was for the Government of Zimbabwe to comply with these international standards.
The Council adopted Conclusions noting the progress achieved in the development of capability planning required by the Headline Goal; recognising the Roadmap to the Progress Catalogue and welcoming the steps taken towards resolving the shortfalls in the area of Strategic Airlift.
The Council adopted Conclusions welcoming High Representative Solana's proposals to improve the EU's ability to respond to disasters and the coordination of transport for the relief efforts, in the context of the Hampton Court follow-up.
The Council adopted Conclusions highlighting the work undertaken by the Austrian Presidency to ensure effective coordination of EU crisis management instruments; welcoming the Presidency's framework paper of possible solutions for civil-military coordination and recommendations for further work by July 2006.
The Minister of State, Department of Health (Andy Burnham): I am pleased to announce that the first report of the Better Regulation of Over-the-counter Medicines Initiative (BROMI) was published today and has been placed in the Library. Copies are available for hon. Members at the Vote Office.
The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will introduce, with immediate effect, a new scheme for the self-certification of certain changes to the patient information of over-the-counter medicines and a new transparent complaints procedure in respect of patient information.
The Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid): I would like to provide an update on the issue of foreign national prisoners. As my predecessor promised, I will set out the latest information I haveon the foreign national prisoners released without consideration of deportation having been made since February 1999. I will set out eight priority areas for management action to achieve our long-term policy goals on foreign national prisoners. And I will set out
two immediate changes to current guidance which I now believe are necessary to deal with the present serious situation.
I would like first, however, to set the handling of the consideration and deportation of foreign national prisoners into context. The context is the backdrop of mass migration prompted by the end of the Cold War and other global changes. The effects of this can be seen in the huge increases in the past decade in asylum-seeking, in immigration, and generally in the numbers of passenger journeys all over the world.
Against this backdrop, our immigration and asylum systems have secured notable achievements in recent years: the number of asylum seekers has been reduced by 72 per cent from its peak in 2002; we now decide73 per cent of asylum cases within 8 weeks compared to the 22 months it took to decide asylum cases (including older cases) in 1997; and I can say that February and March were the first months in which we have achieved the target known as the 'tipping point', with removals running at the highest rate ever.
My first priority has been to protect the public by identifying, controlling, considering for deportation and, where appropriate, deporting the foreign national prisoners who were released without due consideration of deportation having been made. I am today reporting on progress since my written statement to the House on 15 May, Official Report, column 40WS.
Analysis of these cases has, as I indicated in an oral answer in the House on 15 May, revealed some duplicate files and the total overall number of these cases currently stands at 1,019, although it is possible that this figure may either reduce further due to the discovery of additional duplicates as the process of analysis is completed; or rise as the Immigration and Nationality Directorate re-checks that it has captured every relevant case.
In sharing information on these cases with the House, I would like to add the caveat that the investigative process has uncovered flaws in data collection, not least the lack of a unique personal number for use by the Home Office, prisons and the police to identify an individual. An additional factor rendering the information subject to change is the continuing examination of the records by all relevant agencies, including for re-offending. I can therefore only give the best information available to me as of today on the 1,019 foreign prisoners.
Subject to these caveats, the figure for the number of offenders convicted of a serious offence, as defined in my statement of 15 May, now stands at 186. As Isaid at that time, the previous figure of 179 was liable to change since the scrutiny of around 200 of the1,019 cases was yet to be completed. That has so far resulted in an additional seven cases being identified in this category.
Of these 186, 37 have been convicted of the most serious offences, defined as murder, manslaughter, rape and child sex offences. This is an increase of two since 15 May as a result of the scrutiny of past offences. All four of the murderers are now detained in prison. Of the other 33 most serious cases which include rapists and child sex offenders, two are believed dead and
23 are in prison. We have so far identified that eight of these 37 have re-offended since release (of which six have been convicted) but no offence discovered so far has involved violence or a sexual element.
Of the 149 more serious offenders, 66 are now under our control and six have been deported. Of these 149, 13 have re-offended following release (of which11 have been convicted) with a crime involving violence or a sexual element.
All of the 1,019 have now been assessed and consideration of the case for deportation has started in 999 cases. There has been an initial decision to deport in 778 of these cases. Of these 778,197 are detained, one is electronically tagged, 10 are reporting regularly to the Immigration Service or Prison Service and37 have been deported or removed.
As police and agencies focus hard on these cases, I believe it is essential to be clear about our long-term policy. My objectives are straightforward: all non-EEA nationals who are given a custodial sentence should face deportation; and deportation should happen as early as possible in that sentence. But to achieve these long-term objectives, I believe management must address eight priority areas.
Firstly, there is today no unique personal number for individuals who come into contact with the criminal justice, immigration and asylum systems. I have instructed management to tell me how this can change.
Secondly, as my predecessor has already set out, there are prisoners within the system whose nationality is not known. There is currently no legal obligation on people who are suspected, charged or convicted to declare their nationality and no sanction against them if they refuse to co-operate or they declare a nationality falsely. I have tasked management to come up with a way of stopping this, even if it needs legislation.
Thirdly, there have almost certainly been foreign nationals whose nationality was known but who were not referred to the Immigration and Nationality Directorate for consideration for deportation. For example, before September 2004, guidance to prisons on which cases to refer to the Immigration and Nationality Directorate covered only those cases which were subject to a court recommendation and omitted to cover other categories of case which should have been considered by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate. In addition, a HO Circular to police of December 2004 sets broad criteria by which the police should refer cases to the Immigration and Nationality Directorate. It is not clear enough that this Circular has been systematically implemented. I have demanded therefore that management ensure all future instructions are given to all agencies of the criminal justice, asylum and immigration systems and are both consistent and fully implemented.
Fourthly, the criteria governing which individuals should be considered for deportation appear to have been varied over time on authority which is unclear. They have then not been consistently applied. For example, the derivation of the inclusion of those convicted of three or more offences over a five-year period in the criteria, as set out by my predecessor on3 May, is unclear. I have ordered the policy officials to audit trail all policy criteria and the process by which they ensure that guidance is both clear and consistently applied.
Fifthly, there are foreign national prisoners who were considered for deportation under the current criteria, but where the decision was made not to deport, or where a decision to deport was frustrated by difficulties over return to the home country. I have ordered that all decisions on deportation are now made according to the most robust interpretation of the requirements of our international obligations.
Sixthly, I have instructed managers to work with colleagues in Scotland and Northern Ireland to audit the numbers of foreign national prisoners released in Scotland and Northern Ireland and to establish how many of these were referred to the IND for consideration of deportation. I have demanded clear procedures for dealing with foreign national prisoners held in Scotland and Northern Ireland are written and followed.
Seventhly, historically there have never been systematic arrangements in place for collecting information on the nationality of mentally disordered offenders, referring them to the Immigration and Nationality Directorate and considering them for deportation. This is a hugely difficult group to deal with. But I have tasked officials to construct arrangements for considering deportation where appropriate for people in this group taking account of their very specific circumstances.
Finally, as my predecessor set out in his statement of 3 May, I have demanded enhanced arrangements to facilitate the return of prisoners earlier in their sentence, including Prisoner Transfer Agreements.
However, there are also two immediate steps which are forced on me by the urgency of the present problems and the constraints on the system. Those constraints include both the trained caseworking resource available in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate to consider cases for deportation, despite the steps we have taken to reinforce the Criminal Casework Team, and detention capacity.
The first change is to prioritise cases for consideration according to the degree of risk a person poses to the public. At present the criteria for consideration for deportation includes people who have committed several minor and non-violent offences, but excludes those who have had two custodial sentences of under a year for, say, actual bodily harm. This is a perverse outcome in public protection terms. I have therefore authorised that instead of considering for deportation those with three convictions regardless of seriousness or risk, the Immigration and Nationality Directorate will now consider for deportation all non-EEA nationals who have been given 12 months prison sentence, either in one sentence or as an aggregate of two or three sentences.
The second immediate change is to tighten the guidance given to caseworkers in deciding whether or not an individual should be deported. Rule 364 of the Immigration Rules, which sets out the criteria which officials should weigh in the balance against a person's crime in taking the decision whether to deport and which dates back to 1994, currently goes wider than the requirements of the Human Rights Act and the European Convention on Human Rights would stipulate. It is not right that the system should tilt the exercise of discretion in favour of the criminal rather than public safety in this way. I have therefore approved the issuing of new guidance to caseworkers which interprets the decision-making criteria much more tightly.
I believe that these immediate measures will help to ensure that more of those offenders who pose a risk to public safety are dealt with fairly and efficiently, and will face deportation where that is appropriate.
None of the reforms set out above, in particular the long-term agenda for change, will be delivered unless the right leadership is in place across the system. I have therefore instructed the new Permanent Secretary of the Home Office to address the following issues as a matter of urgency: performance; weak services, because not every field of our operations matches the standard of the best; leadership and skills, where we have under-invested; fragmentation and silos, exacerbated by communications which are too weak; and systems and processes, which simply need to be stronger.
And finally, I announced yesterday that the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham Hodge Hill (Mr. Byrne), will be taking overall responsibility for this reform agenda, reporting to me. I have told him I want to consider any option he believes feasible, however radical it may be. I intend to report back to the House on progress and proposals for change before the summer recess.
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