House of Commons
|Session 2006 - 07|
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General Committee Debates
European Standing Committee Debates
European Enforcement Order and the Transfer of Sentenced Persons
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Emily Commander, Committee Clerk
attended the Committee
European Standing Committee
Tuesday 20 February 2007
[Mr. David Marshall in the Chair]
European Enforcement Order and the Transfer of Sentenced Persons
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): Good afternoon, Mr. Marshall, and good afternoon to the Committee. I hope that this will be an interesting subject for discussion.
The draft framework decision on the application of the principle of mutual recognition to judgments in criminal matters imposing custodial sentences or measures involving deprivation of liberty for the purpose of their enforcement in the European Union has been under scrutiny by the European Scrutiny Committee and the Select Committee on the European Union in the House of Lords since February 2005. I am grateful for the attention that both Committees have given to the initiative and for the opportunity to debate its content today.
The United Kingdom has been repatriating prisoners since 1985, when it ratified the Council of Europe convention on the transfer of sentenced persons. The convention, which has been ratified by more than 60 countries, is now more than 22 years old and reflects the time at which it was negotiated. At that time, the number of foreign nationals imprisoned abroad was relatively low and the convention simply provided a mechanism to enable those prisoners who wanted to serve their sentences in their own country to do so. Transfer under the convention is voluntary, and requires the consent of both states involved as well as that of the prisoner concerned.
Since the inception of the convention, thinking on international prisoner transfer has moved on. In 1997, the Council of Europe put in place an additional protocol to the convention that dispensed with prisoner consent in two areas: when the prisoner would otherwise be deported at the end of the sentence or when the prisoner had fled. The protocol established the principle of transfer without prisoner consent and 31 countries have signed up to its principles. The European Union prisoner transfer agreement is intended to build on that foundation. It extends the circumstances in which a prisoner can be transferred without his consent and for the first time places an obligation on the receiving state to accept back its own nationals. The Government believe that those two principles, together with stringent time limits for dealing with requests and arranging the transfer of a prisoner, create significant added value over and above the existing prisoner transfer arrangements.
The Government firmly believe that where possible a prisoner should serve his sentence in his own country. There are many benefits to that. Transfer alleviates the
The Government also believe that a prisoner should not be able to frustrate a transfer that brings such advantages and that has been properly agreed between states simply by withholding consent. The framework decision is in line with the amended Repatriation of Prisoners Act 1984, which clarifies the circumstances in which a prisoner is required to consent to transfer. Those changes were approved by Parliament and the Government now intend to seek to renegotiate our existing prisoner transfer agreements to provide for transfer without prisoner consent.
I also wanted to raise at this stage the fact that the Government participated in a general approach at the Justice and Home Affairs Council last Thursday. I am aware of the Committees concerns about the Governments participating in that way while the proposal is still subject to parliamentary scrutiny. I acknowledge that, where possible, scrutiny should be completed before participation in a general approach. I regret that in this case it was not possible to hold the debate prior to the Council and I want to reassure hon. Members that we have the highest regard for the scrutiny process. At the Council on Thursday the UK maintained its parliamentary scrutiny and reserved its right to reopen debate if necessary.
The Chairman: We now have until half-past 5 for questions to the Minister. I remind hon. Members that those questions should be brief and asked one at a time, and that there is likely to be ample opportunity for all hon. Members to ask several questions.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): May I preface the first of a number of questions by welcoming you to the Committee, Mr. Marshall?
Although it depends on what you allow to me, Mr. Marshall, I am afraid that I have a number of questions that I want the Minister to answer during the course of the afternoon. The first concerns the list of offences under article 7 of the draft framework, which contains some obvious offences that would attract serious and lengthy custodial sentences in this country. I declare an interest as a Crown Court recorder who occasionally sentences people to prison in courts here in London.
The one offence that puzzles me in respect of foreign national prisoners is robbery. I see that organised or armed robbery is in the list. However, disorganised robberythat is, street muggings, which are committed by quite a number of foreign nationals in Oxford street and other crowded parts of the capitalappears not to
Mr. Sutcliffe: Not a great deal. One of the reasons why the 32 offences have been agreed is that there is mutual recognition of them. We are trying to avoid a single European legal system that would sentence uniformly. There is a recognition that individual jurisdictions have their own criminal laws. The offences listed are those for which it is obvious that there can be mutual recognition. The list is not exhaustive, but it sets out the recognised offences.
The Chairman: Mr. Garnier, you raised with me the number of questions and the order in which they are to be taken. Most Chairmen prefer to go from Member to Member. On the other hand, I understand your desire to question thematically, so I shall allow you two more, after which I shall take other peoples. You will, of course, have the opportunity to come back in after other Members.
Mr. Garnier: My last question was lengthy and the answer did not address it; I shall try to ask my next one rather more succinctly. Which will be the lead Department in deciding which foreign prisoners should be sent abroad? Will it be the Department for Constitutional Affairs or the Home Office?
Mr. Garnier: Who in that Department will liaise with the sentencing courts, the Prison Service and the probation service?
Mr. Sutcliffe: Procedures are in place and I see no difference in those processes. Clearly, when an agreement is reached and the enforcement is made for the arrangement, if an arrangement is reached, those processes will have to be updated. However, the existing procedures are in place.
Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): At present, the number of prisoners from other European Union states in British prisons is three times greater than the number of British citizens in prisons elsewhere in the European Union. Why is that the case? Was it factored into the Ministers considerations when the Home Office predicted the numbers from new EU entrant states who would live and work in the United Kingdom? What effect does he think the measures will have on that imbalance?
Mr. Sutcliffe: I am not aware that that was factored in when we considered the widening of the European Union. However, as I tried to say in my opening remarks, the Government think that it would be a reasonable step to try to send back foreign national prisoners to
for the purpose of their enforcement in the European Union.
A number of nation states are associated with the European Union; I have Turkey particularly in mind. Could it not be included?
Mr. Sutcliffe: Thirty-one countries have ratified the agreement so far. I am not aware of any discussions with the Turks on this matter; if there have been, I shall write to my hon. Friend and explain the circumstances.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Mr. Marshall, I associate myself with my hon. and learned Friends remarks: it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon.
I appreciate the courtesy and concern that the Minister has shown the Committee, and his concern about European scrutiny. The problems with scrutiny as far as this issue is concerned are not the responsibility of this Minister. I shall make remarks on that later, if I may, Mr. Marshall
Mr. Clappison: Certainly. I have a brief question about scrutiny. The Minister told us that the issue has been the subject of general agreement. Under the relevant Cabinet Office guidelines on how Ministers should proceed after general agreement has been given, would the Government be prepared to reopen negotiations on any question raised in this Committee or are they, as I suspect, precluded from doing so by that Cabinet Office guidance?
Mr. Sutcliffe: I said in my opening remarks that we reserved our right to reopen the debate if necessary, but the Governments position was to get a good agreement quickly, if possible. Three processes are involved in reaching an agreement in the European Union: a general approach, a political agreement and then adoption. Therefore, there are still a number of processes to go on this issue. It is important that we try to get something working quickly that is beneficial to our country and other member states.
Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): I join colleagues in welcoming you to the Chair, Mr. Marshall. The letter from the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Enfield, North (Joan Ryan), which is on page 111 of our pack, deals with Polands objections to signing the document. Will the Minister outline what those concerns are or were and whether the UK agrees with them?
Mr. Sutcliffe: I am afraid that I do not have that information to hand. Thirty-one countries have ratified the agreement so far, but more work clearly needs to be done to get other member states to be supportive. I would be happy to answer more fully if the hon. Gentleman points me in more detail towards the letter that he is talking about.
Mr. Browne: Pursuant to that question, does the Minister agree that one reason for Polands objections could be that it has an even more prisoners per head of population than the UK? Is it not unable to accommodate any more prisoners at present and keen to offload as many as it can on to other nation states? Might that not have been one of the motivations behind its position in the negotiations?
Mr. Sutcliffe: As I understand it, Poland had concerns about its ability to deal with the matter, but it has agreed to look at it again. That goes back to the point that I tried to raise earlier: this is a framework agreement, which builds on the past, and we are trying to encourage member states to understand why it is important to repatriate prisoners to home countries. Clearly, some still have concerns.
Mr. Sutcliffe: Again, I do not have the figures to hand and I shall write to the hon. and learned Gentleman. There will, however, be a saving in terms of extra on-costs to prisoners and their families. That relates to things such as visiting and the basic things that we would expect prisoners in the UK to receive. However, this is not a cost-saving exercise; it is about doing the right thing in terms of the treatment of prisoners.
Mr. Clappison: For offences other than the 32 listed, the Government have the option to require dual criminality. Do they propose to exercise that option?
Mr. Sutcliffe: Again, we have to be clear about the issues affecting dual criminality, which was a major concern to members of the European Scrutiny Committee in the Commons. The definition of dual criminality, in particular, was a concern. We need to look at the issue and we are prepared to investigate it further to ensure that there is a common understanding of the offences. As I said, 32 offences have been agreed, and we need to look further at what can be done in future.
Mr. Garnier: I think that we all know the definition of dual criminality, but my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere is concerned about the offences that come within it. What, however, would happen to a British offender who was sentenced abroad to a term of imprisonment? Under the proposed procedure, he would be sent back to this country against his will. What is the Home Offices view on that?
Mr. Sutcliffe: The spirit of the agreement is that we would take that individual back and that it should not be up to an individual prisoner to frustrate that
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): Does the Minister agree that it is deeply offensive to the Polish people to suggest that the only reason they are coming to this country is that the prisons are full in Poland?
Mr. Sutcliffe: If that was the intention of the remark, it would be deeply offensive, but I do not think that it was.
Mr. Garnier: In answering a different question, the Minister mentioned savings. What is the estimated annual saving to the British prison service from exporting foreign prisoners?
Mr. Sutcliffe: As I said, the basis of the proposal was not cost. I am sure that those figures are available, and I shall write to the hon. and learned Gentleman in due course.
Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): Is there any distinction in the proposals between the treatment of somebody who has permanent residence in a foreign country, although they remain a UK nationalor vice versaand somebody with less than full residential rights?
Mr. Sutcliffe: The important distinction is about where that person resided prior to the offence and what their residential qualification is. In the agreement that we are trying to pursue, we are saying that a receiving state should not be able to prevent somebody from arriving or being received, unless there are good grounds for doing so. Even though a person was a member of the community and was born in the country, if they resided elsewhere, that would be a reason for not accepting them.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): The Minister has expressed his regret on the scrutiny issue and will have noted the opinion of the Chairman of the European Scrutiny Committee, which is that because the debate and the general approach took place before the debate in this Committee, the members of that Committee
will regard such participation as being in breach of the spirit of the scrutiny reserve resolution.
The Minister has made clear his regret to the Committee. Are we entitled to conclude that the reason why that has happened is the pressure on the Department, and therefore its inability to bring forward such a debate for Parliament in a timely manner, or is there another reason for the unsatisfactory state of affairs?
Mr. Sutcliffe: As I have said, I regret the circumstances and apologise to the Committee. However, that would not stop us from reopening the issue, if the Committee or the Government felt that that was appropriate. The decision has nothing to do with the alleged stresses and strains in the Department.
Mr. Clappison: Is the Minister aware that his handsome offer of an apology is welcome? It is the first apology that has been forthcoming in correspondence with Ministers on the vexed question of scrutiny. Will he confirm that the Government were warned as long ago as 29 November 2006, which I think is the date of the letter from the European Scrutiny Committee to which my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate has adverted? The European Scrutiny Committee thought that there were important issues that were worthy of debate in this Committee. Since then the Government have participated in two European Council meetings, at the second of which they reached a general agreement. Is the Minister saying that it was not possible to organise a parliamentary debate at any time between 29 November and 16 February, so that the House could give its opinion?
Mr. Sutcliffe: I have already apologised to the Committee. I understand that the issue was about diaries, but if I am wrong, I shall write to Committee members. I think that there was an attempt to try to have the debate before the various meetings that were held, but that did not happen. We regret that, and I apologise to the Committee.
Mr. Garnier: Let me try again. As the Minister knows, under the convention a state has to appoint a designated competent authority. The Association of Chief Police Officers is the competent authority for receiving records of foreign criminals about whom information is given to this country. The Home Office is a very wide term.
Mr. Sutcliffe: The answer is the Home OfficeI was rightbut within the Home Office, it is the National Offender Management Service.
Simon Hughes: Is there a timetable in the provisions, so that where a foreign national was convicted in the UK and sent to prison, and the intention was for them to be returned to their own country, there would be a guaranteed maximum time in which a provisional decision to send them could be made, the family or the prisoner could make any representations that it would be inappropriate to do so, for the reasons that we have discussed, and the final decision could be taken? Any such proposal should have a fixed, maximum time limit, so that there is some certainty about the time in which the transfer will happen.
Mr. Sutcliffe: In the discussions there is a process, but there is no appeals mechanism as the hon. Gentleman has set out, so there will be no determination of an
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): Can foreign national prisoners in this country take part in rehabilitative activities towards the end of a prison sentence in open prisons and so on? Should we take account of that issue when considering whether prisoners should serve their sentences in the countries in which they will live after their completion?
Mr. Sutcliffe: My hon. Friend has raised an important andgiven her experiencerelevant point. One key reason why we are involved in the scheme is to try to ensure that those programmes are in place in the home country. However, there are provisions in our system to try to support and rehabilitate offenders, wherever they are from.
Mr. Browne: Will the Minister clarify the position on people who hold dual nationality in two separate EU member states?
Mr. Sutcliffe: It would be for the two states to agree on the receiving states view about dual nationality. We already hold prison transfer agreements with non-EU states for people who hold dual passports.
Mr. Blunt: My point is a slightly disjointed way of returning to scrutiny. The Minister was kind enough to indicate that there was a problem with diaries. Will he confirm either that the diary problem was his or that there was another problem?
Mr. Sutcliffe: The hon. Member for Hertsmere has said that I was not the appropriate Minister to be involved in such decisions. I can give only my view of the reasons why the Committee will not discuss the matter, and I understand that they related to diary commitments.
Simon Hughes: If I may return to the question of a timetable, I understand from the Ministers earlier reply that there is no formal appeals system. However, once such a decision has been taken, is there a maximum time in which it will be implemented? The reason why I ask is that there would be uncertainty about cost and an undermining of the process if the UK authorities decided, for example, to send back an Estonian prisoner to Estonia, but because of delays at the other end, with people saying We are not ready to receive them yet, the decision was either never implemented or implemented so late as to be almost meaningless due to the length of the sentence.
Mr. Garnier: The convention allows the offender who is about to be transferred to present reasons why he should not be transferred. Is the decision about whether he will be transferred administrative and made by officials, or is it made by a court? If it is made by a court, what assessment has the Ministers Department made about the cost of legal representation?
Mr. Sutcliffe: NOMS will make the decision, which it will refer to Ministers to make the final decision, so no court costs will be incurred.
Mr. Clappison: Without necessarily adopting the following concerns, I note that the prison organisation, Prisoners Abroad, has expressed some concerns about transfer without consent. Ministers have suggested that those concerns have been addressed. Will the Minister tell us whether Prisoners Abroad remains concerned about the provisions and objects to them?
Mr. Sutcliffe: There will be concern if there is any substantial change from the arrangements whereby the prisoner has to agree to the transfer. I fully understand where Prisoners Abroad is coming from, but in my view, its concerns have been addressed in the discussions about the agreement. Whether those concerns have been addressed to its satisfaction, only it can say.
Mr. Sutcliffe: We would always hope to be transparent in expressing how decisions are taken; we were the first Government to introduce freedom of information. The system will be as it is now: recommendations will be made, but Ministers will make the final decision. The issues that the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey raised about appeal mechanisms and whether the right decision was made would be in the public domain for people to challenge.
Simon Hughes: Will there be any differentiation of adults and prisoners who are not over 18, but are in adult prison estates and are therefore not youth offenders?
Given that courts currently have the power to order the deportation of foreign nationals, if this system were introduced, would the implication be that there was no necessity for such decisions to be the job of the judge? In every case involving a foreign European Union national, deportation would effectively be considered as a matter of course and they would be deported back to a prison in their own country.
Mr. Sutcliffe: I am not sure whether I follow the logic of that point. There is no distinction in terms of adults or youths. The issue would not be deportation, but transfer of prisoners. As this is an important point, however, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman and set out clearly what the arrangement would be.
Simon Hughes: I am not trying to catch the Minster out, but I should point out that the other linked issue is that when people come into this country with conditional leave, the conditions that they are given state that their ability to stay here will depend on their
Mr. Sutcliffe: I will set out the position for the hon. Gentleman, because given the freedom of movement, it is important to state what the process is. I shall ensure that members of the Committee will receive a copy of the correspondence.
Mr. Hands: On page 119 of the document pack, there is a letter from the Ministers colleague, Baroness Scotland, which returns us to the question of dual criminalities. Why did she specifically refer to the offence of holocaust denialit is an offence in many EU countriesas an issue that comes to light in the event of dual criminality?
Mr. Sutcliffe: As the letter states, the Government have not made a decision in relation to article 7 and the proposition that dual criminality is not required in certain cases. That was something that the European Scrutiny Committee asked about, and I stand by the letter sent by Baroness Scotland to its members.
Jim Sheridan: My hon. Friend will be aware of what some thought was the aggressive tone of questioning from the Opposition, but will he confirm that migrant workers coming to this country will be treated exactly the same in legal terms, will not be discriminated against and, if they become prisoners, will be treated in the same way as every other prisoner in this country?
Mr. Sutcliffe: I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. The economic prosperity of the country depends on legal migrant workers coming to the UK and participating in our economy, and those people will be treated in the same way as anybody else. It is important that peoples human rights are also considered and that we are consistent in the application of human rights legislation.
Mr. Clappison: When do the Government expect to reach a decision on the question of dual criminality?
Mr. Sutcliffe: When we can reach agreement with member states. There are 32 states in place and it seems that the earliest opportunity for an agreement to come into force would be in 2009.
Mr. Hands: On dual criminality and specifically on holocaust denial, when the letter to which I have referred was written, David Irving was detained in an Austrian jail. He has since been released. Has the Minister thought through the implications of allowing those who have been convicted of holocaust denial in other EU countries to be returned to the UK where it is obviously not an offence, but where there would be a strong public interest in why that person had been returned?
Mr. Sutcliffe: That is clearly an important point that we should take into consideration. That was the tone of Baroness Scotlands letter. The hon. Gentleman is right; the judgment came after the letter, and we need to look at the implications of what went on and how we deal with the issue. I am interested to see that Conservative politicians want a Europe-wide legal system to ensure dual criminality and a consistency of offences. We have been able to agree on 32 offences. More are outstanding, one of which the hon. Gentleman has just raised, and we are considering how best to move forward.
Mr. Garnier: I advise the Minister not to clutch at straws; I would not clutch at that one right now. In the event of a dispute over someones place of residence or the question whether he has been resident in an EU state for five years, who will resolve the matter?
Mr. Sutcliffe: As we have the agreement, the presumption is that the member state would receive the prisoner and that there would not be any disputes. Clearly, a dispute about residence and so on would be a reason for the decision not to be taken. I am sure that there would be an ability within the process to resolve the matter through the European procedures that are in place.
Simon Hughes: I apologise if the Minister has already dealt with this point, but I do not think that he has. A foreign prisoner who is convicted here, for example, may be given a 10-year sentence. Under the present regime, that will probably mean that he serves five years in custody and five years on licence while serving the sentence out in the community. In his home country, however, he may have to spend two thirds or three quarters of the sentence in custody. Does such a differential requirement for serving a period inside as opposed to on some form of licence count as a factor in the consideration?
Mr. Sutcliffe: No. That would not be the intention, because it would undermine the basis of trying to reach this type of agreement. We would end up with a situation in which prisoners tried to shop around for the best result.
Mr. Garnier: If a British national serving his sentence in a foreign jurisdiction does not agree to his being transferred back to Britain to serve his sentence, does he have a right of access to the British courts or only to the system in the sentencing country?
Mr. Sutcliffe: I think that it would be the system in the sentencing country, but if that is not the case, I shall ensure that the hon. and learned Gentleman finds out. Indeed, I now find that it is the case that it would be the sentencing state.
Mr. Garnier: I want to return to a question that the hon. Member for Slough asked the Minister a moment ago, because I am not entirely sure that I understood the response. Once the system comes into operation, we shall have to build up a practice of understanding the abilities of overseas jurisdictions to provide social
Mr. Sutcliffe: Again, it is rather strange that the Conservative party, which has opposed Europe for many years, is now trying to get standardisation in the treatment of prisoners throughout Europe. We are trying to ensure through European discussions that the proper considerations are in place in relation to the issues we talked about. We discussed ways of ensuring that, when prisoners are transferred, part of the transfer is to the benefit of rehabilitation programmes. That is part of the process of rebuilding lives with regard to family ties and other issues. If there are language difficulties, it is better for a prisoner to serve their sentence in their own nation. We have also said that we will consider all the conventions in order to ensure that adequate protections and support mechanisms for prisoners are in place, but we believe that this framework agreement is a good thing and we hope that the Committee agrees.
Simon Hughes: There is a Council of Europe convention, which obviously covers more than the EU countries. What things would this agreement allow that are not currently allowed in relation to Council of Europe countries that are also EU countries? Given that that convention covers more countries, is it not a sufficient basis on which to proceed, without going down the road that is proposed?
Mr. Sutcliffe: We see this as a progressive move in the sense of trying to rehabilitate and support prisoners, and I hope that Committee members share our view. More than 60 countries were involved in the initial agreement and 32 have agreed the principles of what we are trying to do. We are trying to explain to the countries that are not involved the rationale of how transferral without consent should operate. Clearly, the countries that are not signed up to the measure will be dealing with the existing procedures, which involve voluntary arrangements. We are trying to convince other states that this measure needs to go forward.
Jim Sheridan: Does my hon. Friend agree that the fundamental principle of prison rehabilitation in this country is to prevent people from reoffending, regardless of their gender, race and religion? Does he also agree that it would be inappropriate for either indigenous people or migrant workers to exploit their term in prison by writing books and making money from it?
Mr. Sutcliffe: I think that I agree with the thrust of what my hon. Friend says. He will know that we are considering rewards for book publications and a variety of other issues relating to prisoners, and we are out to consultation on that. I agree that we need to ensure that rehabilitation is the key to what we are trying to achieve. I hope that Committee members will take the opportunity next week to support the Offender Management Bill, which will give us the opportunity to deal with the rehabilitation of offenders in the UK.
Mr. Garnier: I want to return to the point about NOMS decision making, because only when the Minister reviews the decision is he susceptible to judicial review himself, so that is the only time when an outside bodythat is, a courtcan have an overview of what he has been doing. Clearly, the Home Office will be represented at the administrative court for the judicial review. What assessment has he made of the cost of providing representation to the applicant for judicial review, who in most cases will be the offender who is the subject of the removal order?
Mr. Sutcliffe: Again, I am not aware that any costs associated with that issue have been calculated, but if they have been, I will ensure that the hon. and learned Gentleman knows and I will write to the Committee.
Mr. Garnier: This convention deals with the 31 members of the agreement, which obviously takes it beyond the European Union by a few countries, but it appears from this mornings newspapers that the Republic of Ireland is to be outside any deportation arrangements that we may have. Can the Minister confirm that?
Mr. Sutcliffe: There is a unique relationship with Ireland, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, and we will continue to review how our two systems work. With regard to the agreement, we are talking about the 27 European Union countries only.
Mr. Browne: This point has been touched on in earlier questions. Will the Minister enlighten the Committee as to whether the United Kingdom Government made any concessions to the Polish Government to secure their acceptance of this package of measures?
Mr. Sutcliffe: As I have said, the Poles agreed the principles. There was an issue about the time scale in relation to the Poles, but I am not aware of any concession. The hon. Gentleman will know that in European committeesas a former Employment Minister, I have had many happy occasions in Brussels and Strasbourg talking about the working time directivethere are discussions about how agreements are reached. The Poles agreed with the measure in principle, but had a concern about the time scale, and we were prepared to support their position on the time scale.
Mr. Clappison: Would it be open to a foreign prisoner who was to be transferred from the UK to bring an action under the Human Rights Act 1998? What effect would bringing such an action have on his transfer? Would it go ahead or be delayed?
Mr. Sutcliffe: There is always the opportunity for people to take a case to the European Court, and it would be up to that Court to decide on whether the case was relevant. Alternatively, the competent authorities would decide. The transfers would go ahead. Things would depend on what the competent authorities thought about the prospects of the case, but we would try to ensure that discussions took place. If there was a problem, a delay could occur. We would not want a frustration of the arrangements by prisoners or by agents of those prisoners.
Mr. Garnier: I want to get clear in my mind a point about social rehabilitation. I fully accept that it is easier for an overseas offender to serve out his prison sentence close to his family and in a prison whose first language is his own. My concern relates to the fact that so many of the prisoners in this country are in prison because of a connection with illegal drugs. Foreign prisoners will go back to their home countries where they will be close to their family and where they will be able to speak their own language as the first language. Are those social rehabilitation factors that trump the absence of any drug rehabilitation courses in that particular country of a standard that we would think necessary for prisoners in our own country?
Mr. Sutcliffe: We would clearly want to see what was in the best interests of the individual. That would be the first port of call. The transfer arrangements that have been negotiated give opportunities for transfers to take place. I have mentioned how social responsibilities on family ties, language and other things could be fulfilled by prisoners serving out sentences.
The hon. and learned Gentleman chided the Government during consideration of the Offender Management Bill for not treating the issue of drugs seriously in terms of the UK approach. I am pleased to hear that he has changed his tune and that he thinks that we are leading the way in drug rehabilitation. Supporting the prisoners would be a matter for the receiving state. The basis of these European agreements is raising standards and ensuring that people have an opportunity for rehabilitation.
Jim Sheridan: Much reference has been made to Polish workers. Is my hon. Friend in a position to give us an idea, either today or later in writing, of how many Polish workers are in prison in the UK compared with the number of Polish people who are working in the UK? He might take the opportunity to remind the Committee that more Polish workers have been killed in the UK by indigenous people than those of any other nationality in Europe.
Mr. Sutcliffe: I am able to help my hon. Friend now. As of 31 December 2006, some 278 Polish nationals were held in prison in England and Wales, and he will be pleased to learn that only nine Poles were held in Scotland. We do not have the figure for Northern Ireland. I agree that legal migrant workers, particularly Polish people, bring a great benefit to the UK. If my response does not satisfy him, my Department will write to him in greater detail.
Mr. Clappison: Let us turn around the example that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough gave a moment ago and consider the case of a British prisoner serving a sentence in a foreign prison. If they had substantial and deep-rooted family connections in that countryI believe it is known as the issuing country for these purposeswould it be open to that prisoner to make representations about serving the sentence in the issuing country rather than being transferred back to the UK, given that all his family and connections would be in that country?
Mr. Sutcliffe: That would be a consideration. I would expect some consideration of how such individuals see their place of residence, rather than just sending them back because they are nationals of the other country. We would expect discussion to take place. We would seek the opinion of the prisoner about where he or she thought their residence was, but we would not allow that to frustrate us in trying to achieve the transfer. Yes, we would be moving away from a voluntary position, but we would seek the opinion of the prisoners on the issue.
Mr. Garnier: On social rehabilitation, will the assessment made by NOMS of the suitability of the receiving countrys criminal justice system be based on reports from our embassies or high commissions in the intended receiving country? Will it be specific to the case before the decision maker, or will evidence about the programmes and other facilities available for social rehabilitation be gained through some other external and non-official means? And to what extent will the facts as found by the decision maker be disputable by the offender whose fate is in question?
Mr. Sutcliffe: We are talking about a framework agreement, which will not come into operation until 2009 at the earliest. I have told the Committee about the need further to discuss the processes that will have to be put in place. I would expect us to consult other member states about what rehabilitation programmes should be in place and how people would fare under those programmes, which is one reason why we need a framework agreement.
Jim Sheridan: On social rehabilitation, has my right hon. Friend or his Department carried out any assessment of the cost to society if social rehabilitation does not take place?
Mr. Sutcliffe: Again, my hon. Friend has made a pertinent pointhe has also promoted me, which is good. The whole purpose of the arrangements is to ensure that punishments are put in place for people putting them in prisonbut there is an element of social rehabilitation, which is true of all cases.
The hon. and learned Member for Harborough will know from his role as a judge that there are two elements to sentencing. One is to offer up peoples debts to society, and the other is to rehabilitate them back into societythe cost of not doing so is tremendous. He will know that the cost of a prison place in the United Kingdom for an adult prisoner is £40,000. He will know also that the United Kingdom puts more people in prison per head of population than most of our European counterparts, which is a key consideration. In the context of todays discussion, we think it perfectly reasonable to enter into a framework agreement that will give us the opportunity to allow prisoners to serve their sentences in their home country.
Mr. Clappison: If those concerned want to make representations about where they are to serve their sentences, do they make them to the issuing statethe state in which they were convicted, which may want to
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 13080/06, Draft Council Framework Decision on the application of the principle of mutual recognition to judgments in criminal matters imposing custodial sentences or measures involving deprivation of liberty for the purpose of their enforcement in the European Union; and supports the Governments intention to secure adoption of this agreement.[Mr. Sutcliffe.]
Mr. Garnier: From our point of view and as a matter of principle, we support the transfer of foreign prisoners back to their home country whenever possible, provided that it can be done in a humane way. It is clearly right, no matter how appalling their offences, that prisoners should be treated as human beings. If they can be properly punished and rehabilitated, and if society in this country and in the country of the person concerned can be assured that public protection will be provided by the custody arrangements under the convention, my party and I would support that approach.
This short examination session has shown that it is the huge amount of detail that will make our adherence to the convention work or not. The Minister kindly said that he would write to us about this, that and the other, but I would like Ministers occasionally to come to Committees and to present themselves for scrutiny before the House of Commons when the details of the matter have been set out in advance of the scrutiny. I do not blame the Minister personallyhe is as much a victim of our system as the rest of usbut he is the nearest we can get to someone who is allegedly accountable to the public, through us, for the policy and the conduct of the Government. Nice bloke that he is, it is bad luck for him that he is here. That is the way we must do it, but I earnestly hope that we can find a better way of dealing with such mattersI have had discussions about this with you, Mr. Marshall, in previous Committeesbecause this is not a satisfactory way of scrutinising our adherence to European directives or conventions.
None the less, it strikes me that an important underlying issue is that, just as in other European Scrutiny Committees that we have attended and in relation to the promotion of British legislation by the Ministers Department, there is too much vagueness and insufficient detail, so the public do not know, as a result of listening to this or other Standing Committees, what will come out at the end. For example, the Minister has mentioned the Offender Management Bill, which is essentially a Bill to allow the Home Secretary to make rules and regulations. The public do not know, because we have not seen the draft regulations or the various protocols and other relevant documents that will flesh out the statute, what will
I plead with those who run these mattersit is certainly not the Opposition and I doubt whether it is the Liberal Democratsto enable us to look at the procedures of this sort of Committee to ensure that all Members of Parliament, who do our best for our constituents whether we are Ministers or shadow Ministers, can feel confident that our job in legislating and making arrangements that glue us to treaties or conventions inside or outside the European Union are transparent, comprehensive and comprehensible. I am not convinced that that is the case at the moment.
As I have said, as a matter of principlesubject to learning a lot more about the detail of what is entailed, particularly in relation to the rehabilitation of offenders when they are returned to their home state, and whether social rehabilitation means something different in European Union language from what it might mean to someone involved in the criminal justice system in this countryConservative Members are content to let this procedure, whatever it is, proceed. I am grateful for the attendance of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members.
Mr. Browne: I shall be brief. With your forgiveness, Mr. Marshall, I want to clarify a misunderstanding with the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire that arose during questions.
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
Mr. Browne: I was saying that I want to clarify the misconception that the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire, North had about a question that I asked earlier. On the whole, Polish people in the UK make a substantial contribution to our economy. They have considerable skills and fill labour shortages both in my constituency and across the country. Were they to withdraw their labour, it would make life for the indigenous population of this country very difficult.
It is a cause for celebration that many Polish people enjoy living and working here and contributing to our national prosperity and well-being. It is particularly interestingI shall not digress beyond this, Mr. Marshallto look at the country that hosted the signing of the Warsaw pact and to think that, for someone of my age, the Polish population were potential opponents in a third world war, yet my contemporaries from that country are now working alongside us agreeably.
The point that I sought to make was that the Polish Government have expressed concern about the statistic, which is often bandied about, that the UK has the highest number of people in prison per head of population of any country in Europe. However, that is not trueit is the highest in western Europe. In Poland, the prison population per capita is even higher
On the substance of the document, there is considerable detail that will need to be better understood over time. Of course, as people become increasingly mobile, they may not necessarily feel an overwhelming affinity with one European Union state over another. For example, many UK nationals live in Spain and other EU countries, and many people have married people from other countries. Some prisoners may nominally be British citizens, but they may regard themselves as citizens of the country in which they committed the offence that got them into prison, rather than of Britain.
There are all kinds of issues of that sort, but, leaving them momentarily to one side, my party welcomes the broad principles of the measure for three reasons, which I shall summarise. First, we agree with comments made by others that the rehabilitation of prisoners is more likely to be effective if it is undertaken in the host country, particularly if the prisoner speaks the language that is widely used in the prison. Secondly, we believe that the rehabilitation of prisoners is more likely to be effective if the prisoner is kept in a prison that is close to his or her family. That principle broadly applies to most cases in the United Kingdom at present, and there is no reason to think that it would not be effective on an EU-wide basis as well. Thirdly, for the reasons that I have touched upon, as things standthere is no guarantee that this will be the case in the futureit seems that the measure would be of financial benefit to the British taxpayer, although I suspect that the benefits would be marginal. There is no reason to believe that there would be an additional burden on the British taxpayer.
For all those reasons, we regard the measure as a step in the right direction. We congratulate the Government on their achievement in taking the negotiations to this stage and wish them well in trying to ensure that any anomalies that arise can be ironed out and improved over time.
Mr. Clappison: I wish to speak briefly not on the merits of the measure but on the process of scrutiny in which we have been engaged. One must do that if we are to do justice to the role of this House in scrutinising legislation.
Scrutiny must mean debating legislation and doing so at an appropriate time. The public would think that we had taken leave of our senses if we started to organise debates on legislation after it had come into effect, but that is what I fear has broadly happened in this case. The Government have already agreed at a European Council to the general approach that is being taken in the legislation, and it is clear that only in limited circumstances, which do not seem to apply in this case,
Even on the Governments view of the European scrutiny process, which is not universally accepted, the spirit of the scrutiny reserve resolution has been breached. It has been breached big time, because the Government have driven a coach and horses through the process and through the spirit of the scrutiny reserve resolution, as can be seen by the paper that we have received from the European Scrutiny Committee, which set out the Committees concerns quite some time ago. I believe, too, that that can be seen in subsequent correspondence between that Committee and the Government, about which more will be heard later, I suspect.
Notwithstanding the four warnings that the Government were given by the European Scrutiny Committee that the matter should be debated in Parliament before a general acceptance is reached, they have gone ahead and agreed to it. Working on the Governments own guidelines, that is the end of scrutiny in this House for all intents and purposes. That is what has happened in the scrutiny process, and we would be fulfilling less than our role if we did not draw that to the attention of the House. I exempt this Minister from the criticism, because he has been very courteous to the Committee. He is, I think, the first Minister to apologise for what has taken place. No doubt other Ministers will hear more about the subject later.
Mr. Hands: May I say first that I share the concerns of my hon. Friends about the scrutiny timetable and about the seeming inability to get answers on a lot of the detail of the proposal? I echo the positive comments of the hon. Member for Taunton about the contribution of Polish citizens to this country. My constituency has probably the largest percentage of Polish residents of anywhere in the country.
There is only one matter that I want to raise. We are talking about not only prisoners, legal practitioners and those working in the prison system, but the
Mr. Sutcliffe: I thank you, Mr. Marshall, the officials and the Committee secretariat for organising the scrutiny of this important measure. I broadly welcome the agreement that has been reached that the measure is sensible and appropriate, and I am grateful to the Committee for recognising that fact. I acknowledge the concerns of the hon. Member for Hertsmere about the scrutiny process. He has strongly made his points about how he feels about that.
On dealing with victims and the issues that affect them, I am grateful for the support of the hon. and learned Member for Harborough and Victim Support for the victim care units that we have introduced. I certainly intend that the issues relating to victims will be considered in the detail that will necessarily flow from the agreement. Again, we will look to the agreement to ensure that it delivers what we want it to, which is the consideration of rehabilitation. While the punitive element should be in place, so should rehabilitation. I am grateful to the Committee and acknowledge the support from all parties.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee takes note of European Union Document No. 13080/06, Draft Council Framework Decision on the application of the principle of mutual recognition to judgments in criminal matters imposing custodial sentences or measures involving deprivation of liberty for the purpose of their enforcement in the European Union; and supports the Governments intention to secure adoption of this agreement.
Committee rose at eleven minutes to Six oclock.
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