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I am sure the Minister agrees that if a person is handed a suspended sentence he has committed a crime of some seriousness in the first instance. The suspended sentence is activated only when somebody is
in trouble for a second time and is, therefore, by definition a repeat offender, so it seems entirely reasonable to us that such a person should have the hospitality of this country withdrawn from them. I am glad that the Government have once again shown flexibility in the wake of the discussions in Committee and that they agree with us on that point.
I hope that the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz) will speak to his amendment No. 2, which also deals with exemptions from automatic deportation. Under clause 32, people are exempt if they are under 18 when convicted and, as I understand the right hon. Gentlemans amendment, he wants to focus on the date of the offence rather than the date of conviction. I have a degree of sympathy with Ministers on that point, as clearly they need to select one event as the cut-off point for the exemption. None of the options is perfect, but the advantage of using the date of the offence is that it will seem fairer. Justice can occasionally take a long time, so it is not difficult to imagine a situation where two 17-year-olds might commit a crime on the same day but one might be deported because his case took longer to get to court and he had passed his 18th birthday, while someone committing the same crime on the same day would be allowed to stay in the UK because he received justice more quickly. Such a hypothetical situation is not difficult to imagine; nor is it difficult to imagine that the public would find it somewhat unfair.
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): But does my hon. Friend not agree that one down is better than none down at all, and that we are better off getting rid of at least one prolific offender? Most people would find that a better solution all round.
Damian Green: It is an unarguable fact that treating one offender properly is better than nobody being treated properly, but I hope my hon. Friend agrees that everyone being treated fairly by the law should be our aim when passing legislation in the House, so that all offenders know that what is coming to them is the same punishment as for those who commit equivalent offences.
I have a deal of sympathy for the amendment and I shall be interested to hear the counter-arguments the Minister deploys against it, if indeed he does so. I know that the hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) wants to speak to amendments Nos. 34 and 35, so I shall let him do so before commenting further.
There are good reasons why we have data protection legislation and why third parties are not normally given access to information under that legislation. In general, it is right that the legislation applies. I am familiar with the type of problem to which my hon. Friend referred and have seen a significant number of such cases, although they do not always involve criminal offences. A common situation might be that a marriage has broken up less than two years before an application for indefinite leave to remain was granted and a
constituent claims that the person they left was violent and subjected them to harassment. Often, no criminal offence is committed in such cases so it can be difficult to decide whether information should be released, because when someone approaches us in such circumstances we inevitably hear only one side of the story. We might have an opinion on how valid that side of the story is, but we are only hearing one side of the story.
I have handled cases similar to those described by my hon. Friend. Recently, a constituent I was dealing with had separated from her husband who had been violent. He had then been convicted of a sexual offence elsewhere in the country. He had also been subjecting her family to considerable harassment after the marriage broke down. In my opinion, we should have got rid of him as quickly as possible. However, we ran into the problem of not being able to get information about what was happening to him and whether he was going to be deported.
As my hon. Friend said, we will not necessarily always get the result that the constituent wantsthe other person being removed. However, whether or not they are removed it is common sense that the victim ought at least to have information on that. Has the person been subject to a deportation order? Has that order been signed? Has it been put into effect? If that has happened, it will give the victim some peace of mind. If for some reason it has not been possible to deport the convicted person, at least the victim will know that and can, if necessary, take whatever precautions they think are reasonable to try to avoid coming into contact again with the criminal.
Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): The examples given are all very familiar. In some such circumstances, the assailant and the victim are married. In many cases, the victimusually a womanis also the assailants sponsor for being in the United Kingdom in the first place. Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that in such circumstances at the very leastwhere there is a clear locus in addition to someone being the victim of a crime, subject to the other person being convicted of thatinformation about deportation should be provided?
Mr. Gerrard: That is a common scenario, but I can think of situations in which it would be difficult to give out such information. There might not have been a criminal charge. The person might not have been convicted. A constituent might come to their MP with allegations about someones behaviour but the police have not been involved and there has not been a conviction. In such circumstances, we hear only one side of the story. We might well believe it, but there has been no conviction.
However, we are currently talking about people who have been convictedand of serious offences. The new clause does not ask for wide, generalised information to be given. It does not ask for information to be given about anything other than the deportation order itself. That is worth considering. Even if the Minister feels that the new clause as it stands is not appropriate and
that what is needed are changes to existing legislationperhaps to data protection legislationI hope that he will look into the matter.
We are discussing narrow but clearly defined circumstances. I and other Members have dealt with constituents who have been very distressed when they have been the victim of a serious crime and it is not possible for them to know what is happening to the individual who committed it. We should contrast their situation with that of someone who has been a victim of crime in other circumstances and who would be able to get some informationwho would know if someone were to be released on parole, for example. I hope that the Minister will look into this matter.
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I rise to support amendments Nos. 34 and 35, on which we hope to have an opportunity to vote at a later stage. Perhaps one of the biggest issues with automatic deportation is that, in the Bill, automatic deportation is not automatic deportation. The key question about the processes whereby somebody goes through a criminal conviction and then ends up at some stage being deported is this: at what stage should the judicial consideration of the merits of the case for deportation occur? We have strongly argued that that should happen at an early stage. We argue that the court of first instance at which the decision is taken about whether someone is guilty and what sentence they should receive should also be the point at which it should be decided whether they ought to be deported. The Governments alternativehaving failed previously to execute judicial recommendations for deportationis for the Home Secretary still to decide whether certain exemptions apply. As a consequence, the decision will be subject to judicial review. Because it will be subject to judicial review, there will be a stay of deportation proceedings until the judicial review has occurred.
Therefore, rather than the judicial consideration occuring right at the start, it happens at the end of the process. Therefore, we can envisage a prisoner being released because judicial review proceedings have been initiated and wandering off somewhere. The judicial review proceedings then continue and it is decided that there is no case to answer, but the person concerned has been released. That is absurd. Even if the Conservative partys recommendation for deportation decisions to be taken at least a month before the end of the sentence is accepted, we could end up with people being released and there being a stay of proceedings. With no deportation, violent criminals could be allowed to wander the streets when they should have been deported.
It is clear that these issues should be dealt with at the start. Some offences that result in imprisonmentsuch as not paying council tax, stealing electricity, or not attending probation meetingsdo not make someone a major threat to society. If someone has been living in the country for 30 years, we would not expect them to be deported for not going to a meeting or not paying council tax. That would not be reasonable.
David T.C. Davies:
The hon. Gentleman must be aware that nobody has been sentenced to more than 12 months in prison for not paying council tax. Therefore, the situation he describes is very unlikely to arise. No more than a handful of people each year are
convicted of stealing electricity, and I am sure that the sentences for doing so are extremely light and of less than 12 months.
John Hemming: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the current wording of clause 31. Obviously, some cases are covered that do not have a 12-month sentence applied. Suspended sentences are applied in some circumstances. It would be useful if the hon. Gentleman did a little more research on sentences.
We are saying not that criminals should not be deported under certain circumstances, but that judicial consideration should happen at the start of the process. That deals with one of the points of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), in that at that stage the victim is involved in the criminal process. It is at that stage that it should be decided whether it is appropriate to deport someone. There is no disagreement in this House that someone who comes to this country and goes about causing all sorts of problems, involving violence, for examplethe situation in which the victim is the sponsor is a good exampleshould be subject to deportation. The question is: what is a firm but fair and effective way of doing that? The Government have failed to be effective in the past. We are simply saying that this decision should be taken by the initial court.
Damian Green: I am not sure that that solves the good point of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney). A Judge might decide in the first instance that someone should be deported, but during the period of the prison sentence, the country to which he ought to be deported became so dangerous that he could not be deported there. Things might be even worse in the current situation in which someone might get a letter saying X will be deported but they are not deported. I am not sure that this problem has been addressed.
John Hemming: I accept that our suggestion only partially addresses that, in that the victim will be involved in the initial process and in the decision-making process as to whether someone should be deported.
There is a good argument in favour of new clause 1. As things stand, without new clause 1, there would be so-called automatic deportation as a result of some serious offence. A decision then would be taken by the Home Secretary as to whether that satisfies certain exemptions, and that would then be subject to judicial review, but the victim would not even know that a judicial review had gone through. Therefore, someone would be released from prison and be free to move anywhere in the country. However, the victim may believe, because of the flaws in the design of the system, that a deportation is occurring, only for the person concerned to turn up on their doorstep.
Frankly, the Government have got to get their act together and start designing systems that are firm, but fair and effective. The current proposals are not effective. They put the judicial process at the end of the system, rather than at the beginning, and that process should take place at the beginning.
I have previously raised with a Home Office Minister a case involving a constituent of mine, a young man from Leicester who was studying in Manchester. He was killed in a road accident by a Chinese citizen. The matter went before the courts and there was a series of adjournments before the final hearing took place. Unknown to my constituents parents, the person responsible for the crime, although he had not been convictedhe had been charged and was to appear for trialwas removed by the Home Office back to China. So although they were ready to attend the trial of this gentleman and were seeking closure in order to move on, they were told by the court staff that he had been removed.
The then Minister with responsibility for such matters, my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham)he is now a Minister of State in the Department of Healthtold me that new procedures would be put in place to ensure that someone who was part of the judicial process would not be removed without people being informed. I am not sure whether that has happened. When the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality sums up the debate on this group of new clauses and amendments, he will doubtless tell us what has happened as a result of the issues raised in the Adjournment debate on this matter. Although I was satisfied with the actions of the then Minister, I was not convinced that the procedures adopted then by the Home Office would help us to ensure that such a situation would not occur again.
Hence the need for new clause 1, which is a sensible, reasonable provision that would help the Home Office and the victims of crime. In the light of todays statement about splitting the Home Office in half and putting the Prison Service and the probation service under the remit of the Ministry of Justicea move that I supportwe will be dealing with two Departments instead of one. The flow of information might therefore not be as seamless as one would have liked; it certainly was not seamless before. However, if we adopted new clause 1, which has the support of other Members, such information would be forthcoming. As a result, victims would be informed and people would not be left in the situation faced by my constituents, to whom information was given only when they happened to ask. If the new clause was accepted, such information would be given to victims not by the Crown Prosecution Service or the police, or by the opposing sides solicitors to their solicitors, but by the appropriate authorityin this case, the Home Office.
The gentleman to whom I refer was removed to China, but we do not know whether he has come back to the United Kingdom. We have no indication whether a cross was put on his passport or whether the Home Office told the Foreign Office about this case, which would mean that when he applied for entry clearance, the officer concerned would be aware that he had committed a crime for which he had not been charged. That is why this information is vital and why new clause 1 is so important. For those who will suffer in future, such a provision would be a great comfort;
and my constituents, who have suffered following the death of their son, would be able to feel that the Government have acted responsibly to ensure that they can obtain closure.
David T.C. Davies: I congratulate the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney) on making the case for new clause 1 so well. When I first read it I did not realise its significance, or that such a problem existed in obtaining information. If it is accepted, it would help the victims of offences and it would help Members of Parliament to help those whom we feel have a genuine case for staying here. We cannot always get the information that we require about foreign nationals in this country.
The hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) echoed that concern, but I disagree with him slightly on one point. There is a wider malaise in the Home Office; not at the top, for onceI am not going to blame the Government for thisbut among its middle-management, who seem to feel that victims do not have the right to information about offences, be they offences involving foreign or British nationals. I was involved in a case concerning a British national, and it was impossible to get information for the victims of that crime on when that person was going to be released from custody, or even on what his sentence was. Such information should be freely available, but the reality is that it is not. I therefore hope that my colleagues will consider supporting new clause 1.
I fear that I will not win so many friends in talking about the amendments in this group. Amendment No. 35 appears to be an attempt to take away from the Home Secretary the power to take decisions about deportations and to give more powers to the judiciary.
David T.C. Davies: Of course, but the hon. Gentleman will know that it is very difficult to initiate judicial reviewone has to prove not that one disagrees with the decision, but that the way in which it was made was fundamentally flawed in a legal sense. The amendment would make it easier for those who have committed offences to stay in this country.
I turn to amendment No. 2, tabled by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz), amendment No. 15 and the various Government amendments. It is my fundamental belief that those who come to this country who are willing to work, play their part and make a contribution should be welcomed. However, I am afraid that far too many people who come here have no intention whatsoever of living up to the high standards that we set in this country, or of obeying our rules, and are prepared to commit crimes persistently and with no regard whatsoever for their victims.
As you may know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wear another hat as a special constable, and every time I log on to the force computer it becomes clear that gangs of pickpockets from several European countriessome
inside the EU and others outside itand from one African country are operating in this country, and that they have committed numerous offences and are arrested regularly. I can see their names and addresses on the computer and the long list of offences of which they have been convicted, and I know from statistics that they have been convicted of only a fraction of the offences that they have actually committed. However, they are not deported. Even when these provisions come into force, it is unlikely that many of them will be deported, because they are committing crimes that often carry a sentence of less than 12 months imprisonment.
David T.C. Davies: In a momentwhen I have made my point about whether we should be booting out people aged over 18 or under 18 at the time of the offence. If we can remove more people from this country, we should do so if they are breaking the law. There should be no place in Great Britain for those who come here as career criminals.
John Hemming: Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that our amendment would enable a persistent pickpocket to be put through the deportation process, and that, unlike his proposal, it would lead to their deportation?
David T.C. Davies: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Although his amendment would make deportation possible, it would be unlikely to happen in practice. Low though my opinion is of the Home Office, the Home Secretary is at least accountable in some way to public opinion. That is one of the reasons we have had a few Home Secretaries recently. The public have lost confidence in them. Ultimately, I would prefer to put my faith, little though it is, in the Home Office rather than in the judiciary, because the judiciary is completely unaccountable and, in far too many instances, passes sentences that defy rationality and common sense.
I shall make my final point bluntly. There should be no country in the world considered so dangerous that we should not deport people to it if they are persistent criminals or have committed serious crimes such as rape. I do not know what case the hon. Member for Walthamstow was talking about, but at least one rapist was imprisoned, and not deported on release, because Somalia was deemed to be too dangerous, and went on to commit another rape. I do not know the outcome, but I suspect that he still has not been deported.
The Foreign Office was able to spend £10,000 on sending a private jet into Somalia, presumably containing security guards, to rescue people who had British passports and who had been fighting on one side or the other in the Somali civil war and were connected with al-Qaeda. We were able to get planes in to pick people upalthough I suspect that they will not make a great contribution to this countryso we should be able to send planes to take back people who are detrimental to the safety of the public in this country, such as the rapist I mentioned.
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