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9 May 2007 : Column 208

As anyone who has been to Africa or anywhere in the third world will know, a little bit of money goes a long way. If we wanted to deport someone to Somalia, we would not need to go to the expense of chartering private jets. We could simply take them to the Kenyan border and pay someone a few dollars to take them over in a minibus. It would be easy to deport people to Somalia. Put me into the Home Office and I will deport people who do not belong in this country left, right and centre. There is no single country to which we cannot physically deport people, and there is no country so dangerous that we should not deport people to it if they have committed the most serious offences.

Paul Rowen: I hope that the Minister will accept new clause 1 and amendments Nos. 34, 35 and 2. We are having this debate about automatic deportation because last year the Home Office failed to review and implement deportation orders on several criminals in the system. The Home Secretary did not exercise his powers and ended up losing his job.

I agree with the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney). In the short time I have been a Member of Parliament, I have dealt with several cases of women subject to domestic violence in forced marriages. I have written to the Minister about some of those cases and the most frustrating aspect for the women is that their husbands are still around, having served their sentences. Data protection legislation prevents the Minister from giving the women any indication of when their husbands are to be removed. In the past 12 months, I have dealt with four such cases. It is deplorable that women who have been subjected to domestic violence should not know how long their husbands will be roaming around or when they will be deported.

Keith Vaz: When such women come to my surgeries and ask me to write to the Home Office for all the information they can be given, the Minister or his official writes back to say, “Sorry, as you are a third party, we cannot give you any information.” The spouse is never informed of what is happening.

Paul Rowen: I agree. If new clause 1 and the amendments tabled by the Liberal Democrats were accepted, the victims would know at the time of sentence whether the offender was to be deported. The Minister can dress up the issue any way he wants—it might make good headlines to claim automatic deportation for a sentence of more than 12 months—but the clause is riddled with so many exceptions and ifs and buts that it will not happen. If our amendment is accepted, a decision will have to be made. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) gave the example of a pickpocket who commits a series of offences that do not qualify for an automatic 12-month sentence. Under the present rules, that person will not be subject to automatic deportation.

The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Liam Byrne): The automatic deportation provisions are not simply confined to those who have been given a 12-month sentence. They include the 324 offences that sit on section 72 of the 2003 Act. To take the excellent example of the
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recidivist pickpockets, their offences would be defined under the Theft Act 1968, which are on the section 72 order and so would be caught by the provisions of the Bill.

Paul Rowen: I am grateful to the Minister for that information. But let us take the example of a child asylum seeker—I have dealt with one such case in the past 12 months—who comes to this country with a false passport or no passport. At present, that offence attracts a 12-month sentence. The amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Leicester, East, which applies the age limit of 18 to the date the offence was committed, rather than the date of conviction, would at least ensure some sort of parity when people are sentenced. The 12-month sentence limit is very arbitrary. Someone can be sent to jail for 12 months for not paying their council tax, for fly-tipping or for possession of cannabis.

David T.C. Davies: The hon. Gentleman is being naïve. He talks about research, but nobody is sentenced to prison for 12 months for not paying their council tax, smoking cannabis or fly-tipping, although given our environmental problems, it would be good if they were for the latter. Let him give the House a single example of one council tax defaulter or cannabis smoker who has been given 12 months in prison and then he can make his case.

John Hemming: The hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) fails to understand what the Minister said, which is that certain offences require only a sentence or suspended sentence of imprisonment of any length to qualify.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. If a Member gives way to an intervention, it is usual for him to deal with it before taking another. Otherwise we lose the thread of the debate.

Paul Rowen: I am grateful for that guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The debate clearly illustrates why the clause needs serious revision. It is a fact, whether the hon. Member for Monmouth likes it or not, that those offences that I have mentioned can result in a 12-month jail sentence. They may not do so at the moment, although if he became Home Secretary I have no doubt that they would. We seek to provide clarity so that the judge will decide the sentence and the victim knows what will happen. Then, and only then, the decision can be subject to judicial review, whether by the Home Secretary or anybody else.

Damian Green: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who is being very generous. He is talking about clarity, so will he clear up what amendment No. 35 means? It states that

What does the phrase “public interest” mean, as used in the amendment?

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Paul Rowen: I can give the hon. Gentleman an example of what the phrase means. Let us say that a child from a war-torn country is seeking asylum here. The automatic 12-month sentence could lead to deportation, but it might not be in the public interest to send that child back to a country where he or she may not find a place of safety. That is why the public interest test has to be included. Moreover, the important point to remember is that what constitutes the public interest is subject to challenge by judicial review.

3.30 pm

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way; he is indeed being very generous. The public interest test is applied in every prosecution in this country—it is one of the requirements that the Crown Prosecution Service must meet before it mounts a prosecution, so it is hardly alien to our legal system. Surely, my hon. Friend is asking for the sort of clarity in sentencing that our hon. Friend the Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) asked for earlier from the Ministry of Justice. He was assured that that was part of Government thinking.

Paul Rowen: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. In conclusion, I hope that the Minister will consider new clause 1 and our amendments Nos. 34 and 35. They are important because they would provide clarity. We believe that the 12-month test is about headlines more than it is about dealing with real issues and offences.

Mr. Byrne: I want to put on the record my gratitude to the House for the range of amendments in this group. The debate has been a good illustration of the sort of discussion that we had in Committee. There have been two extremes in the debate and, like all reasonable Governments, we have sought the right balance. We listened to the arguments made in Committee and, as the hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) noted, we brought forward provisions to toughen some of the measures in the Bill.

I shall begin by talking about some of the more procedurally oriented amendments—new clause 1, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), and amendment No. 2 tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz). I have enormous sympathy for both, and should like to thank my colleagues for the time that they have spent arguing their case with me, in this and previous debates, and in private.

I associate myself in particular with the remarks made by my hon. Friends the Members for Stafford and for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard). Many Members have encountered the same frustration at the lack of disclosure about sensitive cases. I have a great deal of experience of the sort of case raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow. Indeed, two such cases were brought to my attention just last Saturday. The first involved a young woman who was suffering intimidation by a former partner and having great difficulty understanding the status of the case. The
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second involved a young man suffering threats of violence from a former partner and members of her family—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I wonder whether I could ask the Minister to face the microphone? It is difficult for hon. Members and the Hansard writers to hear him.

Mr. Byrne: Thank you for your counsel, Madam Deputy Speaker.

We need to make changes in this area, but our acceptance of new clause 1 is constrained by the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998. The way in which it is drafted means that we would have to disclose information in quite a wide range of circumstances. For example, we would have to disclose the nature and basis of the asylum claim, and that could lead to questions about what considerations had been taken into account and what information was taken into account under articles 8 and 3 of the European convention on human rights.

It is important that we frame the Bill in a way that allows us to disclose the maximum possible amount of information to families and victims, yet still observe the constraints of existing legislation. Section 15(1) ofthe Criminal Justice Act 2003 allows information to be disclosed on 65 different offences. Under that provision, victim liaison officers are allowed to provide information about when a decision is made, when a deportation has been effected, and what conditions are attached to a person who has been released on bail. The victim has to opt in, and that happens in about 5,000 cases each year, so some of the arrangements are working in practice. I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford met me to discuss his constituency case in more detail, so that we can understand whether the arrangements that have been put in place under the Domestic Violence, Crime Victims Act 2004 are working in that case or whether there is a problem with the implementation of the policy. Is there something that is mechanically not working and needs to be addressed?

Damian Green: In many cases, deportation happens after an order by a judge. A judge will recommend deportation—that is a public judicial act. I genuinely fail to see how a Data Protection Act constraint can apply to an order that is made by a judge in an open court in front of reporters and so on.

Mr. Byrne: Precisely. That is why, under the 2004 Act, it is possible for victim liaison officers to disclose information about whether a deportation has been effected and, when a decision has been made, what that decision will mean, as well as, if someone is released on bail, the conditions that are attached to that. If my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford will permit me, I should like to explore whether those arrangements are working in practice or whether they need to be improved.

Mr. Kidney: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for all that he has said, including the offer of a meeting, which I readily accept. In so far as there are obstacles, as he has described, in the Human Rights and Data
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Protection Acts, those are clearly Acts of Parliament that this place has passed. We are now debating another Act of Parliament and surely we can set what we want the law to be. When my hon. Friend describes the first small step that was taken in the 2003 Act, will he look at whether that can be strengthened to meet the concern that I have described today?

Mr. Byrne: The answer must be yes, because under the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act there is provision to disclose information about 65 different offences, but under the automatic deportation provisions in the Bill there are 324 offences listed in relation to section 72 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 that would result in automatic deportation if a sentence were handed out. As the hon. Member for Ashford pointed out, a court can recommend deportation, too. It is imperative that we understand how the Criminal Justice Act and the Bill line up. As I say, I am keen to ensure that there is nothing that is not working in practice as well.

We need to go a step further. Because of representations made to me by Members—particularly my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar), who is not in his place—and because of my experience in Birmingham, I have asked for a complete review of the disclosure policy of the Border and Immigration Agency. Today, I referred that to legal advisers for their view on whether we are operating at the boundary of existing provisions in the way we disclose information. I will write to Members by the end of the month with a statement of the new policy so that there is time for them to make representations before the Bill passes to another place.

Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): May I ask the Minister a straightforward question? Who will hold the data that he mentions? In Committee, I referred to the situation in my constituency where I have been seeking to obtain records of the offences committed by the 55 foreign prisoners released in a 12-month period from Peterborough prison. I have been told repeatedly by the Minister’s Department that it cannot correlate the manual records held at the prison with those held at the former immigration and nationality directorate. If we cannot provide that sort of detailed information to a Member of Parliament, how can we possibly provide it, within the confines and the parameters that he mentions, to members of the public and, in particular, victims and their families?

Mr. Byrne: We have to try to draw apart two different things. The inquiries that the hon. Gentleman has made are about the offences that have been committed by a reasonable number of individuals. As I think the replies will have made clear—I apologise if they have not—such an answer would involve a search through the details of each record. I think that the information sought by my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford relates to what is happening to the perpetrator. Such information would detail whether an offender was being pursued for deportation, whether a deportation order had been served and whether the person had left the country. In other words, that information would show whether the victim was safe from further harassment or intimidation—or worse. One does not need to surf through an individual’s case
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history in enormous detail to provide such information, which is often required not only by victims, but by estranged spouses, who are involved in the particular problem that I face in my constituency.

Let me deal with a point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East. A piece of correspondence that is with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary addresses some of the questions that he raised. Amendment No. 2, which he tabled, relates to a debate that we had in Committee about whether the relevant date for consideration should be the date of conviction or the date of the offence. I shall rehearse the argument that was made, by which I guess that I stand.

It is often very difficult to pin down the precise date of an offence, especially if it relates to drug dealing or sexual abuse. In sexual abuse cases, the victim is often unable to pin down the precise date of the offence, and the offence might have been perpetrated over a substantial period of time. If the relevant date was that of the offence, there would be a risk that the provisions would not be triggered for such an individual, although, as the hon. Member for Monmouth (David T.C. Davies) said, that person would be better not in Britain any more. While the answer that we propose might not be perfect, it is, on balance, the best possible solution.

We have heard arguments at different extremes. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Paul Rowen) and my neighbour, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming), argued that we should start with the judicial process. However, we already start with a judicial process because there will be criminal proceedings and a judge will hand down a sentence. I am troubled that their proposal would remove the strong relationship between committing an offence and being deported. It would put a great deal into the hands of judges and leave too much to judicial discretion. That would create the risk of different decisions being made in different parts of the country.

I suppose that my objections to the hon. Gentlemen’s proposal are threefold. First, we would lose all clarity about whether a breach of Britain’s hospitality leads to deportation. Such clarity about consequences serves as an important deterrent that we should retain. Secondly, we would lose the British public’s wider reassurance that serious criminality is not to be tolerated and that people who commit a serious offence will be removed. The combination of those factors would create the strong risk that criminally minded foreign nationals would be given the green light to try their luck because they could treat the discretion of the courts as a roll of the dice. Thirdly, I do not think that the proposal would get away from the problem of judicial reviews, given that amendment No. 35 would leave open the possibility of judicial review at the end of the process. It is important to remember that the non-suspensive appeal procedures for asylum claims that we have tried have been tremendously successful. There have been very few judicial reviews and even fewer have been lost.

John Hemming: That is not automatic deportation because clause 32 contains a massive number of exceptions. The Home Secretary’s decision on whether an exception applies could be affected by a judicial
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review. The problem is that while it says that it is automatic deportation, it is in fact a mechanism whereby a button is pressed at the start, yet the process can later be reversed by judicial review. Judicial considerations should happen at the start of the process. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. The Government have messed it up before and they will mess it up again.

3.45 pm

Mr. Byrne: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his good wishes, but under the arrangements in the Bill, the principal scope of judicial review is to determine whether the Home Secretary has properly considered an individual’s claim for humanitarian protection or asylum. Under the provisions, it is possible for the Home Secretary to designate such a claim as being clearly unfounded. As I say, we have used such provisions before; they are not a great legal innovation and I am not claiming anything original for the Bill. We have tried and tested the mechanisms under the non-suspensive appeal procedure for asylum claims and they have been found to be very successful.

The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) did not get a chance to speak to his amendments Nos. 15 and 8. I do not know whether he will have a chance to make his points later. His amendments go to the other extreme—they would trigger automatic deportation for absolutely everybody, no matter what offence they had committed. We deliberately sketched the provisions in such a way that they apply extremely widely.

Damian Green: On a procedural point, just in case the reputation of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) be traduced because he has not spoken to his amendments, I should point out that my understanding is that his amendments were not selected, so it is not surprising that he did not speak to them.

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con) rose—

Mr. Byrne: I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Philip Davies: I am grateful to the Minister. I must apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to the House; I had a meeting with a constituent and the Minister of State, Ministry of Defence, the right hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr. Ingram), and it overran, which meant that I could not be here in time to speak to my amendments. The point that I want to make about them is that if people come to this country and accept our hospitality and our welcome, they should at least abide by the laws of the land. Given that no one ever goes to prison the first time that they commit a crime, and given that it is rare for people to go to prison these days, surely the fact that someone has gone to prison at all, whatever the length of their sentence, means that they are not suitable to stay in this country.

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