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House of Commons

Monday 11 June 2007

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions

Home Department

The Secretary of State was asked

Simon Mudada

1. Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): If he will determine the current immigration status of Mr. Simon Mudada, further to correspondence between the Minister for Immigration and Asylum and the hon. Member for Gainsborough; and if he will make a statement. [141123]

The Minister for Immigration and Asylum (Mr. Liam Byrne): I have written again to the hon. Gentleman on 8 June to provide an update on this case.

Mr. Leigh: Will the Minister reconsider his position on this case? Mr. Mudada is a minister of religion and an opposition activist working for the Movement for Democratic Change. He has applied twice, and he has been in this country for five years.

I want to appeal to the Minister on urgent compassionate grounds. Mrs. Mudada, who has been to my surgery twice, has not seen her four children, the youngest of whom is nine years old, for almost five years. They were being looked after by their grandmother in Harare, but she is now dead. This is surely an urgent, compassionate case. The Minister said to me in his letter that the children can apply for entry clearance, but until Mr. Mudada’s status is cleared up, they cannot. Whatever the Minister’s views about whether Mr. Mudada is a genuine asylum seeker, he should clear the matter up so that that mother can see her children.

Mr. Byrne: I have made it my policy not to discuss individual cases on the Floor of the House, but I would be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the case if he would find it convenient. Generally, it is the policy of the Border and Immigration Agency to enforce decisions when an independent judicial process has concluded that somebody does not have the right to be in this country, and that it is safe for them to go home. Obviously, I look with particular care at cases from Zimbabwe, given the despicable nature of the regime there.

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Foreign Prisoners (Deportation)

2. Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) (Con): What recent discussions he has had with the Ministry of Justice on measures to deport foreign prisoners following their release from prison. [141124]

The Minister for Immigration and Asylum (Mr. Liam Byrne): Discussions are going on all the time.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: Last year the Prime Minister told the House that

However, the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006 explicitly rule out deporting people with criminal convictions to the European economic area. Will the Government stop talking tough about deporting criminals while exporting the powers to do so? Or will the Government retrieve those powers to deport criminals and enable the Prime Minister to fulfil the pledge that he made to the House?

Mr. Byrne: I know that the right hon. Gentleman will have looked very closely at those immigration regulations, referred to as statutory instrument No. 1003; however, if he looks at them again he will notice that they say no such thing. The Government are still able to consider all deportation cases, whether the individual is from the European Union or not.

May I take the right hon. Gentleman’s mind back to the free movement of people directive, which was laid before the House? I do not think that any party prayed against it, and therefore I assume that it has all-party support, if not the support of all Members. That directive sets out our policy for deporting people from the EU. We will consider people from the EU for deportation if their offences are serious, and I anticipate that we will deport a good 300-plus this year alone.

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for keeping the promise that he made to the House on Report of the UK Borders Bill to review the Home Office policy on informing the victims of crime of the deportation of foreign nationals from prison. When does he anticipate the new policy being in place?

Mr. Byrne: I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for the time that he has taken to brief me on the troubling circumstances of the individual case about which he addressed the House at some length earlier this year. If we are to rebalance the criminal justice system and the immigration system in favour of the victim, it is important that we disclose information when we are able to do so. I hope to put in place a new policy to do so on request from right hon. and hon. Members within the next month.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): The Prison Officers Association is on record as saying that it is very concerned that when foreign nationals have completed their sentences, that is the point at which people consider what to do with them. Frequently,
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they remain in custody for two or three months, which is absolutely wrong on human rights grounds and everything else. Will the Minister assure the House that the planning of what to do with them is started well before their sentences expire?

Mr. Byrne: My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary told the House last year that we would bring forward considerably the point at which we consider a foreign national prisoner’s case for deportation. We now routinely consider cases six months before the sentence comes to an end. It is because we now consider cases much earlier in the process that we have almost doubled the rate at which we send foreign national prisoners back to where they came from.

Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) (Lab): I have raised the case of James Bishop with the Minister before. The person who killed my constituent was removed from this country before the trial took place. Will my hon. Friend confirm that he is having discussions with the Foreign Office as well as with the Ministry of Justice so that those who are removed will not be able to reapply for entry clearance, and that if they reapply it will be clear to entry clearance managers and entry clearance officers why they were removed from the UK, so they will not be allowed to return?

Mr. Byrne: My right hon. Friend has previously raised the case with me; I have such discussions with my colleagues in the Foreign Office every fortnight. Crucial to making the progress he wants is the introduction of biometric visas in every visa post around the world. We have now introduced them in 67 countries and we already find that thousands of people are reapplying whom we know about through our records. That is why it would be such an error to shut down the biometric identification system in which the Government are investing.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): I sit in the London courts and an increasing number of serious crimes are being committed by people who come to the UK from the new EU states. Does the court have the power to order their deportation? Should it not have the power to do so?

Mr. Byrne: In the case of EU nationals, the free movement directive sets the framework for the policy we have to adopt, but for foreign nationals more generally the provisions in the UK Borders Bill are exactly right and mean that people who commit a serious offence in this country will face the prospect of automatic deportation, and if they want to appeal against it they can do so from the country they came from.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): Can my hon. Friend assure the House that if foreign prisoners are held in any devolved part of the UK the devolved body will be consulted when they are being deported?

Mr. Byrne: There are close arrangements for dealing with matters between devolved Administrations. Obviously the detention estate available in Scotland is run by the Border and Immigration Agency, but colleagues in the
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BIA in Scotland are in close day-to-day contact with officials from the Scottish Executive and the Scotland Office.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): The Minister’s attempts to reassure the House about the deportation of foreign prisoners are pointless unless he can give us accurate figures about how many former foreign prisoners are still at large in the UK and how many are still under lock and key. He may be aware that when I asked how many former foreign prisoners were in young offender institutions, the former prisons Minister, now the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, replied that the data are

If Ministers cannot say how many former prisoners are still locked up, the Minister needs to clarify whether the Government really do not know, which would be alarming, or know but will not tell us—which would be disgraceful. Which is it?

Mr. Byrne: My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was clear about the seven or eight key failings in the criminal justice system that resulted in the crisis of foreign national prisoners not being considered for deportation appropriately last year. One issue was the difficulty of identifying whether people in the criminal justice system are foreign nationals. To remedy that, we have set in train work with the police; pilots are under way and the lessons from them will be applied across the criminal justice system. Our determination to deport those who have no right to be in this country is clear, which is why we have invested extra resources and doubled the rate at which we are sending foreign national prisoners home.

Detention without Charge

3. Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD): What his policy is on the period of detention without charge for terrorist suspects; and if he will make a statement. [141125]

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (John Reid): First, with your permission Mr. Speaker, I am deeply saddened to report to the House the death today of PC Jon Henry while on duty in Luton with Bedfordshire police. Tragic events such as his death highlight the dangers that police officers face day to day in their task of protecting the public. I have spoken with the chief constable of Bedfordshire police, Gillian Parker, and passed on my sympathies and those of the whole House to the friends, family and loved ones and colleagues in the police service of PC Jon Henry.

I believe that events in the past 12 months have strengthened the case for extending pre-charge detention. However, I believe that we ought to seek broad agreement, if possible, on the way forward and have therefore opened consultations on the matter to see if a consensus can be reached.

Mr. Carmichael: I associate myself with the Home Secretary’s very proper expressions of condolence with regard to Constable Henry and his family.

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When the Home Secretary consults on detention without charge, will he bear in mind the need to consult police and prosecutors in all parts of the United Kingdom? He may recall that his predecessor did not feel it necessary to speak to the Lord Advocate about that, and given the widespread concern in Scotland about the Prime Minister’s dealings with Libya last week, will the Home Secretary promise me that this will not be another free gift to the Scottish National party?

John Reid: Yes, I will try to ensure that all those proprieties are observed, in the spirit as well as in the letter. I do not accept that there is anything improper about the proceedings over the past week or two, which was the premise of the hon. Gentleman’s question. I agree with those elements of the Scottish press that say that this was more spin than substance, however effective the spin side might have been from the point of view of the First Minister. Nevertheless, it is right to remember that with such important issues we should carry out the fullest and widest possible consultation.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): In the Home Secretary’s consultations over the period of detention without trial for terror suspects, will he bear in mind the fact that many of us feel that 28 days is already rather too long for detention without trial, and that the idea of extending the period to as long as 90 days could be counter-productive in gaining the co-operation and support of many in the country who wish to be part of the community rather than alienated from it? Detention for 90 days will not bring about the peace and justice that the Home Secretary wants, but will probably drive some people into the arms of those whose arms he would rather they were not driven into.

John Reid: It is always a difficult balance. I do not disguise my recognition that it is difficult for Members to balance the requirements to counter terrorism effectively, to fight it and to ensure national security with the need to ensure that when we strengthen powers we strengthen scrutiny appropriately, too. My hon. Friend says that people may have had misgivings last time we debated the matter, and that is true, but there was a majority view that given the new circumstances, a period of 28 days was justified. The events of the past 12 months have shown that to be correct. The consideration of one or two cases last August took 27 or 28 days—right up to the limit. There are about six examples of cases that took that long over the past 12 months. The case for the extension is strengthened. I remain persuaded of the case, but I recognise that others are not. That is why I am trying to consult as widely as possible to see whether we can reach a compromise and consensus.

Mr. Ben Wallace (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con): The hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) referred to the counter-productiveness of extending detention without trial, especially in certain areas of the community, which could concern the ability to recruit sources. Has the Home Secretary received any representations from agencies involved in counter-terrorism that might be worried that it is already hard to recruit informers in the communities that pose a threat to us? If he has, does he recognise that that might be a result of the proposed legislation or the legislation that has already been implemented?

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John Reid: It is always difficult to recruit people in the midst of a sharp struggle. That was the case in fighting republican terrorism and I have no doubt that it is difficult at present. On the other hand, we receive a lot of support from across the community. That is essential, because I have continually expressed the view from the Dispatch Box and outside the House that ultimately we will not defeat terrorism through the security apparatus. It is a necessary but insufficient means. The way to defeat terrorism is by bringing the community of this country together. It is at the grass roots, in the communities, in the streets, in the mosques and outside them, and in our universities that we will fight out the battle for values and ideas. The security apparatus is one dimension—but only one.

Anne Snelgrove (South Swindon) (Lab): Acts of terrorism and the threat of terrorist attacks affect everyone in this country, not only those who sadly suffer the immediate effects of terrorism. Some of my constituents have said that they are concerned about travelling to London and other cities because they are afraid of terrorist attacks. Such attacks are an attack on our freedom. What plans does the Secretary of State have to consult members of the public, organisations, and the victims of terror? Does he believe that the balance should lie with the safety of the public or the individual freedoms of the terrorists?

John Reid: The ultimate right is the right to the preservation of one’s life, because if we cannot protect individuals’ lives, we cannot, by definition, extend to them the opportunity to exercise any other rights, given that they all depend on an individual’s existence. I would have thought that that was self-evident. That is why, when balancing the rights of the 60 million individuals who make up the community, we must have a degree of proportionality. However, that is not reflected in at least one of the judgments of the European Court, the so-called Chahal judgment, which is why we will continue to contest and appeal against it.

The key thing is to involve the whole community. Two groups of people on both extremes wish to divide the community. There are apologists for al-Qaeda who argue that this is essentially a war by everyone else on Islam, which is untrue. There are those on the extreme right of politics who argue that this is a war by Muslims on everyone else, which is equally untrue. Both those groups ought to be pushed to the fringes as we unite everyone in this country across communities and ethnic and religious backgrounds.

David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) (Con): On behalf of the official Opposition, I join the Home Secretary in paying condolences to the family and friends of PC Jon Henry. I am afraid that today’s tragic events are a salutary reminder of the risks that policemen and women take on our behalf.

May I crave your indulgence for a second, Mr. Speaker? I think that this will be the last Home Office questions that the Home Secretary will face. May I take this opportunity to wish him well? We have had our differences a number of times over the years, but at every turn I have always accepted that he has done what was in the national interest, in his judgment.

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The idea of allowing the police to interview terrorist suspects after they have been charged is put forward to allow a suspect to be charged earlier and to maximise the chance of conviction. That is less controversial than increasing the time of detention without charge and will represent a major increase in police effectiveness. Will the Home Secretary tell us why it has taken two years to implement the idea?

John Reid: Ideas such as post-charge questioning, the pre-charge extension of detention facilities and the question of intercept have a political, social and legal dimension and often require a great deal of thought and consultation. As it happens, in this case, the right hon. Gentleman has supported the measure for a considerable time. I took the decision that it could be introduced a while back, but I wanted that to take place alongside the introduction of a package of measures. I thought that some of those measures might be more controversial, which is why there has been a delay in bringing this forward.

The right hon. Gentleman would be the first to urge me not to have knee-jerk reactions to events. When I came into my post, I did not want to bring in yet another series of new laws, because that would have been another ground for criticism. I hope that we will be given credit for delaying and thinking things through, after some scrutiny.

David Davis: I agree with the Home Secretary about wanting to avoid knee-jerk reactions. Reference has already been made to the attitude of some senior policemen to the effectiveness of gathering intelligence. Let me quote one:

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