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House of Commons
Session 2006 - 07
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General Committee Debates
UK Borders Bill

UK Borders Bill

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Mr. David Amess, Mr. Eric Illsley
Blunt, Mr. Crispin (Reigate) (Con)
Byrne, Mr. Liam (Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality)
Campbell, Mr. Alan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Clappison, Mr. James (Hertsmere) (Con)
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth) (Con)
Green, Damian (Ashford) (Con)
Hemming, John (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD)
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab)
Jackson, Mr. Stewart (Peterborough) (Con)
McCarthy, Kerry (Bristol, East) (Lab)
Mole, Chris (Ipswich) (Lab)
Reed, Mr. Jamie (Copeland) (Lab)
Rowen, Paul (Rochdale) (LD)
Ryan, Joan (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
Ussher, Kitty (Burnley) (Lab)
Wright, David (Telford) (Lab)
Wright, Mr. Iain (Hartlepool) (Lab)
Emily Commander, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 20 March 2007


[Mr. David Amess in the Chair]

UK Borders Bill

Clause 28

Automatic deportation
10.30 am
The Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality (Mr. Liam Byrne): I beg to move amendment No. 110, in page 14, line 28, leave out ‘or’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 111 to 114.
Mr. Byrne: These are highly technical amendments. Their purpose is simple: to ensure that the appeal procedures under clause 31 operate effectively. We want to ensure that three things dovetail neatly together: first, the powers for automatic deportation that we seek; secondly, the non-suspension of appeal regime that we are putting in place, and thirdly, the appeal system that we have sketched out in the Bill.
Government amendments Nos. 111 and 114 are designed to ensure that in-country appeals can be brought only on arguable human rights and asylum grounds. Once we have made a decision automatically to deport an individual and they are still in the country, they usually lodge an appeal with the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal. That appeal can contain human rights or asylum claims, but as it is an in-country appeal, it is harder to remove the individual from the country to conduct an appeal that is made on other grounds. Where the claim on human rights or asylum grounds is spurious, we want to be able to certify the claim as unfounded, to stop fraudulent or abusive human rights and asylum claims.
The existing certification powers apply to a claim only before the notice of appeal is lodged with the tribunal. To use the powers that we want to create in the Bill, we need to be able to stop the appeal by temporarily withdrawing the decision automatically to deport, so that we can consider the claim, certify it as unfounded and remake the decision automatically to deport. The effect of that process would be to invalidate any further appeal that is lodged, because the claim has been certified. The appeal would then have to be heard outside the country, if there is still an appeal to be heard. That is simply to ensure that the process of automatic deportation is not hampered by the construction of the law.
The Minister may correct me on this point, but my understanding of the amendments suggests that the Secretary of State will decide whether an appeal is unfounded. If the Secretary of State is not merely judge and jury in his own cases, but is deciding whether there can be a judge and jury in a case on which he has already taken a decision, that is a recipe for judicial review. I have sympathy with the underlying aim of reducing unnecessary legal delays in the system of arriving at a decision about deportation, but I suspect that in practice there might be one or two gremlins hidden in the interstices of the amendments. I would be grateful if the Minister could address them.
Mr. Byrne: Those are extremely helpful points, which I can clarify. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his sympathetic hearing and I wish to make two points in response. The first is that there is already a process whereby the Secretary of State can certify claims as clearly unfounded, and it operates for asylum claims. We can get a sense of the number of decisions being taken from statistics that are available: for example, between November 2002 and early 2006 something like 5,500 claims were certified by the Secretary of State as clearly unfounded.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there is the prospect of judicial review. Parliament has some history of debating whether there should be procedures for ousting the process of judicial review. We have had that debate and we have no ambition to return to it. Judicial review is with us, and there are no plans in the Bill to oust, diminish or in any way undermine it. The hon. Gentleman will be interested to know that something like 9 per cent. of the asylum claims that the Secretary of State certified as unfounded in the period that I mentioned were subject to judicial review. He is right to say that there is the potential for judicial review of some decisions, but on the basis of our experience that potential is reasonably low. Only 358 judicial review claims were upheld, as a result of which only 63 certificates were withdrawn. That is a relatively small number given the number of claims certified.
The hon. Gentleman also asked about the grounds on which certification may be appropriate. They include cases in which no fear of mistreatment has been expressed, in which the fear of mistreatment is not objective, in which the feared mistreatment clearly does not amount to persecution or in which sufficient protection or internal relocation is available. The hon. Gentleman asked important questions, and we have four or five years of experience of ensuring that the system works well enough in a reasonably complex area. That is why we intend to extend its scope.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendment made: No. 111, in page 14, line 30, at end insert—
‘, or
(c) section 30(4) applies.’.—[Mr. Byrne.]
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): I beg to move amendment No. 56, in page 14, line 32, at end add—
‘(8) A person convicted of an offence and made subject to a deportation order either under the provisions of this section or otherwise may not be awarded compensation in respect of any period spent in custody following their conviction, whether the period in custody formed part of their sentence or not.’.
The purpose of the amendment is to place a bar on offenders made subject to a deportation order receiving compensation. Part of the background to it is that Lin Homer, the director general of the immigration and nationality directorate, recently wrote to the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham), on the subject of foreign prisoners facing deportation. She told him that
“since 1 April 2006 the Department has paid or payments are being processed to 9 claimants and the sum total of these taken together is £55,000...Typically, compensation has been paid out in these cases due to technical deficiencies around serving the detainee with appropriate legal documents.”
The amendment would prevent any prisoner rightfully convicted from receiving compensation in respect of time spent in custody. Two points support that proposition: first, that the prisoners are the architects of their own misfortune, and whatever else might happen to them and whatever other rights they enjoy, they have only themselves to blame for committing offences. Secondly—and even more saliently—for them to receive compensation is unacceptable to the general public, and particularly to the victims of their offending. They must find the receipt of compensation by the perpetrators most offensive—not least because the victims of the crimes might not receive any compensation themselves. It is unlikely, in many cases, that the offenders will have the means to pay compensation to their victims.
If the victims have to use the criminal injuries compensation scheme for compensation, they will find that its ambit is very limited and that the amounts of compensation that are paid—and that is not applicable in every case—are often relatively modest, even by the standards of today’s compensation culture. That is one part of the legal world where the compensation culture does not seem to have taken root. I invite Members to consider the tariff set down by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority—I think that most people would come to the conclusion that it is somewhat modest.
It is unacceptable that rightfully convicted foreign offenders receive compensation. I believe that the Government will welcome the provision where the operation of deportation is concerned because, with the best will in the world, it does not always run smoothly, as the Minister knows. There are sometimes difficulties regarding the country to which the person is to be deported. Sometimes, for their convenience, the Government do not want to be put under the pressure of facing a claim for compensation, in respect of decisions that they take about the fate of individual prisoners. The courts might come to a different conclusion under the relevant treaty provisions and decide that compensation is payable.
It is hard to see circumstances in which the public will find it acceptable that those criminals should receive compensation. If the Minister is not with me on that, will he tell me exactly why not and if there is any legal reason why a bar on compensation for foreign prisoners cannot be put in place, or if there is a policy reason why this cannot be done, and if so, what that is? I hope that this is a way of solving a problem that the Government have come up against in the past and might come up against in the future, and that they will welcome the amendment.
Damian Gree n: I rise to support the amendment and to add one narrow but important point. My hon. Friend talked about how the Government have suffered problems with the issue of compensation in the past and might again in the future. I would make the point that they are suffering from it at present. It is a continuing problem and, as the Minister will be aware, I have asked some written questions about the numbers receiving compensation and the levels of compensation. Tens of thousands of pounds have been paid out recently to foreign prisoners who have been kept in over the time of their sentence because of the Government’s inability to deport them. I know that many taxpayers will feel that that is, at however small a level, a ludicrous waste of public money.
David T.C. Davies (Monmouth) (Con): I join my hon. Friend in supporting the amendment. Does he think that there is any country to which people cannot be deported, when the Government have shown that when they wish to rescue people who have been fighting with Jihadi terrorists they are able to send private jets into countries such as Somalia at very short notice and at great cost in order to pick people up? Yet they seem to have this inability to send violent serial rapists, murderers and other criminals back to countries such as Somalia.
10.45 am
Damian Green: My hon. Friend makes a powerful point, but I think it is slightly beyond the scope of the amendment. The wider point about the ability to deport criminals is a difficulty that the Government have faced and have not yet addressed satisfactorily. Regardless of the destination of these would-be deportees, I am sure that nobody paying taxes in this country feels that it is a good use of their money to pay compensation to people who have been convicted of a serious enough offence in this country to have been jailed for it, and who are also eligible to be deported from this country, suggesting that they should never have been here in the first place.
Mr. Clappison: My hon. Friend mentions the sums that are paid out. I cited the figure of nine defendants receiving a total of £55,000, which by my inadequate mathematics comes out at slightly over £6,000 per criminal. That would be a nice bonus for a criminal. Would my hon. Friend share my interest in knowing what these nine offenders were convicted of in the first place?
Damian Green: That is exactly right. That is an extremely good question and one that I hope the Minister can address when he responds. Notwithstanding the deep problems that the Government are in, I am sure that the purpose of my hon. Friend’s amendment is to help and to give proper teeth to this important clause. We support the underlying principles of the clause but we want to make it effective. We want to get the Minister off one of the many hooks that his job entails him being on, which is shelling out taxpayers’ money to people who richly do not deserve it. I hope that the amendment can help him to solve that problem.
Mr. Byrne: I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hertsmere for his exercise in lifting me off hooks that I find myself on in my day job. I am enormously sympathetic to the ambitions of the amendment. The hon. Gentleman, as a member of the Home Affairs Committee, has followed the evidence on this question in some detail in both the evidence sessions and the written correspondence that the director general of the immigration and nationality directorate has provided.
The points that I would make fall into two halves. First, IND should not be operating a business in such a way that results in actions being taken that then create claims for compensation downstream. I am doing this from memory, but I believe that those nine cases were some time ago and it was a deficiency in IND’s technical process at that time that led to the papers being served inappropriately. That simply should not happen. It is a further argument for much stronger oversight of the way that IND operates its enforcement capability across its business. These are very often situations that simply should not be allowed to arise.
At the moment individuals have the defence of the courts if they are being held. It is quite permissible for somebody to apply to the AIT for an immigration bail hearing. There are judicial remedies such as the ability to seek judicial review or habeas corpus protection, if an individual believes that they are being unlawfully detained. It is perfectly possible for the individual to invoke the right of the courts. It is down to the courts to decide whether we are detaining someone lawfully or not. If we are detaining someone lawfully, they will not be entitled to compensation, but if we are detaining people unlawfully, the courts should let people out. I would like to be able to deport people faster to certain parts of the world. However, we need only look at what is happening in Zimbabwe, for example, to see some of the arguments for why enforced returns are difficult.
In my office, we think that there are few, if any, no-go zones for deportations. The hon. Member for Monmouth is right that parts of the world were traditionally thought of as hard to remove to, but to where, through the efforts of my noble Friend Lord Triesman, we are now opening up routes back; Somaliland is a very good example. I have recently received an enormous amount of correspondence about an enforced charter return to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, because people were saying that it is not a safe place to return people to. However, the DRC is a landmass the size of western Europe. There are parts of that country that are perfectly safe and where international evidence shows that it is perfectly safe to remove people to, but sometimes the court will arrive at a different view. That is why the AIT is currently reviewing whether we should be allowed to return people forcibly to Zimbabwe. We continue with voluntary returns, but the courts have currently put a bar on forced returns.
David T.C. Davies: In his usual eloquent manner, the Minister makes two points very well. One issue is whether or not it is possible to deport people to certain places. I would say that flying planes into some areas is difficult, but there are other ways of doing it. The second, wider issue, which he raised first, is whether sending people back to countries like Zimbabwe is morally right. It may be fairly easy physically to send them back, but my wider point, which we should have the guts to say, is that somebody who repeatedly breaks our laws—who robs, rapes and commits murder, grievous bodily harm or other violent offences that merit prison sentences—ought to lose the right not to be deported. If they then come to harm in those countries, that is their own fault for breaking the law; it is not our responsibility to harbour criminals in this country.
The Chairman: Order. The amendment is drawn very narrowly and is entirely to do with compensation. However mindful of the temptation, would the Minister try to resist it?
Mr. Byrne: Thank you for your guidance, Mr. Amess. The hon. Gentleman raises a number of important arguments. I will look for an opportunity to respond to some of his good points during the course of the day.
The second half of my comments are in reply to the hon. Member for Hertsmere. He asked if there is a legal barrier to us accepting the amendment—yes, there is. Article 5(5) of the European convention on human rights requires provision in domestic law of an enforceable right to compensation. However extensive my sympathy for his amendment, to have no right of enforcement against IND when IND gets something wrong is not desirable, because that would weaken the incentive for IND to perform its business effectively, efficiently and justly. I think that the amendment might set up an unhelpful set of incentives. Second, there is the bar of the ECHR, which also provides bars on our ability to deport people to certain torture, if not death. I know that that is for a debate about immigration policy in the round, but some of the protections are important and this is one of them.
Mr. Clappison: I do not want to go along the path of whether or not people should be deported in circumstances such as those just outlined. On the question of compensation, the Minister quotes the ECHR. I do not have the ECHR in front of me, but can he read out the relevant provision to the Committee, please?
Mr. Byrne: The hon. Gentleman is very good at such questions. Unfortunately, I do not have the text of the ECHR in front of me—however, it is arriving quickly from left field. Article 5(5) very clearly says:
“Everyone who has been the victim of arrest or detention in contravention of the provisions of this article shall have an enforceable right to compensation.”
Article 5 is the right to liberty and security. There are ECHR barriers that prevent me, sympathetic as I am, from accepting the hon. Gentleman’s amendment.
Mr. Clappison: I am grateful to the Minister for the spirit in which he responded. However, one could summarise the first part of his answer as him saying that he hopes from now on that the immigration and nationality directorate will always get things right. If nothing else, I admire his confidence in his own abilities in that regard. I do not want to be unkind to him, but I gently remind him that I heard his predecessors say similar things about the IND. My recollection goes back to 1999, when the present Leader of the House, before certain other reincarnations, was the Home Secretary; I remember him appearing before the Special Select Committee considering the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. I remember that his words were that the single most important task that he had in front of him as Home Secretary was to get the IND right, and to make sure that things ran smoothly in future. With no disrespect to the Minister, I do not share his confidence that the IND will always get things right, at least as far as observing that every strict provision and possible interpretation of the law is concerned, and that there will never be a case brought against the IND in future, not least by foreign criminals claiming compensation. I cannot accept that, with the best will in the world.
On the Minister’s point about a prisoner having the right to the remedy of judicial review, that is fair enough; they have that remedy. They can seek judicial review on the ground that they have been unlawfully detained, and the courts may say that they should be set at liberty. That is one thing, but it is altogether another for them to be paid compensation as well, and that is where the statutory bar would come into place.
On the question of the ECHR, if the Government would like to accept the amendment, but feel that they cannot because of their interpretation of the ECHR, I would want to have a very close look at the wording of that convention and the way in which it has been interpreted by the courts. We often find in this country that the problem is the Government’s fear of the ECHR, or their fear of an adverse interpretation of the ECHR. That leads the Government to take a cautious view of when they would be contravening the convention, or not. That cautious interpretation can have the effect of the Government acting in ways that the public find unacceptable. I am a great supporter of human rights, but I do not feel that they should extend so far as compensation for periods spent in custody by foreign criminals as a result of technical deficiencies, which is what happened in the case I cited to the Committee.
I accept what the Minister says, but I am worried that there is a tendency on the part of the Government, which has been present throughout the Bill and which he has done his best to get round, to introduce tough-seeming measures that are then continuously watered down because of fears of the Government’s interpretation of the legal consequences. The lawyers get at what the Government want to do, and it is watered down and watered down, so that automatic deportation for imprisonable offences becomes automatic deportation for imprisonment, which then becomes automatic deportation for 12 months’ imprisonment for certain offences. It is watered down all the way along the line.
There seems to be a paralysis striking the Government, who are afraid of the most far-fetched examples of possible injustices that might mean contravention of the European convention and other conventions. There is a worry there, and if nothing else, I should emphasise the degree of disquiet that the public feel at paying compensation to foreign criminals, who are the architects of their own misfortune in offending in the first place, and at the disparity between the treatment of the criminals and the victims. I would be extremely interested to know if any of the victims of the offenders whom I have quoted—the minor offenders who received just over £6,000 each—received a penny piece in compensation. I do not know the answer, but I suspect that victims of foreign criminals do not always receive much in the way of compensation, if any. In the light of all those matters, I will be pressing this to a Division.
Question put, That the amendment be made:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 8.
Division No. 13 ]
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Clappison, Mr. James
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth)
Green, Damian
Jackson, Mr. Stewart
Byrne, Mr. Liam
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
McCarthy, Kerry
Mole, Chris
Ryan, Joan
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Question accordingly negatived.
11 am
Damian Green: I beg to move amendment No. 126, in clause 28, page 14, line 32, at end add—
‘(8) A foreign criminal subject to a deportation order under subsection (5) shall be deported not more than six months after the making of a deportation order.’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 140, in clause 30, page 15, leave out lines 40 and 41 and insert—
‘(1) A deportation order under section 28(5) above must be made—
(a) not less than 6 months before the first date at which a criminal could be released from prison for an individual sentenced to over 12 months imprisonment; or
(b) on the date a final appeal has been withdrawn or determined, or the latest date on which such an appeal could be brought, for an individual sentenced to less than 12 months imprisonment.’.
No. 10, in clause 30, page 15, line 40, leave out from ‘made’ to end of line 41 and insert ‘within 14 days of conviction.’.
No. 11, in clause 30, page 15, line 46, leave out paragraph (b).
No. 33, in clause 30, page 16, line 6, at end add—
‘(4) Where a deportation order has not been made within one month of the end of the period specified in subsection (2) above, the Secretary of State must write to the judge or magistrate’s court responsible for passing the sentence of imprisonment under section 28(2) in order to explain why a deportation order has not been made and what action he plans to take.’.
Damian Green: I will speak to amendments Nos. 126 and 140, which stand in my name; I am aware that they are grouped with others from various hon. Friends. Both of these are essentially probing amendments about the capacity of the Home Office to deport foreign criminals in an effective manner.
The effect of amendment Nos. 126 would be to require the Secretary of State to deport a foreign criminal within six months of a deportation order being made. I would be interested to know what systems and manpower the Minister has in place to ensure, once the orders have been made and due process has been gone through, that the Home Office will get these criminals out of the country.
From our previous discussion, the Committee will be aware that this is a continuing problem, as the Government recognise; indeed, part of the purpose of this entire segment of the Bill is to address that. Whatever the aspirations of Government about criminals not staying in this country if it is possible and desirable to deport them, it simply does not happen often enough at present. If it does eventually happen, it is often too late and, as we were discussing in the previous debate, after expensive compensation claims have been made on the taxpayer.
I hope that the Committee will hear some practicalities from the Minister this morning. No doubt he would regard it as extremely desirable to deport a criminal within six months of the making of a deportation order. I suspect that the general public would feel that this was itself rather lax; I dare say that there would be a view that, if a deportation order has been made, then perhaps one could give a week for various things to happen, and that six months seems a long time for someone to be here—in detention or prison, no doubt, and therefore at vast expense to the taxpayer. I am not urging the Minister to do anything that he does not want to do—still less, anything that the general public would not want him to do fairly quickly. I am seeking to establish whether he would be capable of doing this.
The effect of amendment No. 140 would be to require the Home Office to start proceedings for deportation at least six months before the earliest release date for a person serving more than 12 months, or on the date of a final appeal to termination for those serving less than 12 months.
That, too, is very topical; it relates to a problem that I am sure the Minister and his officials are grappling with. The Home Secretary has said that it is vital to consider deportation early in a prisoner’s term of imprisonment if we are to avoid a fiasco such as that of last May—which led to the sacking of the previous Home Secretary—when we discovered that foreign criminals were not being deported. My understanding from the director general’s letter to the Home Affairs Committee is that at the moment the achievement seems to be that consideration starts some four months before the end of a sentence. Clearly, progress has been made but more is needed.
I hope that the Minister can enlighten us about the practical systems that are in place. If a four-month target has been hit, what is required to meet the six-month target in the amendment? If systems can be put in place now, presumably they can be extended so that all future problems relating to the deportation of foreign criminals will be minimised and we can achieve the happy situation in which our only difficulties concern the potential destination of the criminals.
I am aware that we have had several exchanges about whether it is desirable to deport certain people to certain countries, and how difficult that might be. However, I am sure that the Minister would acknowledge that if that were his only problem in relation to the deportation of foreign criminals, his life would be considerably easier than it has been in the past few months. Ministers will always have genuine difficulties in making individual judgments about whether a person or group of people should be sent back to possible torture or even death. However, those genuine problems have been overlaid with the unnecessary problem of a system that is inadequate to enable them to handle what one might describe as routine deportations—those of people who have committed serious crimes in this country yet whom we find it impossible to deport.
The purpose of the amendments is to probe what is happening in the Home Office, and equally importantly, what plans Ministers have to improve the efficiency of their systems in the coming months and years. If they are not improved, a serious threat to public order and public safety will continue, and that would be hugely undesirable.
Mr. Clappison: I support the excellent amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford, and I rise in the same spirit as he did to seek further information about the mechanics of deportation. A certain amount is spelled out in the Bill, but it would be an improvement if it contained a little more detail.
Amendment No. 33 would require the Secretary of State to write to the court responsible for the sentence triggering deportation if the deportation order had not been made within one month of the period specified in the Bill. I say “specified in the Bill” because the Bill sets out a certain amount about the mechanics of the system, and it is clear that when a deportation order has been made following the triggering of the trigger mechanism, time is allowed for an appeal against the conviction or sentence that triggered the order.
My amendment would require the Secretary of State to write to the court if the deportation order had not been carried out within one month of the end of that period. I believe that that would have the advantage of focusing official efforts so as to ensure an efficient process of deportation. The amendment also gives the Minister an opportunity to say a little more about the mechanics of the process.
There have been cases in which senior members of the judiciary have said that they do not have confidence in the deportation process. I could give just one example from last year, when the recorder of York said that he was not going to make a recommendation for deportation in the case of a man who had been jailed for 15 months for offences of fraud. The recorder said:
“Even if I did, I would have no confidence that anyone would take any notice.”
We must get back to a position where the courts have confidence in what is going on regarding deportation. There must be communication between the Government and the courts. I hope that the Minister will be able to welcome the amendment.
Mr. Byrne: I am grateful for the chance to sketch out a little more of this territory than I have had the opportunity to do so far. I also respect the way that the hon. Member for Ashford is probing in this territory. Given the events of last spring, it is absolutely right that a degree of scrutiny is brought to bear on this area, which includes asking whether the right level of resources is being applied.
In direct answer to the question by the hon. Member for Ashford, the increase in resources in this part of the IND’s business has been about tenfold over the last year. So, about 600 or 700 people are now working in this particular area. That increase in resources has been an important part of the changes that the Home Secretary has made over the last 12 months. For me, the question now is this: how do we ensure not only that we have increased the number of people who are doing the job but that they are able to operate a process that is far more efficient, so that the overall productivity and output are much higher? In broad terms, that is what the Bill is designed to achieve.
At the moment, around 72 per cent.—nearly three quarters—of foreign national prisoners that we write deportation orders for appeal against the orders. Although 55 per cent. of those appeals end up being dismissed and a further 25 per cent. end up being withdrawn, they involve the IND in a long drawn out process of taking those cases through the appeal system. What we want to do is effectively to certify the cases, so that those appeals can be held abroad. We know that that has a dramatic impact on the number of appeals that we receive. There is a degree of precedent that we can learn from, which is the number of overseas appeals made against asylum decisions; in those cases, we have certified people’s claims as being clearly unfounded and therefore reported them. As I said a moment ago, only 238 appeals have been lodged from abroad in about three and a half years, between November 2002 and September 2006.
Therefore, what we have done over the last 12 months has dramatically increased the level of resources in this area. What we are now seeking to do in the Bill is to increase dramatically the efficiency of the process.
Yesterday, the hon. Member for Ashford not unfairly criticised the stream of management speak that he hears coming from my office. I did not take offence. However, if he will permit me one further foray into that territory, it is important that the way that we set objectives for the IND is right and puts the prioritisation of harm reduction centre-stage. Over the next 12 months, I will personally oversee the design of new objectives for the IND, and tackling harm, particularly the harm caused by foreign national prisoners, will be at the centre of the objectives that I aim to recommend to the Home Secretary. I hope that that is in direct answer to some of the questions asked by the hon. Gentleman.
11.15 am
There are a number of technical issues that it is important to draw out. Amendments Nos. 126, 10 and 140 create constraints on the precise date, time and moment when the Secretary of State might issue a deportation order. It is perfectly reasonable to expect the Home Office to undertake the issue of deportation orders in advance and substantially in advance of somebody being released from custody. We are currently operating at about four months; our target is to get to six months by spring and we are on track to hit that target.
The problem, however, in setting a specific point in the calendar or in the sentence when the deportation order is to be issued is that it may get in the way of our ability to deport people. If, for example, somebody is serving a 20-year sentence, we would want to write a deportation order towards the end of their sentence as the situation in that person’s country may be so unstable that if we were to try a deportation order the court would throw it out. Waiting for a while can sometimes help us issue a deportation order, taking into account conditions in that country which may be more helpful. It may increase our ability to deport people home.
The hon. Member for Hertsmere raised a second issue about the feedback to the courts. There are challenges with the way that the amendment has been drafted. We do run into issues with writing back to courts. If we do not issue a deportation order within 30 days we end up snowing the courts with a large amount of paper and notices, often involving information that will cause us problems under the Data Protection Act 1998. The necessity is not there in the way that the hon. Gentleman tries to describe it because if we want the degree of flexibility and latitude to write deportation orders in order to deport more people we may very often find ourselves in a situation where we repeatedly have to write to judges to say, “We have not done it yet because...” All we are trying to do is to pick the point in the sentence when we maximise our chances of getting people home.
The point that the hon. Gentleman makes is, however, absolutely right. When I talk to immigration judges—which I try to do as often as they let me—very often they do express concern about the misalignment between the removals process and the court process. We explicitly said in our enforcement strategy, published a week or two ago, that we would seek to bring that alignment in. We do have to explore further measures for feeding back news about individual cases to the courts. One of the ways that we can do that is through the new single inspectorate, because it is vital that the judiciary in this country have confidence in the system so that they can continue to ensure that justice is done.
David T.C. Davies: I wonder whether I can help the Government a little with two amendments that I tabled—Nos. 10 and 11. I gain the impression that the Minister is genuine in wanting to ensure that foreign criminals are deported expeditiously wherever that is possible and wherever the courts will allow that to happen.
Amendment No. 10 will require that a deportation order be made within 14 days of conviction for an offence rather than, as at present, at a time chosen by the Secretary of State. I think that would help to ensure that matters took place more quickly. The problem with the wording as it stands is that it could drag on for many months, with all sorts of people putting pressure on the Secretary of State not to carry out a deportation order. By accepting this amendment, that pressure is removed and the Secretary of State would simply have to issue an order within 14 days. I think the Minister might find that helpful.
The second amendment would remove clause 30(2)(b). At the moment, the clause states that a deportation order may not be made while an appeal “could be brought”. The problem with the words “could be brought” is that, as we know, lawyers are very good at using all sorts of means to bring forward appeals even when they know perfectly well that those appeals will fail, and since most of them are on legal aid and being funded at the largesse of the taxpayer, it is well within their financial interests to do so and they will do so. Amendment No. 11 would simply remove the words “could be brought”— thereby removing this money feast for immigration lawyers, who would not be able to bring forward all sorts of bogus claims to stop an appeal taking place that was clearly going to fail.
Mr. Byrne: I am grateful for the ambition behind this proposal. My slight concern is that, given the increased resources, we are trying to create a process that is as rapid and efficient as possible. Wherever possible, I am therefore seeking to minimise the necessity to write bits of paper or issue decisions that end up having to be revoked.
At the moment, an individual has 28 days to appeal against a conviction. If we were to accept an amendment requiring deportation orders to be issued 14 days after conviction, two consequences would follow. First, somebody might appeal successfully against the conviction inside the 28-day window, and we would then have to revoke the deportation order. That would involve resources in issuing the order and then revoking it, but also in tracking the case in the meantime.
The second concern is that such an amendment might limit our flexibility to issue a deportation order closer to the end of a sentence. Sometimes when a sentence is quite long, that would limit our ability to take into account the current country information available. My fear is that it would jeopardise the flexibility that we are seeking to issue deportation orders at the right point to maximise our chances of getting somebody home with the approval, not the blocking, of the courts.
Damian Green: I am grateful to the Minister for the constructive way in which he responded to a constructive set of amendments. We are rowing in the same direction: we all want to see a much more efficient deportation system than has obtained in recent years. Inasmuch as the protections in the clause will help, we applaud them. As the Minister observed, we were interested in their practicalities, and he responded constructively to my concerns. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
Damian Green: I rise briefly to put on record something that I have thought since I first read the Bill: that the title of the clause is ludicrous. It is called “Automatic deportation” but the provisions are for nothing of the sort. We are about to discuss exceptions, which means that it is not automatic.
As the Minister has eloquently explained, there are huge complications and difficulties. If he were to attempt to create a system of fully automatic deportation, he would be in breach of various international treaties to which Governments have signed up. It is worth putting on record my understanding that “automatic deportation” is an unfortunate term, first used, I believe, by the Prime Minister in Prime Minister’s questions one week. It does not accord with the reality of life as it is or as it will be when the Bill is on the statute book. It is particularly unfortunate that that piece of cheap rhetoric will find its way on to the statute book.
Mr. Byrne: The clause is important and will dramatically increase the speed with which we can deport those who have broken our rules and abused our hospitality. There is a degree of automaticity in it that there has not yet been in our judicial system. In particular, it creates a clear link between criminality and a route out of the country. The automatic issue of a deportation order is clear and the appeal must therefore be out of country. It will speed up the system dramatically and send a clear signal to the country and to foreign nationals, so I commend it to the Committee.
Clause 28, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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