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Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for tabling the amendment, because I recognise that she has raised an important issue: how can we most effectively deal with foreign nationals who have completed their custodial term? The amendment is tied to some narrow but specific offences, but the principle applies to many other criminal convictions. We have said clearly that we recognise that improvements need to be made in this area and, on 3 May, the former Home Secretary set out the Government's initial views on revised policies and procedures for handling foreign national prisoners. I was grateful on that occasion for the encouraging comments from the noble Baroness that the
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opposition Front Bench would support any necessary legislationand she has tabled an amendment which, I suppose, she could argue gives effect to that commitment. More recently, on Monday, the new Home Secretary provided an update on the progress being made in the operation to deal with the 1,023 prisoners released from prison without the consideration for deportation that they should have received.
We support the view that the expectation should be that those foreign nationals committing serious crimes are deported as soon as possible after the completion of their sentenceideally, immediately after it, as the amendment envisages. Indeed, we have already announced that we will consult on broadening the criteria to ensure that many more foreign national criminals would face deportation. We believe that a range of issues must be tackled to tighten up the removal of foreign national prisoners and the need for a holistic, end-to-end approach will underpin the consultation paper.
For example, we need to be better at identifying whether those arrested, charged and convicted of crimes are foreign nationals. Those questions are already asked and in many cases foreign nationals are correctly identified, especially once a person reaches a prison. But we will look to devoting more effort and more resources to ensure that foreign nationals cannot avoid detection by being untruthful or unco-operative and that they are identified earlier in the criminal justice process. As has been mentioned, we intend to put in place a clearer and more robust approach as to which crimes trigger consideration for deportation. For those committing relevant crimes, we will change the mindset so that deportation becomes the norm and, I repeat, the guiding principle must be that foreign national criminals should expect to be deported.
However, we cannot discount the fact that there will be some casesfor example, where removal is not possible for the time being, due to practical obstacles such as the need for redocumentation by the home country or international obligationswhere deportation is prevented. Because of such occasional cases, the Government would not support the automatic link between conviction and deportation provided for in the amendment, but we support the principle that deportation should be the norm in such cases.
Other relevant cases include the referral mechanisms between criminal justice agencies and the Immigration and Nationality Directorate to ensure that when a foreign national is in custody there is good notice of their release date. This will enable consideration of deportation to happen in advance of their release and for any appeal against deportation to start during that time. We will also be looking at ways other than deportation to remove foreign national prisoners from our shoresfor example, by seeing whether we can make more of existing prisoner transfer arrangements under which foreign nationals are sent back to their own country to serve their time.
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As I said, we intend to consult on these and other measures. In the mean time, we will continue to tighten up existing procedures to ensure that the serious shortcomings identified do not recur and that we build our capacity to remove all foreign national prisoners for whom deportation is exactly the right course. I also assure the Committee that the Government will continue to keep both Houses updated on issues relating to the deportation and removal of foreign national prisoners.
Again, I thank the noble Baroness for raising the issue. I accept that it has been raised in an entirely constructive light. I think that the amendment is inappropriate in that, as the noble Baroness herself acknowledged, it is rather narrow in what it captures. I repeat that we are committed to tackling the issue of foreign national prisoners and we intend to be robust in fulfilling that commitment. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment because I have no doubt that the issues to which it draws attention will be a part of the Government's consultation.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: The word "consultation" drives fear into my heart when I consider the outcome of the consultation on Part 2 of the Bill and the lack of constructive response in that regard. The Minister is always very constructive in the way that he responds to amendments, and I appreciate the way in which he has carefully set out what the Government will be doing. The difficulty is that what he has tried to set out in a very straightforward way contrasts dramaticallyhow can I put this in parliamentary language?with the clear commitments given by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister should know very well that he has absolutely no hope in this world of carrying out those commitments because of our commitments to the Human Rights Act and the ECHR, which this Government espoused. I find that hypocrisyit is nothing less than hypocrisyfrom another Minister, as against the honesty of this Minister in setting out what the Home Office hopes it will be able to do, very difficult to take.
The Minister was right: when we had the Statement, I made it clear that if appropriate legislation came forward, I would accept it within the context of proper consideration and examination. At the time that I made that commitment, which was made in all honesty, as is always the case, I was disappointed but not too surprised to hear one of the Minister's noble friendsI will name him, although he is not in his place at the momentthe noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, express disbelief that I gave that commitment and that I was telling the truth. He not only stated it but looked astonished at his colleagues and obviously thought that I would do no such thing. I keep to my word and if the Government ever bring forward their own legislation, I shall be astonished that they do but I shall consider it in a proper way.
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I am also aware that we have been admonished by another of the Minister's noble friends, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, who has said that if we intend to vote on something, we should not put it off just because there is no one about. As I mentioned earlier, I am aware that all my colleagues, bar some wonderful supporters herequality not quantityare at another place having a very well earned break, celebrating at a special dinner with my noble friend Lady Thatcher. I am aware that it is an understatement to say that we are thin on the ground but I feel that it is time for the Government to put up or shut up. They have said that they are going to do what my amendment does. Can they be believed? Do they want to vote for what their Prime Minister has said? My amendment would fulfil the Prime Minister's commitment, so I wish to test the opinion of the Committee. Should the Prime Minister be believed or not?
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