Clause 15

Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:15 pm ar 20 Tachwedd 2007.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Application of section 35(1) of the criminal justice Act 1991 to prisoners liable to removal from the UK

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice)

I beg to move amendment No. 12, in clause 15, page 10, line 25, at end add—

‘(2A) For the avoidance of doubt there is a rebuttable presumption that any such prisoner will be removed from the United Kingdom following his release without prejudice to any existing rights not to be, or protections from being, removed under British or European Union law.’.

Photo of Frank Cook Frank Cook Llafur, Stockton North

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 87, in clause 19, page 14, line 38, at end add—

‘(10) For the avoidance of doubt there is a rebuttable presumption that any prisoner of a category referred to in section 46ZA will be removed from the United Kingdom following his release without prejudice to any existing rights not to be, or protections from being, removed under British or European Union law.’.

No. 88, in clause 20, page 15, line 38, at end add—

‘(9) For the avoidance of doubt there is a rebuttable presumption that any prisoner of a category referred to in section 259A will be removed from the United Kingdom following his release without prejudice to any existing rights not to be, or protections from being, removed under British or European Union law.’.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice)

Subject to minor differences, the wording of amendment No. 12 is pretty well the same as the wording of amendments Nos. 87 and 88. The principle behind the amendments is the same. Amendment No. 12 would affect clause 15, while amendments No. 87 and 88 would affect clauses 19 and 20. However, I wish to concentrate on how amendment No. 12 touches on clause 15. It sets out a proposed new subsection (2A), which states:

“For the avoidance of doubt there is a rebuttable presumption that any such prisoner will be removed from the United Kingdom following his release without prejudice to any existing rights not to be, or protections from being, removed under British or European Union law.”

I am happy for “United Kingdom” to be inserted in place of “British”, if that is thought to be more appropriate in statute law.

Clause 15 deals with the potential for the removal of prisoners from the United Kingdom. It brings into play provisions in relation to the early release of prisoners and so forth.

Of the 81,547 people inside prison as of last Friday, there are approximately 12,000 foreign nationals, some of whom are EU citizens. During Prime Minister’s questions three or four weeks ago, the Prime Minister, when questioned on the matter, said that there were  quite large numbers of Jamaicans, Nigerians and other foreign nationals in prisons in England and Wales. The Committee is probably in agreement that many of those people ought to be living in their own country, either in prison or not, but not at our expense.

By removing a number of foreign national prisoners who have served at least a part of their sentence in this country, we would free up a number of valuable prison spaces. The prison population is bigger than the space available inside the prisons to house them by about 250 people. Modernisation of the prison estate means that there is now sanitation inside the cell. An unintended consequence of overcrowding is the ridiculous set-up whereby cells designed for one person now have two men, sometimes three, sleeping in a space that is also used as a lavatory. There is no privacy or dignity. If one of the cell’s occupants wishes to use the lavatory, he must do so in front of the others.

I have been to some prisons where prisoners rig up a string and make a curtain using a sheet or a towel, although there are obviously difficulties in allowing prisoners to have string in their cells, as the suicide rate in overcrowded prisons is enormous. There were about 57 suicides by the mid-point of this year, although the figure may be higher. However, the number of suicides in our prisons is gross and something of which we should be ashamed. If we want to ease overcrowding, one answer is to ensure that an appropriate number of foreign national prisoners is removed quickly from our prisons once they have served their sentences.

Amendment No. 12 was tabled to act as a spur to the Government to do something about the matter. Our knowledge of the European Union legal system has shown that expelling EU citizens to their country of origin is not an apt way to prevent these people from coming back into the country, because the free movement directive and other regulations allow them to return. Some European Union prisoners have been here so long, or were here so long before they were found guilty of a crime, that under EU law or the European convention on human rights, they can claim a long-term connection with this place that prevents them from being deported. That is not necessarily the case with nationals of countries outside the European Union.

The short point—and I apologise for getting to the church by way of the moon—is that our prisons are woefully overcrowded. The Government could relieve some of that overcrowding if they pulled their socks up and started to negotiate, implementing bilateral treaties with non-EU countries to ensure that a proportion of the foreign national prisoners in our prison estate is sent home. More urgently, foreign national prisoners who are released but remain in this country as illegal immigrants or are here unlawfully should not simply be released back onto our streets. They should be taken directly from the prison and deported. There is no excuse for having such people pushed out into our streets, where they remain unlawfully and undetected.

Bullwood Hall in Essex and Canterbury prison in Kent are two prisons dedicated exclusively to housing foreign nationals who have not yet completed their sentence and—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—foreign nationals who have completed their sentence but who have been detained pending deportation. Either way, something is wrong with the  system if it cannot ensure the removal of a foreign national who would be deemed to remain in Britain unlawfully but for the fact that he has been detained. The presence of such people is not conducive to the public good, and in the right cases and in the right numbers we should relieve prison overcrowding by doing something along the lines suggested by the amendment.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons 12:30, 20 Tachwedd 2007

I simply wish to add a few comments. We undoubtedly have a problem with foreign prisoners who should have been deported, but that is more of an administrative problem than a legal one. I am not convinced that there is a gaping loophole in the present statutory provisions, but I am utterly convinced that there is a huge administrative loophole, which I hope will be addressed, given the inability of the Prison Service and the immigration authorities to work closely together to ensure that proper measures are taken to label prisoners due for imminent release so that they know where there is a recommendation for deportation, and can effect that removal on release. That should not be the most difficult thing in the world.

I found myself defending the Minister of State on the question of prisons used for foreign prisoners, which I regard as a positive move. If one can congregate those prisoners in one place, it is administratively easier to effect their removal. That is an entirely proper and sensible thing to do, and I do not have a problem with it. However, there are some countries with which we have a substantial problem, including Jamaica, and I think that the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle) travelled to Kingston to discuss it.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

In that case I am misinformed, I apologise.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

They are all willing to go. I have never been to Jamaica, but I am not convinced that Kingston is one of the most salubrious places in the world, although perhaps that is unfair. We have a problem with Jamaica, and I ran into it when I was involved with policing in Avon and Somerset. There was a large turnover of Jamaican drug runners—youths—coming into Bristol airport. On virtually every aeroplane from Kingston, Jamaica that touched down there was a significant number of people who were arrested because they were found to be carrying drugs. That significant problem resulted in an increase of Jamaican nationals in our prison population. Other countries are similarly involved in the drugs trade.

It makes sense for some of those prisoners to be returned to custody or given an appropriate sentence in their state of origin. Often, these people are not the Messrs. Big of the drug world. They are poorly advised to carry a limited amount of drugs on to a plane and get off at the other end, only to find themselves arrested and put in prison in this country. Of course, they should not do such things, and they should be deterred, but nevertheless the real villains of the piece  are the people who pay them to act as carriers. If there are ways of reducing that population, we should adopt them.

I do not, however, accept that we should deliberately set out to remove as many foreign prisoners as possible from our jails—particularly if they end up in a non-secure jail in another country or if we are not convinced that they would not reoffend. In countries with which we have bilateral agreements, we must be careful to ensure that we do not create further work down the line for police and customs officers. I am not convinced that the statute contains a lacuna. I am convinced, however, that, as is often true of matters that were the provenance of the Home Office and which partly still are, and whether or not the Department of Justice needs to work in conjunction with the Home Office, there is a huge problem in the management and organisation of the administrative process. The Government have not yet put that right, and they need to do better in future.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Ceidwadwyr, Kettering

I very much support any measures that are intended to return foreign national prisoners to their country of origin, either towards the end of their sentence under present arrangements or preferably towards the beginning, provided that they are returned to secure detention. I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough is better informed than me, but I tabled a parliamentary question on the subject not long ago, and my understanding is that there are 8,000 foreign national prisoners in our jails, which is about 10 per cent. of the British prison population. That is an absolute scandal.

There ought to be scope for genuine international agreement, perhaps co-ordinated by the United Nations, on where prisoners should serve their time. A reciprocal part of that arrangement would be a requirement that we take in British nationals jailed abroad. From memory, I think that the number of such people is about 1,500—a lot less than the number of foreign nationals here.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Ceidwadwyr, Kettering

In any event, there are few issues that incense people more than British taxpayers’ money being spent on accommodating foreign national prisoners in our jails. The issue of EU nationals should not be passed over either. The Italians recently came to some sort of arrangement on Romanian nationals convicted of offences on Italian soil, and found a way of returning those people to their country of origin.

Given that one of the principles of the European Union is freedom of movement, I do not see why that should not apply to convicted prisoners. I support the amendment tabled by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough, and I am glad that the Committee is addressing the genuine and growing concern in the country that we are far too generous to foreign nationals in our jails. People get very cross when they are told, “We would deport them but we have to get their consent.” We should have appropriate international agreements so that, whether the prisoner consents to being deported or not, we do not spend taxpayers’ money on detaining prisoners here if they can be detained in their own country.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I am grateful for hon. Members’ contributions. This is an important issue, given the concern about foreign national prisoners in jails in my jurisdiction of England and Wales. I hope that I can reassure all hon. Members that foreign national prisoners are in jail because they have been caught, tried and convicted of crimes and are therefore serving a sentence. There are approximately 11,000 such prisoners in British jails, which is about 14 per cent. of the total. As has been mentioned, certain countries represent a significant proportion of those figures.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Ceidwadwyr, Kettering

I am fascinated by the Minister’s answer. He gave a figure of 11,000, and I am grateful for that clarification. Perhaps his officials could advise him how that figure has changed in the past few years, because it seems to have increased significantly.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 12:45, 20 Tachwedd 2007

Although I do not have the figures on performance, I am happy to reflect on that matter and will, if the hon. Gentleman will allow me, drop him a letter on those points.

As I was indicating, there are significant areas of difficulty regarding that figure of 11,000. I draw the Committee’s attention to the points that were mentioned by the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome. As of 31 August 2007, there were just over 1,300 Jamaican prisoners in British jails, just over 1,000 Nigerian prisoners, 449 prisoners from Vietnam—a significant number—369 from Somalia and 371 from China.

Perhaps I can offer the hon. Gentleman and the Committee some reassurance. An important key point is that, as of 23 October 2007, we have agreements with 97 countries to repatriate prisoners to serve sentences in their home country. The countries range from Albania and Australia, in the a’s, through to Venezuela and Ukraine at the other end of the alphabet. Those countries and they have operational transfer agreements in place.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Ceidwadwyr, Kettering

Is it the case that those repatriation agreements require the consent of the prisoner concerned? The Minister says that there are 1,300 Jamaican nationals in British jails. Surely the British Government should have been making an agreement with Jamaica for the mass deportation of those people to a suitable detention facility in Jamaica. I would be surprised if it were not cheaper to pay the Jamaicans to hold those people in their own jails than to house them in this country.

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Again, perhaps the hon. Gentleman will bear with me. We have a facilitated return scheme, under which we are encouraging individuals to return to their home countries. We are also helping with transfer costs. We recently discussed the matter with the Jamaican Government and decided on an agreement at official level, which awaits ratification by the Jamaican Parliament, in respect of the transfer of such people.

We are negotiating prisoner transfer arrangements with the major countries, some of which I mentioned earlier. They include Nigeria, Vietnam, Laos, China,  Ghana, Libya, Botswana and Russia, which are the main areas for which we need prisoner transfer agreements at official and ministerial levels. This afternoon, I am meeting the South African Minister of Correctional Services and I will be raising with him again the need for an agreement with South Africa.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Ceidwadwyr, Broxbourne

What arguments will lawyers use to prevent those transfers? It is all very well having a deal with Libya, but I am sure that some slick lawyer will argue that such a transfer might impinge on his client’s human rights or something. Even with these agreements, is it likely that prisoners will be deported to their country of origin?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Let me put the success of the transfer agreements and work in context. Two years ago, approximately 1,500 people were transferred by the Government out of prisons in England and Wales to foreign prisons. Last year, 2,784 prisoners were transferred out. In the current year we are on target to meet my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s aim of removing 4,000 prisoners from prisons in England and Wales. I accept that there is more to be done, which is why I am investing ministerial time in trying to secure agreements with the countries that I have mentioned, and why I will be trying to raise that issue this afternoon with my South African counterpart. There will be engagements across the board to ensure that that is done, because it needs to occur. However, the speed of transfer to date has been significant.

Hon. Members mentioned the two prisons that we have allocated entirely to foreign prisoners—Bullwood and Canterbury—to ensure that we transfer out prisoners at the end of their sentences much more efficiently and speedily. Border and Immigration Agency staff are working in those prisons with the Prison Service to effect a speedy transfer either to a final destination, or to a holding camp in the BIA estate. I welcome the support of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome for that measure.

Photo of David Heath David Heath Shadow Leader of the House of Commons

The Minister will have my support for that measure, although the mind boggles as to why we did not have a proper relationship between the immigration and prison authorities years ago.

I would like to return to what the Minister was saying because it is important that the Committee does not get the wrong impression about the agreement with the Jamaican Government. Is not the scale of that agreement extremely modest, simply because there are not enough prison facilities in Kingston to deal with the sort of numbers of prisoners that we have in the British prison estate?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

The agreement has the potential for expansion. We are trying to secure agreements with countries with which we do not have agreements at present. Any agreement, such as the one negotiated in August with Jamaica, must be welcomed.

Some of these issues are not as easy as they might at first seem. There will be people in each of our constituencies with Jamaican citizenship who may have lived in the United Kingdom for 20 or 30 years, who may have married British citizens and who may have  children who are British citizens, but who are Jamaican passport holders. The situation is not always as simple or clear as some of the “let’s deport” arguments suggest.

Mr. Hurd rose—

Mr. Walker rose—

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I will give way to the hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood first because he has not had a go yet.

Photo of Nick Hurd Nick Hurd Ceidwadwyr, Ruislip - Northwood

I think that we all understand some of the difficulties underlying the headlines, but the stark reality is that 14 per cent. of an overcrowded prison population are foreign nationals who, frankly, have relinquished their right to our hospitality. All our constituents would expect the Government to be extraordinarily robust in shifting those people on.

I would like to press the Minister to answer the question put to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering. Do these international agreements still rely on the underlying agreement of the individual prisoner? If they do, are the Government happy with that status quo?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

No, they do not. This is a complex area and it is difficult to discuss individual cases, but those agreements do not automatically rely on the consent of the prisoner. There are people who have been deported and have not consented to that deportation. Obviously, in the European Union context, that is very difficult, because in that context a prisoner can be deported to Krakow tomorrow, walk across the airport and fly back to the UK under their European rights—rights to which they are perfectly entitled to. So, the situation is difficult, but the intention is to speed up the deportations, to effect prisoner transfer agreements, especially with countries outside the European Union, and to ensure that we put in place measures to increase the number of deportations.

Photo of Charles Walker Charles Walker Ceidwadwyr, Broxbourne

The Minister is right that this is a complex area. Regarding the 11,000 foreign nationals in our prisons, in how many cases has the Home Office been able to establish whether those people had previous criminal records in their country of origin—in other words that they are serial offenders who have a criminal record in their country of origin and have then come over to this country and offended here?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I am grateful for the question, but I am not in a position to answer it now. If the hon. Gentleman will let me, I will consider the question. Given that this matter is also the responsibility of the Home Office and that I am a Minister in the Ministry of Justice, I do not have those figures to hand, but I will ensure that we look at the issue again.

Photo of Philip Hollobone Philip Hollobone Ceidwadwyr, Kettering

May I try to assist the Minister—if I am thinking along the right lines—in answering the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for  Ruislip-Northwood? Is it not the case that consent is not required from a prisoner for them to be deported on completion of their sentence, but is required for deportation during their sentence?

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

No. The situation, essentially, is that a number of strands of consent are required. The bilateral agreements that I have mentioned—there are 97 in total—require the consent of the prisoner. So, with the 97 countries that I have listed, an element of consent is required. Under the EU framework decision, which we have already agreed at an EU level and which comes into effect in 2009 or 2010, consent will not be required. Also, under domestic legislation, we do not require consent, and where there is no bilateral agreement, we can deport individuals without their consent, and we have done so.

The reason why the figure has risen from 1,500 to 4,000 over the past two years is because my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, the Minister for Borders and Immigration, and other Ministers dealing with these matters, including me, have all recognised that we need to improve the performance of the BIA estate on deportation and to free up people from prison into the secure BIA estate ready for deportation. The purpose of Bullwood and Canterbury was to achieve those things.

Clause 15 is designed simply to give the Parole Board the power to determine parole for all prisoners serving sentences of less than 15 years, regardless of their immigration status. It is designed to address the decision in the case of Hindawi, about which hon. Members might be aware, which provided that applications for the early release of foreign national prisoners serving between four and 15 years who are liable to deportation or removal from the United Kingdom can be determined only by the Secretary of State. That procedure was incompatible with article 5(4) of the European convention on human rights, and clause 15 is designed to make us compatible with that convention.

Clauses 19 and 20 are designed to make certain changes to the operation of the early removal scheme. At the moment, the Secretary of State is empowered to remove from the country, up to 135 days before the halfway point of a sentence, fixed term prisoners serving a sentence of three months or more, but not life, who are liable for deportation or removal from the United Kingdom. The purpose of the three clauses is, first, to extend the scheme to make it available to offenders not liable for deportation; secondly, to streamline the existing scheme by removing a number of restrictions on eligibility; and, thirdly, to remove a potential anomaly in the treatment of prisoners released under the Criminal Justice Acts 1991 and 2003.

I wish to draw the Committee’s attention to the fact that in pursuing the aims that I have outlined, clause 20 inadvertently makes a change that I do not support and that we want to rectify on Report. It would remove the existing provision requiring prisoners who are entitled to be released under the provisions of the 2003 Act to serve at least one quarter of their sentence before they can be removed early under the scheme. We have reflected on the unintended consequence that that creates a disparity. I will table an amendment on  Report to reinstate the requirement, and I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will bear with me on that point.

In conclusion, I commend the clauses to the Committee and I urge it to reject the amendments tabled by the hon. and learned Member for Harborough. We are already doing a considerable amount, and are trying to do even more to effect the changes that I think are sought by all Committee members to ensure that the 11,000 prisoners either serve their sentences abroad under repatriation terms, or are at least deported at the end of their sentence.

Photo of Edward Garnier Edward Garnier Shadow Minister (Justice)

We have had an interesting discussion about the impact of foreign national prisoners on the English and Welsh prison estate. It is important that the Government make their position clear. Obviously, we must consider the situation involving some foreign nationals. For example, a person could be deported back to China after serving a relatively short length of time in custody for a relatively minor offence. Such people could get into considerable difficulty on their return to China because the Chinese are not noted for accepting back, let alone treating kindly, criminals of their own nation.

That being said, I think that I am right that since the Government came to office, the foreign national prison population has gone up by 155 per cent.—three times that of the British prisoner population—which gives rise to all sorts of questions about language facilities and the need for interpreters in prisons and courts. The bill for interpreters in London courts now runs into millions a year. I have no idea what that bill is in the Prison Service, but it must be quite significant.

I do not know the Government’s thinking about this at the moment, but they were proposing to give EU nationals £1,500 to go away. Of course, those EU nationals would take the money, go back to France, Italy or Greece, and return under the free-right-to-travel arrangements.

This is a convenient moment to unburden the Committee by letting them know that I do not wish to press my amendments to a Division. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

It being One o’clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at Four o’clock.