Deportation of Foreign National Offenders

– in Westminster Hall am 4:20 pm ar 7 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

[Relevant document: e-petition 642364, Deport all foreign and dual nationals imprisoned for a year or more.]

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department 4:30, 7 Chwefror 2024

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the deportation of foreign national offenders.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. Let me start with a quote:

“Never in the history of the world have there been so many migrants. And almost all of them are migrating from regions where nationality is weak or non-existent to the established nation states of the West. They are not migrating because they have discovered some previously dormant feeling of love or loyalty towards the nations in whose territory they seek a home. On the contrary, few of them identify their loyalties in national terms and almost none of them in terms of the nation where they settle.”

Roger Scruton wrote those words in 2004.

I have often spoken of the generous and welcoming nature of the people of Redditch. My constituents have opened their hearts and their homes and shown love to strangers from Syria, Ukraine and all over the world who are now our neighbours and friends. But as a Conservative, I defend my right to tell the truth to the British people about the abuse of our homes and communities that is facilitated by some in our asylum and immigration systems, and in our courts and tribunals, in the name of kindness and virtue signalling. I am choosing my words very carefully, because I know many will try to discredit my remarks. Note my use of the word “some”—it does not mean all. It might be a small number, but nevertheless the public expect us to take this seriously.

Our critics attack us. They say it is heartless and cruel—or, bizarrely, far right—to believe that the people who have lived all their lives in our country should have a say in how many more people come to it, or to aver that the people who come to our country should respect our laws, traditions and culture and that, if they do not, they should be sent back to where they come from. That is why I secured this debate.

According to the Crown Prosecution Service, the number of foreign national offenders subject to deportation action living in the community has risen year on year for the last decade and has reached nearly 12,000, a 192% increase since 2012. That is 12,000 criminals free to roam our streets while they exploit our legal system at taxpayers’ expense to stay here longer.

As that number has climbed over the last decade, the number of people we return to other countries has fallen: total enforced returns dropped from 15,134 in 2012 to 5,506 in the year ending September 2023. Meanwhile, 10,321 FNOs are on the prison estate. According to Ministry of Justice figures, in 2021-22, the average cost per prisoner per year was £31,000. Add to that the legal fees involved in getting them to prison in the first place, and the figure runs into the hundreds of millions every year.

We must raise our eyes and stop thinking that the United Kingdom is uniquely afflicted by this problem and that our own Government are the only ones battling it. Every country around the world is dealing with spiralling immigration. None has ready solutions. All face the same issues of democratic consent. Take the EU: 2.3 million immigrants entered the bloc from non-EU countries in 2021, an increase of almost 18% compared with 2020. The tiny Italian island of Lampedusa was last year overwhelmed by 7,000 migrants—more than its entire population of 6,000. The EU does not have the answers.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the end of 2022, 108.4 million people worldwide were displaced. That represents an increase of 19 million people wanting to leave their own country compared with the end of 2021—more than the population of Ecuador, the Netherlands or Somalia. Of course, many of those aspire to come to European nations in the west, including the UK, and we have always done our part in this country. In the UK, net migration has been a major component of population over the past two decades, making up 60% of the growth from 2001 to 2020.

It is a fact of human nature that not everybody is a good person. That is something that Jesus of Nazareth—we will come to him—knew. When numbers of immigrants rise, most—the vast majority—are good people, but proportionately more bad people will be among their number. In this country, we are open hearted, generous and tolerant to those who treat us with respect and are willing to abide by our laws. But we have all seen the examples of people that we have welcomed to our homes who only wish to harm or kill us, our families and our communities. They are people who have no intention of returning the love and support that we have shown them, and they have treated our country as a dormitory, and sometimes as a cash machine, to bring their relatives in by the back door.

Our constituents are not naïve. They know that people of any nationality are capable of sinning, lying and evil, but they do not expect our country to be an offshore prison facility for criminals from all over the world. They elect us to keep people safe in their beds at night and on our streets, and to get foreign criminals out of our country and let their own societies rehabilitate them. Every sovereign nation has the right to control its borders. This is not far-right rhetoric; it is centred on common sense.

Why, despite everything that the Conservative Government have done, are the numbers going the wrong way? I served as a Minister both in the Home Office and in the Ministry of Justice. It is a true pleasure to have my right hon. Friend Priti Patel, with whom it was my privilege to serve in the Home Office, here today. She will know, as I do, just how many obstacles exist to deporting people who should not be here, despite the excellent people who work in the Home Office.

I think most people would be surprised to learn, for example, that foreigners convicted of crimes that attract sentences of less than 12 months can still be granted asylum and stay here. Why? Conservatives have done more than ever before to tackle the concerning rise in illegal migration and criminality, and to clamp down on the merry-go-round of spurious asylum claims, but a thicket of legal instruments, treaties and conventions still exists, which gives foreign national offenders grounds to escape deportation. I know it is difficult, but we must do more.

A new loophole is emerging that is ripe for exploitation, and I am genuinely worried about it. It is the fear of persecution if returned, on the grounds of religious conversion, especially from Islam to Christianity. Every single person in this Chamber, if they are truthful with themselves, can imagine the situation: you are a migrant on the Bibby Stockholm or in a British jail, about to be sent back to Somalia. A nice legal aid lawyer or non-governmental organisation appears in front of you with a script to follow and explains that a miracle can happen. Next thing, the light appears and you are a Christian.

The prime suspect in the Clapham case was given asylum on the second time of asking, despite being charged with sexual assault and indecent exposure in 2018. He claimed that he had converted to Christianity, meaning he would have been at risk of persecution if he returned to Afghanistan. The suicide bomber who attacked Liverpool Women’s Hospital, Emad al-Swealmeen, had, following a failed initial asylum claim, converted from Islam to Christianity. I tried to find figures for how many other FNOs have evaded deportation because of this issue, but I was unable to. I understand that the Home Secretary is looking at this, so I am sure that the Minister can update us.

Jesus understood compassion to foreigners and strangers, as we read in the Bible. The words “refugee” and “asylum seeker” do not appear anywhere in Holy Scripture—and who would argue in all seriousness that the world of the tribes of Israel in Egypt some four millennia ago was anything like the same as it is today? But Jesus was a student of human nature. He understood the temptation to lie. As students of human nature and intelligent people in this place, we should be brave enough to acknowledge this. Only God can look into my heart and my personal Christian faith, with all its flaws, and know whether I believe in him or not. We are asking the impossible of our clergymen. They are not God, and to pretend that they are is the ultimate mass delusion.

Do not gaslight us and say that this is not a situation ripe for abuse. Desperate people do desperate things. We should blame not the people—I emphasise that I do not blame them—but the incentives and the policy structures that allow this to take place. The British people feel, as I do, that we have allowed ourselves to become taken advantage of. We have been quite literally killing ourselves with kindness. If we continue this way, we risk eroding trust in our institutions and structures of government—the very things that we build our nation on.

I do not know about you, Mr Gray, but I was shocked to discover that the BBC has permitted a former employee to give evidence at immigration tribunals supporting 15 convicted Somalian criminals, including rapists. Some of that number have been given leave to remain in the UK after their trials and appeals based on her evidence. Do people pay their licence fee for this? What message does it send to the victims, some of them children, of these evil foreign thugs?

I come now to the most important part of my speech. It is only Conservative values, centred on our belief in a strong nation state, that have any answers to this wicked problem. We are the only ones prepared to stand up and fight for our hard-won peace. We are the only ones who are making progress, difficult though it is, over the longer term to fight to protect our democracy and our safety.

Let us look at what the Labour party is doing as we approach the next election—perhaps they have a plan. What do we see when we look deeper? Members of the current Labour Front Bench—including Keir Starmer when campaigning to be the leader of the Labour party—signed a letter calling for the suspension of a flight to deport 50 offenders to Jamaica and the suspension of all future charter flights. One hundred and fifty-one Labour MPs and peers, as well as Liberal Democrats and Members of other Opposition parties, and celebrities, signed the letter calling for the flight to be scrapped. It is hardly surprising, when they are led by someone who once claimed there was a

“racist undercurrent which permeates all immigration law”.

Among those who escaped deportation that day was heroin dealer Akiva Heaven, who had already served four years in prison and went on to be jailed again in May 2021 for dealing cocaine and heroin. If that was not bad enough, one of the criminals Labour Members so generously campaigned on behalf of, Ernesto Elliott, went on to commit murder. How can we ever trust them? These people are only interested in a free ride on the virtue-signalling train with their celebrity mates. They might try to persuade the British public that they have changed, but they are, and they remain, a risk to our national security.

I know exactly what they will say—that it is the easy attack, that it is all our fault, that we have been in government for 14 years. I am afraid that that perfectly demonstrates my point. Their flat denial that this is a global, emergent and unpredictable threat—a new threat in many respects—tells the British people that they have no serious plan to tackle it. Worse, they maintain the fantasy that all can be solved by talking in a nicer way to the EU.

What we need is a cultural change. First, we must protect our homes and our families. Patriotism grows from the soil of trust. People who care about our country as their own, no matter where they have come from, will put their lives on the line to defend it. Scruton speaks of the educated derision that has been directed at our national loyalty by those whose freedom to criticise would have been extinguished years ago had the English not been prepared to die for their country.

We all know who those critics are—the celebrity on a humanitarian crusade to boost their flagging career; some institutions, including some in the Church of England, some of its leaders, some universities and some in the BBC; and that ballooning charity, legal aid and NGO racket. They can burnish their compassion credentials and bottom lines with a few clicks. I say to them: this is on you. You must take your share of responsibility. You are recklessly and dangerously tossing away our national inheritance, which has, as the German poet Goethe said, been laboriously earned by our forefathers from Christianity, imperial government and Roman law. I call on the Minister and the Home Secretary to urgently revisit the legal frameworks underpinning the exemptions on grounds of religion and faith.

I ask the following questions to the excellent Minister, who is to be commended for the vigour and effectiveness he has brought to his brief. Why does he think we have seen a downward trend in the number of FNOs being deported, and what steps are he and the Government taking to address the issue? How many have been granted asylum after being sentenced for a crime? Does he think that the current arrangements, which permit those sentenced for less than 12 months to be granted asylum, are adequate?

I thank everyone who has supported the debate. I finish by reminding us that our generation has a solemn duty to our country. Goethe, again:

“What you have inherited from your forefathers, earn it, that you might own it.”

Earning it, we will own it, and owning it, we will be at peace within our borders.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 4:46, 7 Chwefror 2024

First, I thank Rachel Maclean for her speech. I have to put this on the record, and forgive me, Mr Gray, for having to do so, but I am a bit perplexed. I am very fond of the hon. Lady, and she knows that. I am a Christian, I have Christian faith, and I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief, so I speak up for those of Christian faith, those of other faiths and those with no faith.

I am trying to say this as gently as I can, but I have people in my constituency who have converted to Christianity—or whatever they may do, but I know people who have done that. They were never a threat because they said that they had become Christians. I am sorry to say this, but I have some concern about how the hon. Lady, for whom I have the utmost respect, introduced the debate: it seemed as if every person who has converted to Christianity is potentially a criminal. I have to say this: the ones that I know are not, and I have to put that on the record. That is not what my speech was meant to be about, by the way—I will move on to the substance of it—but I felt a bit concerned.

Those who convert to Christianity, who have done it for the right reasons, because that is what their faith, their beliefs or their God has told them, have that right to do so, and they should not be condemned because they have done it. The hon. Member for Redditch knows I am incredibly fond of her, but I am sorry, I felt really uneasy about that. I have to put that on the record, and I wanted to do it now, before I speak about the content of the debate. I welcome, properly, what the hon. Lady said, which mirrors some of what I want to say. I am not saying that everyone is an angel—no, they are not—but most of those who convert to Christianity do so for genuine reasons and should be respected. I will leave it at that—I do not want to develop it any further; I do not want to be adversarial or to have a different opinion.

Despite conflicting opinions among Members about immigration and asylum seeking, we in the UK pride ourselves on being a compassionate country that provides safety for those in need and is well known for believing that we have a duty to help others. That has always been my gut feeling. All my life I have wanted to help others and all my life in this place I have tried to do that.

For some, aid should take place in the home country, and for others, we should open our doors, but that comes with a huge condition, and that is what I am going to develop in my contribution to the debate: that people should respect the law of the land and understand that if they do not, the door is permanently closed. I am quite clear about that—the hon. Member for Redditch and I will agree on that. That part of the contribution I understand incredibly well. For those who break that trust, it is crucial that justice is served and that they are ultimately removed from our country. It is our country, and for all of us here and all our constituents, the safety of our people is crucial, critical and important.

In June 2023, at least 10,321 foreign nationals were in prison across England and Wales. More locally for myself—I always give a Northern Ireland perspective, although deportation issues lie here with the House, which has the final say—around 10.6% of those in Northern Ireland prisons were foreign nationals as of 2022.

The Home Secretary and Home Office have a duty to this country to issue deportation orders for those who have been convicted of an offence in the UK and sentenced to at least 12 months, unless certain exceptions apply. I cannot stress enough the importance of securing safety and protection for the general public. If that is the thrust of this debate, and I believe it is, then let us focus on that. We hear horror stories every day in our local papers and on the news of all sorts of crimes, including what happened to that poor lady and her two children—my goodness me. They are committed not just by foreign nationals but by our own people, and we are trying to gain control over and manage them.

There is no doubt that our justice system has been fragmented in the past, and there have been many calls from our constituents to get the issues of court hearing delays and lenient prosecutions sorted. I do not see how we can give many more excuses for continuing to house foreign national offenders in UK prisons if they are guilty of the heinous crimes of rape, murder or whatever they may be. Statistics show that our prisons have been severely over-subscribed in certain areas for a number of years, and that has meant prisoners being left in custody for longer than needed or left in county jails.

The Government have stated on a number of occasions that the deportation of foreign national offenders is a long-standing Government priority, but as of 2022 there were still almost 12,000 foreign national offenders subject to deportation action living in the community. We must direct ourselves to that issue. The constituents in the communities we represent have a right to feel safe in the areas they live and work in—not just for themselves, but for their children and grandchildren.

I will conclude, because many people want to contribute. We are a compassionate country: we welcome foreign nationals and the contributions they make to our nation. But there must also be a clear understanding that crime, no matter how petty, is not to be tolerated, and that it has consequences. I look to my Government and my Minister to ensure that our actions meet our words. If this is a priority, let us follow through and ensure that we have the necessary means to deport those who do not follow the laws and guidelines of this country. Perhaps the Minister can respond with his plans to reduce the number down from the thousands to as small a number as possible.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of James Gray James Gray Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research, Chair, Environmental Audit Sub-Committee on Polar Research

Order. There is 16 minutes until the wind-ups and four or five people trying to speak. Therefore, it would be helpful if speeches were limited to four or five minutes.

Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Ceidwadwyr, Witham 4:52, 7 Chwefror 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I commend and congratulate my hon. Friend Rachel Maclean on her contribution and on securing the debate. I also commend her outstanding work at the Home Office alongside me when I was Home Secretary. She was a steady hand on a very important piece of legislation, the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, which brought in many measures to directly address illegal migration. The Act addresses not just the causes, but how we bring greater efficiency to the illegal migration system and the whole issue of deportation and removals, which is relevant to this debate on foreign national offenders.

As a former Home Secretary, I have been involved in this issue quite a bit. I oversaw the removal of around 12,000 FNOs, despite the travel restrictions caused by the covid pandemic and the relentless and determined efforts of the campaigners, celebrities, do-gooders and everyone else mentioned by my hon. Friend, some in the media or parts of the legal establishment, and Opposition politicians. The removal of those 12,000 foreign national offenders made our streets and communities safer and protected the public from crime. I promoted what was colloquially known at the time as the prison-to-plane approach, which reduced the amount of time that FNOs are in our country after they leave custody. That is important, as the Minister will understand, because we can remove such people only once they have left prison, after which they have to be in a safe and secure detention facility before being removed. That approach is the right one, and it links to the issue of prison places and how we get flow into the system.

As someone who has held the post of Home Secretary, I know that we are bound by statutory duties to deport those who have been sentenced to at least 12 months imprisonment, unless very specific exemptions apply. However, there are other FNOs who can be deported if their presence is not conducive to the public good, in particular if they breach their UK visa or entry requirements, and there will be a whole load of associated issues.

Removing these individuals is absolutely one of the most serious duties that the Home Secretary of the day has. Of course, we know the appalling crimes that they have committed. That is why—as the Minister will know, and as the Home Secretary will be well aware—it is imperative that we remove those who have committed the most heinous crimes, especially those who have been persistent or even serial offenders.

In my personal view, not enough is being done to sentence people to custody for long enough. We already know that there are thousands of criminals who commit serious crimes who are either not sentenced to jail or receive sentences of less than 12 months. I think more needs to be done there.

Between 2007 and 2017, around 13,000 people convicted of sexual assault or rape were not sentenced to immediate custody. That included 900 rapists, and some of those offences were committed against children as young as 13. Half of all sex offenders were not sent to jail by our courts during that period. We know exactly what happened, basically, and those shocking figures demonstrate that some of those offenders, who were responsible for the most appalling crimes, would not meet the 12-month custodial sentence threshold to be removed and deported. That is a sobering point, it really is, and it has an impact, as my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch said, on public confidence, community cohesion and safety in our own communities. It basically means that there are some terrible offenders who should have been deported but were not deported.

I am afraid to say that it is inexcusable that those offenders who are deported, sometimes on those deportation flights, have attracted the support of some organisations that have basically prevented their removal. Those offenders have committed serious offences, and my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch has already made the case relating to those individuals. I am afraid to say that the party opposite would use social media, particularly around some of the flights that I was involved with, basically to campaign on behalf of those individuals, and say that they were their constituents and had a right to be in the United Kingdom, despite committing the most heinous and appalling crimes.

The removal of foreign national offenders, or FNOs, is necessary for statutory reasons and public safety reasons. Their removal is in the interests of the victims of crime. I have met too many victims who have been assaulted and abused by foreign national offenders, and we must put their needs first. The needs of the victims must always come first. Our vulnerable people, whose lives have been destroyed and shattered by FNOs, are traumatised—and do you know what? They are even more traumatised, and they relive that trauma all over again, when they see Members of Parliament, celebrities, the media, BBC so-called “expert witnesses”, as exposed by The Mail on Sunday last weekend, campaigners and lawyers backing the rights of criminals over them. The victims should be supported, not these dangerous FNOs.

We have seen the consequences when deportation flights are blocked. I used to have to deal with those consequences, and I had to deal with those deportation flights that were cancelled, because of mutinies by passengers, but also because of the way in which the left in particular would lobby.

To conclude, it is absolutely right that the country knows who is responsible for stopping those flights and stopping the removal of those FNOs. When the Minister responds to the debate, I would particularly like him to speak very clearly about what is being done now to circumvent and stop those mutinous passengers, to stop these lawyers and to stop people in Parliament as well from campaigning to prevent the removal of FNOs, and to ensure effectively that the victims of these crimes are protected and see justice by seeing the removal of these FNOs.

Photo of Kenny MacAskill Kenny MacAskill Alba, East Lothian 4:58, 7 Chwefror 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I fully concur with Rachel Maclean that the first duty of a state is to keep its citizens safe and secure, so those who come here from abroad and perpetrate serious crime must not only be publicly punished, but face deportation if it is appropriate in the circumstances. That is not just the state’s duty; it is also logical. That is why we enter into prisoner transfer agreements, of which we have many.

Somebody who is in prison has to be punished, but the state—whether it is our state or another—also has to remember its obligation to rehabilitate them. The factors that matter are quite clear. Will a home be available on release? Will somebody local be taking an interest, preferably even when the person is still in prison? Will the prisoner be able to do something constructive on release? For somebody who is foreign, that is very difficult. Families are also being punished, because they cannot visit. That is why we have prisoner transfer agreements and why we should be seeking to move people back, even before the end of their sentence, to the countries from which they came.

I make two caveats. The first is that what goes out has to come back in. I recall meeting the parents of a drug-dealing young Scots girl who had been imprisoned in Spain. I made it quite clear to her father that we would bring her home—not to put her feet up and live the life of Riley, but to go to a Scottish prison, Cornton Vale. It was our obligation; she was our citizen; she would serve her sentence here, if that was what she wanted. We would not force her to come back, but we would bring her home. That did indeed work out.

What we cannot have is the situation that some people jumped to demand at the time. They were appalled that we should be seeking to bring her back, yet they were the very same people who say that we have to send foreign prisoners home. We cannot insist on foreign nationals being deported, and then say, “By the way, we’re not keeping the door open for our own citizens to be sent back here.” That is hypocritical as well as absurd.

The second caveat is that we have to take into account—I am glad that the regulations do so—the fact that not every foreign national should necessarily be deported. I well recall making a Christmastime visit to a Christian charity in Leith when I was a Justice Minister. Anyone who has been a Minister, including the Minister in this debate, will have made such visits to worthy charities.

I met an Australian gentleman who was a few years younger than me: he must have been in his late 40s or early 50s. I asked what he was doing. He was homeless. He had been deported from Australia. He admitted that he had committed a serious crime. His life had collapsed about him. He was not a bad person; I was not intimidated. He had to be punished for what he did, but he was no Ned Kelly. Yet he had been sent back to Scotland, because he had never taken out Australian nationality. He had gone to Australia with his parents as a baby or a toddler. He had never been taken out of the country or come back to see any relatives, so he had never required an Australian passport. He had not been required to register for anything; he just had his national insurance card or whatever the Australian equivalent was.

He was Australian, but he was sent back to Scotland, where he knew no one. There may have been a second cousin or an elderly auntie somewhere, but they certainly would not have wanted somebody turning up and saying, “I’m your second cousin twice removed. I’ve just been deported from Australia. Do you remember me? Can you make me a cup of tea?”, so he was homeless here. That was fundamentally cruel. He should not have been sent home. He was not really Scottish or a UK citizen; he had a UK passport, but he had grown up in Australia. He was Australian, and Australia should have retained him.

Young Jamaican kids who have grown up in south London are being deported. The same will no doubt happen to young Somalis in Glasgow, who have become our children irrespective of a passport that might not be their responsibility. Yes, when people come here and perpetrate crimes, let us send them out, but there are others who have lived here who may not happen to have the right of citizenship. We should remember that Australian and remember our obligation to look after them. We must make sure that they are punished, but then we must rehabilitate them.

Photo of Jonathan Gullis Jonathan Gullis Ceidwadwyr, Stoke-on-Trent North 5:03, 7 Chwefror 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I congratulate my hon. Friend Rachel Maclean on securing this extremely important debate.

It is an absolute abomination that we see tens of thousands of illegal migrants choosing to come from safe mainland France and arriving undocumented on the shores of our country. They are predominantly young men: over 70%. In some cases—not all, but some—they will go on to commit heinous crimes or will be using these routes on behalf of gangs or even terrorist organisations, as has been reported by our security services. That is potentially undermining our nation’s very security.

The people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke simply will not stand for that, but they find themselves up against an institution like the Church of England. Its leader, Archbishop Justin Welby, has created political activists within the clergy to go out of their way to allow people to pretend that they have somehow seemingly converted to Christianity. A document leaked to GB News, seen by Nigel Farage and others, says, “After someone’s application has been granted, don’t be shocked if that person does not subsequently attend the church congregation.” It tells us everything we need to know about the abuse of the system that the BBC, the Church of England, the Labour party, lefty lawyers and do-gooder celebrity types are acting against national interests and are willing to leave our borders wide open without our knowing or understanding who is coming in and endangering our great nation.

I feel real anger at His Majesty’s Opposition, the Labour party. Back in February 2020, more than 150 Labour peers and Members of Parliament went out of their way to sign a letter that sought to stop the deportation of serious offenders, all because they wanted some cheap likes on social media platforms such as X, formerly known as Twitter. These people—people like the shadow Foreign Secretary; the shadow Health Secretary; the shadow Minister for Women and Equalities; the shadow Justice Secretary, who would be in charge of the prison estate if, God forbid, the Labour party were ever to take control of this country; the shadow Attorney General, when she is not busy demeaning the St George’s flag or the white van man, supporting the de-banking of political opponents or enabling murderers and rapists to stay in our country and terrorise our streets; and the shadow Solicitor General, when he is not busy spreading tin-hat, deepfake, fake news images on social media accounts—are signing letters that endanger people on our streets. They are endangering communities in places like Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke, where sadly we have seen radicalisation that led to a dreadful terrorist act. Someone from the town of Tunstall went and committed the heinous crime on London bridge.

This is an issue of the utmost importance. When the Leader of His Majesty’s Opposition, Keir Starmer, signed the letter, he was busy pandering to his Corbynista friends—or should I say his former friends, whom he has recently ditched in order to pretend that he has somehow rehabilitated himself—to get the extreme loony left that still rages in the Labour party to back him for leader?

The Leader of the Opposition, who has been busy ditching his 10 pledges, is happy to whitewash his history as the Director of Public Prosecutions. Tajay Thompson, who was convicted of battering two women and went on to commit further drug-dealing offences, was prevented from being deported while the right hon. and learned Gentleman was head of the CPS. The right hon. and learned Gentleman also opposed the deportation of Fabian Henry, a foreign rapist who attacked a girl of 17 and abducted and sexually a 15-year-old. That is his record: when it came to putting people allegedly behind bars, he was busy working in the interests of those who very much undermine the safety of the young women and children of our country.

I will not have the Labour party virtue-signalling. I hope that the shadow immigration Minister, uses this debate to apologise on behalf of the Labour party for those who signed the letter, and to say that they will never do such a thing again.

Photo of Simon Clarke Simon Clarke Ceidwadwyr, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland 5:07, 7 Chwefror 2024

I thank my hon. Friend Rachel Maclean for securing the debate. The recent awful case in Clapham has reminded us of the serious problem that we are addressing: the systematic abuse of articles 3 and 8 of the European convention on human rights to frustrate the legitimate deportation of people who have forfeited their right to be in this country. As we have heard, the latest practice appears to be claiming a conversion to the Christian faith that may or may not be genuine. There is a serious problem with rights groups, which we should all acknowledge across the House. Judicial activism has led to the law being expanded in ways that those who created the post-1945 order would struggle to recognise and certainly would not agree with.

It is deeply problematic that the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Justice Secretary signed letters attempting to block the deportation of foreign national offenders, as we have heard. In some cases, these people have gone on to commit further very serious crimes. It speaks to the fundamental naivety—some would call it madness—that blinds us to the reality of how dangerous some of these people are, and how wrong-headed it is to put their rights ahead of the rights of the victims of crime and of the wider British public.

We do not have a moral responsibility in this country to offer asylum to sex offenders from elsewhere. That is at the heart of this debate, and it is why it is important, as my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis said, that the Opposition acknowledge that they got that wrong. I say with great affection for Stephen Kinnock that his party needs to change its approach to the question. Otherwise, I am afraid it will give succour to people who do not deserve it.

The post-1945 world order is under strain in all directions. We live in a world that is being transformed, largely by the issues connected with migration. If we do not address cases in which there is a clear imperative to remove people have committed crimes in this country, I am afraid we will completely lose the moral right to make the case for balanced, compassionate and fair immigration to this country. This House should act. I hope that today the Minister will set out a clear path to tackling the problem.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 5:10, 7 Chwefror 2024

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Gray.

I do not really know where to start in this debate. Uncharacteristically for me, as someone who does not profess to be any kind of person of faith, I might start with a passage from Leviticus:

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

The Bible may not talk about asylum seekers and refugees, as Rachel Maclean says—I honestly would not know—but there is certainly an awful lot in there about treating other people as you would treat yourself and your own family. There has been very little of that in this afternoon’s debate.

We are here in very febrile times. I completely understand how upset people are about the attack in Clapham. That person should be fully held to account for his actions. He should face the full extent of the law and the justice system, and deportation, if indeed that is what is decided. There is no question about that. There is a process there that should be respected.

Hon. Members have heard me talk many, many times about the issues around asylum, but they probably have not have heard me say that, yes, there are circumstances in which people need to be removed. Priti Patel will remember that when she was Home Secretary I wrote to her plenty of times about many constituents in many complex situations. There is very little that I have not seen in my constituency, given the complexity of casework that I have.

However, I also know that there are circumstances in which people cannot be deported, because to do so would mean their execution. We do not extradite to countries that have the death penalty, for example, so to say that everyone must be deported in all circumstances simply is not the basis on which the law of this country operates. I have had situations like that in my constituency, where people could not be removed and sent back to their countries of origin, because they would almost certainly have been executed on arrival.

The only thing on which I agree with the hon. Member for Redditch is that this situation is, indeed, the fault of the current Government and their predecessors.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The hon. Lady said that it is the current Government’s fault. She is quite correct in saying that. The Conservatives have been in control for quite some time now, and they have failed on numerous occasions to deal with the situation.

Stephen Shaw’s review of the issue identified many areas in which the Home Office had failed to deal properly with foreign national offenders. I appreciate that time is limited, but I want particularly to pick up on the excellent point from Kenny MacAskill about our responsibilities to people who are more British than foreign. Stephen Shaw reflected on that in his review, saying that

“a significant proportion of those deemed FNOs had grown up in the UK, some having been born here but the majority having arrived in very early childhood. These detainees often had strong UK accents, had been to UK schools, and all of their close family and friends were based in the UK… Many had no command of the language of the country to which they were to be ‘returned’, or any remaining families ties there… The removal of these individuals raises real ethical issues.”

He also said that

“the twelve month sentence criterion for deportation in the UK Borders Act is not a very good guide to criminality”— we can all think of sentences of 12 months or so that are not the types of sentences that some hon. Members read out earlier. He further said:

“I find the policy of removing individuals brought up here from infancy to be deeply troubling. For low-risk offenders, it seems entirely disproportionate to tear them away from their lives, families and friends in the UK, and send them to countries where they may not speak the language or have any ties.”

If we believe in rehabilitation, that means that if I were to commit a crime, I would go to prison, serve my sentence, and then be considered rehabilitated; I would not be sent to another country. We have a double standard in how we treat these people.

Stephen Shaw’s review also points out the inability of caseworkers to manage the FNOs within the system currently. It makes it clear that they are not being well managed, that casework is not being well managed and that people are not being prepared for return. He feels that all those circumstances lead to a risk that people will be brought back to a life of crime and will not be rehabilitated at all.

The independent chief inspector of borders and immigration has expressed the same concerns, saying:

“This is no way to run a government department.”

There is a lot that the UK Government could be doing better to achieve some of the aims that Government Members would put forward.

Photo of Stephen Kinnock Stephen Kinnock Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration) 5:15, 7 Chwefror 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Gray. I congratulate Rachel Maclean on securing this important debate. It was interesting to hear her questions to the Minister about the Government’s dreadful record on removing foreign criminals, and I look forward to his answers.

I also want to echo the comments from the Scottish National party spokesperson, Alison Thewliss, on the deep concerns around the Clapham incident. The shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, has written to the Home Secretary with a number of questions, trying to probe what has happened and to get to the bottom of that deeply disturbing matter.

It is beyond doubt that the Conservatives have completely lost control of our asylum system; indeed, the Prime Minister has admitted that the system is broken. He has failed to stop the Tory boats chaos, with 30,000 asylum seekers crossing the channel last year, the second highest number on record. We have 56,000 asylum seekers in taxpayer-funded emergency hotel accommodation at a cost of £8 million every day. Just to exacerbate the problem, the number of foreign criminals being removed has collapsed by a staggering 34% since 2010, when the last Labour Government were in office. Arguably even more disturbing is that we know that 8,786 foreign national offenders are not even being detained. They are out there living in communities across Britain for at least 12 months, with almost 4,000 staying for more than five years, having been released by the Conservative Government. It is quite frankly astonishing.

The first duty of any Government is to keep their people safe. The Home Office is responsible for ensuring that rules are fairly and robustly enforced. It must deport dangerous foreign criminals who have no right to be in our country and who should be returned to the country of their citizenship. That is precisely why the last Labour Government introduced stronger laws to that effect. We on the Opposition Benches are committed to building an immigration system that is firm, fair and well managed, so we find it deeply troubling that Ministers are failing to uphold these basic principles and deeply frustrating that they are blaming everybody else for their failings.

It is little wonder that a number of expert reports over recent years have pointed to how Home Office failures have resulted in fewer foreign criminals being deported than should be the case. In 2015, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration stated that one in three failures to deport foreign criminals was due to Home Office dysfunction. If we fast-forward to the present day, the latest immigration figures show that the Home Office is still failing miserably in that regard, so it is no surprise that the ICIBI has intensified his criticism. Last summer, he stated in his report:

“This is no way to run a government department.”

He added that the Home Office is unable

“to track and monitor the progression of cases” with insufficient focus on processing removals rather than simply managing cases. What an utterly damning account of the Government’s handling of this critical aspect of our national security.

Why have removals collapsed under the Minister’s watch? Why does he think the independent inspector has criticised his Department in such damning terms? He will no doubt point to the large number of appeals. He loves to blame the judges, the French, the Opposition and the civil servants—he will probably even blame the football pundits—but what are he and his Government doing to make sure the cases are brought forward, and that they are watertight and not easily delayed?

Further, what diplomatic work is being done with other Governments to ensure that we can return those who have no right to be in the UK to their countries of origin? What is being done to encourage more voluntary returns? There used to be a much more effective system, whereby an assisted returns programme was run by Refugee Action. Since 2015, under Home Office management, that programme seems to be utterly broken, with voluntary returns plummeting.

Time and again, the Conservatives choose headline-chasing gimmicks rather than doing the hard graft of Government. Thankfully, Labour has a plan to clear up that dreadful mess. We have set out plans to establish a major new returns and enforcement unit in the Home Office, recruiting 1,000 new enforcement officers to speed up the deportations of those with no right to remain in Britain, including the removal of foreign national offenders, which, as I say, has plummeted by a third since 2010. We are also warning that the failing £400 million Rwanda scheme will not solve the problem of foreign national offenders, as the Rwandan Government can refuse anyone with a criminal conviction. The treaty instead says that foreign national offenders in Rwanda can be returned to the UK—you could not make it up.

The Home Office has a responsibility to get its deportation decisions right. The Conservatives have been in power for 14 years. It is their failure, their responsibility. If they cannot get it sorted, let us have a general election so that we can have a Labour Government in place that will fix the dreadful mess that has been made over 14 years.

Photo of Michael Tomlinson Michael Tomlinson Minister of State (Minister for Illegal Migration) 5:20, 7 Chwefror 2024

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gray. I pay tribute to my good friend, my hon. Friend Rachel Maclean, for the way in which she conducts herself in this place and for the passion and common sense that she brought to this debate. This debate is topical and timely, and I pay tribute to her for her foresight in applying for it—many weeks ago, I am sure, yet the time is right. It is probably one of those debates where more time would be helpful. The British public rightly expect our immigration system to work for them. We serve the public and our constituents, and that includes having a firm approach to those who abuse our generosity.

Let me address some of the points that were made by Jim Shannon and my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch. It is right that we as a country have a long and proud tradition of welcoming the stranger, of welcoming those who are in need, to our shores, but it is only fair that we ask for something simple in response, which is that they play by our rules and are law-abiding. I do not hesitate to say that fairness is at the heart of this debate. The Government are absolutely clear that foreign nationals who seek to take advantage of our generosity or abuse our hospitality by committing crimes should be deported.

Let me turn to the legal framework that underpins this, because that might answer one or two of my hon. Friend’s points. Essentially, two systems—two statutes—are used. The first is the UK Borders Act 2007, where a deportation order must be considered when a foreign national has been convicted of an offence and received a custodial sentence of more than 12 months. She mentioned the threshold of 12 months. There is a system under the Immigration Act 1971 whereby, if someone is sentenced to below 12 months, they can also be deported when it is conducive to the public good. We cannot go into the details of that now, but it is interesting to note that there is no definition of that and therefore there is great flexibility, as my right hon. Friend Priti Patel knows. Suitable discretion is given to the Home Secretary in those circumstances.

As this debate has shown, however, circumstances arise where people seek to prevent deportation. There are some good reasons for that: for example, an offender might need to stay here to face the consequences of a court case. I was grateful to my right hon. Friend, the former Home Secretary, for majoring on the victims of crime, who are absolutely at the heart of this issue. That is why it is right that some foreign national offenders stay here for the first part of their sentence at least. But it is also right to say that there are legal challenges, late appeals and re-documentation barriers intended to frustrate the deportation process.

My right hon. Friend Sir Simon Clarke tempts me to go down the ECHR line and to address that. It is right to say that we have international obligations under not just the ECHR, but the refugee convention, and that because of those obligations, some deportations have not been able to take place. However, the Government are determined to do everything we can to ensure that foreign criminals are deported, making our communities safer. Perhaps there will be another time when we can debate the niceties of articles 8 and 3 in more detail.

Let me come to the statistics, which my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch mentioned. We removed more than 16,500 foreign national offenders between January 2019 and September 2023. There was a dip, and she is right to challenge me on that point. It was not just because of covid but, at about that time, there was a dip. She will be pleased to know—as will you, Mr Gray, and others in the Chamber—that, since then, the returns of FNOs have been increasing. They went up by 19% in the past 12 months. That is a good start, but I am determined to take her point seriously and to take that further.

The hon. Member for Strangford asked me whether this is a priority of the Government. Yes, it is, and he will hopefully be reassured in that regard by the increase of 19% in the past 12 months. He and others may also be reassured to hear what we have done in the past two years. My right hon. Friend the Member for Witham will know better than most about the Nationality and Borders Act, although my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch knows it well. Legislation was introduced to increase the relevant period to ensure that we can remove more foreign national offenders, and do so earlier. That is good for the taxpayer and in regard to the space in our prison estate, and it is fairer to society.

It is also right to say that the Nationalities and Borders Act was opposed by Labour. The Labour party so often opposes—every single measure that is brought in to tighten our borders is opposed by Labour. I will come back to that point and others that Stephen Kinnock made. The measures under that Act were taken to make it easier and quicker to remove foreign offenders. We have also increased the number of caseworkers. My right hon. Friend the Member for Witham will know how important that is to make sure that we can carve through the numbers and prioritise those we need to remove.

Let me come back to the infamous letter of February 2020 that so many right hon. and hon. Members mentioned. When the shadow Minister stood up and attempted to criticise the Government for the robust actions that they have been taking in this regard, in his wide-ranging speech—it ranged far beyond what one might consider to be the strict and narrow confines of this particular debate—he exposed the fact that Labour have voted time and again against every single measure that the Government have introduced to strengthen our borders. And not only that; the Leader of the Opposition signed a letter calling for criminals and foreign offenders not to be deported.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Witham will also know about another such instance. In December 2020, another charter flight to Jamaica was due to remove murderers and those convicted of attempted rape, burglaries and the supply of class A drugs. Despite lobbying, campaigns and pressure to make sure that the flight did not leave, it did leave safely. It is with some cheek, dare I say it, that the shadow Minister stands up and complains about the Conservative Government’s actions, when the leader of his party is signing letters asking for foreign national offenders to stay in this country.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch for bringing this matter to the Chamber’s attention. I encourage her to repeat her attempt: may we have another debate on this subject, because it is so timely? We perhaps need more time and more opportunities for others to contribute. I will sum up this debate by saying that this is a matter of fairness. Foreign nationals who abuse our hospitality and commit crimes in our country will be caught, they will be punished, and, where appropriate, they will be removed.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department 5:28, 7 Chwefror 2024

Thank you, Mr Gray. I am extremely grateful for every single right hon. and hon. Member who contributed and made excellent points. I do not agree with them all, but they nevertheless reflected their constituents’ concerns. I am very grateful to the Minister for his full response. Although he had only a short period of time, he covered a number of points that were deeply concerning to me, my constituents in Redditch and the constituents of others. I will definitely take him up on the invitation to apply for another debate, because I think we have many more matters to discuss.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House
has considered the deportation of foreign national offenders.

Sitting adjourned.