» Thursday, April 27, 2006

Deportation of Foreign Prisoners – Charles Clarke

Asked if there had been any further offers of resignation "from anybody, anywhere at any time" within the last week, the PMOS said no. Asked whether the Home Secretary was still in post and was expected to remain in post, the PMOS said yes. Questioned as to whether the Prime Minister continued to retain confidence in him, the PMOS said yes.

Put to him that the problems regarding the deportation of foreign prisoners had only come to light as a result of an NAO report, and not, as the Prime Minister had told Cabinet today, because proper systems had been put in place in 1999, the PMOS said that as the Prime Minister had told the House at PMQs yesterday, no records had been kept prior to 1999. It was only when a new manager had begun work in January 2005 and had discovered the issue and started investigating it that the information had become available to send to the NAO, leading to the NAO’s report last July which, in turn, had led to the sequence of Ministers becoming aware of the problem. That was why the Prime Minister had said what he had said this morning.

Asked if there had been systemic problems prior to 1999 or whether the problems had arisen under the present Government, the PMOS said that the problems had lain undiscovered for decades. It was once we had started a proper process of record keeping that we were able to find out what the problem was and do something about it. Similarly, we had found a number of other problems in IND which had not been dealt with in the past until proper records had been kept, beginning in 1999. The new management was clearly sorting out the issues. Questioned as to why it had taken six years for the problem to come to light, the PMOS said that as the Home Secretary had said, this was one of the issues being investigated. We accepted that there were many problems within IND. The important thing was that we were addressing the issues and that the process of change had begun.

Asked to explain exactly what the problem at IND was which had caused the failure to deport foreign prisoners, the PMOS said it was very simple. Cases which should have been considered for deportation had not been considered. Asked why that had happened, the PMOS said that the Home Office was investigating. What we could be sure about was that all cases were being considered as of 1 April. That was only possible because we had recognised that we needed to put in more resources. The Government had committed £2.7m and the number of staff at the department was being doubled.

Asked how we were so sure that this problem had been ongoing for decades when records had only started being kept in 1999, the PMOS said that investigations so far had shown that this practice had been going on for a long time. Put to him that Lord Ramsbotham had noted in 1996 that the Prison Service needed to be restructured in order to deal with particular groups of prisoners, the PMOS said that he was unable to comment on what had happened under previous Administrations. Put to him that Lord Ramsbotham had also referred to the issue in 2001, the PMOS repeated that it was clear the problem went back many decades. Ministers had no reason to believe that the system was not working in the appropriate way.

Asked to comment on reports this morning that there were another 900-1,000 prisoners who had no recorded nationality, the PMOS said that the story was open to misinterpretation. The reality was that on the day that people went to prison, it was often the case that they did not declare their nationality. However, it was very quickly discovered soon afterwards. The PMOS pointed to research carried out in November 2005 which found that, for example, of fifty five instances in the East Midlands where prisoners had no recorded nationality on reception, by the next day that number had been reduced to six. The 900 figure being quoted in today’s papers referred to a snapshot of people on the day they went into prison. Nationality was established very quickly, and in most cases by the end of their sentence.

Asked if the Prime Minister would agree with Ian Gibson’s belief that Charles Clarke would have to resign if it was found that any of the foreign prisoners who had been released rather than deported had reoffended, the PMOS said he did not think it would be helpful to comment on hypothetical scenarios. He reiterated the fact that the problem in question was the result of a systemic failure which had been going on for years. The Home Secretary had both revealed the problem and had put in place measures to address it. Put to him that Mr Clarke had not revealed it ten months ago when he had first been informed about it, the PMOS said that he had been told about it last October and had set in train the appropriate measures to deal with it. He had not known about the further 288 foreign prisoners who had been released since then.

Asked about the report which the Home Secretary had been "sitting on" regarding the eighteen most dangerous criminals who should have been considered for deportation, the PMOS said that the Home Secretary had not been sitting on the report. He was receiving information about the most serious cases so that he could report on them properly, just like the Education Secretary had taken time to receive and consider information about paedophiles. Mr Clarke had said that he hoped to report by the end of the week. Clearly he would do so when he was ready. Asked if that might be tomorrow, the PMOS said that journalists needed to exercise a little patience. Obviously Mr Clarke wanted to deliver the information about the most serious cases as quickly as possible, but to do so in a comprehensive, rather than a piecemeal, manner. Asked if Mr Clarke’s report might raise wider questions about the ability of the Criminal Justice System to keep tabs on people they should be keeping tabs on, the PMOS said not as far as he was aware at this stage.

Briefing took place at 7:00 | Search for related news

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