» Wednesday, May 3, 2006


Asked if the person that was a suspect in the killing of the Bradford WPC was back in Somalia, the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman (PMOS) said that he had no information to suggest that he was, and the PMOS recommended that the journalist spoke to the Home Office.

Asked if we were aware of the case up in Hull, and was he one of the 1023 people that the Home Office were considering deporting, the PMOS said that in fairness to the Home Office, they were working on what was a moving story. The best thing, because the information was still coming in, was that people should speak to the Home Office about it, but the PMOS said that his information suggested that people should not get too excited.

Put that the Prime Minister at PMQs today had said that serious criminals would be deported automatically, and had he read the Home Secretary’s statement, the PMOS said: yes. The Home Secretary was asked the question that the journalist was implicitly asking and he had said that there was no difference of view whatsoever.

Put that the Home Secretary had not said that, as there was a presumption that deportation would follow unless there were special circumstances, the PMOS said that the Prime Minister did read what the Home Secretary was going to say. What the Prime Minister, and the Home Secretary outlined, was the biggest change in deportation arrangements for a generation, and we were quite aware of that. The principle behind it was very straight forward; it was to rebalance the system in favour of the interests of the public and this country, and not the convicted criminal. That was why the Prime Minister had said that the presumption should be that all foreigners convicted of a crime should be deported. That was the new default setting that we wanted to put in place. The only exception to that should be either for operational reasons, or because someone’s life was genuinely in danger. Even then, we accepted that there was a legitimate question as to whether such people should be detained pending a resolution of the problem, and that was a matter that we would be looking at as we took forward the legislation. We accepted that of course, these matters were likely to be tested in the courts, and we also accepted that as on previous issues, they may prove controversial in parts of Parliament and the media. We believed that we had to end what we believed was a disconnect between the system as it had developed for decades, and public expectations.

Asked why the Prime Minister had not referred to the special circumstances, the PMOS said that what was happening was changing the presumption within the system. The PMOS asked if people were seriously suggesting that in the case of Somalia, for example, people should be deported back to Somalia, even if that meant putting the lives of those of were having to do the deportation in danger because it was impossible to land at the airport?

Put again the Prime Minister did not refer to the situation, the PMOS said that those people would be very much the exception, rather than the rule. In terms of the proportion of people who were not deported, his aim would be to reduce it very much compared to what it was at the moment.

Asked was it not the Prime Minister’s duty in terms of clarity to say that there were exceptions, the PMOS said no. The Prime Minister’s duty was to spell out what was a situation at the moment where there were considerable numbers who were not deported because of the criteria that had been laid down for generations to a very small handful. The number of countries that the Foreign Office advised people not to go to at the moment was three. The number of countries where the Home Office had deportation arrangements with was over a hundred. That gave people some idea of the balance and the rebalance that we were trying to strike.

Asked how many countries did we not have deportation arrangements with, the PMOS said that there were no countries that we did not presume that we would deport to. There are at least three countries where the Foreign Office advice was that people did not travel there, and there were special operational problems there.

Put that we could not put Chinese people on a plane, for example the cockle pickers, and deport them, as China would not accept them, the PMOS said that there were a hundred arrangements, but what the Prime Minister was insistent on was that we changed the presumption from being a system that appeared to look for reasons why people should not be deported to one that was very much in favour of deportation. The PMOS said that if it was contested in court, so be it.

Asked why there was only a very small handful being deported to Somalia, for example, as the Home Office figures showed that a significant number of people could not be sent back to their country of origin because of security issues, the PMOS said what the journalist had illustrated was precisely why the system needed to be rebalanced. What the Prime Minister wanted to get was a situation where the only reason why someone could be not deported was because there was an operational reason, or someone’s life was genuinely in danger, and even then, it was tested as far as possible. We accepted that we had to think about what we did about those people, and whether we detained them, or not. People also had to recognise, and what Charles Clarke announced today in his statement, was that the process was begun of deportation much earlier in someone’s sentence, so that there would be much longer to get around any potential problems, such as using third countries. The PMOS said that there was at the heart of it, a change of philosophy within the system, but there was also a change in the way the system operated, so that everything began much earlier.

Asked what the Government’s presumption was, and did the process to change the presumption require a change in legislation or law, as it was a change in direction by the Government, the PMOS replied that in terms of the presumption, he drew parallels to other areas. In the criminal justice system, we had changed the presumptions again in favour of the victim.

Put that they were just slogans, the PMOS said that they were not. In the 2003 Criminal Justice Act, for example, we had introduced indeterminate sentences; that was not a slogan, it was a fact. In the asylum system, we had done the same thing. Again, if people looked at what had happened to the tipping point with asylum, that was also a fact, not a slogan. The PMOS said that it was all part of the same approach which the Prime Minister had outlined in the Observer article, and in the News of the World. The PMOS said that ASBOs were the same in terms of summary justice, therefore, again, it was again not a slogan, as it was a reality. That reality was that in the system, there were a series of criteria which were set down in terms of length of sentence and other issues which now needed to be changed, and we would change those. The PMOS said that people should speak to the Home Office about what needed to be legislated for, but he said it was something that needed to go through Parliament.

Put that 2500 people were not deported, but given the Government’s penchant for targets, would there be a target produced to get the levels reduced, the PMOS said that over the past two years, we had deported 3000 foreign prisoners. With regards to the target, the target was as few as possible.

Asked how we could deport people to China, the PMOS said people should speak to the Home Office for more details. The PMOS gave the example of Afghanistan, where a few years ago, we could not deport to Afghanistan, but it was possible now. The PMOS said that with the example of Iraq, until very recently, it was impossible to deport to Iraq, but there were now many parts of Iraq where it was possible.

Put that the common thing about Afghanistan and Iraq was that we invaded them, and were we planning to invade China, the PMOS said that he wanted it known that he gave the Guardian political editor a very serious look at this point.

Asked again if there were any plans to invade China, the PMOS said categorically no.

Asked again about how it was practically possible to deport to places like China, the PMOS took the example of Somalia where there had been a transitional government in place since January 2005. As the PMOS had said this morning, it was in a precarious position, and it could not even sit in Mogadishu, and yet, Lord Triesman several months ago began the process of talking about how we had deportation arrangements with Somalia. The PMOS said that this was not somewhere where people left situations in a permanent position, but instead, the focus had to be moved from being a reactive system to a proactive one, and one that tried to make deportation a reality.

Asked if this affected all prisoners, no matter what their offence was, the PMOS said yes.

Put that the Prime Minister had said at PMQs that 1500 people a year were being deported now, and what was that as a percentage compared to the national population in prison, given that the prison population had grown, the PMOS recommended that the journalist speak to the Home Office.

Asked if one of the problems that we still had was that we did not have fixed Memorandums of Understanding (MOU), and how would this affect that, the PMOS said that the two ran in parallel. The PMOS said that we did have more arrangements with more countries than we did have, as a result of a proactive approach. We were continuing discussions to get more countries to do so, and we also now had arrangements within the EU, on top of the 100. The key was to switch the attitude from one where we had a system that allowed the obstacles to get in the way to one that was proactively trying to constantly break down those obstacles.

Asked about what would happen in practice about those places that did not have an MOU, and would they be accepted retrospectively, the PMOS said that again, the whole reason why we wanted MOUs was precisely to get them out. This was part of the same philosophy to do that.

Asked if this applied to EU nationals, the PMOS said that it did, and in their case, increasingly, there was an emphasis on getting them to serve their sentences in their countries of origin, rather than here.

Put that if you were a victim of a crime, the nationality of the perpetrator was irrelevant, and why was it be different if someone was a victim of a crime by a foreign person than a British one, the PMOS said that the Government introduced in 2003 in the Criminal Justice Act the ability to hold people on indefinite sentences if there were seen to be a continuing threat.

Put that was a valued judgement that was not being made in the case of foreign nationals, the PMOS said that in terms of foreign nationals, if someone came to the UK and broke the law, then they should not be able to stay.

Asked if we were then "braced" for other countries that had reciprocal arrangements if we were starting to deport the people back to other countries, and were we expecting them to deport British people in their jails back to the UK, the PMOS replied that that was entirely a matter for other countries.

Put that clearly that would happen, the PMOS said that arrangements would be talked about.

Put that the Home Office had admitted that there were still 38 of the 70 most dangerous criminals released still had not been found seven days later, and did the Prime Minister feel that it was a "competent and adequate system of supervision", the PMOS said that what the Prime Minister thought was that the police and the other agencies agencies involved such as the probation officers, prisons etc who were searching for these people should be given every support in searching for them. That was what we were doing, and we recognised that the Home Secretary’s statement was not final, but rather a work in progress. There had been progress since he last reported on Friday, and we hoped to see further progress in the days to come.

Asked if people should be worried that it had taken seven days and we still had 38 potential rapists, paedophiles, etc on the streets, the PMOS replied that again, given the nature of these people, it should be no surprise that they were people who were not easy to find. However what should reassure people was the progress that had been made on Friday, whilst at the same time, we accepted that we needed to find the rest.

Asked what would happen if it was discovered that one of the 38 had committed a crime in past 7 days, the PMOS said we should deal with the facts, and not speculate. We were under no illusion about the need to try and track these people as quickly as possible, and all resources that were needed were doing so.

Asked further about the need for MOUs in situations like Somalia where the plane could not land, the PMOS said that we knew there were real problems and threats to personnel who were trying to do so. With regards to MOUs, it was precisely to overcome such problems that we needed to have the detail of assurances as to how people would be treated. The whole point about this was to do everything we could to not only get people deported, but where people objected and used the court system, to test those objections and do everything that was possible to meet those objections.

Put that with regards to the Somalian situation, we were quite prepared to deport people to unstable and violent regimes, therefore, why did we need MOUs to deport them to stable places, the PMOS said it was because of the challenges that were likely to be made in courts. We would do everything that we could, and we were trying to do everything we could to ensure that people were returned to where they should be.

Asked if an EU citizen could be excluded who had rights of residence in the UK, according to EU law, the PMOS replied that he was not a legal expert.

Put that three days ago, the EU Directive came in specifically prohibiting it, the PMOS said that again, the normal rules applied in terms of how an EU citizen was treated in the UK.

Asked what ability was there within the EU with regards to workers, the PMOS said that there was the ability to send prisoners back to their own country.

Put that they could come back here and reoffend, the PMOS said that normal rules were then applicable to the law in the same way. The PMOS said that with the EU countries, we had the ability to send people back to serve their sentences in their own countries. In terms of whether people came here to get jobs, they needed to have licenses etc.

Put that the Home Office had said that those who were deported could appeal under the European Convention of Human Rights, and would this be tested, the PMOS pointed out that in terms of the courts, not everything had been ruled out. On asylum reforms, non-suspension of appeals had worked, as had safe country lists had worked, and speedier appeals had all withstood tests in court. The idea that everything was going to be ruled out by the courts was wide of the mark.

Asked again about the EU Convention, the PMOS said people should wait and see what had actually happened, rather than assume that there was only one outcome.

Asked if it was true that the Lord Chancellor said we might derogate under the relevant article in the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) if we lost the case on MOU, the PMOS said we should deal with the facts as they were, rather than speculate about what might happen.

Put that the Lord Chancellor had speculated, the PMOS said he did not know the context of the speculation, therefore, he would rather deal with the reality.

Put that in cases that were lost in the courts under the old system, why should we win cases under the new system, the PMOS replied that we should wait and see what the legislation said and then we should test the new legislation in the courts. People should not get into hypotheticals about the ECHR.

Briefing took place at 15:00 | Search for related news

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