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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 May 2006, 13:36 GMT 14:36 UK
In full: Tory response on prisoners
Here is the full text of shadow home secretary David Davis's response to Home Secretary Charles Clarke's latest statement about the foreign prisoners affair.

The first duty of government is to protect the public.

And this government has failed in that duty in a most appalling fashion.

Not by failing to identify suspected criminals. Not by failing to catch criminals. But by releasing over 1,000 known criminals from its own prisons.

Ministers have lost control of their departments.

And they have introduced a new doctrine of ministerial responsibility: the bigger the mistake you make, the more you deserve to stay in your job.

The home secretary has tried to make a virtue out of the fact that he has told us the facts, when in truth he was forced by the Public Accounts Committee to admit his failure, and when he had to be dragged to the House to answer for it both last week and this.

We now know that he did not even tell the prime minister.

'Action needed, not laws'

Last week I asked him four questions. He answered none.

Today I have eight questions. The House and the public will expect eight answers.

Before I ask those questions I will say one thing. Of course I applaud any action that will address this problem.

I understand he intends to introduce new powers to create a presumption of deportation for foreign criminals.

I applaud the intent. But let me just remind him of the powers he already has.

The 1971 Immigration Act gives him explicit powers to deport any non-British citizen, and I will quote section 3 Sub section 5, "If he deems deportation to be conducive to the public good:"

What the public requires is action, not laws.

New questions

Let me turn to my questions.

First, there is the length of time it took him to alert the police to this problem.

The home secretary and his predecessors were warned several times by the Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons and by the police of the growing magnitude of the problem of foreign criminals being released rather than deported.

The home secretary himself was warned again by the NAO on 14 July last year. Can the home secretary tell the House precisely why he did not take action ten months ago?

Why did he not do ten months ago what he did last week?

There were at least 400 foreign criminals identified in the Home Office's first submission to the Public Accounts Committee, who could have been arrested and deported.

And if for some inexplicable reason he was unable to act ten months ago, why did he not act one month ago, when he had a full list available?


Why did he tell the press about the problem before he told the police, giving over 1,000 criminals the chance to disappear before the police could catch them?

We are told that 'from last July procedures were implemented to increase the number of staff and the resourcing of the unit concerned' and that 'there is now a proper case management system'.

So can the home secretary explain why we hear persistent reports that the department is under-staffed, under-trained, and largely manned by temporaries?

Is not the truth that whatever he did, it was ineffective, since the rate of release of foreign prisoners into the community went up after July?

Is this acceleration in the release of potentially dangerous criminals into the community not a clear demonstration of his own failure?

The home secretary can't even give us the full number of crimes committed by the thousand plus foreign criminals since their release.

Civitas, the respected home affairs think tank, whose director is a member of the home secretary's own Statistics Commission, estimates the likely number of convictions - not crimes - for the 1,023 foreign criminals would be almost 700.

And the home secretary did not tell us how many crimes were committed by the 288 criminals released after he was explicitly told about the problem.

How many arrested?

The criminals who are absolutely and inescapably his own responsibility.

Civitas estimates that these criminals would be convicted for 100 crimes committed within six months of release.

The victims of each one of those crimes will reasonably believe that they would not have suffered if the home secretary had done his job and made one simple decision.

The home secretary told us on Friday that of the foreign offenders he considered 79 serious.

He tells us that deportation action has been started on 70 of them. But only 32 of those 70 have been located. So even on his own figures he is failing.

We should not forget that there are 1,023 foreign criminals at issue here. He has just told us that deportation is being pursued in 446 cases. Will he tell us how many of these 446 are within police control?

When the Home Office completes the deportation exercise, how many of these 1,000 foreign criminals will remain at large in the United Kingdom?

New failures

But I am concerned that even this 1,000 are just the tip of the iceberg. Almost every day that passes, we hear of a new failure. This morning's papers are full of the story of the suspect in the murder of WPC Sharon Beshenivsky.

As I understand it, he was given indefinite leave to remain in 2000. In the subsequent five years, he was convicted of three offences and sentenced to three separate prison terms.

Yet in March 2005, the Home Office decided not to deport him, even though a year earlier, the Home Office's operational guidance note on Somalia said 'there is no longer any policy that precludes the return to any region of Somalia'.

In the last two years alone, the home secretary's office has made over 2,000 decisions against deportation.

Safety at risk?

I have to ask him, in light of this and many other examples, is he comfortable that those decisions were made with sufficient regard for the safety of the British public?

Last week a whole new category of cases was raised by Lord Ramsbotham, the former Chief Inspector of Prisons, of 1,500 prisoners who have no nationality record or a false record.

How many people in this category have been released into the community without consideration for deportation in the last seven years? Again, is he persuaded that this oversight has not unnecessarily jeopardised the safety of the British public?

Finally, last week, one of the murderers of Mary-Ann Leneghan was sentenced to over 20 years in prison.

He was somebody who was recommended for deportation on his 18th birthday, but who was not deported, and who went on to play his part in this hideous crime.

This raises a whole new category of people who are recommended for deportation but who are not given prison sentences for one reason or another.

Can the home secretary give us an indication of the size of this category and whether he has considered policy with respect to them, since clearly some of them represent an unnecessary risk to the public?

Together, these groups represent several thousand people who represent a potential risk to the public and should be considered for deportation.

So it may be that the thousand the home secretary says he has already considered, are just the tip of the iceberg.

Has the home secretary considered these categories in detail, and what he might do to minimise the risk to the public?

Whatever his answer, I would like to know why the home secretary has not done anything to deal with these potentially serious risks to public safety?

There are two possibilities. Either the home secretary did not know about these problems, and was therefore negligent.

Or he did know, did nothing effective about it, and was therefore incompetent.

The answer is not more laws: the answer is certainly not more headlines: the answer is a more competent home secretary.

That is the very least the British public deserves.

Tony Blair speaks about the foreign prisoner row


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