HC Deb 04 July 1984 vol 63 cc420-1 11.30 pm
Mr. Dubs

I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 10, line 21, after 'secure', insert 'following that transfer'.

I do not think that the amendment will detain the House for more than a few moments. In clause 7 a duty is placed on the Secretary of State to collect from the prisoner or some other source the cost of transferring the prisoner to the United Kingdom. The principle of that charge on the prisoner was debated at length in Committee, and I do not wish to reopen that argument now. However, one aspect of the process of charging is of particular concern, and that is at the heart of the amendment.

The amendment's intention is that the Secretary of State would seek to secure the money only following the prisoner's transfer. That may seem a simple point, but it involves a matter of principle. It is that otherwise the prisoner or his family and relatives might feel obliged to find the money somewhere—even if it was not readily available to them—as a condition of getting the prisoner transferred to a gaol in this country.

On 12 June, the Minister dealt with this point in Committee. He said: I make it clear again that there is no question of the transfer of a prisoner being held up just because the funds were not available. We fully accept that this is one of those issues where the transfer should go forward on the normal principles, and the question of how the Secretary of State pursues, if he chooses to do so, his claim for the money can be dealt with later. There is no question of a pistol being held to the head of the prisoner and saying, 'If you do not provide the money forthwith we shall not agree to the transfer'."—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 12 June 1984;c. 22.] That is a fairly clear statement, and the amendment seeks only to give effect to it. It is a very simple amendment, and it will prevent any ambiguity. I hope that the Minister will accept it. It embodies the principle that he fully accepted, and it will make that clause just a little bit clearer and more satisfactory for the prisoner and his family.

Mr. Mellor

I certainly stand by the undertaking that I gave in Committee, but unfortunately the amendment does not have the effect that the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) envisages. It would prevent the Secretary of State from having the power to require an undertaking to repay before the prisoner was transferred if no funds were available beforehand. Of course, I adhere to my previous statement that there is no question of someone not being transferred because the money is not available at that point. But the Secretary of State needs to have an undertaking to repay. In Committee, I dealt with the question of whether he enforces it once the prisoner is back. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Home Secretary's discretion not to press for payment was widened in deference to the Opposition's arguments.

The possibly unintended effect of the amendment would be that the position of a prisoner being transferred from overseas would be easier than that of a tourist who had been mugged in Malaga or Torremolinos. If that tourist went to the British consulate and asked to be repatriated, he would have to enter into an undertaking to repay when he got back. If we wish to retain support for the Bill in the wider commumity, it must be unnaceptable for a prisoner to be transferred on more favourable terms than would be applied to an ordinary member of the public.

I am happy to repeat the undertaking that I gave in Committee, that the Secretary of State will obviously decide whether to press for repayment on the circumstances of the individual case. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press the amendment, and I stand by the undertakings that I have given.

Mr. John David Taylor

I seek clarification from the Minister on the question of expenses. We are talking about the expenses of two different people. In the first case someone is transferred to the United Kingdom, and in the second, someone is transferred out of it. If someone is transferred from the United Kingdom to another state, for what expenses will the Government be liable?

Am I right in saying that the Government will pay all the costs of accompanying security officers on the transfer of a prisoner to this country, but that the prisoner will be liable only for the expense of transfer from the other country to the United Kingdom port of entry and that the Government will take up the cost of travel from there to the particular prison to which the prisoner will be transferred? Many of the aeroplane flights from Europe to London are much cheaper than the flights from London to Edinburgh, Glasgow or Belfast. Therefore, not only will the Government accept all the costs of the accompanying custodial officers but the major cost of transferring the prisoner himself.

Mr. Mellor

Yes, that seems to be right.

Mr. Dubs

In the light of the Minister's comments, I do not wish to press the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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