HC Deb 05 November 2002 vol 392 cc190-7

Lords amendment: No. 104, in page 34, line 3, leave out from "is" to end of line 5 and insert convicted in the United Kingdom of an offence, and either—

  1. (a) the offence is one for which the maximum period of imprisonment is ten years or more, or
  2. (b) the offence has been specified for the purpose of this subsection under subsection (3A)."

Mr. Blunkett

I beg to move, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may consider Lords amendment No. 105, amendment (c) thereto and Government motion to disagree thereto, Lords amendment No. 106, amendment (a) thereto, Government motion to disagree thereto and Government amendments (a) to (e) in lieu, Lords amendments Nos. 107 and 108, and Lords amendment No. 109, Government motion to disagree thereto and Government amendments (a) to (d) to the words so restored.

Mr. Blunkett

There appears to have been an interesting misunderstanding. As I understand it, their lordships did not after all intend to prevent us from disqualifying serious criminals, and I am very relieved to hear it. We might therefore gain agreement that there should be a clear presumption sending a clear message that those committing known and serious crimes will be disqualified.

However, I accept that Lord Kingsland made a valid point in saying that, as well as a clear definition so that everyone would understand it, there should be a schedule of offences that may fall outside the specific, defined sentence that is applicable, but which would constitute serious offences. Lord Kingsland referred to the bizarre situation that … a person sentenced to 18, 21 or even 23 months for dealing in drugs or for a sexual offence against a child would not be presumed to be a serious criminal."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 31 October 2002; Vol. 640, c. 356.] I recognise that that is unacceptable. Although my presumption is that the judiciary, especially in relation to forthcoming legislation following the Queen's Speech, would always have sent such criminals into custody for more than two years, I accept that there may be some doubt. We are therefore prepared to accept a schedule that would deal with such serious offences. I stress that it would be about serious offences and not trivialities, and we would want to assure and reassure the House that that would be the case.

6.45 pm
Simon Hughes

The Home Secretary has confirmed that the existing law ensures that a court can recommend deportation of anybody convicted of a serious offence under the Immigration Act 1971 and that that would follow as a matter of course. The court has power to recommend deportation and he can act on such a recommendation.

Mr. Blunkett

A judge could recommend deportation, but we are entirely in the hands of individual judges as to whether that happens or whether they send people to jail for the oddest things, such as trying to get out of the country because their papers were incorrect in the first place. There have recently been some very interesting judgments.

I am trying to deal with this House, and not someone else, taking responsibility for determining that a serious criminal should be disqualified and removed from the country. I do not accept the Liberal amendment insisting that a custodial sentence of 10 years or more should have to be imposed for an offence to be deemed serious—far from it. Most people outside using reasonable definitions would consider that the provisions, including a defined set of circumstances under the schedule, would make sense.

I hope that their lordships accept that we have taken on board entirely the spirit of what they debated and now appear to have intended and that we can now agree. Of course, offences committed overseas would not include acts that are not offences here, so we will not deal with crimes that are considered in some countries to be political and will not, therefore, disqualify people who have a perfectly legitimate and serious case that they are risk of death or torture. Such people would not be detrimentally affected. It is in that spirit that I ask the House to accept the motion to disagree.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking)

It is always a pleasure to talk to the House with so much support from one's colleagues. [Laughter.] I am delighted to see my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Hertfordshire (Mr. Heald) in his place to give me that support.

The Home Secretary will agree that it is a pity that such an important clause can be scrutinised in the House for only about 15 minutes. That is the way in which we operate, but it is perhaps unfortunate. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the Bill contained no such clause on Second Reading and that it did not appear in Committee. He also knows that, in effect, it was rushed through unscrutinised with 14 or more other clauses and several schedules just before 10 pm on 21 May. That is a pity, because he is a great supporter of debate in this House. I hope that he accepts that I speak with some sincerity in saying that is a pity that such important issues sometimes do not get the opportunity to be fully debated.

Opposition Members appreciate what the Home Secretary has said. We think that the clause as it was originally drafted, so as to involve a sentence of two years or more, was flawed. Lord Kingsland pointed out in the House of Lords on several occasions that the presumption of being a serious criminal would apply only where a British court imposed a two-year prison sentence. That leads to potential difficulties, as the Home Secretary readily acknowledges. Wearing my judicial hat—I was regarded on Monday as a serious sentencer, but on Wednesday I shall perhaps be viewed as a less serious sentencer—I appreciate that there is a potential discrepancy in sentences that different judges hand down for the same crimes.

Another problem is that the refugee convention refers to especially serious crimes but the Government's test in the Bill originally related not to the seriousness of the crime but to the punishment. Under the Government's original proposals, a person who had been sentenced to two years for assault would be a serious criminal, but not someone who had been sentenced to 18 months for child pornography offences.

The sentences imposed by courts abroad posed an additional problem. They might vary tremendously from those imposed in this country, and might or might not relate to the seriousness of the crime. When their lordships changed the Bill, the media reports of the Government's defeat in the House of Lords were based on factually incorrect information. They claimed that the amendment that was passed simply raised the threshold for presumption as a serious criminal from a sentence of two years to one of 10 years. However, we were discussing crimes for which a 10-year sentence could be imposed.

Whenever I have stood at the Dispatch Box, the Home Secretary has always been kind to me. However, he was a little unkind, if press reports are true, in raging at the tactics of Conservative peers who joined the Liberal Democrats to block moves giving the Government the right to deport refugees who had committed serious crimes. He apparently pledged to reverse such "silliness". He now knows that the Conservative party in the House of Lords was doing its best to introduce genuine sense to the proceedings. The vote on the clause was won by 77 votes to 71. Many of right hon. Gentleman's supporters were absent that night.

Conservative Members in the House of Lords tabled another amendment on Third Reading to give the Home Secretary power to add a schedule of offences when the maximum penalty was less than 10 years but he believed that the offence was sufficiently serious to warrant the perpetrator's inclusion in the definition of a serious criminal.

Matters have moved on. The House of Lords had a mature debate about the subject, with the result that the Bill reverts to us in a different state. The Conservative proposal was that someone would constitute a serious criminal if he or she were convicted of either an offence for which the maximum sentence is 10 years or more, regardless of the sentence received, or any other offence specified by the Home Secretary as one to which the presumption of serious crime should apply, for example, child abduction, child pornography and drug dealing.

The Governments current proposal states that a person is deemed to be convicted of a particularly serious crime and to constitute a danger … if he is convicted of an offence specified by order of the Secretary of State, or he is convicted outside the United Kingdom of an offence and the Secretary of State certifies that in his opinion the offence is similar to an offence specified". That is fair enough, and I hope that the Home Secretary will accept that Conservative Members believe that the proposal is good. Perhaps it is not perfect, but it moves the debate forward.

We believe that Government amendment (a) fulfils the convention's principles. We previously doubted whether the Government's proposals did that. However, proposed new subsection (3B)(b) provides that the order shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament. I take it that that means that one would need to pray against it rather than using affirmative resolution procedure. Some people claim that the affirmative resolution procedure might be more satisfactory.

When the provision was first included in the Bill on the last night of Committee, we had no chance to consider it carefully. A combination of peers has examined the matter and pointed out the flaws. Consequently, the Home Secretary has presented a proposal that we regard as satisfactory. We are grateful, and I thank right hon. Gentleman for it.

Simon Hughes

We are in difficult territory. As the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) suggested, the House of Commons has not debated the matter during the Bill's passage, although it was discussed at length in the Lords. When the provision left this place, I understood that those convicted of any offence and sentenced to more than two years would be caught by it. However, the events that the hon. Gentleman described ensued, and resulted in a different definition of offence and maximum offence, and the provision for a schedule. On advice, my colleagues and I take a different view.

I do not argue with the Home Secretary that one has to breach a threshold of 10 years for the offence to be serious. Our amendments have been probing. However, the matter does not need specific legislation because it is governed by international obligations and current law. The courts are allowed to deport people and the Home Secretary can get rid of people if they pose a risk to the country's security. We do not need to go down the road proposed by Government amendment (a).

We believe that although it is right for the Government to be able to protect us against those who have offended—

It being three and a quarter hours after the commencement of proceedings, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair, pursuant to Order [this day].

Lords amendment No. 104 disagreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER, pursuant to Order [this day], proceeded to put forthwith the remaining Questions necessary to dispose of the proceedings to be concluded at that hour.

Lords amendments Nos. 105 and 106 disagreed to.

Motion made, and Question put, That amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment No. 106 be made.—[Mr. Blunkett.]

The House divided: Ayes 307, Noes 51.

Division No. 348] [6:59 pm
Ainger, Nick Burden, Richard
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE) Burgon, Colin
Allen, Graham Burnham, Andy
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale and Darwin) Byers, rh Stephen
Cairns, David
Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Atherton, Ms Candy Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Atkins, Charlotte Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Austin, John Caplin, Ivor
Bailey, Adrian Casale, Roger
Baird, Vera Caton, Martin
Banks, Tony Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)
Barnes, Harry Challen, Colin
Battle, John Clapham, Michael
Bayley, Hugh Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)
Beckett, rh Margaret Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)
Begg, Miss Anne
Bell, Stuart Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Benn, Hilary Clelland, David
Bennett, Andrew Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)
Benton, Joe (Bootle) Coaker, Vernon
Berry, Roger Coffey, Ms Ann
Best, Harold Cohen, Harry
Blackman, Liz Coleman, lain
Blears, Ms Hazel Colman, Tony
Blizzard, Bob Connarty, Michael
Blunkett, rh David Cook, rh Robin (Livingston)
Borrow, David Cooper, Yvette
Bradley, rh Keith (Withington) Corston, Jean
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Cousins, Jim
Bradshaw, Ben Cranston, hon. Ross
Brennan, Kevin Cruddas, Jon
Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend) Cummings, John
Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack (Copeland)
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington) Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead & Highgate)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Dalyell, Tam Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Jamieson, David
David, Wayne Jenkins, Brian
Davidson, Ian Johnson, Alan (Hull W)
Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli) Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Dawson, Hilton Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Dean, Mrs Janet Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Denham, rh John Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
Dhanda, Parmjit Kaufman, rh Gerald
Dismore, Andrew Keeble, Ms Sally
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood) Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Dobson, rh Frank Keen, Ann (Brentford)
Donaldson, Jeffrey M. Kelly, Ruth (Bolton W)
Doran, Frank Kemp, Fraser
Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W) Khabra, Piara S.
Drew, David (Stroud) Kidney, David
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) Kilfoyle, Peter
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) King, Andy (Rugby)
Edwards, Huw Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Efford, Clive Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Ellman, Mrs Louise Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E) Laxton, Bob (Derby N)
Farrelly, Paul Lazarowicz, Mark
Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead) Lepper, David
Fisher, Mark Levitt, Tom (High Peak)
Fitzpatrick, Jim Liddell, rh Mrs Helen
Flint, Caroline Linton, Martin
Follett, Barbara Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Foster, rh Derek Love, Andrew
Foster, Michael (Worcester) Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye) Luke, lain (Dundee E)
McAvoy, Thomas
Foulkes, rh George McCabe, Stephen
Francis, Dr. Hywel McCartney, rh Ian
Gapes, Mike (llford S) McDonagh, Siobhain
Gardiner, Barry MacDonald, Calum
Gerrard, Neil MacDougall, John
Gilroy, Linda Mclsaac, Shona
Godsiff, Roger McKechin, Ann
Goggins, Paul McKenna, Rosemary
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Mackinlay, Andrew
Grogan, John Mactaggart, Fiona
Hain, rh Peter McWalter, Tony
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Mahmood, Khalid
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Mahon, Mrs Alice
Hamilton, David (Midlothian) Mallaber, Judy
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Mandelson, rh Peter
Hanson, David Mann, John (Bassetlaw)
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart) Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)
Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall, David (Glasgow Shettleston)
Henderson, Doug (Newcastle N)
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Hendrick, Mark Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Heppell, John Martlew, Eric
Hermon, Lady Meacher, rh Michael
Hesford, Stephen Merron, Gillian
Heyes, David Michael, rh Alun
Hill, Keith (Streatham) Milburn, rh Alan
Hinchliffe, David Miliband, David
Hodge, Margaret Miller, Andrew
Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall) Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale) Mole, Chris
Hope, Phil (Corby) Moran, Margaret
Hopkins, Kelvin Morgan, Julie
Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E) Mullin, Chris
Munn, Ms Meg
Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston) Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Humble, Mrs Joan Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)
Hutton, rh John O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Iddon, Dr. Brian O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Olner, Bill Soley, Clive
O'Neill, Martin Southworth, Helen
Organ, Diana Spellar, rh John
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr) Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Owen, Albert Steinberg, Gerry
Paisley, Rev. Ian Stewart David (Inverness E & Lochaber)
Perham, Linda
Picking, Anne Stewart Ian (Eccles)
Pickthall, Colin Stinchcombe, Paul
Pike, Peter (Burnley) Stringer Graham
Pollard, Kerry Stuart, Ms Gisela
Pope, Greg (Hyndburn) Sutcliffe, Gerry
Pound, Stephen Tami, Mark (Alyn)
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Taylor, rh Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)
Primarolo, rh Dawn Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Prosser, Gwyn Thomas. Gareth (Harrow W)
Purchase, Ken Timms, Stephen
Purnell, James Tipping Paddy
Quin, rh Joyce Touhig, Don (Islwyn)
Quinn, Lawrie Trickett, Jon
Raynsford, rh Nick Truswell, Paul
Reed, Andy (Loughborough) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N & Bellshill) Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland) Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Vaz, Keith (Leicester E)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW) Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Claire
Robinson, Mrs Iris (Strangford) Watson Tom (W Bromwich E)
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E) Watts, David
Roche, Mrs Barbara White, Brian
Rooney, Terry Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Wicks, Malcolm
Ruane, Chris Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Ruddock, Joan Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Russell, Ms Christine (City of Chester) Wills, Michael
Winnick, David
Salter, Martin Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Sarwar, Mohammad
Savidge, Malcolm Wood, Mike (Batley)
Sawford, Phil Woodward, Shaun
Sedgemore, Brian Woolas Phil
Shaw, Jonathan Wray, James (Glasgow Baillieston)
Sheerman, Barry
Sheridan, Jim Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Singh, Marsha
Skinner, Dennis Wright, David (Telford)
Smith, rh Andrew (Oxford E) Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Smith, rh Chris (Islington S & Finsbury) Wyatt, Derek
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch) Tellers for the Ayes:
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Joan Ryan and
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Derek Twigg
Allan, Richard Hancock, Mike
Barrett, John Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W & Abingdon)
Brake, Tom (Carshalton)
Breed, Colin Harvey, Nick
Bruce, Malcolm Heath, David
Burnett, John Hopkins, Kelvin
Burstow, Paul Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Cable, Dr. Vincent Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Calton, Mrs Patsy Keetch, Paul
Campbell, rh Menzies (NE Fife) Lamb, Norman
Corbyn, Jeremy Laws, David (Yeovil)
Cotter, Brian McDonnell, John
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury & Atcham)
Doughty, Sue
Ewing, Annabelle Oaten, Mark (Winchester)
Foster, Don (Bath) Öpik, Lembit
George, Andrew (St. Ives) Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)
Gidley, Sandra
Green, Matthew (Ludlow) Pugh, Dr. John
Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute) Tonge, Dr. Jenny
Rendel, David Webb, Steve (Northavon)
Robertson, Angus (Moray) Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Willis, Phil
Sanders, Adrian Wishart, Pete
Stunell, Andrew Younger-Ross, Richard
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Taylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F) Tellers for the Noes:
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion) Sir Robert Smith and
Thurso, John Mrs. Annette L. Brooke

Question accordingly agreed to.

Government amendments (b) to (e) in lieu of Lords amendment No. 106 agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 109 disagreed to.

Government amendments (a) to (d) to the words so restored to the Bill agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 107 and 108 agreed to.

Forward to