The speech made by Chris Philp, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, in the House of Commons on 30 November 2020.
This charter flight to Jamaica is specifically to remove foreign criminals. The offences committed by the individuals on this flight include sexual assault against children, murder, rape, drug dealing and violent crime. Those are serious offences, which have a real and lasting impact on the victims and on our communities. This flight is about criminality, not nationality. Let me emphasise: it has nothing to do with the terrible wrongs faced by the Windrush generation. Despite the extensive lobbying by some, who claim that the flight is about the Windrush generation, it is not. Not a single individual on the flight is eligible for the Windrush scheme. They are all Jamaican citizens and no one on the flight was born in the United Kingdom. They are all foreign national offenders who between them have served 228 years plus a life sentence in prison.
It is a long-standing Government policy that any foreign national offender will be considered for deportation. Under the UK Borders Act 2007, which was introduced and passed by a Labour Government with the votes of a number of hon. Members who are present today, a deportation order must be made where a foreign national offender has been convicted of an offence and received a custodial sentence of 12 months or more. Under the Immigration Act 1971, FNOs who have caused serious harm or are persistent offenders are also eligible for consideration.
Let me put this flight in context. In the year ending June 2020, there were 5,208 enforced returns, of which 2,630, or over half, were to European Union countries, and only 33 out of over 5,000 were to Jamaica—less than 1%. During the pandemic, we have continued with returns and deportations on scheduled flights and on over 30 charter flights to countries including Albania, France, Germany, Ghana, Lithuania, Nigeria, Poland and Spain, none of which, I notice, provoked an urgent question. The clear majority of the charter flights this year have been to European countries.
Those being deported have ample opportunity to raise reasons why they should not be. We are, however, already seeing a number of last-minute legal claims, including, in the last few days, by a convicted murderer, who has now been removed from the flight.
This Government’s priority is keeping the people of this country safe, and we make no apology—no apology—for seeking to remove dangerous foreign criminals. Any Member of this House with the safety of their constituents at heart would do exactly the same.
First, no one opposing this flight condones any of the crimes that these individuals have been found guilty of. It is the process of mass deportation that is fundamentally wrong, and it is notorious for bundling people out of the country without due process. Does the Minister recognise that this decision effectively amounts to double jeopardy when those involved in some lesser offences have already served their custodial sentence? Does he recognise the message that that sends about the consequences of being a white offender or a black offender, given the racial disparities in sentencing?
I hope the Minister agrees that no one is above the law, not even the Government, and that no one is beneath adequate defence and proper legal representation, not even those born in other countries. Will he therefore outline whether the deportees have been granted access to adequate legal advice and representation, and whether any have been allowed to appeal this decision, particularly given the lockdown restrictions and the likelihood that they would have no access to legal aid?
On being above the law, the Equality and Human Rights Commission recently found that the Home Office unlawfully ignored warnings that the hostile environment was discriminatory. Can the Minister explain why the Government are so comfortable continuing with a key part of the hostile environment policy when it has been so damningly called into question? Has he considered the 31 children who will be impacted by having a parent removed from this country?
The Home Office has got it wrong again and again on immigration. Will it therefore think again, halt this deportation flight and finally end the illegal hostile environment?
The hon. Lady speaks of what she calls mass deportations. I have already pointed out that, over the last year, of the 5,800 people who have been removed, only 33 have been of Jamaican nationality.
The hon. Lady mentioned black versus white. She was insinuating in her question that there was some element of underlying racism in this, but I have pointed out already that the vast majority of people who have been removed this year have been removed to European countries. This policy applies to people from Spain, France and Italy as much as it does to people from Jamaica. There is no element of discrimination in this policy whatever, and the hon. Lady was completely wrong to insinuate that, in some way, there was.
The hon. Lady asked about double jeopardy. She said that these people have been punished by a prison sentence already, but I say this: if somebody comes to this country, commits a serious criminal offence and puts our constituents at risk, it is right that, once they have served their sentence, or a great part of it, they should be removed. It is not just me who thinks that; it is the Labour Members who voted for this law in 2007 who think that, some of whom are sitting in this Chamber today.
The hon. Lady mentioned the EHRC and the compliant environment. This case is nothing to do with the compliant environment; it is about implementing the Borders Act 2007, as we are obliged to do. In terms of due process, there are ample opportunities to complain and appeal, as many people do, and I have mentioned already the case of a murderer who was taken off the flight just a few days ago following legal appeals.
We are protecting our fellow citizens, and I suggest that the hon. Lady takes a similar approach.
Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con) [V]
Will my hon. Friend make it clear that people who come to the United Kingdom to contribute to our economy and our society are most welcome, but that those who come from foreign countries and then commit the most heinous of crimes, be it murder, sexual violence, violence against children or violence against the person, can expect to experience the full force of law and then be required to leave the country at the end of their sentence? Does he agree that, far from the public disagreeing with that, they are wholly in support of it and expect the Government to take this action to keep society safe?
My hon. Friend, as always, puts it very well. Of course, when people come to this country as immigrants and make a contribution—to academia, to the work environment, and in myriad other ways—we welcome them with open arms. Our new points-based system, which will become active in just a few days’ time, does precisely that. However, as he says, if somebody comes to this country and enjoys our hospitality, but abuses that hospitality by committing a serious criminal offence, they can, should, and will be removed in the interests of public protection.
Holly Lynch (Halifax) (Lab)
I first pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) for having secured such an important and time-critical urgent question. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) for his previous work and advocacy in this important area.
The news of this flight comes just days after the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that the Government, as we have heard, acted unlawfully in their treatment of the Windrush generation through the hostile environment. As Caroline Waters, the chair of the EHRC, said,
“The treatment of the Windrush generation as a result of hostile environment policies was a shameful stain on British history.”
There is no clear timetable for implementing the recommendations of the Wendy Williams report, and with just 12% of applicants having received a payment and at least nine people having died waiting, the Windrush compensation scheme is failing badly. In his written response to me over the weekend, the Minister said that it is wrong and offensive to conflate this returns flight with the Windrush scandal, but I am afraid that given this Government’s track record, their failings on Windrush and the delays in the compensation scheme, we simply have no faith that this Government have done their due diligence in relation to those on this scheduled flight, and we would not be doing ours if we did not ask the questions.
Of course, we recognise that those who engage in violent and criminal acts must face justice. However, we also hear that at least one person on that flight has a Windrush generation grandfather; there is another whose great-aunt was on the HMT Windrush, and another whose grandfather fought in the second world war for Britain. It is clear that we have not yet established just how far the consequences of the Windrush injustice extend. With that in mind, what assessment has been made to ensure that none of those scheduled to be on the flight are eligible under the Windrush scheme, or have been affected by the wider immigration injustices that impacted the victims of the Windrush scandal? What assurances can the Minister provide the House that the mandatory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children left behind, who are innocent in this, has been considered?
It has also been reported that the Home Office has reached an agreement with the Jamaican Government that people who left Jamaica as children will no longer be repatriated. Can the Minister confirm whether this is the case, and can he also confirm what age someone would need to be to have been determined to be a child?
The hon. Lady, the shadow Minister, asks about the Windrush scheme. As she will be aware, over 6,300 people have now been given citizenship, quite rightly, and 13,300 documents have been issued to those people who suffered terrible wrongs in the past. In terms of compensation, 226 people have now received claims totalling in excess of £2.1 million, with a great deal more to pay out. I can also confirm that all of these cases on the plane have been individually assessed, and none of them is eligible for the Windrush compensation scheme.
The hon. Lady spent a great deal of time talking about Windrush during her question, but I say again—as I said in my letter to her—that it is completely wrong to conflate the people who were the victims of terrible injustice in the Windrush cases with these cases, who are nothing to do with Windrush, have no Windrush entitlement at all, and have committed terrible criminal offences. She also asks about the age eligibility. The Government are fully committed to discharging their obligation under the 2007 Act, which is to seek to remove anyone of any age who has been sentenced to a custodial term of over 12 months. That has been, is, and will remain our policy.