Thousands of foreign prisoners will be sent back to serve their sentences in their own countries under Government plans, it emerged today.
With more than 11,000 foreign inmates in a prison population of about 85,000, as many as possible should be transferred to serve their sentences in their own country, the Ministry of Justice said.
The move is part of plans to cut the prison population by 3,000 by 2014-15, but could be hampered by prisoner transfer agreements which require the consent of the prisoner and by human rights objections from inmates.
Prime Minister David Cameron will spearhead the initiative, the Daily Mail reported.
It comes after reports that Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke wants to close six jails in England and Wales as his ministry seeks to cut its budget by almost a quarter.
The Ministry of Justice said it was "right that those who enter the UK and abuse our hospitality should face the full weight of the law, and where necessary go to prison".
But "foreign national offenders who have no right to remain in the UK will be removed from the UK at the earliest opportunity", a spokesman said.
"The Government believes that wherever possible foreign national prisoners should serve their sentences in their own country."
Foreign prisoners are currently removed under prisoner transfer agreements with other countries, an early removal scheme which allows them to be released up to 270 days early if they agree to be deported immediately, or after their sentences have ended.
A total of 5,530 foreign national prisoners were deported or removed from the UK last year, but just 41 of these were under under prisoner transfer agreements.
An EU prisoner transfer agreement, which comes into force next year, will not require the consent of the prisoner and could enable the return of many more people to EU countries.
Speaking in a Commons debate on the issue in June, Prisons Minister Crispin Blunt admitted it was an area where "progress has been stuttering".
"The issue is bureaucratically complicated and difficult," he said.
He shared frustrations that "foreign national prisoners who have no links to the United Kingdom are still not routinely transferred to prisons in their own country", he said.
Of the 11,367 foreign national prisoners, 7,824 were convicted, serving their sentences and could be considered for transfer to their own country.
"Yet in 2009, with this large number of foreign national prisoners in our prisons, we managed to transfer 41 back to prisons in their own country and we received 64 British prisoners back," he said.
"While the proportions are striking, so is the feebleness of the overall number. I have asked my officials to pursue all possible options for increasing that number."
Mr Blunt added the numbers were "pathetically small".
Problems included the fact that the vast majority of the transfer arrangements have been in place "for some time and require the consent of the prisoner, without which the prisoners cannot be transferred".
"I have asked my officials to investigate the scope for renegotiating arrangements on the basis of compulsory transfer," he said
"Although we may not be able to achieve compulsory transfer arrangements in all cases, we should do so wherever we can."