Letters: Foreign criminals

'Foreign criminals' row highlights appalling Home Office lethargy


Sir: The incompetent processing of the immigration status of foreign nationals reaching the end of prison sentences dates long before this government ever came into power.

In the past this caused prisoners who had served their full sentence to be held under a non-judicial administrative order, to await our notorious Immigration Services to decide on their fate and appeals, if any, to follow. This resulted in unfair if not inhumane and unwarranted double punishment for many foreign nationals under Her Majesty's care, not to mention the unnecessary cost to the taxpayer.

In my former capacity as a member of the then board of visitors and an executive of the Black Prisoners Support Groups based in Manchester, I have often taken up cases on behalf of prisoners long before completion of the punishment imposed by the judge upon conviction, but in vain. Our aim was to speed up decisions one way or the other. The general lethargy and arrogance in the Home Office's Immigration Division was and is still appalling.

The Prison Service was neither then nor is now to blame for releasing the so-called dangerous persons. Prisons merely hold people for a period instructed by the courts or the parole board.

In my view, this is not a matter for Charles Clarke's resignation. The civil servants at the Home Office ought to be answerable for the chaos in the entire immigration system that has caused pain to foreign nationals, asylum seekers or others. The wider public is absolutely right to express their concern, even at this late juncture.



Sir: The real scandal regarding the release of "foreign" prisoners is that it encapsulates the attitude to the prison population which the Home Office exhibits on behalf of our society. Lock them up and wait for them to return after release. If there was anything more than lip-service paid to rehabilitation the Home Office would maintain detailed records on all prisoners. Until this attitude changes and prisoners are not simply treated like battery chickens, this abysmal failure will continue.



Clarke and Prescott on the ropes

Sir: If a US President left office after eight years and said he didn't have enough time to do anything, he would be ridiculed, even under a system where the opposition may control the legislature.

Yet once again, nine years after the Government was elected, we are having to put up with Blair and his acolytes asking for more time "to get on with the job", as they have done since 1997. It's just a shame the Labour government doesn't adopt a "let them get on with the job" approach to our public sector workers.



Sir: I have been puzzled by the feeding frenzy of the media in the last few days following the Government's problems.

The armed services have an expression to describe the situation; SNAFU, which, bowdlerised, stands for "Situation Normal, All Fouled Up". With the complexity of life today, I am surprised and thankful that communication and organisation do not break down more often. The current press hysteria puts me in mind of vultures around a meal that has been denied them for too long.



Sir: Charles Clarke should no longer be Home Secretary. Why? Firstly, because he has presided over a fiasco which continued after he had been informed of the issue. Secondly, because we cannot have confidence that he will not now give the problem too much of his attention and hence allow some other problem to occur in his department.



Sir: I'm going to apply to join the Cabinet. It seems it's the only place in the land where one can commit adultery, let fugitives run free, buy peerages, be totally inefficient and still keep one's job.



Sir: Better a politician who is untrue to his wife than one who takes his country to war on false premises.



Sir: Clarke should not resign. The person responsible for the Home Office failings is the permanent secretary, whose responsibility it is to ensure that the policies laid down by ministers is obeyed. The policies were clear, but the civil servants failed to follow them. It is high time that the idea that incompetent civil servants can hide behind the political careers of their ministers is abandoned.



Sir: The very least that Charles Clarke should do is resign for six months - that's about the normal period of time a government resignation lasts these days, isn't it?



New EU citizens working in Britain

Sir: The second anniversary of the accession of 10 new countries into the European Union falls on 1 May. The arrival of the counties of Eastern and Central Europe (plus Cyprus and Malta) precipitated the influx of 100 million citizens into the Union. The legitimate concerns that arise from the flow of people across borders (at present demonstrated by the controversy over the release of foreign prisoners) should not detract from the enormous benefits of freer migration.

The accession was preceded by many prophets of doom, who suggested that the UK would be overrun by immigrants from these countries and that our benefits system an infrastructure would not be able to cope. In fact the opposite has happened. The three EU countries which have immediately opened their labour markets and welcomed foreign workers - Britain, Ireland and Sweden - have largely benefited.

Far from creating difficulties, the enlargement in 2004 has presented opportunities for the UK business community. This bodes well for the accession of Romania and Bulgaria in the next couple of years, and the potential membership of Turkey in the longer term.



Sir: Ian Williamson's calm and thoughtful analysis of China's emergence as a global economic force (letter, 28 April) has consequences not only for the US, but, equally for Europe, Latin America, India, Russia and the Far Eastern basin. The era of ethnic nation states is giving way to larger entities. To be economically and politically viable, we, the Europeans, have no option but to maintain and consolidate our Union, which alone can guarantee our place in the sun. UKIP, BNP and other Little Englanders are dangerous anachronisms.



Support for folk dance and song

Sir: We were surprised to read the claim by Bob Russell MP that Arts Council England is "culturally cleansing English folk dancing and song" (Letters, 28 April). In actual fact we have substantially increased our support.

In 2002 we invested under £200,000 in folk dance and song. That figure nearly quadrupled to just under £800,000 last year. Since the beginning of this financial year, just four weeks ago, we have allocated over £350,000 to folk music and dance - a figure that is likely to increase massively as we receive applications for the summer festival season.

We would have also thought that Mr Russell would welcome an investment of £5m into a new gallery in his constituency. We hope the gallery will do for Colchester what the Baltic and Sage did for Gateshead and what the Lowry did for Salford.



Labour government threatens liberty

Sir: Thank you for your front page article on the "Battle for Civil Liberties" (24 April). I have sent a copy of the paper to friends I recently had lunch with, who have joined the ranks of New Labour apologists, unable or unwilling to understand the core issues at stake because the legislation in question s being introduced by a Labour government.

I refuse to believe that many of the same people who voted Labour through the 1980s and early 1990s would have countenanced then what is now happening to our civil rights across the board. I am delighted that Mr Blair has gone on the attack over this issue as it shows he is losing the argument. It's time for real Labour Party members, with any conscience and social awareness to put party loyalties on one side, stand up and say "Not in my name, Mr Blair."



Sir: Civil liberties are designed to protect the citizen. The danger they envisage is the abuse of power by the executive - originally the monarch, now ministers. Experience has shown that nothing is more dangerous to a nation than its own rulers when they lurch towards dictatorship.

We should be able to rely on Parliament to restrain such excesses. Unfortunately our members seem to put party advantage ahead of the national interest. The executive cares so little for Parliament it is attempting to assume a right to amend its legislation after it has been enacted.

The executive seems to be equally contemptuous of the judiciary, who should act as another independent watchdog protecting the citizen. All in all, I see no reason to relax in the least degree the vigilance we maintain on our ministers and their agents in the police and security services through our civil rights.



British rebel

Sir: The most sensational "ancient secret" discovered at the Olympic site in east London, according to your report (27 April) is that Boudica was English.



Back to romantic misery

Sir: Good to see that Howard Jacobson acknowledges that "men my age are not aware of most things" as he grieves for the loss of unhappy women in raincoats (29 April). He should busy himself with the fashion pages, where he cannot fail to note that the trenchcoat rules this season. Which should make him, indeed all of us, blissfully unhappy.




Sir: Might a crowded letters page cram in one brief "thank you" for bringing back the convenient Extra arts supplement in response to the expressed wishes of readers? Indy reader-power!



Garden in peril

Sir: Do you think your report "Guantanamo Bay prisoners plant seeds of hope in secret garden" (29 April) might have given the game away, and even now the CIA are spraying the place with Orange Orange?



Guilty of success

Sir: As well as being "guilty of having no TV" (letter, 27 April) we find parents can be guilty of having healthy children. We are getting requests for help from terrified parents whose GPs reported them to social services because they had not been taken to the doctor. It so happens that their children had never been sick. When did rearing healthy children become a symptom of being an abusive parent?



Design flaw

Sir: If there really is a God, why did he invent the metatarsal?



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