MPs have told the country's most senior judges: do not let human rights laws get in the way of deporting foreign criminals.

The decisive message from Parliament came as Home Secretary Theresa May told MPs that for too long judges had put the rights of foreign prisoners before those of the British public.

She said the Commons motion, which states the right to a family life is qualified, would mean judges could only allow those serving a year or longer in prison to remain in the UK in the most exceptional circumstances.

Until now, she said, foreign prisoners with flimsy cases were using the defence - contained in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) - to avoid deportation.

Mrs May told MPs: "For too long the rights of foreign criminals have been placed above the rights of the British public and for too long Parliament has not given its view on when it is proportionate to remove those criminals in the public interest.

"We are putting that right, we are making clear that the British public's right to protection from crime trumps a foreign criminal's weak claim to family life and we are allowing the views of Parliament to be heard on this issue loud and clear as the democratically elected representatives of the British people."

MPs unanimously supported the Home Secretary, passing her motion unopposed.

But shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said while the courts should deport foreign criminals who have broken the law, she accused Mrs May of being confused about the extent of her proposals.

Ms Cooper said: "She has been confused at every step along the way about what this motion is supposed to do. It is not clear whether this is supposed to be an endorsement of the existing immigration rules, the future immigration rules, the Home Secretary has not made her position clear."

Tory MPs also said they were concerned foreign criminals would find other ways to avoid deportation.