Government amendment No. 103.
Amendment No. 262, in page 27, line 37, at end insert—
'unless that person is a child'.
Government amendments Nos. 104 and 59.
Amendment No. 60, page 29, line 37, leave out Clause 52.
Amendment No. 141, in clause 52, in page 30, line 4, after 'persons', insert—
'whom the Secretary of State is lawfully entitled to remove'.
Amendment No. 169, in page 30, line 4, after 'persons', insert—
'over the age of eighteen'.
Many hon. Members who served in Committee will recall that, in response to points from the hon. Members for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) and for Woking (Mr. Malins), we agreed to consider whether it was necessary to specify in the Bill that the force that could be used by an escort had to be "reasonable". Although we remain of the view that the only force that may lawfully be used is reasonable force, we are content to make that explicit. We have tabled the necessary amendments to effect that.
The power in clause 50 is linked to paragraph 17(2) of schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971, which provides for police or immigration officers to enter premises to execute a warrant. That provision uses the same wording as the original clause 50. In the interests of consistency, we have tabled new clause 9, which will add the qualification "reasonable" to the use of force that is authorised in paragraph 17 of schedule 2.
Clause 58(1) creates a new power to allow removal directions to be given for the family of the person who is being removed as an illegal entrant, or following refusal of leave to enter. The immigration Acts contain no power to detain such people. Without such a power, it may not be possible to enforce removal in accordance with the directions. The new power that clause 58(1) creates would therefore be empty. Amendment No. 103 plugs the gap and will enable directions to be enforced if necessary.
Amendment No. 104 is a consequential amendment to section 24 of the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. It ensures that the bail provisions that apply to suspected international terrorists who are detained under the Immigration Act 1971 would apply to such people who might be detained under clause 49. Section 24 of the 2001 Act currently refers to a suspected international terrorist who is detained under the powers in the 1971 Act. Amendment No. 104 would add detention under the Bill. It places those who are detained under clause 49 on the same footing as those who are detained under the powers of detention in the 1971 Act.
The changes that we are introducing will enable those who are suspected of international terrorism to apply for bail. I believe that they will be welcomed because they bring that group of people into line with others.
I hope that hon. Members will support the Government amendments. I shall, of course, respond to points about the other amendments later.
We welcome new clause 9. I recall vividly a long discussion in Committee on the use of force. Anxiety was expressed that, increasingly, a wider variety of people in society can use force, including police, immigration officials and security officers. The debate was important and many Opposition Members wanted to include "reasonable" before "force". I am therefore pleased that the Government have introduced the new clause, for which I thank them.
I want to consider the amendments that we have tabled: Nos. 139 and 141. Amendment No. 139 applies to clause 49, and would include the words, "for a reasonable period".
The Bill, as framed, appears not to set a limit on the period of detention. The purpose of our amendment is to make it clear that the period of detention must be reasonable, and that the likely period for which a person is to be detained is a consideration that the person making the decision must take into account when making that decision and at any subsequent review of someone's continued detention.
The amendment places the concept of reasonableness in the statute itself. I refer the Minister to the House of Lords judgment in the case of Saadi, which I think is about to come out. The case was heard in May. In the administrative court in September 2001, Mr. Justice Collins ruled that the detention of persons for only seven days at Oakington was unlawful, as it contravened article 5 of the European convention on human rights. His judgment was reversed in the Court of Appeal, but Lord Justice Phillips, obiter, indicated that detention could become unlawful under article 5 if a person was detained for longer than was reasonable to effect the purpose for which he was detained.
I apologise to the House for quoting from Lord Justice Phillips's judgment at some length, but this is an important point of principle. He said:
"It seems to us that the Court is considering as lawful detention pending the consideration of an application for leave to enter or the making of arrangements for deportation and not applying a test of whether the detention is necessary in order to carry out those processes. The inroad that we believe the European Court has made into the right of immigration authorities to detain aliens pending consideration of the applications for leave to enter, or their deportation, is that these processes must not be unduly prolonged. It is in relation to the duration of detention that the question of proportionality arises. Although Collins J. held that detention at Oakington did not fall within Article 5(1)(f) at all, he went on to consider proportionality. In so doing the test that he applied was whether detention was proportionate to the need to process applicants speedily. He decided that it was not because he was not satisfied that it was necessary to achieve that object. We consider that the test of proportionality required by Article 5(1)(f) requires the Court simply to consider whether the process of considering an asylum application, or arranging a deportation, has gone on too long to justify the detention of the person concerned having regard to the conditions in which the person is detained and any special circumstances affecting him or her. Applying that test no disproportionality is demonstrated in this case. The Secretary of State has determined that, in the absence of special circumstances, it is not reasonable to detain an asylum seeker for longer than about a week, but that a short period of detention can be justified where this will enable speedy determination of his or her application for leave to enter. In restricting detention to such circumstances he may well have gone beyond what the European Court would require. We are content that he should have done so. The vast majority of those seeking asylum are aliens who are not in a position to make good their entitlement to be treated as refugees. We believe, nonetheless, that most right thinking people would find it objectionable that such persons should be detained for a period of any significant length of time while their applications are considered, unless there is a risk of their absconding or committing other misbehaviour."
It is clear that there is considerable judicial interest in this matter. That is why we have tabled this amendment on Report—which the Government should accept—qualifying the right to detain by saying that such detention should be "for a reasonable period". It would be most helpful to have that provision in the Bill.
Our amendment No. 141 applies to clause 52, which defines a "removal centre" as
"a place which is used solely for the detention of detained persons but which is not a short-term holding facility, a prison or part of a prison".
Under our amendment, the clause would read,
"'removal centre' means a place which is used solely for the detention of detained persons whom the Secretary of State is lawfully entitled to remove".
The emphasis is on the phrase "lawfully entitled to remove".
We had many discussions in Committee about the names of the various centres, and the change from "detention centre" to "removal centre". We may return to that issue in our debate today. Detaining asylum seekers is a sensitive issue, and detention should be used with the greatest sensitivity. Detaining persons whom the Secretary of State is not entitled to remove is an unhappy concept for many Opposition Members.
It is not many months since the fire at Yarl's Wood. Unless I am mistaken, a Home Office website note said that Yarl's Wood was used for the detention of people whose asylum applications had failed and who were about to be removed. However, Yarl's Wood contained a mixture of people. It could take about 900, but at the time of the fire it held only about 400 or slightly fewer. The key point is that they were not all being detained prior to removal. We would have a greater understanding of the situation if that were the case. We know that the Government want to develop the detention estate to about 4,000. We understand the reasoning behind that, but it is important to focus on exactly who will be detained. At Yarl's Wood, dozens of people were being detained whose asylum appeals were under way rather than exhausted. If current asylum seekers are detained, rather than persons whom the Secretary of State is lawfully entitled to remove, that creates a problem.
If a person is not lawfully removable, it is strongly arguable that he should not be placed in a removal centre. It is wrong to put other people, such as those awaiting the initial consideration of their asylum applications, into a centre that is now to be designated as a removal centre, as that sends a message that their application will not be considered in an open-minded and fair manner.
Imagine the scene: a lawful applicant whose process is under way is, without good cause—the Government will probably dwell on the question of what is and what is not good cause—placed in somewhere called a removal centre. What message does that send about the Government's attitude? Some people argue that that could be in breach of article 5 of the European convention on human rights. I am not sufficiently expert to pronounce on that, but I wonder whether the Minister has taken expert advice and whether she can reassure the House. Furthermore, placing people who are at considerably different stages of the determination process in the same detention environment creates irreconcilable problems for the managers of the detention facilities over the type of regime that should be in place. It may also mean that very vulnerable asylum seekers who, when their cases come to be considered, are found to be refugees will have to spend a lot of time among, not separate from, other types of immigration detainee, and will have to experience an inappropriately high level of security.
This makes sense, does it not? As we all know, even those remanded in custody in criminal cases before being tried are kept in different circumstances from those serving a sentence following conviction, with very different privileges, entitlements and so forth.
A person whose claim for asylum has not been fully determined, or whose appeal is outstanding, cannot lawfully be removed. I understand, incidentally, that in a fairly recent case handled by a very senior and established non-governmental organisation, a client was removed while his appeal was pending, and the Home Office had to bring him back to the United Kingdom.
I feel, therefore, that amendment No. 141 is as important as amendment No. 139.
I have some sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman has said about the mixture of people in detention centres at present. Does he feel, as many of us do, that, in general, asylum seekers should not be detained, or does he believe that there should be different sorts of detention centre for different categories of asylum seekers, failed applicants and people whose removal is pending?
It is not practically possible to detain all asylum seekers. Many years ago, when the numbers were different, we might have been able to discuss that as a practical possibility, although there would have been merits to argue; but it is impossible to detain all the asylum seekers who are now arriving each year.
What is the proper approach? We support the Government's policy on accommodation centres, but how can I argue that an asylum seeker should be detained unless the authorities have a real fear that that person will abscond, and there is substantial evidence suggesting that detention is necessary? It may be thought that an asylum seeker poses a severe risk in terms of criminal activity; it may be thought that that person has committed a criminal offence. Fine. Subject to judicial oversight, there must be categories of asylum seekers, just as there are categories of ordinary people such as Jeremy Corbyn and me. Certain categories do have to be detained, for various reasons. In today's climate, however, the suggestion that all asylum seekers should be detained is both wrong in principle and impossible, in practical terms, to implement. The whole issue is very delicate.
The hon. Member for Islington, North has been in the House for a long time and knows more about this subject than most of us, probably including me. He has a fine reputation. Nevertheless, he and I both understand that the theme running through many of our debates is the balance between involvement of the state in custodial issues, and the judiciary. We know how important it is to get that balance right—not to let it tilt too far to one side but always, as I said yesterday, to ensure that the judiciary are involved.
If I were ever locked up, I should want to be locked up on the order of a judge. I should feel much happier then, especially if I had the right of appeal to another judge. Then I would have to take my medicine. I am now rapidly wondering whether I have done anything to deserve it! Anyway, the hon. Gentleman understands the thrust of what I am saying. I do not think we are very far apart.
I conclude by repeating my unhappiness at the fact that we are moving towards the use of new titles such as "removal centres". As far as I can tell, such centres will not be used to house people who are to be removed. The title "detention centres" is much more acceptable if such centres are to be used for those detained for lawful reasons, subject to the proper right to apply for bail, and so on. It is not surprising that we have tabled an amendment to clause 52 that would define a "removal centre" as a place used solely for the detention of persons
"whom the Secretary of State is lawfully entitled to remove".
The hon. Gentleman's reply to the intervention from Jeremy Corbyn contained the assumption that, in some circumstances, detention is the right course of action. The hon. Gentleman talks about the judicial review process, but at what stage should that process start? Should it kick in when a person is detained at the point of entry? Should it run alongside consideration of the asylum application?
The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting question, but I am anxious not to stray too far from the narrow terms of my amendment. When someone makes an application for asylum on entry, it may or may not be perfectly proper for the Government to decide that they should be detained straight away. However, the point is that the process must be subject to judicial scrutiny, and quickly. If the Government are found to be right, that is fine; if not, that is equally fine. Let us be frank: the judiciary is independent, end of story.
It is not so much the principle of detention that troubles me. By and large, any Government—including the current Government and the previous Conservative Government—would do their best to act reasonably. What does trouble me is the prospect of a lack of proper judicial oversight. That brings to mind part III of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and issues such as automatic bail rights, but that is a subject for another day.
Today's proceedings have got off to a slightly less stroppy start than yesterday's. I hope that the Minister thinks that my general approach has merit, and that, if she is not prepared to accept the amendment, she will consider using the other place to insert something similar in the Bill.
I begin by apologising for tabling amendment No. 262 at this late stage in the Bill's passage. I doubt whether it is the most adequate amendment that has been discussed so far, but it is an important one that is based on an important principle to which I am absolutely committed: that children should not be detained in any form of custody. The only Government policy that I have deep antipathy towards is their willingness to lock up children.
My constituency has one of the largest child prisons in the country, Lancaster Farms, in which 360 children are shortly to be detained. Under the street crime initiative, we in Lancashire may be introducing custody for 12-year-olds. That is wrong, and we should not do it. We should use amendment No. 262 to promote the non-custodial treatment of all children who are caught up in the deeply distressing circumstances of asylum applications.
My proposals are entirely in line with the UN convention on the rights of the child, to which the Government are a signatory. The Government cannot continue to maintain an opt-out on the immigration and asylum provisions of the convention in defiance of a legal opinion obtained by Save the Children that the opt-out is unsustainable. I suspect that when the Government report to the UN committee on the rights of the child in Geneva in September they will—unfortunately and very sadly—be in great difficulty. Maintaining that opt-out in order to retain the ability to detain children goes against the spirit of the UN convention, which has been signed by every country in the world except two. Few of the signatories maintain any opt-out.
I shall not press the amendment to a vote. It is similar to an amendment that I tabled previously and I seek the Minister's assurance that she is not happy with detaining children in such circumstances, and that all measures possible will be taken to safeguard the welfare of any children who are detained. I ask again how the provisions of the Children Act 1989 can possibly apply to children in that situation. The broader principle about the rights and wrongs of holding children under 18 in any form of custodial institution are matters to which I shall continue to return in discussion of asylum and criminal justice legislation, until the Government do what is right and fall in line with some of their best principles. The Government have tried to be a good Government for children, and they now need to decide that such treatment of children is utterly wrong.
Like Mr. Malins, I welcome Government new clause 9 and we will not seek to divide the House on this group. I hope that that is helpful to hon. Members planning their afternoon. Mr. Dawson has spoken to amendment No. 262, and we support it because we support the principle that he enunciated of not detaining children. We were similarly motivated when we tabled amendment No. 169.
I shall speak to amendment No. 60, in my name and my hon. Friends' names, and amendments Nos. 141 and 139, which were tabled with both Conservative and Liberal Democrat support. This is the beginning of a debate on detention and removal that we have not yet addressed on the Floor of the House, although we debated it in Committee. It raises some important principles. The first is the one mentioned by Jeremy Corbyn—the question of who should be detained. Like him, I believe that detention should not be the presumption. The presumption should be that a person seeking asylum is as lawful a world citizen as is a citizen of this country who was born here and who does not want to go anywhere else. On that basis, detention is necessary only if the person is a risk to society in some way, or has a criminal record that means that he or she should not be let out.
I accept too that detention may also be used at the very end of the process, when a person has put a case, and lost it after a proper appeal. The Minister knows that I believe that that process should happen in this country, and that people should be here when they appeal. At the end of the process it is acceptable—not desirable, but acceptable—that for a period it may be necessary to detain people immediately prior to their departure from the country. That is necessary to make sure that the link between the final decision that people cannot stay and their removal is not broken, and that people do not disappear from the system at that stage when they know that they cannot succeed with their cases.
The hon. Gentleman will know from his experience that an interesting parallel can be drawn here with what happens in the criminal justice system when a person who has pleaded not guilty to a crime and who has been on bail throughout a lengthy jury trial is finally convicted. If a custodial sentence is coming, it is appropriate for the judge to remand the person in custody for the final fortnight.
People who read these debates may not be aware that the hon. Gentleman sits as a recorder in our courts. He is absolutely right: the courts use the procedure that he has described because it is a way to make sure that the interests of the state are protected when there is a danger that they might not otherwise be enforced. That is the principle.
The second very strong principle that I want to enunciate is that we must not put people in things that are called removal centres if they are not at that stage destined for removal. In that, I share exactly the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Woking.
I have not begun to understand the Government case to the contrary, but there are all sorts of arguments for saying that it is absolutely wrong to put people in something that used to be called a detention centre—which is suddenly now known as a removal centre—when their cases have not been finally considered. I hope that Ministers will seriously consider the widespread objection to the redesignation. Names are important, and if the Government are going to change the name of those centres they should use an honest one, not a dishonest one. More importantly, there are likely to be adverse consequences.
The first adverse consequence is that people put in places called removal centres, when no decision has been taken about their case, will not be certain that they will be treated fairly. If they are placed in something called a removal centre, they will presume—I would, and other people would too—that, regardless of the value of their case or of the way they have expressed it, and regardless too of the so-called independent process involved, they will be removed.
The hon. Gentleman makes an apposite point. People will be being told what the outcome of the process will be before they have had a chance to put their case. That must be wrong. I cannot understand how the Government could even think that the idea was justifiable. I shall be interested to hear whether the Minister can provide a justification, but she will have to find an argument that none of us have heard from a Minister before.
I am certain that the House of Lords will change the provision, because it is oppressive and harmful nonsense. People in that position will be adversely psychologically affected. They are likely to be more disruptive and less settled. There are all sorts of arguments why we should not go down that road. I sincerely hope that we can change the name, and that clause 52 will be deleted from the Bill, as my colleagues and I propose. Like the Conservative party, we have proposed amending part of the clause, if we cannot remove it, to achieve that effect.
The improvement that the Government have made is to put the reasonableness test into this part of the Bill. If people are to be detained by force, they have to be detained by reasonable force. That is clearly welcome. The Government have also accepted the arguments that we made in Committee that there should be a reasonableness test. That is also welcome.
One reason why we need controls is that, as I understand it, detainee custody officers, who will not necessarily be public employees and are not therefore directly accountable to any public service disciplinary process or public complaints process, will be able to intervene, take possession of property, and so on. That is why my colleagues and I tabled amendment No. 59, to which the Home Secretary added his name. We are concerned that those who go into premises without a warrant to detain people who are then held should be subject to disciplinary processes and proper scrutiny. The least that we can do, therefore, is limit or control the force with which they enter premises. However, I hope that Ministers will go beyond that and let us see the rules that will govern searches of detainees. We have seen no such draft rules yet.
I hope that the Government will back off from the idea of giving unaccountable employees of private contractors powers that are greater than those of immigration and police officers, who are accountable public servants. It is quite wrong to go down that road, and as the Minister will know from our debates in Committee, my colleagues and I strongly believe that everyone involved in the accommodation and detention of asylum seekers and others should be in the public service and the public sector.
A bizarre twist is that in Committee, when my hon. Friend Mr. Allan and I pressed to a Division a proposal on keeping asylum and accommodation centres in the public realm—the public estate or public provision—the Conservatives abstained, which seemed a perfectly reasonable view to take, and Labour Members opposed it. So the party that used to be the party of public service is opposing keeping things in the public sector. It would appear, according to the way people voted in Committee, that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties are much more concerned about these matters than are the Government.
If people go to a removal centre, it is highly likely to have an adverse effect on them, even if they are eventually allowed into the country. If they are asked where they spent the past six months of their life, Campsfield removal centre is hardly the best thing to put on their resumé or curriculum vitae when going for their first job, having been accepted as an asylum seeker in this country.
The way in which the Government are moving suggests that they want to give the impression that they will have ever greater powers to remove people, irrespective of the rights that they may establish. It is not as if it is justified on the basis of the figures. I know that the Government are keen to remove people: they say that they want to remove 30,000 people a year. I understand that it has been put in alternative terms at 2,500 people a month, most recently by the Home Secretary. Removals figures are much lower than that.
Is the redesignation a way to enable the Government to say that they have removed a certain number of people but that they also have more in removal centres? That would create a wholly false impression: it would make it look good to the uninitiated, as if those people were all destined for removal, but of course many of them will be likely to win their cases. The figures are clear: many of the people who go into detention centres will be successful with their cases.
I will end where I began—following on from the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre. I do not understand how it is possible for this Government to preach human rights around the world but not to endorse in full the United Nations convention on the rights of the child and to hold such reservations. I do not understand how that can be other than hypocritical, or how it can be consistent.
Many of us have had experience of dealing with asylum seekers in our constituency work as Members of Parliament, and before that in our other lives. The hon. Gentleman did so as a social worker, the hon. Member for Woking and I were in the legal profession, and some colleagues, such as my hon. Friend Mr. Hancock, worked for local authorities.
The reality is that the state has an obligation to treat young people as young people first, not as asylum seekers. It has a duty to treat children as children and to give them all the things that they need. Many come here unaccompanied, as you know well from your part of the world, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and many come with their families. The way we treat them will be reflected in the way they behave when they grow up. If young people are treated as prisoners and locked up, not only will it be bad for them—prisons will make them much more likely to become offenders, to have dysfunctional behaviour and the rest—but it will create the wrong impression about what we think is important about them.
I therefore endorse the request of the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre and I press the Minister, as he did, to say why the Government persist in keeping so many people under the age of 18 in prison in general and why they insist on the right to keep asylum-seeking youngsters in prison. If we are short of general and specialist social services accommodation, social services ought to have more money so that they can provide it, if that is the issue.
As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, secure local authority accommodation can be provided. Southwark council is a part manager of a place called Orchard lodge in south-east London on behalf of several local authorities; it is entirely secure. The alternative is not to put people in Rochester prison, Lancaster Farms, or anywhere else. Doing so is incompatible with our international obligations. It is bad practice and a bad example.
I hope that we will change this part of the Bill fundamentally. I also hope that the Minister will give as encouraging a response to these questions as the Home Secretary did on two of the issues highlighted in the first group of amendments that we debated yesterday. Then, the Government accepted Opposition arguments. I hope that they understand the force of the case. We do not want people who are not going to be removed put in places called removal centres. We do not want children to be imprisoned when they should not be. We want everyone to have the right to be outside such centres and to enjoy freedom unless there is a good case for them to be detained and to have their liberty taken away.
I will be brief as there is much to debate today. The timetable motion has not done the House any favours. It has prevented debate on a large number of extremely serious matters.
A dispassionate outsider—indeed anyone—looking at this group of amendments would find it strange that in 2002 we are debating the use of force to remove people from this country, the detention of children, the renaming of centres as "removal centres", and the concept of accommodation centres that are in reality detention centres. They would also find strange the lack of support for many people who are so detained. I find that extremely depressing.
I have been involved in immigration and asylum law as long as I have been in the House and I have dealt with hundreds if not thousands of constituency cases. I have visited a number of the centres. I find it deeply depressing that the number of people detained rises inexorably over the years while the British increasingly proselytise around the world about being in favour of human rights. About 4,000 people are detained under immigration law, and that number is likely to rise as the years go by. We should be thinking about double standards here.
I find the principle of detention offensive. A person should be detained only by court order, not by Executive order, and should always have access to the courts, whatever the process behind the detention. The Bill does not allow for that. Indeed, immigration law in effect allows for arbitrary detention—dependent largely on the number of detention spaces available at any time, rather than on the merits, justice or injustice of the case. Surely we should be a bit more grown up than that.
I strongly endorse the points made by my hon. Friend Mr. Dawson and support amendment No. 262, which he tabled. I should be grateful to the Minister if she could tell us in her reply where compatibility of the detention of children with the Children Act 1989 comes into play. I have always understood—I may be wrong—that the Children Act supersedes all other legislation in relation to the treatment of children and that the priority is their welfare, education, health and support, not their likelihood or otherwise of absconding. We should think quite seriously about that.
Yesterday, the House failed to debate the serious issues of education. I would argue that the Children Act 1989 provides the opportunity for education to any child who happens to be resident in this country at any time, but the Bill contains the idea of arbitrary detention.
I have met many unaccompanied children who have arrived in this country to seek asylum. Without exception, they are deeply traumatised by what they have been through, to the extent that they are often unable to talk about it for several years. Even with very valuable psychiatric help, they find their experience very hard to confront. The horrors that they have experienced come out in their art, writing and conversation. Thankfully, children in this country never see the war scenes that those children have seen—I hope that they never do—yet we seek to detain those children.
I strongly support the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre. If we are keen to support UN conventions and resolutions—as we should be—why on earth can we not endorse the convention on the rights of the child, ratify it to its fullest extent and put an end to what I believe is a very serious abuse indeed?
About 6,000 asylum-seeking children a year arrive unaccompanied in this country. I want to reinforce the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. We are talking not about a handful of youngsters but about a significant number of young people who, for whatever reason, arrive in this country with no adult and no one to look after them.
That is a fair point. The figure that the hon. Gentleman gives is about right.
Obviously, a significant number of children are involved, all of whom have a story to tell and deserve support. Unless they are treated properly and given the necessary support when they arrive here, what will be the effect on them in later life? They have gone through a terrible trauma, but they are, in effect, kept in prison. What kind of adults will they become? What kind of people are we developing as a result?
I hope that we can have a little more compassion and a bit more understanding and support. Let us remember that all those kids also have hopes, ambitions and ideas. They have a contribution to make to our society, and indeed many of them make that contribution.
My final point is that we saw the news, the demonstrations and the recent fire at Yarl's Wood. Obviously, what happened there was terrible. Obviously, any injuries sustained are terrible and those events are deeply regrettable. However, we should think for a moment about what would be our view of another country where a fire was caused at a detention centre and many inmates were put in danger as a result, when it was not very clear who was there, why they were there or whether they fell into the category of asylum seekers who had recently arrived but whose cases were dubious, of those who were due to be removed or of those whose cases had gone on for years without being determined.
There were also riots and disorder at Campsfield. I recall a visit to Campsfield and I could see on people's faces the frustration boiling up there. Having left what they believed to be a dangerous situation in their own countries, where arbitrary detention was the norm, they found themselves arbitrarily detained on arrival in this country. I would hope that the Bill, with its many faults, would at least not make worse the situation of arbitrary detention, unfair detention and lack of justice that is implicit in it.
I look forward to the Minister's reply. In particular, in terms of signing up to the UN convention on the child, we should ratify it, operate it, and, above all, give priority to the welfare, education, social and health needs of children, and not detain them.
I support all the comments made so far by Opposition Members and Labour Back Benchers. At the outset, I want to say that we are talking about the clause dealing with the redesignation of detention centres, which will be known in due course as removal centres. I have before me a copy of a written question that was answered by the Home Office on
On the important substantive issues raised by the amendments, I agree totally that detention is not, in principle, acceptable when one is detaining people who have committed no crime. That is a key tenet of Scots law, and we have a very strict rule in Scotland that one must bring a person to trial within 110 days. The Government's approach to detention policy completely goes against basic principles of Scots law and of natural justice. So we cannot support the Government's detention policy.
On the specific matters raised, the amendments deal with various important issues concerning the length of time for which somebody could be detained, the grounds on which a person will be detained and the important issue of detaining children in what are effectively prisons. I use the word "prison" carefully. Dungavel detention centre in Scotland was, until very recently, a prison. I visited Dungavel recently, and it shares with a prison the key characteristic that those inside are not at liberty to leave the premises. I shall come back to the issue of children shortly, but, in a civilised state, placing children in what is effectively a prison is shameful.
On the issue of the grounds on which people are held, which is dealt with in amendment No. 141, it may interest the House to know that, further to a visit to Dungavel detention centre in April, the cross-party group on refugees and asylum seekers in the Scottish Parliament submitted a report, dated
"have reached the end of the line . . . have committed an offence, or . . . are regular absconders."
Those comments have been disputed by individuals inside Dungavel, who said that they had been living happily in the local community and reporting to the local police. After several years, they suddenly found themselves being taken off to Dungavel with no warning whatever. Perhaps the Minister will clarify exactly who is being held in detention centres and confirm whether anyone outwith the three categories outlined by the former Minister of State has been or is being held in a detention centre.
The length of time for which people are held in detention centres is unacceptable. As I have said, those people have been not been convicted of any crime but, in many cases, they are held for a very long time. That is unacceptable in a civilised country.
The detention of children is another issue raised by the amendments. I totally concur with what has been said so far. It is a disgrace that the United Kingdom Government are proposing to pursue such a policy. They should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. There are alternatives that they could properly have considered, one of which was suggested by the cross-party group in the Scots Parliament—a requirement on people to report locally in the community. I see no problem with that suggestion. In any event, the possible damage that could be caused to a child who is detained in what is, in effect, a prison should outweigh any other consideration.
I am happy to support the amendments, and I hope that the Government will reflect further on their policy for detention centres. The accountability and transparency of the operation of the centres is another important issue. The Dungavel detention centre is operated by a private company, Premier Detention Services, and I asked the Home Office whether the contract with the company could be placed in the public domain. On
My final point deals with a matter that is not raised specifically by the amendments but relates to the operation of detention centres. Perhaps the Minister will clarify how the costs of running them are funded. I imagine that the costs are fairly high. For example, the cost of converting Dungavel into a fully fledged removal centre is expected to be about £3.5 million, and that information has been provided by the Home Office itself. Perhaps the cost of this misguided Government policy will be clarified. Who will pay the £3.5 million for Dungavel? Will it come from the Scottish Executive or the Home Office budget?
I am glad to have the opportunity to take part in this debate. When the Minister replies, I hope that she will answer many of the points raised, especially those relating to children.
"Unaccompanied asylum seeking children are not detained other than in the most exceptional circumstances and then only overnight with appropriate care.
Detention of children as part of a family unit is not a step to be taken lightly. In each case careful assessment of the need for detention is undertaken.
When children and families are detained they are accommodated in special family units within dedicated family wings of the removal centre."—[Hansard, House of Lords, 29 April 2002; Vol. 634, c. WA65.]
That suggests that asylum seekers are taken to removal centres on arrival. However, the answer also contains two important statements: first, that that would happen only in exceptional circumstances, and secondly, that it would happen only after appropriate care and assessment. The Minister needs to assure us that nothing has changed since that answer was given.
We also need to consider the statistics on detention. As of
We need to be told about the Government's plans for allowing that to happen. Will judicial oversight of detention take place within days, a week or a month of an order being made and a person being detained? We know that some people are detained for a year. Is it right for them to have wait a year before they have redress to judicial oversight? That would surely be contemptible. I hope that the Minister will clarify those matters because people have a right to know. It would also help those outside this country to know what is happening here.
I also support what the hon. Members for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) and for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) said about children. My experience of leading the largest local authority in Great Britain for nearly five years was that the Children Act 1989 was paramount and took precedence over all other obligations that a local authority or, for that matter, the state had when it came to the rights of the child. To house children in such detention centres is a dramatic and draconian step by the Government.
As one of our representatives at the Council of Europe, I am party to writing a report on a common asylum policy for the 43 countries in the Council's family. It is an almighty task and I wonder how easy it will be to get Governments to agree once we have settled on a policy. Nevertheless, one of the fundamentals of the policy will be the rights of the child. Many of us have visited refugee camps in Macedonia, Bosnia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Those places offer little or no hope to the refugees and sometimes are not even places of safety.
I recently dealt with a family from Kosovo who were refugees in Macedonia. The mother was killed in a road accident in Kosovo. Her death was not connected with any action there. The father and his family were split up in Macedonia and he was put in a camp with his 13-year-old daughter, where she was raped. The father and the daughter got out of the camp, made their way across Europe and inevitably arrived in the United Kingdom. The father was detained on arrival and released fairly soon afterwards, but the daughter was put into the care of a local authority.
We are hearing now, however, that if those people were to arrive here in a few months, in the same circumstances, in all likelihood they would both be detained. The girl had already been through the most harrowing experiences that any child could contemplate, but under this measure she could have been faced with the possibility of being detained, even if only overnight. That is not a pretty picture.
Mr. Speaker and I were lucky enough yesterday to meet a dozen people from the Basque country. They came to the House of Commons to present to Mr. Speaker a plaque commemorating the efforts of our predecessors in 1937 to evacuate Basque children from the war against fascism to the safe haven of the United Kingdom. Those children came here in their hundreds, unaccompanied, and last night several of them, now elderly people, told Mr. Speaker and myself of their experiences.
One woman had seen her father hanged in the street and her mother raped and killed. Others talked about families being bombed and their homes being burnt out. Each of them had stories to tell, and each had an emotional and truly thankful respect for this country and for the fact that in 1937 we welcomed unaccompanied children, who were brought to this country through the efforts of a Member of this House and by the Royal Navy. Two of them ended up staying here because they had nothing to go back to; their families were killed in that civil war.
As a nation, we have a proud record of recognising that children have a special place in all our lives. We know that there are 6,000 unaccompanied children in this country, many of whom have come from the most harrowing circumstances in Africa, central and eastern Europe and the Balkans. They represent 6,000 individual tragedies. Many more children arrive here accompanied by one parent. Surely the Government are not suggesting that any of those children, even those who are unaccompanied, should be subjected to the trauma of possible detainment, even for a short period. That cannot be right.
My hon. Friend Simon Hughes made a point about the people who will be responsible for running the centres. It cannot be right that agency staff working for an as yet unknown operation will be able to recruit people, possibly without even training them properly, and then give them powers stronger than those currently available to the police and immigration officers. Surely the Government are not seriously suggesting that they will put such powers into the hands of an organisation over which Parliament will have little or no control and for which Ministers will probably deny liability if anything goes wrong.
Everyone agrees, I am sure, that the Government are right to try to tackle this issue. We must have policies that are clearly understood, and they must be firm but they must also be fair. They have to give people the chance to test the Government's case against them at the earliest possible opportunity. As hon. Members have said, we must ensure that we sign up to conventions on children's rights. We must then adhere to those conventions in responding to children's needs, and their rights must not be watered down. Those conventions must not be subsumed into legislation as though we can bypass obligations to which we have signed up and of which, as a nation, we should be proud.
We are obliged to ensure that we deal firmly and fairly, but also quickly, with asylum seekers. If people are to be detained for three months, surely it is not beyond the wit of the Government to come up with a system that allows people to have access to judicial comfort, either through a review of their case or through legal advice, and deals with asylum applications and the appeals process in a concentrated period. If people are to be detained because the Government believe that there are good reasons why they should not be on our streets, we have to have in place a system that can deal with their cases pretty quickly.
I am sure that everyone agrees with what the hon. Gentleman just said. Would he like to take this opportunity to condemn the words of Liberal Democrat councillor Frank Roderick, who said in a newsletter circulated a few weeks ago that the Government were proposing a "Prison Camp for Speke/Garston", adding:
"These are not genuine asylum seekers or legitimate immigrants which Labour are considering foisting on our area . . . illegal immigrants and asylum seekers whose applications have been rejected, instead of being immediately deported, are being herded into prison camps such as the one Labour is proposing for us."
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is absolutely outrageous that that Liberal Democrat councillor is calling for people's immediate deportation, presumably without allowing them any legal rights whatever?
The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to learn that those comments are news to me. This is the first time I have heard of them, but I certainly would not want to be a party to those suggestions. However, they have already been brought to the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey by the Minister, and my hon. Friend has undertaken to investigate the circumstances. Yesterday, Mike Gapes made an intervention that was far from helpful to the debate, and he has been equally unhelpful to today's debate by repeating something that is already in the public domain. He has brought a distasteful air to the debate by trying to score a silly political point rather than deal with the crux of the issue.
I echo the point that the debate was being conducted in a civilised manner and that the intervention by hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) lowered the tone considerably. If anyone should express regret about language used, we should start with the Home Secretary and his extremely unfortunate use of the word "swamping".
That is a helpful contribution, because it reminds the House of that unhelpful and rather sad event.
We have an obligation to children. I want the Minister to assure me that there are commitments on which the Government are not going to renege. I want an assurance that the comments made by Lord Rooker when he had responsibility for these matters in the other place will be adhered to. Furthermore, we must be assured that the arguments made about early access to judicial procedures have been heeded and that such access will be available. Anything short of those assurances will seriously undermine the nation's credibility not only inside the country, but outside.
We have had a wide-ranging debate and many hon. Members have made powerful speeches about points of concern. It underlines the fact that we are all interested in ensuring that we have a system that deals with vulnerable people not only fairly and quickly but firmly. I hope to be able to give assurances on many of the points made and to explain in more detail some of the background to the decisions that the Government have made and to our proposals.
I thank hon. Members for their support for new clause 9, which shows that we listened in Committee and that we have come back with appropriate changes. The changes in the Bill do not alter the types of people who are in removal or detention centres. It is the person who makes the decision about detention who is changed. Decisions are already made about families who are referred to detention centres. There has to be a choice in this matter. Whatever the reasons are for referring the principal member of a family to a detention centre, such decisions are not taken lightly, in terms of detention in the first instance, and also in terms of removal, which is a different matter. Separation of children from their families is not a road that we would want to take.
As I mentioned, it has already been suggested by the Scots Parliament cross-party group on refugees that community reporting is an alternative way of proceeding—a point that I am sure has been made by many others. The family would not be split up, but live in the community and report to the police with whatever frequency was deemed appropriate.
Of course, there are different options. I reiterate that there is always a presumption of granting temporary admission or release with reporting conditions. It is only in terms of detention from the outset, when there are strong grounds for believing that individuals would not comply or problems in identifying somebody, that such a course of action is taken.
All cases are usually reviewed within 24 hours by a more senior officer than the one who took the original decision. They are also reviewed administratively at monthly intervals, and progressively more senior levels in the immigration and nationality directorate or Immigration Advisory Service consider the decisions. Such decisions can change. For example, that may happen if it is felt that because an appeal is imminent, the likelihood of abscondence has lessened. During that period, there is always scope for the decision to be reviewed and the ability to apply for bail.
First, does the Minister accept that, as has been mentioned in other contexts, there is all the difference in the world between a decision being reviewed by another member of Government staff and its being reviewed by an independent member of the judiciary—a magistrate or judge? Secondly, she said that the Bill did not change whom we put in the centres, only who puts them there. In that case, there is no reason to change the name of detention centres. At the moment, it is accurate as they are used for detention, but the future name of "removal centre" is inaccurate, as some of the people who are held may not be removed.
I reiterate that the ability to apply for bail is included in the scenario. For people who are staying in removal centres because they are going to be removed, a very short period is involved, by and large, because removal directions will have been set. If somebody asks for judicial review of their removal directions, their stay will be prolonged. When such directions have been set, however, the time is relatively short, as some of the figures given by Mr. Hancock demonstrated.
My hon. Friend Mr. Dawson made a very important point about children in removal centres, or what are currently called detention centres. He said that his amendment might be deficient and that it was tabled at a late stage, but he made a powerful speech, and I hope that I will be able to give him some assurances.
Removal centres are subject to inspection by Her Majesty's inspector of prisons, and where educational facilities are present Ofsted will be involved in the inspection. As regards the Children Act 1989, the inspector of prisons has to ensure during inspections that the facilities offered are in line with the care that would be given under that Act. Obviously, we as a Government cannot instruct the inspector of prisons to make inspections, but thematic inspections, among others, will start in the near future. We are confident that no child in the centres would be denied human rights as guaranteed by the Human Rights Act 1998 and that they would receive adequate protection and a guarantee of their welfare.
The Minister says that there would be an inspection by Her Majesty's inspector of prisons. Would there be a facility for a visit and inspection by the local social services authority, which seems to be a far more appropriate body to consider the rights and needs of children than the prison inspector?
My understanding is that social services departments are given a specific responsibility under the Children Act to examine the children's welfare, and the prisons inspectorate does not fall within the ambit of the Act. Surely that issue must be resolved.
The provisions do not apply in that respect, but perhaps I can reassure my hon. Friend by saying that removal centre contractors work closely with local social services, and we expect them to continue to do so.
On the way in which centres are organised as regards family accommodation, such accommodation is entirely separate, secure and away from the remainder of the centre. There are education, care and play facilities, and professionals are involved in the care of the children. We envisage that that will continue in any new facilities.
The amendment tabled by Mr. Malins deals with the length of time for which people could be detained in removal centres. It would create an explicit requirement to detain a person for no more than a "reasonable period". Although there is no express requirement in legislation to detain persons for no more than the "reasonable period" necessary in the circumstances of each case, domestic and European convention on human rights jurisprudence is clear and well established on that point, as the hon. Gentleman said.
The power to detain may be exercised only for the specific purpose authorised by the statute. Detention is permitted only for as long as is reasonably necessary for that specific authorised purpose and the detaining authority must act with due diligence to pursue it. The principle is well understood and we therefore do not believe that it needs to be stated in the Bill.
I want to consider the issue of renaming detention centres "removal centres". Renaming the centres will reinforce the key role that detention plays in removing those who have no lawful basis for staying here. It does not signal a change of function for centres. Hon. Members have argued for a separation of those who are detained from those who are detained pending removal. However, we do not believe that it is feasible to make that sort of distinction in the centres. Removal centres will always need to be used in other circumstances and at other points in the process when we have power to detain.
Yes. It may be necessary for removal centres to contain such people. That currently happens, and we are changing not the purpose of the centres but the name, to reflect the process more clearly. As hon. Members know, that fits an overall plan of ensuring that we have a clearer idea of people's position throughout the process. Hon. Members must consider the changes in the context of the other changes, such as trialling accommodation centres, and trying to establish a system whereby we can keep in touch throughout the process with people who seek asylum. The process must be firm and fair from beginning to end. If we believe that there is a danger of people absconding or if facilities are necessary for identifying people when there are problems, it is important that we have the ability to deal with that. Separation is not feasible.
I appreciate the Minister's clarification that she expects removal centres to contain a mix of people. What will happen if a removal centre is full of people awaiting determination of their asylum application or appeals, and others who are about to be removed cannot get in to the centres? Many people fear that everyone will end up in a removal centre, based on the premise that the result of their application is removal.
I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman is right. When removal directions are made, removal will often be quick. Sometimes it will be almost immediate. There will, however, be a fairly fast turnaround of those who have had their removal directions set, as the hon. Gentleman's figures showed. We are seeking to expand the present system. The whole idea of these plans is to make the process speedier, so that people and appeals can be dealt with more quickly. We need, therefore, to ensure that the estate—removal centres, accommodation centres and so on—is adequate to provide the places that are needed.
I have two factual questions. First, will the Minister tell us the projected numbers of those who will have finished all their processes and who are being detained, but with their removal planned, compared with the percentage of people who will not have reached that stage, and who will therefore not be guaranteed removal because that may not be the outcome of their appeal? What will be the balance between the two? Secondly, on the name question, are not the Minister and her colleagues giving the game away? This is all about image, about looking tougher, and about sending messages—it does not matter if they are wrong or misleading. This is simply about trying to make the Government sound more and more right wing, hard-line and unsympathetic. That must be what it is about; otherwise the change would not be necessary.
No, it is not about that. This is about establishing a better system, which the hon. Gentleman knows we have to do. He is only too aware that these measures need to be taken to make the system more efficient. Refugees who have been waiting a long time for their status to be confirmed come to my surgeries. They have been through very difficult circumstances, and it is incumbent on us to ensure that we have a system that allows those with genuine claims to get through it quickly. I do not accept that this is simply about window dressing. It is about establishing a proper system and ensuring that we can speed up the process.
Unfortunately, I am losing the Minister. I would like to know why the change of name from "detention centre" to "removal centre" will speed the process up. She has said nothing to convince me that simply changing the name will make the process any quicker.
Obviously the hon. Gentleman and the Government will have to differ on this matter.
I hope that I have been able to give some reassurance in some of my answers, particularly those on children in these situations. The provisions in this part of the Bill do not change the situation for the people in removal centres; they change the people who make the decisions in these circumstances. That is the extent of the provisions. I believe that there are adequate safeguards to address the concerns that hon. Members have raised, and I hope, therefore, that they will consider not pressing their amendments to a vote.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.