Aldington: Proposed Immigrant Detention Centre

– in the House of Lords at 2:45 pm on 19 June 2000.

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Photo of Lord Deedes Lord Deedes Conservative 2:45, 19 June 2000

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What considerations led to the establishment of an asylum centre for 350 people with 200 staff in the village of Aldington.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

My Lords, the former Aldington prison buildings had come to the end of their useful life. The redevelopment of Aldington as an immigration detention centre providing 300 places is an excellent opportunity to make effective use of Crown land in a good location in proximity to major ports in the South East and to motorway systems. The development will allow the return to Prison Service use of the 198 beds currently occupied by detainees at Rochester prison.

Photo of Lord Deedes Lord Deedes Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I declare an interest as I live in the village. Does it make sense to impose on a village with a population of less than 1,000 a total of some 550 people in what has been a prison? What kind of traffic problems will arise? What harm is there in using the ample barrack space that exists in the county?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

My Lords, we may well have recourse to barrack space at some stage. At this point, we seek to use the buildings of a former, and long-established, prison camp; I believe it started out as a prisoner of war camp. This is Crown land. The centre will provide just 300 new detention places, and we believe that the proposal represents extremely good value for money. I remind the noble Lord that exactly this policy of using detention centres was adopted by his own party. Were we to adopt it to the extent that noble Lords opposite wish, we should be building some 50 detention centres each with 500 beds, at considerable cost to the public purse--estimated to be between £1 billion and £2 billion. This detention centre will greatly aid our exercise in the south-east of England. It will take pressure off Rochester prison and ensure that those detained are located close to places of departure such as local ports and airports.

Photo of Lord Avebury Lord Avebury Liberal Democrat

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that Aldington is used only for short-stay detention and that, after decisions are made, if an applicant wishes to exercise his right of appeal he is transferred to a different detention centre? What is the average length of stay at Aldington, and what are the statistics so far regarding the number of people on whom decisions have been made and who are granted leave to remain or whose application is rejected? How many are transferred to other detention centres?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

My Lords, Aldington is not currently in use; it is at the planning stage. The site consists of ex-prison buildings. The Government have a planning application in place with Ashford Borough Council for 300 places. We are going through the planning process. We have been in discussion with Ashford Borough Council since the middle of last year in an attempt to bring the buildings into use. The intention is that Aldington would be used in the period leading up to the point when detainees are deported.

Photo of Baroness Trumpington Baroness Trumpington Conservative

My Lords, did the Minister answer the question about overloading a very small village such as Aldington? Is it too late to consider using the former barracks at Walmer? They would serve the purpose just as well, and there would be no disturbance to a small, rather remote population?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

My Lords, perhaps I may return to the question of Aldington itself. A prison existed there until recently, so Aldington is accustomed to such buildings. The prison was used extensively to house criminals convicted of a range of offences of varying degrees of seriousness.

To go back to the supplementary question put by the noble Lord, Lord Deedes, we believe that there will be minimal traffic disturbance. Clearly, that is one of the issues to which Ashford Borough Council must give careful attention when it considers the application. However, the signs are that we have answered most, if not all, of the council's concerns.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House how many jobs will be created at Aldington if this scheme goes ahead? Can my noble friend also confirm that the detainees will not be given cars with which they can clog up the roads?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

My Lords, I take it that my noble friend's second point is intended to be facetious. As to jobs, we estimate that between 150 and 200 will be created. However, I shall write to my noble friend and provide more precise details.

Photo of Lord Renton Lord Renton Conservative

My Lords, is there not a big difference between a number of people who are confined in a prison located in a village and a number of people who are free to walk about and in effect represent a big invasion of the village?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

My Lords, it is our intention that for the time that these people remain at Aldington they will be detained. I do not believe that in this instance there is a difference between their presence at Aldington and the confinement of prisoners there at an earlier stage.

Photo of Lord Cope of Berkeley Lord Cope of Berkeley Conservative

My Lords, in view of the Minister's earlier remark about our policy, is he aware that its purpose is to speed up the process of dealing with applications so as to deter bogus asylum seekers? In view of the mess which the dispersal policy has created, of which this is just one example, can the Minister give his reaction to the recent highly critical report of the Audit Commission?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

My Lords, I entirely understand the concerns and criticisms of the Audit Commission, but many of them have already been met. That report focused on the voluntary dispersal system, not the Government's new statutory approach. We are content that our arrangements are working effectively. If the noble Lord looks at the report he will see that this Administration is taking more decisions on asylum matters and deporting more people whose claims are unfounded, and that the new legislation is beginning to have effect. I believe that we have turned the tide of the problem in terms of taking decisions and ensuring that people who arrive in this country are here properly.

Photo of Lady Saltoun of Abernethy Lady Saltoun of Abernethy Crossbench

My Lords, will the 200 staff be recruited locally or imported from elsewhere?

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

My Lords, my surmise is that the staff will be a mixture of people who are locally recruited and those with previous experience of dealing with this difficult and sensitive area who have to be brought in from elsewhere.