Report (1st Day)

Part of Immigration Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 1st April 2014.

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Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench 4:00 pm, 1st April 2014

My Lords, in returning to the amendment, I shall concentrate on developments since it was debated in Committee. In his letter of 10 March to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, the Minister wrote that the reasonable force measure in Schedule 1 relates solely to immigration officers, and existing safeguards mean that force may be used only by officers who are fully trained and accredited to do so. He also wrote that all contractors were required to comply with current legislation, rules and guidance and that:

Home Office monitoring teams ensure that there are robust systems in place for monitoring escort and detention providers, to ensure service delivery and accountability”.

When I was Chief Inspector of Prisons, I used to warn Home Secretaries and prison Ministers that there was a world of difference between the facts that I was giving them, based on what had been seen during inspections, and the fudge that was too often given to them by officials based on what it was alleged that they wanted to hear. Real improvement can be made only if it is based on fact, and I believe that one of the main reasons for so little consistent or significant improvement in the conduct of imprisonment is that too many Ministers have preferred fudge to fact. My successor had a more eloquent way of putting that, calling the prisons described by officials to Ministers “virtual”.

Having studied the enforced removals process for a number of years, I have to say to the Minister that there is more virtual than fact in what was drafted for him to write and that until and unless the whole enforced removal process is taken by the scruff of the neck, re-examined and revamped, it will continue to cause avoidable ministerial embarrassment and bring shame on the good name of this country.

Before I raised the amendment in Committee, I wrote to the Minister drawing his attention to the report of the National Independent Commission into Enforced Removals that I chaired in 2012, following the death of Jimmy Mubenga while under restraint from three G4S detainee custody officers in an aircraft at Heathrow. Noble Lords will no doubt have noted that, since Committee, the Crown Prosecution Service has brought charges of manslaughter against these three, following a verdict of unlawful killing by the inquest jury. In view of what we learnt during the commission, I have to admit that I found the Crown Prosecution Service’s earlier refusal to prefer charges perverse. However, now that the CPS has done its U-turn, I hope that the questions which this tragic affair asks of the current enforced removals process will at last persuade Ministers that it is in need of urgent attention.

To assist with this, I also sent the Minister a copy of a draft code of practice that I and my fellow commissioners had drawn up. I suggested that the draft code might be considered with advantage by Home Office officials outside the timetable of the Bill, and said that I and my colleagues would be only too delighted to assist with that consideration. The failings described in our report were not new and had been drawn to the attention of the Home Office a number of times by many people over the years. Furthermore, the coroner who conducted the inquest into the 16 year- old Gareth Myatt, who died in Rainsbrook secure training centre in 2004 at the hands of G4S employees, had ordered the Home Office to publicise the dangers inherent in the restraint technique that subsequently was used, again by G4S employees, on Jimmy Mubenga. I must ask the Minister: was its use ever monitored by a Home Office team?

In setting about such a revamp, the Home Office has a priceless asset in the current Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, who keeps on turning up examples of bad practice that have gone unchecked for years. Only last Thursday, he published a damning report on his inspection of the emergency travel-document process highlighting, inter alia, that the quality assurance process set up by the Home Office was not standardised, nor did it have an audit trail. He also reported that 78% of the cases of those in contact with the Home Office were not actually being worked on and that 11% of the inspectorate’s chosen sample had been granted some form of residency or leave to remain and so should not even have been in the removal pool. He also drew attention to something that I have often raised in this House, namely the detention of too many foreign national offenders in immigration detention centres for long periods after they have completed their prison sentences—the average time being 523 avoidably expensive days. Not least to save money, documentation should be completed during their imprisonment so that they can be deported the moment that that imprisonment ends.

There are two reasons why I am raising this amendment again. First, I thank the Minister for meeting me, along with the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and officials, to discuss the draft code of practice, and for a subsequent meeting last week that was also attended by the Immigration Minister, James Brokenshire MP. I also commend the Minister for the assiduous way in which he has set about educating himself on the issues involved, not only by visiting Harmondsworth but by accompanying a return flight, during which he saw at first hand the demands made on detainee custody officers in what is never an easy exercise, and the problems caused by failure to pass on legal judgments. I am sorry, but I simply do not believe that courts make these judgments at 3 am, and the upheaval of taking a returnee and his luggage off a flight confirm that both the bureaucratic and removal parts of the process need attention.

My second reason for moving the amendment is to ensure that what I and my commission have offered, as well as the Minister’s response to our proposal that a code of practice be drawn up and adopted, is recorded in Hansard so that both can be followed up. I know that the Home Office has appointed a commission to examine and authorise restraint techniques, though I regret that it continued the Home Office practice of calling on inappropriate Prison Service advice because restraint techniques are not used by detainee custody officers in custodial settings. It is almost a year since I and some of my fellow commissioners gave evidence to it, and I look forward to hearing when it will report. The Minister has also been kind enough to offer me the opportunity of visiting the new training arrangements that I understand are now being developed, which I look forward to doing.

I therefore ask him to consider redrafting paragraph 5 of Schedule 1, because the force used currently by immigration officers is neither clearly defined nor reasonable. I beg to move.