Report (1st Day)

Part of Immigration Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 1st April 2014.

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Photo of Lord Ramsbotham Lord Ramsbotham Crossbench 4:45 pm, 1st April 2014

My Lords, I have added my name to the amendment because I absolutely agree with everything that has been said about unlimited detention, which is hinted at. First, I salute the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, for the powerful and eloquent way in which she moved the amendment, and I salute the power with which my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd of Berwick and the noble Lords, Lord Roberts and Lord Judd, have supported it.

I have three things to add. Recently, I have been privileged to be a member of a Select Committee of the House on soft power, chaired most admirably by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. One of the most powerful witness statements I remember listening to was by the high commissioner for Mozambique, who described the qualities that encouraged Mozambique to apply to join the Commonwealth. In particular, it was the qualities of Britishness, headed by the rule of law. The fact that that made so much of an impression on him and is why Mozambique made such a change suggests that we go against our reputation for the rule of law at our peril when we are trying desperately to think about how we project our image in the emerging world of the 21st century.

I used to inspect detention centres and they always worried me. They were bleak places, not designed for holding people for long periods. They were originally designed for only very short periods while documentation was checked. They are neither one thing nor the other. There is nothing to occupy people, and of course that is not good over time. Nor are they good at short-term holding, which is why we wait to hear what will happen about the short-term holding facilities so urgently required. The other thing about them is their staff. The trouble with the staff in such places is that they tend to turn over extremely quickly. They cannot communicate with the people there, and they cannot provide anything other than the normal meals and so on. They can provide none of the succour. Remember that the people there have come under some form of mental turmoil. The other thing that always worried me about detention centres is the absence of the proper medical treatment—in particular, mental health treatment—that so many of the people in them require, especially under the strain and stress of being held for an uncertain period while their circumstances are investigated.

Thirdly, at Second Reading a number of noble Lords drew attention to the millstone of the 500,000 unresolved cases with which the Home Office is currently faced. They said that until and unless that backlog is removed, you will never have a system where it is possible to process things and people quickly. That requires urgent remedial action. I should like to make certain that, in future, the stimulus of having to complete cases within a period of time is applied to the system so that we are never able to build up such a backlog again. That is bad not only for the system and the people concerned but also for the staff, who in no way can help people by giving them some indication of when and how they might be released from what they are doing.