Immigration Centre Detainees: Pay - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:01 pm on 4th July 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Immigration) 3:01 pm, 4th July 2017

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to review rates of pay for work undertaken by immigration centre detainees.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, paid work is provided in immigration removal centres as a means to meet the recreational and intellectual needs of detainees and to relieve boredom. The work is not compulsory. All policies and processes are kept under review, and an internal review of the rate of pay of detainees is under way.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Immigration)

My Lords, does the Minister accept the irony of providing menial, albeit voluntary, work—as she says, it is to meet detainees’ recreational and intellectual needs and provide relief from boredom—when asylum seekers are not allowed to work at all? Is the rate of £1 an hour for people who have committed no crime something that as a society we can be proud of?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, it is important to recognise that immigration detainees have lawfully had their right to work in the UK, if indeed they ever had one, curtailed by virtue of an immigration decision or by the decision to detain them. Therefore, their position regarding pay rights is not the same as for people who are not subject to immigration detention.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, a freedom of information request to the Home Office in 2014 apparently found that in May that year hundreds of detainees had been paid £45,438 for 44,832 hours of work. If that work were not done by detainees in the immigration centre “volunteering”, as the Government seem to describe it, presumably it would have to be done in total or in part by paid staff of Serco or whoever is running the centre. If the figures I have cited for one month are correct, that suggests that the saving from using detainees at £1 per hour, compared to paying employed staff on the minimum wage, would be in the region of £300,000 a month. Who gets the benefit of this apparently considerable financial saving each month? Is it the Government or the firm running the immigration centre who reap that financial benefit?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, it is important to recognise that the work undertaken is entirely voluntary. It is not to supplement the work of the contractors. Contractually, the IRC providers must make a minimum number of opportunities available for detainees to participate voluntarily in this paid activity. As I explained to the noble Baroness, detainees’ position regarding pay rights is not the same as for those who are not in detention.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, perhaps I can give the Minister another opportunity to answer the Labour Front Bench question. Can she confirm that most of the immigration centres are run by private companies, in which case, what happens to the additional profit that these companies make from employing inmates at £1 an hour instead of employing someone on at least the minimum wage to do the same tasks?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, I have to repeat myself: people are not compelled to work; it is entirely voluntary. The money that they are paid is not in line with rates of pay for the non-detention population and therefore is entirely different. The work is not there to prop up these private companies’ profits, but they are obliged to make these opportunities available should detainees wish to avail themselves of them.

Photo of Baroness Boothroyd Baroness Boothroyd Crossbench

My Lords, the question being asked is: who benefits? That was the original question to which we are all waiting to hear the answer.

Oh!

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, can my noble friend kindly tell us, if the volunteers did not volunteer, would the work be done and, if so, by whom?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, if the volunteers did not volunteer, there would be no problem. The fact is that they want to do this work, and therefore work is provided for them.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour

Surely they want to do the work because it is the only way they can get any money. In the leaked document, it was suggested that £1 an hour seems high. On what criteria does the Home Office believe that £1 is high pay for an hour of a person’s labour?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

I will repeat it again: this money is not a wage as the ordinary working population would see it. It is being reviewed, as I am sure that the noble Baroness knows, and that review will report at the end of the year.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Liberal Democrat

My Lords, is the Minister really satisfied that the recipients are not allowed to work for 12 months? After that time of boredom, I imagine that they would volunteer for anything. I have asked this question a thousand times: is it not time that the Government reduced that period to, say, six months or nothing? Also, the payment of £36.95 a week has been in place for at least six years. Is it not time that the Government looked again at the whole situation?

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department

My Lords, while someone is claiming asylum, they are not a citizen of this country, and it is through this process that it is determined whether they can stay in this country or need to be removed. The detention process is part of this. Detention is not done on a routine basis; it is the last resort.