‘(6) An individual detained under subsections (1) and (2) above may not be detained for longer than six months.’.
This is another probing amendment, which was tabled in the same spirit as the amendments to clause 28. It would mean that the Secretary of State could hold a person for only six months after the end of their prison sentence while considering a decision on what the Bill still calls automatic deportation. We hope that it will act as a spur on Ministers to ensure that the extra resources that have already been put into the IND will be enough to ensure that nobody stays in prison for more than six months after the end of their sentence before being deported.
The importance of the provision almost goes without saying for many reasons, among which are, first and straightforwardly, the increasing waste of public money that results from keeping people in prison who should not be in this country; and secondly, and increasingly topically, the effect of the extra overcrowding in an already overcrowded prison estate. That is a problem for the prisoners themselves, as has been shown in several ways in recent months. It also spills over, hugely dramatically and unfortunately, to the immigration removal estate. Only last week there were more disturbances at one of the centres and at the end of last year the Harmondsworth centre was so seriously damaged that it had to be evacuated.
People in the immigration removal service have told me, as they will have told Ministers even more forcefully, that putting large numbers of people who have committed offences that are bad enough to be jailed for into immigration removal centres is extremely bad for all concerned. Inevitably, it makes the centres much more like jails than they would otherwise be and forces those who may have committed only an immigration offence to mix with hardened criminals, which is deeply unfortunate for them. Of course, it is also unfortunate for the staff involved, who are not particularly trained to look after and control such people. For all sorts of reasons, both in the IND and for wider reasons of good order, getting over the crisis of foreign prisoners is one of the most essential tasks that Ministers face. The purpose of the amendment is both to probe and to act as a spur, so that the Bill would state that it is unacceptable simply to keep people locked up while the processes to enable them to be deported are gone through.
As with previous amendments, I am not urging the Minister to do anything that he does not want to do. I am sure that he passionately wishes the amendment was unnecessary because the deportation system was moving so smoothly that there were no problems. Sadly, we know that there are, and that they are continuing. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say.