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G4S: Immigration Removal Centres

Volume 640: debated on Tuesday 8 May 2018

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the renewal of G4S’s contract to run the Brook House and Tinsley House immigration removal centres.

The Government have agreed a short-term continuation of G4S’s contract to run the Gatwick immigration removal centres while further work is carried out to identify a long-term manager. The Home Office will launch a further, full competition later this year, after the outcome of two independent reviews. The contract for the management of Brook House and Tinsley House, which was due to expire this month, was put out for tender in November 2016. However, after careful consideration of the bids, it was decided that G4S would continue with the contract for a further two years. This will provide sufficient time to reflect on the two independent reviews’ conclusions, conduct a new procurement exercise, and mobilise the successful provider. As with any procurement process, the Home Office has undertaken a robust evaluation of all bids, supported by a comprehensive due diligence process.

I recognise that the Government have taken this decision against the backdrop of the BBC “Panorama” programme on Brook House, which was broadcast in autumn last year. The previous Home Secretary made it clear at the time that the behaviour on display from some G4S staff was utterly unacceptable and set out our expectation that G4S would take urgent action to address the serious issues the programme uncovered. G4S has put in place a comprehensive action plan and this has quickly delivered improvements at Brook House. My right hon. Friend the Immigration Minister has met G4S to review progress, and visited the two Gatwick centres on 18 January.

Detaining those who are here illegally and who refuse to leave voluntarily is key to maintaining an effective immigration system. But regardless of status, all immigration detainees must be treated with dignity and respect. Please be assured that we will always demand the highest standards from those we entrust with the safety and welfare of those in detention.

Is the Minister aware of the concern that the Government put out news of the renewal of the G4S contract on the Friday between local elections and a bank holiday? There must be a suspicion that the Government were hoping to escape scrutiny—the fact that the contract was renewed at all is an even greater scandal.

The Minister mentioned the “Panorama” programme, but is she aware of a whole list of scandals in which G4S has been involved? In 2016, the BBC’s “Panorama” programme also uncovered alleged abuse and mistreatment of youngsters at a G4S youth detention centre; in November 2017, an independent report found surging levels of violence were “unsafe”; another G4S facility, HMP Birmingham, was hit by riots in December 2016; and G4S was fined at least 100 times for breaching its contract to run prisons between 2010 and 2016. There is also the very well-known case of father of five Jimmy Mubenga, who died under restraint on a British Airways plane while being deported. Several witnesses said he was held down in his seat for more than half an hour by G4S guards. His cries that he could not breathe were ignored until he actually stopped breathing. A 2011 inquest ruled his death unlawful. We have seen with the Windrush scandal that the public want an immigration system that is fair and efficient, and that bears down on illegal immigration, but they also want an immigration system that is humane. Many will feel that, given what people know about G4S’s record, renewing this contract, even for two years, is not commensurate with a humane system of dealing with migrants.

I thank the right hon. Lady for the urgent question. Let me reassure her that the decision to re-award the contract was taken during purdah and so we announced this on the first available opportunity after polling day on Thursday—the announcement was made on Friday. I hope that assuages her concerns as to why this has not happened more timeously. I am very conscious that I am being scrutinised here in the House, so I do not think the Government can be accused of escaping scrutiny.

As for the re-procurement process, it is precisely because we want to ensure that the long-term contract for these centres is dealt with in the way we expect that we have put in place this short-term continuation, for a period of two years. That will enable us to consider carefully the results of the independent reviews conducted by Stephen Shaw and Kate Lampard, and then build the procurement process. At the risk of striking a tone that is unusual to hear in the Chamber, we can agree across the House that we wish to have an immigration system that respects those who abide by the rules and that treats people fairly and with dignity and respect.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there are serious challenges in both the immigration and the prison custodial sectors, whether run publicly or privately? I wish to go immediately from here to listen to a discussion on substance misuse in prisons that is being held by the drugs, alcohol and justice cross-party parliamentary group. If, like me, my hon. Friend has read the annual report of Brook House IRC’s independent monitoring board, she will have seen that the board in no way at all came to the same conclusions about the merits of G4S as the right hon. Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott).

I note that the independent monitoring board report noted the commitment of staff to the provision of a safe environment and included recommendations to improve the safeguarding of vulnerable detainees. Shortly, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration will write to the chairman of the independent monitoring board, because that board plays such an important part. It is made up of members of the public who independently review these institutions, as similar boards review institutions across other parts of the immigration and prison system. Their role is so important in ensuring that the rules and standards that we expect are maintained by those who are entrusted with such responsibility.

The independent monitoring board also found that the use of force against people in Brook House increased by more than 160% in the two years between 2015 and 2017. Was the Home Secretary aware of that finding in the independent monitoring board’s report before he announced the renewal of G4S’s contract? If so, why did he renew it? These immigration detainees are not criminals, and there is growing anger at the Government’s policy of detaining them in detention centres without any fixed time limit. Will the Minister commit now to allowing Parliament a vote on this inhumane and unjust policy?

The new Home Secretary has reviewed the evidence put before him and agreed with the short-term extension of the contract. We are clear that, following the two reviews that we hope will report over the next few months, we will be able to ensure that the procurement process meets the expectations of the House and of those outside it.

On G4S, as soon as the “Panorama” programme was aired, the Government set out clear expectations in our action plan. We have carried out a range of actions to meet the expectations set in that action plan, including improved training for staff and enhanced staffing levels, with recruitment and training plans in place.

I commend the Minister for the Government’s having taken swift action following the appalling “Panorama” programme. These immigration centres contain many vulnerable people. Feltham young offenders institution became the first autism accredited penal establishment in the world, and it found that that helped greatly. Will the Minister look into the possibility of rolling out that programme, particularly across the immigration estate, so that we can develop and implement standards by which we can protect vulnerable people in a custodial environment?

Of course, my right hon. Friend has campaigned effectively for a long time on the importance of recognising autism and how we should treat it. Stephen Shaw set out in his 2015 report his concerns about adults who were vulnerable or at risk in the custodial environment. Indeed, that is why he has been commissioned to write a second report—a follow-up review—on the welfare of vulnerable detainees. I very much look forward to reading that report and its conclusions in due course.

How much did the abortive tender process cost the taxpayer, and were there any bidders, other than G4S, for the initial contract when it was offered up for renewal?

With regard to the original procurement process, due diligence was conducted, as would be expected, after the bids were received. In the light of the “Panorama” programme, further due diligence was conducted, and, as a result of further due diligence into the process, the Government have decided that the procurement process should be reopened so that all the actors in this field can take into account the two reviews that we are awaiting this year.

Where there is bad practice, it is important that staff are empowered to speak out. Will my hon. Friend tell me what G4S is doing to ensure that secure whistleblowing procedures are in place?

That is one of the requirements in the action plan that the Government set G4S after the programme. We are very clear that whistleblowers are essential to ensuring that problems are brought to light effectively and quickly. As part of the action plan, G4S has reinforced its whistleblowing policy. All staff have been issued with cards featuring telephone numbers to enable them to raise concerns confidentially, and following work with the Jill Dando Institute, G4S has trained staff to become “speak out” champions, promoting and embedding the message that whistleblowing is not just desirable, but a clear expectation when unacceptable behaviour is witnessed. In addition, there is also the introduction of body-worn cameras, which serve, I hope, to reassure the House and others that there is transparency and that, if there are allegations, we can very quickly get to the truth of them.

I welcome the fact that this is a time-limited renewal. The Minister will know that many of those who are detained in these centres are there following the refusal of their applications for asylum. She will have seen the report on the BBC website today where one Home Office caseworker describes that system as being “arbitrary” in its outcomes. When it comes to the point that we renew this contract, or whatever follows it after the reviews, will the Minister give us some guarantee that we will look at not just the detention but the whole system that leads people to that point?

The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that, last week, the Home Secretary set out in two statements before the House his vision for immigration policy and the principles that he expects to be applied to immigration policy. Taking into account the reviews that are being conducted, I am sure that those principles will be very much at the forefront of his mind.

What is the mode, the mean and the median time spent by the existing cohort of detainees at the Gatwick detention centres?

I think that I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his question. Let me just put the matter into context: 95% of individuals liable to removal from the UK at any one time are not detained and are therefore managed in the community. With regard to the time that people spend in detention, 63% of detainees left detention in under 29 days in 2017 and 92% left within four months.

Following the Brook House scandal, I asked the Cabinet Office whether G4S had been considered for designation as a high-risk supplier, but I was stonewalled with the answer that such information is not published. Given that what we saw at Brook House was an appalling, comprehensive and systemic management failure, will the Minister explain what constitutes high risk?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand that I am not privy to that set of correspondence between him and the relevant Minister. The action plan put in place with G4S was demanding. Indeed, out of that plan, a new manager was appointed, nine members of staff were dismissed and a range of measures were put in place with regards to staffing levels, body-worn cameras, training and whistleblowing procedures. The company’s drug strategy was also improved as part of the action plan to try to get to the nub of what was shown in “Panorama”, but I want to be absolutely clear that the actions shown in that programme were simply unacceptable.

In the Windrush debate, I think that there is now a growing recognition on all sides that our immigration policy needs to show that it balances humanity with a robust ability to deal with those who are here illegally. The contract with G4S was a short-term award, but does my hon. Friend agree that, when the contract is awarded on a long-term basis, those bidding must demonstrate that they understand that and can deliver it?

Very much so. The competition will be a free and fair one, in that bidders will be expected to show that they can meet the expectations of the Government and others when it comes to quality, financial stability and price.

Incidents of serious violence and cover-ups in G4S-run institutions such as Medway secure training centre go back at least 15 years. Indeed, G4S sold what it called its children’s services business, which seemed like an admission of failure on its part. Why, then, would the Government give the company an extra two-year contract? What other ideas did they consider? Did they think about taking the service back in-house, as they have done in previous cases of failure by private providers?

The hon. Gentleman talks about simply taking matters back in-house, but we have to acknowledge the complexity of providing services to people who often have vulnerabilities. When these people are in the centres, they may well be pursuing live claims on their immigration status themselves. Given the need to continue to provide these services at the standards that we expect, the view was taken that we would extend the current contract by two years, thus enabling a proper procurement process to occur in the light of the two reviews and allowing a decision on the next contract to be taken in good time and with care.

Where there is bad practice, it is of course important that staff who witness it feel empowered to speak out. How has the Minister satisfied herself that G4S has appropriate whistleblowing procedures in place to allow that to happen?

The need for G4S drastically to improve its whistleblowing procedures was part of the action plan. As I have set out already, G4S has taken various steps, including embedding the culture of making available telephone numbers that enable people to raise their concerns confidentially and training staff to be “speak out” champions—promoting and embedding the expectation that staff will speak out. In addition, body-worn cameras help to take the burden from people who may be worried about reporting. Of course, the independent monitoring board has an important role in ensuring that there are people who inspect and are monitoring the behaviour of the staff and organisations in this world.

There was a criminal investigation following the scandal highlighted by “Panorama”. Will the Minister tell us what happened following that investigation? Have people been punished? May I also press her on the question of this House having a vote, so that this country can be brought in line with other European nations where there is a 28-day statutory limit on the time for which people can be held in such facilities? Far too many people detained in such facilities should be in the community, not in detention centres.

On the hon. Lady’s query about police investigations, allegations were passed to the police. I understand that there is one case where an investigation is ongoing. I cannot assist the House further on that, I am afraid. Indeed, given that that is the case, perhaps I should not be commenting on it anyway.

On the wider point about time limits, this is a matter that the Home Office reviews and looks into very carefully. The vast majority of people who challenge the requirement to remove them under their right to remain status are in the community already. The fact that most detainees left detention in under 29 days should, I hope, offer her some comfort, but of course we must always look at how we can improve that figure further.

The Minister will have heard from all parts of the House the shock at these revelations. Bearing that in mind, will she confirm that there have been substantial changes to the practices at Brook House since these revelations have come to light and set out what oversight the Government will have over G4S during the contract extension period?

I thank my hon. Friend for his interest. An action plan was put in place that included appointing a new manager and dismissing nine staff, enhancing staffing levels with recruitment and training plans, introducing body-worn cameras for staff to provide more transparency and assurance, refreshing and promoting whistleblowing procedures, putting in place an improved drugs strategy, and commissioning an independent review led by Kate Lampard to look at the root causes of the issues highlighted that is expected to report this summer. In addition, the Home Office monitors this continuously. Indeed, the Home Office has strengthened its staff numbers at the centres to try to help on a casework basis people who may wish to return voluntarily.

G4S’s performance in how it delivers public contracts is woefully inadequate, and not only in the Prison Service. G4S runs the transport service for my local hospital. Last week, I had to go to rescue a 94-year-old relative from a discharge area full of patients who had been waiting over five hours for G4S to turn up, and this is a regular occurrence. I am a governor of a school where G4S consistently fails to deliver on the school maintenance contract. When are the Government going to get a grip and deal with G4S, because there is something fundamentally wrong at the heart of this company?

G4S is held to account not just by the Home Office but centrally through Cabinet Office reporting requirements. The new procurement process will provide a basis for further progress on all these issues, and the progress of G4S will continue to be monitored very closely.

Morton Hall in my constituency is an immigration removal centre facing significant challenges and issues. Will my hon. Friend update the House on what is being done to improve immigration removal centres including not just Brook House but Morton Hall?

My hon. Friend will know of the issues in her own constituency. Morton Hall is in a slightly different category because it is run by the Prison Service and not by G4S. That reflects the fact that these are people who are being detained in a prison environment awaiting their removal. The Government take very seriously the treatment of people whose immigration status is not to their liking and who have appeals and so on in the process. The fact that the vast majority of people who are liable to removal from the UK are in the community being dealt with through alternatives to detention should, I hope, give comfort to the House.

If “Panorama” shocked the nation with its depiction of racial abuse and choking of detainees at Brook House, the collapse of Carillion like a pack of cards has exposed that the outsourcing model is failing our public services. Why are the Government persisting with this course of action, or on a sunny pre-bank holiday filled with local election results, did they think no one would notice?

I can only assume that the hon. Lady was not in the Chamber when the shadow Home Secretary asked me that question. The answer is that the decision was taken during the purdah period, so the announcement was made on the first available day after purdah. Again, I reflect on the fact that I am standing here at the Dispatch Box being scrutinised.

The fact is that there is a role for private sector involvement in the delivery of services, as long as we ensure that it is about delivering the best public services at the best value for money. I remind the House that this is not a new thing; it did not come about in 2015 or 2017. Private companies have been helping the Government to deliver various services since the 1990s, including under a Labour Government.

May I say to the Minister that this is an urgent question, not a statement that she has come to the House to make? She has been brought here to answer questions. G4S seems to be able to fail in a variety of contracts, without any consequences at all. There have been failures in prisons, electronic tagging, secure units and now immigration detention centres. When are the Government going to get a grip and sort this out?

As I have said, the Government are awaiting the two reviews that are being conducted, and we will consider those results very carefully. The re-procurement process will be started afresh, and from that, expectations will be set and standards will have to be met.

Before I call the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), I say not for the first time, and I am sure not for the last, that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) is correct: this is indeed an urgent question, and on the principle that the House and perhaps those attending to our proceedings like to have a bit of extra information, I can vouchsafe to all present that this is the 465th urgent question that I have been pleased to grant.

I have to say to the Minister that a two-year extension—what she calls a “short” extension—to the contract will seem to many like a reward to G4S for its failure. If she is now reopening and rerunning the tendering process, will she take the opportunity to do that in tandem with a review of the tendering and provision of healthcare services in immigration detention centres, which seem to be woefully inadequate to meet the needs of the very vulnerable detainees who have been mentioned this afternoon?

May I explain the reason why two years has been settled upon? The Home Office has taken the view that that is the minimum period required realistically to revisit the specification, to run a full and legally compliant procurement process, to complete all the relevant governance processes and to mobilise the new services. That timetable is not unusual for a procurement of this sort of value. I will ask the Immigration Minister to write to her on the question about healthcare.