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Asylum and Immigration: Detainees

Volume 700: debated on Wednesday 26 March 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they will provide an independent review system for immigration and asylum detainees who have been held for three months or more.

My Lords, we have no plans to introduce an independent review system. The detention of individuals under Immigration Act powers is kept under regular review at successively higher levels in the Border and Immigration Agency. We have no interest in detaining individuals for longer than is strictly necessary or in prolonging their detention unduly.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, which I have heard a good many times before. In view of the present situation, will the Government abolish the detained fast track? Will they ensure that legal advice is available to all detainees? Will they undertake not to detain former convicted criminals with innocent asylum seekers and others?

My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, people in detention centres have access to legal advice for which they do not have to pay. I will take away the thought whether those who have committed crimes and are then being removed from the country should not be kept in the same immigration centres as other asylum seekers. In practical terms it would be extremely difficult, but I will see whether there is any possibility of it.

My Lords, will the Minister undertake not to return cancer victims to die in their countries of origin, which happened recently and was a disgrace to this country?

My Lords, I do not think I can give such a commitment. I have visited Tinsley House. It is worth remembering that all these cases are individual tragedies because, for a number of reasons, these people are desperate to be in this country. As the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said, some of them have committed crimes here and are on their way out. I am afraid that we cannot offer healthcare to individuals with no legal right to remain in the United Kingdom. That is clearly covered in EU and our own law. However, we make absolutely certain that they are able to get treatment back in their own country. It might not be as good as it is here, but we cannot open our doors and say that anyone who comes here and says that he cannot get the same treatment in his own country should be allowed to stay. That is not a sensible policy.

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware of the concern that has been expressed about the detention of children. How many children are now detained under these powers?

My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point. We do not put any children who are on their own into detention centres. The only ones who ever go there are with families, and normally it is just before the point of removal. As of today, 19 families with children, and 30 children in total, are detained.

My Lords, at the end of December 2007, 15 children had been in detention for more than a month. Does Mr Byrne spend half an hour on each of them and, if so, can we really be led to believe that he has seven and a half hours spare in his programme to review the detention of these children? With regard to the adults, has the noble Lord read the report of the chief inspector on Dover IRC, where 30 people have been detained for more than six months and serious errors have been made in presenting their cases to the court? Does he really think that the process of internal authorisation is satisfactory?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises a number of points. As I say, we would prefer not to detain families with children at all. Indeed, we are conducting a pilot to see whether families with children might be placed in a hostel down in Ashford, Kent. I hope that will work. As I say, each case is an individual tragedy. These people do not want to leave the country. I visited Tinsley House and was impressed by the quality of our people—the caseworkers and the people looking after the detainees—who are trying to expedite these matters with the fastest possible speed to maintain a policy that is correct for this country.

My Lords, it has been said that the Prime Minister and the President of France are likely to announce an agreement to provide joint charter flights for illegal immigrants back to their home countries. How might that be arranged?

My Lords, I am not aware of that proposal. If I may, I will take it away and respond to the noble Baroness in writing.

My Lords, will the Minister review the system to see whether 22,000 Gurkhas, who have demonstrated that they are our country’s bravest and most faithful friends, should be allowed to remain here and claim the right of British citizenship?

My Lords, I have huge admiration for the Gurkhas. I first served alongside them some 35 years ago, and I fought alongside them in the Falklands some 25 years ago. I am sure that we will look at this issue, and I hope that it might come to a conclusion, but I cannot make any promises.

My Lords, further to the question of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, with whom I by no means always agree, surely a stage of illness from cancer comes when the Government would not send people back.

My Lords, all I can say is what I said before. This was looked at very closely, and these things are looked at sympathetically. A very high level of assurance has to be reached in both EU law and our own law, and we are not going against any ECHR regulations or anything like that. We have to be very careful. We have to have a policy and, although sometimes it will look difficult for individual cases, it makes sense; we need a policy that makes sense and stands up. To let individual cases go would allow the rest to go by default.

My Lords, I am being increasingly made aware of the deep psychological needs of many asylum seekers, both in detention and in the community. What special provision can the Government make to bring to a conclusion cases where asylum seekers have serious psychological problems?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate raises an important issue. Such problems influence the outcome of individual consideration of the claim and the handling of the claim at times. We have made sure that the guidance and operation instructions make clear that a history of mental and physical illness is a factor that must be taken into account when considering whether detention is appropriate. Each case is considered on its own merits, but we cannot absolutely rule out detention.