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Immigration: Brook House

Volume 720: debated on Wednesday 14 July 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons on the management of Brook House immigration removal centre.

My Lords, the Government accept the broad conclusions of the chief inspector's report, and we have acted swiftly to implement most of the recommended improvements. It is a fact that the vast majority of detainees in Brook House have committed very serious crimes, including involving drugs, sex and violence. We are absolutely committed to meeting the challenges posed by these detainees, and additional improvements will be made in coming months. We will respond to the report in mid-September.

My Lords, perhaps my noble friend would like to join me in thanking Dame Anne Owers for her nine years of sterling work highlighting inconvenient truths about prisons and detention centres. Unfortunately, those years end today. Considering that it costs more to keep a detainee in a removal centre than in prison and far more than it does to send a boy to Eton, will my noble friend consider granting temporary admission to the detainees who cannot be sent back to their countries of origin, such as the 27 Somalis and Zimbabweans in Brook House who are costing more than £1 million to accommodate every year? Will the Government also think about suspending plans for four new immigration removal centres by taking steps to halt the rise in the detainee population, such as the improvements in the bail system recommended in the Bail for Immigration Detainees report published today?

My Lords, I join my noble friend in thanking the outgoing Chief Inspector of Prisons and on behalf of the Government I thank her for her service and congratulate her on what she has achieved. The Government’s policy starting points are a presumption of release and that detention should be used only to enforce the removal of those with no basis of stay in the United Kingdom or whose deportation is required to protect the public from harm. It is true that where a detainee refuses to co-operate with the process, detention may indeed be quite long, as my noble friend suggests, and we need to try to find ways of dealing with this. If and when there is no longer a realistic prospect of removal, our policy is that we will release the detainee. It is also open to any detainee to apply to the court for bail. However, I think noble Lords will agree that we have a duty to protect the public from those who pose a serious risk of harm.

My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that if the Ministry of Justice got its act together, criminals would be deported on the day of their release or within a very short time afterwards?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that point. I understand that it is the practice for caseworking to start before the end of the sentence, but that it is the travel documentation which often delays matters for two main reasons. The first is that it depends on the compliance of the individual, which sadly is not always forthcoming, and secondly, because the level of identification required varies from recipient country to recipient country. Having said that, we are looking closely at how what the noble Lord suggests can be done because clearly it would tackle head on the genuine problems which the report highlights.

My Lords, expanding on the question put by my noble friend Lord Hylton, as Chief Inspector of Prisons I recommended as long ago as 2000 that all prisoners with deportation included in their sentence should have the deportation procedure completed while they were in prison so that they could be taken straight to the airport of departure. It should not be left so that they have to go into a detention centre and have the process started all over again. The problems noted in Brook House have been repeated over and over again in detention centres where disaffected ex-prisoners are quite the wrong people to put with immigration detainees who are there while their ordinary applications are processed.

My Lords, I accept what the noble Lord says and, as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, we are looking closely at how we can achieve what he suggests should be done. As I have said, there are some problems that can delay matters, principally in the area of travel documentation, but we are looking at this closely.

Can the Minister clear up the position regarding the Dungavel immigration removal centre in Edinburgh? As I understand it, the Conservatives in the coalition have given in to the Liberals, so that illegal immigrants with families are no longer detained in Dungavel but are removed to England and held in centres there. Can the Minister explain the policy regarding the detention of illegal immigrants with families in Scotland?

My Lords, I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord, but today I am briefed specifically on Brook House. However, I will ensure that I write to him with an answer to his question.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that Brook House as a removal centre is designed to hold detainees for a maximum of three days, but the chief inspector’s report found that more than 17 per cent of the detainees there had been held for longer than three months? Will he look into why that is the case?

Yes, my Lords. It is the Government’s firm intention to keep the length of detention to the shortest possible period. However, in some cases detainees cause delays by failing to comply with the removal process, in particular by refusing to provide accurate information about their nationality and identity. While we always seek to release a person where there is no longer a realistic prospect of removal within a reasonable time frame, noble Lords will agree that we none the less have a duty to protect the public from those who pose a risk of harm, in particular those who have committed serious criminal offences. The vast majority of detainees at Brook House fall into this category. However, the Government are committed to finding ways of removing people more quickly.

My Lords, the Minister has twice referred to the background of the detainees at Brook House. A representative of the UK Border Agency has talked about a majority of detainees having committed serious crimes and said that the centre therefore faces a number of challenges on a daily basis. Is this indicative of a mindset that confuses detention before removal with crime and is this not one of the inherent problems? Was the chief inspector not right to point to the design of buildings as high security prisons as also being part of the problem?

I thank my noble friend for her question. She makes an important point. The centre was, indeed, designed for short stays. Once the applications and appeals of failed asylum seekers had been refused, their length of detention was expected to be short. However, over time, the length of detention has risen, mainly due to detainees failing to comply with the removals process. The challenge, therefore, is to find ways to secure compliance while providing a decent regime which is able to cater for the needs of detainees. The Government are committed to finding solutions to reduce the length of stay and remove or release people quicker.