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Immigration: Deportation

Volume 721: debated on Tuesday 2 November 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what restraint methods are now used in deportations; and whether there has been any change of practice recently.

My Lords, the vast majority of people who are being removed from this country depart voluntarily. There is a small category of people who resist. It is known policy that escorts may be used to control and restrain such individuals and that these techniques are accredited by the National Offender Management Service.

Following the death of Mr Mubenga, the UK Border Agency temporarily suspended the use of control and restraint on scheduled flights for a 10-day period between 15 and 25 October. That was for the purpose of carrying out an immediate review to see whether the techniques used on the aircraft were appropriate.

The use has been reinstated. The National Offender Management Service, which conducted this review, has said that there is no substantiation to the claims that have been made that the restraints being used were inherently dangerous. We are now going on to conduct more investigation of the appropriateness and utility of restraint. We do not believe that we have anything like achieved the last word. So I can assure the House that this issue, which I know is a matter of anxiety to us all, will be taken forward and that we are examining what needs to be done very thoroughly.

I thank my noble friend the Minister for her reply. It is very reassuring to hear what she said. Given the news that we are now to have a new contractor, Reliance, conducting these deportations, perhaps I may ask whether its contract will spell out in greater detail than hitherto what control can be used, and, indeed, whether the individual staff members will have to sign up to a code of practice. I think that that would give the House considerable reassurance.

The noble Baroness raises some of the absolutely pertinent issues which our further review needs to take into account. I cannot comment precisely on the contract of the company that will be employed in addition to G4S but I think it fair to say that the Government feel they need to look at all aspects of the services provided. They need to start with the contract and go right through to what happens on the aircraft.

My Lords, what checks will the Government be making to ensure that the new private security firm involved in deportations carries them out in accordance with the laid-down practices and procedures, including, in particular, the use of force?

My Lords, as the House may know, there are several control and monitoring systems in place. Contrary, perhaps, to some of the prevalent views, they are in fact very active. The Chief Inspector of Prisons has oversight of all the detention facilities, which includes the escorts, and he conducts inspection visits on an unannounced basis. The independent monitoring board is based at Heathrow. After the last Question that I was asked on this subject I inquired how active that independent monitoring board was, and I was told that it is very active. It has produced critical comment on some of the practices it has observed, although not in this area, and it has said specifically that it does not think that there is a systemic problem, which I know is one of the anxieties in the House. Furthermore, detainees themselves have the right to make complaints. Those go to the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman and he reviews them. There are many controls trying to ensure that there is both a good system and proper practice.

My Lords, voluntary departures are clearly much more humane and give much better value to the taxpayer. Are the Government convinced that there are enough incentives available for people who depart voluntarily?

We are trying to increase the number of people who are willing to depart voluntarily. Nevertheless, we also encourage people, when we have to oblige them to go, to do so in a compliant fashion. We are making very great efforts to ensure two things: first, that the maximum number of people who are not entitled to stay do depart this country; and, secondly, that when they have to be escorted, it is done in a proper, humane fashion.

My Lord, can the Minister tell us what alternative methods to the distraction techniques that are used by detention officers exist? Can she tell us, possibly at a later date, what distraction techniques are used in other parts of these islands by the various detention services? Does she agree that the use of pain-induced compliance requires much more stringent management and that such management will inevitably incur further cost?

I hope the noble Baroness will forgive me, but I did not hear all her question, although I heard the last part. One of our objectives is not to be put in a position where any pain-induced compliance technique has to be used. As a result of this latest incident, not only have we gone through with all escorting officers their duties and the methods of restraint they use, but we have taken them all the way through in detail with particular emphasis on the health and safety aspects of the job, including positional asphyxia, which is a particular source of attention at the moment. We clearly need to have extremely well informed and educated guards on duty.

May I express to the Minister our appreciation for the energetic way in which she has followed up the concerns of the House? Will she consider allowing the guidance offered by the UK Border Agency to private companies, which is currently not in the public domain, to be made available in the Library to Members of both Houses? That would help us in sustaining the very high standards that she wants to see.