My Lords, the Government are determined to ensure that people in all parts of our immigration system are treated with dignity and respect. Regular engagement with external partners takes place through the national asylum stakeholder forum and is an important part of ensuring that issues about migrants’ welfare are raised and addressed.
My Lords, has the Minister read the all-party report on immigration detention, published in the last few days? If so, does he agree with that committee that the system that we have at the moment is totally unworthy? There have been protests in both Yarl’s Wood and Harmondsworth in the past couple of days. Will the Minister work to remove the injustice whereby those affected are detained indefinitely, with indefinite deprivation of liberty and of human rights? Is it not hypocrisy to celebrate 800 years of Magna Carta while we allow this sort of situation to continue?
My Lords, I have read the report which came out last week. The Home Office will, of course, give a proper response to such an important and thorough piece of work. As to the noble Lord’s point about detention, he will be aware that 93% of those who are actually detained in immigration removal centres are there for less than four months. They are the most serious of cases—people who have come to this country clandestinely. We need to establish their identity because it would be a dereliction of duty not to identify those whom we are letting into this country. There are foreign national offenders and people whose appeals have been exhausted. However, we are keeping this under review and that is why the Home Secretary has asked Stephen Shaw to undertake a thorough review.
My Lords, in its recent report on violence against women and girls, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member, expressed concern about how current Home Office policies leave some people destitute during the immigration and asylum process. This can lead to women being at greater risk of violence and sexual exploitation. Will the Government now amend the very welcome action plan on violence against women and girls to stop this happening?
There is rightly support available for people who are in severe states of destitution. There are differing levels for those who are seeking asylum and for those whose asylum cases have been refused. These amounts are kept under review. There are additional facilities to provide accommodation, to help with food and access to legal and health care. These are all very important and we need to continue with them.
The noble and learned Lord is right. We need a few days to get that in place but, on Tuesday 17 March, a notice will go out through the all-party Whip for all interested Peers to attend a meeting with officials. I know there is a great deal of concern on all sides of the House. We will also offer some reassurance about actions and steps which have been taken.
My Lords, does the Government accept that, because the number of migrants who come here perfectly legally from the EU is much higher than expected, the downward pressure from the authorities on non-EU immigrants is onerous, aggressive and leads to the sort of report we have just heard? There is now such a disparity of treatment between EU and non-EU immigrants that it is producing all manner of injustice.
We have to look at the reason why we have seen pressure on immigration; we have to take it seriously. The right reverend Prelate will recognise that uncontrolled immigration, which we have had in the past, puts intolerable strains on our public services. In this country we rightly have a proud tradition of offering asylum to those who are in fear of persecution and that will continue under the present regime.
My Lords, in the Channel 4 undercover filming at Yarl’s Wood there was terrible language and treatment of women and black people. Was my noble friend also struck, as I was, by a particular comment about older people with disabilities being held there? What is the policy concerning the welfare of such people in detention centres? How are they being cared for? As the guard said in the footage, why are they here? It is not as if they can abscond.
My Lords, I also raise the Channel 4 documentary, which, as the noble Lord said, shocked and distressed us all. On 8 March, my noble friend Lady Bakewell asked about female staffing levels in Yarl’s Wood. The Minister reminded your Lordships’ House that Serco was contractually committed to delivering a level of 66% by 2015—that is, now. Following that debate, the chief executive of Serco, Rupert Soames OBE, wrote to me to say that the number of female officers was being increased. His letter says that Serco is working to increase this to 60%—not 66%—and “aim to achieve it” by the end of 2015. Will the noble Lord confirm the correct figure? Is it a contractual and therefore legal obligation to increase the number of women officers and what happens to Serco if it fails?
Serco was offered that contract. One of the principal concerns which many people have had, and which the Women for Refugee Women report also identified, was that there were insufficient female detention officers in that facility and that their numbers needed to be increased. One of the conditions put out before renewing the contract to the tender organisation was that it needed to increase the proportion of female officers. The figure I gave was 65% or 66%; the chief executive may now be saying 60%. I will certainly look into that; I will speak with him and of course will write to the noble Baroness and ensure that she gets the right information. However, the principle is that we need more female detention staff to look after female inmates.
My Lords, does not my noble friend agree that if every other European country imposes a time limit on the length of detention, there is something wrong with our system? We should find some means to grant temporary status to people who are not going back to their own countries through no fault of their own—sometimes their countries will not accept them.
My noble friend will recall that that was discussed during the passage of the Immigration Act; the proposal was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and was rejected by the House. We continuously keep that under review, but I reassure the House that 96% of female inmates are there for a period of less than four months—we want to keep detention to the minimum period possible.