Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I will speak first to the subject matter of the debate since I was a member of the group which produced this report.
The basic legal principle is not in doubt: executive detention is lawful if, but only if, there is a realistic prospect of removing the detainee within a reasonable time. When we debated the Immigration Act this time last year, my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby, who I am more than glad to see in her place, moved an amendment which would have limited the period to 60 days. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, resisted the amendment on the ground that the principle is well established, with which, of course, I wholly agree.
However, the noble Lord went on to argue that the application of that principle should and could be left safely in the hands of the judges. I would normally welcome that argument with open arms but in this particular instance I am afraid to say that the judges have let us down. For example, in one case, an offender was detained pending his deportation to Somalia. He was eventually released but only after he had been detained for three years and five months. On no possible view could that be regarded as reasonable, yet his claim failed. I refer to some of these cases at page 18 of the report.
We are the only country in Europe which allows indefinite detention of this kind. In France, the maximum period is 45 days. In Spain, it is two months and in Italy it is three months, so we are way out of line with these countries. In the end, the group came to the view that we should have a maximum limit of 28 days. In coming to that view, we were much influenced by the corrosive effect which prolonged uncertainty has on the detainees themselves. There was much evidence to that effect, both from the detainees and the experts. I therefore hope that we will be hearing from others taking part in the debate about the reasons why we took that view.
Meanwhile, I must turn to my so-called valedictory speech, which I prefer to call my swan-song. I have been incredibly lucky to have what amounts to a second career in this House after I retired as a Law Lord in 1999. I have made many, many friends among Members and the staff. I particularly thank those members of staff to whom I come most frequently—namely, those in the Public Bill Office and the Printed Paper Office. I am sure that they will know to whom I am referring. I regard them as great friends and will miss them very greatly.
However, the fact is that I shall be 86 in May and feel that it is time to go, if only because I am beginning, I have to say, to feel my age. Not only that but I am also afraid that my age is beginning to show. I know that because whenever I get on to an underground train, if it is at all crowded, I find that men and women of all ages offer me their seats. That would be a good test for us all to apply.
When we were all much younger, there was a very popular musical called, “Salad Days”, which I hope some of your Lordships will remember. In it there was a rather sentimental song. Unless your Lordships insist, I will not sing it, but the refrain was:
“I’ll remind you to remind me we said we wouldn’t look back”.
When the time comes, one does look back, of course. It is the natural thing to do, and that is what I propose to do, with your Lordships’ consent.
I made my maiden speech in 1993 but did not, as the police say, come to notice until 2005. I was strongly opposed to the abolition of the Lord Chancellor. Your Lordships will remember how it happened. The Lord Chancellor was abolished by a fait accompli in a press release from 10 Downing Street. But at the end of the Second Reading, I moved an amendment—it has to be said, with the encouragement of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, which then happened. It was, of course, very soon discovered that the Lord Chancellor simply could not be abolished. He is far too deeply embedded in our history and constitution. Instead, the title of the Bill was changed and the Lord Chancellor was to be modified. That was a piece of luck because it enabled me to argue that the modified Lord Chancellor should continue to be a Member of this House and have some experience of the law. Those amendments were carried easily in this House but, unfortunately, late one night, they were defeated on ping-pong—and so we are now where we are.
My next appearance was as chairman of the Select Committee on the Speakership of the House of Lords. We were lucky to have as our clerk an up-and-coming young man who is now the Clerk of the Parliaments. He kept us straight as to the meaning of self-regulation, and I owe him a lot. We started our discussions a long way apart but, as often happens in these cases—indeed, as I pointed out during my speech—we slowly inched closer together. That is what we did, and we produced a report that I think one can say has stood the test of time.
I have already mentioned new friends that I have made while I have been a Member of the House. There is one friend in particular whom I would like to mention. He was one of the most remarkable men that I have ever known. His name was Lord Morris of Manchester, better known as Alf.
Our friendship came about in this way: I had presided in this House in a case which concerned the meaning of the noble Lord’s great pioneering Act, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970. I called that Act a “noble aspiration”. When Lord Morris made his maiden speech in this House, he quoted those words. I was listening as he did so, so one thing led to another and we became friends.
At that time, Lord Morris was much concerned with the fate of returning veterans from the first Iraq war, suffering, as we all now know, from Gulf War syndrome. The Government had refused to hold an independent inquiry, so he did the unusual thing of holding his own independent inquiry of which he asked me to be the chairman, which I said I would.
We listened to a great deal of evidence, including from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, whom I am also glad to see sitting in his seat, and from the veterans and all sorts of experts. We were not at that time able to identify the cause of Gulf War syndrome, but we at least established that it existed, which the Government had up till then refused to acknowledge. We also pointed out that the veterans had been very badly treated. For that, we also secured for them an apology, but that was all.
I come to terrorism, with which I shall deal briefly because it is controversial. This has been my subject for 20 years. As it is controversial, I will provide just a few facts, which I know your Lordships know. Currently, there are 2.5 million Muslims in this country who are as loyal and law-abiding as we are, but there are some 100,000 Muslims who are inclined to a greater or lesser extent towards the terrorist cause. Our task, as I see it, is to win them over and keep them to our way of life and our way of thinking. This will take a very long time, probably a generation, as was the case with Irish terrorism. In the mean time, whatever we do, we must not alienate those 100,000 Muslims. We must try to keep them on our side.
And so I come to my last stopping-off point—just in time—which brings me back very close to where we started. I refer to the prisoners who are currently serving indeterminate sentences for the protection of the public. I have often given your Lordships the facts, but I will do so for one last time. There are currently 5,000 prisoners serving IPP sentences, a form of sentence which was abolished in 2012. I am concerned with only 650 of them, who are serving tariffs of less than two years which they were given more than eight years ago. About a third of them have been assessed as being unlikely to reoffend. Of the 650, eight were sentenced to a tariff of less than three months; 22 to less than six months; 27 to less than nine months; yet they are all still in prison.
Mr Grayling was given a power in 2012 to change the release test for those prisoners so as to secure their early release, but he has declined to exercise that power. I have received many letters from those prisoners because they know that I am their champion and I have met members of their families. They have no means of knowing, even now, when, if ever, they will be released.
If I were allowed one last wish at the end of my swan-song, it would be that all seven of the political parties should enter into manifesto commitments that will meet those people’s needs as soon as the new Government are elected. They should do so if only on the grounds that it will save £40 million a year, but I hope that they would do so on grounds of simple humanity. These prisoners have suffered a grave injustice, and it is high time that we came to their rescue.
My Lords, today is a bitter-sweet occasion. It is always a great pleasure to follow my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd of Berwick, but this occasion is bitter because it is probably the last occasion on which I will be able to follow him—certainly so far as this House is concerned, because of the reasons he has given.
I followed him in becoming a member of the Inner Temple when I was just starting out on my practice. I followed him to the Bench and we have been together in the Court of Appeal, the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords and on a number of occasions in this Chamber. I well remember being led by him at the Bar when we were appearing on behalf of the Government. He is a consummate advocate, so this has always been a most rewarding experience, not least because of the extraordinary rapidity with which he could absorb the issues in a case and the skill with which he could advance arguments in favour of that case—skills which are well known to this House.
In particular, I remember—I do not know whether he will—one occasion when I had to tell him, on the journey from his chambers in the Temple to the Court of Appeal, about the case that he was going to be opening in the Court of Appeal. He opened the case with such eloquence and skill that no one present would have realised that he had been told about it in only a short amount of time.
There was another case in which we were involved when we were not on the same side. I know that he remembers it because it gives him particular pleasure. The case proceeded from the Divisional Court, where I won, to the Court of Appeal, where he won. I knew that I was in need of help, having lost in the Court of Appeal, and I was able to have as a leader Lord Bingham of Cornhill, who of course was known to many in this House. Even with Lord Bingham’s help, I have to admit that I lost in the House of Lords and my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd was successful. It is now a reported case—a case of some significance in administrative law. The grammar schools in the Thameside area were going to become comprehensive. It was particularly important that the results of the case should be known promptly because of course the pupils at the grammar schools wanted to know what was going to happen. So we sat not only on a Friday but, uniquely, I think, on a Saturday, and we got a very early decision. As noble Lords will know, those pupils continued to go to their schools, whereas the Minister thought that they should certainly have gone to the comprehensive.
It is no surprise to me that my noble and learned friend, in the matter presently before the House, should take the view that he has. He has indicated in what he has said to your Lordships today a fact which is undoubtedly true—that he is deeply concerned with the doing of justice and fairness, and nothing is more likely to call him to arms than to be involved in such a situation.
One of the things that my noble and learned friend is remembered for is when he became a High Court judge. He was a commercial lawyer and I do not think he ever appeared before a jury during his practice at the Bar. However, on being appointed as a High Court judge he was to be dispatched to Liverpool to try a murder case. He showed commendable courage for a new judge by knocking on the door of the then Lord Chief Justice—no less formidable a figure than Lord Widgery—and insisting on receiving instruction on the arts of dealing with a jury trial before hearing the case. As a consequence, I think that he was the first High Court judge who after appointment was seen being instructed in the arts of jury trials at the Old Bailey by those who appeared in the courts where that was happening. In due course he became a great criminal judge as well. It is as a result of my noble and learned friend’s bold action that we now have a really significant and well developed Judicial Studies Board. Judges do not know instinctively how to try cases, they have to learn.
The issue on which we are engaged today is appropriate for my noble and learned friend to advocate because of his membership of the panel. With regard to that, it is clear that some restriction needs to be put on the period of detention. I encourage the House to accede to what my noble and learned friend has said, notwithstanding the fact that normally I would not be in favour of fixed time periods because they can be instruments of injustice as well as justice, and because it is better usually to leave it to the matter of discretion. But in the special circumstances of this situation, I ask noble Lords to say that that is the course that the House should follow as well. We can argue about the period—that is a very simple issue—but I am sure it is right that there should be a limit.
My Lords, first, I make an appeal to my noble friend the Minister who will respond to this discussion. He has acquired a reputation for good sense and, perhaps I may dare say, for humanity, and I hope that he will listen to my short remarks with that reputation in mind. In the old days, although it may still be so, somewhere near the bottom of the Minister’s brief one would find the phrase, “if pressed”, in brackets. On special occasions, it might even say, “if hard pressed”. These phrases indicate the extent of a Minister’s discretion. I hope that today my noble friend will make full use of that discretion and perhaps tiptoe a little beyond it. In this case, he will be easily forgiven for that.
My noble friend could bring some assurance to these people whom we are discussing and who are discussed in this report. They have no certainty in their lives about when they might be removed from detention. That is a deeply unsatisfactory state of affairs, which my noble friend and his colleagues could put right. I hope that they will do so in the light of the report we are considering.
I also hope that my noble friend may find it possible to draw the attention of his right honourable friend to the exchanges which took place earlier today at Question Time when there was quite a brusque exchange between the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who I see in his place, and the Minister responding. I hope that that will be drawn to the attention of the Secretary of State because there is a lesson there. We do not want those kinds of remarks and exchanges spread to other parts of this House after the Parliament.
The noble and learned Lord has made his valedictory speech, which was, as one would expect, extremely good. He will be sadly missed. I congratulate him on a job well done. I declare an interest in that it is now 70 years since my life has been, to some extent, intertwined and run in parallel with the life of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd. During that period we have crossed swords from time to time, competed fiercely in earlier days and, in latter days I have learned to respect, admire and envy the care and keenness with which he has tackled every subject to which he has turned his attention. We had a list of those subjects in his valedictory today. He has not shown a soft or sentimental attitude to those who are convicted of crimes—on the contrary—but he has shown an overriding concern for justice, humanity and common sense.
We are greatly in his debt. He has done a great job as a Member of this House. On behalf of all your Lordships, I echo the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and congratulate him enthusiastically on a job well done.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hurd, because he was an outstanding and very sensible Home Secretary who addressed some of the issues we are discussing in this brief debate in an impressively far-sighted way. I put on record my congratulations to him on the way he served in the office of Home Secretary—which, as we all know, is not easy.
I sympathise with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, because I have the same experience as he has with a twist to it. I, too, have had people get up to offer me their seats. They were overwhelmingly women, and a great many of them were from ethnic minorities. I am trying to decide whether that is a vote of lack of confidence, in the way he described with his usual lovely humour and extraordinary humility. He is undoubtedly a great lawyer; he has been a great parliamentarian in this House; and he is a man who, throughout his whole career, has stuck to things he believes in and persisted in supporting them through a long and distinguished life. We will all miss him and we all know what he has contributed to this House.
While I was listening to the tributes to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, irresistibly I was hauled back to the debate on the amendment that he and I tabled during the Immigration Bill which suggested that there should be a limit of 60 days’ detention, where there was adequate evidence, in Her Majesty’s detention centres. He was powerful, courageous and brave in what he said. Sadly, that amendment was lost by something like five to one in this House. Many noble Lords who are currently here were involved in that debate, so I cannot help asking myself how serious we are about the appalling fact that we as a country are more ready to detain, for longer periods, more people than virtually any other country in Europe.
We claim to be—rightly are in many ways—the mother of democracy, but this is an appalling example of what happens when we fail to live by the words that we so eloquently speak. I have to say that I felt deeply disappointed on that occasion that the words mobilised by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and spoken with passion and much knowledge, were so readily dismissed by this House, which on the whole has an excellent record on civil liberties and is concerned for those who are least able to use power and influence to change things.
We have here an appalling story—one that all of us should find deeply embarrassing. Some 30,000 men and women are being held in detention—as I say, more than in any other country in Europe. There is almost no redress for them because they are locked away from the lawyers and advisers they could speak to. Let me declare an interest that I have held for the last 20 years. I am a patron of the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group. Its members reach me if they need help in getting access to lawyers or to stop people being deported who have been unable to put their argument for why they should not be deported.
Unlike many other detention centres, there is one great aspect to this one, which is that a group of a couple of hundred volunteers come in, speak to people who have been detained, make friends with them and offer advice and help. They are not qualified professional social workers or even lawyers, but decent men and women living in the neighbourhood of Gatwick. No longer do they have on their consciences a sense of how appallingly we treat detainees—and we do.
Let me conclude by saying that I hope that this time, to pick up the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, we will begin to take the issue seriously. I hope that this time we will consider when we should support amendments to bring about change. I hope that this time we will not have yet another Parliament which averts its eyes from this dreadful situation. We pretend it is not happening and it is nothing to do with us, but it remains a serious blot on this country and we have to do something about it.
My Lords, I, too, wish to pay tribute to my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd of Berwick for his tireless work in this House over so many years, championing with such passion so many admirable causes. This is truly a fin-de-siècle occasion. Speaking as one who has been privileged for the last three years to have shared his room and plundered his wealth of knowledge and experience, I particularly will miss him.
I turn to the topic of today’s debate. I want both to congratulate the APPG on its inquiry report, with which in large part I sympathise and agree, but at the same time enter a defence for the judges who have been criticised in the report, notably on page 18, and again by my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd in this debate. It is perfectly true that judges cannot be relied on to get the period of detention of all immigration detainees down to 28 days, the upper limit which the report recommends should be adopted, or indeed to the 60 days in all cases, as was advocated during the course of the Immigration Act. But without explicitly limiting legislation, it is not the fault of the judges.
There is no time today to explore the large body of case law on this subject. I would just mention a case in the Supreme Court in 2011, that of R (Lumba and Mighty) v the Secretary of State for the Home Office. It was one of the last cases in this part of the law with which I was concerned as one of nine justices, and the report on it is 115 pages long. This is a difficult area of the law.
Lumba brings me to the central point I want to make. There is all the difference in the world between the detention of those whom the Home Secretary is attempting to deport for whatever reason when they have absolutely no right to remain here, sometimes after a while, and those who are being detained pending an initial application for asylum. Lumba concerned the former category—foreign national prisoners having served their sentences of imprisonment. Although the appeals of both of the appellants in that case were in the event allowed by a majority of the court, they succeeded not because of the excessive length of their periods of detention—the House will be surprised and perhaps shocked by this: respectively almost 56 months and 26 months—but because the Secretaries of State in question had failed to apply their own published policy. No one was disputing that, even had that policy been applied, both would inevitably have been detained. They had been convicted of serious offences, the Home Secretary was seeking to deport them at the end of their sentences and they were detained pending removal because of the risks that they posed in the mean time in terms of absconding and reoffending.
The length of Lumba’s detention was the result of a series of appeals and judicial review challenges that he brought, all of which had to be heard and determined before he could be deported. The question of whether the length of detention was, in those circumstances, “reasonable” within what are known as the Hardial Singh principles—essentially the principles of reasonableness originally devised and set out by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, many years ago in the case of that name—was remitted to the High Court to decide on the particular facts of that case. It was, I may add, on the application of the Hardial Singh principles that the two claims referred to at page 23 of the inquiry report were decided.
The other main category of immigration detainees are those detained under what is known as DFT—the detained fast-track scheme—which is designed to get a speedy decision on an initial application, which is desirable both for the applicant and for others waiting in the queue to have their applications decided. That was the category under consideration by Mr Justice Ouseley in the case discussed at pages 37 to 39 of the report. As his lengthy judgment explains, the only respect in which he found the process carried an “unacceptable risk of unfairness” was that it does not provide for the sufficiently early instruction of lawyers to advise and prepare the asylum claims—a problem that I hope is now addressed.
Highly desirable though it would be, I do not know whether a 28-day time limit could be achieved in all DFT cases and I am sure that it would be quite impossible in many other cases, even if the Home Office faithfully follows its own guidance of using detention only sparingly and for the shortest possible period. Whether any time limit, and if so what, should be imposed, I leave to others. I add only that I suspect many other countries do better in terms of the length of detention because they are altogether more ruthless than we are in refusing appeals against deportation.
My Lords, from these Benches I too pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, and thank him in particular for his service as chairman of the Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament. He has chaired the committee for 13 years with a forensic eye for detail. He has taken the time and made the effort, as we know is typical of him, to understand the Church of England—and has maintained a sense of humour. It is remarkable and we are hugely grateful. He has also been a friend to many of us, for which we are also grateful. We wish him very much happiness in his retirement, not least in his lambing next month.
I was shocked and distressed to read this report. I did not take part in the inquiry but some of the facts that are presented here—which were to some extent in the public domain anyway but are now made clear before us—are deeply distressing. It is a truism that justice delayed is justice denied. I understand the difficulties that the Government can face: very large numbers of people coming into the country, some very complicated cases and some very difficult investigations that may need to be undertaken to determine the facts. We understand that these are real problems. I understand, too, the principle of not wanting a time limit, lest that time limit become a default which everyone has to serve in detention. I understand where the Government are coming from but, in this anniversary year of Magna Carta, it is hugely distressing to hear of people being detained for three or four years, not knowing what their future may be and how long that detention may continue.
One of the essentials of the Judaeo-Christian principles that are such an important part of our history, and indeed of our Britishness, is the principle of treating the foreigner—the alien, the stranger within our midst—well, caring for those who come into our midst for whatever reason. Of course, those who come intent on crime or wrongdoing or those who come for hidden reasons need to be investigated, sought out and dealt with. Of course, we cannot give a home to everyone in the world who wants to leave their own country. There is no suggestion that we should do that. But for those who come here seeking the opportunity to stay, we need to investigate, we need to take care and we need to make a proper and appropriate decision—which may be that they can stay and may be that they have to go—but they must know that during that process we as a people, with our British values and our Judaeo-Christian heritage, are seeking to care for them. I plead with the Minister and the Government—and the future Government, whatever form they take—to understand the importance of caring for the alien, the stranger in our midst.
My Lords, as a member of the inquiry, I am very grateful to the noble and learned Lord—who will be missed—for facilitating this debate, and to Sarah Teather for establishing the inquiry and chairing it with such skill and commitment.
We were shocked by what we heard, both from the detainees who recounted their experiences, and I pay tribute to them for doing so, and from professionals who, among other things, confirmed the disastrous effects of indefinite detention, particularly on the mental health of detainees. It became clear to us that as an absolute minimum there must be a time limit on detention and I very much welcome today’s announcement that my party supports this. But, in our view, even time limits would not be enough. We also seek a commitment to making deprivation of liberty for the purposes of immigration control a genuinely last resort, with a presumption in favour of the community-based alternatives practised in countries as diverse as Canada and Sweden.
What became clear during the inquiry was the disconnect between official policy and what actually happens. The current Home Office guidance that detention should be used sparingly and for the shortest possible period is rendered ineffective by working practices and culture. The same disconnect can be found in the treatment of women. One of our recommendations was that,
“women who are victims of rape and sexual violence should not be detained and this should be reflected in the Enforcement Instructions and Guidance”.
A reply to a Written Question about this recommendation states that the list of those,
“normally considered suitable for detention only in very exceptional circumstances … includes individuals for whom there is independent evidence of torture, which would encompass women who had suffered rape or other forms of sexual violence as an instrument of torture”.
However, UNHCR guidelines on detention state:
“Victims of torture and other serious physical, psychological or sexual violence also need special attention and should generally not be detained”.
I emphasise the “and” because my reading of that is that it should be sufficient for a woman to demonstrate that she has survived rape or sexual violence regardless of whether or not it constituted torture. The Written Answer conflates the two. Moreover, back in 2013 the UN Committee against Torture urged the UK Government to lower the evidential threshold of independent evidence. Far from being lowered, it now appears to cover survivors of rape and sexual abuse. I urge the Home Office to look at this again.
I also urge the Home Office to review the treatment of pregnant women. Again, there is a disconnect between policy and practice. A member of HM Inspectorate of Prisons told us that,
“pregnant women are only meant to be detained in the most exceptional circumstances … on the last couple of occasions that we’ve looked, we haven’t found those exceptional circumstances in the paperwork to justify their detention in the first place”.
The inquiry heard evidence of pregnant women being treated in a way that caused emotional, psychological and physical distress. Given the apparent inability of the Home Office to comply with its own policy, we recommended that pregnant women are never detained for immigration purposes.
I welcome the fact that the Shaw review, which I am sure the Minister will talk about, is to be asked to consider the recommendations in part 2 of our report. However, this avoids our more fundamental recommendations concerning the very use of detention. If the Shaw review is to carry credibility, it is crucial that its terms of reference are widened so that it can consider part 1 of our report also. Can the Minister explain why this is not possible?
The time for a well meaning smoothing of the harshest edges of a rotten system has passed. Thus the Government’s response to our review, as set out in the recent letter to Sarah Teather, is very disappointing. I urge whosoever form the next Government to take urgent action on our report as a whole in the name of human rights, justice and basic human decency.
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, for bringing this debate to the Chamber today. As a new boy, I look on his swan-song and think, if only I could achieve a small fraction of some of the things that he has achieved and have the effect that he has had in this House and in the country, I will have done an extremely good job. I say with all honesty that I will definitely look round on the Tube and use his seat test as an indication of when I need to leave this House.
Like other speakers, I would like to thank the all-party parliamentary group, which has done an extremely good report on this, and my honourable friend Sarah Teather for chairing it.
I want to focus on one group within the report and that is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex asylum seekers. It is illegal to be gay in 78 countries, punishable by prison and, in some cases, death. People seeking asylum on LGBTI grounds are in many cases very vulnerable and scared about speaking to the authorities about their sexual identity. It is a complex and deeply personal area of asylum that needs to be dealt with in a most sensitive, professional and consistent way. I have to say that that is not the case. Some LGBTI asylum detainees feel shame and a sense of secrecy about who they are. In many cases they lack support from the community that they are fleeing because of the views that that community has about being gay and lesbian. They need support, space and time in the asylum system.
This is especially clear in the light of the recent Court of Appeal decision in JB Jamaica v the Secretary of State for the Home Office. The case concerned the detention of a man from Jamaica who had claimed asylum on the basis of his sexual identity. Although eventually granted asylum upon appeal, he commenced judicial review proceedings arguing that his claim for asylum as a gay man was not capable of being determined quickly. Lord Justice Moore-Bick found that, given the nature of the applicant’s claim:
“Homosexuality is a characteristic that cannot be reliably established without evidence from sources external to the claimant himself. On the face of it, therefore, the appellant did need additional evidence to support his claim and since some of that evidence was likely to be available only in Jamaica or elsewhere abroad, it was likely that he would need additional time in order to obtain it. A failure to allow him that time was likely to lead (as in the event it did) to a decision that was neither fair nor sustainable”.
Therefore, we need to ask this question: why do we have the fast-track detention of people seeking asylum on LGBTI grounds?
As Johnson—not his real name—from Jamaica described his time in detention:
“The whole place is vile, it is homophobic, one of the guards called me a poof and then there were the Jamaicans who kept hurling some abuse at some Iranian guys—calling them batty men. I was terrified thinking oh my God, I hope they don’t know I am one of them. There was always fights they would provoke then when the guys would fight back. Eventually the gay guys had to be taken out. So it was very scary. It was awful. You can’t risk being open about being gay in there”.
So people go from vulnerability, fear and prejudice to being locked up with vulnerability, fear and prejudice. It is time that we looked at this in a very different way.
I know that the Minister has given answers to my questions about the review, which needs to consider those issues, but a review was done only last year by John Vine into LGBTI asylum. An action plan was offered and agreed to by the Home Office. On 16 March, only a few days ago, the Home Office said that it had not been started. What is the point of another review when a review has already stated the actions that need to be taken? Review after review is not the way forward. People who are held or detained for any period need action from the Government now.
On the anniversary of Magna Carta, if we really want to be seen internationally to be upholding the principles enshrined in Magna Carta, as a matter of urgency, we need action to deal with detention of some of the most vulnerable people who have fled here looking for those principles to free them, not enslave them in detention for unlimited periods.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd on obtaining this important debate. How typical of one of the giants of this House, whose impending retirement has already been regretted by many other noble Lords, that he should go out in such style, combining a moving and humane valedictory with a masterly opening to his debate. He will be sorely missed, not only by his colleagues on these Benches but by the thousands of prisoners serving indeterminate sentences currently languishing in prison way beyond their tariff, whose cause he has so passionately championed against the person whom he dubbed the “Minister of Injustice”.
I also pay tribute to the Minister, who ever since taking office has been tireless, patient and courteous in responding to the many queries that I and others have put to him and, by so doing, has earned the respect and admiration of the whole House.
Like my noble and learned friend, I was a member of Sarah Teather’s inquiry team, and I pay tribute to her for her initiative and chairmanship. Unlike him, however, I have immigration system form, because from 1997 to 2001 I was responsible for inspecting immigration detention centres as well as prisons holding immigration detainees because of lack of space. My noble friend Lord Sandwich and I were fellow commissioners on the independent asylum commission that reported in 2009, and I was also a member of the team appointed by the coalition Government to advise on the detention of children. Finally, I have chaired or been involved with inquiries into aspects of the system such as enforced removals, unanswered complaints and injuries inflicted by security company staff.
From that experience comes my firm conviction that the immigration system as a whole is in need of total overhaul. My views have not changed since I was Chief Inspector of Prisons. Having campaigned for overhaul for so long, it would be inconsistent of me not to use the opportunity offered by my noble and learned friend’s debate to ask the Minister to ask the Home Secretary to think again about her rejection of the stepping stone of a full review conveyed in Mr Brokenshire’s letter to Sarah Teather of 24 March. The two proposed inquiries will prove just as fruitless as all the other attempts that I have watched fail to get to grips with the guts of the problem over the past 18 years.
What are those guts? First, and pre-eminently, there is a total lack of consistency caused by a total lack of leadership and oversight. Before appointing a review body, I would appoint someone to be responsible and accountable for the operation of the system. Ministers come and Ministers go—and policies come and policies go—but immigration staff, who have the task of checking everyone arriving in the country, remain, as should staff structures and procedures, and they need to be led. As a soldier, used to chains of command in which everyone knows to whom and for what they are responsible and accountable, I found—and find—it strange that in the Home Office, and hence its offshoot the Ministry of Justice, no one knows either. Of course a Minister must have overall responsibility and be accountable to Parliament, but not for conducting the 24/7 processes of the immigration system.
Everything else stems from that, but no long-term improvements can happen until a problem that I highlighted during the passage of the Immigration Bill has been resolved. Currently, the system has a millstone of 500,000 unresolved cases hanging round its neck, resulting in inevitable delays for new arrivals. The only way to solve this is to draft in a sufficiency of temporary officials until they are cleared. Only then can you introduce a proper process in which immigration centres play their short-term contingency role, casework is properly handled and overseen and all the other recommended measures are brought into force.
The present practice of not having anyone in charge has failed and will go on failing. The Teather review does not go so far as to recommend an overhaul but does recommend an in-depth review out of which it might emerge. In the mean time, I hope that the Minister will do his best to persuade the Home Secretary that the cult of managerialism is not the answer and that good, old-fashioned leadership is. I wish my noble and learned friend long life and much happiness in the future.
My Lords, it is a very great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. I know of his work as Chief Inspector of Prisons. I had a large young offender institution in my former constituency and a large prison, and the meticulous care and concern that he brought to his investigations were deeply appreciated by those who saw and benefited from them.
This is a debate initiated by—I am going to call him this—my noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd of Berwick. Nothing has more become the man than the manner of his leaving, because he has brought to this House today a subject about which he feels passionately and which is of crucial importance. Others have referred to Magna Carta. I hope that I will be forgiven for being the third but, particularly this year, we have to have uppermost in our minds at all times that clause that rings through the ages:
“To none will we … deny or delay … justice”.
My noble and learned friend Lord Lloyd of Berwick talked about the corrosive effect of indefinite detention and my noble friend Lord Hurd talked about the lack of certainty. However, it is worse than that, because it deprives people of hope. I remember when many years ago in the other place one of my colleagues said that the real poor of the 20th century were those without hope. The same applies today. I very much hope that when my noble and very sensitive friend Lord Bates comes to respond to this debate, he will at the very least indicate that it would be his wish that the recommendation of the report—that this should be referred to a working party at the beginning of the new Parliament—will be taken up. It is essential that it should be.
I first came across the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, when he was chairman of the Ecclesiastical Committee, on which I had the dubious honour of serving for some 40 years. He was the last in a long line of distinguished Law Lords who took the chair. He brought to that role a judicious insight, an incisive mind and, above all, good humour. If you are going to cope with the Church of England, you certainly need a good sense of humour. He displayed this perhaps at its best in October last year when we were debating in this House the Measure on women bishops. There were those of us who are of the catholic persuasion in the Church of England who had some misgivings. What I found particularly notable about the noble and learned Lord was that he accepted that the bar to further ecumenical development, which one hopes is temporary, was something that we all—whichever side of the argument we were on, and he was emphatically pro—had to bear in mind. In that recognition, he showed a tolerance that must be an essential characteristic of any Law Lord and we are all in his debt for that.
I deeply regret that the noble and learned Lord’s amendments on the office of Lord Chancellor were rejected in another place. I was very much on his side. I have come to accept the virtues of genetically modified crops, but I am not quite sure about genetically modified Lord Chancellors. This is no criticism of the present incumbent, who is a consummate politician and who has certainly worked with great industry, but in my view a deep knowledge of the law is an essential qualification for anyone who holds that high office.
The noble and learned Lord has indeed done this House a great service on his last day in the House. He retires tomorrow, but we shall all hold him in the highest regard and hope that he will exercise the club rights to which he is entitled. We have had two very remarkable speeches from retiring noble Lords this week. On Tuesday, my noble friend Lord Eden of Winton talked about the appalling problems created by the exploitation of palm oil and woke us all up to the reality of that problem. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, has today brought home to us the crucial importance of treating the most vulnerable in our country with true understanding and sensitivity. While we all have to have regard to those who would exploit the hospitality of this country, it is crucial that in the new Parliament we look carefully at the recommendations of this report.
My Lords, it is a tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, that so many excellent speeches have been given in his honour today. I first met him when I was appointed to the House as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary. We sat together in the Appellate Committee over many years in many distinct cases. The case that comes to my mind as demonstrating the essential humanity of the man whose departure we regret so much is an intellectual property case about the design of teddy bears. I do not know whether he remembers the case, but along to us was brought one of these teddy bears so that we could see the exhibit and understand what the case was all about. At the end, moving rapidly, as he often does, with the assistance of a doorkeeper the noble and learned Lord was able to seize hold of that teddy bear and take it into his possession. I hope very much that he still has it with him and that it will be a companion to him in his retirement.
I am very much in sympathy with the main thrust of this report and welcome many of the points that it makes. That is for a particular reason: it was my practice when I was the Lord Justice General in Scotland to visit as many of the prisons and detention institutions in Scotland as I could, because I felt that I had to know about the conditions there to do my job as Lord Justice General. During the seven years that I held office, I managed to visit all but one of the institutions and one or two of these visits stand particularly in my memory.
One of them was about 20 years ago to a block in a prison in Greenock, if my memory serves me correctly, where a large number of asylum seekers were being held in detention in the Scottish immigration detention centre, pending decisions as to whether they were to be deported or released. I remember being struck by two things. The first was the wholly inappropriate conditions in which these unfortunate people were being held. They can best be described as mid-Victorian, with the most primitive of cells and the most basic of facilities. The second was how totally abandoned these individuals appeared to be. I can still see in my mind’s eye the group of people to whom I was introduced. They were just standing about in a corridor like lost souls. There was nothing for them to do. Unlike convicted prisoners, who, as the noble and learned Lord will know well, can be given work to do and whose time will be occupied with education, work or something like that, there was nothing that could be done with them. They were simply there. There was nowhere to go and nowhere to sit down except in their own cells. Few of them could speak English. They seemed to have no idea why they were there and certainly no idea how long they were going to be there. They put questions to me and to the prison officers who were with me that we simply could not answer. I found it deeply depressing and it has remained in my memory ever since, which is why I am so much in sympathy with the work that the committee did and the points that have been made.
Things have moved on a little bit, at least in Scotland, because people who are being held under these arrangements now are being detained somewhere else, in Dungavel, which is mentioned in the report. It is much better suited to the purpose. When I did my travels around these places, it was an open prison. At one time, it was the home of one of Scotland’s most distinguished families—indeed, a Member of your Lordships’ House, the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk of Douglas, is said to have been born there, I think because it was the family home. Of course, it lost some of its original charm when it was turned into an open prison, but at least it had a rural setting and the kind of breadth to it that meant that it felt quite unlike a prison. That at least is some advance. It is a less intimidating place and there are many places where people can move around and sit down and live more or less like normal people. I have not seen the regime since then and I do not know how matters are being handled there, but I was saddened to see on page 47 of the report the problem, which affected people at Dungavel, of people being moved about “like furniture” without concern for their individual position.
There is not time to go into the issue about timing, except to say that the challenge that this report has set for the Minister and the Government means that the way to deal with it has to be by a radical rethinking of the whole idea of the use of detention from the very beginning. We should not put people into detention until it becomes really necessary to do so. The tragedy is that people are put there like furniture, as was said in the report, and once they are there it is extremely difficult to get them out, for the reasons that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, mentioned. There is real value in the report and I greatly welcome it.
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord will not have been aware of the very large number of colleagues who were below the Bar listening to his valedictory speech. I want to make him aware of that compliment. I remember when I was inevitably and always, in relative terms, a very junior lawyer and quite a new Peer—in my salad days, one might say—sitting next to the noble and learned Lord in a committee when it became apparent that the concept of the assignment of a trade mark rather escaped most of the other members of the committee. He turned to me and said, “You explain”, and I thought, “You’re asking me to explain?”. I join others in saying how invigorating his contributions have always been. I have always felt—I hope that this does not sound impertinent—how morally impeccable everything he has said in this Chamber as well as outside has been.
It is also a swansong for my honourable friend Sarah Teather. I thank her, too, and also her assistant Jonathan Featonby. I pay tribute to the NGOs and individuals who gave evidence to the inquiry of which I was a member. Not for the first time, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. The Stephen Shaw review is simply not wide enough. We need softer measures, in sharp distinction to what feels hopelessly—I stress that word—indefinite. I know that James Brokenshire says that it is not indefinite because we have to comply with the European convention, but it feels indefinite if you cannot see the end, coupled with uncertainty about the outcome.
The evidence is that compliance rates from community-based arrangements for looking after asylum seekers are very high, and of course that is a much less expensive way of going about the work. There are relatively few absconds. The case management model used in Sweden is based on early intervention and a welfare and rights framework. Individuals feel that they are given a fair hearing—and if they have to leave, they can make their own arrangements with dignity. This inquiry has said to me, among other things, that one of the things that is most lacking is dignity. A fair process means that the outcome is much more readily accepted, so it is effective in every sense. I have noted that Sweden’s detention estate has a capacity of just over 250. We have getting on for 4,000, plus the use of prisons, plus the proposed Campsfield extension.
I was very much struck by the comment that the environment is “counter-therapeutic”—that is, to mental health care. I was also struck by the frustration with Rule 35, which the Chief Inspector of Prisons told us was often a bureaucratic exercise. We heard, too, about the lack of training of staff.
The noble Baroness referred to the definition of torture for legal purposes, and I support what she said. What we heard on mental health in general was disturbing, particularly that the first response to symptoms is often, “They’re not real”—there is a culture of disbelief.
The Home Office has put so much effort and thought into the issue of slavery and trafficking over the last few months, and into the operation of the national referral mechanism. There must be a read-across from that to the trauma suffered by many who find themselves in asylum and immigration detention because of their experiences. It may not be due to trafficking, but, my goodness, it amounts to a huge degree of trauma, and they are in danger of retraumatisation by the experience of detention.
Immigration detention gives a wrong message to those who seek sanctuary and support—I accept that that is not the only population of IRCs—and sends a message about them. I go so far as to say that I think that it gives support—which I know is unintended—to that nasty, xenophobic element of society that sees immigrants in a way that I know your Lordships do not.
My Lords, this has been one more milestone in the long immigration debate. I thank my noble and learned friend for setting it out today, and congratulate him on his valediction. I shall miss his good sense and good humour, as will so many of our colleagues.
I have been involved in a number of previous inquiries and reports by all-party groups, some on immigration, some on Africa. They have all been good examples of best parliamentary practice, in which the general public, outside groups, NGOs and refugees themselves can engage with MPs and Peers. This report is therefore another outstanding example. Many of the recommendations coincide with those of the Independent Asylum Commission—mentioned by my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham—which offered a way forward, as does this report. However, I am sorry to say that apart from improved conditions for children and families, which have been welcomed, the Home Office still seems to be travelling with blinkers on. It has focused on immigration largely from the point of view of its effect on numbers, the impact on the British economy and on our way of life, and much too little on the situation of the refugees and migrants themselves.
I speak as a patron of Friends Without Borders in Portsmouth, which is concerned about inmates in Haslar IRC. Haslar has had quite a good HMI report recently, but it is unfortunately due for closure in a few weeks. I am aware of the wide discontent around the issue of length of detention. Most people who work closely with detainees feel strongly that there should be a maximum period of 28 days. Detention Action’s report last October pointed out that indefinite detention was a “uniquely British phenomenon”—and it is not one of which the UK can be proud. In 2013, over 900 migrants left detention after spending more than six months inside. Visitors to Haslar are perturbed, for example, by the case of an Indian national who was detained in October 2009 and released two years later, in December 2011. He was then returned to Haslar on 20 February 2013 and is still in immigration detention in Haslar another two years later. The point is that the Home Office did not remove him from a removal centre between 2009 and 2011, nor between 2013 and 2015. Yet he is not a danger to society in any way. There are many such cases, even just in Portsmouth. Another man was first detained in February 2013, then redetained last December. Three others in Haslar have been detained for long periods of 10 months, nine months and seven months. All those are from war-torn countries and the Home Office has not been able to obtain travel documents for them.
As at 31 December 2014, of the 3,462 people detained in immigration removal centres in short-term facilities, there were 20 cases of detainees who had suffered the longest recorded lengths of detention, over 700 days, and one of these was for 1,793 days. One or more long periods of detention for any person, without any time limit or sense of the length of the tunnel that you are in, is injurious to mental health, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Hamwee, said. We can add to that the fact that most detained asylum seekers have already endured persecution followed by long, hazardous journeys and, perhaps, torture. Yet these people are victims, not criminals; they are asylum seekers who have already been through an ordeal. There should be other checks on detention. For instance, people have argued for years for automatic bail hearings, and for proper notice of the reasons for detention. Is Rule 35 of the Detention Centre Rules about safeguarding torture survivors being effectively applied?
We are said to be a generous country with a good record on asylum, yet the rhetoric as we approach the general election is that we are too generous because we cannot meet our immigration targets, including the student targets. Yet if we look at the wider situation in the Middle East, we are way down the list. Out of millions of Syrians in exile we have accepted only a handful of refugees, and Europe as a whole has taken less than 30,000 of the 120,000 that the UN would like us to take. Against that background, I hope that the Home Office will look more closely at its policy towards detention and take this opportunity to use the report to bring people of good will together to act on the recommendations and come up with more community-based solutions.
My Lords, I crave the indulgence of the House for just one moment. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, was kind enough to mention me in his final contribution to debates in your Lordships’ House. I have greatly valued and enjoyed the warm and generous friendship of the noble and learned Lord. Our relationship goes back to the time when I was Convenor of the Cross Benches in 1999. He made a contribution to resolving the intractable issue of Gulf War syndrome, in which I, too, became closely involved. He was a most astute adviser when I had the temerity, in 2008, to table and move an annulment Motion concerning Armed Forces appeal tribunals. Many more important issues have benefited from the noble and learned Lord’s forensic and persuasive arguments, as we have heard.
I place on record my admiration and respect for the noble and learned Lord, and wish him well with his next assignments with Jane and dogs, Meg and Bertie, whether at home or abroad. All noble Lords will greatly miss the company and contributions of the noble and learned Lord. A bientôt, Tony.
My Lords, this has been an excellent debate. This is a challenging issue and the undercover reports and allegations of abuse at Yarl’s Wood have brought a new awareness of the problems and issues at immigration centres. The excellent report of the APPG, of which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, was a member, provides a great service to Parliament. I hope that the Government will see it that way as well.
As this is such a challenging issue, we should be particularly grateful to the noble and learned Lord for choosing this debate in which to make his valedictory or swansong speech, given that there are so many other issues he could have chosen. However, he chose this issue as, through his contribution to the report and the debate today, he wants to make a real and significant difference.
The noble and learned Lord had a very distinguished legal career outside your Lordships’ House and brought that expertise and thoughtful judgment to his years of service in this House. He has been formidable in debate. Former Ministers have told me that they used to quake in their shoes at the thought of him asking a question. I hope that he will delight in that as he leaves us. However, I did not agree with one issue in his excellent speech. His final litmus test for deciding to retire from your Lordships’ House was when he was offered a seat on the train. That makes me nervous as, two weeks ago, I left your Lordships’ House, caught a 453 bus, and a young lady offered me her seat. It was a sobering moment but I am not quite ready to retire yet. I pay warm tribute to the noble and learned Lord. We will miss him and his contributions.
Along with other noble Lords speaking today, I have asked the Government numerous questions about abuse at Yarl’s Wood and I have been disappointed by the replies because, although Serco runs the centre, the detention policies and the welfare of detainees is the responsibility of the Government. We have already made it clear that a Labour Government will hold an independent investigation into the Yarl’s Wood allegations and the appropriateness of the current level of detention in the system. However, I think that we can do better than that. As we have heard today, and have seen in the report, the current system is failing. There is a growing backlog of cases. Unresolved asylum cases have increased by 48% over the last year. The number of people being held for three to six months has gone up from 1,757 in 2010 to 2,385 today. As the parliamentary report highlights, people are being detained for longer. Delays in the immigration and asylum processes have increased over the last five years with more people being detained for longer than three months, fewer decisions being made and fewer people leaving or being removed. That has to change.
We have already said that a Labour Government would end the detention of pregnant women and women who have suffered torture and sexual abuse and have been trafficked. As we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, currently guidelines on torture and pregnancy—
My Lords, if he were to table it tomorrow, we would not vote against it. Our policy has changed. We have looked into the issue. Noble Lords on the noble Baroness’s Benches who voted against the amendment on overseas domestic workers, which was taken to a Division last night by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, should hang their heads in shame. I take no lessons from noble Lords who voted against his amendment. We have made a very principled decision on what we as a Labour Government would do on asylum detention.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, said, the guidelines on torture and pregnancy are not being enforced, so the immigration laws have to be changed, and then we have to ensure that they are enforced.
We have looked at indefinite detention in further detail. We now believe that indefinite detention for people who have committed no crime and have had no review of their case is wrong. For those asylum seekers who have suffered abuse, torture or sexual abuse, it must be such an ordeal and deeply distressing. It is also extremely expensive for the taxpayer. No other European country or the US has this system in place today, so we do not need to either. I confirm to your Lordships’ House that a Labour Government would end indefinite detention for people in the asylum and immigration system.
We are not setting a timescale today, but in government we will consult on the appropriate time limits to detention, and look at appropriate safeguards for detention decisions, at best international practice and at existing alternatives that are being used and, in many cases, working well. An important part of our commitment is that we would also recruit 1,000 additional border and immigration enforcement staff to help speed up that decision-making process, indentify breaches of the Immigration Rules and enforce and manage removals. Everyone must be entitled to a swift and fair decision-making process. If they have no right to be in the UK, they still must be treated fairly and appropriately.
I want to be clear that we are not talking about those who have committed criminal offences or are being deported because of criminal behaviour, or about those who pose a threat to our national security or public safety. This change will affect the rules around detention for people in the asylum or immigration system.
I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, for allowing us to have this debate. I wish him well and a very long and happy retirement. I hope that we shall still see him in your Lordships’ House.
Finally, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bates, which may surprise him at this moment. He and I have spent many hours at this Dispatch Box over the last few weeks and he has always been extremely courteous and helpful in seeking to answer questions. Sometimes we have seen more of each other in this Chamber than we have seen of our families outside the Chamber. However, I am really very grateful to him for the courtesy with which he has treated us and the way in which he has engaged in debate.
I thank the noble Baroness for that unexpected remark—I was slightly thrown by it—and, of course, I am very happy to reciprocate. There has been common ground in many of the areas that we have debated over the past six months while I have been in this role. On issues such as child sexual exploitation, counterterrorism legislation and modern- day slavery, we have, in the best traditions, worked together to provide better and more humane protection for people in this country.
It was typical of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, to choose the topic of this debate for his swansong. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, said that Ministers quake in their shoes when the noble and learned Lord rises to his feet. If I am not quaking in my shoes it is only because the noble and learned Lord manages to prod the conscience of Ministers and hold them to account, not necessarily with a full, thrusting and aggressive approach but always with a very perceptive presentation of the case, and always on behalf of others and the most vulnerable in our society. I pay tribute to him. He will be sadly missed.
I realise that I have only a short time to speak because Standing Orders dictate that this debate should finish at 3.12 pm, I think. However, I do not think that we have anything else going on until people with strange tricorn hats start to appear at the Bar. I want to try to address some of the issues raised because they impact on the most vulnerable people in our society as well as some of the people from around the world who come here. We need to make sure that those issues are looked at carefully.
I join the noble and learned Lord in paying tribute to the authors, Sarah Teather and the others mentioned in this debate, for the way that they conducted both part 1 and part 2 of their review of detention in the immigration system and its effectiveness. I will return to that in just a second. Their work builds on a body of evidence that is raising deep public concerns. The undercover experiences at Yarl’s Wood in the Channel 4 documentary were deeply disturbing and are rightly the subject of an independent investigation. There was also the report by Women for Refugee Women, which I have read, about the daily experiences of people in that system. I think that one would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the stories that one hears and the accounts that one is given.
I am conscious that I am on a race to the bottom of the page already. My noble friend Lord Hurd is a distinguished former Home Secretary. I hope that he will be forbearing of a junior Minister in his former department who on the final day of term stretches the limits a little further than perhaps was initially thought. I shall try to do that in a number of areas, and he can come to my tribunal hearing if I go on a little bit too long and can perhaps defend me.
The first thing is to try to find the common ground. When I visited Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre, there were different categories of people whom I met. I met detainees and staff as well. A very large proportion of them were coming in from the centres at Calais where they get on to trains or lorries and are then picked up immediately at the other end. They are then brought into the detention centre and stay only for a matter of hours before they are moved on and processed elsewhere, often returning of their own choice to France or Belgium.
There are then the most difficult cases, the foreign national offenders who have been referred to in many of the contributions that I have listened to. These are the people who used to be held within the prison estate and were then deported from there when they had served their sentence. A small proportion of them are still in the prison estate but are held now in the immigration detention centre ready to be removed. I am deeply conscious of the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, is in his place. We had a very helpful meeting for interested Peers with officials dealing with these areas following the Yarl’s Wood allegations. The noble Lord rightly spoke of the appropriateness of mixing foreign national offenders who are on their way out with people who are seeking asylum in this country. That point has to be looked at. Clearly, one has a group of people who, understandably, want to do almost everything they possibly can to frustrate the removal process. They do not want to co-operate; they do not want to apply for identity documents. A principal reason why people are held there is that it is not in their interest to co-operate and give an accurate name, to give their passport details and date of birth, and to get replacement documentation for their country, because that would be, as it were, to co-operate in the process of the return which they do not want—they want to stay here. Having the privilege of being in this country, I am sure that we can all totally understand why they would want to do that. Virtually every foreign national offender whose case I have looked into has been there for a very long period and falls into that category.
The detained fast track is an issue which will have to be addressed. Normally, the Border Force feels that these people’s asylum claims at ports of entry can be dealt with quickly and a swift decision reached. Normally, under the detained fast track, that can take 10 to 14 days. Not all those people are then deported; many of those claims are immediately upheld and the individuals concerned are moved to be cared for in the asylum system. That is important, too.
There are some areas on which I should like to make progress and cut to the chase, as there have been some very serious contributions. On Yarl’s Wood, one of the issues was the proportion of female staff. Yarl’s Wood is principally a place of female detention, so it would be appropriate for the number of female staff to be increased. We have said that we want to see it increased further and expect it to grow to 60%. Some also asked for greater transparency and for the improvement plans, which were previously not published, to be published. Taking advantage of the leniency which my noble friend Lord Hurd gave me, I can say that that will now be released.
I can also say as a statement of intent that we do not, as a direction of travel, want to see growth in the numbers of people in the immigration detention centres. For that reason, I can inform the House that the planning application for an extension at Campsfield has been declined. Moreover, today we are announcing that we are handing the Haslar immigration removal centre back to the prison estate. These are very important points as a general statement of direction of travel as to where government policy is going.
On the Stephen Shaw review, without wishing to test the patience of people who say that this is a time for action and not for more reviews, I think that there is something to be said for the fact that on an issue of this sensitivity, the margins of an election are not necessarily the time to get an objective and fair review of the case. We want to do this in a thorough and careful way, and explore all possible alternatives. There is the Kate Lampard review being undertaken by Serco and there is also the review by Stephen Shaw, who is widely respected. He is particularly looking at welfare. I will write to him today to ask him to extend the remit of his review to cover, in particular, the detention of pregnant women and people with disabilities. When we talk about that, distinct from talking about foreign national offenders who I think we all recognise are a different category in this sensitive issue, we are talking about those in the detained fast track. We will ask him to look particularly at the appropriateness of the welfare of those groups.
I will need to double check on that, but I think that, under Article 5 and the rules governing when people have been subject to sexual violence or torture, that is the subject of the medical examination when they are brought into the system and therefore they should never be in the system. I will look at that— I will not look at the Box, because I will get a shake of the head, probably—and include it in my letter to Stephen Shaw today.
I could address other matters, but time has probably run out and so I am not able to.
Under the John Vine report on detention and sexuality, there is meant to be an action plan. Clearly, the recommendations are sitting in the Home Office. When will the action plan come forward so that issues to do with sexuality in detention can be addressed? We know what the issues are. The Home Office has accepted the recommendations and we are just waiting for the action plan.
I do not have the details of when the action plan will be released. As the noble Lord said, we have accepted the recommendations and we will release it at some point. I shall get an answer for him today. My officials will have the answer and if he meets me at the back of the Chamber I shall quickly be able to give it to him.
I undertake to deal with the particular point raised by the noble Baroness. I recognise that this is an extremely sensitive issue and that we are talking about very vulnerable people. We are deeply concerned about it and are aware of our international obligations. It is that sense and that thought that I hope, in paying tribute again to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, is an example of his chairmanship, which he referred to, where he would take people who were a long way apart and then, step by step, bring them a little closer together. That is his legacy.