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Immigration: Harmondsworth

Volume 769: debated on Thursday 3 March 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the publication on 1 March of the Chief Inspector of Prisons’ Report on an unannounced inspection of Heathrow Immigration Removal Centre: Harmondsworth site, what action they are taking to rectify the situation.

My Lords, the Government take the welfare of detainees extremely seriously. We have independent inspections and publish service improvement plans. We will closely monitor progress towards implementing the recommendations, and have recently announced a strategic response to Stephen Shaw’s report to provide greater protection for vulnerable refugees.

The unannounced inspection of Harmondsworth must cause us all tremendous disquiet, as it did the inspectors. What steps are the Government taking to rectify the dirty, overcrowded and poorly ventilated residential units, unsanitary toilets and showers, and disregard of mental health issues? Will the criticism that many of the 661 detainees in what is Europe’s largest immigration detention centre were held for an unreasonably long time—one for five years, 18 others for over one year—prompt the Government to end the indefinite detention of immigration detainees?

The report by the inspectorate was very serious and disappointing. Stephen Shaw made 58 recommendations, 50 of which were accepted immediately. James Brokenshire set out in a Written Ministerial Statement on 14 January the Government’s plans to deal with that, and already we have posted a service improvement plan—what we are going to do to address the very points mentioned in the report of Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons. We will continue to monitor that progress.

My Lords, have any of those being removed committed offences here or abroad? If so, how many of them?

Currently in the immigration detention estate there are about 2,700 people. Of those, 40% are foreign national offenders. If one then takes into account those who have committed immigration offences, they are the overwhelming majority of all those who are held in detention. They are held in detention as a last resort in exceptional circumstances, just prior to departure.

My Lords, the Chief Inspector of Prisons states in his introduction that the report,

“highlights substantial concerns in most of our tests of a healthy custodial establishment”.

He also states that many of the concerns that were identified in 2013, when Harmondsworth IRC was run by the GEO Group, have not been rectified, and in some respects matters have deteriorated since then, even though since September 2014 the Harmondsworth site has been run for the Home Office by the care and custody division of the Mitie Group. What penalties under the terms of their contracts have been, and will now be, incurred by the two contractors concerned, since presumably the Minister can confirm, in the light of the adverse reports from the chief inspector in 2013 and again in his latest report, that neither contractor has run or is now running the Harmondsworth site in accordance with the terms of their contract?

That is something that is under active review at this point in the light of Stephen Shaw’s report. He identified that there had been some improvement in a number of areas since 2013, particularly in the physical infrastructure of the site, but nowhere near enough. There are very strict criteria set out for performance in the contract, and they are being reviewed by the Home Office. We will of course make public what actions will be taken when a decision has been reached.

No, we have just had a Labour question.

Yesterday I visited some houses in a Home Office scheme in a street in West Drayton, run by an adjoining hotel, Heathrow Lodge, which provides a few days’ initial short-term accommodation for asylum-seeker arrivals before they are dispersed. There are very basic bedrooms, with communal bathrooms and no kitchens. Will the Minister look personally into the numerous problems that I found there? I will send him a briefing, but they included people who seemed to have been effectively abandoned there for up to three months instead of three days; the quality of food provided; a lack of necessary Home Office communication and documents; ridiculous rules; a lack of facilities for a one year-old child who had been there for some time, and much more.

I am very happy to look at those issues, just as we looked at the issues raised by cases in Cardiff and Middlesbrough recently. If the noble Lord supplies me with information, I am very happy to look at it more closely.

My Lords, can the Minister throw a little more light on the remarkable statistic referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, that someone has been in there for five years? How can that be?

It is certainly the case that 92% have been there for less than four months, and the time is reducing. Of course, those who have been there for longer than four months—in fact, for longer than 28 days—are often people who are working very hard to avoid their removal. They are perfectly entitled to do so, but they are trying to frustrate the system. We have concerns about public safety. That is the reason why they are there and have not been granted bail.

My Lords, we have gone through four Questions this morning. Has the Minister, like me, been thinking, “How long will it be before we can forgive the Liberal Democrats for not dealing with these problems when they were part of the coalition”?