My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat an Answer to an Urgent Question given by my right honourable friend Victoria Atkins MP:
“The Government have agreed a short-term continuation of G4S’s contract to run the Gatwick immigration removal centres while further work is carried out to identify a long-term manager. The Home Office will launch a further, full competition later this year after the outcome of two independent reviews.
The contract for the management of Brook House and Tinsley House, which was due to expire this month, was put out for tender in November 2016. However, after careful consideration of the bids, it was decided that G4S would continue with the contract for a further two years. This will provide sufficient time to reflect on the two independent reviews’ conclusions, conduct a new procurement exercise and mobilise the successful provider. As with any procurement process, the Home Office has undertaken a robust evaluation of all bids, supported by a comprehensive due diligence process.
I recognise that the Government have taken this decision against the backdrop of the BBC “Panorama” programme on Brook House, which was broadcast in the autumn of last year. The previous Home Secretary made it clear at the time that the behaviour on display from some G4S staff was utterly unacceptable and set out our expectation that G4S would take urgent action to address the serious issues the programme uncovered. G4S has put in place a comprehensive action plan and this has quickly delivered improvements at Brook House. My right honourable friend the Immigration Minister has met G4S to review progress and visited the two Gatwick centres on 18 January.
Detaining those who are here illegally and who refuse to leave voluntarily is key to maintaining an effective immigration system, but, regardless of status, all immigration detainees must be treated with dignity and respect. Please be assured that we will always demand the highest standards from those we entrust with the safety and welfare of those in detention”.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Answer to the Urgent Question given by her honourable friend the Member for Louth and Horncastle in the other place yesterday.
We were all shocked at the appalling abuse at Brook House uncovered by the “Panorama” programme. As the noble Baroness said, regardless of status, all immigration detainees must be treated with dignity and respect. I agree with that entirely. However, I do not think that a further extension of two years can in any way be presented as a short-term continuation of the G4S contract to run the Gatwick immigration centres. Can the noble Baroness tell the House whether any other options to this extension were considered—and, if not, why not? If they were, what were they, and why was it still felt that this was the best option? Further, can she tell us what measures the Home Office has put in place to ensure that there will be no repeat of the appalling abuse of detainees during this two-year extension? It is clear that whatever measures were in place before failed. The abuse was brought to light only by the “Panorama” programme and those involved should be congratulated on the work they did to expose the abuse at Brook House.
I cannot disagree—in fact, I do not think that anyone would disagree—with the noble Lord that watching the “Panorama” programme was very uncomfortable. It was shocking, and I do not think that anyone would disagree with that. He asked why the contract was extended for two years and whether other options were considered. The two-year extension to May 2020 was to allow for the reprocurement of services. It is not an unusual amount of time when such a reprocurement is being undertaken.
The procurement and the longer-term contract will be for the provision of the operation, management and maintenance of Brook House and Tinsley House and the pre-departure family accommodation at Tinsley House, as I pointed out. It is to allow the Home Office to consider any relevant conclusions from the independent reviews by Stephen Shaw and Kate Lampard. The Home Office has received the Stephen Shaw report, and both are due to be published in the summer. All bidders in the current competition were told of this decision on 4 May.
The noble Lord rightly asked what the Government are doing in the light of the shocking findings by “Panorama”. Since the programme aired, the Home Office has worked closely with G4S to ensure that it responds vigorously and at pace to the issues highlighted by “Panorama”. The former Home Secretary, and Ministers Brandon Lewis and Caroline Nokes, have met G4S senior managers regularly to review progress, and that oversight will be maintained. We have set out very clear expectations for G4S in responding to the issues at Brook House highlighted by “Panorama”, and we are currently satisfied that G4S has responded well. It has appointed a new manager and dismissed nine members of staff; enhanced staffing levels with recruitment and training plans in place; introduced body-worn cameras for staff to provide more transparency and assurance around procedures there; refreshed and promoted its whistleblowing procedures, with additional training provided at the centre by the Jill Dando Institute; put in place an improved drugs strategy; and, as I mentioned, commissioned the independent review by Kate Lampard, which will report this summer. I think I have now answered all the noble Lord’s questions.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Answer. The Government’s explanation for releasing this information on the Friday of a bank holiday weekend—because the decision was made during purdah—begs the question: why was it made during purdah? Can the Minister explain how granting a two-year extension to G4S to run these facilities, despite the undercover BBC report, is consistent with the fact that the new Home Secretary no longer wants a hostile environment for illegal immigrants? Whoever gets the contract, is this not what happens when people are detained not knowing how long they are going to be detained, and with more than 160 people a year being detained for four months or more? Surely an absolute limit on immigration detention, as exists in most civilised countries, would provide the incentive the Home Office clearly needs to resolve these cases quickly one way or the other.
I thank the noble Lord for his questions. He asked why there is a two-year extension, especially when G4S was the subject of the “Panorama” programme. I hope I have outlined to the noble Lord, through my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, what the Government’s expectations of G4S will be in this period—and the full reprocurement will provide a solid basis for further progress on all the issues I have outlined. We will continue to monitor the progress and the performance carefully. The conclusions, in due course, of Kate Lampard’s review and Stephen Shaw’s wider follow-up review will provide further opportunities to learn the lessons and embed good practice, both at Gatwick and across immigration detention more widely.
The noble Lord made the point about the hostile environment, and I have said several times since the new Home Secretary has been in post that that is not a term he wants to see, because of the connotations. He is more interested in a compliant environment, with people complying with immigration rules. As for people not knowing how long they will be detained, we are clear that people are detained for as short a time as possible. It must be noted that 92% of people in detention are not there for more than four months. Indefinite detention is against the law: it is not something that we do. Therefore, people are in detention for as short a period as possible.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that at the root of this problem is, possibly, not having a rigorous enough selection process for staff? The make-up of staff—for example, their attitude to immigration—is vital. I know that it is difficult to find the right staff, but it is absolutely essential if we are to change the culture of how we look at people in detention.
I totally agree with the noble Lord about the rigorous selection of staff. He will have heard me saying that nine staff have been dismissed in the light of the programme. However, going forward, it is not so much about those nine staff having been dismissed as about the staff who will be employed. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has also talked about a humane environment. Humanity is at the heart of this: these are people, and they must be treated properly and humanely. I also talked about the whistleblowing procedures and the internal whistleblowing policy, which have been refreshed and reinforced. The engagement between case workers and detainees is a very important relationship that must be treated sensitively. The new arrangements will also strengthen our capacity to oversee the contract effectively. I totally agree with the noble Lord’s point.
Order. It is Labour’s turn.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that this whole horrible saga has once more raised the strategic question of how far commercial culture can satisfactorily replace the tradition of public service, with its concentration on people? Has there not once again been too much concentration on targets and systems? We are dealing with people in crisis. It is difficult to imagine the turmoil and trauma that they and their families are going through. However firm our policy—and I am certain that it has to be firm—does the Minister not agree that we must have people in place who understand human relations and the predicament of the people with whom they are coping?
The noble Lord always speaks with great humanity on such matters. It is probably fair to say that public outsourcing is not necessarily all good and private outsourcing is not necessarily all bad. What is important is that the service delivered meets the highest standards. The noble Lord is absolutely right to say that human beings are at the centre of this issue and that some of them will be traumatised when they come into detention, so it is all the more important that they are treated sensitively.