Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Jeremy Corbyn: I have some sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman has said about the mixture of people in

12 Jun 2002 : Column 874

detention centres at present. Does he feel, as many of us do, that, in general, asylum seekers should not be detained, or does he believe that there should be different sorts of detention centre for different categories of asylum seekers, failed applicants and people whose removal is pending?

Mr. Malins: It is not practically possible to detain all asylum seekers. Many years ago, when the numbers were different, we might have been able to discuss that as a practical possibility, although there would have been merits to argue; but it is impossible to detain all the asylum seekers who are now arriving each year.

What is the proper approach? We support the Government's policy on accommodation centres, but how can I argue that an asylum seeker should be detained unless the authorities have a real fear that that person will abscond, and there is substantial evidence suggesting that detention is necessary? It may be thought that an asylum seeker poses a severe risk in terms of criminal activity; it may be thought that that person has committed a criminal offence. Fine. Subject to judicial oversight, there must be categories of asylum seekers, just as there are categories of ordinary people such as the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) and me. Certain categories do have to be detained, for various reasons. In today's climate, however, the suggestion that all asylum seekers should be detained is both wrong in principle and impossible, in practical terms, to implement. The whole issue is very delicate.

The hon. Member for Islington, North has been in the House for a long time and knows more about this subject than most of us, probably including me. He has a fine reputation. Nevertheless, he and I both understand that the theme running through many of our debates is the balance between involvement of the state in custodial issues, and the judiciary. We know how important it is to get that balance right—not to let it tilt too far to one side but always, as I said yesterday, to ensure that the judiciary are involved.

If I were ever locked up, I should want to be locked up on the order of a judge. I should feel much happier then, especially if I had the right of appeal to another judge. Then I would have to take my medicine. I am now rapidly wondering whether I have done anything to deserve it! Anyway, the hon. Gentleman understands the thrust of what I am saying. I do not think we are very far apart.

4 pm

I conclude by repeating my unhappiness at the fact that we are moving towards the use of new titles such as "removal centres". As far as I can tell, such centres will not be used to house people who are to be removed. The title "detention centres" is much more acceptable if such centres are to be used for those detained for lawful reasons, subject to the proper right to apply for bail, and so on. It is not surprising that we have tabled an amendment to clause 52 that would define a "removal centre" as a place used solely for the detention of persons

Mr. Mike Hancock (Portsmouth, South): The hon. Gentleman's reply to the intervention from the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) contained the assumption that, in some circumstances, detention is

12 Jun 2002 : Column 875

the right course of action. The hon. Gentleman talks about the judicial review process, but at what stage should that process start? Should it kick in when a person is detained at the point of entry? Should it run alongside consideration of the asylum application?

Mr. Malins: The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting question, but I am anxious not to stray too far from the narrow terms of my amendment. When someone makes an application for asylum on entry, it may or may not be perfectly proper for the Government to decide that they should be detained straight away. However, the point is that the process must be subject to judicial scrutiny, and quickly. If the Government are found to be right, that is fine; if not, that is equally fine. Let us be frank: the judiciary is independent, end of story.

It is not so much the principle of detention that troubles me. By and large, any Government—including the current Government and the previous Conservative Government—would do their best to act reasonably. What does trouble me is the prospect of a lack of proper judicial oversight. That brings to mind part III of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and issues such as automatic bail rights, but that is a subject for another day.

Today's proceedings have got off to a slightly less stroppy start than yesterday's. I hope that the Minister thinks that my general approach has merit, and that, if she is not prepared to accept the amendment, she will consider using the other place to insert something similar in the Bill.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): I begin by apologising for tabling amendment No. 262 at this late stage in the Bill's passage. I doubt whether it is the most adequate amendment that has been discussed so far, but it is an important one that is based on an important principle to which I am absolutely committed: that children should not be detained in any form of custody. The only Government policy that I have deep antipathy towards is their willingness to lock up children.

My constituency has one of the largest child prisons in the country, Lancaster Farms, in which 360 children are shortly to be detained. Under the street crime initiative, we in Lancashire may be introducing custody for 12-year-olds. That is wrong, and we should not do it. We should use amendment No. 262 to promote the non-custodial treatment of all children who are caught up in the deeply distressing circumstances of asylum applications.

My proposals are entirely in line with the UN convention on the rights of the child, to which the Government are a signatory. The Government cannot continue to maintain an opt-out on the immigration and asylum provisions of the convention in defiance of a legal opinion obtained by Save the Children that the opt-out is unsustainable. I suspect that when the Government report to the UN committee on the rights of the child in Geneva in September they will—unfortunately and very sadly—be in great difficulty. Maintaining that opt-out in order to retain the ability to detain children goes against the spirit of the UN convention, which has been signed by every country in the world except two. Few of the signatories maintain any opt-out.

12 Jun 2002 : Column 876

I shall not press the amendment to a vote. It is similar to an amendment that I tabled previously and I seek the Minister's assurance that she is not happy with detaining children in such circumstances, and that all measures possible will be taken to safeguard the welfare of any children who are detained. I ask again how the provisions of the Children Act 1989 can possibly apply to children in that situation. The broader principle about the rights and wrongs of holding children under 18 in any form of custodial institution are matters to which I shall continue to return in discussion of asylum and criminal justice legislation, until the Government do what is right and fall in line with some of their best principles. The Government have tried to be a good Government for children, and they now need to decide that such treatment of children is utterly wrong.

Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): Like the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), I welcome Government new clause 9 and we will not seek to divide the House on this group. I hope that that is helpful to hon. Members planning their afternoon. The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) has spoken to amendment No. 262, and we support it because we support the principle that he enunciated of not detaining children. We were similarly motivated when we tabled amendment No. 169.

I shall speak to amendment No. 60, in my name and my hon. Friends' names, and amendments Nos. 141 and 139, which were tabled with both Conservative and Liberal Democrat support. This is the beginning of a debate on detention and removal that we have not yet addressed on the Floor of the House, although we debated it in Committee. It raises some important principles. The first is the one mentioned by the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn)—the question of who should be detained. Like him, I believe that detention should not be the presumption. The presumption should be that a person seeking asylum is as lawful a world citizen as is a citizen of this country who was born here and who does not want to go anywhere else. On that basis, detention is necessary only if the person is a risk to society in some way, or has a criminal record that means that he or she should not be let out.

I accept too that detention may also be used at the very end of the process, when a person has put a case, and lost it after a proper appeal. The Minister knows that I believe that that process should happen in this country, and that people should be here when they appeal. At the end of the process it is acceptable—not desirable, but acceptable—that for a period it may be necessary to detain people immediately prior to their departure from the country. That is necessary to make sure that the link between the final decision that people cannot stay and their removal is not broken, and that people do not disappear from the system at that stage when they know that they cannot succeed with their cases.

Next Section

IndexHome Page