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Mr. Malins: The hon. Gentleman will know from his experience that an interesting parallel can be drawn here with what happens in the criminal justice system when a person who has pleaded not guilty to a crime and who has been on bail throughout a lengthy jury trial is finally
Simon Hughes: People who read these debates may not be aware that the hon. Gentleman sits as a recorder in our courts. He is absolutely right: the courts use the procedure that he has described because it is a way to make sure that the interests of the state are protected when there is a danger that they might not otherwise be enforced. That is the principle.
The second very strong principle that I want to enunciate is that we must not put people in things that are called removal centres if they are not at that stage destined for removal. In that, I share exactly the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Woking.
I have not begun to understand the Government case to the contrary, but there are all sorts of arguments for saying that it is absolutely wrong to put people in something that used to be called a detention centrewhich is suddenly now known as a removal centrewhen their cases have not been finally considered. I hope that Ministers will seriously consider the widespread objection to the redesignation. Names are important, and if the Government are going to change the name of those centres they should use an honest one, not a dishonest one. More importantly, there are likely to be adverse consequences.
The first adverse consequence is that people put in places called removal centres, when no decision has been taken about their case, will not be certain that they will be treated fairly. If they are placed in something called a removal centre, they will presumeI would, and other people would toothat, regardless of the value of their case or of the way they have expressed it, and regardless too of the so-called independent process involved, they will be removed.
Simon Hughes: The hon. Gentleman makes an apposite point. People will be being told what the outcome of the process will be before they have had a chance to put their case. That must be wrong. I cannot understand how the Government could even think that the idea was justifiable. I shall be interested to hear whether the Minister can provide a justification, but she will have to find an argument that none of us have heard from a Minister before.
I am certain that the House of Lords will change the provision, because it is oppressive and harmful nonsense. People in that position will be adversely psychologically affected. They are likely to be more disruptive and less settled. There are all sorts of arguments why we should not go down that road. I sincerely hope that we can change the name, and that clause 52 will be deleted from the Bill, as my colleagues and I propose. Like the Conservative party, we have proposed amending part of the clause, if we cannot remove it, to achieve that effect.
One reason why we need controls is that, as I understand it, detainee custody officers, who will not necessarily be public employees and are not therefore directly accountable to any public service disciplinary process or public complaints process, will be able to intervene, take possession of property, and so on. That is why my colleagues and I tabled amendment No. 59, to which the Home Secretary added his name. We are concerned that those who go into premises without a warrant to detain people who are then held should be subject to disciplinary processes and proper scrutiny. The least that we can do, therefore, is limit or control the force with which they enter premises. However, I hope that Ministers will go beyond that and let us see the rules that will govern searches of detainees. We have seen no such draft rules yet.
I hope that the Government will back off from the idea of giving unaccountable employees of private contractors powers that are greater than those of immigration and police officers, who are accountable public servants. It is quite wrong to go down that road, and as the Minister will know from our debates in Committee, my colleagues and I strongly believe that everyone involved in the accommodation and detention of asylum seekers and others should be in the public service and the public sector.
A bizarre twist is that in Committee, when my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) and I pressed to a Division a proposal on keeping asylum and accommodation centres in the public realmthe public estate or public provisionthe Conservatives abstained, which seemed a perfectly reasonable view to take, and Labour Members opposed it. So the party that used to be the party of public service is opposing keeping things in the public sector. It would appear, according to the way people voted in Committee, that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties are much more concerned about these matters than are the Government.
If people go to a removal centre, it is highly likely to have an adverse effect on them, even if they are eventually allowed into the country. If they are asked where they spent the past six months of their life, Campsfield removal centre is hardly the best thing to put on their resumé or curriculum vitae when going for their first job, having been accepted as an asylum seeker in this country.
The way in which the Government are moving suggests that they want to give the impression that they will have ever greater powers to remove people, irrespective of the rights that they may establish. It is not as if it is justified on the basis of the figures. I know that the Government are keen to remove people: they say that they want to remove 30,000 people a year. I understand that it has been put in alternative terms at 2,500 people a month, most recently by the Home Secretary. Removals figures are much lower than that.
Is the redesignation a way to enable the Government to say that they have removed a certain number of people but that they also have more in removal centres? That would create a wholly false impression: it would make it look good to the uninitiated, as if those people were all
I will end where I beganfollowing on from the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre. I do not understand how it is possible for this Government to preach human rights around the world but not to endorse in full the United Nations convention on the rights of the child and to hold such reservations. I do not understand how that can be other than hypocritical, or how it can be consistent.
Many of us have had experience of dealing with asylum seekers in our constituency work as Members of Parliament, and before that in our other lives. The hon. Gentleman did so as a social worker, the hon. Member for Woking and I were in the legal profession, and some colleagues, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Hancock), worked for local authorities.
The reality is that the state has an obligation to treat young people as young people first, not as asylum seekers. It has a duty to treat children as children and to give them all the things that they need. Many come here unaccompanied, as you know well from your part of the world, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and many come with their families. The way we treat them will be reflected in the way they behave when they grow up. If young people are treated as prisoners and locked up, not only will it be bad for themprisons will make them much more likely to become offenders, to have dysfunctional behaviour and the restbut it will create the wrong impression about what we think is important about them.
I therefore endorse the request of the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre and I press the Minister, as he did, to say why the Government persist in keeping so many people under the age of 18 in prison in general and why they insist on the right to keep asylum-seeking youngsters in prison. If we are short of general and specialist social services accommodation, social services ought to have more money so that they can provide it, if that is the issue.
As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, secure local authority accommodation can be provided. Southwark council is a part manager of a place called Orchard lodge in south-east London on behalf of several local authorities; it is entirely secure. The alternative is not to put people in Rochester prison, Lancaster Farms, or anywhere else. Doing so is incompatible with our international obligations. It is bad practice and a bad example.
I hope that we will change this part of the Bill fundamentally. I also hope that the Minister will give as encouraging a response to these questions as the Home Secretary did on two of the issues highlighted in the first group of amendments that we debated yesterday. Then, the Government accepted Opposition arguments. I hope that they understand the force of the case. We do not want people who are not going to be removed put in places called removal centres. We do not want children to be imprisoned when they should not be. We want everyone to have the right to be outside such centres and to enjoy freedom unless there is a good case for them to be detained and to have their liberty taken away.