Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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Ms Winterton: Let me deal first with amendment No. 236. We believe that the amendment is redundant because the only force that may lawfully be used is that which is reasonable. That is explicit in both the clause and paragraph 17(2) of schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971. We are mirroring the provisions of that Act, and although we have considered alternatives, we believe that it is acceptable to use the same wording. Quite simply, if the force is unreasonable, it is likely to be unlawful.

Mr. Malins: I think that the Minister said that, if the force is unreasonable, it is lawful—

Ms Winterton: Unlawful.

Mr. Malins: The Minister may have meant to say that if the force is unreasonable it is unlawful. What consequences would flow from that?

Ms Winterton: I shall come to complaints in due course, but obviously if the action were unlawful, the person would have broken the law and would be liable for his action in the same way that anyone else would be in those circumstances.

Mr. Allan: I want to encourage the Minister to look more favourably on the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Woking. She has just spoken about mirroring the 1971 Act; I wonder whether she will offer a commitment to look at what happened in the 1999 Act? At the time, the Government said that the word ''reasonable'' was redundant, but to reassure the Opposition Members they included it in the Bill. The same argument may apply now. For the sake of public reassurance, it would be better if the Bill stated ''reasonable force'' rather than simply ''force''.

Ms Winterton: I was about to say that although we remain satisfied that there is adequate protection, we will certainly consider instances such as the one to

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which the hon. Gentleman referred. At present, we are extremely satisfied that it is not necessary to add ''reasonable''. We would have to look at any repercussions that there might be for Acts when the word ''unreasonable'' is not inserted. I hope that that reassures him.

Amendment No. 262 would make the clause inconsistent with paragraph 17(2) of schedule 2 to the 1971 Act, to which it is directly linked. The clause gives detainee custody officers a limited power of entry to private premises to search detained persons before escorting them to a place of detention. As we said, our problem is that there are currently unnecessary delays, as police officers have a larger burden. The experience can needlessly distress detainees, as they must be taken to the nearest police station so that the escort can search them.

A detainee escort's power of entry is limited. It would be exercised only when escorts accompanied police or immigration officers to premises for which a justice of the peace has issued a warrant. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam asked how escorts will be held accountable for their actions. As I said, escorts are as accountable in law for their actions as anyone else. That would remain the case, even given the limited power of entry. They are responsible for escorting detained persons safely and securely to and from places of detention. They are detainee custody officers, who are certified under section 154 of the 1999 Act to perform escort and custodial functions.

The hon. Gentleman asked about qualifications. The Secretary of State issues a certificate of authorisation only when he is satisfied that the applicant is a fit and proper person to perform the authorised functions of a certified DCO and has received training to an approved standard. The training covers the skills and competences necessary to perform escort functions, including safe use of control and restraint techniques, first aid, race awareness, suicide awareness, child care and child protection. The escorts are employed by Wackenhut UK Ltd, which is the immigration and nationality directorate's contracted service provider of in-country escorting of detained persons.

Complaints about an escort's actions are directed to the immigration service's escort contract monitor. Under schedule 13(1) of the 1999 Act, the escort contract monitor is required to investigate and report to the Secretary of State any allegation made against an escorting officer about any act done or failure to act while escorting a detained person. The DCO certificate may be suspended during such an investigation and subsequently revoked in appropriate cases. I emphasise that in addition to that robust complaints procedure, any escort is answerable in law for his or her actions.

On restrictions on searching detainees, rule 7 of the detention centre rules 2001 applies to detained persons when they are taken into custody. That includes searches by escorts as well as those conducted on reception at removal centres. The rule requires that a detained person shall be searched in as seemly a manner as is consistent with discovering anything concealed. I understand the points made by the hon.

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Gentlemen, but I hope that they will be reassured by the fact that the clause merely enables escorts to conduct searches on premises, as opposed to a detainee or person who will be detained having to be taken to a police station to be searched. Escorts will always be accompanied by a police constable and immigration officer who will carry a warrant that will enable the escort to do the searching there.

With those reassurances, I hope that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Allan: I am grateful for the Minister's considered response, in particular her offer to re-examine the use of the word ''reasonable'' as used in the amendment of the hon. Member for Woking. It will be better if we return to the subject after that reconsideration has taken place, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 46, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 47

Detention centres: change of name

Mr. Allan: I beg to move amendment No. 263, in page 25, line 22, leave out paragraph (a).

It is this amendment that confused me in the last group. Amendment No. 263 following No. 236 is too much for my brain to grasp at this time of day.

The amendment is important because we are concerned about the Government's redesignation of detention centres as removal centres. We do not perceive the logic, unless it is Government window-dressing. All the evidence suggests that if the current pattern of detention continues, the individuals detained in the centres will not necessarily be those who are about to be removed. The redefinition as removal centres will allow the Government to talk up their removals policy by classifying anyone in the centres as someone with whom they are dealing from a removals point of view.

Significant numbers of people are involved. At the end of December 2001, there were 1,410 asylum seekers in detention, and the Home Office estimated in March 2000 that some 15,000 people were detained under 1999 Act powers. Of people in the system the end of March 1999, 60 per cent. of asylum detainees were awaiting an initial decision, 25 per cent. were awaiting the result of an appeal and 15 per cent. were awaiting the result of a further challenge to documentation for removal. In other words, a large number of people are being held in detention centres—lawfully so, under to the Government's regime, although we could debate whether any individual should be detained—pending initial hearings rather than pending removal.

It seems perverse to reclassify as a removal centre a detention centre that mainly holds people who have been detained for perfectly good reasons under the 1999 Act but who are not awaiting removal. The reclassification can only point to some other agenda, one that allows the Government to talk about dealing

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with removals, which we accept are a difficult issue, despite the fact that the removal centres will not hold people who are at the point of removal.

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We are worried about how being in what is deemed to be a removal centre will affect those held. What message is sent to an asylum seeker in a removal centre who is awaiting an initial hearing if, even before his case has been heard, he is effectively—by the name of the centre if not in law—classified as someone who is awaiting removal? That could cause the Government additional problems if they have to detain people who are waiting for a hearing to take place. It might be more straightforward for all parties if such people were detained in a detention centre, rather than forced into a removal centre where they may feel less co-operative because of the message sent out and the tone of the system.

Taking someone to hearings from a removal centre might send a message to those who will make decisions about that person—a message that classifies those held in accommodation centres as ''the good guys'', unlike those held in removal centres. That sends a strong message, even though no logic is involved. Many of the reasons for detention involve uncertainty and do not necessarily imply that the detainee has a less valid asylum claim than a person held in an accommodation centre. Having two routes into hearings—one from a removal centre and the other from an accommodation centre—will create an additional negative message about the person held in the removal centre. We do not believe that that is merited if that person is, as we believe many people will continue to be, awaiting initial decisions.

I shall be interested to hear the Minister's comments on the logic behind the redesignation and whether the Government intend the pattern of detentions to change. Perhaps the fact that he is awaiting initial approval could be a valid reason to hold a person in an accommodation centre rather than a detention centre. Will the proportion of people awaiting removals increase, or is the new name a simple reclassification that does not change the composition of the population held in the removal centres?

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