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Lord Glentoran: My Lords, I want to speak to Amendment No. 221. Before doing so, I want to thank the noble and learned Lord and the department for amendments significantly to improve the situation in Northern Ireland.

I welcome the Minister's undertaking that the Home Office and the Northern Ireland Prison Service will carry out a joint review of future provision for detention facilities in Northern Ireland. Each year, 40 to 45 immigrants are detained in prison. At present, whether they be male or female, they are detained in prisons and in a situation where they are liable to be there not with the ordinary, average crook but with serious terrorists.

Furthermore, at least one of the prisons in which they are detained is about 80 miles from Belfast. The last time I looked, the average detention time was a minimum of one month and often six. I strongly make the point that special facilities are needed for such a situation. Because the numbers are not great, it works both ways. One might say that it is not serious; there are only 40 or 45 detainees. Equally, to provide the necessary facilities in a reasonable way is not too demanding.

Earl Russell: My Lords, the first thing that any normal prisoner does on finding himself in prison is to start counting the days until his release. It is often the mechanism which keeps a prisoner going until he comes out. If one has no stated time for release, one cannot do that. That is one reason why imprisonment without limit of time is more undermining to the character than any other form of normal imprisonment.

There is also the question of the arbitrariness of power. That is something which this House, over many centuries, has made considerable efforts to control. Short of arbitrary infliction of death without trial, arbitrary imprisonment without limit of time is one of the most arbitrary forms of power known. If we believe in a settled and known rule of law, that is not something that we in this House should encourage.

Viscount Brentford: My Lords, perhaps I may make a couple of comments on Amendment No. 230. In Committee I was pressing the Government to bring in the compulsory six-month period and I also asked the noble and learned Lord certain questions about that. I had the advantage of a letter from him subsequently,

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in which he made the point strongly that those detained for long periods are normally exposed to such detention as a result of their own action in making successive unmeritorious appeals and representations, renewing asylum claims or refusing to co-operate with applications for travel documents.

I can understand what the noble and learned Lord is saying here. I had previously assumed that that long delay was a problem at the Government's end, but the noble and learned Lord is making the point that the delays are often caused by the applicant. I wonder exactly what would happen if we brought in this six-month compulsory period, so that, if the matter was still proceeding and the asylum seeker had to be released from detention, where would he then go? Would he just disappear into the black market of the country, or would he have bail conditions to meet? I can see that there are problems.

Therefore I am not as strongly in favour of the six-month period as before. The noble and learned Lord told me that on 22nd July there were 120 people in detention who had been detained for six months or more. Is he able to give us an up-to-date figure and tell us whether that number is being reduced now, or whether it has increased or remained steady? I myself would no longer be able to support the compulsory six-month limit.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, following the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, I also wonder whether the introduction of the general right to bail, which everyone has welcomed, has not actually strengthened his argument. We are now seeing more releases on bail and therefore one might well think of a guide time, even if it is not a statutory length of time.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, would he agree that in all cases bail needs to be set at a reasonable amount?

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I wish briefly to support what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, with respect to his own experience of visiting detention centres. My noble friend Lord Dholakia and I have also visited some detention centres and I should like to take this opportunity to put on record the huge debt that everyone in this House, in another place and in the Home Office owes to the scores of people who give up their time, as volunteers, to visit detainees, and often, I believe, keep them sane.

I believe that in many cases, without the support of volunteers, many people detained for any length of time--and, as my noble friend Lord Russell has pointed out, without any sense of when they may be released--would simply fall apart or suffer from nervous breakdowns. It is important that we in this House pay credit to that deeply dedicated group of people in all the detention centres around the country. Furthermore, it is not to be simply disregarded that the United Nations High Commission for Refugees has singularly advocated the idea of a limit to the amount of time that people can normally spend in detention. UNHCR has a terrible job to do. What happens in an

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advanced country like Britain has a great deal of impact on what happens in other countries. When UNHCR calls for a limit to be set, there should be good reasons for saying why we cannot abide by that limit. I have not yet heard reasons which seem to me to be adequate.

Finally, I must say a few words of commendation for the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. It is difficult to escape the irony that people now may be detained who have committed no crime other than to come to this country, usually fleeing from a despotic regime. One cannot help but occasionally compare that with the release system for people who have extremely serious crimes on their hands in Northern Ireland. We all understand why those releases take place but I conclude by saying that in the case of asylum seekers, perhaps the quality of mercy should not be utterly strained.

12.15 a.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am looking ahead to our proceedings. Noble Lords may be interested in particular groups of amendments. Therefore, it may be helpful if I give a general indication in that regard. Amendments Nos. 269 and 273 have been tabled in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. If we reach those amendments, I was proposing to offer to have full discussions with the noble Lord and the noble Baroness in relation to them. The discussions will be with either myself or the noble Lord, Lord Bassam. Therefore, it may be that noble Lords interested in those amendments will not have to wait until we reach them.

The amendments in relation to ECHR statements are in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Cope and Lord Goodhart. That can be taken briefly because in that regard I shall be making concessions which are rather better than those asked for by the Select Committee. I shall not move Amendment No. 289. Therefore, I should tell any noble Lord who is interested in that amendment that I shall not be moving it. I hope that is helpful but I see there is no exodus.

I have a good deal of sympathy with what lies behind these amendments. We must bear in mind that incarceration, whether in detention or in prison, will bring about some of the consequences of which all noble Lords have spoken, perhaps most graphically described by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton.

We have publicised our commitment to reducing reliance on Prison Service accommodation for immigration detainees. It is a priority to reduce the ad hoc use of prisons, though there will always be some need to detain people in prisons for reasons of geography, security or control.

I am most grateful, as always, to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, for his remarks. As he said, the numbers in Northern Ireland are extremely small. I cannot say conscientiously that we are persuaded that they justify the cost of a dedicated detention centre.

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The adoption of Amendment No. 219--and I entirely understand the reasons for it--would mean that detainees in Northern Ireland and Scotland would have to be moved to England. Therefore, it would not be easy for friends and family who want to visit or for representatives who may be unable to continue involvement in the case. It certainly would not be to the benefit of the detained person.

There are occasions when it may be scrupulously necessary to provide for detention in hospitals in the interests of the asylum seeker. The amendment would forbid that.

Amendment No. 220 does not seem to be consistent with the previous amendment because it would allow those detained under paragraph 16(2) of Schedule 2 to be detained in such places as the Secretary of State may direct without restriction. Therefore, the amendment should not be accepted for the reasons that I have given.

As I read it, Amendment No. 221 is intended to prevent the detention of individuals with convicted prisoners under Immigration Act powers in Northern Ireland. I believe that the amendment is defectively drafted as it does not refer to the relevant schedule which, we believe, is Schedule 2 to the 1971 Act, but I entirely agree that that does not go to the point of the noble Lord's remarks.

In addition to paragraph 16 of Schedule 2, separate detention powers are also contained within paragraphs 2(1), 3(1), and 3(2) of Schedule 3 to the 1971 Act. Thus the amendment would create two classes of detainee in Northern Ireland: some who could be detained with convicted prisoners and others who could not.

The amendment makes no reference to Immigration Act detainees in England, Wales or Scotland. So we would still find ourselves able to detain people under the Immigration Act powers in England, Wales and Scotland, as well as some people in Northern Ireland, with convicted prisoners, but I believe that that is piling anomaly on anomaly.

I share the concern that we should not keep detainees with convicted prisoners. The free association at Magilligan prison means that immigration detainees are held in non-segregated conditions. Magilligan is currently the only adult prison in Northern Ireland which is suitable for the needs of male immigration detainees. For the reasons that I gave, I cannot honestly say that I can see any practical alternative, but we are conscious of the problem. I am grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said. I reiterate that we intend to undertake a joint review of future provision of detention facilities in Northern Ireland--that is, jointly between the Home Office and the Northern Ireland Prison Service.

If we take away the option of keeping people in Magilligan, we are back to the problem of moving people to prisons in England, Scotland or Wales. I

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believe that that would be difficult for those in Northern Ireland. Therefore, I cannot accept that amendment.

With regard to Amendment No. 222, we said that we would exercise particular care in deciding whether to detain those who were physically or mentally ill. That commitment remains. I entirely agree that those who are vulnerable in the category that I mentioned should, as far as possible, be cared for in the community or by appropriate authorities where some form of residential care is necessary. Some people have to be detained where there are strong grounds to believe that they will not comply with conditions for temporary release or bail.

Finally, I turn to Amendment No. 230 which proposes that there should be a maximum period of detention of six months. The Government have already made clear their commitment to keep the length of detention as short as possible. An important aspect of what we are doing is to be found in the bail rights: first, the entitlement to a bail hearing within a short period of time; secondly, a statement of reasons; and, thirdly, a general right to bail where the statutory exceptions are not to be found.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, is quite right. If one has a six-month overall limit, many people--it is their right and I do not complain about it--will go through the appeal procedure and then try judicial review or ECHR proceedings. The system simply is not capable of coping to the extent that it could be guaranteed. Every conceivable avenue of appeal would have been explored and exhausted in the six-month period.

I remind noble Lords of the figures that my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer gave this afternoon. From memory, there were 1,300 or so applications for judicial review with only 300 or so successful; over 1,000 failed to get over the elementary hurdle of showing a good arguable case.

We cannot accept six months as a limit that would be imposable or practical in all cases. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, spoke of arbitrary detention. If there are regular rights to bail application, if reasons are given and there is the presumption that bail will be given, subject to statutory exceptions, I do not believe that continued detention is arbitrary in the proper sense of the term because it is a conclusion arrived at judicially.

I recognise the concerns. The best we can do is to make the system quicker and more efficient, give decent facilities for bail applications and provide as good accommodation as we can in the mean time for some of those, whom I think everyone accepts, may have to be detained.


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