Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I also ask a number of questions of the Government. It would be helpful if they could give us a full account of the reasons for deciding to establish a centre at Oakington. Perhaps they can tell us something about the arrangements which they hope to make there for various forms of surveillance and monitoring.

2 Nov 1999 : Column 728

I do not quarrel with the procedures of the House, but I rather regret that the noble and learned Lord was not able to set out in slightly more detail what he wanted to say at the beginning. As he will know, that is highly relevant to this particular new clause. New Clause 4 is a relatively late addition to the Bill. We know that, in the last month for which details were given, there has been a substantial increase in the number of people seeking asylum. We do not know whether Clause 4 is essentially a reaction to that and we are anxious to probe a little further the Government's intentions in that respect.

The central question which concerns us is that we are not sure whether the proposal for the camp at Oakington, which I believe is based at the old RAF base there, is intended to be part of a procedure concerning initial stages of holding people while their first hearing is conducted and is, therefore, a form of limited detention for a short period until the first hearing has been held. That is the purpose of our suggestion that 10 days would be a proper limit. Or is it to be part of the dispersal system? If it is to be part of that system, we are considerably concerned because the Home Office itself has said that dispersal should not take place except to areas which are ethnically mixed and where there is reasonable access to medical and legal services.

The adviser on immigration to the diocese of Ely, in whose area Oakington falls, wrote to the Chief Planning Officer at Cambridgeshire County Council on 23rd October and made the point directly that there is no significantly ethnically-mixed community at Oakington. Indeed, there is virtually no ethnic mix for miles of fields around. She also mentioned that she knows of only one person who knows anything at all about immigration law in the whole surrounding area, and that that person is an immigration adviser at the citizens advice bureau.

Therefore, some of the pledges on dispersal that were given at an earlier stage to the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, among others, have not been able to be met in the case of Oakington. If it is a system of detention, albeit a limited one, then we are concerned on constitutional grounds. As far as we can see from Clause 4, the normal protections that occur in the case of detention--in other words, that there is a relatively close system of monitoring; that there is some structure of accountability, and so forth--are certainly not contained in Clause 4. I shall leave the issue of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation to my noble friend Lord Goodhart. But our legal advice is that this provision is almost certainly incompatible with Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

We are concerned about Oakington if the detention is to be very short term. I ask the Government to go back to the pledges made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. On 18th October I asked him the direct question as to whether the accommodation would be secure. He replied at col. 753 of Hansard that it would not. When asked whether people would be able to move in and out without permission, he replied that they would be free to come and go. It was on the

2 Nov 1999 : Column 729

strength of that reply that we did not then raise issues with the Home Office on 21st October when the announcement was made by the Minister of State, Barbara Roche, about the setting up of Oakington. However, we are now profoundly concerned because that does not fit into the answers that were given in the House.

Like my noble friend Lord Avebury, I understand, to some extent at least, the pressures which the Home Office is under. I am not trying to make difficulties for it. However, like my noble friends on these Benches and, I believe, the House generally, I am concerned that in a situation where one detains or, to use the words of the Select Committee, a form of house arrest is introduced, there must be proper safeguards; there must be proper structures of complaint; and there must be proper inspection. At the moment, Clause 4 does not make such provision. I should be most grateful if the noble and learned Lord or the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, were to tell us a good deal more about this. I repeat that we are not trying to be obstructive, but we are deeply concerned about the precedent that it establishes.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, I speak with particular reference to the report of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. That is in reference to the new powers described by the Select Committee as house arrest powers, contained in government Amendment No. 79.

Clause 168(1) states:


    "Schedule 13 makes minor and consequential amendments".

The amendments which are to be inserted into Schedule 13 plainly are neither minor nor consequential. As has been pointed out, under these amendments regulations could be made which authorise de facto detention. As I said, I am particularly concerned that the house arrest provisions tell immigrants living in what I might call Clause 4 accommodation where and when they can come and go. If they are residing in Clause 4 accommodation, why is it necessary to impose a curfew or to tell immigrants that they must stay indoors at certain times of day? If they are not in detention then, prima facie, surely the immigrants should be free to come and go as they please, unless they are absent to such an extent that it gives cause to believe that they are not living in the accommodation. Anything else would be extremely unjustified under the European Convention on Human Rights, and I believe that it would be an arbitrary restriction on liberty.

That provision caused great concern to the Delegated Powers Committee. The Home Office submitted a memorandum to the committee dealing with the Report stage amendments. When we were dealing with what was in fact the original version of this amendment, rather than the slightly revised version which we now have, the only reason suggested in the memorandum for giving a power to tell people to stay indoors at certain times of the day was to avoid public order disturbances. Should anyone wish to see the memorandum, it is printed as an appendix to the Select Committee report.

2 Nov 1999 : Column 730

Disorder is more likely to be directed against the immigrants than instigated by them. They may of course be given warnings and advice as to where they should go and when they should stay in. But surely it is wrong to say that they must stay indoors because it is possible that, if they go out, illegal acts of violence may be committed against them. I appreciate that difficult situations have arisen, particularly in Dover and other Kent ports. However, restrictions of this kind are, frankly, giving way to mob rule.

The Delegated Powers Committee made a number of suggestions, one of which, I am glad to say, has been accepted by the Government. That states that these regulations should be made by the affirmative procedure. Of course, I welcome that. However, the Select Committee also suggested that further restrictions may be inserted into the Bill. One such restriction was that powers under the regulations should be exercisable only so far as reasonably necessary. That is echoed by Amendments Nos. 82 and 83 in the name of my noble friend Lord Avebury. Another suggestion is that house arrest powers should be restricted to cases where they are needed for prevention of public disorder.

It is true, of course, that the regulations can be challenged under the Human Rights Act, but, as the Select Committee said, it is unsatisfactory for asylum seekers to have to rely on a challenge under the Human Rights Act to contest a decision taken by immigration officers under the regulations. It would be much better if the power to make the regulations were restricted so that no regulations could be made that may infringe the Human Rights Act.

Speaking for myself, I believe that the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation did not go far enough. I believe that the house arrest powers should be removed from the Bill, as proposed by Amendment No. 80.

I should be extremely interested to hear from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, or the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, why the absolute minimum was done, as suggested by the Select Committee, and why further restrictions, not merely the requirement of affirmative resolutions, were not included in the amendments that are to be put into Schedule 13.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, in a previous discussion on this matter I pointed out that powers were being taken to enable these institutions to be little different from prisons. Although your Lordships were reassured at the time--as shown from quotations given--that that was not the idea at all, the press release, to which reference has been made, made it clear that that was extremely near to the idea.

It is interesting that the Bill never uses any particular word to describe such institutions. All sorts of words have been used: house arrest, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said just now; open prison; detention centre; holding centre; and internment centre. In Northern Ireland internment was described as "administrative detention", and that is not far away from what is happening in this clause.

2 Nov 1999 : Column 731

As a result, it is clear that these institutions, like the one near Cambridge that we have heard about--no doubt there will be others in due course--will be little different from detention centres, except that the safeguards which appear later in the Bill, applying to detention centres, broadly speaking do not apply to these kinds of centres, whatever they are called. That must be a worry to us all. The different stories that have been put out by the Home Office at different stages do not add to confidence in this matter. I hope that the noble and learned Lord in his reply will be able to tell us more about them.

I shall not add to what has been said in that respect, except to draw attention to the fact that the Home Office memorandum to the Select Committee said, among other things, that such accommodation would incorporate interviewing facilities as well as facilities for legal advice. That could simply mean a room or set of rooms in which lawyers could talk to their clients. That would constitute facilities for legal advice. Legal advice is not freely available in the area of Cambridgeshire that we are talking about. Such legal advice would have to come from London, which would be expensive as well as extremely time-consuming and difficult.

Matters will be made even more complicated if the amount of time that people spend in the institutions is short, as we hope it is. If they spend seven days in the institutions, the lawyer to whom they spoke on arrival in the south-east of England--in Dover or London or elsewhere--may not realise that they have gone to Cambridgeshire. The lawyer would have to go to Cambridgeshire to see them a second time, but after seven days they could be somewhere else altogether. The same lawyer may be able to attend to their case, but they could then be in some other part of the country. It does not seem to me that legal advice will be facilitated in the true sense of the word.

Lastly, much of this is left to regulations. We are used to that idea, but one cannot avoid the thought that this is a late addition to the Bill. I believe that institutions of this type are a late thought by the Home Office. The real reason why it is done by regulation is because the Home Office has not thought through the matter. Some points that have come out in this short debate and earlier in discussions on this subject indicate that the Home Office has not thought carefully about what the centres are supposed to be and where they will be. The fact that it has not yet hit on a name for them reinforces that thought in my mind. No doubt the noble and learned Lord will be able to tell us all about them.

3.45 p.m.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, on the last point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, could the noble and learned Lord say which of the refugee organisations have been consulted about Oakington, particularly in relation to its location? I do not believe that noble Lords who have spoken are critical of the location. They have simply tabled a probing amendment to find out more.

2 Nov 1999 : Column 732

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, spoke about a particular agency, which is one of the most active in helping asylum seekers. If that agency has not been consulted, perhaps the noble and learned Lord can clarify which have been consulted.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page