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Mr. Blunkett: First of all, I shall entirely ignore the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks, which were not worthy of him. We all know that, when we are taking difficult decisions in difficult circumstances, people will be aggravated about them. That has nothing to do with the issue that we are dealing with this afternoon. It is also important, in addressing the hon. Gentleman's perfectly reasonable questions, that we should be aware that the Conservatives' previous policy was that all asylum seekers would be held in centres similar to Yarl's Wood. I am glad that they have now abandoned that policy, because it was never viable or practical. I have saidI am prepared to acknowledge it again this afternoonthat holding people outside prison in secure circumstances is a difficult task, but a necessary one if we are to have any semblance of a removals policy.
The hon. Gentleman asked me a number of questions about who was there. I have said that there needs to be a review of the way in which those who are put into centres are assessed in terms of their suitability for the particular centre. I implicitly acknowledge, therefore, that some people who are violent should remain in prison rather than in a removal centre. Some people who are still going through the fast-track appeals process should be placed separately from those about to be removed from country; and when we are about to remove people from the countryI acknowledge the hon. Gentleman's question on this pointit should be done very speedily indeed, to minimise the organisational capacity of those who wish to create havoc and to minimise the difficulty for those with children.
The hon. Gentleman's "when" questions will form part of the review that will be undertaken, but I acknowledge with hindsight that if people had been able to act more speedily and access had been more readily availableeven though the detainees were responsible for preventing accessthe fire could have been minimised. That is self-evident. It is also self-evident, however, that to blame the police, the fire service or the operators for what was started by detainees would be to blame those trying to get a grip on the situation rather than those who caused it.
I also want to acknowledgein relation to the "who" and the "when" and the "why" questionsthat local people's interests need to be safeguarded, and that when statements are made to reassure them, they are honest, open and transparent. It is my intention to go to Yarl's Wood in the next month with the local Members of Parliament who have an interest in this issue, to talk to local people, to get feedback from them and to ensure that reassurances that are given are fulfilled.
I say again that, if we are to learn the lessons and do the job well, we need to ensure that the inquiries that have been started can be properly co-ordinated. The reason I am not establishing a long-term public inquiry is that many of the facts can be quickly and easily ascertained. The need for greater security can and will be acknowledged by me. The staffing improvements which had already been set in train not just at Yarl's Wood but at Harmondsworth by the operators, UK Detention Services, have now been put in place. Given that Yarl's Wood
With hindsight, I fully acknowledge that some of those issues might have been resolved, but I want to make one other point clear. Those who try to remove their own responsibility, including insurers and underwriters, do no one a service by passing the buckin this case to the public pursefor the liability. They were happy enough to carry it when making a profit, but are not happy to do so when making a loss.
Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): The fire at Yarl's Wood endangered the lives of hundreds of people, including hundreds of innocent detainees. The Home Secretary refers to hindsight, but the question of sprinklers is not one of hindsight. The relevant fire authorities advised at the time that sprinklers should be installed at such a facility. He says that it will be relatively easy to ascertain the facts of that issue. Can he tell the House whose advice the authorities took over and above that of the fire service in not installing sprinklers?
Mr. Blunkett: The Minister responsible took advice not only internally, but from a number of fire services, given the different locations of the centres. There was conflicting advice from different fire services about the likelihood of such an outbreak. Again with hindsight, and given the particular fabrics of Yarl's Woodthis is true of Harmondsworth, but not of other centres, which are built on a different model and do not rely on woodI believe that my predecessors would have installed sprinklers. That is what I am intent on doing, but no individual placed in such circumstancesoutside prison in centres built to provide not prison conditions, but comfortable living conditionsis in any way exonerated from choosing to burn it down.
Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I join the Home Secretary in condemning the criminal activity that occurred in the centre and thanking and paying tribute to the public servants, particularly the fire and police services, who came to do their work immediately, without thought for their own safety.
On the events of 14 February specifically, has the Home Secretary decided the terms of reference of the inquiry that he has announced? If so, will he publish them? May I urge on him what I accept is a halfway house between his proposals and those of the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin)an inquiry chaired or led by somebody independent of the Prison Service that does not necessarily take as much time as a full-scale public inquiry, for reasons that I entirely understand, would take?
In that context, I follow the question of the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott): will the Home Secretary publish as soon as possible all the advice and correspondence on sprinklers? That clearly ought to be in the public domain. Will he ensure that the terms of reference include the reasons for and the allegations about the delayed entry of the fire and police services, and the allegations about handcuffing and detention before any fire broke out in the centre?
In relation to individuals, the Home Secretary has rightly said that he cannot yet give the House a final indication of whether there have been any fatalities. What is he being told as to when the police and fire services expect to be able to reach a final decision on whether anybody has lost their life?
Were the only records of who was in Yarl's Wood kept in Yarl's Wood? If so, will the Home Secretary give the House an undertaking that, although institutions may hold their own records, from today onwards there will be a centrally held record for every single reception, detention and removal centre and prison, so that people know from day to day who is in those places? If nobody outside knew who was there, that is scandalous.
The Home Secretary said that he wanted to review allocation between centres, and I agree that that seems to be necessary. Can it be made clear that those who are returned to prison will be only those with either a criminal conviction or something else that justifies their imprisonment? Will the Home Secretary also tell us how many people he has decided should go back to prison?
Does the Home Secretary accept that there is a clear psychological difference between those who are in the process of putting their case, and are therefore far less likely to prove troublesome and try to find ways of escaping, and those who have already had their last opportunity to appeal? If any categories are to be separated, it should be those. In that context, will the Home Secretary review his decisionit is the only decision that I ask him to go back onto remove the right to an automatic bail application? People who know that their cases will be reviewed regularly are much less likely to cause trouble in the system.
I stand to be corrected, but I gather that Her Majesty's inspectorate of prisons now has authority to inspect detention and removal centres. Will the Home Secretary ask the inspector, as a matter of priority, to authorise an inspection of the whole detention and removal estate, and also to give advice on the way in which such inspections will be planned and carried out in future?
It is not true that the only records that existed were in Yarl's Wood. It is true, however, that the records are held on paper and not computerised. That is why it took a few days to ascertain their coherence in terms of what was known at Yarl's Wood itself. Investment is needed to update the information held and exchanged in the immigration and nationality directorate.
I am prepared to publish the criteria for the reviews. I am prepared to consider allowing an independent member to work with Stephen Moore, who does not have responsibility for or run the immigration and nationality directorate estate but is from the Prison Service. I am not prepared to publish private advice and material given to my predecessors, any more than any other Minister has been or would be; but I am prepared to ensure that Members are updated regularly on what we are doing and on how quickly we can secure the necessary protection.
Only those who warrant being in prison will be transferred to prison accommodation. So far, 25 of those who sought to abscond have been removed to prison. I have already acknowledged that those who are still at the