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Mr. Blunkett: I thank the right hon. Lady for her opening remarks.

The size of Yarl's Wood is slightly misleading, in the sense that it is, and will be again, two 450-bed units. In other words, two centres are on one site, rather than 900 detainees being held in one substantial centre—hence the ability to have saved part of it. In fact, as of this morning, 143 detainees are in the unaffected block.

I do not accept that we could have expected the behaviour of the detainees, even though their hope of remaining had been removed; but I accept that more could have been done—not least in relation to the latter point made by the right hon. Lady about the area between the perimeter fence and the buildings. That is something that I will take on board and will ask Stephen Moore to investigate particularly.

I shall write to the right hon. Lady about the ratio of staff and the comparison with category C prisons.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West): Most people in my constituency would accept the need to detain people whose applications for asylum have been refused and who are awaiting deportation, but there are persistent rumours that not everybody in Yarl's Wood was in that category. Will the Home Secretary confirm that all the people in Yarl's Wood had at least had their initial application for asylum refused?

Mr. Blunkett: I must be extremely careful not to give an answer that may prove misleading to the House.

I am aware that there were people in Yarl's Wood who had not completed their appeals process. As my hon. Friend will have heard, I dealt earlier with the issue of ensuring that we get that right in future, so that there is different security and accommodation for people who are being fast-tracked but have not completed the process. However, it is my belief that all those who were there had completed the first stage of their application process, but I shall write to my hon. Friend and place a copy in the Library if what I have said proves incorrect.

Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire): May I also add my tribute to the men and women of the Bedfordshire police service and fire authority who handled the tragedy last week so expertly?

May I press the Home Secretary once more on the question of insurance? Has he taken any advice as to whether he or the House need to do anything to ensure that the insurers cannot be successful in recouping the £43 million from Bedfordshire police? Will he give the House an assurance that Bedfordshire county council and the other local authorities involved will not have to foot any of the bill for rebuilding Yarl's Wood?

Mr. Blunkett: For legal reasons I cannot give the assurances for which the hon. Gentleman asks. However, I can say that it is my intention—as I have made clear—that we should take whatever advice is necessary, and that we should work with the police, who are, of course, operationally independent, to protect their interests and those of the people they serve in the county. We must

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ensure that the police do not find themselves liable for that bill. At this stage, we must be very careful not to address the need to amend the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 in these circumstances, as no doubt the clever lawyers for the underwriters would use such indications as vindication of their stance.

Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover): My right hon. Friend will be aware that there is already a busy induction centre in my Dover constituency and that the Dover young offenders institute is being converted to a removal centre. Can he assure me that that facility will not open until he is completely confident as to the security of people both inside the centre and in the locality? Does he share my relief that the centre in Dover will be fully staffed by highly experienced prison officers rather than private security guards?

Mr. Blunkett: The answer to my hon. Friend's first question is, unequivocally, yes. On the second question, I expect operators, whether the Prison Service or independent operators such as Group 4 or UK Detention Services, to display the important levels of training and professionalism needed to undertake that difficult task.

Mr. Michael Weir (Angus): First, like other speakers this afternoon, I unreservedly condemn the violence and destruction at Yarl's Wood. I note that the Home Secretary referred in his statement to a small number of people who will take any step to prevent removal from the country. He went on to talk about toughening the regime. Will he tell us this afternoon what steps he has in mind for toughening the regime? I appeal to him not to be pushed down a route whereby the majority will suffer because of the action of an irresponsible few.

Mr. Blunkett: I look to the inquiries to indicate the particular changes that will be required. I have already said in response to the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) that we will need to consider external security in terms of what is available immediately outside the centre. All of us would agree that we need to clarify the nature of what happens at the centres in the evening and at night. The need to increase surveillance and staffing is now self-evident. Until we are satisfied that we have introduced the kind of security that will prevent incidents of that sort occurring again, there will inevitably be a greater degree of security and surveillance than would otherwise be necessary. While that is unfortunate for other residents and detainees, albeit for a shorter and shorter period before removal, they have made it inevitable.

Martin Linton (Battersea): Does my right hon. Friend agree that while detention places are needed for those awaiting deportation, those who still await a decision or an appeal need a system that affords them dignity and

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respect? What progress is he making on the reforms already announced for a changeover from vouchers to cash?

Mr. Blunkett: I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend for giving me the opportunity to say something cheery. I desperately need that opportunity, as the shadow Home Secretary sought to point out at the beginning of his contribution. I still retain a sense of humour somewhere deep inside.

I have laid proposals before the House that, subject to parliamentary approval, under section 96(5) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 will accelerate the removal of vouchers. Consequently, instead of being removed in the autumn, the voucher system will be replaced by a cash system on 8 April this year. That will ensure a sensible, speedy and effective administrative changeover.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): In the course of his statement, the Home Secretary referred to the review of fire safety in the removal centres. Will he confirm that he will also examine fire safety arrangements in Oakington as a detention centre? Will he also report on that to the House in due course? When he is considering the changes that he must make, he will be aware that, as a reception centre, Oakington has had a low level of people absconding up to now. However, if the regime is to consist of fast removals for those who are refused on the initial decision, which is followed by a fast-track appeal while they are housed in a removal centre, the pressure on the security of a place such as Oakington may increase. Will he also undertake to consider the appropriate level of security there?

Mr. Blunkett: On the hon. Gentleman's primary concern, I am prepared to consider security at Oakington. However, it is worth pointing out that anyone who behaved in a fashion that gave rise to danger to others or insecurity at Oakington would, prima facie, damage severely their case for advancing further in the process on which they have embarked. It is in the best interests of those in Oakington to display their desire to remain in this country through behaviour that would allow us to want them in our country.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley): Will my right hon. Friend add to the comments that he has already made about the general opinion that property insurance policies are nullified by a riot? My concern is for Bradford, West Yorkshire police and West Yorkshire council tax payers in the wake of last year's riots in Bradford.

Mr. Blunkett: I know that my hon. Friend and other hon. Members are deeply concerned about the impact of such events on insurance and liability. I want to make it absolutely clear that no one declared a riot at Yarl's Wood; it is important that people understand that, and those who choose to use quite different circumstances in public places as a benchmark would be wise to think again. The issue that my hon. Friend raises is valid, and outside the context of what happened at Yarl's Wood we will need to examine it very rapidly.

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Points of Order

4.21 pm

Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. One of the most serious allegations that can be levelled against a Member of this House, Back Bencher or Minister, is that we are lying; indeed, it is so serious that you would not permit us to personalise it in this Chamber. I cannot remember in my service in this House a weekend during which more people have alleged that a right hon. Member has been telling untruths than the weekend through which we have just lived. Can you tell the House whether the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions has sought to make a personal statement to the House today or indicated to you that he may seek to do so later this week?

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