Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Angela Eagle): Our purpose in renaming detention centres removal centres is to reinforce the key role that detention plays in the removal of those who have no lawful basis to stay in this country. It does not signal a change of function for such centres, which will remain designated places of detention for the purposes of immigration legislation; nor does it signal a change in the powers to detain.

The amendment would restrict the use of detention in a removal centre to certain classes of people, such as those who at the time of their detention could not lawfully be removed from the United Kingdom, those who are removed within two months of their detention, or those who are over 18. It would mean that we would have to release people in spite of the

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evidence used to put them in detention—people whom we fear would abscond or are close to being removed. For example, we would be unable to detain an asylum seeker whose claim or appeal was outstanding. That would cause chaos in the system.

I assume that the hon. Gentleman, like the rest of the Committee, wants a system wherein the failure of an asylum claim—the person is not granted any other form of leave to remain—ultimately results in an outcome different from that of a claim that ends in someone being granted refugee status. Otherwise, the hon. Gentleman should tell me the point of the system.

Mr. Allan: I was going to elaborate on subsequent amendments that relate to the question of who should be held in detention centres. At this stage, I merely wanted to probe the issue of the naming of the centres, rather than raise other issues that relate to a subsequent group of amendments.

Angela Eagle: I have explained why the Bill will rename detention centres removal centres: it is to reinforce the role that detention plays in the removal of those who have no lawful basis to stay here. That includes not only asylum seekers but overstayers and people who have fallen foul of the immigration rules and are due to be removed. If that is the answer that the hon. Gentleman wanted, that is the one that I give. I will answer the rest of his questions when we debate his next group of amendments.

Mr. Allan: I am grateful to the Minister for that response, which was not entirely unanticipated. There is still a major point of difference. It is not in the interests of good, open and transparent government to call something a removal centre when, as the Minister said, the policy on who is to be detained is not being changed and most of the people in the centres are not awaiting removal. We might return to that issue. In order to have a proper debate on the next interesting group of amendments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Malins: I beg to move amendment No. 235, in page 25, line 26, after 'persons', insert—

    'whom the Home Office is lawfully entitled to remove'.

The Chairman: With this we will take the following amendments: No. 264, in page 25, line 26, after 'persons', insert—

    'who are removable within the next two months'.

Amendment No. 265, in page 25, line 26, after 'persons', insert—

    'over the age of eighteen'.

Mr. Malins: What is in a name? A removal centre is not a removal centre under the Bill. It should be what it says it is. On 14 February, there was a ghastly fire in Yarl's Wood caused by arson. At that time, Yarl's Wood held 380 persons of whom only 294 were due to be removed; the other 86 were current asylum seekers. There is a great deal of potential for confusion about who is in what establishment.

Will the Minister give the Committee her best up-to-date figures on the total number of removals from the United Kingdom from January to December 2001?

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Will she also tell us whether the Government are sticking to their target of 35,000 removals per year? If so, when will they be on line to achieve that target? The Immigration Advisory Service tells me that Ministers have confirmed that the function of removal centres is no different from that of detention centres, as they used to be called: such centres will continue to house persons who have claimed asylum but not received an initial decision, whom the Home Office cannot lawfully remove.

The effect on an asylum seeker who has not yet been given an initial decision but is sent to a removal centre could be severe. It is likely to engender fear and cynicism about how seriously the claim is being considered. The change in name is ill judged. The Home Office may simply be trying to send a clear message to the public that the Government are serious about removal, in which case, let us hear the figures.

Other objections to the clause come from the Immigration Law Practitioners Association, which objects to the redesignation of detention centres as removal centres for the same reason that I outlined—it is inaccurate. Many people held in detention centres are not liable for removal in the near future. Many have not had their initial application determined, and some are not returnable at all in the foreseeable future because of upheaval in their country of origin.

The redesignation will not encourage detainees to regard the process of seeking immigration status as fair and will tend to undermine trust in the independent Immigration Appellate Authority. If a detainee is placed in a removal centre when the application is made, the implicit message is that the application is doomed to failure. The name is badly chosen. The redesignation may be designed to give the impression that the Government are increasing their ability to remove those who do not qualify for asylum or for leave to enter or remain, in which case, let us see what progress has been made.

My amendments would do justice by ensuring that such removal centres could be used only to house people who are to be removed. It is important to flag up the issue and to find out from the Minister why the change has been made.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham): The National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants have expressed the same objections as those that were expressed by the organisations mentioned by my hon. Friend. Does he agree that the renaming will cause much anxiety for people whose first language might not be English and who therefore might not understand the relevant nuances, so that they will think that they are being put in a place that only houses people who are to be removed? That will double the anxiety of a group of vulnerable people.

Mr. Malins: My hon. Friend is right. Not only will the measure cause anxiety, but it will cause it to be felt by a group of vulnerable people. They will make their applications and find themselves being sent to a removal centre, which will make them scratch their heads.

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I do not understand why the Minister is doing this, which is why I have proposed the amendment.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): Every time I hear the hon. Member for Woking speak from the Conservative Front Bench, I am astounded at how far his party appears to have moved in such a short time. It seems like only five minutes ago that the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) was speaking from the Home Office brief and suggesting that every single asylum seeker should be locked up the minute they stepped off a boat or a plane.

Mr. Malins: The hon. Gentleman has a serious reputation in the field of asylum and immigration, and he knows that Conservative Committee members are trying their best to be thoughtful and constructive, and to contribute in a decent and workmanlike manner. I therefore feel a bit sad that he is teasing me. I hope that he will recognise our sincerity and not tease us too much.

Mr. Gerrard: I always welcome sinners who repent. I acknowledge that the hon. Gentleman has approached the Committee—and the entire Bill—in a constructive manner, and I do not wish to be churlish about what he has been saying about this issue for quite some time.

Like many other hon. Members, I have been concerned for a while about the way that detention is used in connection with immigration and asylum cases. I do not argue for one moment that detention should never be used. That is the case not only in asylum matters. I recall an immigration case in which a woman was claiming to be someone when it was blatantly obvious that she was not that person because that person was dead, yet the woman refused to admit who she really was. I acknowledge that sometimes one has to deal with difficult people. However, in the area of asylum, there has always been a concern that far too many people have been detained before an initial decision is made about their claim. Several hon. Members have already mentioned that.

It is difficult to know precisely what happens in many such cases because, unfortunately, the Home Office no longer keeps the relevant statistics. Three or four years ago it was possible to get statistics that showed what had happened to people who had been detained—whether they had been granted asylum, or exceptional leave, or had their claim refused, or won appeals, or whatever. It appears that those statistics are no longer available. I do not know why.

If a decision to detain someone were taken, one would assume that there were good reasons for it. One would expect a pretty high failure rate of asylum claims among people who were detained. However, when those statistics were available, they clearly showed that quite a lot of people were ultimately successful—they were granted either full refugee status or exceptional leave to remain. I have no reason to believe that that position has changed.

5.30 pm

For several years, successive Home Secretaries have told hon. Members that detention should be used only

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at the end of the process and only for people who are going to be removed. I recall precisely that being said in the Committee that considered the 1999 legislation, which included provisions on detention and bail. Ministers said then that they wanted to ensure as far as possible that detention was used only at the end of the process. We all accept that earlier detention can sometimes be justified—for people who commit criminal offences or who have absconded, for example—but in the main, it is most appropriate at the end of the process.

The renaming of detention centres as removal centres indicates far more than just a change of name. It suggests a clear change of policy from using detention at the end of the process when removal is imminent. I am disappointed that exchanges in the debate so far have not revealed the fact that a change of policy is intended in favour of detaining people at the beginning of the process before their claims have even been looked at.

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