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Dr. Harris: Surely the Human Rights Act extends beyond those people who are making a claim under it. I urge the Ministerand, indeed, all of usto await the view of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which I serve. It was set up specifically to advise the House on these issues. The Minister would not then have to pick and choose between hon. Members on the advice that he wishes to follow.
Mr. McNulty: Not in the context of this Bill, I say very strongly. Let me say in gentler terms that the hon. Gentleman's membership of the Joint Committee makes him no more an expert in human rights than membership of the House makes anyone a parliamentarian. That takes work[Interruption.] I cheerfully strike for that position myself; it is not something that happens automatically when one walks through the Door.
On the matter of family visits, much of it is not covered, but the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon made a point about spouses. He will know, as he takes an interest in these matters, that I have just issued immigration rules that speak to the Civil Partnership Act 2004. There is a new category of civil partner now reflected in those immigration rules. We are looking into how best to fit it in on a family basis.
It would be helpful if the Minister could respondeither now or laterto the point made by myself, the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) and others about people entering the
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country as unaccompanied minors and then reaching 18. At the moment, they appear to be completely caught if the proposals go ahead.
Mr. McNulty: That point was made in the context of amendment No. 33. I said clearly in Committee that unaccompanied minors reaching the age of 18 while still here are precisely one of the categories that we shall exemptand the Bill makes clear provision to do that. I was also very clear in Committee that unaccompanied asylum-seeker children would fall into that category, but reserved the right to look at the issue in greater detail. Almost certainly, that element will be made exempt.
I was saying, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I am sorry if I have neglected to cover any points. We have had wide-ranging deliberations on the group of amending provisions, which are themselves very wide. New clause 1 is, as I said, a response to concerns raised by the Opposition in Committee. I invite my hon. Friends to resist all other amendments in their entirety, while commending hon. Members for their good spirit, good humour and mainlyif not completelywell-informed contributions.
Dr. Evan Harris: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sure that you are correct, but I was advised that the vote on amendment No. 47 would come before we debated new clause 2. I accept that I may have misheard the advice.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: If the hon. Gentleman follows his list of selected amendments, it will be very straightforward to understand where any votes that I or other occupants of the Chair may allow will come. I hope that I have assured the hon. Gentleman that we are proceeding in a satisfactory and orderly manner.
This is an interesting new clause. I hope that we will not get sidelined by issues that are not relevant, so that we can focus on those that are. There is a strong body of opinion that holds that paid activity should be available, on a voluntary basis, for people in immigration removal centres. This new clause works to that effect.
At the moment, detainees in immigration removal centres do not have the opportunity to undertake paid work of any description. Despite the presence of educational and other activities in removal centres, many non-governmental organisations have established that the absence of paid activity can lead to boredom and frustration among detainees. That is harmful to their well-being, and that of the entire institution, and contributes directly to control and order problems.
Paid activity is generally accepted as a necessary component of the activities provided to individuals in custody. It benefits the individuals concerned by giving them additional constructive and purposeful activity with which to occupy their time. As a direct result, it plays a key role in helping to maintain order.
The absence of paid activity for immigration detainees, with the potentially adverse consequences for their well-being and for removal centre security, has been highlighted by Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons and by the prisons and probation ombudsman. Both have recommended that the current position should be remedied.
In order to provide opportunities for detainees in removal centres to participate in paid activity, we need to exempt them from the national minimum wage. Detainees may be regarded as "workers" for the purposes of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 if they perform paid activity of any sort, and would therefore be entitled to receive the national minimum wage. That would not be viable financially, nor reflect the true economic value of the work likely to be carried out, which is likely to be remedial and assistive. "Assistive" is the correct word in this context, but nevertheless I apologise for using it. The current position has prevented detainees from being given opportunities to undertake paid activity. We need to change that.
Mr. Gerrard: I understand the reasons that my hon. Friend the Minister has given for allowing detainees to undertake paid work, and that requests have been made to that effect. However, detention centres are often run by private contractors who have not always earned the most sparkling reports from the prisons inspectorate. I am worried that detainees will end up being used as cheap labour. Will my hon. Friend say how that will be prevented?
Prisoners who undertake paid work would do so on the basis of an exemption from the national minimum wage in section 45 of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998. There is no similar exemption for immigration
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detainees in removal centres, and that is what we want to remedy. Paradoxically, individual detainees held in prisons are, by default, covered by the exemption for prisoners. That means that an immigration detainee incarcerated temporarily or otherwise in the prison estate is covered by the exemption for prisoners and could do paid work. In contrast, that person could not do paid work on transfer to the removals estate. The exemption created by this new clause would therefore remove that anomaly and bring detainees in removal centres in line with people held in prisons.
It is important to note that all paid activity would be entirely voluntary and provided in addition to the various educational, sporting and recreational activities offered to detainees at present. Detainees would be encouraged to participate, just as they are in relation to other activities, but in no way would they be compelled to carry out the work. Detainees who chose not to participate in paid activity would continue to receive any allowances due to them under the removal centre incentive schemes.
Work opportunities provided to detainees are likely to be of two main types. The first type would be the "traditional" custodial activities such as light cleaning, kitchen assistance, laundry work and gardening. However, I accept the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, and assure the House that contractors would not be allowed to bid for such work on the basis that detention centre internees would be used. That will not be allowed to happen.
The second type of paid work would include activities organised by charitable or voluntary groups, for which detainees would receive direct financial reward for participation. Detainees would not engage in commercial work of any description, and I hope that that answers the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow directly.
This measure is principally intended to enhance detainee welfare, with the consequential benefits for removal centre security. It will ensure that the existing range of activities available in removal centres can be complemented by paid activity, which has well-established benefits for those in custody.
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