Rules governing enforced removals from the UK - Home Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 45-85)

Q45 Chair: Mr Hardwick, Mr Bhui, my apologies, we kept you waiting much longer than is reasonable and I apologise for that. We are going to switch subjects now. You will be pleased to know we are not going to ask you about the roots of radicalism.

Nick Hardwick: I am pleased to hear that, Chairman. I am pleased to hear that.

Q46 Chair: But we are going to talk to you about your report, first of all, into Tinsley House, because the Committee has been concerned since the death of Jimmy Mubenga about the way in which those who are removed from this country are treated. Obviously, everyone accepts that people have to be removed when they have exhausted the appeal process; when they have no right to remain they have to be removed and sometimes they have to be forcibly removed. So we all accept that but we all believe, of course, that it should be done in the most legal and humane way possible. I want to ask you about your report into Tinsley House and the practice of taking detainees to the airport as reserves to fill spaces on charter flights. Has this practice ended or is it still being used?

Nick Hardwick: No, it is still being used. We made a recommendation to UKBA that it should cease and they rejected that recommendation.

Q47 Chair: Why was that?

Nick Hardwick: They said it was on grounds of efficiency. They needed to take reserves to fill empty spaces to make best use of public money.

Q48 Chair: How many are taken, for example, on the average flight? If, say, three detainees are going to be deported, how many would end up going in the convoy?

Nick Hardwick: That wasn't a feature of any of the overseas escorts we followed. Maybe my colleague can answer that.

Hindpal Singh Bhui: More typically on a flight you would have between 30 and 60 detainees being removed and the notional allocation of escort staff to detainees is around two to one. On the two flights we observed, it was nearer to three to one of escorts to detainees. We are not clear about the reasons why sometimes reserves are taken and sometimes they are not taken. On some flights where there was clearly space there were no reserves and on other flights there were no reserves where we thought it would have fitted more with their policy.

Q49 Chair: Just run through those figures again. You observed a flight with how many people being removed?

Nick Hardwick: On the Jamaica flight there were 35 people being removed.

Q50 Chair:So you had 90 escorts?

Nick Hardwick: We had 104 escorts on that flight. The Jamaican flight was 35 detainees, 104 escorts. The ratio is supposed to be two to one. In fact in that case, as you say, it was three to one. On the Nigeria flight they were planning to take 59, six were stopped for one reason or another, so they took 53; they had 131 staff with them.

Q51 Chair: That is a lot of people.

Nick Hardwick: It is a lot of people indeed and I think some of the problems that occurred were simply because some of the escort staff did not have anything to do, they were bored.

Q52 Chair: How many reserves went with them?

Nick Hardwick: None, there were no reserves on those flights.

Chair: They obviously knew you were coming.

Nick Hardwick: Well, they did know we were coming, but I don't think that was a factor, because we have done other escort inspections up to the point of pushback and certainly we have not been able to detect a pattern when reserves are present and when they are not.

Q53 Lorraine Fullbrook: Can I ask about the Nigeria flight in particular, where you said there were 131 staff for 53 removals. In your report did you not say that removals to Africa tended to be more violent and would that not be the reason why there would be more escorts on that flight?

Nick Hardwick: That wasn't what we said. I don't think we did say that in the report. I think there were some assumptions made; we overhead some of the escorting staff making some assumptions about particular nationalities, but I don't think one would assume that a flight, for instance to Nigeria, would necessarily be more problematic than a flight to Jamaica. I don't think that would be correct. My understanding is that they work on a notional ratio of two escorts to one detainee, and you can see from the seating pattern how that might work out and be sensible. What is unclear to me is why, if they don't have the right number of detainees, they still take that number of escorts.

Q54 Lorraine Fullbrook: I would like to ask about your report and the inappropriate use of language by staff engaged in the removals. The use of racist terms to abuse somebody was described by a senior officer. Does this relate to the contractors or to UK Border Agency staff?

Nick Hardwick: The contractors.

Lorraine Fullbrook: It does?

Nick Hardwick: Yes, the offensive language we heard was from the contractors.

Q55 Lorraine Fullbrook: Employers would not accept the use of racist language within the workplace in any context. Do you think that it is acceptable with a government contract, for example?

Nick Hardwick: No, I certainly don't think it is acceptable. I don't think it should have been accepted by the G4S managers who were there and I don't think it should have been accepted by the monitors who were there. I think it should have been challenged. I thought these were people carrying out a very difficult and sensitive public service and I thought that language and behaviour was unacceptable.

Q56 Mr Clappison: Were they aware of this? I find it surprising and it doesn't inspire much confidence.

Nick Hardwick: No, I think it doesn't inspire confidence. By its nature it could not be an unannounced inspection, they knew we were there. What I found in the inspections as a whole was that you don't have to be there very long. We are unobtrusive. We are not hiding and sneaking up on people but we try and be unobtrusive and things pretty quickly revert back to normal. They get used to you being there pretty quickly and revert back to normal. That is true in prisons, that is true in immigration removal centres, so I think that the behaviour we saw was typical behaviour that people had simply got used to and had stopped seeing as something to be embarrassed about or feel was wrong.

Q57 Mr Clappison: How do you think this could be best addressed?

Nick Hardwick: I think it needs to be addressed in lots of different ways. Ultimately, it is a straightforward management issue. Managers should make it clear that kind of behaviour is not acceptable and address it whenever they hear it on the spot. I think there is a training issue and I also think there is a sort of cultural issue. I think part of this was, apart from the language, that some other aspects of what happened we felt were over risk-averse. It becomes a rather dehumanising process if the escort staff, given the difficult task they have to do, are not, none the less, encouraged to see the individuals they are coping with as human beings. I would also say that you will find in both reports examples of very good and sensitive behaviour by escort staff where they went to some effort to defuse potentially difficult situations. So this wasn't a uniform picture, it was some individuals who should have been—

Q58 Mr Clappison: It is surprising to find that it happens at all and where it does presumably it does not make the actual task any less sensitive.

Nick Hardwick: No. I think it betrays a very alarming attitude and I think it is, as you say, very surprising that they would do it in front of inspectors. One of the reasons—

Mr Clappison: Well, to do it at all actually, but to do it in front of inspectors as well, yes.

Nick Hardwick: Exactly. One of the reasons that we had not done these sorts of inspections before is that we thought people would modify their behaviour so much when we were there that it would not be meaningful. I don't think that was the case.

Q59 Mr Winnick: I accept it is more a matter for UKBA to decide, but do you see any particular reason in your position as Chief Inspector of Prisons, Mr Hardwick, why contractors should be used in the first place? Why can't the UKBA staff do the job?

Nick Hardwick: I don't know the reason why that happened. I think contractors have been used for a long period of time. I don't think there is any reason why it could not be done by UKBA staff or why it should be done by contractors. I imagine it is an issue of cost.

Q60 Mr Winnick: If it is a matter of cost, as a layman in such matters I would have thought it was more expensive to contract out.

Nick Hardwick: I said I imagine. I don't know the reasons and I certainly haven't had explained to me a good reason why that is the case. I certainly think that if they are going to contract out this service, the monitoring arrangements need to be much more effective and intrusive than is the case on the flights that we saw.

Q61 Mr Winnick: Is there any feeling on your part, or your colleague's, that in fact there is too much of a cosy relationship between UKBA and the contractors and especially, of course, if particular arrangements with certain companies have been long established?

Nick Hardwick: I am not sure that it is at a sort of structural organisational level, but as well as these two reports that you have talked about, about Jamaica and Nigeria, we have done a thematic study of our escorts and my predecessor published it in 2009. There we did think there was a risk that in fact the individual monitors on particular removals had got too close to the people whom they were supposed to be monitoring.

Hindpal Singh Bhui: Yes, the report was published in 2009. It was a thematic report on detainee escorts and removals, and there were UKBA monitors, escort monitors, who were present to the point of pushback. So they were not flying on the plane, they were going with escorts from the point of arrival at the airport to the point when the aircraft took off. We were quite concerned that the monitors at times appeared to be part of the escort team rather than taking a step back and being independent persons who were looking at what was happening. We were also concerned that they did not seem to speak to detainees very much, or attempt really the kind of oversight duties that we would expect of a good monitor.

Q62 Mr Winnick: Would you expect, Mr Hardwick or your colleague, UKBA to say to contractors, where there have been much-publicised incidents, that the contractors will lose the contract with UKBA if there is any repeat?

Nick Hardwick: If there had been misconduct or poor performance, that would be an issue in the contract, yes, and it is very important that UKBA is clear about the standards that it expects in the way the contractors treat detainees and that it will take very vigorous action if those standards are not met. Obviously, you would have to look at each individual circumstance, but I am supportive of what you are saying.

Q63 Chair: Is there a difference between the contractors? We know that following the death of Jimmy Mubenga G4S lost the contract. Obviously the UKBA says that it is nothing to do with the fact that the contract went to Reliance. But there seems to be, in a sense, the same contractors who work in the prison service also work for other parts of the court service. It is the same contractors all over the place. Do you find that?

Nick Hardwick: It is certainly the same individuals. As I understand it, the staff from G4S have been transferred over to Reliance. So it is the same individuals.

Q64 Chair: Sorry, the same individuals who worked for G4S are now working for Reliance?

Nick Hardwick: Yes. I understand that is the case. We haven't done an inspection of a removal since Reliance have been in charge, but we do have a programme of inspections planned. We will do those through this year now, given our initial experience, and so to some extent I will be in a better position to answer your question when we have seen what Reliance are doing, but it is the same staff.

Q65 Chair: Do you have any information as to when the case will be concluded? Mr Mubenga died on 12 October last year and the matter still seems not to be resolved.

Nick Hardwick: I don't have information on that. The death is being investigated by the Prison and Probation Ombudsman and I think there is an inquest due. That is not our role. I don't have information on that, I am afraid, Chairman.

Chair: Of course. I think the Committee would probably want to find out what is happening. Mr Michael has a question on child detention.

Q66 Alun Michael: Two questions, perhaps just on the detainees generally first. How satisfied are you with the arrangements for dealing with detainees once they have reached their destination, in other words once they have been taken back to the country to which they are being removed?

Nick Hardwick: I think that is a concern. Some people are part of an assisted return scheme and they do get some help. On the Jamaica flight those people who weren't part of the assisted return programme at least got a leaflet in the flight that explained what sources of help might be available to them, and we feel it would have removed some of their anxiety if they had been given that information at an earlier time. On the Nigeria flight there was nothing of that kind provided and, as we describe in the report, we were very concerned about how some of the Nigerian officials dealt with people on the plane after it had touched down, let alone what happened after that, which we did not see.

Q67 Alun Michael: Indeed, you gave a graphic description of that. Whose responsibility is it to make sure that, not just during transit but on arrival, the situation is understood and dealt with appropriately?

Nick Hardwick: I don't know what the legal answer is to that, but I certainly would have thought the British Government had some responsibility to make sure that people are treated properly and fairly after they leave the flight.

Q68 Alun Michael: I would accept that as a general answer, but is it clear whether Home Office, Foreign Office, contractor or airline are responsible for making sure that matters are dealt with properly on arrival?

Nick Hardwick: I don't know the answer to that question precisely, but I think there will be a system in place for negotiating return arrangements for the countries concerned and I think the mechanics of what happens in the arrival process need to be part of that agreement. Certainly on the plane I think there are questions about whether the monitors and contracted staff should have been more prepared to intervene in things that were happening right in front of them.

Q69 Alun Michael: So you would think it is reasonable for both you and this Committee to want greater clarity around it?

Nick Hardwick: I certainly think that is an issue where greater clarity is needed.

Q70 Alun Michael: The detention of children in custody has been an issue for some time and there was a promise that the holding of children in custody would be ended by Christmas 2010. Has that happened?

Nick Hardwick: Children are no longer detained in immigration removal centres. There are, as you know, plans in exceptional circumstances to hold them in special family units. That will be detention, and we will inspect it. Children are also detained in short-term holding facilities with their adult carers. I think you have to be careful about taking a judgment on that because you have to be careful before releasing a child with an adult or two adults into the community if you are not sure of the relationship between the child and those adults. I think the conditions in which children are held in the short-term holding facilities need improvement. You have to be careful about saying that children should never be held in any circumstance; they may have to be held at least until the welfare of the child and its relationship with the adults can be satisfactorily determined.

Hindpal Singh Bhui: Can I add something to that? Children are held in three distinct places really—in short-term holding facilities at airports, in the new pre-departure accommodation that UKBA has recently opened, which bears very little relation to the classic design of a detention centre, and also in a unit within Tinsley House Immigration Removal Centre. That was being refurbished when we last inspected and so there were no children or families there at the time. That has now opened, and we have not had the opportunity to go back and have a look at it but it is certainly being managed by the managers who also manage the general immigration removal centre.

Q71 Alun Michael: I think this is always going to be something where the issues at the edges are difficult to define. I do not want to get engaged in undue criticism where essentially the objective is being met, but there was a report a couple of weeks ago—I think it was bythe Children's Society—that seemed to claim that the promise had not been delivered. It sounds to me as if you are saying that the promise has been delivered, but there are residual issues to be dealt. Would that be fair?

Nick Hardwick: That is correct. That report did refer to short-term holding facilities. As I say, we had concerns about the conditions in some short-term holding facilities, but we think the argument about whether children should ever be held there are more complicated than that report suggested, because I certainly think there are issues if the relationship between the adults and the child are not yet established because they don't have the documentation to do that.

Q72 Alun Michael: Am I right in interpreting what you have said as meaning that this is an issue that you are going to look at and report on? In what sort of timescale?

Nick Hardwick: It will be unannounced, so we have plans to go to all of these places next year from April.

Q73 Alun Michael: So it would be reasonable for us as a Committee to look for an update on it?

Nick Hardwick: Absolutely, we are happy to do that. We will keep the Committee informed of our plans on that.

Q74 Chair: Please. One of those presumably is the Cedars?

Hindpal Singh Bhui: Yes. That is the pre-departure accommodation.

Q75 Chair: Yes, which I have visited and is a pretty splendid place with nobody in there, as far as I could understand.

Nick Hardwick: Right. We will inspect that later in the year.

Hindpal Singh Bhui: There are people there now.

Q76 Chair: There are?

Hindpal Singh Bhui: There are now, yes.

Q77 Chair: But it is a short-term place, isn't it?

Hindpal Singh Bhui: It is seven days maximum, and they tell us that most families will come in and out within one to two days.

Q78 Chair: Do you know how many children have passed through?

Hindpal Singh Bhui: No.

Q79 Lorraine Fullbrook: I would like to ask about the information given to detainees about the arrangements when they arrive at their destination. You said on the Jamaica flight they received a leaflet about what would be available on the ground when they arrived, and nothing on the Nigeria plane. Is it the case, though, that the information available would be different for the country of destination and be subject to the availability of help at the other end?

Nick Hardwick: Yes, it is. My understanding is it was about local NGOs, local mosques or faith groups that would be available to assist people. It was not assistance provided by the British Government, but it did have some basic factual information for people, if they were going to arrive with no means and no accommodation, about what they could do and who they could turn to for help. I think providing some of that information reduces, if you provide it at an earlier stage, some of the tension that is part of the kind of build-up to the flights and helps make the process smoother.

Q80 Lorraine Fullbrook: But that is really what I am asking, because in Jamaica is it the case that on the ground there is more provision available than in Nigeria or any other country?

Nick Hardwick: Clearly it is different from country to country, but even in Nigeria there are things available; there is some assistance available. People were told that there would be some assistance available in the airport, but that was very vague, and I think some more specific advice could be given.

Q81 Lorraine Fullbrook: So as a standard there should be basic information available, irrespective of which country they are going to?

Nick Hardwick: Absolutely. I think as a standard there should be some very basic factual information available, particularly for those people who arrive without means and accommodation, about what they can do immediately to sort themselves out for the first 24 hours or so.

Lorraine Fullbrook: Thank you.

Chair: Mr Winnick has a general question about your other role in prisons.

Q82 Mr Winnick: Mr Hardwick, I think the latest figures show there is the largest prison population. It has now reached 85,000?

Nick Hardwick: 87,000-plus, I think.

Q83 Mr Winnick: Yes. How concerned are you at such an increase?

Nick Hardwick: I am very concerned. My predecessor and I take it that it is not for us to say what the size of the prison population should be, but there has to be a match between the numbers in prison and prisons' capacity to do anything useful with people when they are there. So my concern about what will happen when the numbers go up and the money doesn't is that inevitably people will spend longer and longer locked in their cells so the opportunity to do something useful with them, so that they are less likely to return, is reduced. So I think there is a crucial issue about capacity and I do absolutely worry about that. I think that is a very big worry. It is my major concern.

Q84 Mr Winnick: Are you making representations in your role as Chief Inspector of Prisons to the appropriate Minister—obviously the Secretary of State for Justice first and foremost, but also the Home Secretary—that the chances of rehabilitation will obviously become much less?

Nick Hardwick: Rehabilitation and the opportunity for prisoners to engage in purposeful activity is at the top of my agenda, and one of the things coming new into the role that has surprised me is how little priority that gets and how little activity of that sort there is. In every inspection report I do, pretty much, I try and hammer that point home. Some of this, I think, also could be done better by individual prisons, I have to say. Sometimes I think it is not simply a question of national Government policy. Even with the same levels of funding, some prisons do more than others, but it will get more and more difficult as the numbers go up, there is no doubt about that at all.

Q85 Chair: Presumably this has been exacerbated by the riots and the number of people who have been sentenced to prison?

Nick Hardwick: Yes. We did some quick inspections to see how prisons and young offenders institutions were coping with the influx from the riots. I have to say on the whole they absorbed it quite well. I think some of the press reports were a bit alarmist. They were absorbing it reasonably well. There were individual instances where we felt they could have done some things better, but they were absorbing it overall. The problem was not the crisis of the admissions following the riots, the problem was the one that Mr Winnick refers to. It is all very well bringing them in but what are you going to do with them when you have got them there? The more people you have, the more difficult it is to have a sensible answer to that question, I am afraid.

Chair: Indeed. Mr Hardwick, Mr Bhui, thank you very much for coming and for your very helpful evidence to the Committee. I am sure we will see you again in due course.

Nick Hardwick: I look forward to it very much.

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Prepared 26 January 2012