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Lord Hylton moved Amendment No. 138:

Page 11, line 3, after ("released") insert--
("(i) into the care or supervision of a voluntary organisation, or

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I wish to speak at the same time to Amendments Nos. 139 and 140. These amendments are designed to minimise the practice of detaining asylum seekers, and also in some cases immigrants, in custody. The first objection to this practice is that it is extremely costly. Here I am sure I have Her Majesty's Government on my side. I say that because I think that just about every Minister responsible for immigration since 1988 or thereabouts has assured me personally that detention is used only sparingly and as a last resort. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, more or less repeated that form of words again earlier this evening. I would also add that I accept and see that detention is necessary in certain cases as a preliminary to deportation so that the person does not avoid being expelled from this country. Like the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I have visited Campsfield House near Oxford. I have also visited Harmondsworth detention centre near London airport. Both places strike me as being extremely claustrophobic and unsuitable for detaining people for more than very short terms.

A second reason why the practice is essentially unsatisfactory is that solicitors and barristers experienced in asylum and immigration matters are concentrated principally in and around London. The same applies to interpreters who are often needed to ensure that those trying to enter this country have a fair opportunity to do so. If the time of those experts and advisers is wasted by having to travel to remote places such as H M Prison Haslar, near Gosport in Hampshire, or Maidstone or other distant prisons, that is a bad use of a specialised expertise.

The third reason why detention is unsatisfactory is that it is deeply distressing to people who may have experienced persecution, imprisonment and victimisation in their home countries. Because it is so distressing, it delays the rehabilitation of the person in question and makes more difficult the obtaining of true case histories.

Fourthly, the practice of detention tends to criminalise those who experience it. It reinforces the incorrect perception that exists among some members of the general public that all asylum seekers and immigrants are somehow illegal or not quite within the bounds of the law. I suggest that it is important to have on the face of the Bill certain ways by which detention can if possible be avoided, but certainly minimised.

Amendments Nos. 138 and 140 point to the use of voluntary organisations. We are fortunate in this country to have a vast range of voluntary organisations from the

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British Refugee Council and its specialised affiliates, via ethnic and community organisations on to housing associations and providers of hostels, not forgetting the importance of the Churches. I urge the Government to make far greater use than has been the case up to now of the voluntary organisations for the purpose of supervising asylum seekers while their applications are being processed and considered. I am confident that the voluntary sector would rise to that challenge and ensure that asylum seekers presented themselves when required to do so.

Amendment No. 140 is a concession to the Government. It enables the Secretary of State to pick and choose and to decide which NGOs he will accept for that important purpose.

Amendment No. 139 seeks to ensure that bail will be an effective alternative to detention. It must be wrong to have a theoretical possibility of bail and then to find that it is set at such a high level that it is beyond the means of those it is intended to help. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, quoted the practice in Scotland. I hope that that will be studied and, if possible, applied in England and Wales. In any case, the means and circumstances of those seeking bail must surely be considered when the amount is being set.

I suggest that the Government have at least two ways of reducing the costly use of detention. I very much hope that they will accept both methods and write them on to the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Dubs: I warmly support these three amendments which represent a different but very worthy way of dealing with the terrible question of detention.

Earl Russell: I, too, support these amendments to which I have put my name. I give four reasons: it is cheaper; it is more humane; it is more likely to provide people capable of interpreting in the relevant language; and the Home Office will need every bit of detention space that it can get. I also endorse very strongly the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, about the high quality of our voluntary organisations. Whether or not the churches are voluntary organisations, I include them in that remark. I thought that I knew all this before we got to the Bill--I did not know the half of it.

Baroness Blatch: I am happy to endorse what the noble Earl has just said. Having had responsibility within my portfolio for the voluntary sector, I have nothing but the highest regard for voluntary organisations. Anything that I say in response to these amendments is not intended to be critical or disparaging about the voluntary sector. However, it is unclear why, when this Bill contains proposals which will widen access to bail to include all of those who are liable for detention under powers in the Immigration Act 1971, it is thought necessary to introduce a further method of obtaining release from detention. Release on bail

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operates within a prescribed framework where adjudicators are charged with the responsibility of determining the conditions for release on bail. There is no indication that this system does not operate effectively; the major complaint about the bail system is that groups of people are currently excluded from it because of their immigration status, and this omission is being addressed by various proposals already contained in the Bill.

The system of release into the care or supervision of a voluntary organisation specified for that purpose by the Secretary of State promoted by these amendments is unstructured and apparently without any limits. There are no pre-conditions attached to such release, and there is no indication of how a person released under such an arrangement would have any incentive to comply with any subsequent requirement to appear at the required time and place. The bail system promotes compliance through the use of appropriate financial guarantees. Close supervision by a specified voluntary organisation would undoubtedly incur additional costs, and there is no indication of how such costs would be met. The amendments would also require that in the setting of any recognizance or bail bond regard should be paid to the personal circumstances of the applicant. This amendment appears to be superfluous. Subparagraph (2) of paragraph 22 of Schedule 2 to the 1971 Act already gives adjudicators complete control over the conditions of release on bail, and the power to dispense with sureties if that is appropriate. Currently, when sureties are required they are normally provided by the applicant's friends or relatives, so the applicant's own circumstances and means are to that extent irrelevant.

The amendments add only confusion to a system which generally operates well and which, with the widening of access to bail provided by various measures proposed in the Bill, should operate even better in future. We have praised the quality of our voluntary sector. I also praise the professionalism with which our officials operate in this respect. They use detention very sparingly. Because of its costs there is downward pressure to ensure that no one remains in detention any longer than necessary. If a person is detained, there are usually very good reasons. The notion behind these amendments that such individuals should be allowed out into the voluntary sector unconditionally, without the kinds of control that would be necessary if bail were allowed, is simply unacceptable.

Lord Hylton: I am surprised that the Minister should say that the detention system works well. I have known a number of cases over the years, and I have the impression that people linger in there until the case eventually reaches the Minister's desk. However, I am heartened by what she said about the power to dispense with bail. Perhaps she would be kind enough to write to me to tell me how often that power has been used in practice. I shall of course study what she has said

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carefully. At this time of night I have no intention of pressing the amendment. I beg leave to withdraw it unless the Minister wants to tell me something else first.

Baroness Blatch: I want just to correct what I said. I said dispense with sureties if that was appropriate.

Lord Hylton: Does the Minister mean other people putting up their money, or what?

Baroness Blatch: If the people approving it believe that bail is appropriate and sureties are not appropriate they can be dispensed with. Sureties are often put up by friends or relatives and so the applicant's particular circumstances are irrelevant.

Lord Hylton: The Minister will be well aware that a high proportion of asylum seekers have no friends or relatives in this country when they arrive. Nevertheless, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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