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Lord Dubs: My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have participated in this debate. I have listened carefully to what they have said and I should like briefly to deal with the main points that have been raised. It is true that the legislation which gave the power to detain individuals has been on the statute book since 1971. It was certainly there throughout the period of office of
Lord Dubs: My Lords, I accept that there has been a significant increase in the number of individuals seeking asylum in this country and in other West European countries. In fact, the increase has been greater in some other countries. I was going to say that this Government then increased significantly the facilities for detention. They opened Campsfield House. Haslar Prison in Gosport was converted for the purpose. There are also wings available at Rochester, and a number of other prisons and detention centres were opened specifically for this purpose. The Government's policy was to increase the number of people who would be detained. Although very few people were detained in the earlier period of the implementation of the 1971 Act, the numbers are now significant, which gives more point to the amendment. However, I accept the noble Lord's point that the principle applied under previous governments also and, in so far as it did, I am being critical by implication of what happened in earlier days as well as of what is happening today.
What my amendment suggests would not in any way weaken the power of the Government to detain individuals where that is appropriate. There may well be instances where detention is appropriate. I do not believe that it will be appropriate to detain the number of people who are being detained today, but I can see that there may be some occasions when it would be appropriate. The Minister herself said that only a small percentage of all asylum seekers are detained. Inevitably, however, a Home Office official or an Immigration Service officer has to decide whether detention is appropriate for any individual asylum seeker. The Home Office has to make such decisions whenever anybody arrives here for asylum or for other reasons, so the process already exists. I understand from meetings that I had years ago with Home Office Ministers that the Home Office is careful to scrutinise the continued detention of every individual to make sure that there are good reasons for the detention.
My amendment seeks simply to demand that the Home Office makes that information available to an adjudicator who can then determine whether the continued detention is appropriate. Adjudicators are appointed by the Lord Chancellor. They are judicial figures who have experience in dealing with immigration appeals. They are therefore recognised experts in the business and are obviously the appropriate persons for the task.
I turn now to the question of bail, which the Minister spent some time arguing was the main reason why my amendment is unnecessary. Even if there is an effective bail system, my key point remains: there should be a judicial process before anybody loses their liberty. That is what the present system for detaining asylum seekers denies.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, with the leave of the House, may I say that the noble Lord has just said that that process is denied to somebody being detained before they lose their liberty. The noble Lord's amendment refers to seven days after a person is taken into custody. Is the noble Lord suggesting that there has to be a judicial process even before an individual can be put into custody, which, in the case of such detainees, is only ever done for very good reasons? There is no difference between the timescale in the noble Lord's amendment and mine. The difference between our two points of view is that the noble Lord is insisting that in every single case the immigration officer must apply for a judicial review after seven days whereas we are giving the person who is detained the right to challenge being kept in custody after seven days.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, there is a difference between bail and the procedure that I am talking about. I am referring to the same process that any criminal in this country is entitled to under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. Any person held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act has a right which is denied to asylum seekers. That right is concerned with how long people are detained before they are charged. These people are not charged, and there is no judicial process at all. The Minister has said that bail provides a way out. It may be a way out. I ask the Minister how many asylum seekers have managed to get bail in these circumstances. The Minister will agree that the sums demanded are normally in the region of £2,000. If the sum demanded for release is too large for bail to be effective that is not a bail system but merely a token system that does not work.
I apologise for repeating myself but I do so lest there be any misunderstanding. I suggest that, as under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act or the Prevention of Terrorism Act, if someone is to be detained under immigration Act powers beyond seven days--it can be within seven days--the Home Office should go to the adjudicator and state the reasons why in its view detention is appropriate in those circumstances. The adjudicator may agree that it is appropriate for the person to continue in detention, or he may disagree and say that an insufficient case has been made out. It is called justice; it is the system practised by the courts on most occasions. I believe that that is a system which adjudicators are well qualified to follow to provide some basic rights.
The bail system is still there but it is very much at the end of the line. It does not work. If the bail system worked I would not be bothering the House with this amendment. However, the bail system does not work. The simple procedure in this amendment would work. It would not undermine immigration
This is such a simple device that I expected the Minister to be more sympathetic to it. I cannot understand why she refuses to accept the amendment. It provides a modicum of justice. In many ways, we live in an unhappy world. In this country we have certain standards. Surely, it is right that those standards should apply to all individuals whether they are humble asylum seekers or others. It is extraordinary that we give fewer rights to asylum seekers, who are innocent of any criminal matter, than to criminals under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act or the Prevention of Terrorism Act. We are not prepared to give the same rights to asylum seekers. The Government's system of immigration control would not be dented by this amendment but would remain intact. It would introduce a little bit of justice into the process of detaining asylum seekers. I should like to seek the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.