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Lord Hylton: I am grateful, as I think the whole Committee should be, to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for highlighting the inappropriate and probably unnecessary detention in prison of non-criminal people.

I turn to Amendment No. 194 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, and the particular situation of Northern Ireland. He and I would like to urge the Government to make absolutely the minimum use of detention and the maximum use of bail, as is

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provided for in this Bill, and also the maximum possible use of voluntary bodies to look after, and take care of, immigration and asylum cases still being considered. In the context of Northern Ireland I include the Churches along with the wide range of community organisations and other voluntary organisations. As I said previously, they are the people who are capable--without putting up sureties and large sums of money--of ensuring that these people appear in the right place on the right day.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The amendments deal with the circumstances in which prisons are used to detain immigration detainees. Let me make it clear that the Government accept that prisons are not an appropriate place to house the majority of immigration detainees. We have already given a commitment to reduce our reliance on prison service accommodation but, as we made clear in the White Paper, it will never be possible completely to cease to use prisons for the housing of immigration detainees. Prisons may be appropriate where certain medical, security or control considerations apply, or by reason of geography.

I shall deal first with the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, which relates to Northern Ireland, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, also spoke and which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, also mentioned in the course of his tour d'horizon of all the circumstances in relation to which people were detained in prison.

The number of those detained in Northern Ireland under the provisions of the Immigration Act is very small--on average five at any one time. The numbers are insufficient to justify a dedicated detention centre there and we have no plans to build one. I can reassure the Committee that those held in Northern Ireland are held separately from convicted prisoners. If the amendment was accepted, we would not only be unable to detain the few ordinary detainees under current arrangements but we would also be unable to detain those who, for whatever reason, are unsuitable for an immigration detention centre.

The only feasible alternative for those people detained in Northern Ireland would be to move them to detention facilities on the mainland. Such a move could mean that detainees were separated from family, friends and other support, including access to their legal representatives. That would not be an appropriate conclusion to reach. So that is one circumstance, unfortunately, in which it has to be done. However, it relates to very few people.

I note and take seriously the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, about the conditions in Magilligan prison and I shall take up the matter with the Northern Ireland Office to see whether--I can give no assurances--other facilities can be made available.

I am genuinely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for his explanation of Amendments Nos. 194A and 194B. As is perhaps apparent, I have sympathy with what he said, but I cannot accept the amendments. Their effect would be to limit to a maximum of 24 hours the detention of a port arrival detainee pending a decision on whether or not to admit him, unless he is detained in a designated detention centre.

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We accept that it will normally be in the best interests of a detainee to be detained in a dedicated immigration detention centre. The Committee will be aware that we are seeking to expand the detention estate and to reduce our current reliance on prison establishments. However, even on the best available forecasts, new detention centres are unlikely to be operational before the early part of 2002--although the noble Lord, when referring to the letter sent to him by my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn, referred to some parts of existing places which might be open within the next nine months. I doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will allow the Government to leave his proposed new subsection lying dormant until then; and even after that date we shall have to continue to rely on detention in places other than detention centres, especially in cases where people arrive in remote parts of the United Kingdom.

The noble Lord has limited his amendment to cases where someone is seeking leave to enter and is detained for further examination pending a decision on whether or not leave to enter or temporary admission is granted. In those circumstances, there are three possible detention options: either short-term accommodation; a detention centre proper; or prison. Cases where a person is detained in a detention centre do not present any practical difficulties because, according to the amendment, detention can continue beyond the 24-hour limit.

Short-term detention accommodation is precisely that; it is intended for short-term use. But "short term" is not the precise definition envisaged by this amendment. If someone has to be transferred into a detention centre when they are coming up to the 24-hour mark, there will inevitably be resource implications and possibly delays. Clearly one would not wish to prolong someone's stay in such accommodation beyond what is reasonable, but there are circumstances where detention in such accommodation for slightly longer than 24 hours would be reasonable, whether for geographical reasons or otherwise.

However, we recognise the need for a limit to detention in short-term holding facilities. That is already provided by the Immigration (Places of Detention) Direction which limits such detention to five days in port examination cases and to seven days in removal cases. We do not think that any reduction in those limits would be practicable.

Turning to detention in prisons, I shall give two examples why detention in a prison beyond 24 hours may be necessary. First, there is the case of someone who makes an application and on being told that his application has been refused and that he will be detained under the Immigration Act, threatens or offers violence. In those circumstances, detention in a detention centre may not be appropriate, both as regards the interests of the detainee and the interests of fellow detainees and detaining officers. Alternatively, when a person has been sent to a detention centre and he behaves in a violent or disruptive manner, again, detention centre accommodation would be inappropriate.

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Much as I regret it, we require an alternative detention option beyond the normal detention centre. For that reason I cannot accept the amendments proposed.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said that the use of bail should be as free as possible. Ultimately, bail, even under the terms of the Bill, is a matter for the magistrates; it is not a matter for the executive. Therefore, one should direct one's remarks to the courts rather than to the executive. In those circumstances, I submit that the noble Lord should withdraw his amendment.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I accept that sometimes there will be a need to detain such people at least for a short while in prison. The Minister has given some examples. However, it is against the advice of the United Nations Committee against Torture and the United Nation's High Commissioner for Refugees, both of which have condemned the practice of the non-segregated detention of asylum seekers.

On the position in Northern Ireland, I accept that one cannot expect a greenfield site to be made available for a new detention centre. I believe that some attention should be given--the Minister has rightly agreed to this--as to whether Magilligan is the appropriate prison, given its geographical location. I was not attempting to criticise the conditions in Magilligan that the Minister described, but its geographical location, at the far end of the Province.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The noble Lord is absolutely right. My loose use of language was the problem. I apologise for that.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I entirely accept that. It is good that the Minister is looking at it. However, no permanent adjudicator is situated in the Province, so appeals against asylum decisions, bail applications and so on by those detained are, therefore, necessarily slow processes. The adjudicator is based in Glasgow and visits Belfast once or twice a month. Although special hearings can occasionally be organised, if someone is detained the consequence is that he is likely to be detained for rather longer than he would be in the rest of the United Kingdom. I hope that the Minister will bear that in mind in the course of reviewing the matter.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Before the noble Lord sits down, I should have dealt with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, concerning religious activities. The detention centre rules will make provision for the pursuit of religious activities. The Chief Inspector of Prisons has made a comment on the draft rules. Such comments will be given due weight in the final draft of the rules. However, nothing in his comments causes any problems with the existing design proposals of Aldington. I apologise for not saying that earlier.

Lord Avebury: I am most grateful to the Minister for his careful reply to the point that I raised. I am disappointed that the new facilities to be provided at

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Aldington and Lindholme, if the proposal comes off, will not be ready until the spring of 2002. Therefore, severely restricting the numbers in prisons will pose practical difficulties for the next two and a half years. I am not sure what the Chief Inspector of Prisons will say about that. I am sure he will not be pleased to learn the result of a recommendation that he made in August 1998. That recommendation was immediately accepted by the Home Office and the Government began to move in the direction of taking people out of prisons.

With a little effort, I believe that we should be able to complete those plans at an earlier date, so that the vast majority of people who are held in prison completely unnecessarily can be accommodated in a regime that is far more suitable for their needs. However, I accept that those categories of individuals mentioned by the Minister would have to be detained in prison for the reasons that he has given. I accept that if people threaten or offer violence in a detention centre, it may be impracticable for them to remain there and they may need to be transferred to more secure accommodation. The thought crosses my mind, however, that in cases that we know of where people have indeed been transferred from, for example, Campsfield House--a subject which was raised by my noble friend last year to such good effect--to a prison, that was used rather as a means of control than as a necessary procedure to look after the safety of the staff and other people. Therefore, I do not accept that the Secretary of State should have an unrestricted power to transfer whomsoever he pleases from a detention centre to a prison.

Nor do I think that the Minister is on very strong ground in objecting to the 24-hour provision that I included in my amendment. I thought that I was being generous in allowing the immigration authorities to keep someone in detention pending his transfer to a centre. All that is necessary is for someone to telephone and make arrangements for that person to be transferred, if there are places in the detention centres. But if that was the principal objection to the amendment, I am happy to discuss with the Minister whether it could be made acceptable by increasing the period from 24 to 48 hours, or even to 72 hours if that would allow the Minister to accept it.

I should like to take my amendment away for the time being and to consult those concerned. I was rather anxious given that the Minister did not make any remarks about my comments on those who are psychiatrically ill and are transferred from detention centres to Wormwood Scrubs or Rochester. That power should not exist. We should have provided for extensive consultations with the organisations representing the interests of psychiatric patients before saying that we intended to do that. I am sure that we shall have an opportunity to return to the matter in the autumn. In the mean time, I shall take good care to consult MIND and other organisations and seek their views on these provisions.

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