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The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, the noble Baroness has already given me a cue as regards my Amendment No. 28 which is concerned with written reasons. I hope not to repeat the arguments which she has already made or provoke the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, who has great wisdom in these matters.
The issue of written reasons has caused great concern since it is so central to this Government's human rights policy. However, I believe that they have taken seriously what was said on Report and at previous stages of the Bill as regards the rights of detainees. They have tried to improve the Bill, notably with the presumption of liberty through the general right to be released.
This amendment was tabled at Report stage. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, while sympathising with it, said that it was unnecessary. However, at that time we did not have the benefit of the new forms and procedures published by the Immigration Service and referred to by the Minister on the last occasion. That is why we have to look at the matter again. My amendment refers to,
I have looked carefully at the form again and the medical and special needs section of the instructions. They appear to be more about risks to the public than defining the needs of individuals. Will the Minister accept that we have always argued consistently for full written reasons, particular to the individual, which seemed to be accepted on Report? Does he agree even at this stage that providing some space on the form for individual circumstances would not be asking a great deal? It will not require a great deal of intelligence to adapt the present form and include a new section for this important change. In speaking to my Amendment No. 28, I support my noble friend in Amendment No. 59 about guidance and guide times.
Lord Sheppard of Liverpool: My Lords, I believe that it is good for voices from these Benches to support what the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said about the form. I hope that the Minister may be able to give some assurance about the form being redesigned. It appears very bureaucratic with the inhuman ticking of little boxes. It concerns the removal of a person's freedom. The form does not indicate that any of the person's very significant circumstances have been heard. I hope that there may be a re-design of the form.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I shall not detain the House for very long. I speak in support of my noble friends Lord Hylton and Lord Sandwich. In particular I would like to make some reference to Amendment No. 28 and the provision on the form for the details of a person's age, the background and whether there is some history of torture. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard of Liverpool, said about the reasonableness of my noble friend's amendment. The concluding lines of the amendment state that the information should be provided,
It is worth recalling the kind of people we are dealing with. It is easy to become bogged down in discussions about bureaucracy or long waiting lists. The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture has alerted many Members of your Lordships' House to some of the individual problems that detainees are already experiencing. Perhaps I may mention one or two of them. An Algerian is awaiting an initial decision. He has been waiting for over a year. He was detained for two years prior to that in Algeria in a desert camp where he was tortured. An Afghan has been awaiting a final decision for five months. No decision has been made in his case. He was used as a slave by the Taliban. He was tortured and his fingers were broken. Another Afghan has been awaiting a decision for over a year. He was detained and made to
Surely we can do better for people who have come from such horrendous situations in prisons or comparable circumstances. It is the mark of a civilised society how we treat such people. My noble friend's amendment provides for a much more civilised formula than has been offered in the Bill so far.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I agree that it is the mark of a civilised society that we treat properly and well people with the ghastly histories which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, outlined. At the same time I do not believe that it would be right for the Government to say that anyone who claims to have been tortured should be immune from detention. That would be going too far. It would inevitably mean that anyone who wished to avoid detention would produce a story of torture which might not be true. In the meantime they might avoid detention and abscond.
I appreciate the reasons for Amendment No. 17. Like my noble friend Lord Renton, I believe that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the Government to even anticipate with any accuracy the length of detention at the beginning of that period or to place limits on it.
It was said that these individuals have committed no crime. Of course it is true that they have not been convicted; but some of them may have committed a crime. They are in a similar position to those who are remanded in custody. They are not proved to have committed a crime, but a court decides that, for various reasons, they should be detained until it is decided whether or not they have committed a crime.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, will the noble Lord give way? Surely, there is a marked difference between the immigration detainee and the prisoner on remand who has been charged with a specific offence in this country.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, of course there is a difference. I do not say that they are in exactly the same position but they are in an analogous position; that is, it has to be decided what should happen to them. Part of what has to be decided is whether or not their claim is fraudulent. That is part of the decision that has to be made in some cases.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, rightly drew attention to the fact that proportionately very few in that situation are detained. I am not sure how the proportions compare and it will not be particularly helpful to draw a comparison between those on remand and detention of this kind. However, it is a small proportion. Sometimes, we must remember, the detainees themselves wish to spin out the discussions
Lord Simon of Glaisdale: My Lords, my noble friend's amendment merely asks that the "probable" length shall be vouchsafed. If the detainee chooses to spin it out, then it is his business but it has nothing to do with the amendment.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, with respect to the noble and learned Lord, it has a little to do with the amendment. At the same time, it is one indication of why it is extremely difficult for the authorities to anticipate the length of detention at the start. Therefore I am not sympathetic to Amendment No. 17.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for giving way. I put forward a different proposition. My proposition was that perhaps after the first three months in detention some information should be provided. I do not suggest that it should be justiciable. But surely somebody facing the purgatory of detention should be given some information as to how long it is going to last.
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