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Lord Hylton: I am very glad to hear what the Minister said about looking at certain points. Will she reflect that Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons can only look at conditions and at how people are treated; she cannot examine the reasonableness of their detention?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: Indeed, and I am grateful to the noble Lord for pointing out the distinction. As I have already indicated, I will look carefully at what the noble Lord said in his additional words when introducing the amendment, but I make no commitment on the part of the Government to do anything other than look at it. Recognising that noble Lords will want to look carefully at what I put in the Library, particularly on the first of the amendments in the group, I hope that noble Lords will withdraw the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will immediately say that we have no choice in Committee. We will look carefully at everything that has been said today, and we will address any concerns that have been left out.
 
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The Lord Bishop of Oxford: The Minister said that she would look into the adequacy of information about the possibility of bail. What does she have in mind as to how she might do that? What might reassure her that the information was getting through? I quoted two examples from Bail for Immigration Detainees which make it clear that many detainees are not aware that they can apply for bail. What kind of facts might she discover that would reassure her, which in turn might reassure those who are concerned about the issue?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: The right reverend Prelate has asked a very good question. First, I need to talk to the policy Minister responsible for this. As noble Lords know, and as the right reverend Prelate will remember, I am not a Home Office Minister and this is not my policy area. The legitimacy of my role is that I am entitled to ask questions raised by noble Lords across the House and in Committee. In talking with the organisations that came to meet me, it seemed that the question of how people know what their rights are and how people get the information they need was actually the underlying problem being addressed by the amendment. It is right and proper that as the Bill Minister I look at it.

I will talk to the Minister responsible for this aspect of policy, so as to be able to talk further to any other organisations that make representations. I will look again at the evidence noble Lords have raised in Committee and see whether the system is able to deal with the question—it is not up to me to decide whether it is dealt with adequately because I am not the policy Minister who makes the decision. My job will be to come back to your Lordships. Either I will be successful in that or I will not. Ultimately, that will be the proof of whether I have achieved what I want to do.

Lord Avebury: Of course, it is a fac"on de parler when the Minister says that she hopes I will withdraw the amendment because, as usual, we have no option. I realise that—

The Earl of Listowel: I apologise for interrupting the noble Lord. As my amendment is the lead amendment in the group that we are discussing, I should withdraw it.

Lord Avebury: I apologise.

The Earl of Listowel: The noble Lord has been so active on previous amendments, it is hardly surprising that he made that slip.

I thank the noble Baroness for her careful response to the concerns raised on all these issues. I particularly welcome what she said about the pilots and look
 
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forward to learning more about that, and what she said about the improved data gathering as regards detention of families. That seems to me an important step forward. I believe that we shall discuss the adequacy of the means of communicating with these families under Section 9, and whether that is sufficiently effective as regards language and so on.

I wish to detain the Committee for as short a time as possible at this point. There is a mechanism to ensure that at the end of the process these families are removed and return to their home countries. There is the option of detaining these families and removing them forcefully. To my mind that is kinder than putting them in the invidious situation of having to choose whether to go underground. I am afraid that my perception and understanding of this matter differ very much from that of the Minister, but perhaps we can agree to disagree on this point. The important thing is what the evaluation of the pilots says, but to my mind—

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: Can I confirm whether the noble Earl is saying that he would prefer a forceful removal, including detention, to trying to persuade people to leave voluntarily and establish a life elsewhere?

The Earl of Listowel: Indeed, that is correct. I would prefer that families were not put in a situation where they might choose to go underground, in which case their children would not receive education or have access to health services and the parents might be subject to an unscrupulous landlord who could do all sorts of things because they would be in his clutches. I would prefer them to be detained and removed—if that had to happen—or that there was a continuing effort to engage with them to encourage them to return voluntarily. But to my mind, this is not voluntary return; it is a form of coercion. I find it unbelievable that one could think that depriving children of loving, caring parents and placing them in care was a better option for those children than trying to keep them with their parents at all costs. I can see that we disagree on those facts but the important thing is what the Minister said about the pilots, which I welcome. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 43 agreed to.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: This may be a convenient moment for the Committee to adjourn until Thursday at 2 pm.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: The Committee stands adjourned until Thursday at 2 pm.

Written Statements

Tuesday 17 January 2006


 
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Afghanistan: London Conference

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Triesman): The UK will host an international conference on Afghanistan in London on 31 January and 1 February. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister will open the conference with His Excellency Hamid Karzai, President of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, and the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. My right honourable friends the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Jack Straw), the Secretary of State for Defence (John Reid), the Secretary of State for International Development (Hilary Benn) and my honourable friend the Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Kim Howells) will represent the UK at different sessions.

The conference has three aims:

While the main conference focus will be the launch of the Afghanistan Compact, there will also be an opportunity to make new pledges in support of the aims outlined in the interim ANDS and the NDCS. Following the opening session and the launch of the compact, there will be further sessions on political perspectives, security, counter-narcotics, governance and reconstruction and development. The conference will be co-chaired throughout by the Afghan Government, the UK and the UN.
 
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