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The Earl of Sandwich : My Lords, I have put my name to the amendment as I have to many of its predecessors. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, knows, it is the recurring amendment but I am not inhibited by that from expanding on the details of the amendment. It emerged from a conversation between the noble Lord and the legal agencies involved. I am fully aware of the points made by the noble Baroness in responding to our debate on 17 January and in subsequent correspondence. The Minister referred to the information provided in all removal centres and to the IND information pack. She also mentioned on-site legal advice provided by the various legal services of which I am well aware. However, this does not address the fundamental argument which we made in Committee about detainees' regular access to justice as a human right rather than an available service.
We made the point strongly that the experience of the specialised legal agencies such as BID is that many detainees are not taking advantage of these services for reasons that have already been explained by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and others. Many have no legal representation.
We are not now bringing forward the original arguments in favour of regular hearings that the Government, having introduced them in 1999, have already rejected on grounds of economy and practicability. The proposal under the amendment is much more practicable and might therefore appeal to the Minister. It is that she considers simply making use of the duty rota currently being piloted by the Legal Services Commission, by extending it to have a duty legal representative available one or two days per week for detainees who have no legal representation and who wish to challenge their detention before an immigration judge.
Duty legal representatives could thus not only advise detainees on bail but also represent them at bail hearings. This could be done, for example, in the IRCs which have asylum immigration tribunal hearing rooms attached and where immigration judges already attend on a regular basis at, for example, Harmondsworth, Colnbrook and Yarl's Wood.
Last October, the LSC itself accepted that there was insufficient legal representation in removal centres. Having a special interest in Haslar, I know that there are difficulties with obtaining adequate advice there and, I understand, at Lindholme. However, the other IRCs mentioned have a rota on two days per week and there is a large demand for this service. There are on-site AIT courts close to Harmondsworth and Colnbrook and also at Yarl's Wood which has on-site hearing rooms. I understand that both sets of hearing rooms are currently in use and have judges sitting five days per week. This should meet previous government concerns about the complexity and cost of providing
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access to the bail procedure. I know that the Minister did not say this herself but her colleagues in another place have referred continually to complexity and cost. A bail hearing is much cheaper than a substantive asylum appeal and may of course offset the cost of detention itself.
Finally, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector's reports over the past two years contain overwhelming evidence showing that barely half of detainees are making bail applications. I will quote briefly from two examples. Out of 26 detainees seen during an unannounced inspection at Dover last July, only eight said that they had applied for bail and four of those had made their own bail application without a representative. From a survey of detainees at Tinsley House in November 2004, only 6 per cent of respondents had received a visit from a legal representative against a benchmark of 46 per cent.
The report stated that the number of requests for help to find a representative had risen by more than 50 per cent in the past year but its ability to match need with supply had severely diminished because of the shortage of legal aid practitioners. A similar story was told at Campsfield, Haslar, Lindholme and several other centres. Some of these people are detained for months without any legal representation. I am sure that by now the Minister will be well aware of the problems that detainees have for these and other reasons previously explained
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I rise to support the amendment and to highlight the particular concerns for mothers with young children. Most children of mothers in Yarl's Wood centre are under three years of age. When mothers are anxious, it impinges very significantly on the child's life. If they do not have access to legal support and ifthis point was made by a governor of such an institutionthe Immigration Service does not have people going in to keep those people who are detained for removal informed of how their case progresses, that is very disquieting for them. They have no knowledge of what is going on. They do not know how their case is proceeding.
Anne Owers gave evidence to Sub-Committee F of the European Union Committee in its inquiry and report into returns. Her first concern was about the lack of legal representation. Joined with that was the complete lack of information about progress with detainees' cases. This causes disquiet to all these people but for mothers with young children we must be very concerned.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I have surprised the noble Baroness by having something to say again. We return to a very serious issue, which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raised in a rather different form in Grand Committee. Certainly, he has very cleverly crafted this amendment to move the debate on further. One of the issues in Grand Committee that I was certainly concerned about was that we would be looking at an amendment to set up a system of review which was simply unsustainable because of the cost and complexity of how the persons were being asked to look at individual cases on a regular basis.
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I fully support the noble Lord's objective underlying the amendmentand that is the usual weasel way of saying, "but I don't support the amendment itself". I support most of what he has in the amendment. I think that he has tried very effectively to address the objections in Grand Committee. In Committee we were all agreed, including the Minister, that what was important was that people should be aware of their right to make a bail application. The difficulty then was how they should be made aware of it. What is the proper way that should happen? The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has sought refuge in the idea of having a legal aid system through the Legal Services Commission. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about the Government's proposals. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred in passing to that.
It is important that the Government put on the record what their thoughts are about making people aware. How often does one make somebody aware on the basis that, if someone is taken into detention, it could be when he is unable to think clearly, as I am at this stage of the night? Perhaps you have been under duress before you have got into that situation. You are certainly worried about your family who might be with you in detention. You may not be capable of taking in what is very clear information given at the time.
How often should there be a duty on anyone running a detention centre to make somebody aware of what facilities are available to them for making a bail application? What kind of facilities within the centre should be made available; for example, meeting rooms, the ability to meet quietly and not under threatperhaps not under threat from other people who are in that detention centre as well? One has to be aware that detention centres are not always the most pleasant place to be, from the point of view of different groups who mayI was trying to avoid this phrase, but cannot think of another which serves as wellgang up against each other.
Throughout it all, this is the real question: is the situation that currently pertains satisfactory? We have all agreed, at least on the Opposition Benches, that it is not. How do we move it forward? It will not be by adopting wholesale the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. Yet we need to look at its constituent parts, for he is trying to achieve the right results. It is a case of how the Government can assure us that those objectives are to be met, and how quickly. With the best will in the world, there is a huge churn of people going through detention, yet a residual number are always there far too long. As the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said, we have to be particularly worried about families with young children, and we know that there are mothers at Yarl's Wood with very young children.
Throughout all this, I have maintained that I am no bleeding heart for people who have made unfounded applications and simply keep on appealing, trying to hang on here for as long as they can. However, I always
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have sympathy with the children, because whatever faults the parents may have, it is never the children's fault.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: Hear hear, my Lords, to the final remarks made by the noble Baroness on children. I knew that we will be coming on to discuss them in our final group of amendments, and rightly so.
To begin with, we all share a desire to ensure that detainees can get competent legal advice and representation and that they understand their bail rights and their rights to challenge the lawfulness of their detention. I apply that to all sides of your Lordships' House; so, the principle is, in a sense, agreed. We are merely trying to work out the best way to do it within limited resourcesI make no bones about thatand within the most efficient and effective use of those resources. As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, rightly said, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has moved the debate on from the previous amendments in Committee, to try to focus further on those issues.
Part of that, as I sought to address in Committee, is to try to ensure that when people arrive in detention they get information about bailthat. It is readily available to them and includes copies of the bail handbook produced by Bail for Immigration Detainees, which has been referred to. They should also be given information about how to contact the Immigration Advisory Service to get free legal advice and representation. So we seek to give them information when they arrive, in writing and verbally, and to provide them with advice on bail and legal representation at the same time. That is an important part of what happens to everyone going into detention.
To pick up on what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, about people often arriving in strange circumstances and, perhaps, not being able to deal with those issues as readily or as fully as they might, we seek to make that advice available throughout the process of detention and to make sure that they know about the issue of their representation throughout that process. The IND is producing another information pack for detainees, which will cover a range of different issues pertinent to their circumstances. It will include bail rights and processes and be available in a way which recognises the language differences between detainees. That is an ongoing process, which tries to give information to people throughout.
I am not taken with the idea of the duty representative scheme for all detainees being used in this area. However, I want to highlight something which may give the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, some comfort. As noble Lords may recognise, we have a pilot running at present that will be evaluated by the Legal Services Commission in June. It is to have on-site advice surgeries for any detainees who do not have an adviser. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, knows well, that is being piloted at Campsfield, Colnbrook, Dover, Harmondsworth, Tinsley House and Yarl's Wood removal centres.
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If it is successful, we shall consider whether we can extend it to all centres. Perhaps the noble Lord would agree that if that works, that goes 95 per cent, if not all the way, to addressing his principle. I cannot promise that it will be rolled out, because I do not know what the evaluation will say, so I should be wrong to do that; but I can say that it is a very good example. Those advice surgeries provide the right kind of support for those in detention. They address the underlying question posed by the noble Lord: making sure that people get ongoing, systematic advice that enables them to take up the opportunity of bail if that is appropriate. I hope that that will convince him that we have taken the issue seriously.
I accept that serious issues need to be addressed here, but have already said that we want to do so in a sensible, targeted way. The combination of provision of support and advice that we already have, plus the opportunity that the pilot will give us, will address the noble Lord's concern, so I hope that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
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