HC Deb 23 December 1976 vol 923 cc897-8
14. Mr. Bidwell

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what has been the maximum length of time of detention at the Harmondsworth Centre near Heathrow Airport of any disputed immigrant or visitor to the United Kingdom during a recent stated period.

Dr. Summerskill

During the quarter ended 30th September 1976 a woman who had previously gained admission with a forged passport was detained at Harmondsworth as an illegal entrant for 85 days before being transferred to Holloway Prison. There was thought to be a substantial risk of her disappearing if she were released. This unusually long period of detention arose partly from the complexity of the case and partly from the need to consider representations made on her behalf.

Mr. Bidwell

Does my hon. Friend agree that other cases which do not quite fit into that pattern involving people who have come to this country simply as visitors are taking much too long to resolve? For some people it has been a case not of "Welcome to Britain", as is stated over the tunnel exit from Heathrow Airport, but of a three-week or four-week look at the interior of Harmondsworth detention block and leaving this country without ever really setting eyes on it.

Dr. Summerskill

My hon. Friend has simply described what happens under the Immigration Act. The average number of people detained overnight in Harmondsworth in the past couple of months is 27. A person can be detained under the Immigration Act pending his examination and pending a decision to give or refuse him leave to enter, or if he is a person who has been refused leave to enter and is detained pending removal.

Mr. Dykes

Will the hon. Lady accept that I have a lot of experience of these cases, both in the centre and at Heathrow installations as a whole, and that by and large the service is very well run? The hard-pressed immigration officers have an enormous task to perform, being inundated with people all the time, and they do is very fairly and efficiently. The public as a whole in this country, including immigrants, want severe controls to be exercised; that is overwhelmingly self-evident. I know of immigrants who have praised the conduct and efficiency of the officers.

Dr. Summerskill

I acknowledge that the people concerned at Heathrow and Harmondsworth are doing a responsible job, often in very difficult conditions. Having visited Harmondsworth myself, I can assure the House that the conditions there are as good as can be expected in the circumstances.