HC Deb 21 April 1994 vol 241 cc1030-2
9. Mr. Madden

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many detainees are refusing to eat food at Campsfield house detention centre.

Mr. Charles Wardle

Today, two detainees at Campsfield house are refusing food.

Mr. Madden

Does the Minister accept that those who have been refusing food over the past two and a half months are protesting against the length of time that detainees, including those seeking asylum, are held in detention? Why is the Minister so determined not to give the same democratic and legal rights to those held in detention under immigration control, including asylum seekers, as those available to all others held in detention and prison?

Mr. Wardle

I shall take no lectures about our willingness to protect people in real danger of persecution. Our humanitarian record is second to none. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 gave all unsuccessful applicants the right of appeal. Anyone with an appeal pending may apply for bail. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that a number approaching 25,000 applications are made each year and about 1,500 may turn out to be genuine refugees. He visited Campsfield house and knows that the majority of people who embarked on hunger strike had either had their appeals heard or had had their applications refused and were waiting on appeal. It is a pity that some people embarked on the hunger strike, which may have endangered their health, but has not altered the merits of their case in any way.

Mr. Clifton-Brown

Does my hon. Friend agree that the reduction in the number of hunger strikers from 150 to three is a tribute to the professionalism of the orderlies and managers employed by Group 4 in that institution? Does that not show that the public and private sectors can work perfectly well together to solve difficult problems in the sphere of protection?

Mr. Wardle

My hon. Friend is right and I join him in congratulating the professionalism of Group 4 at Campsfield house, as well as the immigration service staff. I absolutely refute the suggestion made by some Opposition Members that our detention policy puts us in breach of the 1951 UN convention. It does not. If Opposition Members feel that we should not have the power of detention for those who will not comply with restrictions, they should say so loud and clear.

Mr. Allen

With so many individuals now on hunger strike, does the Minister admit that the Conservative strategy on the detention of asylum seekers is a complete shambles? The rising figures over the past year show that the policy is not, as the Government said, a weapon of last resort, but is now a deliberate strategy. It is a strategy against people, many of whom are fleeing torture, death threats and persecution in their own land. Will he admit that the once fine record of this country as a haven for asylum seekers is now a source of international shame?

Mr. Wardle

The hon. Gentleman reveals himself in his true colours. He talks about a haven for asylum seekers. I have already given the figures of the number of people who have proved to be genuine refugees when their cases have been heard. The hon. Gentleman knows—[Interruption.]

Madam Speaker

Order. I should like to see the Minister's rather handsome face.

Mr. Wardle

Thank you, Madam Speaker.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, 46,000 people are waiting for their asylum applications to be heard and 650, in round terms, are detained—less than 1.5 per cent. of the total. Those are individuals who we believe simply will not comply with our restrictions.