HL Deb 13 March 1973 vol 340 cc150-3

2.38 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government how many persons are confined to prison whilst their claims to enter this country are considered; and for what periods they have been so detained.


My Lords, the number of persons detained in prisons or remand centres on March 7 after refusal of leave to enter, or pending further examination under the Immigration Act 1971, was 110. Of these 44 had been detained for less than two weeks, 39 for between two and four weeks, 25 for between four and eight weeks and 2 for between eight and nine weeks.


My Lords, while thanking the Minister for that Answer may I ask him this question? Is it not a little disturbing in the spirit of British justice that this number of men should be detained in prison for the long periods he mentioned without being charged and without trial? Is it not possible, if these detentions are necessary, that these people should be detained in other accommodation than in a prison, where conditions are by no means the best?


My Lords, I am not certain that this is immediately related to the ordinary question of British justice. The vast majority of these people are, in a sense, acting unjustly in that, in attempting to come into this country, they have attempted to jump the queue over the heads of others in front of them. I am afraid they have to be detained somewhere. I agree that Pentonville may not be everything that everybody would wish. Latchmere House, where the younger ones are detained, seems to me to be substantially adequate for this purpose and, frankly, I do not know of any other accommodation at the moment which would be suitable, though it is something that we perpetually keep under review.


My Lords, while one recognises the right to detain these people, should they be detained without being charged, without trial, for a very long period in British prisons? Cannot some alternative accommodation be found, such as Harmondsworth? I understand that Harmondsworth is overcrowded now. But is it not possible to find some other accommodation than these rather bad conditions in Pentonville?


My Lords, I am not certain that conditions are as bad as all that. Harmondsworth has proved inadequate, largely because of the number of people who will insist on jumping the queue. I am not aware of any other accommodation apart from the prison system; and I am afraid that apart from building, or doing some major adaptations, it would be a long-term venture to provide such accommodation. I appreciate the points made by the noble Lord, and I perpetually keep in touch with my colleagues in the Home Office about this matter because I wish to make certain that we do everything we can for these people.


My Lords, is it not time that those who break the law should realise that they are liable to the penalties of the law? While it may be inconvenient to have them in a particular place, it would surely be very expensive to get up a special place in which to keep these people who do not want to go to Pentonville. They have chosen to break the law.


My Lords, my noble friend is perfectly right in everything that she has said, and I think one must realise that these people have been attempting to "do out of" their places in this country others holding United Kingdom passports who have waited for a long time to get here.


My Lords, can the Government tell me why it is that there was no protest when Charles Beasley from Tasmania was imprisoned, whereas there is when these others are imprisoned? It is because, from that source, everything black is right and everything white must be wrong?


My Lords, I think it would be very dangerous for me to speculate on why there was no protest.


My Lords, would it not be more kind of the Government to consider hastening the possibility of deportation in those cases where detained persons may be willing to return to their country of origin?


My Lords, that is, of course, what we attempt to achieve. In some cases it can be done more quickly than in others.


My Lords, would my noble friend agree, whatever has happened to some unfortunate people, it is at least a great pleasure to us to know that that notable Australian, Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, has slipped through the net?


My Lords, could the noble Viscount tell us something about which I am not very clear myself? He referred originally in one of his earlier answers to the fact that the great majority of these people were trying to jump the queue. The noble Baroness, Lady Emmet of Amberley, referred to all these people as if they were law-breakers. If, in fact, all of those who are detained in this way have been convicted of breaking the law, very few of us would have sympathy with their complaints about conditions. But if in fact they have not been convicted, and are awaiting trial or a decision as to whether they have jumped the queue or not, the conditions are very different. Could the noble Viscount perhaps explain that?


My Lords, the original Question related essentially to queue-jumpers. In the prisons there are also illegal immigrants, who have definitely broken the law, or who are about to be tried to see whether they have; people who are subject to deportation orders. In addition there are the people whose cases are being considered because they arrived without the necessary documentation. On the whole, these are the queue-jumpers. The question is not one of trial or bringing them to justice; it is a question of them having come to this country without having complied with the well known provisions for getting the necessary entry documents in their country of origin.


My Lords, the Minister has referred to the conditions in Pentonville Prison. While I am aware that he has personally investigated them and that the detainees are informed in their own language of their rights, and appreciate that, would he not agree that the conditions are such that there is serious overcrowding and that lavatory accommodation is appallingly inadequate?


My Lords. I doubt whether the conditions in "P" Wing in Pentonville are much different from conditions in many of the Victorian prisons, whether in terms of accommodation or the recesses. I only wish that the Government could hasten even faster in replacing these buildings, but it is a matter of time and money. If the noble Lord would like to see the general information booklet for "P" Wing, a copy of which I got when I went there, he will see a certain amount of material of interest to himself and will also appreciate that there is an Urdu speaking officer; that interpreters are provided; that there is provided a substantial amount of literature in the languages these people are likely to use; and that we try our best to provide for them in their own language and culture.