HL Deb 04 July 1995 vol 565 cc1065-82

7.22 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will review their policy on the detention of asylum seekers.

The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, the detention of asylum seekers is a practice which, in principle, I do not oppose. There are circumstances in which it is right. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has outlined what those circumstances might be. They include verification of identity and false or missing travel documents with intent to mislead the authorities of the state in which they claim asylum. It is generally recognised that the likelihood of an asylum seeker absconding is also grounds for detention.

However, it is also the case that detention should be used only where necessary and where there is clear and convincing evidence to support a decision to detain. Behind my Question tonight is the suspicion that such clear and convincing evidence is, in most cases of detention, not to be found and that the detention of some, rather than others, is arbitrary. In order to overcome that suspicion a number of measures would need to be in place. Those would not be difficult or costly but they would provide some rights for people detained and serve as a reassurance that detention is used only where it can be shown to he necessary.

The first requirement, I suggest, is that written reasons for detention should be given to each detainee. I am aware that policy in this area has altered and that every detainee is now given a verbal statement of the reasons for detention in a language which he or she understands. I commend the Government for that policy but ask why such a statement cannot also be in writing. It would be a simple matter to transcribe the verbal statement so that a written account was available for the detainee and for any legal representative. A verbal statement requires accurate memory. Who, among us, in the circumstances of detention, would be able to give an accurate account of a statement made verbally to us? It would seem a straightforward matter for a written statement to be provided as a matter of routine. Is that possible?

The second measure which would give reassurance is that a written explanation of rights and how to exercise them should be given to each detainee. It is clear that at the moment that does not happen as a matter of routine. Detainees are not informed of their right to seek bail nor of how to set about making an application for bail. The Amnesty report, Prisoners without a Voice, based on an analysis of 50 detainees, showed that none of them was given such written information; not at the time of detention and not during the course of detention. International standards require that such written information should be provided. Again, it would seem a fairly straightforward matter for such information, available in translation, to be given to detainees. The information should include information about legal representation. I wish to ask the noble Baroness about such legal representation. There is anxiety that the legal refugee centre is not able to provide representation for all asylum seekers. There are said to be a number of cowboy firms in that area. Has any progress been made on compiling a register of legal advisers who can give proper advice to asylum seekers?

The third measure that I suggest is necessary is more complex and far-reaching. Yet it is also the measure that would give greatest reassurance. It is the availability of a prompt review of each case of detention before an independent court or tribunal. The lack of such a review as a matter of course for all detainees is a cause for grave concern. The Government argue that such a review is available either by application for a writ of habeas corpus or by application for hail. The first of those is not a case review. It depends upon showing that the detention is unlawful not in a particular case but in general. The recent case of four asylum seekers who were granted writs by the High Court illustrates the point. The Court of Appeal overturned the ruling on the grounds that immigration officers had power to detain.

Application for bail is, of course, on a case-by-case basis. The difficulty is that it is not available to all asylum seekers who are detained. It is not, for instance, available to illegal entrants and to those who are detained following a deportation order until they have been refused asylum and have lodged an appeal against that refusal. Some detainees spend months in detention before they become eligible to apply for bail.

A further difficulty is that bail is granted only when there are two people who are usually required to stand surety in the sum of £2,000 each. It is not easy for a detainee to find two people willing to stand surety for such sums. Therefore, it is clear that neither applications for a writ of habeas corpus nor applications for bail provide that regular review of all cases.

Again, it would seem fairly straightforward to provide a prompt review conducted as a routine for all detainees. The instrument exists already in the immigration appeals authority which hears bail applications. That body clearly meets the criteria of independence, impartiality and competence which are required by international standards. Such a review could take place automatically and need not depend on an application being made by the detainee. That would be the clearest possible guarantee of consistency in relation to decisions to detain. Of course, a cost would be created by the holding of such routine hearings but if they resulted in a reduction in the number of detainees there would surely be a considerable cost saving.

Until such measures are in place, there will continue to be suspicion that detention of asylum seekers is a lottery with no clear and consistent criteria indicating why a minority are detained while a majority have temporary admission. Therefore, perhaps I may ask the Minister whether she is satisfied that immigration officers, who have little knowledge of the countries from which asylum seekers come, have the necessary skills and information to make the judgments required. If she is satisfied about that, is she satisfied also that there is consistency between one immigration officer and another and one port of entry and another?

It is extremely difficult to understand why some are in detention and others are not when there is very little difference in their circumstances. Of the 50 cases analysed by Amnesty, 23 were released in due course on bail or temporary admission without there being any apparent change in their situation. Why, then, was it necessary to detain them at all? Of those 23, one absconded. Is that proportion any different from the proportion of those who abscond from among the majority given temporary admission?

The Government put forward the possibility of absconding as the chief reason for the necessity of detention. It would be helpful if the Minister could indicate the size of the problem and how many asylum seekers abscond in a year. It does not seem immediately apparent that those detained and then released are any more likely to abscond than those who are admitted. Why, then, are they detained in the first place?

Finally, there is the suspicion that asylum seekers are treated in the way I have described to deter them from coming to this country and perhaps to give the impression that they are in some way bogus. Of the 50 cases to which I have referred, seven have been granted asylum and a number of other cases are still awaiting the outcome of an appeal. Therefore, it is clear that a proportion of those who are detained are genuine. Why, then, should they be detained?

The matter is made worse when they are detained in prisons alongside those accused of criminal offences. A large proportion of those detained continue to be inside such institutions. The March 1995 report of Judge Stephen Tumim recommended that those detained for immigration purposes should not be held at Wandsworth Prison. That recommendation surely applies also to other prisons.

Asylum seekers come to this country fleeing from persecution and fear of death. They are not criminals and are entitled to proper treatment. Of course, their cases must be examined properly and those which are not well founded must be rejected. But that does not mean that asylum seekers should be treated as bogus, or even worse as criminals. The measures I have suggested would give some reassurance that detention is used only in cases where there is clear evidence of it being necessary. I hope that the Minister will be able to provide some indication of the Government's willingness to review their practice in this matter.

7.35 p.m.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon for the calm and balanced way in which he has introduced this debate. In my view, it is both timely and urgent. We look forward to the reply of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, although I know that she is not the departmental Minister within the Home Office who has responsibility for those matters. Nevertheless, we hope that she will be able to give us a very sympathetic reply.

I submit that the Government need to review not only their policy but also their attitudes to asylum seekers. Before 1971 I doubt whether any such people were detained for more than perhaps a very short time. One regrets that recently the practice of detention has increased. As has been mentioned, prisons have been used, which should be available for those convicted of crimes, and new detention centres have been built.

If that is not bad enough, the Government appear to be quite misinformed about the psychology of asylum seekers. Someone who comes here to ask for asylum either immediately on arrival or soon afterwards is seeking a new and special status. He is saying, "I am here and I would like to stay". Such a person has the strongest possible incentive to appear when required to do so and to present his own case. I suggest that he will not willingly annoy those who must decide his status. Therefore, he should not normally be detained. He is quite unlike a person who has overstayed, perhaps as a student or a visitor. He is even more unlike an offender who has been convicted and sentenced to deportation. Both overstayers and offenders may have to be sent home and should be detained if they are likely to abscond prior to deportation.

Quite naturally, members of the public dislike those who have committed serious offences while in Britain or who have no right in any event to be here. On the other hand, there is strong public sympathy for the victims of persecution and torture and for those whose homes, families and livelihoods have been suddenly shattered by a vicious war, whether civil or otherwise. Many people believe that Her Majesty's Government should be more generous to refugees and displaced people and, in particular, those from Bosnia and especially for the wounded and those who already have relatives living in Britain. The Home Secretary should not ride roughshod over the kind and charitable instincts of the people of Britain. He should avoid carefully tarring the genuine asylum seeker with the same brush as the illegal immigrant.

There are many practical steps which could be taken to prevent the detention of asylum seekers. For example, the question of bail has been mentioned already by the right reverend Prelate. It is ridiculous to ask someone with no money and few friends to stand surety for bail in the sum of £4,000. If bail is to be used at all, it should be limited to sums which are practically possible for the applicants to pay. One or two personal sureties or third parties would be greatly preferable.

The second practical step would be to make greatly increased use of the services and facilities of voluntary and non-governmental bodies. Asylum seekers should be discharged into their care and they should be made responsible for ensuring that applicants turn up when required to do so. There are a large number of NGOs which come under the umbrella of the British Refugee Council. That council has long experience in dealing with refugees.

In addition, there are several thousand housing associations in all parts of Britain, a number of which also manage hostels for short-stay, short-life accommodation. In addition, many churches in London and elsewhere have experience of refugees within their congregations. In the past they have welcomed them and assisted their integration into local life. As your Lordships will recall, during the crises of Hungary, Uganda, and again in 1988 when many Kurds fled from Turkey, church halls were pressed into service to accommodate refugees who might otherwise have been totally homeless. All those traditions could be built upon and I am sure that there are voluntary organisations, over and above those already mentioned, which would be willing to help if they were properly approached. None of those organisations, of which we can be proud, wishes to see asylum seekers treated as if they were criminals.

The Home Office needs to revise its practice on detaining asylum seekers. It should remind itself daily of its often-repeated claim that, detention is used sparingly and as a last resort". In my view it should never be used as a first resort, when an exhausted and probably disoriented applicant makes an inconsistent statement. It should not be used just because an asylum seeker has arrived with forged, false or incomplete documents. How else can some people escape from Saddam Hussein, the Ayatollahs, or other equally unacceptable regimes?

The Home Office should also review its notion that any old place will do for locking up asylum seekers. I recall the disused ferry boats near Felixstowe which were used to intern Tamil refugees, until they were wrecked by a hurricane. I also recall Haslar, near Portsmouth, where access was, for a long time, difficult for visiting solicitors and friends and where facilities were inadequate.

I have myself visited Campsfield House near Oxford. It was a former young offenders' centre situated on a cramped and claustrophobic site. There detainees were handed over to the mercies of private enterprise, in the form of the untested and undertrained employees of Group 4 Total Security. The result was, first, hunger strikes and then, later on, a riot. I trust that conditions have now improved following a visit by the Chief Inspector of Prisons.

Detention has been costing well over £4 million each year. I believe that it is likely to cost over £5 million for this year, although the figure could be higher. A great deal of that is wasted money, as about half of all detainees are released on bail or given temporary admission after they have been initially detained. The practice of detaining makes the assessment of cases longer and more complicated. One-third of detainees were recently being held for more than six months; indeed, some had committed suicide during that time.

The right reverend Prelate was entirely right to call for review of something that is seriously wrong. I believe that the review needs to be a fundamental one, embracing attitudes, policy and practices. I support the right reverend Prelate with all my strength and I urge Her Majesty's Government to listen to the independent sources that have examined the situation and in particular to those who are in daily contact with asylum seekers. I ask them not to succumb to the siren voices of prejudice. It is, I believe, high time that this country complied in full with Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights and with Article 9 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights; and, in general, with the standards laid down by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

7.45 p.m.

Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank

My Lords, I too very greatly welcome the choice of the right reverend Prelate of the matter for a short debate tonight. The right reverend Prelate raised most important issues on behalf of an easily dismissed or ignored minority which I believe is very appropriate on occasions of this kind. He summarised his case this evening by asking for clear and convincing evidence as regards the reasons for detention, because they are not easy to find. I believe that the theme of the right reverend Prelate, which I strongly endorse, is that detention must be exceptional and that there should be a review of the way that detention is conducted at present and of the numbers of people who are subject to it.

I shall try to avoid adding to the list of questions raised by the right reverend Prelate. Indeed, I shall be most happy to listen to the Minister's response, except in one respect. I would he grateful if the noble Baroness could confirm the total annual cost of detention. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred to the figure of £4 million rising to £5 million. However, that seems to me to be a rather low figure when one takes into account the fact that something like 650 people are detained at any one time and that there is a need to use prison accommodation in the way that has been described. Therefore, because of the very high cost of keeping anyone in detention, I would assume that the total cost is much above £4 million or £5 million. I should be grateful if the Minister can give us that information and for any further details that she may have as regards how the figure is broken down.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, was absolutely right to say that it is not only a matter of policy and procedures but also one of attitudes. He said that we should never forget that people seeking asylum are the victims of persecution and torture and that they come into this country with that in mind. I believe that we should be more than ever sympathetic to the problems that they are faced with in detention and when explaining their cases to those who need to hear.

This country's reputation and record in matters of dealing with refugees is indeed a very mixed one. I was brought up on the stories of Victorian England from Palmerston to Gladstone, when we were very tolerant of all victims of persecution. I greatly welcomed that fact. However, our record on the eve of World War II was not so good. I recently read an article by Sir Martin Gilbert—who, as noble Lords will know, is the biographer of Sir Winston Churchill and, I understand, an occasional adviser to the Prime Minister—on British government policy towards Jewish refugees from November 1938 until the outbreak of war. The article is based on Cabinet Office and Foreign Office papers which have only recently been made available.

I must say that I am deeply ashamed at the attitude of the government at that time which is revealed by their own papers. We must not be in a position in, say, 10, 20, 30 or 50 years' time of looking back at today's policy and its implementation and discovering what, as I say, Sir Martin Gilbert discovered about our policy on the eve of World War II. In common humanity—despite what I said about policy at that time—and because of our own long tradition of political tolerance, we should always lean towards accepting those seeking asylum and avoid temporary detention whenever possible. I believe that that ought to be our policy. I do not believe for a moment that the Minister would in fact dissent from that view.

The right reverend Prelate set out a number of safeguards—as I believe one might call them—which he thought ought to apply in cases of detention. I have some of my own and perhaps I may mention them very briefly, although they do not necessarily, if at all, differ from those of the right reverend Prelate. First, the Home Office should enforce its own instructions that asylum seekers should not be detained on mere suspicion. Secondly, following on from what the right reverend Prelate said in particular, all detainees should be provided with written explanations in English, and in due course in their own language, outlining the reasons for their detention. Thirdly, detainees should not be held in ordinary prisons but elsewhere in humane conditions. I shall be most interested to hear what the Minister has to say about steps to provide accommodation other than that at Campsfield and also as regards what the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said about present conditions at Campsfield House.

Fourthly—this follows—immigration detention centres, wherever they may he and whatever may be their further purpose, should be professionally staffed, managed and equipped to provide a sympathetic environment for all cultures. Fifthly, there should be a fully independent and impartial body to review decisions to detain and the conditions of detention.

Those are my five principles, but, as I say, I shall be happy to accept the longer and rather fuller list of the right reverend Prelate. I particularly noted what he said about legal representation.

If—can the Minister confirm this?—about 650 people are being held at any one time, it seems to me that that is far too many. If 650 people are being held and Campsfield takes only 215, is it indeed the case that the remaining number—this is an average number, but it would be helpful to know if there is another figure for today—are being held in prison accommodation of one kind or another?

Also, are any children being held at the present time? I understand and appreciate that the number of children detained is very few and there are circumstances in which it may be necessary to detain an unaccompanied child overnight, but that is the most that could be done. It would be indefensible if children were held on their own for any period of time, or any period comparable to the time detainees would normally expect to be held in detention.

I do not pretend that matters of judgment do not arise and I am quite prepared to accept, as the House will do, that not quite all asylum seekers are fleeing from persecution. However, I believe that we should have a generous and not a restrictive policy and it should be based upon giving refugees the benefit of the doubt. I believe it was Amnesty which published a booklet about some of these matters which was entitled Prisoners Without a Voice. This is precisely what they are and, for that reason if for no other, I greatly welcome the right reverend Prelate's decision to give them one this evening.

7.52 p.m.

Lord Plant of Highfield

My Lords, may I first thank the right reverend Prelate, as others have done, for raising this Question in the House today. We have already had three powerful speeches, and I agree with the central thrust of the points made.

The issues the right reverend Prelate has raised are of vital importance. The deprivation of liberty is one of the greatest misfortunes that can befall an individual and to deprive a person of liberty is one of the most powerful instruments which the state has in its control. It is therefore vital that the exercise of such power is always kept under review so that it can be made accountable to Parliament. It must also always be made consistent with British ideas about the rule of law—a commitment of which, as the Evening Standard said in a slightly different context last night, we can be extremely proud. I believe that current policy and practice in relation to asylum seekers falls quite a long way below the standard set by some notion of the rule of law.

It seems to me that there are two issues at stake in the detention of asylum seekers. The first is the justification of the policy of detention itself. The second concerns the terms and conditions of detention. As I shall argue, the first makes a big impact on the second. On 10th May, I understand, there were 646 detained asylum seekers. I would be most grateful if the Minister can give the House the current number. The Refugee Council estimates that during 1994 between 3,000 and 4,000 people were detained. Since July 1993 the Government have been increasing detention facilities and at the moment there appear to be about 800 places for the detention of immigration and asylum cases, the vast majority of them for asylum cases.

My party fully accepts that in individual cases detention may be justified, but the crucial difference we have with the Government is that it should be justified on individual grounds and this sort of detention should be made much more transparent and compatible with general ideas about the rule of law. It would be wrong to use large scale detention, or the prospect of it, as a matter of policy to deter asylum seekers, although this seems to have been the interpretation given to the policy by Mr. Peter Tomkin, who retired as head of the Immigration Service in 1991, when he recently suggested that if people knew their cases would drag on for months while they lived in spartan surroundings they simply would not come unless their claim was legitimate. It seems to me that if there is any element of using detention as a policy of that sort it is illegitimate.

There are a number of ways in which I believe the existing arrangements are not compatible with the idea of the rule of law, and other speakers have made the point as well as I am likely to do. However, I shall mention them briefly. First, the matter of who is to be detained seems largely a lottery. Asylum seekers are liable to detention at any point in the asylum determination process and a large number seem to be detained on entry. The decision to detain on entry is made by an immigration officer following a short interview with no legal representation on the grounds that the asylum seeker may not comply with conditions of admission. That is a highly subjective judgment, and it is not subject to any kind of judicial appeal or review. It is made at a time of maximum disorientation for the claimant and may involve difficulties with language.

It seems to me wrong that such a draconian power can be used in such a discretionary way. It is compounded by the fact that detention is for an indefinite period. It is no doubt true that, as the Home Office says, asylum seekers have their cases reviewed on a monthly basis by a senior immigration officer. When, however, continued detention is authorised no reasons have to be given other than that it has been authorised. Again, it seems that the power is discretionary. The individual concerned is given no detailed reasons for continued detention and it cannot be challenged in the courts. If, as we believe, detention can he justified in individual cases, it is vital that, first of all, the individual is given, as the right reverend Prelate said, a written set of reasons for detention and that these should be based on proper investigation. The reasons should not be based on a short interview at a rather inappropriate moment in the process when the person concerned may be rather disoriented.

Secondly, the individual should have access to legal representation and to help to secure it, including, as the right reverend Prelate said, written details of rights and the procedures relating to those rights. Thirdly, a review of detention should also involve giving reasons to the detainee and this should be open to legal review and/or challenge. Fourthly, there must surely be a case for an upper time limit to the period of detention.

Given the growth of numbers of places in detention centres, the way in which discretionary power is entrenched at the heart of the process, and the lack of opportunity for legal challenge, it is difficult not to believe that detention of large numbers is not a matter of policy. That interpretation is supported by the suggestion of various refugee organisations that the Home Office appears to target certain nationalities for detention. In 1994 it appears to have been Angolans and Zaireans; at the moment it appears to be Algerians and Nigerians.

If detention is justified, it is justified on individual grounds. If that is so, there is every reason to expect that the decision to detain can be justified in each case and this requires reasons to be given to the detainee and for the decision to be subject to review and challenge. I am sure that all Members of the House have a strong commitment to the idea of the rule of law. Yet it is difficult to see how existing arrangements with such a large reliance on discretion are compatible with the idea of the rule of law and natural justice.

I am also concerned about the differences in the conditions in which individuals are detained. While I accept the negative points mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, Campsfield Detention Centre nevertheless runs a reasonably relaxed regime with rooms rather than cells, recreational facilities, in-house medical facilities and the possibility of incoming phone calls. In Rochester Prison, by contrast, where there are 200 places for asylum seekers, the regime is much more like that of a remand prison. Having visited Reading Prison—which is a renowned prison—last week I can see that it is certainly not an easy life. People are locked up for 14 hours a day. They cannot receive incoming calls, although they can make telephone calls out. Their capacity to earn money is limited. As I understand it, it is limited to 60 pence a day in return for work such as cleaning of the cell. It is not clear to me why regimes for the same group of people have to differ so fundamentally. Obviously, the ideal would be to move those who have to be detained out of prisons and into other kinds of centres.

I am also concerned about the training of private security guards taking a role in riot control at Campsfield, a form of training involving the use of batons, shields and restraining apparatus. This is not the place for a major philosophical debate about private prisons which would replicate what has been said from the Opposition Benches before; I merely wish to record our dislike of the current developments and the objection to that in principle.

Overall, therefore, I am very concerned about the use of arbitrary power and discretionary power in the detention of asylum seekers. We may need to detain individuals, but we need to do it in terms of transparent standards of law and justice of which we can be proud.

8.2 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the House will be grateful to the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Ripon for the opportunity to discuss a subject which is inclined, I suspect, to arouse an emotional response rather than a rational one. I am also indebted to other noble Lords for the measured way in which they have expressed what I know are very real concerns about an important subject which strikes at a fundamental right—the liberty of the individual.

I should begin by assuring noble Lords that the Government take this question very seriously, and we are concerned to respond positively to constructive criticism in this area. I shall go on to explain what that means in terms of positive action on our part. However, we should begin by recognising the broader context within which this issue needs to be addressed—the need to maintain an effective immigration control and the fact that it is necessary to detain some people with no entitlement to remain here if they are to be removed.

It may be helpful if I provide the House with some facts. At present there are some 58,000 applications for asylum outstanding. There are some 870 people detained under powers contained in Schedules 2 and 3 of the Immigration Act 1971. These are not new powers; they have been on the statute book for over 22 years. Some 690 of those in detention have claimed asylum at some stage, but the great majority of these have already had their applications considered by the Home Office and have had their claims rejected. Of those in long-term detention—for more than one month—90 per cent. have already had their asylum claims rejected and are either pursuing appeals or are awaiting deportation or removal. Only 4 per cent. of all asylum applications are granted and of those who appeal, which is the majority, only 4 per cent. are currently successful before the independent appellate authorities. That does not suggest to me a picture of a large number of genuine refugees being detained unjustifiably.

That brings me to the nature of the problem that we are addressing tonight. In 1988 there were some 4,000 applications for asylum in the United Kingdom, and that figure had been constant for some years. In 1991 there were 44,800 asylum applications, and there was widespread evidence of growing abuse of these arrangements. The Government have addressed the issue in a number of ways. The Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 gave every refused asylum seeker a right of appeal before removal. At the same time we introduced measures aimed at speeding up the process of resolving applications and reducing the numbers of applications for judicial review which were building up in the courts. The Act also introduced powers to take fingerprints to prevent multiple applications. In one case a man was found to have applied for asylum in over 40 different identities, using those identities to apply for DSS benefits. I am pleased to say that he was convicted of defrauding the department and sentenced to 2½years imprisonment.

In 1994 the United Kingdom had 32,800 asylum applications, excluding dependants. That figure is over 10,000 more than in 1993 and still over eight times the level in 1988. Much remains to be done, therefore. The 1993 Act has reduced decision times—from over 18 to about eight months in new cases—and streamlined procedures, but the high levels of applications have eroded the improved decision times and added to backlogs.

The Government have therefore announced the investment of an extra £37 million in the machinery for determining asylum claims and hearing appeals on the "spend to save" principle. This will pay for an additional 170 staff in the Asylum Division. There were 640 staff in post in May 1995.

The Government have also announced the wider use of the power to curtail existing leave when refusing asylum. Each case can still be considered on its merits and the powers will not be used automatically or punitively. But making an undeserving asylum claim is likely to cast doubt on an applicant's intention to leave the United Kingdom at the end of their stay, as visitors and students are required to do. A new "short procedure" is currently being piloted under which the intervals between application, interview, further representations and a decision are shortened. The initial pilot scheme is on a limited basis but we hope to expand this if successful. All those measures are aimed to ensure that claims are still given full individual consideration but that the whole process is accelerated.

Against that background, the Government's policy on the use of detention has been clearly stated on a number of occasions. The policy is that the powers of detention contained in the Immigration Act 1971 should be used only where there is no alternative. The overriding consideration is whether the person is likely to comply voluntarily with any restrictions imposed on him, including any arrangements for removal from the United Kingdom. Temporary admission is granted wherever possible, with account being taken of the full circumstances of the case, including the person's immigration history, length of residence and any ties with the United Kingdom. Special consideration is always given to the release of people who have brought themselves to the attention of the authorities by seeking asylum, and that approach has been underlined recently by further instructions to the Immigration Service.

The decision to detain is taken at no lower than chief immigration officer level and is reviewed within 24 hours by an Immigration Service inspector. Thereafter all detention is reviewed locally by an inspector at least weekly, and after one month further reviews are carried out and at an increasingly senior level so that all detention in excess of six months is reviewed by a director of the Immigration Service.

I accept that that is not the same as an independent review of detention, which has been proposed by the right reverend Prelate; but there are opportunities to apply for bail for all those detainees who are pursuing appeals. Those opportunities have been substantially extended by the new rights of appeal introduced by the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993. Opportunities to apply for habeas corpus and to apply for bail in context of any application for judicial review are also available. Against that background the Government do not believe that the case for an independent review of detention is justified.

The other issue that is frequently raised is the need to explain to the detainee the reasons for the initial detention. In practice, the detainee is told of the reason for detention at the time, in a language he or she understands, through an interpreter if necessary. If the object is to explain the position to the detainee, then I am sure that this is the best way to do it, because only in that way can these matters be talked through and explained where that seems necessary. If the object is to produce a document for the purposes of a bail hearing at some time in the future, then that is done as and when it is required. Again, I can see no justification for creating a further layer of bureaucracy by providing a written explanation in each case. What is absolutely crucial is that there is proper understanding on the part of the detainee.

Where I think it is important to produce written notifications for detainees is in terms of keeping them in touch with developments in resolving their position. Since 1991 we have had arrangements for providing detainees monthly with a written explanation of the state of play in resolving their immigration position, including any extant asylum claim. That is done in the context of the monthly detention review which is conducted in consultation with the Asylum Division. These arrangements have recently been reviewed and improved—for example, by having the review conducted on the monthly "anniversary" of the date of detention—thus ensuring that no one has to wait nearly two months before receiving such a notification at the beginning of each calendar month; and by faxing the notification to ensure that the information which it contains is up to date.

I know that there has been some criticism of the detention of those held under the Immigration Act in Prison Service establishments. I think we need to be clear about distinguishing between convicted prisoners who are to be deported at the end of their sentence and others who are held pending removal. I agree that those held pending removal should be accommodated separately from convicted prisoners and, indeed, this is what we are working towards.

It has been agreed that in future all Immigration Act detainees will be held in only five Prison Service establishments: Haslar, Rochester, Birmingham, Holloway and one other in the north which remains to be decided.

The programme of transfers into these establishments is now virtually complete, subject to the identification of a further prison in the north of England and this will enable both the Prison Service and the Immigration Service better to meet the particular needs of these detainees. It will also give us an opportunity to co-ordinate the way in which we deal with immigration detainees wherever they are held. This will be facilitated by a "detention management co-ordinating committee" with representatives of all the main places of detention, which has been established already.

As I have said, there will be a continuing need to accommodate a number of immigration detainees in Prison Service establishments. However, the extent to which we rely on the Prison Service for accommodation of this sort should be reduced in due course as we expand the places available in purpose-built Immigration Service detention centres.

The first step down this road was taken by the opening of Campsfield House in November 1993 which provided an additional 200 places. This was followed by the opening of the Gatwick temporary detention centre with 45 places in January this year. This, in itself, will be replaced by the end of 1995 by a new Gatwick permanent detention centre providing some 125 beds.

The other major project is the replacement of the current detention centre at Harmondsworth by a new building in 1997 to provide some 125 beds, an addition of 30 places. This represents a challenging programme aimed at providing the very best facilities available for immigration detainees up to the same high standards as those now available at Campsfield House and Gatwick.

I recognise that some people are currently detained for longer than any of us would wish. The measures which the Government have already taken to accelerate the process of considering asylum applications and any subsequent appeals will go a long way towards resolving these difficulties. The Immigration Service itself is also looking at ways in which the process of allocating scarce detention places can be better organised. The periods of detention should therefore be reduced and, indeed, it is our intention that they should be.

The right reverend Prelate referred to the right of bail and where it should be made available to detainees. Any person who is detained and who has an appeal pending is entitled to appeal to the independent appellate authorities for bail under provisions contained in the Immigration Act 1971. Also, a passenger who is detained for longer than seven days pending further examination may also apply for bail to the appellate authorities. Detention can also be challenged in the courts. We do not believe, as I said earlier, that there is any justification for a separate, independent review of detention. The rights which detainees have to apply for bail, and their ability to challenge detention through the courts, provide proper safeguards. In addition, internal reviews provide safeguards against unnecessary detention.

All detention is reviewed locally at least every seven days. After a month a case is reviewed at an Immigration Service headquarters monthly, and at an increasingly senior level. Those reviews are conducted in close consultation with the Asylum Division; and monthly notifications are sent to detainees, as I explained earlier.

The Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 supplements the appeals system and, as a result, bail provisions in the Immigration Act 1971. In effect, any person refused asylum who is detained, and who has an appeal outstanding, may apply to the independent appellate authorities for bail.

Conditions of bail are set by adjudicators on a case-by-case basis. An over-stayer served with a notice of intention to deport, and detained, may apply for bail once an appeal is made. An illegal entrant may similarly apply for bail if exercising a right of appeal against removal directions following refusal of asylum. For over-stayers, it is the serving of notice of intention to deport which triggers the right of appeal. No entitlement to bail exists while an asylum claim is under consideration for illegal entrants.

We acknowledge that a small number of detainees do not have the right to apply for bail. Those fall into two categories: illegal entrants who have applied for asylum and have no right of appeal until the asylum application has been refused; and those detainees whose appeals have been dismissed but whose removal has been delayed. I can say that an approach has therefore been made to the department of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor to see what might be done to provide all detainees with the right to apply for bail.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, was concerned about obligations under the international conventions. First, the United Kingdom accepts all its obligations under various international conventions in respect of detaining asylum seekers. Detention is used only exceptionally and in accordance with powers under the Immigration Act. Only 1.5 per cent. of people who have sought asylum are currently detained. Many of those have already had their application refused. But it would not be possible to dispense with the use of detention for all people who have sought asylum. Some 5 per cent. of the claims made are found on convention terms to be genuine; and to have no power of detention would invite unfounded claims.

We do all we can to avoid the detention of asylum seekers in prisons. But there are circumstances—for example, the person's behaviour or where medical reasons make detention in an immigration detention centre undesirable—where that cannot be avoided. There are four main conventions which, although they are not legally binding, are accepted by the United Kingdom. Under the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1953, everyone has the right to liberty, but detention is acceptable if it is to prevent an asylum seeker effecting an unauthorised entry or against whom deportation action is being taken.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Executive Committee Conclusion 1986 stated that detention should normally, if possible, be avoided. We accept that. Under Article 9—it was mentioned, I think, by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton—of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, no one should be subjected to arbitrary detention. We abide by that, too. Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1976 states that no one should be subjected to arbitrary detention except where the procedures are established by law. We abide by that too.

The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank, asked about costs and quite rightly queried those mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. The cost of running the immigration detention centres at Campsfield House, Harmondsworth and Gatwick were some £7.5 million in 1993–94. Overall expenditure on detention, including escorting, short-term detention, accommodation and other items such as maintenance, cleaning, etc. brings the total to some £11.35 million, so it is rather higher than the £5 million mentioned. In addition there is the notional cost of detention in Prison Service establishments of some £400 a week per detainee. That equates to some £9 million a year. The estimated average cost of detention in establishments managed by the Immigration Service is £540 per week per detainee. The estimated total expenditure on detention at Campsfield House in 1993–94 was some £4.5 million. Again, that equates to £432 per week per detainee.

Reference has been made to places and accommodation. Perhaps I may run through the figures again. There are 499 places available specifically for immigration detentions; 369 places are provided at Immigration Service secure hostels and 130 at the holding centre, Haslar, which is provided by the Prison Service almost exclusively for this use. In addition, the Immigration Service detains people for short periods at ports and in police cells and it uses Prison Service accommodation primarily for those immigration detainees who require a greater measure of security and control.

As to plans for new accommodation, the 200-bed Campsfield House immigration detention centre has been opened and a 45-bed temporary immigration detention centre at Gatwick Airport has also been opened and is due to expand. Plans for additional immigration detention places to be provided in phases in new immigration secure hostels are: at Gatwick Airport, a 125-bed centre; at Manchester Airport, a new 16-bed centre to replace the existing 7-bed facility; at Stansted Airport, a new 20-bed centre to replace the existing seven-bed temporary facility and at Heathrow Airport a new 150-bed centre to replace Harmondsworth and possibly the Queen's Building facility at Heathrow by 1997.

The vexed issue of children was mentioned. My understanding is that young persons under the age of 18 are detained only as a very last resort. Again, my understanding is that it is usually when the family is being prepared for deportation that the family is put together in accommodation at the last minute. Temporary admission is normally granted into the care of a suitable sponsor, preferably a relative or a close family friend or the social services department. Authority at a minimum of inspector level is required for the detention of children under 18, whether accompanied or not, and is reviewed by an assistant director within 24 hours. I asked whether any children were detained at the moment and I understand that the number is about five. If I am able to give more details to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, I shall do so.

The right reverend Prelate was concerned about access to legal advice. It is made clear to all detainees that they have access to free legal advice from the Refugee Legal Centre and the Immigration Advisory Service, both of which are funded by the Home Office.

One or two other points were raised by the right reverend Prelate. Consistency between immigration officers is an important one. There are detailed guidelines on detention to try to ensure consistency. Detention is also reviewed by senior officers on the basis of the same criteria. I agree with the right reverend Prelate that pressure as regards the need for consistency is important and therefore that we should not relax our attempts to ensure that that is brought about.

On absconding, in the past rates of absconding were low, less than 5 per cent. However, as the numbers have inexorably risen, so too have the trends. Recent trends suggest that the numbers are increasing as we seek to remove those who become removable; that is, those who have exhausted all their rights of appeal.

The last point to which I shall refer was raised either by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, or the noble Lord, Lord Plant, and it concerned Wandsworth. Immigration detainees who were held at Wandsworth have all been transferred to another establishment and there are no immigration detainees currently held there.

It is not the Government's intention to detain genuine refugees. Detention is closely monitored and as soon as there is any indication that any detainee might conceivably have a prima facie claim for asylum in this country, then that person would be released immediately.

The issue of detention raises very real concerns and I understand the reasons for this. But I ask noble Lords not to lose sight of the broader picture. There is no doubt that the United Kingdom, like its European partners, is experiencing the effects of a worldwide pressure to emigrate. The framework of our immigration controls provides a very necessary defence and enables us to address this phenomenon in a coherent way. Detention is an integral part of this overall picture; there will always be those who are determined to circumvent the control and who will have to be detained if they are to be removed.

The United Kingdom will continue to honour both its national and its international obligations; in particular the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the status of refugees. But the Government are also committed to providing a firm but fair immigration control. It is important to keep the issue of detention in perspective. There are some 58,000 asylum applications outstanding and new applications are being received at the rate of some 3,000 a month. To set against that, 690 people in detention is evidence that the Government are operating the policy in a firm but fair way.

Over 80 per cent. of the applicants will have no entitlement to remain in the United Kingdom, and only a tiny proportion will qualify for asylum. At present we have some 690 people detained who have claimed asylum at some stage; the great majority of these have had their claims rejected already. I do not accept the suggestion that we are detaining genuine refugees. There are too many abusive applications for asylum in the United Kingdom and the ability to detain in a small number of cases is necessary if we are to retain an effective immigration control.

There is always room for improvement in the way in which we deal with the detainees in our care and the Immigration Service is keen to pursue such issues constructively in consultation with any interested organisations which have a contribution to make in this area. But I would ask noble Lords to recognise the scale and nature of the problem that the Government seek to address and the need to support this with adequate and appropriate arrangements for detention.