HL Deb 17 May 1995 vol 564 cc555-6

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, following the Chief Inspector of Prisons' report on Campsfield House, near Oxford, they will review the practice of detaining asylum-seekers.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, the report by the Chief Inspector of Prisons on his inspection of the immigration detention centre at Campsfield House does not address the practice of detaining people who have applied for asylum when that is judged necessary, and there is nothing in his report to suggest any need to review the Government's policy on this subject.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in March no fewer than 619 asylum-seekers were in detention and that they are costing the country about £20 million per year? Is she also aware that Amnesty International reckons that 44 per cent. of them were unnecessarily detained? Does not that make a strong case for an immediate review of the situation?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, what I am aware of is that the numbers detained account for only about 1.5 per cent. of the total number of applicants. There are something like 56,000 backlog applications waiting to be processed. If ever there was a need for efficiency, it is for turning round the speed with which those applications are handled. Indeed, 80 per cent. of the applications are bogus—and that does nothing to help us to speed up the processing of applications from those who are genuinely seeking asylum here.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, although not dissenting from the Minister's statement that we should try to speed up the processing of applications, bearing in mind that many of the cases that are now being dealt with are more than three years old and that people have been waiting all that time for the adjudication of their claim to asylum, does not the Minister agree that asylum-seekers are in a peculiar situation in that they cannot apply to a court for bail? Is the Minister aware that experience has shown that those who are allowed to go to a named address do not abscond? Is there not a ground for reconsidering the legislation which refuses asylum-seekers permission to go to a court of law to ask for their release, alone of all the people who are detained?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I hope that the House will put the whole issue into perspective. We are talking about 1.5 per cent. of asylum-seekers, and 80 per cent. of those who are detained either have their applications in the appeals system or are waiting to be deported. It is an immigration officer who initially detains someone. There is then a further review after 24 hours by an inspector of the immigration service. That is revised at least once every seven days by an increasingly senior member of the immigration service. Therefore, the position of all detainees is constantly reviewed. Furthermore, the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 provides a right of appeal for anyone who is refused asylum.

Lord Hylton

My Lords, the Minister referred to "bogus" asylum-seekers. Does not that reflect the undue climate and culture of suspicion which is too prevalent in the Home Office?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, no. The noble Lord made the point about the dissipation of precious resources and the fact that such claims stand in the way of genuine asylum-seekers. On considering applications it is found that many people use a false mechanism for seeking asylum. That causes enormous delay and dissipates very important resources. It is not the aim of the Home Office to do anything more than make the system more accessible to genuine asylum-seekers and to find speedy ways of doing that. Indeed, my right honourable friend is in the process of putting measures before: Parliament to speed up the process so that we can get bogus applications out of the system to make way for genuine consideration of genuine asylum-seekers.

Lord McIntosh Of Haringey

My Lords, the Minister carefully and properly restricted her earlier answers to the issue of whether asylum-seekers should be in detention rather than to the issue of conditions at Campsfield House. Has she anything to say in response to the chief inspector's report on conditions there?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, the Government have made public their response to the report. They have accepted most of its recommendations. We join Judge Tumim in his statement that the centre had a very difficult start. That was not surprising, given the particular challenges when it opened. The noble Lord will know that there was an unprecedented number of particularly difficult detainees at the time and that 140 of them went on hunger strike. That would test any management, but particularly an early management. Most of the recommendations have been taken to heart. Many are already implemented, and others are being put in hand. Where we have not accepted recommendations, I believe that we have a very good case for that.

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