HL Deb 29 April 1998 vol 589 cc338-61

5.57 p.m.

Earl Russell

rose to call attention to Sir David Ramsbotham's report on the terms and conditions under which asylum seekers and immigrants are detained at Campsfield House Detention Centre; and to move for Papers.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, first, I should like to congratulate the Minister on his Answers to a string of Written Questions I asked about two weeks ago. They dealt with the somewhat tangled publishing history of the report. When I tabled those Questions, I thought that a clever Minister would answer, "This report is now published". That is precisely what the Minister did and I thank him warmly for it.

I should also like to congratulate Sir David Ramsbotham on an excellent report and on having done what many of us might have though impossible; lived up to the standard set by his predecessor, Judge Stephen Tumim.

I should also like to pay tribute to the range of professionalism of our Armed Services. When Sir David was appointed, as when Sir Thomas Boyd-Carpenter was appointed to the Social Security Advisory Committee, some people expected a sharp move to the Right. They did not understand that the Armed Services are public service professions and they did not understand the force of the tradition that we must see the men right first. Both those major-generals have contributed to enlarging the meaning of that quintessentially British phrase "the very model of a modern major-general".

The key finding of the report is that there is an inescapable relationship between the terms on which asylum seekers may be detained and the conditions under which they may be detained. That is why Sir David found that in order to understand what was taking place he had to enter into the precise grounds on which asylum seekers may be detained.

When I was 16, I remember being given, as I am sure many of your Lordships were too, the standard lesson on the causes of the French Revolution. It has changed a great deal since then. I can remember being taken through the procedure of the lettres de cachet under which people could be detained by executive order without cause shown, without limit of time. We were taught how barbarous and how un-British that procedure was. It just goes to show that in nations, as in people, it is unwise to congratulate ourselves that we are not as other men are.

Sir David made three key recommendations in that area: that there should be written reasons for detention; that there should be clear criteria for detention; and that there should be judicial oversight of detention. My noble friend Lord Goodhart will deal in more detail with the legal issues arising from that, which are weighty, and, on occasion, quite complicated.

I want to look at the grounds on which people are detained. I do not dispute for a moment that need for detention may exist. But I wonder whether the need for detention in some cases correlates in any way with the selection of people to be detained. Of course, in the absence of written reasons and judicial oversight, that question is ultimately unverifiable. But it is not obvious to me that there is any relationship between the need for detention and the actual selection of people who are detained.

It might be people who are at risk of absconding. But 51 per cent. of those detained are still waiting for an initial decision. They are very often released for no apparent reason before that initial decision is reached. It might be those whose applications appeared prima facie hopeless. But the success rate for people detained, in the small samples which have been studied, in the samples studied by Dr. Pourgourides, the figure is six out of 15 and in the samples studied by Amnesty International the figure is 10 out of 50. Those are well above average, so it is not instantly apparent that those detained are detained because their cases appear hopeless.

Sir David reports that in some cases, people may be detained because the officer has an instinct—a curious phrase. Here is one example of an officer having an instinct. A Moslem from Kosovo, who did not wish to be drafted into the Serb Army, when interviewed did not wish to be seen as a scrounger. Therefore, he said that he was prepared to look after himself and to work, a very laudable ambition formed in ignorance of British law. As a result of his expressed willingness to work, he was sent to Campsfield House and detained for attempting to defraud under immigration law. That suggests that instinct is not a particularly judicial force.

There are cases of children being detained. Without entering into an argument about doli incapax, with which the Minister is, I am sure, all too familiar, it is rather unlikely that children would be classified properly as bogus asylum seekers. Sir David says that he was informed that only three children have been received in Campsfield. But, during 1997, 27 children were released from Campsfield into the care of Bicester social services. Those statements cannot both be correct.

Of course, the reason is that many of them come from countries whose records are rather more defective than they are in this country and they do not always have available proper proof of age. As an historian, I am perfectly familiar with that. In the 16th and 17th centuries, there are often people said to be of the age of 16 or thereabouts. You have deponents saying, "He was born in the year I broke my leg playing football", but they never remember when that was. The parish clerk of Odiham in Hampshire reported in the year the Civil War ended, "For the last few years, nobody came to tell me these things, so when the war was over, I collected as much information as I could and wrote it down in the register".

In such conditions, precise proof of age is difficult. The Home Office does not recognise any responsibility for checking age. I think it should. It should consider also what happens to children when they are released. There was a case in February of this year of an Angolan boy who was found to be a child and was to be released into the care of Bicester social services but the money had run out, as in local authority social service departments it all too easily does. Therefore, he was detained for another two months simply because the money could not be found to take care of him properly.

A great many people are detained at the port of entry. The Law Society, among others, has commented on that. The suspicion has been formed that this may be being used as a deterrent to discourage people from seeking asylum in this country. First, Sir David points out that detention is not a particularly effective deterrent. I do not believe that our detention record is easily publicised in the back streets of Jaffna. I should also like to ask the Minister to consider very carefully whether, in the light of our international obligations, deterring people from exercising their rights under international law, guaranteed by Section 2 of the Asylum Act 1993, is legal. It is case that I should be interested to hear argued in court.

Sir David reports that in the view of the immigration service and contractor staff, there is little or no consistency or logic in current arrangements for deciding upon detention. If that is the view of those who actually do the job, who am Ito argue? The Minister may wish to argue that that is unfair but in the absence of written reasons and judicial oversight, the Minister is estopped from pursuing that argument. He has shot himself not so much in the foot as in the tongue. I wish him good medical treatment.

The effect on people of being detained for that long and uncertain time, sometimes more than two years, can be demoralising. In prison, there is a category of those at exceptional risk: those who may commit suicide, may create disturbance or may attempt to abscond. In Campsfield, those at exceptional risk have, on occasion, been as high as 45 per cent. That altogether changes the meaning of the word "exceptional". In fact, it may soon be exceptional not to be at exceptional risk.

People may be tempted to argue that that means that the category of exceptional risk has been inflated. I wonder whether that is the demoralising effect of detention without cause shown for an unlimited time. Therefore, I wonder whether that puts the relationship between Group 4 and the prisoners on the wrong footing from the start.

Group 4 does not rank particularly highly among my list of persecuted victims. On the other hand, when Group 4 says that its efforts to try to care for prisoners have been thrown back in its face, I wonder whether that is a comment on the state of mind actually made inevitable by the Government's detention policy. That is why Sir David could not separate a study of conditions inside the prison from a study of the state of the law on detention of asylum seekers.

I have one more moment in which to touch on the issue of the contract between the Home Office and Group 4. We are told that that is commercially confidential. That is simply unacceptable. That people should be detained and deprived of their liberty under conditions about which Parliament is not entitled to know is in itself an abuse. It is also an abuse where we are dealing with matters of international law and, indeed, after the Human Rights Act, of British law, where damages may be awarded. As taxpayers, we have every right to know what liabilities we are incurring. The Minister may say that privatisation makes that impossible. If so, so much the worse for privatisation.

My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

6.10 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for the opportunity to consider this important subject.

The report by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons concluded that, Group 4 were doing a good job in difficult circumstances. My contacts with Campsfield, including an extended visit yesterday, lead me to endorse that judgement. The Ramsbotham Report makes it clear that nearly all the recommendations made in the 1995 inspection report have been implemented and the management are clearly determined to implement as soon as possible the recommendations made in the current one. Indeed, a number of them have already been implemented.

The facilities at Campsfield range from adequate to good and the staff, whose morale is now beginning to recover from the riots last August, are keen for detainees to make maximum use of them. Nevertheless, we should not underestimate the challenge that this provides.

Detainees arrive in detention with a fair degree of stress. They are understandably preoccupied with the progress of their own case, often deeply frustrated by the delays, and subject to highs and lows of moods as their hopes are successively raised or dashed—all this within a context in which they are deprived of their liberty. For some it is a process which goes on for many months. In such circumstances it is easy to become restless or listless, depressed or aggressive and unmotivated for constructive activities.

Much of this anxiety and stress is related to wider issues of immigration and detention policy, to which I shall turn in a few minutes, but the challenge will always be there. That means ensuring the presence of well-motivated, well-trained staff and a regime which provides incentives for detainees to use their time as well as they can under the circumstances.

Against this background I would stress the importance of the report's recommendation 10.90, which says: Support from the local NHS Mental Health Service should be improved. A named psychiatrist on the multi-disciplinary team should have clinical responsibility for detainees. This recommendation is in the process of being implemented but it is an area that needs and must receive continuing attention: first, for people who may become acutely ill, even psychotic; and, secondly, for those who develop various symptoms, including depression, as a result of the multiple traumas they have experienced.

Research carried out by a psychiatrist, Dr. Christina Tourgourides, into the mental health implication of detention asylum seekers and published as A Second Exile revealed the following pattern. Typically, they coped with the first one to two months of detention and broke down on the third or fourth month, when their difficulties would come to the attention of usually, a legal representative, or visitor. Thirty-three per cent. had made an attempt at deliberate self-harm, including attempted hanging. Examination revealed that 27 per cent. fulfilled the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder and 60 per cent. for depression. Many had psychosomatic complaints and anxiety. Two were psychotic.

It does not take much imagination to understand why people in detention for many months, having previously experienced trauma of various kinds, need help to retain mental stability. I understand that there is now a nurse with counselling skills on site, as well as visits from two psychiatric social workers. Clearly the more people who have counselling skills, as well as medical qualifications in this field, the better these kinds of problems can be addressed.

The second area I wish to highlight is the Chaplaincy Service, which is strongly affirmed in the report. Campsfield has been described as the most religious place in Oxfordshire. This is, first, because many of the detainees come from countries where religion is a crucial aspect of life. Secondly, because the whole experience of coming to this country and detention throws people back upon their inner resources, and this has the effect of highlighting any religious dimension. At Campsfield there is a special room for Moslem prayers, another one for Sikh prayers and regular, vibrant evangelical worship by Christians from Africa.

The job of a chaplain in such a context is an important one, requiring sensitivity and sophistication. The chaplain in fact acts as a facilitator for all religious groups, ensuring, for example, visits from an Imam when necessary and helping to ensure that the staff as a whole are aware of any significant cultural and religious aspects to life. If these are inadvertently overlooked they can be a cause of tension. Another example is that hunger strikes often take on something of a spiritual fast component and the care of the person on hunger strike will require chaplaincy help. Carelessness over religious practice can often lead to disorder, as people will feel that there is an attack on their identity. For these and other reasons the presence on site of a good chaplain is much appreciated, not only by detainees but by the management.

The important role that chaplaincy plays was also highlighted in the report on Tinsley House as a result of the inspection in August 1997. Chaplaincy there is carried out rather differently with three airport chaplains liaising with a religious affairs/cultural officer, but it was described as "very effective".

The establishment of a satisfactory chaplaincy service at Campsfield has not been without its difficulties. As the statutory framework for detention as a whole is reconsidered, one element in this will, I hope, be a statutory basis for chaplaincy to safeguard the good practice that has been built up at Campsfield.

The Ramsbotham Report recognises that conditions at Campsfield House cannot be separated from wider issues of immigration and detention policy, a view stressed by the noble Earl and with which I wholeheartedly agree. There are a number of important recommendations in the report, on which other noble Lords will no doubt expand, so I shall mention them only briefly. First, all detainees should be given written reasons for their detention. These written reasons should state the individual and exceptional circumstances which require the person's detention. This will ensure that asylum seekers fully understand why they are being detained and will allow them to challenge whether the reasons given are sufficient to justify their deprivation of liberty.

Secondly, there should be judicial oversight into immigration detention. A judicial review of the decision to detain within one week would give an independent determination as to whether it is really necessary to deprive someone of their liberty. At the moment there is a widespread sense of inconsistency about who is detained and who is not. This is very unsettling for those who are already held in a detention centre.

Thirdly, time standards should be applied to different stages of the application process. It is clearly highly unsatisfactory that people can now be in detention for such a long time. This is one of the main causes of tension. Fourthly, a register of authorised solicitors should be compiled and made available. Only those certified as professionally suitable by the Law Society should be allowed to practise at any detention centre. At the moment there is evidence of unscrupulous immigration advisers taking advantage of the desperation of detainees.

Detention is probably a regrettable but necessary consequence of any immigration policy. We all recognise the need for what the Government in their White Paper called a "Firmer, fairer, faster" service and are anxiously looking for the details of this policy when the Government's reviews are complete. I believe the situation at Campsfield has improved, is improving, and will continue to improve, so that the regime of those who have been deprived of their liberty is as humane and constructive as possible. What goes on in detention centres, the atmosphere and mood, is inevitably heavily affected by the overall system in which they operate.

As has already been stressed, the criteria by which people are held in detention centres cannot in the end be totally divorced from the conditions under which they are held. It is only if the system is fair, and is seen to be fair and as speedy as possible, that detention centres can sustain the kind of atmosphere we should all like to see there.

6.20 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I am very glad to have this opportunity of paying tribute to the work of the right reverend Prelate who has just spoken and, indeed, to the close interest he has always taken in Campsfield House. I warmly endorse his final remarks. We have a situation in Campsfield House which is not a separate phenomenon; indeed, it is set against the background where, as we know, the immigration system is massively overloaded with something like 52,000 people in the queue waiting to have their cases determined. Apparently, even straightforward cases are taking a very long time to resolve. Moreover, as has been said, the power of immigration officers to detain anyone without judicial process, on entry, pending removal or subject to notice of deportation, is virtually unrestricted. We have no idea at all whether the people who are locked up in Campsfield House and elsewhere really need to be held in that secure accommodation because such decisions are shielded from our view. Moreover, the bail hearings, which are part of the process, do not allow the reasons for detention to be properly challenged.

We are also prevented from discussing the system of control itself. Whenever any element of it is challenged, Ministers refer to the various reviews which are under way as an excuse for not being able to comment. An asylum review announced by the Home Office on August 21st last year was expected to report its findings to Ministers, according to the Home Office press release, in late autumn. However, it did not say of which year. Then there was the review of the appeals system and detention policy, announced originally by the previous government in December 1996. Understandably there was a hiatus over the general election, but it was not until September 1997 that Mr. O'Brien wrote to various bodies asking for their comments of the matters to be dealt with by that review. In December the Minister said that he was considering the findings which were supposed to lead to a consultation paper, but that has still not appeared.

Despite the Government's reluctance to make decisions pending the outcome of those reviews, the staff of the IND was cut by 271 people in 1997. Can the Minister say whether he agrees that that must have been a false saving? I ask that because, with the resources that would have been available if those men and women had remained in post, the backlog could have been cut and the cost of supporting those in the queue could have been reduced accordingly.

I believe that the whole idea of detaining a person indefinitely, without proper judicial process, is repugnant. According to the UNHCR, it violates the European Convention on Human Rights and the Chief Inspector has said that he believes that it is a breach of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Government would be sensible to act on the recommendation, which my noble friend will no doubt go into in more detail, to make Immigration Act detention subject to judicial oversight. That might well lead to a reduction in the numbers overall as we know that some 20 per cent. of detainees, according to the Amnesty International study, mentioned by my noble friend in his opening remarks, are later given refugee status or ELR, while others might not seem the exceptional risks to a judge that they do to an immigration officer who knows that his decision is not open to challenge.

Only this morning I had a telephone call from an Iranian who originally entered this country on 23rd March 1997. After spending five months in Rochester in detention, he was accepted as a refugee. So the cost of keeping him in prison for that length of time was to no purpose at all; indeed, it cost £7,500 to do so. It is not unreasonable to suppose that by a combination of more efficient case processing, and judicial oversight, the number of detainees could be reduced from the present level of about 800 to roughly half that number. If the costs fell by the same proportion, the saving to the taxpayer would be £11 million a year. We would also be able to avoid having to keep detainees in prison, because the number of places in Immigration Service facilities, including Campsfield House, would just about be sufficient.

There may be ways of shortening the length of detention without having to wait for legislation. In Haslar, the board of visitors asked the Immigration Service for a list of the six longest serving detainees. Since that procedure was implemented, there has been a marked decrease in the length of detentions. Perhaps the visiting committees at Campsfield and Harmondsworth should see whether they can get the same results. Even better, if the Home Office could publish the statistics, say, at the end of each month, giving the number of detainees in each of the places where the Immigration Act detainees are held and the lengths of detention for the six longest serving detainees in each location, we could see whether it had any effect in reducing the length of their sentences.

I turn now to the circumstances in which people are detained at Campsfield House. This place, together with Tinsley House and Harmondsworth, operates under contract between the Immigration Service and private companies, in contrast to the holding centre at Haslar and the immigration detention wings at Rochester, Winson Green and Holloway which are governed by the Prison Act. In the detention centres there are no opportunities to work and earn wages. In the prisons, it ought to be possible, although I am told that payments have been suspended recently in Haslar for budgetary reasons. I am not sure whether or not that is lawful. Perhaps the Minister can comment on the situation. However, whatever facilities there are for the detainees to get earnings, or payments in lieu of earnings where there is no work available, they should be the same wherever a person is held. I share the Chief Inspector's bafflement concerning the immigration authority's denial of opportunities for detainees to earn money. I wonder whether we really need to wait for the outcome of the review to remedy that anomaly.

The right reverend Prelate spoke about the right of access to religious facilities in Campsfield House. The authorities originally had no understanding at all of the importance of religion to the majority of asylum seekers, which is far greater than in the prisons where the population tends to reflect the secularity of British society. Now, as the right reverend Prelate said, things are greatly improved and I am glad to echo his tribute to the authorities in providing adequate prayer rooms for Moslems and recently also for Sikhs.

It should be borne in mind that Moslems constitute the largest number of detainees in all the places where Immigration Act detainees are held, but no regular statistics are maintained as they are for prisons. Campsfield House and the other centres keep their own records, but these should be collated and published and, I suggest, more frequently than is the case for prison statistics. I say that because the mix of asylum seekers is changing rapidly. On the basis of those figures, provision ought to be made for the accommodation of other faiths and for the attendance of visiting ministers on a scale commensurate to the numbers belonging to each faith.

While the Christian chaplains at Campsfield House and elsewhere in the estate have been very successful in highlighting the needs of other religions, and extracting resources from the authorities, I suggest that it is anomalous that the Church should be required to take a lead in such matters. If the Chief Inspector's main recommendation of a separate detention estate with its own statutory framework and its own set of rules is accepted, the management of religious facilities should not be dependent on the recommendations of a faith to which only a small minority of the users belong.

If the detention estate is established as a separate, independent entity, the practice of transferring people from detention centres to prisons must be reviewed. At present, managers of centres appear to have the power to order the transfer of any person to prison and, in the case of Haslar, (which, or course, is operated under the Prison Act) 10 men were moved last week to Winchester and other prisons. That was done without the knowledge of the board of visitors, whereas in the case of Campsfield House the practice is that a member of the visiting committee has to be present at any removal. Clearly, the transfer of inmates from Haslar to other parts of the prison system is subject to fewer constraints. There is a risk that the threat of transfer may be used for minor infractions of good order and discipline in Haslar, which would have to be dealt with by internal methods at Campsfield.

The Chief Inspector recommends that there should be a clear set of rules for the rights and responsibilities of detainees, and the responsibilities and powers of the detention service. That would obviously include provisions for internal adjudication of disciplinary offences, and the imposition of penalties for breaches of the rules. Transfers to the prison system would then be regulated by the code and could not be decided by the managers on their own or even with the consent of the receiving prison. As the detention estate will no doubt be managed entirely by the private sector—and an increasing proportion of the prison service is gong the same way—there would have to be a contract between the two, so as to ensure that places would be kept available to deal with contingencies.

The differences between the powers and responsibilities of the visiting committees and boards of visitors need to be considered. The VCs have no right to enter the centre unannounced and conduct an inspection, as the board of visitors may do in a prison and it is not clear from the Chief Inspector's report whether they actually seek to do so. The residents apparently have no formal right of access to the VC as a prisoner would have to a member of the board of visitors, because this is one of the recommendations made. Can the Minister say whether that has been implemented? Perhaps if this had been in place at the time, the difficulties which led to the riots might have been avoided.

The chairman of the visiting committee told the Chief Inspector about the difficulty of getting suitable volunteers to serve and said that out of a committee of 10 there were only three of ethnic minority background. I cannot believe that in a multicultural city such as Oxford it would be so hard to find additional members from the ethnic minorities. As far as I can ascertain, no approach has been made to the Commission for Racial Equality to see whether it can help. I am sure it could help if it were asked.

The visiting committees are not automatically invited to the annual conference of the boards of visitors, and in any case their role is a different one. Apparently there is no formal mechanism for the exchange of views between VCs, or for the sharing of best practice between them. There should be an annual conference for VCs where the specific problems of the holding centres, with their widely varied populations, could be addressed. This should be attended by IND senior staff.

I look forward to the Home Office's response to the Chief Inspector's report. I know that the Minister has already said that only three of the recommendations are being queried. It might be easier for the Minister to say which of the three the Government do not accept rather than run through all the ones they have accepted. I am aware that some of the recommendations, such as making Campsfield House men only, have already been implemented. Other ways of alleviating the pressures have been discussed. I wish the Government would consider reducing the limit of seven years beyond which an asylum applicant may be given ELR if the first decision has not yet been made. No one should be kept waiting for more than five years. If the IND has failed to take a decision by that time, it is only right that the people involved should be allowed to get on with their lives. However, the whole question of who needs to be detained, and under what conditions, must be considered, and a coherent framework developed, in conformity with our international obligations. We are grateful to the Government for at last addressing these larger problems. We hope that soon they will produce solutions.

6.31 p.m.

Lord Goodhart

My Lords, I am pleased that my noble friend Lord Russell has raised the problems of Campsfield House as the subject of this debate. It is a matter in which I have what could be described as a constituency interest. Campsfield House is in the constituency of Oxford West and Abingdon. I am the president of the Oxford West and Abingdon Liberal Democrats and I was their parliamentary candidate in 1992, although Campsfield House of course was not then in use as a detention centre. The present Member of Parliament for the constituency, my honourable friend Dr. Evan Harris, has been a tireless campaigner for improvement in the rights and conditions of the detainees at Campsfield House.

Many issues are raised by Sir David Ramsbotham's report. Some of them have already been addressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford and by my noble friend Lord Avebury and I do not wish to repeat them. I propose to concentrate on the question of the legal basis for detention. Under Schedule 2 of the Immigration Act 1971 a person seeking leave to enter the United Kingdom may be detained by an immigration officer pending the conclusion of the examination which determines whether that person is to be granted leave to enter or remain within the United Kingdom. The immigration officer may as an alternative to detention grant the applicant temporary admission subject to restrictions as to residence or employment and subject to a duty to report to the police.

Departmental instructions have been given to immigration officers since 1991 which provide that the policy is to grant temporary admission wherever possible and to authorise detention only where there is no alternative. That, of course, is welcome. What is much less welcome is that those instructions were kept confidential and did not become known to immigration practitioners until 1996—five years later—when they were disclosed in the course of judicial review proceedings. A decision not to allow temporary admission, or to detain someone pending removal from the country, can be challenged by a bail application to an adjudicator under the 1971 Act, as amended in 1996, but only after the lapse of seven days from the first detention. A decision of an immigration officer to detain, or of an adjudicator not to grant bail, can be judicially reviewed on the basis that there is some procedural defect, such as a breach of natural justice, or that the decision was irrational. But the burden of proof in such a case rests on the applicant.

There are a number of international human rights instruments which deal with detention. The most important from the point of view of this country is Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. That provides in paragraph 1 that, No one shall he deprived of his liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law". It then sets out the cases. The one that is relevant to this debate is, the lawful arrest or detention of a person to prevent his effecting an unauthorised entry into the country or of a person against whom action is being taken with a view to deportation or extradition". Article 5(4) then provides, Everyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings by which the lawfulness of his detention shall he decided speedily by a court and his release ordered if the detention is not lawful". Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which also binds this country, contains similar although not identical provisions.

A consortium of organisations concerned with refugee issues has obtained an opinion from Mr. Nicholas Blake, QC, as to the compatibility of current United Kingdom law and procedure with Article 5 of the convention. A summary of that opinion was issued in a press release at six o'clock today, some half an hour ago.

Mr. Blake is a leading immigration practitioner and is the co-author of the main textbook on immigration law. I have read a copy of Mr. Blake's opinion which is some 16 pages long. It is a thorough and careful document. He came to the following conclusions. First, in any proceedings to examine the lawfulness of detention, the burden of justifying detention should fall on the Government. Secondly, all policy directions and circulars must be published so that lawyers, judges and detainees know the criteria for detention. Thirdly, arrangements for the review of a decision to detain are inadequate. There is at present no duty to bring a detainee before an adjudicator or a magistrate and the initiative to apply to an adjudicator has to come from the detainee. Fourthly, the bar on bail applications for seven days from the first detention is excessive. In no other case, except for detention under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, can anyone be detained for so long without a right to take his case before a court and seek bail. Fifthly, it should be wholly exceptional to refuse temporary admission or release to an asylum seeker whose claim is prima facie admissible and requires detailed investigation. Sixthly, it is only a very rare and exceptional case that would justify detention for longer than a few weeks.

Sir David Ramsbotham, in paragraph 121 of his report, states, In my view, the deprivation of liberty from people asking to enter this country, when it is deemed necessary, should be overseen by judicial process". He recommends that the United Kingdom should move towards judicial oversight of immigration detention.

Mr. Blake's opinion—to which I have referred—shows that Sir David's recommendation is not only desirable but essential if the United Kingdom is to comply with Article 5. It is not right that detainees seeking asylum should have fewer rights than prisoners on remand. I believe that the following principles should apply. First, asylum seekers detained by an immigration officer should be brought before an adjudicator or magistrate within 48 hours of first detention for hearing. Secondly, at that hearing the burden should be on the Home Office to justify the continuation of the detention ordered in the first place by the immigration officer. Thirdly, where continued detention is authorised by the adjudicator or magistrate, the detention should be reviewed at regular intervals of not more than 28 days, with the burden being once again on the Home Office to justify a further extension of the period of detention. That would be a way to put considerable pressure on the Government to speed up the whole process of investigation, in which clearly priority ought to be given to those who are in detention. I wish to add my strong support for Sir David Ramsbotham's proposal that all detainees should be provided with written reasons for their detention.

Sir David, in his magisterial report, has done the country great service. It has been reported—I do not know whether accurately or not—that he has had his knuckles rapped for going outside his remit and into questions of policy. However, I do not see how he could have reported properly on Campsfield House without going into the question as to why people are sent there, as well as the question of what happens to them once they are there. I therefore hope that the Government will act on this report and, specifically, that they will act on his recommendation that detention should become subject to judicial oversight.

6.41 p.m.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, let me first place on record my respect for the Minister. He has an admirable record in the field of race and community relations. Over the short period that I have been in this House, he has already given way on some major amendments relating to data protection and the Crime and Disorder Bill, for which I hold him in considerable respect.

This has been a useful debate for two reasons. First, the Chief Inspector of Prisons talks about the conditions that he found at the Campsfield House Detention Centre. He goes on to say that the conditions are unsafe for asylum seekers and that there are no clear rules and sanctions in relation to detainees and no legal duty imposed upon staff. Only this morning I was able to obtain the reports for 1995–96 of the visiting committees. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford has already stolen my thunder by using much of the information contained in them; I am grateful that I do not have to repeat it. In any case, the word of the cloth is more important than that of the politician.

I want to stress the second reason why Sir David Ramsbotham's report is important. He has rightly called for reform of the current procedures used to detain asylum seekers in the United Kingdom. Let me therefore comment, as other noble Lords have done, on these two important issues.

Immigration and asylum issues are fairly emotive. We know, because we have been at the receiving end of comments on such matters, often in this House. Let me make it clear that no one, least of all on this side of the House, advocates an open door policy. What is required is not emotive language, but a clear and rational look at the situation with which we are faced. Despite the nature and effects of various immigration and asylum legislation, the circumstances surrounding them remain contentious. I believe that every country has a right to determine its immigration and asylum policy. That cannot be disputed. Those policies will command more respect if the control procedures are manifestly seen to be fair.

The purpose of immigration and asylum procedures is not in dispute; it is to admit those who are eligible and, subject to the appropriate humanitarian principles, exclude and remove those who are not. No one can quibble about that. But in any administrative system questions arise about priorities. Administration of the control procedures is no exception. In this instance, the need to exclude those who are ineligible means that checks must be made to determine who is eligible and who is not. Again, no one can quibble about that. However, the greater the emphasis on excluding the ineligible, the more intensive the checks must be. The more intensive they are, and the more complicated they are to administer, the greater will be the delay and suffering to those who are eligible. If the objective of excluding those who are ineligible is taken to its extremes, in dealing with matters that are often not susceptible to documentary proof, the risk of excluding those who are eligible to remain here but lack the resources to prove it becomes very serious indeed.

No wonder our immigration and asylum policies are in a shambles. Those are not my words; they are the words of the Minister. The heavy emphasis on excluding the ineligible, rather than giving prompt and sympathetic attention to the rights of those who are eligible, has led to administration practices which result in a particular adverse effect on asylum seekers in this country.

I do not need to remind the Government of their manifesto commitment. The manifesto states: The system for dealing with asylum seekers is expensive and slow—there are many undecided cases dating back beyond 1993. We will ensure swift and fair decisions on whether someone can stay or go". But what is the reality today? There are presently 50,000 applications with the Home Office and 23,000 appeals. On the Home Office Minister's own admission, the current system is in disarray, and in a mess. There has been no dispute on that point between the Minister and Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons. There are currently over 700 immigration detainees. The cost to the taxpayer is enormous. I ask noble Lords to imagine the public outcry in this country if 700 British citizens were detained in such conditions in a third world country. "Inhuman", "degrading", and "unacceptable" would be the types of headline we should see.

Why is it that this country detains more people for longer periods and with less judicial supervision than any other civilised country? Except for Australia, I know of no other country which detains those whose asylum claims are under consideration. We need to examine our legislation, which provides for the indefinite detention—not on the authority of a court of law but on that of an immigration officer—of anyone who is not granted admission to the United Kingdom or who is liable to deportation or removal. A country which prides itself on its democracy and legal institutions does not allow presumption in favour of bail, as there is in criminal cases. There is no judicial supervision or review of detention. No criteria for detention in individual cases are published or monitored. As I said, on average, some 700 asylum seekers are held in detention at any one time; and over half are new arrivals in the United Kingdom. The Refugee Council has cited a figure of over £20 million per year as the estimated cost of our detention policy.

Why do we detain asylum seekers? Of course detention can be justified as a means of controlling those who may abscond or fail to comply with removal directions. No one disputes the necessity of these measures in specific cases. But there seems to be another side to the argument. Immigration and asylum practitioners would confirm that detention is used as a deterrent and applied on a very broad basis.

In the past, we have seen a range of measures which have made us the laughing-stock of the world community. Noble Lords may recall that, as early as 1987, the Home Office used a converted car ferry to house some 100 asylum seekers. According to a letter to the Guardian which I picked out this morning, the experiment ended in ignominy when, during the storm of 16th October 1987, the ferry broke free of its moorings and began to sink. If those 100 souls had drowned, I hate to think of the impact on the status of this country in world opinion. I am reliably informed that even at the present time discussions are going on. I quote from the Guardian: Westminster City Council and a number of other London boroughs have been examining the possibility of housing asylum seekers on floating platforms formerly used to accommodate oil rig workers". The only reason they have not got it is that they have not been able to get a mooring on the River Thames. It may be simply speculation, but can you imagine one of our biggest tourist attractions in the country being a ship moored on the river with asylum seekers stuck in it? What sort of reputation would we have and how devalued would we be in the eyes of the world?

In my previous job at the Commission for Racial Equality, I met a number of detainees, some of whom had gone on hunger strike. Some had contemplated suicide, others simply waited for the day when a decision would be taken in their case. Life was meaningless to all those people. It was clear that they were protesting not only about the conditions under which they were kept but about the fact that they were detained without the authority of a court. In other words, they were subjected to criminal sanctions without a criminal law being applied to them.

It is easy to spell out some important factors about refugees and asylum seekers. However, I shall avoid the temptation as the limitation on time would prevent me. I wish to come out with a very practical suggestion. One of the crucial points that we need to examine is precisely where we go from here. No one can dispute that the country has a right to an immigration and asylum policy. But one of the most important suggestions came out when the present Minister, the Shadow Home Secretary, was speaking in the House of Commons about the need to take the asylum and immigration issue out of the political arena. As a Shadow Home Office Minister—I am talking about Jack Straw—he recommended setting up a standing advisory committee which would look at the Asylum and Immigration Bill to see whether it could be dealt with on a non-controversial basis. That suggestion was rejected by Michael Howard who was Home Secretary at the time.

I wish to come back to that suggestion. We are no longer talking now about the Asylum and Immigration Bill because it is now the Asylum and Immigration Act. But I believe there is a need to take the issue out of the political arena. I believe that there is a justification for setting up such a committee which would advise the Home Secretary on matters of immigration and asylum and those who are detained. I believe it is a positive way to take the matter forward. It is also necessary, for such a parliamentary committee to be successful, to try to get immigration practitioners on the committee. They can proffer their opinion to the Home Office on issues in which they are expert. I believe that at the end of the day the test of a civilised nation is how we implement our control measures. That will determine our status on the world stage.

6.53 p.m.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I join the noble Earl, Lord Russell, in offering my congratulations and thanks to Sir David Ramsbotham for the report and the generality of the work he has been doing in succession to Judge Stephen Tumim. I also wish to echo what my noble kinsman said about how lucky we are with our servants from the Armed Forces in terms of what they have been able to offer us, both in the work of Sir David Ramsbotham and of Sir Thomas Boyd-Carpenter on the Social Security Advisory Committee.

I shall attempt to be brief, as a number of questions have been put to the Minister and we all wish to give him as much time as possible, so that we may hear as many of the questions answered, even if he does not necessarily go through all 97 of the recommendations. We have heard that the Government have agreed that they will accept three fewer than the 97 and I take that to be 94 of the recommendations. I hope that in due course we shall hear which three have not received the official seal of approval.

I start by saying that we on these Benches are in agreement with the statement made by Sir David in his report at paragraph 1–10. He says: Almost everybody acknowledges— even my noble kinsman Lord Russell said it— that some facility of detention is necessary to preserve the integrity of immigration control. Without detention those refused leave to enter or remain in the country, previous immigration offenders and those with a previous history of absconding would all have to be released into the community regardless of the circumstances of their case, unless they could be removed within hours. Detention facilities are also important during the initial process of validating undocumented, unidentified and unco-operative clandestine entrants, and in dealing with organised, blatant abuse of asylum claims". I believe that we can say that we are all in agreement on that point: that there must be some form of detention available to the authorities. Views were expressed strongly by noble Lords from the Liberal Democrat Benches and the right reverend Prelate. There are a number of other concerns. Sir David expressed those concerns in terms of the numbers being detained, but he also seemed to suggest that there was a case for providing yet further space. That seems to contradict the idea that there are too many being detained. Obviously he also had concerns about conditions in the detention centre and concerns about the whole question of judicial oversight, as expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. But I believe that we can all agree on the basic principle that something is necessary.

I should also like to say—this was supported by the comments from the right reverend Prelate—that there was no criticism of the work of Group 4. I take it that that has also been accepted by Ministers in the Home Office, because we hear that, the contract having initially been extended for a further three months, I think it was, late last year, it has now been extended for a further three years. That seems to make it clear that Ministers in the Home Office are satisfied with the work of Group 4 and, as Sir David makes clear in paragraph 9.01, that there have been considerable improvements since that earlier inspection in 1994. Sir David also accepts that by and large Group 4 is doing a perfectly good job.

Nevertheless, the report raises some considerable concerns for all of us. It is obvious that the regime is not satisfactory. That is something which the Minister's party made clear to us on a number of occasions when in Opposition. Having made quite a song and dance about those things in opposition, the Government have now had a little under a year to make considerable progress in the field. Very little has happened.

We have heard a great deal about the number of reviews conducted and understand that two deal with the subject. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred to the reviews, one on the Asylum and Immigration Bill, to which I shall come; the other was referred to earlier today at Question Time in questions on asylum appeals. In a recent Question for Written Answer which Sir Raymond Powell put to the Prime Minister asking for a full list of all reviews by the Government, there was a pretty extensive and exhausting list. I can only find one review of the Asylum and Immigration Bill, I do not know why the other one has been left out. No doubt the noble Lord will be able to comment on that in due course and tell me a little more about it.

I turn first to the review into immigration and asylum appeals that has been mounted. I understand from an Answer that was given to one of my honourable friends in another place, Mr. James Clappison that that review came to its conclusions and put them before Ministers as early as January of this year. I also understand from another Written Answer to my honourable friend—it was published only yesterday—that the review is complete and a consultative document will be published as soon as possible. We should like to hear from the Minister exactly what "as soon as possible" means, whether it means "shortly" or "soon", when we shall hear exactly what has appeared in that review; and why we have had to wait quite so long for the document.

There is also the comprehensive spending review—a study of the asylum process. I understand that it is to be published in July according to certain intentions that have been voiced. Looking at the press release that Mr. Mike O'Brien, the Home Office Minister for Immigration and Nationality put out on 16th April, when referring to that review and having accepted the majority of the 1998 recommendations—not the 1997 recommendations—he said that the outcome of the reviews would be announced shortly. I appreciate of course that when government announcements are made, "shortly" can extend over a considerable time. The noble Lord told us on Maundy Thursday that we would be seeing, for example, the Bill dealing with the registration of political parties very soon after Easter. We are now in the third week after Easter, and we still have not seen it. I repeat that we should like to see that before we continue with those Bills to which the measure is relevant. I also make it clear that we should like to see the result of the review which has been promised "shortly" by Mr O'Brien.

I have one other question. It is of a fairly technical nature but one of which I imagine the noble Lord and his officials will be aware. This is again a matter that has been dealt with in Answers to Written Questions from my honourable friend Mr. Clappison in the other place. Indeed he put down a series of questions relating to the use of information technology in processing asylum claims, and the contracts which the Home Office had with Siemens and others for dealing with these problems. Again, those questions were answered yesterday. I imagine that they will be fresh in the minds of officials. I must say that I find the Answer given by Mr. O'Brien somewhat confusing. He talks about the award of the Casework Programme contract, as it was known as in the contract with Siemens, but does not make clear whether information technology is now in place and whether it can be brought forward in order to assist the processing of claims.

One gains the impression—I emphasise that it is an impression and I should like some confirmation in this regard—that the Government have put this "on ice" because they do not want to find the savings that would be needed to fund this from staff cuts within the department, and so they have not been able to process the claims as quickly as would have been desirable. When may we hear that the casework system will be available; and when may we learn what effect it will have on dealing with those claims?

As I have said, a large number of questions have been put to the noble Lord and I trust that he will give them his full attention. But of course, as always, if the noble Lord wishes to write to me on any point, and particularly on the last one, I should be more than happy to accept that.

7.5 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, I do not seek to try to defend what is not capable of being defended, and it is perfectly plain from the Secretary of State's very speedy and bold response to the Ramsbotham Report that he concurred with the overwhelming bulk of what Sir David recommended. I am grateful, first, to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, as always, for initiating this debate. I am also grateful to Sir David Ramsbotham, in particular, for the quality of his report. However, I think it ought to be recognised that out of 98 recommendations we immediately accepted 95 and raised queries about only three. That is not a bad response and it is not a response, I think, that has always been the common experience of your Lordships' House in recent years.

Of the three recommendations which have been queried, it is not right to say that they have been ruled out. Referring, first, to the building of a visitors centre, we cannot implement that at the moment because of costs. The second recommendation referred to the question of applying time standards to different stages of the application process, and there are questions there about fairness which might involve even greater use of judicial review. The third, and I think this was the most important in most of your Lordships' minds, was the question of judicial oversight to which I will come in a moment. I stress that that is the subject of query: it has not been rejected.

I should like to try to identify the major themes which I believe were present in all your Lordships' speeches. The questions that were asked seemed to resolve themselves to the following. First, who do you detain? Secondly, on what basis? Thirdly, in what conditions? Fourthly, subject to what review? Fifthly—and extremely important—as part of what overall scheme of legislation? Further—the last question of significance—subject to what internal discipline? That is referring to the discipline of providing written reasons.

I believe—and I entirely concur with what all your Lordships have said—without exception that the giving of written reasons is extremely important on at least the following bases. First, I believe quite firmly that if you have to give written reasons it improves the decision-making process, whether or not those reasons are to be published or scrutinised in a judicial process. But it is extremely important that those written reasons should be provided to any detained person so that he or she will know and have at least a degree of moral consolation that their detention is not an unthinking exercise of administrative power. It is an extremely important step that the Secretary of State has immediately accepted that recommendation. I do not believe that it can be overstressed.

It is also important that the report by Sir David was requested by the Secretary of State. That is not without significance. The tendency of some government departments in recent history has been to hope that the thing will go away and to pull the duvet over the ministerial head. That did not happen here and it was perfectly plain to the Secretary of State when he commissioned the report that there were likely to be findings which would be adverse to the then existing regime. I stress "the then existing regime" because it is fair to observe, as a number of your Lordships have done, that the performance of Group 4, in terms of staff delivery of performance was commended. It is noteworthy—I mention it only in passing—that the quality of facilities there was also commended.

Quite soon after the disturbances I went to Campsfield House to satisfy myself about what was there and I went, I must say, with my mind significantly coloured, if not prejudiced, by a good deal of criticism which I found to be unfounded. The facilities which had been destroyed in the disturbances were actually of rather good quality. It surprised me, I am sorry to say—perhaps I was unduly cynical and sceptical—but the fact that the facilities were good is certainly referred to positively in the Ramsbotham report.

As regards judicial oversight, we have taken due note of that recommendation. No decision has yet been taken, but it is only a matter of a few days since the final report has been published. I can tell noble Lords that detailed discussions have been taking place with the Lord Chancellor's Department and the Crown Prosecution Service. I hope to be able to say shortly what the outcome of those discussions was. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, may say, "Soon and shortly do not mean much"; but they do. He rightly says, "You promised me something after Easter. Two or three weeks have gone by and I have received nothing". I realise that I am going at a tangent, but I am dealing with a specific point.

We had every intention of publishing the Registration of Political Parties Bill—I gave that indication on Maundy Thursday. On Good Friday the negotiations in Northern Ireland came to what most people thought was a welcome conclusion. This is not an excuse; it is the full explanation to which the House is entitled. In terms of parliamentary drafting, the resource is a scarce and limited one. The conclusion was reached—I believe rightly—that we should dedicate that resource to the question of drafting Northern Ireland legislation and therefore we had to hold back slightly on the Registration of Political Parties Bill.

I believe that was a prudent and, indeed, inevitable decision. Your Lordships would have complained if we had got those priorities wrong. The virtually final draft—if I can put it in that way—is almost to hand, so it should not be long. I deal with that point; it is outside the context of our present discussions, but the noble Lord, Lord Henley, asked specifically about that.

Perhaps I may make some further observations. The question of lawfulness—I put it in shorthand, bearing in mind my time allocation—of our regimes, both in law and practice, was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. Justice courteously sent me a copy of Nicholas Blake's opinion. I received it at one o'clock today—I am not complaining about that: I am simply indicating that the time to take full advice on that has been fairly limited. We do not believe that our policy is in breach of Article 5. We believe that we are fulfilling our obligations internationally. However, we will look carefully at all the points raised in the paper, a number of which—it will not come as any surprise to your Lordships—we have already been considering as part of the detention review.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, again with his usual scruple, gave me advance notice of some of the matters he intended to raise. One of them concerned the lack of ethnic minority representation on visiting committees. That is not something that is criticised in the Ramsbotham report; nevertheless, I had it researched. Apparently, one-third of the visiting committee membership at Campsfield, Tinsley and Harmondsworth comes from ethnic minorities. I do not believe that to be altogether unreasonable.

Visiting committees attend the Boards of Visitors annual conferences and the Immigration and Nationality Department sent representatives, on invitation, in the past. We are perfectly happy, should the visiting committees conduct their own annual conferences, for the Immigration and Nationality Department to attend.

Visiting committees have unfettered access to detention centres and detainees, if need be in private. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford for raising the topic of religion. Every effort is being made at Campsfield to assist detainees to practise their own religious beliefs and to receive appropriate spiritual guidance.

The noble Lord transmitted a message to me which I understood to mean that 10 detainees had recently been transferred to Winchester Prison. In fact, 10 detainees were transferred from Haslar to Winchester and others to different locations. That decision was made because there had been disruptive activity and it was thought that the general regime was being disrupted.

The average length of detention, on the information I am given, is 65 days. Obviously, it being an average, some cases take longer. However, I want to make quite plain that one of our main objectives is to reduce that average time of detention in cases in which detention is longer than the norm. That is our intention. It is easy—I dare say I have done it myself in the past—to scoff at reviews; it is much more sensible to try and address longstanding defects in a considered way.

We welcome what the chief inspector said on safety at Campsfield House. There have been extensive physical improvements—the zoning of accommodation and the fire alarm system to ensure that the physical environment is more conducive to safety and control. The chief inspector wished for there to be no women detainees at Campsfield House; there no longer are any. I give that as an indication only of what the Government in the person of the Secretary of State have done. I recognise that a reasonable counter-response to that would be that these are details; they are incidents. That is true. But I return to my point that to accept 95 out of 98 recommendations is a record that most governments could feel content with, if not complacent about.

We agree the general objective of not using prisons for detainees. That means that we shall have to look for accommodation elsewhere. I do not pretend to your Lordships that in financial terms the resource will necessarily be forthcoming. It may mean the new denomination of existing prison estate accommodation for detainees.

The noble Lord, Lord Henley, is quite right that the new contract was renewed from 1st May this year for a three-year period. It sets out the responsibility of the company to run the centre. One of the defects rightly identified by the chief inspector was that there was inadequate monitoring. That comes back to my point that internal structural disciplines by way of monitoring are extremely important. That has been well taken on board. There will be more monitoring by better qualified persons and the ultimate continuing opportunity of monitoring by the chief inspector should he wish to return.

All I can say about the reviews is that they are nearing completion. We want to obtain recommendations to remove weaknesses in the system which the Government and the chief inspector identified. Many of the weaknesses, the deficiencies and the wrongs at Campsfield were perhaps specific to Campsfield itself. But we must look at the overall system in the same way as noble Lords spoke to it.

Agreement has been reached—taking up the right reverend Prelate's point—for a panel of psychiatrists to be available to examine detainees at Campsfield who are assessed by staff at Campsfield House as requiring further treatment. Liaison has already begun with the local national health authorities in the area.

A question was raised in relation to the Group 4 contract. Aspects of that contract are commercially confidential. They relate not only to present arrangements, but also to future arrangements. Whether that is a perfect answer to the question raised by the noble Earl, I cannot say. I have no authority to go beyond saying that I question it. However, I shall consult with Mr. O'Brien to see whether or not he and I can look at the contract to consider whether anything further can be done. That is not a promise; it is what I hope is a reasonable response to a reasonable question. It may be that I shall be able to offer no further solace. However, I take the point as one of principle and that is what I shall do. I repeat again that I have no authority relating to disclosure of the contract. It is not my departmental responsibility—I do not hide behind that fact; I simply indicate that it is not for me to determine other colleagues' departmental conclusions.

Contract monitoring by Home Office officials will continue daily on site at Campsfield. Senior Home Office officials and audit teams will visit at regular intervals. Of course, the visiting committee is a useful monitoring tool and, as I mentioned earlier, the Chief Inspector of Prisons will want to return to Campsfield House, I imagine, at some time which he thinks appropriate.

No one could have read the report without feeling that things had gone wrong at Campsfield. No one can be happy that it was a breakdown of an internal regime and disturbances which led to the report. It is a considerable piece of work. It is a work of public service.

I conclude by making two further points. First, we have tried to show that we mean what we say about firmness, fairness and expedition. We have certainly been expeditious in responding to the report. I hope your Lordships will agree that the response was positive. Secondly, there were a large number of questions, about which I make no complaint. We should all have been derelict in our duty if your Lordships had not put the questions to me. However, if there are some that I have not answered—in particular, I am aware of the detailed question about IT, which I have not answered—I shall respond to your Lordships in the usual way.

This has been a short debate and I am personally grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Russell—not for the first time and not, I dare say, for the last—for introducing it. It has been of benefit to the Government to have had this debate.

Lord Rea

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, perhaps I may say how pleased I am that he has been able to confirm that the Government have accepted 95 out of 98 recommendations. I wish to refer to recommendation 10.26 which concerns the transfer of previous medical records relating to detainees to detention centres. Perhaps I may suggest that the healthcare manager or the visiting medical officer obtains these directly via professional contact from the doctor or surgeon who has previously treated the detainee rather than go through the bureaucratic procedure of applying to the health authority or the Prison Service, which often takes months to get an adequate response. Because of linguistic and cultural difficulties arising from the background of detainees it is important that previous work done on their health problems by other people should be made available.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, recommendation 10.26 states: Arrangements should he agreed between the Prison Service and the Immigration and Nationality Service on the transfer of medical records". We have agreed that and this is what we have done. Agreement has been reached with the Prison Service. Dedicated fax machines are being installed in medical centres to facilitate the rapid transfer of essential medical information. It is not a question of months; it is fairly prompt on the modern fax.

7.22 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, it is a great deal more than a figure of speech to say that I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. There are many occasions when I feel pride in both my House and my party. This is one of those occasions. I trust the House will not misunderstand me if I mention the two in the same breath. I mean it as a compliment.

This has been a distinguished debate. I wish to take up just a very few points. I agreed with a great deal of what my noble kinsman Lord Henley said. He drew attention to recommendation 10.05: The size of the Detention Centre estate should be expanded". I think I might draw attention to the remainder of the sentence: and the number of prison places used for immigration detention purposes greatly reduced". Sir David was drawing attention to the mismatch between the facilities and the pressure put on them. That is all Sir David was saying.

The Minister has made me think back to A. E. Housman's Fragment of a Greek Tragedy in which one of the characters says, "My purpose in asking is to know." That is rare. The Minister's purpose in answering is to answer. That is even rarer. I thank him for it very warmly indeed. I was grateful for what he said about written records. I was particularly grateful, though I have not misinterpreted it and realise the limit that he must place upon it, for what he said about the contract. To know that that argument will be seriously considered inside the Home Office is something I value deeply. I think he is entitled to pride himself on the number of recommendations the Government have accepted. I congratulate him.

Three recommendations have not been accepted: first,the visitor centre, because of the cost. I understand that.Secondly, the time standards for stages. As I read that in the report, I thought it an attractive recommendation but one that would be really difficult to implement. I understand his reasoning. Thirdly, on the judicial oversight, which is the most important of the whole lot, I entirely take his point about the need for consultation and the need for care about how it is to be done if it is to be done. I am delighted to hear that consultations with the Lord Chancellor's Department have begun. I wait with great hopefulness for the resolution of those discussions. I am sure that the Minister will take into account the opinion of Mr. Nicholas Blake, which my noble friend Lord Goodhart quoted. I understand that the Government do not think that it is breaking our international legal obligations and I am sure the Minister understands that the final judgment on that will not be reached by the Government. I hope we never need to find out. In that hope, and in gratitude to all those who have spoken, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.