HL Deb 11 December 2003 vol 655 cc873-6


Baroness Williams of Crosby

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What investigation is being made into the allegations published in the Daily Mirror of 8th December about the conduct of staff at Yarl's Wood detention centre.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, we take these allegations very seriously indeed. It is obviously of the utmost importance that staff at immigration removal centres should carry out their duties professionally and sensitively. Our contractor at Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre, Global Solutions Limited, has launched a full investigation into the allegations. That investigation will be conducted by a senior manager with no line management responsibility for Yarl's Wood.

In addition, the Minister for Citizenship, Immigration and Counter Terrorism, Beverley Hughes, has decided that there should be a full and independent investigation. She is considering urgently how best that might be conducted.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister, especially for his assurance about an independent investigation into these serious charges. Can he give the House an assurance that one of the rumours that ran around Yarl's Wood-to the effect that new control and restraint orders would enable officers of the contractors to kick, punch and, indeed, head butt future detainees-is completely without foundation? In addition, can the Minister tell the House how he would propose that an investigation should be conducted in such a way that the allegations that some detainees were beaten up out of view of CCTV cameras can be thoroughly looked into?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, as I made plain, it will be a full and independent investigation, the terms of which have yet to be determined. I can also confirm that that independent investigation and its findings will be made fully public. As regards the allegations to which the noble Baroness refers, it is most important that those matters are fully and properly investigated; that any wrongdoing that perhaps took place in the past-the extent of which should be revealed-is made plain; and that those people who are at fault are properly dealt with.

Lord Mayhew of Twysden

My Lords, would the Minister confirm that these detention centres fall within the remit of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons? Does he recall from the recent book of Sir David Ramsbotham that in 2001 he was ordered by the then Prison Minister, Mr Boateng, not to carry out a review jointly with the Commission for Racial Equality of the treatment of ethnic minorities in prisons, including detention centres? Do these reports not suggest that that was a thoroughly bad decision? Can the noble Lord indicate whether there is equal discouragement currently exerted on the present chief inspector?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I know of no such discouragement. I can confirm that the Chief Inspector of Prisons has a remit that covers removal centres. I am sure and I am confident that the chief inspector will take careful consideration of any allegations of racism or racist abuse or violence towards those detained within those centres. Additionally, there is the important role carried out by the statutory independent monitoring boards that have free and open access to all parts of those centres and can also hear requests and complaints about particular matters, such as racism in any removal centre.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

My Lords, can the noble Lord give the House an assurance that the results of the investigation will be published and made available to us? Are the Government sure that the abuse at Yarl's Wood was an isolated occurrence? If they are not convinced, should they not extend their inquiries to other institutions under Home Office control, particularly in view of the report in this morning's Guardian of brutality within the Prison Service at Wormwood Scrubs?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I think that I made it plain in one of my earlier responses that the results of the independent investigation would be brought fully into the public domain. Like the noble Lord I, too, was appalled at what I read in today's Guardian and I know that those matters figure highly in the thinking of the Home Secretary. He is keeping the position under close review.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow

My Lords, have the Government come to a final decision about the future of the Chief Inspector of Prisons?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the Chief Inspector of Prisons continues to do an excellent job. I was not under the impression that we had come to a final view about the chief inspector, other than to confirm that she is doing a first-rate job.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, gave a reassuring reply to my noble friend Lady Williams, but he did not refer to that part of her Question which, in turn, refers to a report in a national newspaper. Perhaps I may quote from it:

I listened with horror as senior officers at Yarl's Wood sadistically relished rumours that they would soon be able to punch, kick and even headbutt difficult inmates under new control and restraint plans by [the] Home Secretary". Is the noble Lord able to reassure the House that that is a load of nonsense?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I hope that it is a load of nonsense because it is certainly not something envisaged in the restraint measures available to officers in the removal centres. What has been described is not something that we would wish to see at all.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, following on from Yarl's Wood, have the Government decided to change the model of detention centres, in particular along the designs recommended by the Refugee Council?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, we greatly respect the work of the Refugee Council and we take careful cognisance of everything that it says about removal centres. No doubt some of the council's comments will have been reflected in the redesign of Yarl's Wood that took place following the fire over a year ago.