HL Deb 24 March 2004 vol 659 cc696-9

2.51 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby asked Her Majesty's Government:

When the inquiry by the Prisons Ombudsman on the allegations of bullying and intimidation of detainees at Yarl's Wood immigration removal centre will be published.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, my honourable friend the Minister for Citizenship, Immigration and Counter-Terrorism will make arrangements for the publication of Stephen Shaw's report as soon as possible following her consideration of its content and findings.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I believe that the report reached the Minister some time towards the end of February. On 11 December, he pledged to the House that it would be published as soon as possible. Can he give us any indication of when it will be published?

Secondly, why did the Prisons Ombudsman, who conducted the review, interview no past detainees, only current detainees? Past detainees would be freer to speak their mind and give evidence than current detainees, who might be concerned about their status.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I cannot be more specific about the publication of Stephen Shaw's report. As I indicated, a draft was submitted earlier this year—on 24 February. With regard to the interviews, my understanding is that detainees spoke to the inquiry team, as did members of staff. The inquiry team spent two weeks at Yarl's Wood, making sure that it had the opportunity to speak to those who had been detained and to staff as well. A fairly lengthy time and great care were taken to record as much as possible during the inquiry.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale

My Lords, can my noble friend tell your Lordships' House what plans there are to rebuild the bit of Yarl's Wood that was destroyed in the fire? If there are no plans to develop the site, what will happen when, in two years' time, the Oakington immigration reception centre has to close because of housing development on the site, given the Government's ambition to expand the estate for the holding of some of those who claim asylum?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the first phase of Yarl's Wood has already reopened and provides accommodation for 60 single females. It reopened on 28 September last year. I understand that there will be a progressive reopening of the undamaged part of the centre, which will eventually accommodate up to 400 people, comprising single females and families. That should be complete by December of this year.

Viscount Bridgeman

My Lords, what progress is being made in addressing the specific criticisms in the report produced in April 2003 by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons on the five immigration centres that the provision of interpreters and translated documents was very poor?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, it is hard to provide the noble Viscount with a specific response. I recognise that it is an important issue. I know that the Home Office has been addressing it and that great effort is made to ensure that the sort of services that are required for proper communication to take place are put in place and that those who are detained have access to their rights.

The Lord Bishop of Worcester

My Lords, will the Minister reassure the House that the delay—if there is one—in publishing the ombudsman's report is not related to any distinction between publicly and privately run institutions, in terms of the readiness to publish critical documents?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am more than happy to give that reassurance. It is irrelevant whether the operators of any of Her Majesty's Government's institutions are public or private. Lessons must be learnt, if mistakes have been made. Given the thoroughness with which Stephen Shaw approaches such matters, I am sure that he will have provided the Minister with the fullest possible outline of what took place. I am sure that the recommendations will be carefully considered.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow

My Lords, the Minister said that the report of the Prisons Ombudsman had been in the hands of Ministers for some weeks. Why is he unable to say when it will be published?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, no doubt, the Minister is giving the report very careful consideration and taking its recommendations seriously.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, can the Minister clarify the Answer that he gave to my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby? Was any access given to or any interviews done with former detainees, or were the interviews done only with current detainees? Has any disciplinary action been taken in respect of staff as a result of the allegations? Has any retraining taken place or been planned as a result of the allegations?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I would love to be more specific in response to the noble Baroness's first question. The advice that I have is that detainees were able to speak to the inquiry team; no distinction is made, I understand, between former and current detainees. I will check that point; the noble Baroness is right to press it. I cannot be very helpful with the noble Baroness's second point, for which I apologise.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, will my noble friend remind the House whether the reopened sections of Yarl's Wood are equipped with sprinklers, to avoid a repeat of the disastrous fire two or three years ago?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am happy to confirm that that is the case and that sprinklers have been fitted.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, will the Minister deal with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale? Oakington is due to close in two years, and the Government have no plans for any alternative facility. Could Yarl's Wood be extended to provide alternative accommodation to Oakington, thereby reassuring all the staff, who are in great anxiety about the future of the institution?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a good point. I understand that adequate provision has been made for removal centre locations. I will endeavour to check the point about Oakington, as it is an important matter. As I explained, there is an expanding facility anticipated at Yarl's Wood, with the gradual reopening of that facility.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, will the noble Lord clarify his response to the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, who asked him when the Government intended to publish the report? He said that the Government had only recently received it. Is that any reason to refuse publication? The Government do not intend to change the report, do they?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, the Government have no intention of changing the report. We particularly wanted an independent report. Stephen Shaw is a highly adept and effective official, and his independence is greatly valued. We will, of course, publish his report, and we will publish it when we are ready to do so.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, in view of the indications in the original report that appeared in the Daily Mirror—that head-butting and other forms of restraint would be permitted—can the Minister assure the House that that would be out of the question in what, after all, is a detention facility where most of the inhabitants arc women?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I thought that I dealt with that matter when the noble Baroness raised it last year. We take it as given that that form of restraint would be highly inappropriate.