HL Deb 24 May 2004 vol 661 cc1124-37

7.30 p.m.

Viscount Bridgeman rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their current policy with respect to foreign nationals held in prisons and detention centres.

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I first thank those noble Lords who have agreed to take part in this short debate.

By what can only be described as a fortunate coincidence, the Prison Reform Trust last week published a comprehensive study on the very topic which is the subject of this evening's debate. Its report is entitled, Forgotten Prisoners—The Plight of Foreign National Prisoners in England and Wales. There could have been no more apposite title, and I have drawn on the report in what I intend to say.

To put the problem in context, according to the Prison Reform Trust, foreign nationals form one in eight of the prison population in England and Wales, and there has been a 152 per cent increase in their numbers in the past five years, largely due to the increased number of foreign nationals convicted of drug-related offences.

No one, I am sure, is asking for preferential treatment for this class of prisoner. I ask simply for a greater awareness on the part of the Government of the special problems which they face.

At the heart of the problem is, in many cases, the language difficulties faced by many of the prisoners. This manifests itself in many ways—they do not understand the prison regime, they are in many cases unaware of the translation facilities available and, of course, they are likely to be in a totally strange culture. They may well have worries about their families and may be traumatised by ill treatment at the hands of the authorities back home.

The prison officers all too often fall into that peculiarly British habit when communicating with non-English speakers, by shouting at them on the mistaken assumption that they are making themselves more intelligible. The hapless and frightened prisoner may well nod his head, a signal which the prison officer erroneously interprets as being that he has been perfectly understood. It is not difficult to see how this can easily lead to frustration, and it is sadly but a short step to racist behaviour to which Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Prisons has drawn attention.

Indeed, it is not for the first time that we have to look at the reports of the Chief Inspector of Prisons, who, as so often happens, goes straight to the heart of the problem. I hope noble Lords will allow me to quote from the report of the inspector, Anne Owers, for 2001–02, for it says it all. She says: As with race there is overall a recognition that the Service needs to respond to the specific needs of this group, but as yet policies and practices are not sufficiently developed. We have found that some prisons do not know how many they hold or understand their needs. Others have foreign national co-ordinators who are proactive and engaged". I shall refer to an example of this later on. The report continues: In almost every prison we have inspected this year, two issues have been raised. One is the need for more translations of basic information for prisoners. The other is the detrimental effect of the new PIN phone system on foreign nationals, whose only contact with relatives is by telephone, as the cost of doing so is prohibitive. This is now being addressed". I ask the Minister to tell the House what progress is being made on this latter issue, including an assurance that there is an adequate number of telephone instruments available at the various prisons.

In the inspector's final paragraph in the report for the next year, 2002–03, she pulls no punches. The report says: This institutional blind spot for foreign nationals as a whole is evident from the fact that 32 prisons that we reported on had no specific foreign national work, and many did not know how many they held until inspectors informed them. This was not helped by the dilatory attitude of the Immigration Service, which, unless pressed, was not monitoring those liable to deportation, and making arrangements for this to take place as soon as sentence had expired. In many prisons, we found prisoners well beyond sentence with no idea when they might be released and go home".

May I address again the poor liaison between the Immigration and Prison Services to which the inspector referred? There appears to be a deplorable lack of knowledge of what the other does. All too often, we find cases where, once the detainee has passed into the prison system, as far the Immigration Service is concerned, he or she is forgotten about. The repatriation arrangements for the prisoner are left till the last moment in his or her sentence—a point picked up by the inspector—with the inevitable consequence, in many cases, that they are not in place by the time the prisoner is due for release. We must add to this the bureaucracy involved.

May I, in passing, ask the Minister why it is necessary to have three separate computer systems in the IND, each of which apparently has limited interpersonal skills in talking to the other two? But I am indebted to the Detention Advice Service for an example of the deportation arrangements in what is a fairly standard case. A deportation order is raised by the criminal casework team and is sent to the nearest immigration service. The IS arranges for a visit to serve the deportation order on the inmate, at the same time interviewing for travel documents. The travel documents go to the Immigration Service documentation unit which forwards them to the appropriate embassy. The travel documents are returned to the ISDU, which sends them to the Immigration Service dealing with the case and finally, after several weeks, a flight is booked for the inmate to return home. The result, in so many cases, is that because all these arrangements were instituted too late, the inmate remains in prison after he or she has served the sentence, which has the effect of giving the prisoner an extended sentence.

There is another matter to which the inspector drew attention in her 2003 report—the plight of female foreign national prisoners, who tend to be fairly small cogs in the drugs machine but who are very numerous. In the year under review, female foreign national prisoners suffered considerable disruption. Incidentally, the inspector commended the work of Hibiscus, the women foreign nationals support group, on behalf of this vulnerable group of women. She called for the organisation to be properly resourced and supported, and she also called for it to be used as a complement rather than a substitute for an effective Prison Service policy—a sentiment echoed, I am sure, by many another prisoner support organisations. I should be grateful if the Minister would tell the House whether the Prison Service has been able to give effect to the inspector's recommendations.

I should like to finish on a hopeful and constructive note, with an example of what can be done. At Wandsworth, through a process of constructive trial and error, the prison management has developed a practice model where there is a foreign nationals co-ordinator and a foreign nationals prisoner group which provides a platform for foreign national prisoners to raise matters of concern and to allow staff to provide information directly to them. There are liaison officers among the staff and there is a specialist worker who can offer immigration and related advice to foreign nationals and training to staff.

So it can be done. But there is a huge disparity between good and poor practices in prisons across the country. Surely one way of benchmarking a common norm of good practice is by way of a Prison Service order to consolidate good practice and make it applicable to all establishments. I understand that the Prison Service, which at one time supported the idea, has now decided that a PSO relating to foreign nationals will not now appear. This is a considerable disappointment to many of the bodies engaged in the support of foreign national prisoners, and I ask the Minister to tell the House why there has been this apparent change of heart on the part of the Prison Service. I urge him to reconsider the formulation of a PSO so that the techniques developed by places such as Wandsworth can be disseminated throughout the system.

I have not had time to address the equally important subject of detention centres, and I hope that this may be covered by other noble Lords. If I may return to the prisons, the issue, as I see it, is simple. These foreign nationals have committed offences under British law. They have served sentences for them. We owe it to them to address their special needs, particularly with respect to communication, and to return them to their countries of origin as speedily as possible after their sentence has been completed so that they can each of them have the best chance of making a fresh start.

7.39 p.m.

Baroness Stern

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, for initiating this important debate. I begin by declaring an interest as a board member of Penal Reform International and a board member of the French equivalent of Prisoners Abroad, which is called Francais Incarcérés au Loin.

I want to concentrate on those detained who are not imprisoned by the courts but are held in detention for other reasons—that is, those detained under immigration legislation. I begin by welcoming a number of developments in that area. I welcome the new inspection powers given to Her Majesty's Chief Inspector to inspect places where people are detained under immigration legislation. That is the result of the United Kingdom's ratification of the optional protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. That ratification is also greatly to be welcomed. This will be a new responsibility for the chief inspector and we continue to expect high standards of inspection and fair reporting.

I also welcome very much the ending of the routine holding of immigration detainees in Prison Service accommodation from January 2002, and the Minister's assurance given at Report of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill on 18 May that very few children were held in detention centres—now called removal centres—for longer than two weeks and that facilities for play and education were now available.

I will now set out some facts in the hope that, if they are wrong or out of date, the Minister will correct me. Facts about this subject were more difficult to find than facts about the prison population and the operation of prisons. As I understand it, at the end of December 2003, 1,615 people were detained in centres under Immigration Act powers. In addition, some were detained in police cells and others in prisons. The latest figure that I have for prisons is 120, including, as one report says, 50 "troublemakers". It would be helpful if the Minister could give more up-to-date figures, clarify whether there were any so-called "troublemakers" in prison and give figures for those held in police cells.

My concern in this debate is the treatment of people in detention, especially because the number of places of detention is to increase considerably to more than 3,000, including an increase of 44 places at Dungavel and a new centre on the same grounds as the Harmondsworth removal centre, which will have 326 cells for high-security detainees. I understand that there are three removal prisons run by prison staff at Dover, Lindholme and Haslar. What is the exact relationship of these establishments and their staff to the Prison Service? I would also be grateful if the Minister could indicate the intended use of the 326 cells for high security detainees at Harmondsworth.

Within the past few weeks we have learnt, in enormously distressing and damaging circumstances, that wherever there is detention, there is the scope for abuse and ill treatment. Experience from across the world shows that to be the case. Chief Inspector Anne Owers spoke last year about her impressions of the first round of immigration centre inspections. She said in her report, which I quote at length for the record: what has also emerged is the consequence of not monitoring and inspecting. Immigration detention is not routinely supervised by the courts and until now has not been routinely inspected. What inspections reveal is that this lack of supervision can result in arbitrary or sloppy decision-making: detainees received without proper authorisation, cases not progressed efficiently—in one case to detainees literally lost in the system, three months into what was supposed to be an overnight stay in prison. We have used child protection and welfare principles to question the detention of children. And we have revealed conditions that fall short of safety or respect. When some of the deficiencies were pointed out to officials, there was some reluctance to accept that things did not happen simply because policies had been drawn up. The inspection gap between the virtual and actual had not up till then been mapped in immigration removal centres. It is now". I note that the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, asked in the House on 24 March what progress was being made in addressing the specific criticisms in the chief inspector's report of April 2003 that the provision of interpreters and translated documents was very poor. In his reply, the Minister said that he could not provide a specific response, but that the Home Office was "addressing it". Perhaps he will be able to provide one tonight.

The questions of ill treatment have not disappeared. Many concerns have been raised about the events at Yarl's Wood removal centre. Eventually, at the end of April, the prison and probation ombudsman reported—not on the fire: that report is still to come—on the allegations of racism, abuse and violence. In the report, he noted that, indeed, staff at Yarl's Wood detention centre used racist and abusive language and used control and restraint more than at other detention centres. The report noted an incident in which a naked woman was restrained by male officers. The ombudsman, Stephen Shaw, concluded on page 27 of the report: On the face of it, it seems appalling that a naked female detainee should be physically restrained by male officers". The Home Office accepted 19 recommendations made by the prison and probation ombudsman to discuss with Global Solutions Ltd, which runs Yarl's Wood. How is the implementation of these 19 recommendations progressing, especially since a report appeared in Sunday's Observer entitled, "Abuse is 'systematic' at asylum detention centres". The Observer reports that proceedings had been filed in the High Court in one case, on which I do not expect the Minister to comment. However, the report also asserts that, last week, scores of detainees at Harmondsworth went on hunger strike to draw attention to alleged abuses. A London firm of solicitors claims that it receives a new allegation of abuse every day.

The MP for Walthamstow, Neil Gerrard, is chairman of the All-Party Group on Refugees. He is reported to have said: What has struck me is the number of similar stories that have kept coming up. They can't all be false". Things are happening that should not be happening. I would be grateful if the Minister could respond to the allegations in that report in the Observer.

On 11 December, the Minister told the House—I refer to Hansard col. 874—about the important role carried out by the statutory independent monitoring boards that have been appointed to the centres and have free and open access. Have the recommendations made by the prison and probation ombudsman that the members of the independent monitoring board at Yarl's Wood should attend race relations training been implemented? Have the boards reported to the Home Secretary on their work? Have any matters of ill treatment been reported to the Home Secretary by the boards? Have the independent monitoring boards published their reports, as do the boards attached to prisons'?

7.49 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, most warmly on the presentation that he has given your Lordships and on his wonderful sense of timing, which he told us was coincidental. I wondered when I saw the PRT report whether the noble Viscount had had some tip-off in advance. In any case, he has done us a great service in drawing attention to that report on the forgotten prisoners—as they were called by the PRT—the 8,937 foreign nationals in the prisons of England and Wales, who form one in eight of the prison population. He also pointed out that the number has risen steeply over the past decade. It has also risen as a proportion of the prison population: it was 7.8 per cent in April 1996, 8.1 per cent in September 1999 and 12 per cent in January 2003. It is now, according to the PRT report, over 12 per cent, which is something like one in eight of the prison population.

As the noble Viscount also pointed out, the majority of the people in this group are drug offenders: 40 per cent of the men and the majority of the women. As he also said, they are generally people at the bottom end of the trade caught trying to smuggle, for which they receive long sentences in the futile expectation that it will act as a deterrent. For some years, I have been trying to convince Home Office Ministers that no public purpose is served by locking up these offenders for many years. Many of them are women whose children's lives are made even bleaker by the loss of a mother, transmitting the propensity to criminal behaviour down the generations. Obviously, the importation of drugs is a serious offence, but if the mules were given a suspended sentence and deported the public interest would benefit from a drop in the number of prisoners, without any harmful side-effects in terms of more drugs entering the country. The PRT quotes evidence published by the Home Office itself showing that long sentences have little or no deterrent effect. The problem is much better dealt with by visa regimes and improved detection overseas, measures that have proved effective in the case of Jamaica.

I welcome the early removal scheme, which allows foreign prisoners serving longer sentences to be deported up to four and a half months early and I am pleased to note that up to 400 places in the prisons are likely to be freed thereby. But why not go further and say that where a sentenced person is to be deported, and under the new rules will be fingerprinted so that he or she cannot re-enter the country in any case, all prison sentences of less than three months should be replaced by suspended sentences? The persons concerned are likely to spend a few days in custody anyway, as they await removal, but the shorter the time, the less will be the unnecessary burden on the taxpayer and the trauma suffered by the offender's family in his or her country of origin. Yet on the contrary, the Home Office is busy filling up the places that are shortly to be freed by the early removal scheme by creating new documentation offences in the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill and provoking a fresh influx of short-term prisoners into our prisons.

In November 1999, I sent the then Minister an analysis of foreign nationals in our prisons. I asked whether the Home Office could undertake a study to determine the reasons for the increase and to consider the possibility that the courts could make greater use of suspended sentences with a recommendation for deportation and whether the arrangements for repatriation of sentenced persons were working properly and expeditiously. No study was ever undertaken and, as far as I can see, the Repatriation of Prisoners Act, which was supposed to allow people to serve their sentences in their own national prisons, is cumbersome and ineffective. In the case of Jamaicans, who account for a quarter of the foreign nationals in our prisons, it may be that, being well aware of the appalling state of prisons in their own country, they do not ask to be repatriated. Maybe we could help the Jamaicans to improve the state of their prisons so that people would not be so reluctant to return there.

As for the criticisms made by the PRT of the Prison Service's failure to meet the needs of foreign prisoners, that too is not a new discovery. The chief inspector and her predecessor have been on about it for years—we have heard some quotations from her reports—as have the boards of visitors at the prisons where foreign citizens are detained. Ministers will remember the debate that we had on Wandsworth in February 2000 and the failures that had been highlighted there by both agencies. Wandsworth has enormously improved since then and its successful scheme for meeting the needs of foreign nationals, which has already been described by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, has been adopted in some other prisons such as Lewes.

What is a matter of concern, however, is that each prison governor has too much autonomy and best practice is not automatically rolled out through the whole service. This may be particularly true of the increasing number of private prisons where the contractors are understandably reluctant to do things that are going to cost them money if they are not specifically required and paid for. The arbitrary variations between one prison and another may well be intensified by the regional management of NOMs unless there are rules to ensure that, for instance, foreign prisoners are treated the same throughout the whole system.

Independent monitoring boards have been mentioned. They also vary widely, some covering diversity policy in some detail, others skating over the topic in a couple of sentences. On the whole, IMBs do not see the needs of foreign nationals as a separate issue. At Blundeston, for instance, where half of the inmates are foreign, they are not mentioned at all. The IMB at Downview, scheduled to become one of four specialist prisons catering for foreign women, criticises a lack of policy direction. But of the 146 IMBs, only 46 published their reports for 2002 on the web, so they are not providing an effective and transparent check on management.

The delegation of decision-making to local governors creates problems for foreign nationals, particularly in regard to their spiritual needs. I declare an interest as patron of the Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy. Staff are not good at reading the instructions they get from headquarters, so they frequently have to be reminded of their obligations. Some IMBs report on the chaplaincy; others, where there are large numbers of foreign prisoners, ignore it. I cite Lindholme Removal Centre and Coldingley as examples.

The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, has commented on the removal centres. In 2003, the IMB reported on three of them: Campsfield House, Haslar and Harmondsworth. It said that Harmondsworth had greatly improved since the chief inspector had given it low marks, but yesterday, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, has already pointed out, the Observer reported that detainees there are on hunger strike against alleged abuses there and at other removal centres. I know personally of one alleged rape of a Harmondsworth detainee. The police were called in but the CPS found that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the employee concerned, who claimed that there had been consensual sex. The employee was dismissed for unprofessional conduct but the victim was unable to pursue her complaint through the civil courts because she was deported.

I also heard yesterday from the fiancée of a man who has been detained at Harmondsworth since July 2003 and who suffered injuries which required medical attention when an attempt was made on 6 April forcibly to deport him. The IMB says that there were only five or six complaints a month at this centre, but there was also an average of 14 segregations, seven C&Rs and five incidents of self-harm. Neil Gerrard MP, chairman of the All-Party Refugees Group, says that he has heard allegations and so do solicitors and voluntary agencies concerned with removal centres. Does the Minister consider that there are ways of reinforcing the IMBs, improving the complaints system or involving the campaign groups which themselves are inundated with complaints?

In this connection, I was very glad to learn that our former colleague in another place, Sir Peter Lloyd, a distinguished former prisons Minister and chair of the inquiry into boards of visitors, has accepted the presidency of the National Council of IMBs and that on their agenda will be their future role and reporting obligations. It is extraordinary that in the 21st century it should still be within the discretion of these boards whether to publish their reports; that they are subject to censorship by the Secretary of State, as the Minister, Des Browne, confirmed in another place on 28 April 2004 (at col. 1101W of Hansard) and that there is neither a model for their activities nor a template for their reports.

I want to mention one other important group before I sit down—the foreign nationals detained under the Antiterrorism, Crime and Security Act. The Privy Counsellor review committee which reported last December recommended that Part 4 of the Act should be replaced by alternative legislation that would not apply only to foreigners and would enable us to rescind the derogation from the ECHR which Part 4 necessitated.

The Home Secretary rejected the arguments of the Newton committee saying that it was only by detaining the 14 individuals who were then in Belmarsh that Britain was being protected from Al'Qaeda even though half the suspects known to the intelligence services were in fact British nationals. However, since then, one detainee—M, a 38 year-old Libyan who has been in Belmarsh for 16 months—was released by the court, and another—a 35 year-old Algerian who had been detained for two years—was released by SIAC itself subject to conditions. The Home Secretary's response has been to threaten new legislation to prevent the courts from releasing terror suspects, even those against whom there was no evidence or those who had become mentally ill as a result of their high security confinement.

No doubt there is a serious terrorist threat, but surely the use of powers that are not consistent with the ECHR against Muslim foreigners, and their treatment in a manner which has caused several to develop psychiatric illness, is not only repugnant in itself, but is likely to damage relations between the state and the Muslim communities, creating far worse problems down the line.

I hope that Ministers will take the PRT's Agenda for Action very seriously, and that in particular they will act to ensure that the needs of foreign prisoners are dealt with systematically and that procedures are subject to audit. But the strategy covering the provision of information, support and contact with families should be the same at every prison, and the aim should be to ensure that a prisoner who moves around the system recognises the same high quality approach wherever he goes. Outside the walls, our aim should be to reduce the number of people who are sent to prison by the courts with recommendations for deportation, to be kept inside at the taxpayers' expense for a few months or years when, after that, we will never see them again.

8.2 p.m.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, for raising this issue, which has important implications for both the Prison Service and the Immigration Service. I very much welcome the opportunity to explain the Government's position on foreign nationals held in prisons and immigration detention centres.

The Prison Service's purpose is to keep in custody those committed by the courts, and its duty is to look after them with humanity and help them lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and on release. The Prison Service aims to treat all prisoners as individuals and address all of the differing needs. The Prison Service aims to advise the Immigration Service of the first reception into prison of foreign national prisoners so that their cases can be considered where necessary. It is obviously for the Immigration Service to determine what action will be taken with that information.

This debate has been peppered with very many questions, which I accept are important questions. I do not think that I will be able this evening to be equal to the range of questions asked in particular by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, who is always very pressing, persistent and precise in what she seeks to know. I congratulate her on that. I suppose that the only comment I can usefully make is that it might have been useful if I had had prior knowledge of some of the more detailed points which require a more detailed response. If I cannot reply to them today from the Dispatch Box, I shall ensure that each and every one of them is followed up in correspondence which I will place in the Library and share with the other two noble Lords who took part in the discussion.

I congratulate the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, on the range of issues that he raised. I shall endeavour to respond to those very important points. He was right to touch on how foreign national prisoners can be traumatised when they are received into the British prison system. I think he was right, too, to draw attention to the problems of race and racism potentially within the prison system as well. I congratulate him on his compassion and concern for those prisoners, particularly those who are very many thousands of miles away from their family and those to whom they are closest. He is absolutely right to raise the issue of access and communications.

The issue of telephone communication is obviously very important, as that is the most immediate and easiest way in which people can access their families. I think it only fair to say that there are difficulties here. Although the Prison Service has negotiated a contract that provides significantly cheaper calls abroad than were previously available, it cannot offer the same coverage and security as it would perhaps like to offer elsewhere. However, we try to ensure that facilities are opened up so that prisoners who are many thousands of miles away from their family can access their family at least through the telephone system. While some prisons offer free telephone facilities, not all prisons can do so. Although it varies from prison to prison, obviously it is most important to concentrate that where there are large numbers of foreign national prisoners. So we recognise the importance of the issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised the issue of good practice, which is an extremely important point. The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, made a point about that as well. We must ensure that there is good practice across the prison estate to guarantee that those who are received into our custody and care, for whatever offence they commit, are well looked after and their needs are understood. Although it is only right to say that it would be wrong to provide preferential treatment in any way for foreign national prisoners, we clearly need to respond sensitively to their different needs, whether those are religious, dietary or whatever. Those are problems that feature within the prison system generally.

We try on assessment at the induction point, particularly for foreign national prisoners, to lake very careful account of their needs. We insist within the Prison Service that all prisoners must be treated decently, whatever their nationality. Prison staff are advised that they should be particularly alert to those from a different culture or religious background, and for whom English is not their first language.

We try to provide through the prison system general information about prison life and specific guidance on the regime of the prison in a variety of languages and formats. That is a very important question. Interpreters and translators may be brought in where it is appropriate and where costs allow. A member of staff, or perhaps staff from another prison with broader linguistic knowledge and talents, may be called upon from time to time to assist with any language barriers that may exist. However, we have to understand that making every language available and accessible is very complex and very difficult. We provide general information about prison life to foreign national prisoners in their own language.

Four prisoners' information books are published jointly by the Prison Service and the Prison Reform Trust, to whom we pay tribute for its work. They are available in English and in 22 other languages: Albanian, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Gujerati, Hindi, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Serbo-Croat, Spanish, Tamil, Turkish, Urdu, Vietnamese and Welsh. I appreciate that that does not give the complete range or complete coverage and is imperfect, but it is an expression of the Prison Service's commitment that it provides at least that range. We also insist within the Prison Service that every prisoner's religion must be identified and recorded when they first enter the prison estate so that their faith needs can be met.

Mention was made during the course of the discussion, particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, of the impact, as it were, of the prison estate being used for Immigration Service detention purposes. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, mentioned inspection and said how important that was. In the past, historically, prisons were not routinely inspected, in particular with regard to the Immigration Service. That is changing. We should be grateful to Anne Owers for the important work and the initiative that she has taken in that regard.

The Yarlswood inquiries are ongoing. It would be wrong and premature of me to comment in any detail on the content of the first report on Yarlswood, and on the second report that will be issued at a later stage. Clearly, there will be a lot to learn from that. Training needs will have to be assessed. Careful judgments will need to be made with regard to the way in which Yarlswood operates in the future and with regard to the needs of those who are detained there.

I turn to some of the questions that were asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern. The noble Baroness asked for figures regarding those held in prison. They appear in quarterly statistics. I cannot provide figures on the position as from today. However, with regard to the numbers detained for immigration purposes, the IND quarterly asylum statistics published in March showed that at the end of December there were some 205 detainees held in prison. I know that there is some dispute about the numbers. The Prison Reform Trust claims that there is significant under reporting. I believe that the IND now takes the view that the Prison Reform Trust may well have a point. Some of those serving as prisoners are dual detainees: in other words, they are there not just because they have committed a criminal offence but are also detained for immigration or immigration-related offences. The relevant number may well be higher—between 400 or 500. A set of figures will be issued shortly. I do not have the figures for those held in police cells although I recognise that it is important that some statistical analysis of that is undertaken and that that information is made public.

The noble Baroness also referred to the Observer article published yesterday and the allegation that abuse of immigration detainees is systematic. I do not agree with that. It is not true that an investigation is ongoing into alleged systematic abuse in the removal estate. It is true that every allegation of assault on detainees by staff is fully investigated and also referred to the police. The details of the allegations of assault show that very few complaints have been laid as a product of those allegations. I believe that of 27 complaints made, 25 investigations were completed. The information I have suggests that none of those complaints was fully substantiated. I am happy to check on that and provide further and better particulars.

The noble Baroness also asked about the new centre at Colnbrook. I can tell noble Lords that this will provide 326 places for single males and will operate under the detention centre rules in the same way as other removal centres. The noble Baroness also made some reference to Dover, Haslar and the Lindholme removal centres. These are run by the Immigration Service or on its behalf by the Prison Service. They are operated under detention centre rules in the same way as other removal centres.

We accept that there were some teething problems, as one might expect, when the centres were redesignated. But the aim is that they should operate in the same way as other centres.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred to the reports of the Independent Monitoring Board (1MB). I believe he asked whether it was able to publish its reports as public documents. It is very much a matter for that body and whether it thinks it right to do so. I accept that it is an important issue and something which we should return to and give further consideration besides discussing the matter with the IMB.

As regards Stephen Shaw's first report on Yarlswood, I believe I made the point last week in response to an oral Question that we accept the recommendations of that report. I advise your Lordships that many of those recommendations have been picked up and implemented.

We have had a useful preamble to what I consider is an important and perhaps a longer-term debate about the treatment of foreign national prisoners within the prison system as a whole.

Statistics were laid bare in the discussion. Roughly one in eight of the prison population are foreign national prisoners. A large percentage are Jamaicans, roughly between one-third and a quarter. Many of those in prison are there for drug offences. There is no doubt that the presence of foreign national prisoners within the prison population in general represents a considerable challenge. The increase in numbers over the past 10 years has been quite dramatic. We recognise the importance of responding to that challenge. In percentage terms it is something like a 140 per cent increase during that period.

There is a useful repatriation programme in train. Eighty-seven prisoners were repatriated from England and Wales in 2003. The foreign national prisoners come from about 165 countries and that of itself gives a clue to some of the difficulties that the Prison Service has to confront in dealing with different demands from different cultures.

We recognise that a dedicated detention centre facility is preferable for those who are in prison for immigration-related offences. That is much more preferable in the majority of cases, but there will always be a need, for reasons of security, control and perhaps geography, to detain some immigration detainees in prison. We hold to our commitment given in 2002 that while there may be that continued need, we really ought to end the routine use of prison accommodation to hold those who committed immigration offences.

But we have to be practical about it. Those individuals who have completed their sentence, but who are recommended for deportation will have their situation reviewed. If their circumstances are such that they can be released with restrictions, that will take place. In those cases where detention is authorised consideration will be given to the most appropriate places of detention, that is to say, removal centre or prison. That will be based on a risk assessment taking into account such factors as the nature of the individual's offence and their conduct while in prison.

I gained the impression during the course of the debate that there was a consensus for a national policy as regards foreign national prisoners. We have a policy which is emerging and developing. The Prison Service will be holding its first national conference on foreign national prisoners in July. There will be invited representatives from all prisons both public and private. At the conference the Prison Service will bring forward a strategy for dealing with the range of foreign national prisoner issues raised by prisons. I believe that the debate this evening could form a useful backdrop and inform some of the issues to be discussed at the conference.

This is a first and we will have to take account of reports made by HM Chief Inspector of Prisons and the non-governmental organisations. I am happy to report that the Prison Service and the Immigration Service have started to work much more closely in bringing the early removal scheme into effect—that was praised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, earlier—and the sharing of information on prisoners and their needs. This will continue and there are plans to establish a joint Prison Service/Immigration Service liaison group that will include operational staff from both services.

This summer the Prison Service will also start publishing a bulletin in which good practice on foreign national prisoners will be disseminated and shared. I know that these are the preliminaries, at least with regard to where noble Lords who have participated in the debate are coming from, to developing a broader and deeper strategy. The presence of foreign national prisoners within the prison estate is challenging. It poses many questions for their treatment. We have to be fair across the board. It would be wrong for there to be what might be described as preferential treatment, but, at the same time, we need to recognise that foreign national prisoners have different needs and demands.

I am grateful to the noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. I see it as the beginning, rather than the end of the debate and it is absolutely right that we focus on the problems that foreign national prisoners confront in the Prison Service and that we try to deal with those as best we possibly can, within the resources that are available.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.30 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.22 to 8.30 p.m.]