HL Deb 09 September 2004 vol 664 cc689-92

11.20 a.m.

Lord Judd

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What arrangements are in place to ensure that the treatment of immigrants and would-be immigrants, including during deportation, is humane and respectful of their dignity.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal)

My Lords, high standards of courtesy and professionalism are required of Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) and Immigration Service members and others acting on behalf of the service, including detention and escort contractors' staff.

Guidance and training are systematically provided in all aspects of applicant care such as compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Race Relations (Amendment) Acts. Complaints about staff conduct are investigated under a formal complaint procedure monitored by the independent IND complaints audit committee.

Lord Judd

My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that reply, does she agree that while a firm, fair and clear immigration policy is obviously essential, there is a contradiction in the age of moving towards a global market that there is no free movement of labour? In this context will there not always continue to be tensions and great anguish as people seek to improve their and their families' well-being? Must we not resist the appalling approach and hype in some of the media which make it very difficult for those working in the front line of immigration policy? Is it not essential to ensure that all those in the front line are supported in every way in the front line in ensuring that the aspirations spelt out by my noble friend are in fact carried through into practice with every single would-be immigrant?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I absolutely agree with my noble friend. Those working in the front line have an incredibly difficult and often stressful job. They strive to do it in the best way they can. Any support that we can give is important together with a more supportive approach from some of our media colleagues who do not always show the sensitivity that we would most wish to see.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, is the Minister satisfied with the existing machinery for dealing with complaints against immigration officers, whose powers in terms of arrest are similar to those of police officers? Does she consider that bodies such as the independent Police Complaints Commission are more appropriate to supervise serious allegations against the Immigration Service?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to emphasise the importance of taking complaints seriously. We believe that the formal complaints procedure, which is currently monitored by the complaints audit committee, is an appropriate, robust, independent process. We are satisfied that that seems to meet our current needs.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, what is the present situation with those immigrants who are found to be suffering from HIV or tuberculosis?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, that is wide of the Question on the Order Paper. I shall certainly be very happy to write to the noble Baroness in greater detail. Perhaps it suffices to say today that those sensitivities are very much taken into account when dealing with the concerns arising out of any application.

Lord Clinton-Davis

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the press has not behaved impeccably on this issue? What result has accrued regarding complaints about the behaviour of the press?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, I cannot tell the noble Lord the number of complaints that have been made in this regard but he is right to say that often people have been rather taken aback by the intemperate way in which some of these issues have been reported. Responsible, critical reporting is always welcome and should be encouraged.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

My Lords, did not the deaths of the Chinese cockle pickers in Morecambe Bay underline the dangers in which immigrants can be placed if they come here as illegal workers? Reverting to the question that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, put to the Minister, is not there a lot to be said for trying to devise some form of green card system along the lines of that used in the United States so that we can give people the opportunity to work legally in this country and thereby receive the kind of protection to which they are entitled?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, the noble Lord will know that we have done as much as we can to encourage that. The new rules that we have brought in to enable people to come here lawfully to work in a number of areas have reduced the number of illegal workers who feel that that is the only route. By making the system robust and fair we are sending a very clear message. I endorse what the noble Lord said about the tragedy that the Morecambe Bay type of incident highlights. This matter is not just about ourselves but about the poor people who come here and are abused.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, following on the Minister's answer to the noble Lord, what evidence does she have to back up a claim that the number of illegal workers has been reduced as a result of government policy when the Home Secretary himself made it clear that he does not know how many people are in this country illegally at the moment?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, what we have is based upon the figures that we had before. We are monitoring them. Our clear aspiration is that if, as I said earlier, we generate greater avenues for legitimate entry, that should suppress the need for those people who properly wish to come to this country and make a valuable contribution to seek illicit means of doing so. We have been very clear that we do not have a closed door. We have a need for workers to come and assist us to build our country to make it as strong as possible. We do not encourage those people to come here illicitly.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, while applauding the Question that we are discussing, are gangmasters included in any legislation for the benefit of workers such as the Chinese cockle pickers?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we have now passed legislation. I believe that we passed it in July.

Lord McNally

My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the problems about the media-inspired hysteria referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, is the influence not on the front-line workers but on their political masters who then have knee-jerk reactions? Would it not be better to look at the Canadian system of having an agency responsible that is somewhat more independent of day-to-day political control?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, of course I hear what the noble Lord says in relation to that. That debate has been ongoing and I am confident that it will continue.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

My Lords, I know that this is an Alice in Wonderland question but if the Home Secretary was not able to say how many illegal workers there are in the country now, how did the Government know—I refer to the reply which the Minister gave to my noble fried Lady Anelay—of the previous figures?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, we can only know those we have identified. It would be impossible to know those we have not found.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, does the Minister agree that there are immigrants and asylum seekers in detention or in removal centres who really are not aware of the reasons why they are detained? Does she agree that the form stating those written reasons is still inadequate and needs to be improved?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal

My Lords, of course I hear what the noble Earl says in relation to that but I can certainly assure him that everything has been done within the procedure to make sure that there is a clear understanding as to the reason for detention, and that advice and support are made available. I assure him that we shall continue to do all we can to make sure that information is available to those people who need it.