Detainees benefit from being able to work for £1-an-hour at immigration centres, a minister has insisted.
Lib Dem Baroness Hamwee had asked if the £1 pay rate “for people who have committed no crime” was “something that as a society we can be proud of”.
Baroness Williams of Trafford told the Lords the work by inmates was voluntary and was a way to “relieve boredom”.
She said it helped meet “recreational and intellectual” needs – and was not a scheme designed to save money.
Baroness Williams, who faced jeers as she answered questions in the House of Lords, argued that any rights detainees had to work were curtailed, so their pay rights were “not the same as people who are not subject to immigration detention”.
Labour frontbencher Lord Rosser argued that a Freedom of Information request in May 2014 suggested that hundreds of detainees had been paid £45,438 for 44,832 hours work.
“The saving of using detainees for £1 an hour, compared to paying employed staff on minimum wage, would be in the region of £300,000 a month.
“Who gets the benefit of this apparently considerable saving each month by using detainees at immigration centres on just £1 an hour to do necessary work, as opposed to using employed staff on the minimum wage? Is it the government or is the firm running the centre who reap treat financial benefit?”
Baroness Williams insisted the work at immigration removal centres was not about supplementing contractors, who she said were obliged to provide a minimum number of opportunities for detainees to participate voluntarily in paid activities.
But after Lib Dem Lord Paddick received a similar reply, former Commons Speaker Lady Boothroyd pressed the minister: “The question that’s being asked is who benefits? That was the original question and that’s the question we’re all waiting to hear the answer.”
Lady Williams replied: “Who benefits is the detainee.”
She said that “this money is not wages as the ordinary working population would see it”, adding that the rate is “being reviewed” and a report is expected at the end of the year.