I beg to move,
That this House
supports the recommendations of the report of the Joint Inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration, The Use of Immigration Detention in the United Kingdom;
has considered the case for reform of immigration detention;
and calls on the Government to respond positively to those recommendations.
I thank the Backbench Business Committee for responding so positively to the request from myself and the hon. Members for Bedford (Richard Fuller) and for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) that we have this debate. In a week in which so much parliamentary time has rightly been devoted to our role in supporting refugees outside this country, today is a timely opportunity for us to consider how we treat those who are already on our shores.
The focus of the debate is the joint report of the all- party group on migration, which I chair, and the all-party group on refugees, which was chaired at the time we commissioned the report by the then hon. Member for Brent Central, Sarah Teather. I pay tribute both to her leadership of our inquiry and her determined work on these issues over many years.
Our eight-month inquiry was undertaken by a cross-party panel of parliamentarians from both Houses, many of whom had enormous experience of the issues, including a retired Law Lord, a former chief inspector of prisons and a former Conservative Cabinet Minister from the last Government. I pay tribute to their contributions. It took place following several high-profile incidents within immigration removal centres, including deaths and allegations of sexual assault, and amid plans to increase the size of the detention estate by expanding Campsfield House immigration removal centre in Oxfordshire.
The problems have been well documented, but Parliament has never taken a systematic and comprehensive look at how we use detention, so we thought there was a need for that wider piece of work. We held three oral evidence sessions and received nearly 200 written submissions, and I pay tribute to all those who submitted evidence, particularly those who shared their often painful and harrowing experiences as detainees themselves. I am delighted that some are in the Gallery today. At our first oral evidence session, we heard from non-governmental organisations and medical experts but most powerfully from three men in detention centres at that time. We questioned them about their experiences via a phone link.
In her forward to the report, the former Member for Brent Central describes a moment in the Committee Room during that session when everybody gasped. We were talking via the phone link with a young man from a disputed territory on the Cameroon-Nigeria border. He told us he had been trafficked to Hungary as a 16-year-old, where he was beaten, raped and tortured. He had managed to escape and eventually made his way to Heathrow using a false passport. It was discovered on his arrival, and he was detained. We then asked him how long he had been detained, and his answer was three years—three years in what is supposed to be an immigration removal centre. His detention conflicts with the stated aims of the Home Office: that those who have been trafficked should not be detained; that those who have been tortured should not be detained; and that detention should be for the shortest possible period. But he is just one of the thousands of people this country detains each year.
As the use of detention has expanded rapidly over the last two decades, so has the size of the estate. In 1993, there were just 250 detention places; by 2009, that had risen to 2,665; at the beginning of this year, it was 3,915. The number of people entering detention in the year to June 2015 was just over 32,000—up 10% on the previous year. By contrast, in 2013, Sweden, despite receiving three times the number of asylum applications we do, detained just 2,893, and Germany detained just over 4,300. The Home Office policy states clearly that detention must be used sparingly.
I congratulate my hon. Friend and the all-party group on their report. Back in 2007, the Joint Committee on Human Rights in this House, in a rather briefer report, looked at limiting detention, as does his report, to 28 days. Given what is happening in other countries, does he share my intense disappointment that the numbers have so escalated since then?
I do indeed. It underlines the urgency of today’s debate and the need to address the issue. Nobody, especially not the Government, wants to see the immigration detention estate expanding, but without a shift in policy along the lines recommended in the report, it will be an inevitable, deeply distressing and disturbing reality.
The UK is alone in the EU in not having a maximum time limit on detention. That lack of a time limit was a constant theme in the evidence we received during our inquiry and one on which we received some striking testimony. Time and again we were told that detention was worse than prison, because in prison people know when they will get out. As one former detainee said:
“The uncertainty is hard to bear. Your life is in limbo. No one tells you anything about how long you will stay or if you are going to get deported.”
A team leader from the prisons inspectorate told us that the lack of a time limit also encourages poor working.
Like others, I commend the hon. Gentleman for his work, and I am grateful to him for his comments about my former colleague Sarah Teather, who did tremendous work in this area in her time here. On the lack of a time limit, does he think that inadequate access to legal representation is one of the reasons why people end up in open-ended detention in that way? The briefing supplied to us today by Bail for Immigration Detainees points out that 11% of those detained have never had any legal representation at all.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention and I very much agree with him. That was a feature of the evidence we received. Addressing that issue is important to ensure justice and speed in processing applications, which is in the interests of everybody.
I mentioned poor working in the consideration of cases, and the representation we heard from the prisons inspectorate suggested that, in one quarter of the cases it had looked at, prolonged detention was the result of inefficient case working. Therefore, having a time limit is not simply about justice and humanity; it is about ensuring a focus in the system and changing the culture. Medical experts also told us that the sense of being in limbo—the sense of hopelessness and despair—leads to deteriorating mental health. One expert from the Helen Bamber Foundation told us that those detained for more than 30 days had significantly higher mental health problems.
Although they are called immigration removal centres, we found that most people who leave detention do so for reasons other than being removed from the UK. That is an important point. According to the latest immigration statistics, more than half the detainees released are released back into the country, so this is not just about the impact on those detained; it is also about cost and the good use of public money. It costs some £36,000 a year to detain somebody for 12 months, so a huge amount of taxpayers’ money is being spent on detaining people who we will eventually release into the UK anyway.
Our central recommendation is for a maximum time limit set in statute, not simply to right the wrong of indefinite definition, but to change the culture endemic in the system. We settled on 28 days, not only because it reflects best practice from other countries, but because it is workable for the Home Office, given that in the first three quarters of 2014 only 37% of people were detained for longer. It also reflects the evidence of the mental health impact on those detained for more than a month. We also recommended that decisions to detain should meet the aims of the Home Office’s own guidance—that is, taken more sparingly and only genuinely as a last resort to effect removal. Deprivation of liberty should not be a decision taken lightly, nor should it be taken arbitrarily. Currently, decisions are taken by relatively junior Home Office officials, with no automatic judicial oversight. With no time limit, it has become too easy for people to be detained for months on end, with no meaningful way of challenging their continued detention.
The introduction of a time limit and the reduction in the reliance on detention would represent a significant change. In order to detain fewer people for shorter periods, the Government will need to introduce a much wider range of community-based alternatives. In our report, we give a number of examples of those alternatives, from places as different as the United States and Australia, which is often cited as an example because of its tough immigration system, as well as Sweden, which we visited in the course of the inquiry. These alternatives allow people to remain in communities while their cases are resolved, including when making arrangements to leave the country. These alternatives are not only more humane, but cost less and have a higher compliance level.
There is a UK precedent. When the coalition Government committed to reducing the number of children detained, they introduced a family returns process, which the House of Commons Library described as designed
“to encourage refused families to comply with instructions to depart from the UK at an earlier stage, such as by giving them more control over the circumstances of their departure.”
It worked. There has been a dramatic fall in the number of children detained, and the Home Office’s own evaluation of the scheme found that most families complied with the process—with no increase in absconding.
There are a number of other recommendations in the report; others will refer to them, but let me briefly cover them. We recommend that pregnant women and victims of rape and sexual violence should never be detained, and that the shocking harassment and abuse experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender detainees must be addressed.
I join others in congratulating my hon. Friend on securing this very important debate. Will he join me in putting on the record his thanks for the work done by Women for Refugee Women to uncover some of these problems in Yarl’s Wood—often against blanket denials from the Home Office that these problems are happening?
I will indeed, and I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention. I understand that some of the representatives are here today, which is welcome. I hope to meet them after the debate.
We echo the call of the chief inspector of prisons to allow detainees more freedom when it comes to internet access, which was needlessly denied in many cases. We hope that the Shaw review will look at our concerns about the treatment of individuals with mental health problems and of vulnerable detainees for whom detention is clearly not suitable.
Our central recommendation, as I say, is for a statutory limit on detention—not simply because it is more just and more humane, but because it would be less expensive and more effective in securing compliance. Moreover, this unanimous recommendation stands in line with the practice of the majority of countries with which we would compare ourselves, and with the views of most experts in this country who have looked at the issue. We hope that the House will agree that the Government should positively consider our report and take up our recommendations.
As one of the Members who applied for this debate, I welcome the cross-party call for action: Paul Blomfield, my hon. Friend Richard Fuller, and SNP Members, too, were involved in securing the debate. Colleagues across the House are concerned about this issue. In this first substantive debate on it, they are calling for a comprehensive investigation, not least on the basis of the report recommendations.
Today is the fourth day in succession when the broad subject of immigration has been debated in the House. Sixty years ago, Winston Churchill complained to Ian Gilmour about immigration, saying:
“I think it is the most important subject facing this country, but I cannot get any of my Ministers to take any notice.”
Today and this week—thanks to the Backbench Business Committee, hon. Members and campaign groups such as Citizens UK, which have been out there across the country over months and years wanting immigration detention to get noticed—Ministers are not struggling to take notice of the issue.
The reality is, however, that immigration detention does not get sufficient attention. The more than 30,000 people held in 11 immigration removal centres last year were largely unnoticed—out of sight, and largely out of mind. These people were locked up without having any clear idea of when they would be released or removed. The issue occasionally gets headlines—on Channel 4 documentaries, for example. Last year, my constituent Yashika Bageerathi, aged 18 and in the middle of her A-level studies, gained public and parliamentary attention when she was separated from her family, detained and eventually deported. Yashika brought to the attention of all of us the individual humanity of the issue, which recent debates have also highlighted; she humanised the plight of thousands of detainees each year and reminded us of the issue that has run through previous debates about the refugee crisis, not least this week and in the past week or so, and will run through this one—our core value of human dignity.
We need to take serious action because many detainees do not know when they are going to be released. The following statistics were published in August: 430 people have been detained for more than six months; and 137 have been detained for more than a year. Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons found that in The Verne nearly 40 people had been detained for more than a year and one had been detained for more than five years. Souleymane, a former detainee, told the inquiry that
“in prison, you count your days down, but in detention you count your days up.”
As a criminal defence solicitor, I know that the first thing a prisoner will always ask me is, “When is the earliest date of release?” They will be able to get that answer, but most detainees in IRCs do not know the earliest or latest date of release. Let us not forget that most of those detained in IRCs have not been convicted of any crime. I say “IRC” because it is hard to say immigration removal centres, as for far too many the word “removal” is a misnomer. Half of all people who leave the centres are released back into the community rather than being removed.
There is also clear evidence to show that some detainees are treated worse than prisoners who have been convicted of very serious offences. In the past four years the High Court has on six occasions found against the Home Office for causing inhuman or degrading treatment to some of the most vulnerable of people—mentally disordered detainees in long-term detention. In the case of BA, the High Court described “callous indifference” and
“a deplorable failure…to recognise the nature and extent of BA’s illness”.
My hon. Friend mentioned that the Home Office has been found guilty on six occasions of inhuman and degrading treatment of people detained in our immigration centres. Is he aware of how often the Home Office has been found guilty of such offences in the rest of the criminal justice system? Would he be interested to hear the Minister give an answer on that?
That is a good question, and the Minister will have time to find that answer—I hope it will miraculously come to him. My experience is that although there have been challenges on articles 3 grounds, I have not heard of that many findings in recent years. Progress has been made, not least in dealing with mentally ill prisoners, although the situation is not ideal and there is certainly room for improvement.
As the hon. Member for Sheffield Central said, many of these vulnerable people have faced a history of torture, trauma and persecution, only then to find themselves further abused in detention. As we found when we visited the IRCs, there has been improvement in recent years. There has been a change of management and they are doing their best, within the physical structures they are operating in, to improve both conditions and staffing. I note that, and recognise that there has been a response to these judgments and that improvements have been made. What we found on our visits to the IRCs—the Minister has a lot of experience in the justice field, so he will know this, too—is that they are, in essence, prisons with some soft furnishings and some plants. They have now put in more plants and a few more soft furnishings, but structurally and fundamentally that is what we are talking about. We recognise that we do not have a blank piece of paper, but it cannot be right that so many immigrants are detained for so long in prison-like conditions for administrative reasons.
Is one difficulty facing detainees not that because detention centres are in isolated positions they find it hard to get legal representation, as solicitors find it difficult to visit places such as Dungavel regularly?
There is a contrast to be drawn with the position of prisoners, certainly those on remand, who have good access to legal representation and always have privileges in relation to visits. Their situation is not wholly comparable with that faced by detainees, particularly in terms of proximity. There is legal access, particularly for those who are in longer-term detention, but the point is well made. It is important to compare the rights of detainees with those of others, not least convicted prisoners.
We must be there for those who do not always make the headlines, such as the constituent whom I mentioned—people who may well be convicted detainees. As we remember Magna Carta and seek to ensure that everyone is equal before the law, we need to demonstrate that we are thinking carefully about people’s individual circumstances and the need for all of them to be treated with dignity, whatever their backgrounds.
What is the point of all this? The public may assume that the length of time spent in detention is linked to removal from the United Kingdom, but the opposite is the case. According to the statistics, the longer someone is detained, the less likely it is that his or her detention will end in removal. The Home Office may argue—and, indeed, the argument has been advanced—that the length of detention is linked to the legal processes, such as appeals, that are undertaken on behalf of detainees, and to difficulties related to identification. It is suggested that there may be difficulties with other countries when efforts are made to obtain the appropriate travel documents and ID. However, as the report states, a team leader from the prisons inspectorate told the inquiry that
“a quarter of the cases of prolonged detention that they looked at were a result of inefficient case-working.”
We need to drill down into that case working, and aim to improve it. The recommendations recognise the complexity of the issue. It is easy to make the headlines, and it is easy to adopt a position, but we need to look carefully at this, and one of the report’s key recommendations is for the establishment of a working group with an independent chair.
The Home Office—indeed, the Minister—told the inquiry that a key purpose of detention was to maintain effective immigration control, but evidence for that is lacking, especially when we make comparisons with other countries, which is what we sought to do during our inquiry. Some of us had an opportunity to visit Sweden, for instance. We found that there were many differences between countries when it came to the way in which immigration was dealt with.
Australia is not particularly known for its liberal immigration policy, but after it introduced case management-based alternatives to detention, the programme had a 93% compliance rate, and 60% of those who were eligible for deportation returned voluntarily. It is important not just to look at the issue of limitation of time in detention, but to look, positively and proactively, at the issue of case management. In Sweden, there was a 76% rate of voluntary return, as opposed to 46% in the United Kingdom.
We need to consider affordability, about which the Government are very concerned. At a cost of £164 million, immigration detention is not sustainable or affordable. According to independent research by Matrix Evidence, £76 million a year is wasted on the long-term detention of migrants who are subsequently released, and, between 2011 and 2013, £10 million was spent on compensation for unlawful detention. That is why, like the rest of the European Union, we are calling for a time limit.
We need to firm up the Home Office guidance which states that detention should be used sparingly, and for the shortest possible time. We need to ensure that that really does bite. We are therefore calling for a 28-day limit, which should be a genuine last resort rather than an administrative default position, to ensure that those who have no right to remain here are quickly removed.
I believe that the country can do this. We have done it as a Government. The coalition Government managed to remove as many instances of child detention as possible, and we should take the next step. Yes, we may have a debate about controlling our borders, but we should do more. Whether people come here by fair means or foul, we should treat them with dignity to ensure that we genuinely reform the system of immigration detention.
Finally, let me return to Churchill. He famously said in relation to prisoners, but we can say it in relation to immigrants,
“The mood and temper of the public in regard to the treatment of”
—here I would say “immigrants”—
“is one of the most unfailing tests of the civilisation of any country.”
I believe we can meet that test.
Order. I do not want to enforce a time limit, but given that 26 Members wish to speak, I advise them to speak for up to six minutes, including interventions. Then everyone will have the same amount of time. We just have to look after each other.
I, too, welcome and enthusiastically back the call for this House to support the recommendations in the report on the use of immigration detention in the UK. I congratulate the hon. Members who have secured the debate, as well as the hon. Members and support teams from the two all-party groups involved in the preparation of the report, and, indeed, all who provided the compelling evidence on which the report is based. It is a thorough and comprehensive report and we welcome, as Paul Blomfield said, the holistic approach taken to the issue, looking at the detention system as a whole.
I pay tribute lastly, but very importantly, to the many individuals and organisations who have contacted MPs in advance of this debate. I have some not so fond recollections as an immigration solicitor of taking that long and winding road into the middle of nowhere to get to Dungavel immigration removal centre; as Mr Burrowes remarked, it would be very easy for the people detained there and in other removal centres to fall out of our minds. The fact that they do not do so and that there are still so many people fighting on their behalf and taking up their cause is a great source of optimism and one of the key reasons why we are here debating the issue today. That scale of interest almost certainly also reflects how badly the Government—indeed successive Governments—have got policy wrong in this area.
People see a straightforward injustice. They know that detention is a harmful and sometimes catastrophic experience for individuals; they see so many going through the awful experience of detention not for breaking the criminal law, but for the sake of the Home Office’s administrative convenience; and they know that is wrong. The existing legal framework requires serious reform, not simply some tinkering around the edges. It is vital that the Government not only acknowledge that fact, but implement the inquiry’s recommendations.
Why is the current system so completely unacceptable? In short, the evidence shows that it detains too many people; it detains them for too long; it detains people who should never be detained for any period of time and too often detains them in very poor and utterly inappropriate prison-like conditions; and it is a costly and inefficient system. It is worth expanding briefly on a couple of those points.
The UK’s immigration estate is one of the largest in Europe; it is hugely bloated, with places for up to almost 3,400 people. In 2013, the UK detained
30,418 different people, compared with 4,309 in Germany, which incidentally received over four times as many asylum applications as the UK. We detain significantly more people than any other EU country. Detention in the UK has become so regular that it can be fairly described as a matter of routine—far away from a policy that is used “sparingly” as Home Office guidance suggests, never mind a policy of last resort. People are too often detained for lengthy periods. The hon. Member for Sheffield Central recalled the evidence to the inquiry of a gentleman who had been in detention for three whole years.
The UK is also too often guilty of locking up vulnerable people. As the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate remarked, in four years the UK has been found to have breached the article 3 convention rights of mentally ill individuals. A detention centre is not the appropriate place for these vulnerable people. That was why the long overdue decision was made that children should not be locked up in such circumstances. Many more vulnerable people are still being detained and should not be.
If the dreadful human costs of such practices do not convince the Government, perhaps the financial costs will justify change, because the policy is expensive. In 2013-14 the cost of running the immigration detention estate was £164 million and the cost of detaining one person for one year was £36,000.
What is required? I fully support the ideas proposed in the report and I will briefly mention some of what I regard as the key proposals. One of the problems of the system that was highlighted in the inquiry by the all-party parliamentary group is the lack of a time limit on detention. The lack of a time limit and of certainty is a huge cause of distress, as people have no idea for how long they will be detained. As we have heard, it also leads to lazy and sloppy operations by the Home Office.
We need automatic and regular reviews of whether people should be detained, as well as an effective presumption in favour of community-based alternatives to detention. We want an end to detention in prison-like conditions. I pay tribute to everyone who has contributed to bringing this report before the House, and we in the Scottish National party will wholeheartedly continue to support its implementation.
In my first speech to the House as a Member of Parliament, I said that I wanted to be able to speak on behalf of those whose voices were small and might not be heard. In this debate, I want to speak up on behalf of the women who are detained at the Yarl’s Wood removal centre, which is on the outskirts of my constituency. Those women have to deal every day with a sense of despair, a sense of uncertainty about their future and, most crushingly, a sense of disbelief about all the encounters that they have, because from the point of view of the state they have no right to be here.
It was inspirational of Sarah Teather to set up this inquiry, and I am so grateful to her for the work that she put into it and for enabling me to be part of the review that we are debating today. In my view, it is also a great benefit to us that the Minister for Immigration, my right hon. Friend James Brokenshire is responsible for immigration issues, including detention. It is fair to say that he has inherited a mess when it comes to the use of detention. This goes all the way back to the 1970s, when the process of administrative detention was put in place. That led to a massive growth in the detention estate and introduced the principle of indefinite detention, and has led us to incarcerating children again. Those are the results of the way in which policy on the detention of people who have no right to be here has evolved over the past 30 or 40 years, and it is entirely correct that Parliament, ahead of any Home Office review, should express a demand for change by the Government.
We know that the current system is a mess not only because the Home Office is undertaking a review of the extension of the detention estate but because it has set up the Shaw review of the healthcare and wellbeing of people in the detention system. One of the administrators of the system, Serco, is carrying out its own review under Kate Lampard into the role of immigration detention and the quality of the services provided to the people in Yarl’s Wood. Her Majesty’s inspector of prisons has said that Yarl’s Wood is a place of “national concern” and the independent monitoring board of the detention estate has expressed concern not just about the practice of immigration detention but about the policy, which is the direct responsibility of this Government.
It is almost beyond question that the current process of immigration detention is costly, ineffective and too often unjust for too many of the people involved. How on earth can I justify to my taxpayers the expenditure of £100 a night to incarcerate someone in a prison, only then to put them back where they came from in the first place? How can the Minister defend a policy that results in 50% of the people who are put into detention centres being put straight back into the community rather than being removed? Why on earth will he not take the advice of the all-party parliamentary groups and look into the proposed alternative case management systems, which would offer a lower-cost solution for the taxpayer?
The hon. Gentleman and I have shared a platform before to express our concerns about Yarl’s Wood. The fact that two thirds of the women in Yarl’s Wood are released back into the community demonstrates the futility of that place. Does he agree that it is time to move on and close it down?
Absolutely: it is time to close down Yarl’s Wood. I say that not just because it would be a satisfactory end to the policy, but because it would be an emblem, a sign, that this Minister has decided that it is time to call an end to the extensive use of immigration detention. Closing Yarl’s Wood is exactly what we should do.
Further to that point, the percentage of women returning to the community is even higher among pregnant women. In 2014, the independent inspection report recorded 99 pregnant women, of whom only nine were eventually deported. The rest returned to the community to pursue their claims, which shows that, aside from anything to do with the welfare of pregnant women, detention is not the best use of resources.
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. Mr Deputy Speaker, you have given me one more minute, so I shall be brief.
We should not detain people who are the victims of torture and rape. It is so hard for someone in this country to prove that they have been raped. How easy would it be for someone from another country? Just because someone cannot prove that they were raped does not mean that it did not happen. We should not incarcerate women, particularly when they are overseen by male guards, if alternatives are available. It is very worrying when women in Yarl’s Wood say that they do not feel safe. Women are absolutely right to call for an end to the detention of victims of torture and rape. Ninety nine pregnant women were detained in a year—it takes a lot to get the Home Office to admit that pregnant women are detained—which is two a week except over Christmas, when, perhaps for those pregnant women, there was no room at that particular inn to incarcerate them.
Most of all, this is not just about the plight of the women in Yarl’s Wood and of others caught in the immigration detention system. It is not just about looking tough on immigration, because there is no inconsistency between being tough on immigration and having an effective policy. This is about the type of people we are. When it comes to Yarl’s Wood, it is time for the Minister to close it down and set her free.
“We will enforce immigration rules humanely and effectively. We will end the indefinite detention of people in the asylum and immigration system, ending detention for pregnant women and those who have been the victims of sexual abuse or trafficking. And we will ensure Britain continues its proud history of providing refuge for those fleeing persecution by upholding our international obligations, including working with the UN to support vulnerable refugees from Syria”— and from all over the world. I was proud to stand for re-election earlier this year on a Labour manifesto pledge to end indefinite detention for those in the asylum and immigration system. A joint report by the all-party parliamentary group on refugees and the all-party parliamentary group on migration, co-authored by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central, has not only many disturbing findings, but many encouraging and workable suggestions, too.
It seems that Home Office guidance on detention often leaves much to be desired. Although minimal use of detention is recommended, detention appears to be seen as an easy option for delaying resolutions. That is particularly cruel when we consider that the centres in which people are held were mostly built to be high-security prisons. People in need, people without homes, people who have come for our help in their darkest hours are being abused by a system that considers them statistics, not humans.
The lack of humanity is startling. My hon. Friend Catherine West has been trying since her election to visit the immigration removal centre, Yarl’s Wood. The Home Office has refused her applications. Unsurprisingly, it is ashamed of the regime there.
Staggeringly, in the past year, 13 children in Yarl’s Wood have been classified as adults. Within the UK as a whole, the number has grown to an unbelievable 127 since 2010. This Government have been presiding over a system that incorrectly classifies children as adults, and leaves them within the adult population for months before allowing them to challenge that decision. Children who have been correctly classified are routinely removed from their parents and housed elsewhere. Research by Bail for Immigration Detainees has shown that in 75% of cases where that happens the parents are finally released, and detention has been nothing but an immense strain on the family and individuals.
While prison officers have been given information and training in identifying signs of extreme mental distress, those in removal centres rarely have the training or support to do so. The British Medical Association recommends such training as vital. Healthcare is not a luxury for these people; it is a right. Specialist services must be as accessible to detainees as they are to the general public. Across the board the transfer of healthcare service commissioning to NHS England has been welcomed, but that is not the end of the problem, and screening processes have not yet been fully put in place.
A report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons from 2012 noted that nearly 20% of the people it interviewed had spent more than six months waiting without making a bail application. Poor legal advice and understanding of the system was considered to be the most likely reason for that. Bail for Immigration Detainees found that only half of detainees had a legal representative. The system we have fails those whom it is meant to serve. Liberty estimates that 45%—3,483 people—of those held on British immigration estates are asylum seekers, not economic migrants. Those human beings have fled for their lives with nothing but the clothes on their backs; they have come through the storm. Humanity must dictate our behaviour, and detention must be only a last resort, not an easy solution.
I am conscious that a number of hon. Members wish to contribute to this debate, so I will keep my remarks brief. I congratulate the all-party groups on migration and on refugees on securing this debate, and on taking the time to compile their report.
My constituents in Crawley are concerned about high levels of immigration, but they are also compassionate about vulnerable people who come to this country seeking asylum and refuge. As Members across the House will be aware, the issue has been particularly highlighted over the summer with the Syrian refugee crisis, and people have expressed concern about people entering this country, but also compassion for the welfare and well-being of the victims of dictators, traffickers and terrorist groups. My hon. Friend Mr Burrowes is right to say that this week we have had a great opportunity to discuss aspects of those important matters.
I will confine my remaining remarks to immigration detention and removal centres in my constituency. We have Brook House and Tinsley House immigration removal centres, and on the outskirts of my constituency is the Cedars pre-departure accommodation centre. Before I was elected to this place I was leader of West Sussex county council with a social care responsibility, and I remember visiting those immigration detention centres in the last decade and being shocked—at the time there was a backlog of more than 450,000 cases being dealt with in this country—at some of the conditions in those centres. I was particularly troubled when I came to the family block in those centres, and I pay tribute to the previous coalition Government for announcing in May 2010 that children would not be held in immigration detention centres, and for following through on that. The Cedars centre on the periphery of my constituency has done great work in co-ordination with Barnardo’s and we now have the lowest ever number of children in immigration detention, which I welcome. I believe that in May this year that number stood at 12, down from a significant high of several hundred children being detained in 2009.
I welcome the Government’s review of immigration detention that will be led by Stephen Shaw, the former head of the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales. I am confident that that report, aided by the good work of hon. Members across the House, will come forward with some conclusions on how immigration detention can be effective to ensure an effective immigration policy, compassionate to ensure that the most vulnerable people are properly supported, and, as my hon. Friend Richard Fuller said, cost effective. This issue is top of the agenda for many of our constituents, and we must get it right. I have confidence that the Home Secretary and the Immigration Minister will properly address this issue.
Finally, I pay tribute to the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group, which is based in Crawley. It does fantastic work, and I am grateful for the briefings it gives me. We are truly fortunate to have the dedication of many people in such groups and in immigration removal centres, as they provide the best possible support to those in immigration detention.
I join all those who have welcomed this report. As chair of the all-party group on human trafficking and modern slavery, this issue concerns us because so many of those in detention have been victims of trafficking.
I will start by quoting an email from a constituent. She is not a victim of trafficking or a refugee. She is the wife of an EU citizen who is working in the UK, so she should have the right to stay here. I firmly predict that she will eventually be allowed to stay, but the Home Office is currently maintaining that hers is a sham marriage. She was detained for more than 50 days, and she wrote to me about three weeks ago. Forgive her English:
“Today I want to bring something in your acknowledge about how detention centre’s life effect mentally. According to me home office don’t bother about people’s life, they leave them in detention centres for die…I am nearly became a mad person while in centre because I am so much upset and depressed. I am feeling scared at night, I can’t sleep even for an hour, you know when am close my eyes then am feeling that I won’t be able to open my eyes again or if I will open may be I will be blind. I am going to mad. I am totally has been die after death of my uncle and grand mom. I went 3 to 4 times in healthcare to see doctor for depression but they just saying you have to wait few days for doctor appointment. I don’t know why they not taking it seriously as my condition is not good. You know I haven’t had any food since Saturday not at all. Even not tea. Please I want to go to my husband and parents. I can’t die like this. Why this people can’t see my condition. I can’t stay here any more not even a single moment. I am not a animal.”
This is not a woman who lacks family support. Her husband is here legally and is supporting her. She has other family here supporting her. Unlike most of the very vulnerable people in detention, she is not a victim of previous cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, yet we can hear from that message to her MP how desperate the experience of detention made her feel.
I shall not comment on everything in this excellent report. The one part of it that has the best chance of making a difference to the Home Office is the proposal for a legal limit on detention. The lack of a legal framework means that that most inefficient of Departments feels that it has the right to continue to be inefficient and to let people suffer as a result of its inefficiency.
I am particularly concerned about victims of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, victims of trafficking and victims of torture who are detained. The Helen Bamber Foundation reports that in the two months since the suspension of the detained fast track, which was suspended because it was found to be illegal, 108 people have been referred to the foundation. In 97% of cases prima facie evidence was found of torture or ill treatment having been suffered. That should have prompted immediate release. There are currently appalling delays before rule 35 reports are made, and officials from the Home Office reject those reports because they say there is no independent evidence or people did not disclose early enough.
I am grateful to the Minister, who wrote to me in August saying that he intends to work with NHS England to consider how to improve the timeliness of medical examinations and rule 35 report production, but the Helen Bamber Foundation tells me that it has not had any consultation about how that will be done. We all know that that is the most expert group in the whole country on victims of torture.
It is desperately urgent that we get these problematic matters sorted out. Even the British Medical Association, which does not often brief Members of Parliament on immigration issues, has provided us with a sensible paper containing practical recommendations, including that rule 35 reports should be written
“only by clinicians with relevant medical experience or appropriate training in identifying, documenting, and reporting the physical and psychological sequelae of torture.”
It is obvious that that should happen. I do not believe that the Minister does not think it should happen, but because there is no legal framework which ensures that that is delivered, and because in practice there is no accountability, which is what it comes down to, the Home Office’s system can get away with allowing appalling delays and amateur, inexperienced Home Office officials to say, “There’s no independent evidence that you were raped”—gosh, what a surprise!—or “There’s no independent evidence. Those scars on your body could have been caused by something else.” Such things have regularly happened to people who have been victims of trafficking and torture.
The onus is on the state to identify potential victims of trafficking. That is our legal obligation, rather than requiring the potential victim to disclose. It is clear from the Helen Bamber Foundation that the experience of being in detention makes it harder for people to deal with the impact on their mental health and harder for people to disclose. Therefore the Minister must make it clear how he will ensure that in future people who have been tortured and people who are been trafficked do not suffer further through the actions of the Home Office, and that we as a state make sure that they can overcome that victimhood.
It is an honour to follow Fiona Mactaggart, who has a proud record on these matters. It is also an honour to speak in front of the Minister, who is a compassionate and decent man and who, I believe, will be listening carefully to all these arguments, and an honour to follow some excellent speeches. I will speak briefly to make two points.
As my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes said, this year we are commemorating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. A major part of Magna Carta is the right of people not to be detained indefinitely and not to be detained without due cause. We need to bear that in mind. Clearly, there are cases where people need to be returned, but I did not realise that 30,000 people a year are facing detention on that basis. That is extraordinary. There must be other ways to do this.
If we detain someone in a police cell, we require the police to bring them before a court extremely quickly. We require the police to work night and day to find the evidence that justifies holding them. In immigration detention cases we do not require the system to work night and day because such people can be detained indefinitely. The first thing I ask, as others have done, is that the case work system be improved and that the Home Office has a responsibility to work night and day on these cases where it is depriving people of their liberty. I agree that a limit—whether 28 days or something else—should be in place to ensure that that happens, with a proviso, perhaps, that in extremely serious cases officials could come before a magistrate to ask for additional days if that were necessary. The onus would then be on the Home Office to do the work and do it quickly.
My second point arises from a case of a deportation to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in which I became involved a couple of years ago. Sometimes we treat countries as if they were one. We say that they are okay for people to be returned to or not. There are many instances where there are differing circumstances within a country, depending on the religion of the person, for example, or perhaps they have no religion. Perhaps they are gay. The country may officially be on the list from the Home Office or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of countries to which it is in order for people to be returned, but for that particular person it may be a matter of life and death. If they are returned to that country, they may face immediate arrest, even though that country is on the approved list from the Home Office. I ask the Home Office to work much more closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to find out precisely the circumstances that might pertain to people who fall into minority groups and who may be of that nationality, but will not face a welcome in their own country when they return.
It is a pleasure to follow such powerful speeches. Jeremy Lefroy makes a very good point about due process, which is why increased judicial oversight is one of the recommendations of the report. There is a lot of concern about the issue in my constituency, especially with Campsfield being so close. That concern is felt by people of all parties and none. It is encouraging and heartening how broadly concern is being expressed today across the House.
We owe a vote of thanks to those who served on the panel and produced this excellent report. I wholeheartedly endorse its recommendations. It is worth underlining that the panel members came from across the parties and included a former Cabinet Minister, a Law Lord and an independent inspector of prisons. I hope that from this report comes the momentum for real change. As the report says, piecemeal tinkering with the system is not enough. The Shaw review is very welcome. However, by specifically excluding the decision to detain within its terms of reference, the Government are seeking to avoid the most important question.
The truth is that immigration detention simply is not working. The report concludes, and I agree, that the detention system is “inefficient, expensive and unjust”, so real change, not least the introduction of a time limit, is essential. I hope that following this debate the Government will commit to forming a working group to implement this and other recommendations of the inquiry.
It is clear that immigration detention is used too frequently. The Home Office is detaining more people than ever, with 32,053 people entering detention in the year ending June 2015, an increase of 10% on last year. There is general agreement across the House that detention for administrative purposes should be used only in rare circumstances when it is absolutely necessary, but that is not happening. Figures from 2013 show that the UK detained 30,418 people that year while Germany detained 4,309 people, Belgium detained 6,285 and Sweden detained 2,893. As has already been pointed out, Germany received four times as many asylum applications as the UK in that time. That shows that there are workable alternatives to detention.
A high percentage of those detained in this country are released, receive temporary admission or are granted bail—49% in the most recent relevant immigration statistics. That must raise the question why they were detained in the first place. Furthermore, as has already been said, immigration detention is expensive. In 2013-14 the annual cost of running the immigration detention estate was £164.4 million. There are cheaper community-based alternatives available, and there are certainly better uses for the money.
Most importantly, indefinite detention is unjust, which is why the Labour party committed to ending it in our manifesto. People are being detained for far too long. The most recent immigration statistics show that 187 people had been in detention for a year or longer and 29 had been in detention for two years or longer in the year ending June 2015. That is totally unacceptable. A time limit should be imposed. The 28-day limit suggested in the report, which would bring the UK into line with others in Europe, seems sensible. Of course, we need to ensure that that does not become an automatic period of detention, but the alternative of no time limit at all is simply not working and cannot continue.
Many of my constituents are involved in supporting detainees in Campsfield immigration centre, including in the bail observation project, which has done important work monitoring bail hearings. Its two reports have found many barriers to release on bail and difficulties in challenging ongoing detention.
Since the report was published there have been other concerning developments—some have been referred to already—such as publication of the report on Yarl’s Wood by Nick Hardwick, Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons. He called it a place of national concern and joined his voice to the call for a time limit. Worryingly, the Government’s consultation on reforming support for failed asylum seekers seems to aim to remove accommodation provision for those bailed out of detention, and I fear that the result would be more people detained for longer and at greater expense.
There have been far too many scandals about the conditions in detention centres. There have been enough calls for reform from campaigners, experts and former detainees. Every death in detention, such as those of Ianos Dragutan and Ramazan Kumluca in Campsfield, is one too many. There have been enough Government reviews. This time let us end this cruel and shameful practice by bringing an end to indefinite detention and looking at international best practice and community-based alternatives. In the past I have made many representations about the detention of children, and the previous Government made important progress in that area by radically changing how families with children are detained. It is now time to make such systematic reform to the use of immigration detention as a whole. I urge the Government to act on the report.
I rise to speak about detention centres, largely because of a case I came across a couple of years ago. A young lady—it was not clear exactly what age she was—had been trafficked to the UK from Nigeria via Tripoli. Initially everything was great, but then she was held in London and put to work as a sex worker. An attempt was then made to traffic her to a gang in Holland using false documentation. At that point she was arrested and detained.
That young lady was believed to be 13, although nobody could be certain because she spoke an extremely rare dialect from rural Nigeria, and she was also in a state of absolute fear, not just of the authorities, but, more powerfully for her, because she believed that she had been subject to juju before leaving Nigeria. As a result of her cultural upbringing, she believed that were she to speak about what her traffickers had done, she would die. Indeed, when she started to develop symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection after being detained, she believed that it was the result of juju because she had failed.
That young lady was then treated as an adult in the criminal justice system because the false documents that her traffickers had used belonged to a Dutch national who was considerably older. She spent many weeks in the criminal justice system until questions started to be asked about how old she actually was. I will not go into the details of the case, but her conviction was eventually overturned and she was given the right to remain in the United Kingdom. It was a harrowing case, by anyone’s definition, and for someone who is believed to have been as young as 13. When people who are that vulnerable find themselves in a detention centre, they need more than basic medical attention; we must also make efforts to understand things as basic as how old they are.
I know that the Minister and his Department have taken tremendous strides in recent years to try to move this forward, and I welcome the appointment of the inquiry into how we can treat those who are detained more humanely. We must also accept that there are people in this country illegally who are abusing the system. It is right that they should be removed speedily, not detained for prolonged periods and treated in a way that we would not even treat a criminal.
In all of this we must think about the people, because they are often frightened and vulnerable, having come here on their own or as victims of gangs. Often they have been through absolute hell before the authorities find them. That young lady’s arrest might have been terrifying for her, but it was also a new beginning in her life. She broke free from her traffickers and started to understand that juju was not going to kill her. The people supporting her were able to start to put right the abuse she had suffered.
Sadly, that was just one case of many. Members who represent constituencies in and around London will have seen much more evidence of trafficking than those who represent more rural constituencies, but these cases are out there. I urge the Minister to continue doing all he can to ensure that the vulnerable are protected in the system.
I am very grateful to be able to speak in this extremely important debate. I must first declare an interest, having compiled a number of mental health assessments of detainees in my previous role as a clinical psychologist in the NHS.
Prior to the debate, I attended Dungavel immigration removal centre, which is housed in my constituency, and met detainees, staff, management, Home Office staff and immigration services in order to inform my understanding of local service provision. In February this year, Dungavel was subject to an unplanned inspection by Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons. The findings from the published report were positive overall regarding the general operation of the centre and the conditions for detainees. However, recent inspections of other detention establishments, such as Yarl’s Wood and Verne, have not been positive in that regard. The report on Dungavel indicates that the inspector’s main concerns were largely outside the control of the contractor—namely, some very long periods of detention and decisions to maintain detention of extremely vulnerable detainees. This gives further weight to the findings of the inquiry by the all-party groups that the problems with detention are systematic and would not be solved simply by
“tinkering with pastoral care or improving the facilities”.
As I come from a health background, the APPG inquiry raises extremely concerning issues to me about the effects of detention, particularly prolonged and indefinite detention, on the mental wellbeing of individuals. It observes that being detained indefinitely without knowing for how long, with the continual possibility both of imminent release and imminent removal, means that detainees have simultaneous concerns that there will be sudden change or never-ending stasis. Information provided to the inquiry by the Helen Bamber Foundation indicated that being detained for more than 30 days correlated with having significantly higher levels of mental health issues. The APPGs propose setting a time limit of 28 days on the length of time that anyone can be held in immigration detention. The current lack of a time limit does not improve efficiency. Indeed, it appears that the lack of any external pressure to complete cases within a set time frame has led to poor caseworking. This is reinforced by the inspectorate’s report from Dungavel, which referred to finding a number of prolonged detentions related to unavoidable casework delays.
Another significant concern relates to the detention of extremely vulnerable individuals. Under the current system, there is a provision under rule 35 of the Detention Centre Rules 2001 that aims to ensure that particularly vulnerable detainees whose health it is feared is likely to be affected by detention are brought to the attention of the appropriate authority in order to review decisions and to consider whether detention is appropriate. The policy recommends that vulnerable groups such as victims of torture should be detained only in very exceptional circumstances. Despite this, the recent inspectorate report from Dungavel expressed particular concerns about decisions to continue to detain a torture survivor and a woman with a serious health condition.
As regards identifying those who are particularly vulnerable, reports have highlighted issues with a lack of training among detention centre staff in recognising the effects of abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and human trafficking. In addition, it appears that initial screening procedures and the environments in which they are conducted are not always conducive to identifying such vulnerabilities, especially as disclosure of trauma can be a very complex issue. There are many potential barriers that could impact on a victim’s ability to disclose their experiences, particularly when being held in an immigration centre.
The APPG findings indicate that the provision of mental health services in detention centres is often very poor; detainees have reportedly found it very hard to receive treatment, even after having tried to commit suicide. It appears that many of the negative experiences of healthcare provision are linked to the number of people detained and the length of time for which they are held, alongside the lack of access to psychiatric provision. The Royal College of Psychiatrists is of the view that it is impossible to treat serious mental illness satisfactorily in a detention setting, as it is not a therapeutic environment. In fact, one of the medical personnel who gave evidence during the APPG inquiry, Dr Danny Allen, described it as “counter-therapeutic”.
Another pertinent issue raised by the inquiry team is a need for gender-specific policies. At the time of the recent inspection, it was reported that the 14 women at the Dungavel centre alongside 249 male residents were housed separately in an environment that was safe and supportive, and where individual needs were being met. However, the inspectors recognised that there were still inevitable risks associated with holding women in a predominantly male centre, and that those risks were not addressed by policy. When I visited the centre, I was informed that a small proportion of detainees had criminal backgrounds and that staff were concerned that because prison records had not followed detainees to the centre they were unaware of some of the risks. The charity Scottish Detainee Visitors has noted that it has not been unusual for just one or two women to be detained at Dungavel. That can be isolating and frightening, particularly in the light of research suggesting a high prevalence of gender-based violence histories among detained women, this often having been part of the persecution that they were fleeing.
I urge the Minister to take on board the recommendations of the report, particularly where it pertains to holding very vulnerable individuals in detention centres.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I, too, congratulate the all-party groups on securing it. In following some excellent and passionate speeches, I will keep my contribution very short.
My constituents are concerned about levels of immigration but concerned most of all that those held in detention centres are detained for the shortest possible period and that their welfare is at the forefront of everyone’s minds. They and I would like the Minister to give assurances that people are detained only as a very last resort and are processed swiftly. It is heartening to read that the majority of those detained are able to leave within 28 days and the remainder within four months. Whether someone is detained for a few days or a few months, their welfare while in detention is of the utmost importance to me and my constituents.
My hon. Friend Henry Smith, my neighbouring MP, mentioned two centres in his constituency. One of those was the Cedars centre, which is currently taking care of 12 children. Twelve is still too many, but it is a huge drop from the 1,000 children who were detained in detention centres during the period of a year under the Labour Government. It would be good to hear the Minister say how the number of 12 held in Cedars can be reduced even further. The welfare of those detained is often discussed when I have surgeries in my constituency.
Like the Minister, no doubt, I am waiting to see the Stephen Shaw report. I would be interested to hear the Minister comment on how soon any recommendations in that report can be implemented and how he will continue to make sure that there is a greater focus on the welfare of detainees.
I echo the congratulations to the two APPGs and to Members from both sides of the House who have brought this very important and timely debate. In a week when moral indignation from the nation at large has caused action by the Government, I would like to think that this debate too can play its part in awareness raising and have a similar positive effect.
I do not have any of these so-called immigration removal centres in my constituency, but their names are known to me as almost a roll call of shame, and some touch on my constituents. The two nearest to me are Colnbrook and Harmondsworth, which my constituent Diane Lukeman, who is in the Public Gallery and is a lay visitor with Detention Action, visits. The situation at Yarl’s Wood was brought home to me by a visit facilitated by Father Simon of Christ the Saviour in Ealing Broadway. He set up a meeting for me with Citizens UK when I was a parliamentary candidate. It opened my eyes to a world I had never experienced before.
My constituent had fled persecution from the Taliban, but even she spoke of the humiliating, degrading and harrowing conditions that left her depressed and suicidal —my right hon. Friend Fiona Mactaggart has told similar stories—behind the tall fence and barbed wire. Defenders of these institutions will no doubt assert that they are not meant to be holiday camps and that they are meant to deter, but their dire conditions and lack of respect for human dignity have left inmates resorting to extreme actions, such as hunger strike.
The 2013 report of the inspectorate of prisons on Yarl’s Wood, which followed an unannounced inspection similar to the old-style Ofsted inspections, said:
“The circumstances of those held at Yarl’s Wood make it a sad place. At best it represents the failure of hopes and ambitions, at worst it is a place where some detainees look to the future with real fear and concern. None of those held at Yarl’s Wood were there because they had been charged with an offence or had been detained through normal judicial circumstances. Many may have experienced victimisation before they were detained, for example by traffickers or in abusive relationships.”
The cumulative result is a moral dereliction of duty. People, including women and children, are locked up for months in draconian centres, not knowing when they will be let out.
Governments of parties on both sides of the House have sought to be tough, in the eyes of the electorate, on undocumented migrants. That is wrong and it blurs the issue of refugees and asylum seekers with the wider immigration debate, which tends to border on hysteria and forms a cycle that breeds a climate of hatred, fear, racism and demonisation of the so-called “illegals.”
The UK has long had a reputation as a defender of human rights and civil liberties where freedom prevails, but the detention system is a stain on our character. The only beneficiaries seem to be the private providers. Serco is literally profiting from the misery at Yarl’s Wood.
I am pleased to report that my constituent, who asked not to be named, has got back on her feet. She got out of there and is enrolled on a psychology degree. She is rebuilding her life and working with Citizens UK on these issues, but she is still haunted by her experiences.
Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London—I am not sure which is his part-time position—is not present, but in his 2008 incarnation he stood on a platform calling for an amnesty for all illegal immigrants. I do not know what happened to that, but it was not in our manifesto, which instead called for an end to indefinite detention. I hope we all agree with that. The report by the all-party groups recommends a limit of 28 days. I am sure we can all agree that the processes need to be sped up and that due process needs to be done.
If a time limit on detention could be set that was not prejudicial to the Government’s ability to remove those who have no right to remain, would the Minister support it? The community organising group Citizens UK, which has been mentioned by a few Members on both sides of the House, has a working group devoted to examining alternatives to detention as a means of processing migrant and asylum applications. Will the Minister liaise with and meet that working group?
My constituents will have found this debate fascinating and enlightening, and I hope that people who do not have detention centres in their communities have learned as much as I have today. The debate comes at a key time as we consider strong concerns about Yarl’s Wood detention centre, and it is right and proper that they are fully investigated.
It is important to distinguish between detention and immigration as a whole, and truly to consider people’s welfare and the care given to them by the state while they are detained. I firmly support the Government’s wish to achieve a substantial reduction in immigration, which got completely out of control under Labour. It left 450,000 cases unlooked at, which was unacceptable. Those people’s lives will be blighted if we do not deal with that. It is right that that figure is now being brought back to a reasonable level, which means that individuals are once again being dealt with.
My constituents want a fairer immigration system. Inhumane treatment must be challenged and recent improvements built on. The Minister has noted and understands the pertinent issues that have been raised about a far from perfect system.
We must be fair and understanding not only on those who wish to come to our shores but on British citizens. The UK is a global hub that attracts talent, which contributes to our economic dynamism. As we have heard, detained people can contribute to our communities, and rightly so.
Investigations show that poor casework is causing massive suffering. It is truly worrying that 30,000 people are suffering further due to casework failures. The process seems unjust and ineffective, and it is worrying to hear that a number of women feel unsafe. The lack of gender understanding is simply unacceptable.
On detention itself and part 1 of the report, those who do not have the right to be in the UK can, of course, leave voluntarily. However, if they break the law, detention is a reasonable next step—but it must be the right kind of detention. Unlike the stories we have heard today, people must be removed appropriately and within a reasonable timeframe. Huge delays cannot be overlooked, because individuals are suffering.
Although I recognise the calls for a fixed time limit on immigration detention, I am not sure that I wholly support them. Each case has its own individual circumstances and I am not sure whether an arbitrary fixed time limit would enable us to recognise the finer details within 28 days. Would the focus be on getting it right or on working to a timetable? That needs to be further considered. We must recognise that detention does not sit outside the law and that all voices should be listened to.
I do not want to interrupt the hon. Lady’s flow, but the period of 28 days we are asking for is a maximum, not a total. People should not suffer for so long without knowing what is happening to them.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his input. I absolutely agree that we should be working to something, but if the casework and the systems are not in place it is very difficult to set a number. It is important that judicial review, which provides a powerful and constant check, remains intense and has clear oversight.
The welfare of those in detention centres is a very serious matter. Under the Labour Government, 1,000 children a year were in prison-like conditions, and I am proud that my party is ending the detention of children for immigration purposes. The number of children entering detention is falling rapidly, but the end cannot come soon enough. These are little people going through a very frightening process in a foreign country.
I welcome this key, enlightening debate and the extra scrutiny this House is giving to the process of detention. A state cannot allow those who break the law to continue to live as though they have not done so. The rule of law depends on us upholding it appropriately.
I absolutely support having a hard look at how to remove and detain people properly, and at the arbitrary timeframe of the 28-day limit, as colleagues have said. We must make sure that those in detention in the UK are treated with respect and dignity. It is right to enforce our laws, but we must work together to act with humanity. This is a scandal waiting to happen: there could be further loss of life if we do not shine a light on this issue.
I agree with other hon. Members that our future handling of such complex cases involving vulnerable people must be balanced by the appropriate and proportionate management of detainees who might simply be here to abuse the system. I am sure that the Minister has taken on board the importance of what hon. Members have said.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly in this very important debate. As other hon. Members have done, I commend—as best practice for other all-party groups to follow—the work of the groups that produced the report during the last Parliament. I am grateful for its acknowledgment of my former colleague Sarah Teather’s leadership in this area during her time in the House.
In looking at the scale of this problem, the surveys recently carried out by the Bail for Immigration Detainees group are interesting. During the most recent survey period, 216 people left detention after more than 12 months. It is worth reflecting on the sheer scale of that. My greatest concern is that, ultimately, only 38% of such people were required to leave the country. Therefore, the system is not just inhumane, but inefficient. It is not doing the job that we as taxpayers require it to do.
When I see such figures, I inevitably draw on my own professional experience. Before I entered Parliament, I was a criminal court solicitor, like Mr Burrowes. I started my professional career as a procurator fiscal depute. We worked to very strict timetables in Scotland. Any prosecutor remanding people on such a scale and getting convictions for only 38% of them would have found themselves in some difficulty with their superiors.
It is worth comparing how we treat those detained for immigration purposes with how we treat other people in our community whom we detain in the criminal justice system and the mental heath system. In neither case do we detain people without a time limit or any sort of judicial supervision of their detention. Frankly, if we rightly apply such a standard for our own people, why should the standard be different for those who come here fleeing persecution in other countries?
That brings me to the point about the availability of legal representation that I made in my intervention on Paul Blomfield. I have no doubt that the lack of access to legal representation contributes to making many cases last longer than the 12-month period identified by BID. At the time of the last BID survey, only 50% of people had representation when they were interviewed, and 11% never had any representation. We all know why: these people come from countries with very different legal systems and access to justice is on a very different basis, if indeed there is much state-provided justice at all. In addition, there are the difficulties of language and the mental health problems that inevitably arise, as Dr Cameron said. We can understand the importance of getting proper representation to people in such situations.
The constituent I quoted was unable to access legal representation because she could not afford it. It was a case of paying the council tax or paying a lawyer. In the end, she succeeded in her bail bid by representing herself, which is one of the things we need to help people to do.
Indeed. I was very struck by the constituent’s email that the hon. Lady read out. It is clear that that lady has significant language difficulties. Nobody in such a situation should be left having to represent themselves before a court or tribunal. These are exactly the sort of people for whom legal aid is designed and is absolutely necessary.
If I could make only one change, it would be in relation to the need for a time limit. In my time as a prosecutor, when we detained somebody or remanded them in custody, they had to be brought to trial within 40 days on a summary complaint or within 110 days on an indictment. Those were very demanding timescales to meet, and it could be very difficult to do so, particularly for complex crimes. However, such people were given priority because they had been deprived of their liberty. If that is how we treat people suspected of a crime, I see no reason why we should treat people seeking refuge any differently.
This has been a very good and quite informative debate. Members on both sides of the Chamber have outlined problems with the system and the lessons we could learn from countries such as Sweden and Australia, but it strikes me that it is worth remembering exactly what has brought us to this point. We are having this debate because the system has become so bad that it is falling apart and failing other human beings.
I want to read a few lines of a briefing, which I must confess I stole from my hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald. It states that the system has recently had
“a raft of high profile scandals including allegations of sexual abuse at Yarl’s Wood, the death of a frail 84 year old Canadian man with dementia in handcuffs, and a proliferation of human rights breaches where the detention of no less than six mentally ill detainees has been found by the High Court to constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”
The answer to the question of what has brought us here is twofold: a general attitude towards immigration and asylum—let us not kid ourselves: it has also been present in the Chamber during other debates this week—and the fact that successive Governments have been led by the nose by powers and forces that may not have many representatives in this Chamber, but have, my goodness, exerted an influence on this place of which most of us should be ashamed.
Years ago, during the last Labour Government, I used to campaign outside the offices of the Home Office on Brand Street with my hon. Friend Anne McLaughlin, my old boss when she was a Member of the Scottish Parliament, and my hon. Friend Chris Stephens. We used to go on marches campaigning for the rights of people held in Yarl’s Wood and Dungavel, and we used to stand outside those offices and watch going in and out the faceless people who presumably took them to detention centres. The point I am making is that this did not start recently; we have been on a slide for a long time. Under the coalition Government, the outside walls of the office where I used to campaign—asylum seekers had to turn up there weekly—were brandishing shameful posters telling them to go home and vans were driven around constituencies all across central London telling them to go home.
I hope that this debate marks a genuine change in spirit and approach on the issue of the detention of asylum seekers, but that change has to be so radical and so bold if we are to make any meaningful progress. How different would it be if, rather than having a Home Office Minister in charge of immigration, we had a Treasury Minister because, as we know, immigration brings economic benefits to this country? What would happen if, instead of having a Home Office Minister in charge of detention centres, we had a Minister from the Department for Communities and Local Government or the Department of Health?
I am sure that my party colleagues will back me up when I say that the UK Government must end their belligerent approach to the devolved Administrations on this issue. In the last Parliament, all but two of the elected Members of this House for the city of Glasgow were men. Many women who had been through terrible cases of torture and rape did not want to go and address the men who were their constituency MPs, some of whom were not known for having sympathy with such issues.
I remember the time when my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East was an elected Member of the Scottish Parliament and the Home Office would have nothing to do with her, or indeed with any other elected Member. Given the crossover in service use and delivery, it makes sense to involve not just the Scottish Parliament, but the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Welsh Assembly and the London Assembly, which I understand the UK Border Agency would correspond with in certain cases. I say that not to make a political point, but because it makes sense.
If we choose to be so bold and radical as to completely overhaul this system on a cross-party and cross-Parliament basis, our country will be much the better for it.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield on securing this vital debate.
Every year, approximately 2,000 women seeking asylum in the UK are detained, many at Yarl’s Wood detention centre near Bedford. The majority of those women have survived traumatic life events such as rape, domestic violence and threats of abuse, and many have been psychologically affected. Being locked up or detained can be particularly distressing and counter-productive, forcing some to relive their traumas.
Some 40% of those women who were interviewed recently admitted that they had self-harmed and 20% admitted to having attempting suicide. In a recent report, the chief inspector of prisons, Nick Hardwick, said:
“Yarl’s Wood is rightly a place of national concern.”
The inspectorate found that about half the women who were in detention centres pending an asylum decision felt unsafe. Worryingly, the report detailed that since the previous inspection, the treatment and condition of those held had deteriorated significantly.
One woman said:
“I felt so upset and frightened because I was arrested and locked up and tortured back home. I have scars on my feet and arms where I was beaten by police and guards and so the situation and male guards in Yarl’s Wood made me feel extremely frightened…it feels like being locked up in prison back home.”
Women have alluded to significant breaches of privacy while being held, including allegations of sexual harassment and violations of dignity. Female staffing levels are also considered to be inadequate.
The parliamentary inquiry recommended a mandatory 28-day limit on all immigration detention. Referring to cases involving women, it called for gender-specific rules for detention. It stated that there should be no detention of pregnant women or survivors of rape and sexual abuse. The current Home Office policy stipulates that pregnant women should be detained only in the most exceptional of circumstances, but in 2014, 99 pregnant women were held at Yarl’s Wood alone.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is suspicious that when I visited two women at Yarl’s Wood this summer, both of whom had suffered exactly what she is outlining, they were released that day? Does she agree that the reason might be that the Government do not want too much scrutiny of what is going on at that centre?
I absolutely agree with those comments.
Detention is a costly exercise at about £40,000 a year. The comparative cost of maintaining those seeking asylum in the community is significantly cheaper. There is significant evidence that the detention of asylum seekers is expensive, unnecessary and unjust. There is a clear appetite across the House for a change in culture and I look forward to seeing real progress on this issue.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important debate. I thank Paul Blomfield for tabling the motion.
This should not be a debate about how we detain migrants and asylum seekers; in truth, it is a debate about how we treat our fellow human beings, many of whom are vulnerable and have suffered unmentionable experiences. When we consider the question of immigration, detention with no time limit cannot be the answer. On the latest figures provided by the Government, 187 people who were in detention last year had been detained for between one and two years, and another 29 people had been detained for two years or longer. Such arbitrary detention is an attack on the human rights of each and every one of those detainees.
Detention centres are horrific places. One man’s account describes his 37 months in detention as
“three years in a cage”.
That is time he spent isolated from his family, friends and support network; time spent being treated more like an animal than a human being.
It is clear that the system is utterly broken. Any system that allows people to be held indefinitely cannot be described as anything else. Any system that allows people to be locked up and forgotten about and to be denied any semblance of human dignity can only be described as an obscenity. In denying dignity to detainees, we denigrate our own humanity. We need an immigration system that is focused on fairness, not forced detention. A more compassionate, pragmatic and workable approach is needed.
I am dealing with several immigration cases for constituents at the moment, although none have involved any form of detention. If those cases are anything to go by, the procedures that have been put in place by the Home Office are counter-productive and often devoid of common sense. One constituent whom I have spoken about in this place before, Merai Mupunga, cannot work to support her family because her partner’s income falls slightly short of an ill-conceived minimum income threshold. This is a respectable lady who wants to contribute to society and cannot. Her dignity and self-worth are being robbed from her. Merai is fortunate in one sense: she has not had her liberty taken from her—a fate that seems to befall far too many people.
The cost to wider society simply cannot be underestimated. The removal of intrinsic rights from any individual not only robs communities of their potential, but costs the public purse dearly. With a cost of about £36,000 per detainee per year and more than 32,000 immigrants detained last year, we owe it to the taxpayer to change how we deal with immigration detention. The amounts paid by the Home Office in compensation following claims for unlawful detention have totalled almost £15 million over the past three years. Those figures all point to a system that simply is not working.
We need to take a holistic approach to the procedures, case management and detention infrastructure across the UK. We need to be critical and ask ourselves how we can make the system not only fit for purpose, but humane. It is important that the system operates with a defined distinction between criminal and administrative detention. It is also important that the system allows for scrutiny and review. I am not convinced that the current system does either of those things very well.
The Government need not only to acknowledge the gravity of the findings of the joint inquiry by the all-party parliamentary groups on refugees and on migration, but to engage with the many organisations throughout the UK that are calling for reform. Scottish Detainee Visitors, the respected independent charity based in Glasgow, is one such voice that is calling for a considered change in approach. Each week, its volunteers visit detainees at Dungavel, which is in a neighbouring constituency to mine. Their first-hand experiences tell of horrific conditions, particularly for women, who find themselves greatly outnumbered by men. Some of those women are fleeing gender-based violence and situations that most of us are fortunate never to have experienced. One woman who was detained at Dungavel described her experience as like being
“a chicken surrounded by dogs”.
A recent inspection report into Dungavel noted that there were inevitable risks associated with holding women in a predominantly male centre, yet there were no specific policies focusing on the issue. The failings of the system need to be addressed and the Home Office needs to act. The introduction of a 28-day time limit is a good start, but it is only that. Detention needs to be used sparingly and only when it is necessary. We need to restore dignity to the lives of thousands of immigrants and asylum seekers, and we need to introduce some humanity to the cold mechanics of the Home Office.
I thank the hon. Members who petitioned me to sign up to secure this timely debate. In the short time I have been in this place, 45% of my casework has been on asylum-related issues. Indeed, I am becoming a regular correspondent with the Immigration Minister. I hope this debate on detention will be the start of looking at the many other issues surrounding the asylum process that are causing me concern. I will be using other parliamentary procedures to raise those issues.
Let me first welcome the excellent all-party group report, which sets out many of the issues. As my hon. Friend Dr Cameron said, the report was backed up by an unannounced inspection of the Dungavel detention centre in June by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons, which raised concerns about Home Office decisions on who is detained. Incidentally, some of those detained have a documented history of having been tortured and of having serious health conditions. The report adds further weight to the parliamentary inquiry carried out by the all-party groups.
The problems of detention will not be solved by tinkering; the problems are systematic. We know that because this year, to June 2015, 1,322 people have been brought to Dungavel as a first place of detention. We know from freedom of information requests by the BBC that, in January 2015, 22% of detainees resident at Dungavel had been detained for more than three months and that two individuals had been there for more than a year. That is too long and I agree that we need a 28-day time limit.
The effects of long detention were explained by my hon. Friend Margaret Ferrier. Detention means isolation. One of the problems with detention centres such as Dungavel is that they are in an isolated position. The nearest detention centre to Dungavel is Morton Hall in Lincolnshire, which is 270 miles away. People are brought to Dungavel from all over the United Kingdom. That exacerbates some of the negative impacts, and means it is difficult for detainees to maintain contact with family members and other social support networks. For family members without access to a car, journey times can be very lengthy indeed, often leading to an overnight stay which many cannot afford. The difficulties of maintaining contact will and does impact on the mental health of those detained.
One issue that has not yet been touched on is the loss of belongings. We know from reports that, sadly, it is not uncommon for detainees to be collected or detained and not given the opportunity to collect their belongings. That is a very serious issue indeed and Scottish Detainee Visitors has done a lot of work in that regard. People should be entitled to their belongings when they are in detention.
In Dungavel, there are 14 bed spaces for women, compared with 235 for men. The report is clear that, inevitably, there are risks associated with holding women in a predominantly male centre. The Home Office really does need to look at these specific issues.
In my exchange with Mr Burrowes, I touched on the very important issue of access to legal representation. One of the problems in moving detainees from Scotland to England is that they have different systems, and a Scottish solicitor can find it extremely difficult to contact an English solicitor if a removal is expected over a short period. This is becoming a major issue in some of the cases I have been dealing with, so I hope the Home Office will consider it.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the problem is not only the poor legal system but lack of knowledge of the legal system among detainees, along with English language and communication problems?
I agree completely.
Detention centres are so far out of the way, solicitors can be unable to get to them and have to correspond by letter, which is not always appropriate. We are now finding that detainees, when they are released from detention centres, are being left in a state of destitution. It is up to charities, such as Scottish Detainee Visitors, to help them with their belongings and their transfer. That is very concerning, as is the impact it will have on other social services.
I would like to add my congratulations to my constituency neighbour, my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield, who has done so much to highlight the growing concerns around this issue, and to the all-party groups on their excellent report. I am particularly grateful for the opportunity to raise the experiences of my constituents unfortunate enough to come into contact with the immigration detention system, and some of the flaws in our immigration policy that exacerbate the problem.
Our detention system is arbitrary and brutally effective at taking those, who may or may not have a case to remain, out of the communities in which they live. We detain far more than almost any of our European partners, depriving people of their liberty often because we have a system which treats detention as anything but a last resort. These places are prisons in all but name and, as has been mentioned, in many cases they are considerably worse than prison. The increase in those entering detention by 10%, to 32,000 in the most recent figures, is part of a longer upward trend. I do not want to repeat the valuable recommendations that have been laid before the House, except to say that the experience of my constituents is certainly consistent with the findings of the all-party groups.
The findings were true in the case of a young man resident in my constituency who fled Afghanistan in the most appalling of circumstances aged nine years old. After four years incognito, he arrived in the UK. He was given temporary leave to remain under the international humanitarian obligations by which the UK is bound. His entire family had been murdered by the Taliban, excepting his older brother who tragically died on the journey here. He is understandably now suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
The young man was schooled here and built a life here. To all intents and purposes, this man is as English as you and me, Madam Deputy Speaker. He has no family and almost no connection to the country he fled at nine years old. Yet two weeks ago, after he had turned 18, he was hauled out of the community in which he lived, handcuffed and taken to the Brook House removal centre at Gatwick—[Hon. Members: “Shame”]—where he was put in a cell, and where food and drink was limited. He was even given his plane tickets, despite there being a block on his removal due to my intervention. After an entirely unnecessary traumatic and expensive experience, he was granted an injunction preventing his removal and release. He is now afraid to sign in with his caseworker, as he is required to do weekly, for fear of being arbitrarily detained again.
That case alone would tell of a disproportionate detention system and a fundamentally unjust immigration policy, but it is just a small insight, as we have heard, into wider failings. Problems remain with communication, conditions, illegal detention, a lack of a time limit and cost. The all-party groups’ recommendations are so desperately needed if our constituents are to retain their liberty and dignity throughout the immigration process.
Community-based solutions, alongside time limits and proper judicial oversight, are all sensible solutions to help to ease those problems.
I turn briefly to the nearly 15,000 unaccompanied minors, such as my constituent, who are given temporary leave to remain when they arrive alone as children and find themselves in a prolonged legal battle as the clock strikes midnight on their 18th birthday, which usually ends in a detention centre and occasionally in deportation. These people, barely adults, are wrenched from the lives they have made since arriving alone in Britain and, undoubtedly terrified, are put on a charter flight back to their countries of origin. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found that 605 individuals over the past six years who arrived unaccompanied seeking asylum have been deported to Afghanistan on turning 18. The Home Office has given me the dubious assurance in the case of my constituent that his western upbringing will be of benefit to him in his new life in Afghanistan, but that is simply not the reality for many young people who return, fearing reprisals from the Taliban simply because they are known to have lived in the west.
The issue gained further prominence this week with the announcement in the other place that Syrian refugees aged 18 would be deported, which was retracted the following day by the Prime Minister. I would be grateful if the Minister could provide details of exactly how these children will not be deported on turning 18. For example, will they be granted indefinite leave to remain upon entering the country? The process for dealing with unaccompanied minors when they turn 18 seems at best ad hoc and often leaves young men and women in limbo for years, in and out of the detention system.
I hope the Minister will agree that the harm facing these 15,000 unaccompanied minors is a considerable cause for concern and that perhaps time might be granted for further debate and to review this specific issue in our asylum system. For now I implore the Government to listen carefully to the views and experiences of hon. Members and our constituents and to signal a direction of travel away from detention as an arm of the immigration system. Detention should be used as originally intended: a last resort used only in exceptional circumstances.
I apologise for coming late to the debate, after the first half hour, and missing the earlier contributions.
It is interesting that no one is defending the system overall, which is a significant breakthrough. I do not think we would have had this debate five or six years ago, but people have learned a lot of lessons. I have two detention centres in my constituency because I have Heathrow airport: Harmondsworth and Colnbrook. Thirty years ago as a local councillor, I used to visit Harmondsworth. Back then, it was a Nissen hut with no more than a dozen people in it. I now have two detention centres with a combined population of 1,000 detainees, and the system is absolutely brutal.
As I have Heathrow in my constituency, I am almost the last resort MP before deportation. My number is scrawled on the walls of the detention centres, and those detained contact my constituency office. My caseload is enormous. I do not know how my staff get through it, to be frank. It is so distressing, I wonder how they get through it emotionally as well. The pleas we receive are desperate, because of the system itself, not just the issue of deportation or removal; it is about how people have been treated up to that point. Often, someone will report as normal to the Home Office on a weekly or monthly basis and will get swept in, or it is as a result of a raid. Years ago in my constituency, we had dawn raids, with white vans and so on. They have gone now, but more raids are happening at workplaces now, so the white van system is returning. People are dragged traumatised into a detention centre. The paperwork is chaotic—we all know that—partly because of staff cuts in the department dealing with these cases. In addition, the access to legal assistance and advice is largely non-existent, except for the wonderful people providing volunteer services in the detention centres.
Those people do not know whether they will be there a week, a fortnight, a year or longer. The indefinite detention is the worst thing possible and it undermines individuals’ psychological wellbeing, because they do not know their future either way. That results in self-harming. I have had suicides in Harmondsworth. The case of the 83-year-old man who was handcuffed was from my detention centre in Harmondsworth. An 83-year-old man on his deathbed was put in chains and handcuffs. It was a scandal. I pay tribute to the monitoring board visiting the detention centres in my area. It monitors the system voluntarily, produces reports and exposes such scandals.
I accept all the recommendations from the all-party groups and commend the work they have done. Sarah Teather, who is no longer a Member, did fantastic work on this, both as a Minister and as a Back Bencher. I accept all the recommendations, but I want the detention centres closed. There are alternatives within the community, such as those my right hon. Friend Mr Smith raised. There must be a more civilised way of dealing with people. I used to visit children in Harmondsworth, and I raised the matter time and again with the then Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. I am pleased we no longer have children in the full detention centres, but we still detain children.
I give this warning: if the detention centres are not closed, there will be more self-harming and more suicides. Harmondsworth has been burned down twice as a result of rioting. The hunger strikes go on, as we speak, on a regular basis. The riots will come back. This is no way to treat our fellow human beings. We have to find another way. Yes, let us accept the recommendations today, but in the long run let us close these establishments, which have so significantly failed to respect the human rights of those detained.
I have worked with asylum seekers and refugees in Glasgow and the west of Scotland for many years. Some have ended up in Dungavel immigration removal centre and some in Yarl’s Wood. These individuals are the embodiment of the word vulnerable. They live in poor housing, are maintained with very little income and frequently have only a basic knowledge of the web of legislation and bureaucratic processes that determines whether they stay in the United Kingdom.
Many have children who attend local schools, while the lengthy process of deciding asylum claims is played out, but they frequently have a perseverance and bravery that would put the rest of us to shame. One source of strength is the network of support offered by local communities and charities when asylum seekers arrive in their area, and I would like to pay tribute to the work of three organisations in my city: Unity, the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees and St Rollox church in my constituency.
These people also establish networks among fellow asylum seekers housed in the same buildings and with parents at their children’s school. That entire network of support is removed at a stroke by detention, particularly in the case of those taken from Scotland to be detained in England, where there is a different legal system and absolutely no chance of retaining support networks because of the distance. Detention is costly and, I would argue strongly, an unnecessary step in the asylum process. If the Government are convinced that a case is without merit, and if all the available legal routes of appeal and tribunals have been explored, they have both the address of the asylum seeker and a venue where they regularly have to attend and report to the UK Border Agency. They therefore have ways to effect a removal without resorting to detention.
It is not easy for anyone to abscond and stay on the run for any length of time. It is a million times harder for someone from another country. Let us think about it. If I want to go on the run—I sometimes want to in this place—I will have friends and family right across these islands. The average asylum seeker has only those in their local community, and they are mostly other asylum seekers who also have next to nothing. That makes it far more difficult to go any further than their local area. How would they survive? I have money, things I could sell, I have family, I am allowed to work, and I have a credit card. The average asylum seeker has none of these things. Just surviving would take a momentous effort every minute of every day. Anyone who does that does it because they know that the alternative is far worse. And what about children? It is one thing for an adult to go on the run, but how on earth do they do that with children in tow? It is almost impossible. Those who do take that route are in a minority.
Detention is a costly burden to the state and a damaging experience for the immigrant, especially if they are particularly vulnerable. I visited Dungavel, Scotland’s only immigration removal centre, while a Member of the Scottish Parliament. I was there to visit a family who had asked for my help. These places are what I imagined prisons to be. I was questioned, I was fingerprinted, I was escorted by a uniformed person with a massive bunch of jailer’s keys. I felt nervous. I could barely concentrate on what the family were telling me, from looking out the window at the high walls and the barbed wire surrounding us. I could see the children staring wide-eyed, no doubt wondering what on earth they had done wrong to end up in there.
Of course, we no longer detain children, but that does not mean that we would not do so in future, so it is important to talk about it, in case it should come back. I want to talk about a nine-year-old boy I knew who spent months living in Yarl’s Wood with his mother. I watched this shy but happy little boy almost fade away. Physically, he lost 10 lb in the first three weeks; mentally, we scarred him for ever. “Mummy”, he whispered one day while in Yarl’s Wood. “I don’t want to be here any more. It would be better if we died. Please, mummy—please can we die?” I was very close to this little boy and in constant contact with his mum. This is not a made-up person to illustrate a point; those were his exact words. I will never forget them and nor should anyone in this place. And what of the women who have suffered sexual abuse in their countries of origin, as many Members have mentioned today, and then find themselves locked up with male warders? Can we imagine the terror that they experience?
If the Government are not swayed by the benefits to our fellow human beings, perhaps the knowledge about the effect of investing at the refusal stage, as countries such as Canada and Sweden do, should convince them. If they say today that they will not accept the recommendations of the report and not consider anything that those on the Opposition Benches have discussed, they should at least be honest and admit that detention is about political ideology. It is about warning new asylum seekers: “This is what could happen to you and your children, so stay away.” I hope they prove me wrong on that, I really do.
While I have been exceptionally moved by all the stories I have heard since I joined the debate from Committee, the story told by my hon. Friend Louise Haigh in particular highlighted some of the effects of detention suffered by young men. However, I want to focus very much on the detention of women.
As I said, I visited Yarl’s Wood detention centre in August, completely freely—I was allowed to go because I did not ask the Government whether I could go, but had arranged to visit residents with a refugee women’s organisation. I went to see an individual who had been detained there and then deported and who, when she returned, was detained there again. When I arrived, I was told that I was not allowed to see her because she had been released—which I was utterly delighted by, to be perfectly honest. I then made a request to visit another inmate. When I was talking to her, I found out a few startling things about the place and about her case.
The woman had been there for four months—long beyond any 28-day period. She had come from Nigeria, seeking asylum due to her sexuality—she told me a horrific story, which does not bear repeating, about why she had to come here. When she arrived, brought here by somebody she trusted, she was kept in a cellar in London for two years and repeatedly raped by men who had paid to have sex with her. This woman is a victim of human trafficking. As somebody with some expertise in this field, I asked her why she had not qualified for the national referral mechanism for human trafficking, which would certainly not have detained her, but given her a 60-day reflection period, along with benefits and support. She said that two inconsistencies in her story meant that she was not believed to be a victim of trafficking and, because she had known the person who brought her here, she had not qualified.
I have met lots of victims in my life, many from this country. Let us imagine having to give evidence—to tell the same story over and over again—in a language other than our mother tongue. Things are going to get confused; and maybe, in a room in Solihull or Croydon, people do not want to talk to the man behind the desk about how they were ritually raped. It was easy for me to do a basic risk assessment for this woman and find that she was a victim of a horrific crime. I am delighted to say that the next day she was released from Yarl’s Wood. I am no conspiracy theorist, but it seems a bit suspicious that every person I have been to see has been released, so I plan on visiting every woman in Yarl’s Wood over the next few weeks.
I am on quite a lot of Committees, I have two small kids and I do not live anywhere near Bedford, but I will give it a go: I will shut the place by stealth if that is what it takes.
What I saw when I visited Yarl’s Wood was not some horrific sort of gulag; there was a visitors centre on the front of what was clearly a prison, on a really weird and eerie estate, and the staff were all completely lovely. It was more than reasonable of them to let me see another person who I had not been down to visit. I did not see any horrors, but given the stories that the women told me, and because I am trained and have an understanding of what it is like for women who have suffered terrible crimes against their person, I can totally understand why they find detention so difficult.
If the detention system has to continue, there is an absolute need to ensure a gender-specific service, exactly as we would commission gender-specific services in our local authorities. No local authority commissioning framework would ever allow a women’s refuge to be run completely by men. We have to stop detaining women who have been victims of brutal and enduring sexual violence without even offering them proper counselling or any support while they are there. None of these women seems to have had anyone talk to them about these problems.
Furthermore, we have to make sure that 28 days actually means 28 days and that the very first questions asked by those processing any women are what has brought them to this country and whether they have been trafficked. We should be using the very good systems put in place by the Government in the national referral mechanism—although they are good only if they are used. In my opinion, Yarl’s Wood should be closed immediately, because the detention system as it stands is not fit for women.
I am pleased that we are having a debate on this important issue. The current refugee crisis in Europe makes the debate on immigration detention particularly relevant, as the majority of people in detention centres are those who have sought asylum in the UK. I hope that the events in Europe and the Mediterranean this week result in wider changes in the UK’s policies towards refugees and asylum seekers.
As many in the Chamber will be aware, the UK has one of the largest immigration detention systems in Europe, with between 2,500 and 3,000 people locked up at any one time. Although most are detained for less than a month, the Migration Observatory, based in the University of Oxford, has found that around 6% of detainees are held for more than six months and 1% for more than a year. Guidance states that people should be detained pending removal only when their exit from the country is imminent, but the reality is that many people are locked up for weeks or months before these arrangements are made. Detaining people for longer than needed is a waste of resources and can only be traumatic for those detained.
In 2013, two thirds of asylum-seeking women leaving Yarl’s Wood were released to continue their claims in the community, leaving serious questions about why they were detained in the first place. Is locking up a woman who has fled persecution really appropriate? There are also specific issues facing women. The charity Refugee Women has found that most of the women detained after seeking asylum are survivors of rape, sexual violence and abuse. For those women, detention adds to the trauma they experienced in their home countries. This is made worse by the conditions in detention centres such as Yarl’s Wood, where male members of staff have been reported to supervise women in intimate situations. As we can well imagine, these conditions can have a very negative effect on an individual’s mental health.
That is why we need specific guidelines that protect women in immigration detention systems. For example, we need to make sure that survivors of rape and pregnant women are not detained. We must also remember that there are alternatives to detention, which result in high levels of compliance, as well as high rates of voluntary returns back to the country of origin. Clearly, there are cases where detention would be appropriate, but it has to be as a last resort.
The joint inquiry by the all-party parliamentary groups on refugees and on migration hit the nail on the head when it said that we need a “wholesale change in culture” around immigration detention. I believe that such a cultural change is long overdue. I hope that this debate will help to start it.
I thank my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield for his important work in this area. I sense that there will be a change as a result of this debate, which is really exciting.
I agree with Mr Burrowes that immigration is traditionally a minority policy interest, but it is wonderful to see how many people have attended and participated in today’s debate. That, too, is very exciting. I also support his suggestion that a working group should be established to look at some important questions, which could actually save the Home Office money. These would include looking at the statutory limitations; looking at community-based supervised alternatives; reflecting on policy on access to legal advice for immigration detainees; ensuring that there is a presumption against the use of immigration detention; assessing the impact of the removal of section 4(1)(c) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which deals with bail addresses; and examining the section 55 duty in relation to decisions to detain parents, separating them from their children.
I shall be brief, because I know you are keen to wrap up the debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. On the separation of families, a series of reports have been undertaken on how the separation of parents from their children leads to long-term problems, which often have to be dealt with later, at a cost to local authority budgets and so forth. For example, a recent report, “Fractured Childhoods: The separation of families by immigration detention”, found that of 200 children separated from 111 parents, 85 were in foster or local authority care during their parents’ detention. I know that that is not only detrimental to the children’s welfare, but amounts to a significant cost to the public purse. Furthermore, parents were detained for an average of 270 days, which seems excessive. Children described the extreme distress they experienced: losing weight, having nightmares, suffering from insomnia, crying frequently and becoming deeply unhappy. In 92 out of 111 cases, parents were eventually released—with detention having served no purpose. In the light of the issues brought up in the debate, it is clear that there is so much that we could be doing.
I am disappointed that I have not yet been able to visit Yarl’s Wood. Perhaps I should not have asked permission. I should have just gone in, like my hon. Friend Jess Phillips. A constituent came to see me at my advice surgery on Friday. I am not sure whether data protection applies, but he was detained up to August; perhaps we can compare notes and establish whether my hon. Friend had anything to do with his release! The sense of despair that comes from the deprivation of liberty was evident. We believe that we should try to make a strong case to overcome that.
Finally, for the benefit of curious MPs, if the Minister thought that there was some sort of conspiracy in Members of Parliament wishing to visit Yarl’s Wood, it is worth recalling that Henry Smith said that he had visited social care places when he was a member of a local authority. I am a huge believer in elected members across the piece—whether it be at regional, local or national level—visiting children’s centres, care homes, schools, workplaces and so forth. It is crucial, for example, that Members who do not have a formal role on the Front Benches know what is going on. When it comes to Feltham or other places, visits by elected Members are important, as special provision can be made for our visits.
Does the hon. Lady agree with the point I raised earlier—that the Border Agency must start to work better with elected Members of the devolved Administrations and allow them to represent constituents in the same way that she and I can represent them?
Of course. An earlier contribution highlighted the crucial work of volunteer visitors. As elected Members, we have a special duty—a “conscience of the nation” approach—in maintaining that visiting. It is particularly important in the summer, when MPs are sometimes accused of having too long a summer holiday, for MPs to fill up their time with helpful visits to these sorts of places.
In conclusion, I reiterate the importance of the potential working group. Colleagues have said how it might work. It is important for it to examine the questions I mentioned earlier. I thank the Minister, in advance of his summing up, for this morning’s letter to me, advising that I could have a meeting with the Minister for Community and Social Care, Alistair Burt. I understand that Yarl’s Wood is in his constituency patch. Who knows, he might invite me to visit the centre some time to have a cup of tea together.
I am pleased to speak in this incredible debate, and to thank my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield and the hon. Members for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and for Bedford (Richard Fuller) for securing it. I thank members of the all-party groups on refugees and on migration for their joint inquiry, and I want to acknowledge the work of Sarah Teather in bringing this about.
This report has rightly been welcomed as a powerful intervention in the debate on the reform of our detention system. We have heard excellent contributions from, I think, 25 hon. Members today—contributions from my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central; the hon. Members for Enfield, Southgate and for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald);
The issue unites not just the House, as is clear from the debate, but the country, demonstrating the powerful and overwhelming case for reform of a system that is not fit for purpose. Members have raised a range of issues—on time limits; the detention of the wrong people; the unnecessary deprivation of liberty; the experience of women, often victims of sexual abuse or human trafficking, in detention; the need for gender-specific processes; poor case management; access to justice and legal advice; access to health services; the desperate issue of self-harm and suicide; mental health issues caused by, as well as worsened by, detention; family separation and accompanied minors; the long-term impacts on the well-being of children; the training of staff; and the desperate need to look at alternatives to detention.
We in the Labour party have repeatedly called for a review and reform of immigration detention policy. The current system is failing people who are scarred by a system where report after report shows detention being used disproportionately and for far too long. In fact, Home Office statistics for the first quarter of this year alone show 3,483 people held in immigration removal centres. Two thirds of them have been held for over 28 days. Of those, 488 had been detained for more than six months, 153 had been detained for more than a year, 25 had been detained for more than two years and one individual had been detained for more than four years. Not only is that expensive, but indefinite detention has been shown to have a highly negative impact on mental health and well-being. Will the Minister give the House more information on the reasons for such long detention times? What are the reasons for 488 people being held for more than six months? What countries are they from? What on earth could be the cause of someone being in detention for more than four years? What steps has the Minister taken to reduce that time?
Shockingly, between 2011 and 2014 the Government paid out nearly £15 million in compensation following claims for unlawful detention. The cost of failure is plain to see. What steps has the Minister taken to reduce that bill? What analysis has he undertaken of the root cause of these errors? The need for reform is clear, in order to achieve not just administrative excellence, with greater efficiency for the taxpayer, but a more proportionate use of detention in line with the principles of fairness and justice, with detention only as a last call, not a first call, as it has become.
I want to focus my remarks on three main areas: the need to end detention without limit; the reform so desperately needed for women detainees; and the need for us to rethink afresh about alternatives to detention. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central and the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate, along with many others, spoke eloquently and passionately about the need for time limits. The UK is one of only a few countries in Europe not to have a statutory time limit, and we are out of sync even with Taiwan, Georgia and the United States, to name but a few. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees detention guidelines outline the need for statutory time limits. In May, the Home Secretary indicated that the length of detention is being considered by Home Office officials as part of a broader review of immigration detention. It is four months since then, so will the Minister update us on the progress of those discussions, on whether that is part of Stephen Shaw’s review and on when that review is expected to report? With broad support from both inside and outside the House for limited detention times, including from Nick Hardwick, Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons, and with so many calling for an end to indefinite detention, surely it is time to move forward. That point is made even more poignant with the extensive humanitarian crisis we are facing.
In August, we also saw another devastating report on Yarl’s Wood by Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons, and the experience of so many women in detention remains shocking: a third of detainees were transported to the centre overnight; the reception process took too long; detainees did not receive an adequate induction; even with the knowledge that the risk of self-harm is high, safeguarding procedures are underdeveloped; women on suicide watch report being observed by male guards, even in intimate situations; and detainees report feeling unsafe and being subject to sexually inappropriate comments from staff. Those experiences would be harrowing for anyone, but we must recall that a high proportion of women asylum seekers have also reported previous experience of domestic or sexual abuse, and they will be particularly vulnerable. Nearly half of those who go to Yarl’s Wood report saying that they feel suicidal on arrival. Yarl’s Wood is an embarrassment and we need to look at closure.
As has been mentioned today, nearly 100 pregnant women were detained last year, yet 90%—I repeat, 90%—of them were released. When 12 cases were examined, it was found that eight of these women should not have been detained or they should have been released earlier. A response to a written question about women detainees over the past three years showed that 834 out of more than 1,600 detained were released. Why were so many just released back into the community and not sent abroad?
I thank organisations such as Detention Action and Women for Refugee Women, which are represented here today, for the extraordinary work they do in raising the needs and the voices of those they support. In December last year, the shadow Home Secretary called for the prohibition of the detention of pregnant women and of individuals who have been trafficked or tortured or who have suffered sexual abuse. That proposal was also in Labour’s manifesto. It beggars belief that in the face of so much evidence the Government have still sat on their hands. It is also disappointing that the UN special rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, who published her report on the UK in June, was denied access to Yarl’s Wood; the Home Office has another chance here, and I hope the Minister will take that much-needed step and make a positive announcement today.
Finally, I wish to say a few words about alternatives to detention, as the report we are debating has laid out clear arguments for reviewing those. The UK has a long way to go to identify alternatives that are more cost-efficient and, in many cases, more effective. There is growing evidence from other countries, including Sweden and Australia, as to the benefits of stronger community- based approaches which allow for individualised case management, better access to legal advice and far less of a negative impact on well-being. Research has also shown that individuals who believe that they have been through a fair refugee status or visa determination process are more likely to accept and comply with a negative outcome. Will the Minister therefore update the House on the steps he may now be considering and how he plans to develop effective alternatives that go beyond a requirement to report or electronic monitoring?
We welcome this report and its findings, and thank those who have taken part. We also welcome the challenge it has laid out on the wholesale need for reform. More people who are detained are subsequently released than return to their country of origin. We now have an opportunity to do the right thing, at a time when we know that there will be no expansion of the estate but that demand is increasing. It is not just humane but vital that we see a culture change in our system and a change in the use of immigration detention so that it is a measure of last resort, not first resort. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I congratulate Paul Blomfield, and my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and for Bedford (Richard Fuller) on securing today’s debate on the report of the joint inquiry by the all-party group on refugees and the all-party group on migration into the use of immigration detention in the UK. I am aware that all three of them, as well as others who have contributed to this debate, were part of the panel that produced this report, and I thank them and their fellow panel members for their work. The report raises interesting points on an extremely important issue, which we have examined and continue to examine carefully. Like other right hon. and hon. Members, I also want to place on the record my thanks to Sarah Teather, who chaired the panel and did some extremely important work. This was certainly a topic on which she was very impassioned, and remains so to this day.
This debate has highlighted the fact that immigration detention remains an important and emotive subject. Depriving an individual of their liberty is one of the most serious acts a state can take. The decision to detain should never be taken lightly and, once the decision has been taken, it is incumbent on the state to take proper steps to safeguard the health and welfare of those in detention. I always stress that those detained should be shown respect and dignity. This has certainly been an area of particular focus for me since I became the Minister for Immigration last year. I have visited a number of immigration removal centres; indeed my first visit this Parliament was to Yarl’s Wood, and last week I was over at Heathrow seeing the two immigration centres there. The issue will command a continuing focus, on the part of not only the House, but Home Office Ministers.
The Home Office uses immigration powers of detention to prevent unauthorised entry to the UK or to effect the removal from the UK of people who have no right to be here. A lot of the debate has highlighted asylum, but IRCs deal with many broader matters, including foreign national offenders and cases where people have overstayed and are abusing their right to be in this country. It is therefore a complex picture, but it is important that we discuss these points in the way we all have during today’s debate.
I have a limited time to cover quite a lot of points. My normal approach would be to take lots of interventions, but I would like to make a number of points in response to those raised, if hon. Members would allow me.
It is very important that we are able to remove people who have no right to remain in the UK and those who have abused our hospitality by committing crimes. We would always prefer those with no right to be here to leave of their own volition, and a number of mechanisms in the Immigration Acts and the forthcoming immigration Bill are designed to promote that, but unfortunately it does not always happen. When individuals refuse to leave voluntarily, we must be able to enforce their removal. That may well require a period of detention, which we aim to keep as short as possible.
We need to be clear about the fact that detention is not only a necessary tool to support the removal from the United Kingdom of foreign criminals, which I am sure Members in all parts of the House would endorse, but equally important in managing non-compliance by people who are here without lawful basis of stay.
As a number of Members have mentioned, the report’s principal recommendation is that immigration detention should be subject to a statutory time limit of 28 days. I should explain that it is not possible to detain under immigration powers indefinitely, although some have sought to suggest otherwise. Indefinite detention is unlawful. To be lawful, detention must be based on one of the statutory powers in the Immigration Acts, and must accord with the limits set out in case law from both the domestic courts and the European Court of Human Rights. There must be a reasonable prospect of removal within a reasonable time frame, and the Home Office must continue to show how a case is being progressed to removal if detention is to be maintained.
Our published policy makes clear that there is a presumption in favour of liberty and that detention should be used only as a last resort, but there will be some cases in which longer periods of detention may be appropriate. Seema Malhotra asked me about that. “A reasonable prospect of removal within a reasonable time frame” is a highly case-specific consideration. A reasonable time frame may be longer, for example, for a person with a history of non-compliance with immigration conditions than for a more compliant individual. Criminality and public protection concerns will also play heavily into the consideration of the length of the reasonable time frame. There are some very difficult cases involving foreign-national offenders who may be seeking to frustrate their removal. No doubt we will return to the issue of how that can be managed, in the context of, for instance, the use of electronic tagging, and I look forward to those future debates.
I am sure Members agree that it would be totally unacceptable to reward foreign criminals and illegitimate migrants who refuse to comply with immigration law by requiring their release, even when removal was imminent, simply because a blanket time limit had been reached. Members may recall that an amendment to introduce a statutory limit of 60 days was proposed in another place during the Report stage of the Immigration Bill last year, and was rejected by a majority of over 300. The rejected time limit was significantly more than the 28-day limit proposed in this report. In the light of that earlier clear vote, the Government do not currently propose to return to legislate on the issue, but we will keep it under review.
The report recommends that more use should be made of alternatives to detention in the UK, and I entirely agree with that recommendation. Our published policy already reflects the view that detention should be used only as a last resort, and that alternatives should be considered whenever possible. I am considering carefully what further steps may be taken in that regard.
Concerns have been raised that we do not deport or remove people quickly enough, and that they may therefore spend longer in detention. Concerns have also been raised about the number of people who are released from detention rather than being removed from the UK. We are keen to ensure that deportation or removal takes place promptly. We streamlined immigration and appeal processes in the Immigration Act 2014 to support that, and we are considering what further steps can be taken.
People may be released from detention for a wide variety of reasons. For example, their circumstances may have changed in a way that makes detention inappropriate, they may have been granted bail, or their removal may have been prevented or delayed by unexpected obstacles such as the securing of travel documents or the lodging of late legal challenges. It does not follow automatically from a release that the original decision to detain was wrong.
However, there is more that we can do in this area. Work is in hand to examine the purpose, operation and size of the detention estate. As part of that work, we will be looking at the issues of gatekeeping for entry to detention and the review of detention, once authorised, to see how those important functions might be enhanced. We will certainly reflect on the points that have been made about caseworking. I take this very seriously, because I want to ensure that the use of detention is appropriate and is applied in the right manner.
Part 2 of the report focuses on the physical conditions of detention, including the standard of accommodation provided in immigration removal centres and healthcare representation. It is common ground that when we do detain, it is vitally important for individuals to be held in humane but secure accommodation, and for us to ensure that their welfare is safeguarded at all times. Obviously, we have an overview from Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons, and I meet representatives of the independent monitoring boards that operate in immigration removal centres, whose reports I take extremely seriously.
Following the publication of the report, we asked Stephen Shaw, who was conducting an independent analysis of welfare in IRCs, to look specifically at part 2 as part of his review. We have not yet received Mr Shaw’s report and had an opportunity to consider it fully, and it would not be appropriate for me to speculate on its findings, but I assure the House that we will be considering it very carefully indeed. It is a serious piece of work, and we will give its response serious consideration.
I am conscious that I am nearing the end of the 10 minutes that Front Benchers are customarily allowed. I apologise again to Members for that fact that I may not have been able to respond to every single point. I thank the members of the all-party parliamentary groups for their work in putting the report together, and I thank the Members who secured today’s debate. I take this issue extraordinarily seriously, and the Home Secretary does as well. That is why we commissioned Stephen Shaw’s report, and, once it has been concluded, we will update the House accordingly.
On behalf of the hon. Members for Bedford (Richard Fuller) and for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and my own behalf I thank all the Members who have contributed to the debate. I am delighted to say that there were too many speakers for me to mention individually. All the speeches were characterised by powerful stories and strong arguments. Stuart C. McDonald is right: we have stumbled into this situation under the auspices of successive Governments, and we all have a responsibility to resolve the position and sort it out.
We have heard from 25 speakers representing four parties on both sides of the House, and there has not been a dissenting voice on our central recommendation.
Does my hon. Friend share my disappointment that, although the Minister referred to Stephen Shaw’s report, we still do not know when it is going to be published, and we do not know what consultation will take place with medical experts and organisations representing people whose mental health is suffering in detention about the consequent conclusions of the Home Office?
Yes I do, and I am also concerned about the fact that the remit of the report is too narrowly drawn.
Our central recommendation is for a statutory limit on immigration detention. The cultural change that that will produce—an end to the presumption to detain, and the development of community-based alternatives—will restore humanity and justice to the system, and it will be more efficient and effective.
I hope that the Government will take account of the debate. The Minister set out the Home Office’s policy and, indeed, the law on indefinite detention. The problem is that the reality does not match it, and I hope that he will acknowledge the need for change.
Let me end by joining others in thanking Sarah Teather for her work. I also thank all the detainees who gave evidence to us, many of whom have watched the debate today. I hope that they will see the difference that their contribution has made, and I commend the motion to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House supports the recommendations of the report of the Joint Inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration, The Use of Immigration Detention in the United Kingdom; has considered the case for reform of immigration detention; and calls on the Government to respond positively to those recommendations.