Backbench Business — Immigration Detention

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 11:28 am on 10th September 2015.

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Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central 11:28 am, 10th September 2015

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.