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.