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.