Backbench Business — Immigration Detention

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 1:50 pm on 10th September 2015.

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Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Labour, Hornsey and Wood Green 1:50 pm, 10th September 2015

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.