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.