With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a statement on immigration detention. As the House knows, our immigration system is made up of many different and interconnected parts. Immigration detention is an important part of that system, and it encourages compliance with our immigration rules, protects the public from the consequences of illegal migration and ensures that people who are here illegally, or who are foreign criminals, can be removed from this country when all else fails.
Detention is not a decision that is taken lightly. When we make the decision to detain someone, their welfare is an absolute priority. The Windrush revelations have shown that our immigration system, as a whole, is not perfect, that there are some elements that need much closer attention and that there are lessons we must learn.
That is why I welcome Stephen Shaw’s second independent review of immigration detention, commissioned by this Government and which I am laying before the House today. Copies are available from the Vote Office and on gov.uk. I am grateful to Mr Shaw for his comprehensive and thoughtful report, which recognises the progress this Government have made in reforming immigration detention since his last report in 2016 but challenges us to go even further.
As the review notes, we have made significant changes to detention in the UK in recent years. Over the past three years, we have reduced the number of places in removal centres by a quarter. We detained 8% fewer people last year than the year before. Last year, 64% of those detained left detention within a month, and 91% left within four months. And 95% of people liable for removal at any one time are not in detention at all but are carefully risk assessed and managed in the community instead.
In his report, Stephen Shaw commends the “energetic way” in which his 2016 recommendations have been taken forward. He notes that conditions across immigration removal centres have “improved” since his last review three years ago. We now have in place the adults at risk in immigration detention policy to identify vulnerable adults more effectively and make better balanced decisions about the appropriateness of their detention. We have also strengthened the checks and balances in the system, setting up a team of special detention gatekeepers to ensure decisions to detain are reviewed. We have also created panels to challenge the progress on detainees’ cases and their continuing detention. We have taken steps to improve mental health care in immigration removal centres, and we have also changed the rules on bail hearings. Anyone can apply for bail at any time during detention. In January, we further changed the rules, so that detainees are also automatically referred for a bail hearing once they have been detained for four months. All of that is good work. However, I agree with Stephen Shaw that these reforms are still bedding in, and that there have been cases and processes we have not always got right. Now I want to pick up the pace of reform and commit today to four priorities going forward.
First, let me be absolutely clear that the Government’s starting point, as always, is that immigration detention is only for those for whom we are confident that no other approaches will work. Encouraging and supporting people to leave voluntarily is of course preferable. I have asked the Home Office to do more to explore alternatives to detention with faith groups, with non-governmental organisations and within communities. As a first step, I can announce today that we intend to pilot a scheme to manage vulnerable women in the community who would otherwise be detained at Yarl’s Wood. My officials have been working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to develop this pilot, which will mean that, rather than receiving support and care in an immigration removal centre, the women will get a programme of support and care in the community instead.
Secondly, the Shaw review recommends how this Government can improve the support available for vulnerable detainees. Mr Shaw describes the adults-at-risk policy as “a work in progress”. We will continue that progress, ensuring that the most vulnerable and complex cases get the attention they need. We will look again at how we can improve the consideration of rule 35 reports on possible cases of torture, while avoiding abuse of these processes. We will also pilot an additional bail referral at the two-month point, halving the time in detention before a first bail referral. We will also look at staff training and support to make sure that the people working in our immigration system are well equipped to work with vulnerable detainees, and we will increase the number of Home Office staff in immigration removal centres.
Thirdly, in his report, Stephen Shaw also rightly focuses on the need for greater transparency around immigration detention. I will publish more data on immigration detention, and I am commissioning the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration to report each year on whether and how the adults-at-risk policy is making a difference.
Fourthly, and finally, I also want to see a new drive on dignity in detention. I want to see an improvement to the basic provision available to detainees. The practice in some immigration removal centres of having three detainees in rooms designed for two will stop immediately. I have also commissioned an urgent action plan for modernising toilet facilities. We will also pilot the use of Skype so that detainees can contact their families overseas more easily.
I am aware of the arguments that are made on time limits for immigration detention. However, as Mr Shaw’s review finds, the debate on this issue currently rests more on slogans than on evidence. That is why I have asked my officials to review how time limits work in other countries and how they relate to any other protections within their detention systems, so we can all have a better-informed debate and ensure our detention policy is based on not only what works to tackle illegal migration, but what is humane for those who are detained. Once this review is complete, I will further consider the issue of time limits on immigration detention.
The Shaw review confirms that we are on the right track with our reforms of immigration detention and that we should maintain a steady course, but Stephen Shaw also identifies areas where we could and should do better. So my goal is to ensure that our immigration system, including our approach to immigration detention, is fair and humane. This is what the public rightly expect from us. They want rules that are firmly enforced, but in a way that treats people with the dignity they deserve. The changes I have announced today will help to make sure that that is the case, and I commend this statement to the House.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving me prior sight of his statement. In a way, it is telling that we are having this statement as the last one of this parliamentary Session. Some may be concerned it will not get the attention it deserves, but, in a way, that is symptomatic. Immigration detention and the conditions in immigration detention have always existed in the shadows, without sufficient scrutiny, but that lack of scrutiny has been partly addressed by the Shaw review.
I have the slight advantage over Home Office Ministers on the question of immigration detention because I was an MP in the 1990s, when immigration detention, as we know it, was introduced. One thing Ministers insisted was that immigration detention was always meant to be for short periods prior to removal, but the system Stephen Shaw had to look at in 2016 had morphed into something much more disturbing and inappropriate.
The Home Secretary will be aware that the first Shaw review said:
“Immigration detention has increased, is increasing, and—whether by better screening, more effective reviews, or formal time limit—it ought to be reduced.”
Is the Home Secretary aware that some people will believe that the fact we have managed to reduce the number of people in immigration detention by only 8% since the first Shaw review is not satisfactory? We need to move to a position where people are assured that only the minimum number of persons are detained in this way and only for the minimum time. This Home Secretary needs to be aware that that is what MPs were promised in the 1990s and that is what the Government should be moving towards.
However, I welcome the look at alternatives to detention for vulnerable women who might otherwise be held in Yarl’s Wood. Is the Home Secretary aware of how desperate these women are? I visited Yarl’s Wood earlier this year—it took a year for me to be allowed in—and I was shocked at how desperate and unhappy these women were. Some of them were victims of trafficking and of sexual abuse, and should never have been in Yarl’s Wood in the first place. So I welcome our looking at alternatives, working with faith groups and the community, through care in the community. Is the Home Secretary aware that Yarl’s Wood currently costs £10 million a year? That money would be better spent on giving support to our anti-trafficking strategy and on action to help these vulnerable women. Is he aware of the concern about vulnerable detainees? In particular, Stephen Shaw said in his first review that detention is linked to poor mental health outcomes. So this is not just a question of humanity in the way we treat detainees; we need care for their mental health.
I welcome what the Home Secretary said about more data. As I said at the beginning, I deprecate the extent to which immigration detention and its conditions have lain in the shadows. I welcome what he said about dignity in detention. I found the women in Yarl’s Wood living in very sad and very undignified conditions; their rooms had been searched by men in the middle of the night, and there was inadequate healthcare. We also need to address this question of the feeling that they were detained indefinitely. Whenever it is put to Ministers that this system constitutes indefinite detention, they say, “No, of course not.” But someone in prison has a date for release, whereas these people in detention centres do not know when they are going to be released. I am glad that there will be some examination of the question of time limits, because the notion of indefinite detention is one of the things about our current immigration detention system that is the hardest to defend.
The Opposition understand that some type of immigration detention must form part of our immigration system, but we believe that the sooner immigration detention moves back to the system that Members of Parliament were promised in the 1990s, the sooner we are talking about short-term detention, the sooner there is more care for people’s mental health, the sooner there is more care for people’s dignity and, above all, the sooner women are taken out of Yarl’s Wood, it will be a better day—not just for the detainees but for this Government and for the British people and our reputation for fairness and humanity.
I thank the right hon. Lady for her remarks. She has been very thoughtful and constructive and has welcomed some of the initiatives that I announced today, which I hope to build on further. As always, I would be happy to sit down with her to discuss further some of the announcements that I made today, because she can add to what we plan to do. I assure her that, although we are about to start the summer recess, the work of the Home Office and all the work that I talked about in my statement continues. I want to make sure that, when we are all back in Parliament, we can properly probe further the report and some of the announcements I made today, whether that is through Select Committees or otherwise.
The right hon. Lady was right to talk about the problems with immigration detention over a number of years. I think she would be the first to agree that there have been problems for many years under successive Governments. In preparation for delivering this statement, I looked back at a 2009 Home Affairs Committee report, which talked about many similar problems. More than 1,000 children were in detention that year. The right hon. Lady referred to Yarl’s Wood; that report said that
“Yarl’s Wood remains essentially a prison.”
That was in 2009. I hope that she agrees that, with the work that has been done, particularly Stephen Shaw’s two independent reviews, changes are beginning to be made. I am the first to accept, though, that more needs to be done. That is the purpose of the most recent report and the action that I have announced today.
That action includes making improvements across the board, including in the number of people detained, which I would like to see fall further. The right hon. Lady rightly pointed out that the number has fallen by 8% year to year. The number of places available for detention has been cut by a quarter. Whether they are women or not, we should be working to get even more people looked after in the community. At the moment, around 95% of people who could have been detained are not, but I would like to see that percentage go up even more, because 5% being detained is too high.
On Yarl’s Wood, we will be piloting the alternative to detention. It is worth pointing out that women make up a much smaller proportion of the total number of people in detention. That proportion is currently around 9%, which is around 260 women, but I would like to see that come down much more. As I mentioned in my statement, we will focus on the vulnerable cases. Despite the actions that have already been taken, I welcome Mr Shaw’s scrutiny, and we should do more there, too.
On the whole issue of dignity—everything from contact with families to toilet facilities—there are so many ways in which we can make improvements. I recently visited a detention centre and heard that there are still some cases—very limited cases—in which the detention room was designed for two but three people were being kept in it. I thought that that should end immediately, and that is what I announced today. We can continue to build on things such as that.
Finally, the right hon. Lady referred to detention time limits. It is worth pointing out that 95% are not detained and, of the 5% who are detained, 64% are detained for only two months. Otherwise, 91% have left the detention centre within four months. That said, there has been a debate and there are clearly limits on detention in many other countries, including many European countries. Those countries have different checks and balances from the ones we have, but it is worth giving the matter a closer look. I am sure that the right hon. Lady would agree that we should all focus on the evidence available to see what changes can be made. The review that I have commissioned my Department to do will help to bring about more evidence. As I said, I very much welcome her comments.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his predecessors on their leadership on the difficult issue of getting progress in a humane and decent direction, which has undoubtedly happened. There can be no more eloquent testimony than the fact that the shadow Home Secretary, Ms Abbott, who has worked assiduously in this policy area for all her time in Parliament and can be seen as something of an authority on it, has in effect welcomed the direction of travel and much of my right hon. Friend’s statement. This is a good day for an improved detention system in the United Kingdom.
I very much agree with my hon. Friend and thank him for the attention that he has given to this issue over several years. I join him in commending the work of Ms Abbott and the focus that she has provided on this very important issue.
I thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of his statement. However, I think you would agree, Mr Speaker, that it is totally unacceptable, even if entirely predictable, that the Government waited until the final few hours of the parliamentary term to release the new Shaw report and their response to it. I want to welcome some of what the Secretary of State has laid out in the report and in his statement, but I think we would all agree that immigration detention is a fundamental question of human rights, liberty and the rule of law, and it is outrageous that the Government are running away from scrutiny on this issue. Will the Secretary of State ensure that a full debate on the issue is scheduled for the first week back after recess?
As Scottish National party MPs have said in this Chamber time and again, the large-scale and routine detention of tens of thousands of people in large-scale private prisons, simply for the Home Office’s administrative convenience, is an affront to the rule of law and a stain on this democracy. In the light of the second Shaw report, will the Secretary of State accept that the time for tinkering is over and that we need radical reform of detention policy? Will he commit to a programme of closure of large-scale detention facilities and to ensuring that detention is a matter of last resort, rather than routine, with a goal of drastically cutting the numbers held in such facilities? I hear what he has said today, but I urge him to implement a time limit on detention similar to what we see in other EU countries. If he will not, will he allow the House to vote on the issue?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman’s remarks, but say gently that he was a little ungenerous to start by suggesting that the Government have waited until the last day before the recess. We have not been in possession of the report for long and it takes a few days for us to respond to it properly and to come forward with progress on it, so I ask him to reflect on that and approach this issue in a more constructive spirit if he really does want to help, rather than trying to score cheap political points.
The hon. Gentleman asked about an opportunity to debate the issue; I think that would be good and will raise it with the Leader of the House. The work of Select Committees and others will be very welcome scrutiny. He mentioned the size of the detention estate; I hope he welcomes the fact that the total number of available places, rather than of individual detention centres, is falling. As I said, the number of places has fallen by a quarter in the past year, which shows the direction of travel. I do want to see fewer people being detained. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that detention is a last resort. The default for immigration enforcement policy is not to detain. If someone is detained, it must be a last resort.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, particularly the various pilot projects and especially the management of vulnerable women in the community rather than at Yarl’s Wood. Will the Home Secretary explain how that will work in practice and how many women we are talking about?
The total number of women currently in detention in Yarl’s Wood is roughly 260, which as I said earlier is around 9% of the total of number of people currently in detention. We will be working on the pilot project with the UNHCR and possibly with a non-governmental organisation. Those organisations will lead the design of the pilot, but its aim will be, in cases in which the individual may ordinarily have gone to Yarl’s Wood, to work with them on a plan instead, with a contract to which they agree, and for them to be settled in the community and therefore kept out of detention centres.
I welcome the measures that the Home Secretary has announced today and look forward to scrutinising them in our ongoing immigration detention inquiry. I should say to him that we have heard some quite shocking evidence in that inquiry, including recognised torture victims still being locked up for many months. There is repeated evidence that the indefinite nature of detention is not only traumatising for those who are being held, but means that there is no pressure on the Home Office and immigration system to make the swift decisions that we need, so I join the shadow Home Secretary in urging him, as speedily as possible, to bring an end to indefinite detention.
I look forward to the Select Committee’s scrutiny. The right hon. Lady is right to point out that, sadly, some vulnerable people will have been victims of torture. Where those claims are made, they should all be properly looked at, which is why I said in my statement that I want to look again at how rule 35 works, so that when people make those claims, they are properly and thoroughly assessed and taken seriously. On time limits and detention, I hope that she welcomes what I have said about doing more work and about having a proper review. I also want to reassure her that challenges have been built into the system. For example, independent panels will challenge whether someone still needs to be detained, and there are gatekeepers when someone arrives at the detention centre. We have learned from the Windrush cases that those systems have not always worked, so there will be more lessons to learn, and I look forward to working with her on those issues.
I am a former member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and we were given access to two of the case files of the Windrush generation who appear to have been illegally detained. I very much welcome the Home Secretary’s response to the Shaw report today. Will he confirm that he is putting in place systems to ensure that no one is detained against the evidence?
I know very well the two cases to which my hon. Friend refers. As we are still working on Windrush cases, there may well be further cases, sadly, from which we will need to learn lessons as well. I can give my hon. Friend confidence that we are doing everything we can to make changes to ensure that the evidence is followed. For example, I have announced a change today to pilot an automatic bail process of two months, rather than waiting for four months. We need to learn more from the Windrush cases, which is why the lessons learned review will be important, and I am sure that it will show us what more we can do to improve detention.
I thank the Home Secretary for his statement. He mentioned the role of detention gatekeepers, but will he look at how screening can be made more proactive and less dependent simply on information that the Home Office already holds so that those detention decisions are made with the fullest possible information and at the very earliest stage of the process?
The hon. Lady makes a very good point. Following the question asked by my hon. Friend Alex Burghart, I referred to two reasonably well known cases from Windrush of two individuals who were unlawfully detained. Those cases showed that a number of lessons needed to be learned. One was that the gatekeeper process was not working well enough. Part of that was to do with a lack of information. Had information been accessed from other sources—perhaps public sources where information was held—we might have had a different outcome. She makes a very important point and it will be looked at.
One of my announcements today was about more support for vulnerable detainees. They included a number of things such as looking again at how rule 35 works, the bail referral process and, as my hon. Friend mentioned, staff training. We are looking at exactly how that can work within the Department, but we want to make sure that not just the gatekeeper staff and those who are at the entry point when someone comes into detention but all staff have some level of training to help spot vulnerable people. The reality is that if someone is vulnerable, they may not always come forward; in many cases, they do not. There are things that one can look for to help to spot people in that situation and try to help.
Shaw’s foreword says:
“The time that many people spend in detention remains deeply troubling…over half of those detained are…released back into the community.”
It also says that the number of vulnerable detainees has actually increased. Is that not a record of the Home Office failing to act swiftly on Shaw’s first report, and is not the most damning part of Shaw’s report his criticism of the total failure of the Home Office in the past two years to examine properly alternatives to detention? Is the Secretary of State today accepting Shaw’s recommendations 43 and 44 on alternatives to detention—yes or no?
That is a very partial reading of Mr Shaw’s report by the right hon. Gentleman. I appreciate that he has not yet had much time to read the whole report, but I do encourage him to do so. I think that he will find that, as well as rightly finding issues and challenging us to do more, which I am and which we will continue to do, Mr Shaw talked about the progress that we have made, including on alternatives to detention. One example of how we intend to take that recommendation forward is the one I gave earlier about piloting a new programme to do with women in detention.
On the timescale, I have announced four broad measures today. Internally, we are working on what can be implemented. Some of them are much more immediate. Some of the policies need amending. Others will take time to put in place, such as starting some of the new pilot projects about alternatives to detention in the community. On resources, I am sure that I have the resources from now until the end of this spending round. I will then need to have further discussions with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.
There is so much to welcome in the Home Secretary’s announcement today. I am particularly pleased to hear about the pilot and evaluation of the new system for vulnerable women. I urge him to take that evaluation very carefully and make sure that we get it right. He mentioned a lack of evidence on the question of a time limit. Will he look, or look again, at the report on detention written by my predecessor as chair of the all-party group on refugees, the previous hon. Member for Brent Central? The co-chair is my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield. That report was carried out in 2014 and published in 2015. I think that the Home Secretary will find that there is a great deal there to recommend it. Will he meet me and my hon. Friend to discuss the findings of that report?
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments and for her welcoming of the pilot regarding vulnerable women. I will happily take a proper look at that report. I have seen a summary of it, but as I am looking for some more summer reading to do, that is a very good suggestion. When Parliament is back after the summer, I would be very happy to meet her and her colleague.
I visited Yarl’s Wood a few weeks ago. The overwhelming sense that I got was that the indefinite nature of detention is what makes it such a mental torture. People literally do not know how long they will be there or why they are there. It is a Kafkaesque nightmare. Will the Secretary of State acknowledge in particular that the adults at risk policy is fundamentally flawed because detention itself makes people more vulnerable? May I echo those others who have called on him to make it a priority to end administrative detention for immigration purposes, perhaps starting with a 28-day limit, but, ultimately moving to end it, because it makes vulnerable people more vulnerable and it does not work.
It is good that the hon. Lady has visited Yarl’s Wood, because that is the kind of scrutiny that we need. [Interruption.] I have just heard her say that it took time to get permission. I am sorry to hear that. However, it is good that she has visited and seen the centre at first hand. That does not necessarily mean that I agree with her entire assessment following her visit, but I am very happy to listen to her experience and her thoughts. Although I said at the start of my statement that administrative detention plays an important role when done properly in our immigration system, I do think—this is where we could agree—that there should be more alternatives to detention so that people can be held in the community, rather than in a detention centre, while their cases are being looked at. I hope that she welcomes some of the announcements that I have made today, but I am looking to do more and would be happy to hear her ideas about alternatives.
I welcome this Home Office-commissioned review. I also welcome the Secretary of State’s words on the women in Yarl’s Wood, who often do not know what they have been detained for. I have a letter from the Home Secretary in which he rightly condemns harassment and intimidating behaviour towards women, but regarding a Home Office review into women seeking abortion healthcare he also says:
“I will…make an announcement before the summer recess” and that he will do so
“with a view to making recommendations”.
That review was announced by the Secretary of State’s predecessor in November, and it closed in February. It took 160 Members from both sides of the House, including the Father of the House and the Chairs of the Select Committees on Home Affairs, on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs and on Health and Social Care, to get the undertaking in this letter. There are four hours left until the recess. Will the Secretary of State be able to deliver on his word for vulnerable women everywhere?
I am happy to write the hon. Lady about the issue that she raises, but I am afraid that it has nothing to do with the statement that I made today.
I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement. He refers to Stephen Shaw’s focus on the need for greater transparency and promises to publish more data. I was surprised to discover in an answer to a parliamentary question in May this year that the Department does not collect data on people who are re-detained, so we have no information at all about how many people may be re-detained within one month or six months of their initial period of detention. Does the Secretary of State agree that it would be really useful to have that information so that we have a much clearer picture of what is happening?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, following on from my point about transparency and Mr Shaw’s point in his report. I hope that he welcomes some of the measures that I announced today. I will take a closer look at his point regarding data on re-detention.
Last but certainly not least, I call Mr Jim Shannon.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. The good book says that the first shall be last and the last shall be first, so I am pleased to be called at any time. I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. He has given a commitment to review the imposition of a limit on the amount of time for which an asylum seeker can be detained. I welcome that, but what specifically can be done for pregnant women—not in a long-term review, but now?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. Just to be clear, I talked about a review of time limits, but this is not just for asylum seekers; we do not detain asylum seekers as a matter of policy at all. The intention is always to deal with cases in the community. I just want to clarify that I am talking about looking at the time limit for detentions full stop, regardless of who is in detention. I will look into the hon. Gentleman’s further question and write to him.