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.