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.