There is clearly much to comment on in this Bill, but I rise specifically to speak in support of new clause 7 and to commend Mr Davis for the powerful case that he made in speaking to it. Back in 2014, I was pleased to serve as vice-chair of a cross-party inquiry into immigration detention. We included parliamentarians from both Houses and all the main parties, many with huge experience, including a former Law Lord and a former chief inspector of prisons. There were more Government Members than Opposition Members, including Richard Fuller, who also spoke powerfully on this issue a few moments ago. I pay tribute to Sarah Teather, who chaired the inquiry and who now leads the Jesuit Refugee Service UK, as others have mentioned. After an eight-month inquiry, our recommendations included the limit on detention that is proposed in new clause 7. That was endorsed by the House of Commons in September 2014, so it is disappointing that we are still discussing the issue—but it is important that we are, because, contrary to some suggestions, it is not a particularly controversial proposal.
The truth is that we have become too dependent on detention, which takes place in immigration removal centres. The clue to the purpose of those centres is in the title. They are intended for short-term stays, but the Home Office has become increasingly reliant on them, under successive Governments. Home Office policy states that detention must be used sparingly, but the reality is different.
In our evidence we heard from many organisations, NGOs and so on, but, most powerfully, we heard from those in detention over a phone link. One young man from a disputed territory on the border between Nigeria and Cameroon told us that he was trafficked to Hungary as a 16-year-old, where he was beaten, raped and tortured. He managed to escape and eventually made his way to Heathrow, using a false passport, which was discovered on arrival, and he was detained. He told us that he had been in detention for three years. His detention conflicts with the stated aims of the Home Office in three respects—that those who have been trafficked should not be detained, that those who have been tortured should not be detained and that detention should be for the shortest possible period. His case is not the only one. There are more people like him than there are so-called foreign national offenders, which the Home Office briefers urged Members to refer to. Time and again, we were told that detention was worse than prison, because in prison you know when you are going to get out. One former detainee said:
“The uncertainty is hard to bear. Your life is in limbo. No one tells you anything about how long you will stay or if you are going to get deported.”
A medical expert told us that the sense of being in limbo, of hopelessness and despair is what leads to deteriorating mental health, and that
“those who were detained for over 30 days had significantly higher mental health problems”.
It is not simply the impact on detainees that demands change. A team leader from the prisons inspectorate told us that the lack of a time limit encourages poor case working, saying that,
“a quarter of the cases of prolonged detention that they looked at were a result of inefficient case-working.”
It has become too easy for the Home Office to use administrative detention, and that is what needs to be challenged. The Home Secretary talked about the culture change in the Home Office only a few days ago, in response to the Windrush review. Removing indefinite immigration detention would make a significant contribution to achieving that culture change, because with no time limits, it has simply become too easy for people to be detained, for too long, with no meaningful way of challenging that detention.
Our report gave a number of examples of alternatives to detention, which are being used by countries often held up as hard on immigration, such as Australia. We know that the Home Office is developing pilots on community-based alternatives, including one at Yarl’s Wood, which is a year in and is running well.