Report (1st Day)

Part of Immigration Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 1st April 2014.

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Photo of Lord Roberts of Llandudno Lord Roberts of Llandudno Liberal Democrat 4:45 pm, 1st April 2014

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow my noble friend Lady Williams and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, on a cause that is so right. Even those who try to defend the present system of indefinite detention must surely be uneasy of conscience that we are even contemplating such an approach.

In 1999, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention stated:

“Lack of knowledge about the end date of detention is seen as one of the most stressful aspects of immigration detention, in particular for stateless persons and migrants who cannot be removed for legal or practical reasons”.

Indefinite detention is the worst type of punishment. Theologically, it is similar to the hell we were told about in the old days: it is not going to end. Waiting for removal or deportation, not knowing when it might happen or what a person’s fate might be, is unlimited hopelessness.

Some figures have already been mentioned. At the close of last year, in addition to the 220 people who had been in detention for six months or more, 11 had been detained for 24 to 36 months and one person had been in indefinite detention for between 36 and 48 months. Who is in detention? Many have no travel documents, while others are unreturnable because of conditions in their country of origin or because their nationality is disputed. The United Kingdom is the European Union’s biggest detainer of migrants. As already mentioned, a record 28,909 migrants were detained in 2012, most of whom are guilty of no crime and many of whom are being detained in conditions equivalent to high-security prisons.

We have heard about the Bingham Centre, the United Nations guidelines and the European Union directive, yet we are the country that refuses to do this. We have no moral right to put anyone through such prolonged punishment. I agree with the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine, who said:

“Given that a criterion for maintaining detention is that there must be a realistic prospect of removal within a reasonable timescale”,

indefinite detention is, “a serious concern”. It is also totally unacceptable and completely inhumane. We are the only country in Europe, apart from the Republic of Ireland, and one of the few countries in the world not to operate a maximum timeframe for immigration detention. How can we point the finger at other countries for breaches of human rights law? Years ago, the United Kingdom was called the sick man of Europe. I hate to think that it could be termed that again. However, on the particular ground of indefinite detention, surely other countries and other people have a right to point the finger at us. The whole spirit of Magna Carta is rejected by this policy, but in this Bill we can remove the stain, especially before the celebration of Magna Carta next year. What better way to celebrate it than to end indefinite detention? That would be the real celebration.

Let us not forget the cost. Independent research by Matrix Evidence concludes, as my noble friend Lady Williams mentioned, that £75 million per year could be saved if asylum seekers who cannot be deported were released in a timely manner. Therefore, I urge the House to join me in expressing abhorrence of the terrible sentence of indefinite detention for people who have committed no crime whatever, and to resolve to put an end to it once and for all in the United Kingdom.