Immigration (Guidance on Detention of Vulnerable Persons) Regulations and the Detention Centre (Amendment) Rules 2018 - Motion to Regret

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 27th June 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour 6:00 pm, 27th June 2018

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for bring forward this regret Motion on such an important subject. He has already made the case against the new definition of torture in the regulations extremely persuasively. I shall simply do two things: first, ask the Minister some questions; and, secondly, underline why this is so important.

In her letter to me of 24 April drawing the regulations to my attention, the Minister acknowledged concerns raised by some NGOs about the Government pressing ahead with these changes in advance of the publication of Stephen Shaw’s review into the implementation of his previous report into the welfare of vulnerable people in detention, already mentioned. She sought to reassure me that the changes made at this point are,

“purely for the purposes of implementing”,

the High Court judgment on the definition of torture. But that is no reassurance at all; it is the very fact that this judgment is being implemented in this way that concerns the NGOs that have years of experience of working with people who have suffered torture.

Even if the Home Office were correct in its view that it needed to act swiftly, why did it need to do so by introducing a new definition of torture in the face of well-grounded objections from these organisations? As the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said, the High Court did not require a new definition of torture in response to its decision. Why could not the Home Office revert to the status quo ante until after the publication of the Shaw review and then consider the question as part of the wider review of the treatment of vulnerable people?

The same question was asked by my honourable friend Joan Ryan MP at the end of the debate she initiated in the House of Commons on 14 June. However, the Minister, while acknowledging that the current adults at risk policy is far from perfect—which is welcome—did not really answer the question, even though she said that she would. She said she was not seeking to turn the clock back without explaining why, in answer to Joan Ryan’s question, and I would be grateful if the Minister could do so now.

In doing so, could she also explain why the Home Office has seen fit to disregard the views of organisations such as Freedom from Torture and the Helen Bamber Foundation, which know more than anyone about the cruelty of torture and its terrible effects? It is the evidence from these and other organisations, such as the BMA, Women for Refugee Women and, most recently, the British Red Cross, that underlines why this Motion is so important.

I find it difficult even to imagine what it must be like to have been be subjected to torture. It is too easy for it remain a rather abstract concept and to lose sight of what it means to have been deliberately harmed by a fellow human being with often devastating consequences. Yesterday I attended the 10th anniversary celebration of Survivors Speak Out. One of those survivors spoke of his time in detention. He said, “We have already suffered so much”, and compared the experience of detention with the torture that he and fellow survivors had lived through.

In its report on health and human rights in immigration detention, the BMA noted:

“Pre-exposure to trauma is a key contributor to the rates of mental health problems in the detained population. One theme that emerges from the literature is that of the ‘retraumatisation’ detention can cause—in particular for those who may have experienced trauma in the form of detention or at the hands of authority figures in their home country”.

It also noted that the detention environment can be particularly retraumatising for LGBT individuals who have faced persecution and women who have suffered sexual assault and gender-based violence.

Evidence of such retraumatisation is provided in the Women for Refugee Women’s report, We Are Still Here, which said that,

“the women we spoke to for this report talked about the trauma of being arrested and locked up, and how this had triggered memories of their previous experiences”.

A recent British Red Cross report provides further evidence not only of the damaging mental health effects of detention—the original Stephen Shaw report also provided a lot of evidence for that—but of how they persist long after detention. One of its recommendations, which others have also made and which I hope the Home Office will consider in its forthcoming review, is that the Home Office should adopt a vulnerability screening tool to screen individuals prior to the decision to detain and identify vulnerabilities that may develop while people are in detention.

Surely it is shaming that detention policies are causing harm to a group of people already so vulnerable because of the harm from which they have fled. Surely we have a responsibility to protect them from harm, not add to it. We have been warned by the organisations that work with torture survivors that these regulations will cause further harm, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said. That is why they should be withdrawn.