My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement regarding adults at risk and vulnerable people in the detention system. I have always thought that it would take someone very resilient not to become at risk or vulnerable to the effects of detention once detained, however they started that process. That applies even to definite detention, and far more to indefinite detention, when the absence of hope is added to the other conditions experienced. I was grateful to the Minister’s colleague Caroline Nokes, the Immigration Minister, whom I met with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, the other day, for confirming the Home Office’s aspiration of a humane system. I welcome the direction in which the Government are going on this.
I will mention again a report to which I have referred before in your Lordships’ House—the recent report by the Red Cross on the long-lasting impact on mental health of everyone surveilled after release from detention; in other words, release from physical detention is not the end of the experience.
There is always talk of numbers and percentages, which is helpful, but it is worth remembering that each person detained is an individual. The silver lining to the Windrush experience was that it rather confirmed that; that is certainly how they were seen by the public during the Windrush reports.
A number that I find shocking is the standard number of days to which the Home Office works in dealing with asylum claims. Also, if someone does not go when he is told to leave the country, he is automatically regarded as a flight risk, to the extent that even when he reports to the Home Office he is picked up from there and put into detention.
I am a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which this morning announced a new inquiry into immigration detention, because human rights—particularly Article 5 of the convention—are engaged. The committee was planning this inquiry anyway, but the evidence that we heard in an inquiry into the Windrush generation’s experience particularly drew our attention to issues including access to legal advice, the possibility of challenge to detention and accountability.
Policy is always only a part of the story. Implementation and practice are the other very important side of the coin and, of course, that is very much what Stephen Shaw has focused on. He and Mary Bosworth deserve our thanks for all the work that has gone into this report. I have not been able to read this door-stopper yet—it is about half the size of the last door-stopper, but even so—but I will. It seems to me that the reasons for detention given in the Statement rather illustrate that detention is not, as we are so often told, treated as the last resort, although I believe that it should be the very last resort.
I want to pick up a number of points made by the Minister. She mentioned that the team of special detention gatekeepers has been set up—this is part of the recent history—but the gatekeeper process does not seem to have been working as well as planned. The Statement refers to ensuring that decisions to detain are reviewed. What about the initial decision? Should there not be investigations prior to detention to confirm that there are no indicators of vulnerability?
The Statement also refers to immigration bail, described as all being “good work”. Of course, it has been very welcome, but it has not been unfailing. The Minister will recall our exchanges about the problems that detainees have in accessing education. Importantly, it is clear that detainees do not all know that they can apply for bail at any time.
With regard to alternatives to detention, we have heard the organisations that the Home Office is going to work with, but can the Minister assure us that work will go on with other jurisdictions where there are very different practices and that the subject will be not just those whom the Home Office regards as vulnerable but much wider? Mr Shaw comments rather delicately that he is not certain that there has been significant investment in this since the first report.
I must leave time for the Minister to respond—