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My Lords, we are carefully considering the recommendations made in the JCHR report alongside those in the recent Home Affairs Select Committee report, and will respond to both in due course. On indefinite detention specifically, the law simply does not allow this. However, we recognise the importance of these matters in informing how we can have a detention system that is fair, upholds our immigration policies and acts as a deterrent to those who might seek to frustrate those policies.
My Lords, I am almost heartened by the Minister’s response. However, is she aware that, of the over 2,200 people detained without any limit being given and without review, appeal or any consideration of vulnerability—some for over three years—some were released back into the community, after all that? This causes untold damage to family life and they had clearly been wrongly sentenced. The recommended limit of 28 days is surely long enough. Can HMG not undertake to implement at least that?
In terms of review, we are now trialling immigration bail at two months rather than four, which we did previously. The overall picture is that 92% of people leave immigration detention within four months and 69% within 29 days. We have improved the system by not detaining people for longer than needed and fewer people are now spending time in detention than ever before.
Not only have the overall detention figures gone right down—they are lower than since the collation of figures began in 2009—but the number of children in detention has gone down drastically. The safeguards have also improved since those times. The noble Lord is absolutely right to ask this, because the safeguards and the well-being of children are absolutely paramount, whether a child is in detention or not.
My Lords, with consistently more detainees being released into the community from immigration detention than are being removed from the UK, does the Minister accept that this suggests that the initial decisions to detain frequently lack rigorous assessment of why detention is necessary and justified?
As I said, the figure of 92% of people being released from detention, who have been there perhaps for immigration bail or other forms of review, is the result of our not wanting to keep people in detention and doing so only to remove them.
My Lords, while the checking of documentation and control of numbers can be justified, does the Minister agree that indefinite detention and a callous, dismissive attitude to would-be immigrants or asylum seekers, including the elderly and infirm, as detailed in the report, can never be justified? This is a Christian country. In Leviticus 19:33-34, the Bible reminds us:
“When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him … you shall love him as yourself”.
I thank the noble Lord for that point. As he made it, thunder was clapping —I do not know whether it was for here or for another place.
The noble Lord is absolutely right that the law does not allow indefinite detention. The purpose of detention is to remove someone, and in as short a time as possible. He raises a good point about vulnerable people. It might help him to know that we are currently piloting a scheme to manage a number of vulnerable women in the community who would otherwise have been detained at Yarl’s Wood. With the input of a medical expert, we are looking to differentiate more strongly between vulnerable cases to ensure that the most complex get the attention that they need.
The right reverend Prelate will be comforted to know that all decisions on detention benefit from the oversight of the independent detention gatekeeper. On the analogy with the criminal justice system, that system is different. Custody is in place to establish a criminal investigation, but detention has already established that the person needs to be removed.
It is very unfortunate if a child ends up in detention. The decision is balanced on the need of that child to be, perhaps, with its parents. As I told the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Handsworth, the number of children in detention has drastically reduced since 2009.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that there has to be some balance in this debate? If there is a specific time limit, especially a short one, it is all too easy for someone to spin out the proceedings—perhaps, in some circumstances, by making a false claim—until he or she has to be released and can then disappear. There has to be some balance and there has to be an ability to detain people until their cases are sorted.
The noble Lord is absolutely right. Anyone who wishes to frustrate the system could do so through a time-limited detention. The Government are clear: we want to limit time in detention, but actually placing a time limit on it has the effect that he describes.