Amendment 20

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill - Report (2nd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 11:00 pm on 5th October 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Immigration) 11:00 pm, 5th October 2020

My Lords, Amendment 20 is in a package with Amendments 21, 22 and 31. I will be seeking to test the opinion of the House on Amendment 20, and I understand the Government accept that the other amendments would be treated as consequential. I have had to edit these remarks very heavily because of the time, and I apologise to all those who have made such good points to me that I will not be able to include them in what I suspect will be a somewhat disjointed speech.

The use of detention for immigration purposes, in part because of the Windrush scandal, is attracting increasing concern across civil society. These amendments address one particular aspect: that it is indefinite. The amendment would impose a time limit of 28 days; there could not be re-detention—cat and mouse—without a material change in circumstances; and there is an exclusion where detention is in the interests of national security.

Amendment 21 sets out the criteria for detention, including that the detainee can shortly be removed from the UK. Noble Lords will be aware that places of detention, apart from when a prisoner remains locked up after serving his sentence, are actually immigration removal centres. The detention must be proportionate and strictly necessary. Amendment 22 provides for bail hearings.

It is no answer to say that most detainees are released within 28 days. That does not make detention for a longer period defensible in the case of those who are held for longer, and for all detainees it is the uncertainty —not knowing when the end might come—that is the issue.

It may seem rather trivial, but we have all recently experienced being, and are currently, confined to our own homes. That is nothing in comparison: in our own homes, speaking the language of those around us and with means of communication. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in an earlier debate talked about having no hope—that no hope for the future feels like no future. That applies to detainees in this situation. The very great majority of detainees are not foreign national offenders. Dealing with them really is, or should be, something for the criminal justice system, including probation.

The impact of detention, and the prospect of re-detention, is an extraordinary burden. People are picked up from living in the community in what seems quite a random fashion, and people are taken straight from their regular and proper reporting into detention. It takes its toll on people who are, by definition, almost to some extent vulnerable; some are highly vulnerable and traumatised by their experiences.

The Minister in Committee said that a time limit would reward abuse. There must be many detainees who, not having sought to go underground and having conducted themselves as required—I have mentioned reporting—must feel that detention is a reward for compliance. They continue to show their compliance when they are released; they do not disappear.

The right to apply for bail, as currently, is not an adequate safeguard. Most detainees cannot advocate for themselves. The amendment provides for automatic hearings by the tribunal, which is experienced in immigration matters.

I was a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights when it produced a report supporting the 28-day time limit. To answer another point made in Committee, the evidence that we had then was that the gatekeeping function, relatively recently introduced and intended to assess suitability for detention, was generally perfunctory and inadequate.

I must tell noble Lords that the majority of people detained—almost two-thirds according to the last figures—are ultimately released into the community. That prompts the question: if they are suitable to be released into the community eventually, why do they need to be detained for any longer than 28 days?

I know that noble Lords want to see a humane asylum system that they can defend and asylum claims dealt with in a reasonable time, and I do not accept the argument that delays are due to lawyers gaming the system. I hope that noble Lords, with that short explanation and with many of them no doubt having previously encountered descriptions and concerns about the issue, will wish to support these amendments. I beg to move.