New Clause 1 - Detention of persons – exempted persons

Part of Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:15 pm on 10th November 2015.

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Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Minister of State (Home Office) (Security and Immigration) 4:15 pm, 10th November 2015

We have had a wide-ranging debate on an area of policy that is challenging and difficult. I say that because a significant proportion of those in immigration removal centres will be foreign national  offenders. There has been a lot of discussion about asylum claimants, but if someone has made a claim for asylum, they should be receiving humanitarian protection. Hon. Members will equally know, for example, that we have suspended the detained fast track—a decision I took—to ensure that appropriate issues about vulnerability can be properly reflected in the arrangements.

There is a real challenge, about which I caution hon. Members, because if the official Opposition vote for new clause 3, they will be voting for a change of their policy. I note that exclusions were previously advanced for foreign national offenders and other groups, in recognition of some of the complexities and other challenges in this matter. People will seek to frustrate their removal at all costs. That is why, regrettably, there will always be a need for some level of immigration detention for when individuals fail to comply with requirements to leave the UK, seek to frustrate their removal or seek at times to use time limits as a means to string things out, because they know that they may gain advantage. Having said all of that, we are clear that detention should be used sparingly and only as a last resort.

We take our duty of care to those who are in detention seriously, for example, through healthcare and other provision. I recognise the reports on the issue of vulnerability to which I will come on, but there are many people working in immigration removal centres day in, day out, doing a tough and challenging job. In commenting on a number of the points made today, I put on the record my appreciation for those who are doing that tough job that supports our immigration centres and seeks to ensure that detainees are treated in a just, fair, appropriate and dignified way.

I underline that alternatives to detention should be used where possible, and I recognise that more can be done. The Bill and its new powers are part of the wider work to ensure that the Home Office has the right measures to manage individuals who are not detained and to ensure that they leave the UK when they no longer have any rights to be here. I continue to give great thought to ensuring that we provide an effective system that delivers value for money and seeks the departure or removal of increasing numbers of people who have no right to be here. There is the balance between enforced removal and encouraged or facilitated departure and we have already debated that broadly in respect of family groups.

New clause 1 would introduce a statutory prohibition on the detention of pregnant women and victims of torture, trafficking and sexual abuse. I note the generous way in which the hon. Member for Sheffield Central sought to recognise that it was my hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller) who, on Second Reading, tabled an amendment on this issue. Along with many other Members of the House, he is tireless in his work on issues of immigration and detention and takes such matters seriously. I pay tribute to the former Member, Sarah Teather, who chaired the all-party group on refugees. While we did not always see eye to eye, I never doubted her focus and determination to ensure that the issues were considered by the House. I know that the hon. Member for Sheffield Central was part of that all-party group and continues that work.

I can tell the Committee that we take such issues extraordinarily seriously and they weigh heavily on Ministers when we seek to deprive people of their liberty. Therefore, in our approach we seek to ensure  that detention is part of a removals process, which at times has to take into account issues of public protection as well. The issues of safeguarding and vulnerability are very much in our minds and that is why my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary commissioned Stephen Shaw, the former prisons and probation ombudsman, to undertake an in-depth review of how the Home Office treats vulnerable people who are detained. As I indicated, that is why I suspended the detained fast track, because I could not be satisfied that safeguards were operating effectively.

The Committee will be aware that we have received Mr Shaw’s report and are considering our response to that important issue. We are actively considering the report’s recommendations and we will come back to the House in due course to report on that.

I think that the hon. Member for Sheffield Central was seeking a timeframe from me. We are not seeking to delay; we are considering those issues carefully, but I want to get it right and come back to the House with an appropriate response that recognises the thorough work that Mr Shaw has undertaken.