Time limit on detention for EEA and Swiss nationals

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 5th March 2019.

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control) 9:25 am, 5th March 2019

It is good to see you in the Chair again, Mr Stringer. I have spoken many times about immigration detention. I will essentially echo all the shadow Minister’s points, so I will be brief. As he said, there is cross-party support for these new clauses, and the Scottish National party is four square behind them.

Immigration detention for too long has become an accepted part of life, at least among politicians, but, for the reasons that the shadow Minister gave, I detect that that is changing, and not before time. Politicians have probably been out of step with the public in that regard. Every time I have a discussion with members of the public and explain to them the existing system of detention, they are actually quite horrified to hear what goes on out of sight and out of mind. Ultimately, we are talking about the indefinite deprivation of liberty in what are basically private prisons. There is little in the way of independent oversight, and all of this is done for administrative reasons. That is a huge invasion of fundamental rights.

We detain far too many people. The Minister will often say that the vast majority are not detained but are managed in the community. However, that is not the point. We are still talking about significant numbers of people—25,000 or so every year. That is a welcome improvement on previous years—let me put that on record—but there is a long way to go before we are anywhere near an acceptable position. We have a bloated immigration estate compared to many of our European neighbours, and we are still detaining far too many vulnerable people. The changes made in light of the first Shaw report have not made the difference that we would have expected or wanted so far.

As the shadow Minister said, half of all these people are released. Detention should be a matter of absolute last resort, but instead we are detaining so many people that we just release half of them again. That is completely unacceptable. The UK is an outlier in terms of international practice. This country has a long history of being very precious about the right to liberty, with severe and strict safeguards on the Government’s power to interfere with that.

We all know—I think it is inarguable—that detention is harmful. One key harm inflicted on detainees is the uncertainty—as has been evidenced in all sort of reports—of not knowing when their detention will come to an end. For all the reasons that the shadow Minister has given, there are no excuses for applying different rules to different people, and foreign national offenders should be included in the regime that we are proposing. We also need greater scrutiny of who goes into detention. Safeguards in relation to vulnerable people are still not working. Gatekeeping is not working.

These new clauses achieve two goals. They put in place a time limit and significantly improve oversight of who is being detained. I want to put on record my gratitude to all the organisations involved in drafting the new clauses, and to all sorts of organisations who, for many years, have documented the harm that is done by immigration detention and have kept it on the agenda, even when it was at severe risk of falling off.

There is a breadth of support for this new clause. The time limit is overdue. I think it will happen this time—I hope that is the case. Like the shadow Minister, I am keen to work with all parties, including the Government, to ensure that we put in place a system that is robust and fair but respects people’s right to liberty rather than detaining them for administrative reasons.