New Clause 13 - Reporting to Parliament in relation to the prevention of death

Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 4th November 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

“(1) The Secretary of State must within 12 months of the commencement of this section, and thereafter within each successive 12 months’ period, lay before Parliament a report concerning the deaths of people subject to asylum and immigration powers.

(2) A report required by this section must state the number of people subject to asylum and immigration powers who have died since—

(a) state the number of people subject to asylum and immigration powers who have died since—

(i) the commencement of this section (in the case of the first report laid under this section); or

(ii) the previous report laid under this section (in all other cases); and

(b) set out the support arrangements that the Secretary of State has implemented in that year to assist those directly affected by the deaths, and what changes in these arrangements are planned for the next year.

(3) Subject to subsection (5), the report required by this section must—

(a) in relation to each death to which subsection (2) refers, identify—

(i) whether the deceased was at the time of death detained under immigration powers,

(ii) whether the deceased had an asylum claim outstanding,

(iii) whether the deceased was in receipt of accommodation or support from the Secretary of State,

(iv) whether the deceased was a relevant child or young person,

(v) whether the deceased was under the control of any person acting under the authority of the Secretary of State,

(vi) the age, nationality and gender of the deceased,

(vii) any protected characteristic of the deceased,

(viii) the steps taken by the Secretary of State to support any family member of, or other person directly affected, by the death,

(ix) such further information as the Secretary of State shall consider relevant; and

(b) include a statement by the Secretary of State in relation to each such death concerning the impact, if any, of any relevant function, power, decision or discretion upon the circumstances causally connected to that death; and

(c) set out any changes to legislation, policy or practice that the Secretary of State proposes or has made to prevent the occurrence or continuation of circumstances creating a risk of death or to eliminate or reduce that risk in those circumstances; and

(d) describe the Secretary of State’s policy and practice in providing assistance to or receiving assistance from statutory bodies with responsibilities relating to the investigation or prevention of death.

(4) In making any statement to which subsection (3)(b) refers, the Secretary of State shall take into consideration both acts and omissions in relation to the exercise of any function, power or discretion and the making of any decision (including any omission to make a decision).

(5) Where the Secretary of State is unable to fulfil the requirements of subsection (3) in relation to any particular death by reason of there being insufficient time to compile and consider the relevant circumstances relating to the person who has died, the Secretary of State shall state this in the report and shall fulfil those requirements in the next report required by this section.

(6) In this section—

a person is “subject to asylum or immigration powers” if that person—

(a) is detained under immigration powers;

(b) has made an asylum claim that remains outstanding (including where it is being treated as inadmissible but the person remains in the UK);

(c) is in receipt of accommodation or support provided or arranged by the Secretary of State;

(d) is a relevant child or young person; or

(e) is under the control of any person acting under the authority of the Secretary of State in pursuance of asylum or immigration functions;

“relevant function, power, decision or discretion” refers to functions, powers, decisions or discretion in relation to asylum or immigration functions that are exercised or may be exercised by the Secretary of State, an immigration officer or a person to whom the Secretary of State has delegated that exercise;

“protected characteristic” has the same meaning as in the Equality Act 2010;

a “relevant child or young person” means a person who is subject to immigration control and—

(a) is in the care of a local authority; or

(b) is receiving support from a local authority as a result of having been in such care;

a person (P) is “under the control” of another person (A) where—

(a) P is being escorted by A within or from the UK,

(b) P in the custody of A,

(c) P is reporting (including remotely) to a designated place (including remotely) in compliance with a requirement imposed by A, or

(d) P is residing at a designated place in compliance with a requirement imposed by A;

“young person” means a person below the age of 25 years.” —(Stuart C. McDonald.)

This new clause would seek to ensure there was transparency and accountability about the deaths of people subject to certain asylum and immigration powers, and policies designed to prevent them.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Everyone in this Committee has expressed concern at the loss of life in the channel when people make dangerous journeys to seek asylum here. This new clause brings us to loss of life among people already in the immigration and asylum systems. It asks: what do we know about such deaths, what do we do in response to prevent other deaths from happening, and what do we do to ensure dignity in death? I am grateful to Amnesty International, Migrant Voice, Bail for Immigration Detainees, the Scottish Refugee Council and Liberty Investigates for all their work on this.

I particularly want to mention the Da’aro Youth Project, which was established in 2018 by members of the Eritrean community in London in response to the suicides of several unaccompanied teenage Eritreans who came to the UK to seek asylum, and supports the wellbeing of young people in the UK asylum system from countries in the horn of Africa. Its research found that at least 12 teenagers who arrived in the UK as unaccompanied children seeking asylum have died by suicide in the past five years, most of them Eritrean, including several in recent months. All had either been children in the care of local authorities or care leavers, while one was subject to an age dispute, one had been denied family reunion, and several had been waiting for significant periods for an asylum decision or had in fact been refused asylum.

More recently, Scottish Refugee Council freedom of information requests initially identified 51 deaths in asylum accommodation between April 2016 and June 2021. A slightly different set of FOIs from Liberty Investigates received a different number from the Home Office: 95 in the period to August 2021. Alarmingly, 69 of those deaths—about three quarters—were in the period from 2020, so there has been a significant increase. By August this year, nearly as many people had died in the asylum system as in the whole of last year.

The first issue is why it is only through the work of Da’aro Youth Project, the Scottish Refugee Council and Liberty Investigates that we know this. Surely the Home Office should be reporting regularly on the deaths of those in its system. Can lessons be learned from these deaths, what could be done to prevent further deaths, and do the deaths have implications for broader policy? For example, there has been a significant increase in deaths over the past couple of years, suggesting that moving to institutional accommodation is a dangerous policy, but are there other reasons? What about new policies, including those in this Bill? What impact might they have on deaths in the asylum and immigration system? We cannot do very much of that analysis because it does not seem that the Home Office gathers information never mind publishes it. Which other Government Department would get away with it if deaths of those in its care and caught up in its processes were not being thoroughly investigated and responded to? It should be absolutely no different here.

The second issue is: what happens in response to every individual death? I am not even sure whether there is in existence a proper Home Office policy on this. Is any effort made to find and contact family members, or even to return the body to the family? What is done to support friends and family here in the UK, particularly those who are in the asylum system or local authority care?

Since Windrush, we have been told repeatedly that the Home Office is undergoing a culture change to see “the face behind the case”. I suggest that a vital starting place could be taking much greater interest in those who have lost their life while within the Home Office’s own asylum and immigration systems and being transparent and accountable about what has happened. The new clause simply asks for what really should have been happening for years. It is a simple matter of human decency and proper accountability.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I thank the hon. Member for tabling the new clause. I note his concerns around transparency and accountability in relation to deaths of people subject to immigration powers. I can assure him that transparency and accountability remain a key priority for the Department. We currently publish data every year on the number of deaths of people under our care in immigration detention. I recognise the importance of transparency in these circumstances to ensure that there is accountability and that we can develop effective policies and processes to prevent such instances from occurring in future. One death of a person in our care in one death too many. We must do everything in our power to ensure that these do not occur. Thankfully, deaths in detention are rare. There were no deaths in detention in 2020 and just one in 2019, where the individual died of natural causes.

We regularly review the statistics that we publish as a Department and, where it is clearly in the public interest to do so, it is our duty to consider the feasibility of publishing new statistics. We must weigh that up against other considerations. While we have a duty of care to all of those in our remit, there are many people in the asylum and immigration system who are either not required to, or choose not to, maintain regular contact with us. Some may even leave the UK without informing us while they have an open immigration claim. That means that there may be instances where we are not informed of the person’s death or we do not have all the relevant facts.

Additionally, it can take months and even years for inquests to reach conclusions. It is important that we know the facts before we publish the information. This highlights the kind of practical and deliverability challenges that we face and which affect the scope and accuracy of any information in this space. However, I acknowledge the importance of transparency. We regularly review the information that is published by the Department on the context of transparency, but also in line with the changes that the Bill will bring about. I note the interest of the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East in this particular area and will ensure that it is considered in line with the wider and ongoing review of statistics published by the Department. I trust that that addresses his concerns and I encourage him to withdraw the new clause.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I appreciate the Minister’s answer and the sentiments that he expresses. I am concerned that what he says does not always necessarily reflect exactly how things are operating on the ground. On the gathering and publishing of information, that is something that we will watch very closely. What he has not done is set out anything in relation to how the Home Office responds and whether there is a policy in relation to individual deaths—for example, those issues around returning the body, trying to approach family and friends, and the duty of care that we have to those individuals as well. That is something I will need to return to and raise with him again. In the meantime, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.