– in Westminster Hall at 11:30 am on 14th March 2017.
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered the detention of vulnerable persons.
I have brought this debate to the Chamber because the arguments about detaining people simply because of their immigration status are not over. I will argue that that is not necessary, is extremely damaging and is not cost-effective. I will also argue that unless the Government get on with examining the alternatives and implementing the bulk of the Shaw review recommendations with alacrity, I can only conclude that the use of immigration detention for vulnerable people is purely ideological. To make my arguments, I will explore the impact of detention, particularly on vulnerable people; say something about the alternatives to detention; and highlight some of the Shaw review recommendations that have not been implemented more than one year down the line.
I will say at this point that my experience of the Minister for Immigration, limited as it is, is that he has listened when I have had something to say and he has acted, so I come to this debate fairly sceptical but not completely cynical. I very much hope that today will signal a turning point.
I thank all the organisations that wrote to me and provided me with information. It did not make pleasant reading, but it is important to know what is going on. I pay tribute to all of them for the work that they do. They include Scottish Detainee Visitors, Detention Action, Medical Justice, the Scottish Refugee Council, the English Refugee Council, the Immigration Law Practitioners Association, Liberty, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Asylum Aid, the Helen Bamber Foundation, the Association of Visitors to Immigration Detainees, and the Detention Forum.
I am fortunate: I have never had to flee my home or my country and I have never been detained for anything, far less detained without having committed a crime. However, I know the damage that it does to a person’s physical and mental health to experience that. I know because of what I read and because of friends who have been through it. I will refer to two sets of friends of mine who have been in immigration detention.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing a debate on a subject whose time has come again—many of us have been involved in debates on it in times gone by—but may I caution her on something? I welcome her scepticism: she is right to be sceptical, given the evidence that she will present to us. However, I would hope and expect my hon. Friend the Minister not to say that the reason for continued detention of vulnerable people is in any way ideological. Sadly, it could well be administrative. That is unacceptable too, particularly when the Government have said to Parliament that the presumption should be that those who are at risk are not detained.
I genuinely hope that the hon. Gentleman is right and the reason is not ideological, but we can only wait so long before we come to the conclusion that it is. Hopefully, though, it is not.
In case the Minister thinks that I am coming to him with worst-case scenarios, I will start with the best-case scenario and tell him about Romeo—that is not his name, but he is a bit of a Romeo, so I have decided to call him Romeo rather than using his real name.
Nobody is better equipped to deal with immigration detention than Romeo. He has a creative, flexible and problem-solving approach to life. He is confident, vibrant and philosophical, and deals with whatever life brings to him. However, this is what he told me about the time when he was detained. He had woken up early to pick up ingredients from a friend who was leaving this country to go back to her European country. She had baking ingredients and knew that he loved to bake. He came out of his door, and the next thing he knew he was handcuffed and shoved in a van and then in a detention centre.
Romeo said that trying to get in touch with the friend to tell her why he could not make the appointment was difficult. Trying to explain to somebody who does not come from the UK that he was in detention but had not committed any crime was quite distressing for him. He told me that he asked whether, if he was to be deported, he could go to his room and get his stuff, and he was told, “You’ll never see your room again.” There were two UK Border Agency officers there at the time. One said to him, “You sound Scottish; you sound British,” and the other said, “You’re not British and you never will be.” He said to me, “Even though I am that person who can cope with anything life throws at me, it was so hard to hear that from somebody.”
I will now go to my worst-case scenario—the worst experience that any of my friends have ever had. A friend of mine from Eritrea and her 10-year-old son were detained in Dungavel immigration removal centre. I want at this point to mention the work of Scottish Detainee Visitors. Its visitors visit people in Dungavel and have done so for many years. As it has pointed out to me, and as others will say today, Dungavel is a particularly difficult place to be detained, because of its isolation; it is 6 miles from the nearest public transport. I was in daily contact with the mother by phone, and the son said to her after a few days, “We can’t live like this, Mum. Please can we die?” And every day after that until they were released, he asked her, “Please, Mum. Please just let us die.” Can anybody imagine their own children thinking that, far less pleading with them to let them end their lives?
I know that we have reduced the number of children in detention, but we have not stopped it; we had 71 in detention last year. However, the point that I want to make is not about children in detention. Yes, we all agree that that is wrong, but the mother told me that it was so hard for her to respond to her son and tell him that there was something to live for and he had to keep on going, because she was not feeling it herself—she, too, wanted to end her life. The reason she did not was that she had gone through so much to save this child’s life, she was not going to allow them to end it there and then.
The hon. Lady is telling some really important stories that are bringing the points home to us, but I wonder to what extent she feels the situation would be significantly worse if the people involved had serious mental health problems, and whether the system is capable of dealing with that.
I will come on to say a little about that issue, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising it. One of the most significant issues is that the system is not capable of dealing with people who have mental health problems, and the agreement was that people with mental health problems would not be detained, but unfortunately that is still happening. As I said, I will come to that.
The hon. Lady is making a passionate speech about a very important issue that is close to my heart. She will be aware of my constituent, Nazanin Ratcliffe, a mother who has been imprisoned in Iran for a year and is suicidal. In April, it will be one year since she has spoken to her husband, and she barely ever sees her two-year-old daughter, Gabriella. Will the hon. Lady ask the Minister to make a point on that, because we need to bring Nazanin home, back to West Hampstead?
I echo that call and hope that the Minister will respond to it. Tulip Siddiq has fought long and hard for this woman. She is fortunate to have her, but so unfortunate to be in the situation she is in—it is so wrong.
The hon. Lady is being very generous. I congratulate her on the debate and agree with what my hon. Friend Tulip Siddiq has just said. On medical conditions, does the hon. Lady agree that the issue is not simply mental health conditions? I would cite the example that I was told about of someone with an urgent arthritic condition, who, rather than being given medical treatment in Campsfield House IRC, was put on a bus to central Oxford, where a taxi driver who spoke his language got him to Asylum Welcome, and an ambulance had to be called. Do we not need urgent re-evaluation and attention to the medical guidance?
Absolutely. As I said, my personal experience of the Minister for Immigration is that he listens. He cannot be expected to know absolutely everything less than a year into the job. I hope that he will respond to that intervention and do as the right hon. Gentleman asks.
Immigration detention attacks and destroys the soul—it is soul-destroying. As many of the groups have told me—some of their members are here today—“If you are not particularly vulnerable when you enter detention, it makes you vulnerable.” And there are alternatives that work. That is the ridiculous thing. The Government agreed to look into the alternatives, but they have not done so yet, and I think they still need convincing. However, before I attempt to do that, let me look at what we all agree on: the recommendations—or some of the recommendations—of the Shaw review that the Government agreed to.
Most hon. Members will be aware that the review was published in January 2016. Its remit was to “review the appropriateness” of
“policies and practices concerning the welfare of those who have been placed in detention”.
Shaw begins his conclusion with a comment that hints at the frustration felt by many of the organisations that have worked on this issue over the years. He says:
“Most of those who have looked dispassionately at immigration detention have come to similar conclusions: there is too much detention;
detention is not a particularly effective means of ensuring that those with no right to remain do in fact leave the UK;
and many practices and processes associated with detention are in urgent need of reform.”
Mr Shaw’s 64 recommendations include a number that focus on vulnerable people. To their credit, the Government have made a bit of progress with some of the recommendations, but when dealing with a system as fundamentally flawed as the detention system, and working with people who are so vulnerable, there has to be both an urgency to the improvements and a recognition by Government that a handful of adjustments are just not enough.
I obviously do not have time to detail everything today—there were 64 recommendations—but I hope that other Members will talk about the particular issues for stateless people, pregnant women and transgender people, among others. Shaw called for the definition of vulnerable persons to be extended. He said that the presumption against detention should also apply to victims of rape and sexual violence, to those with post-traumatic stress disorder, to transsexual people and to those with learning difficulties, and he rightly includes people who have suffered female genital mutilation in those groups.
Many of the recommendations are said to be addressed by the introduction of the adults at risk policy, which is apparently intended to better identify and lead to the release of vulnerable people. But so far there is no indication that, despite those intentions, the policy is actually having that effect. Aspects of the policy are subject to litigation. Medical Justice and a number of other non-governmental organisations have raised concerns that instead of increasing protections for vulnerable people, the policy does the opposite—including by narrowing the definition of torture so that less vulnerable people will not be identified as torture survivors and protected. The policy states that survivors of sexual and gender-based violence should not be detained, but there is no proper mechanism for identifying them and no mechanism for monitoring whether they are being identified. Will the Minister agree today to introduce such mechanisms and, if so, when can we expect that to happen?
Recommendations 62 and 63 encourage the Home Office to further consider ways of strengthening the legal safeguards against excessive length of detention, and to investigate the development of alternatives to detention. Shaw, in turn, was influenced by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who said:
“Pragmatically, no empirical evidence is available to give credence to the assumption that the threat of being detained deters irregular migration, or more specifically, discourages persons from seeking asylum.”
However, Shaw did note a broad consensus on the damaging effects of both lengthy detention and the threat of it, stating:
“The indefinite nature of detention was almost universally raised as making people more vulnerable and for its impact on mental health. There was strong support for a time limit for detention, starting at 28 days.”
The hon. Lady knows that I was the vice-chair of a cross-party investigation into immigration detention that included the hon. Members for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and for Bedford (Richard Fuller). There is a great deal of cross-party unity, which was reflected in a decision by the House of Commons on this specific issue of the impact of indefinite detention.
We heard evidence from people who said that such detention is worse than being in prison, because in prison people know when the sentence finishes. To take up the point made by John Howell, that uncertainty and the indefinite nature are not only inappropriate for people with mental health challenges—those factors develop those challenges and create crises for people who have, in many cases, already suffered trauma.
Absolutely. It is very clear today that there is much cross-party consensus on this issue. On the length of time that people are held in detention, the Home Office’s own statistics show that migrants in detention are being held for longer since the publication of the review. That is astonishing. At the end of December 2015, the month before the Shaw review was published, 453 people had been detained for longer than four months. According to the Home Office, nine months later that number had gone up to 553.
I am sure the hon. Lady is aware that many of those who are detained for longer than usual are foreign national offenders and are assessed to pose a risk to the public. There are about 1,300 foreign national offenders in immigration detention. Is she suggesting that those people should be released, even if they pose a risk to the public?
What I am suggesting is that this Government will always raise that point. They will always say that. I am talking about people who have committed no crime. The Minister wants to talk about people who are in immigration detention because they have a criminal conviction; I am going to assume that they were sentenced, served a prison sentence and should be treated the same as any other prisoner. If they are a danger, they should not be out of prison. If they are not a danger, they should not be in detention.
As one of the few people in the Chamber who was actually in the House when immigration detention as we know it was introduced, I have never forgotten that when we queried the lack of due process and safeguards we were told that people would only ever be in detention for a few months. The use of immigration detention has mushroomed, and the length of time has expanded, and that has shone a light on the lack of due process. We should never forget that none of these people, as matters stand, has committed a crime.
Absolutely. I could not agree more. I was not here at that time; I was a Member of the Scottish Parliament, I think, and very aware of the arguments being used.
I want to say a little about how we treat people with mental illness. Often they have an illness that did not exist or lay dormant before they were detained, and the detention exacerbates it. I mentioned some of the organisations that have sent me information for today. One of them, Detention Action, helped Mishka to tell his story. This is what he said about being detained:
“I was detained with my twin brother. It was very difficult for us. We went in ok and we came out broken. The last three days before my brother was removed he tried to commit suicide two times. The first time, there was blood everywhere. The officers and nurses were so annoyed. They are thinking he is just trying to escape from removal. The nurse put a plaster on his wrists and took him to segregation.”
For goodness’ sake! Those are my words, not his. He continues:
“There he ripped a piece of metal off the wall to cut himself again. He was very, very vulnerable by the end. He was not the only one. There were many other people in bad states—mental and physical. There is more than one suicide attempt a day in detention now. All I know is that when suicide becomes normal—anywhere, ever—something has gone very, very wrong.”
My hon. Friend is making a powerful and strong case in defence of her constituents and many others; I have constituents in this situation as well. Does she know that I tabled a written question last year to ask how many detainees were currently being monitored because they were a suicide risk? Is she surprised to learn that on
Actually, the thing that surprises me about that—I am not sure whether this is my hon. Friend’s point—is that the number is so low. I am telling the Minister that 78 is not the number of people in these circumstances feeling suicidal and considering suicide.
Such people are human beings who the Government agree should not be put through this; yet they are being put through it and the British Government are doing it to them. Every time the Government are asked when a recommendation that they have agreed to will be implemented, the answer is “in due course.” Notwithstanding all I said about the Minister at the start, I do not want to hear “in due course” today. That is not good enough. The most soul-destroying thing about being in detention is the unlimited nature of it—not knowing when or whether you will be released; the most soul-destroying thing for campaigners, many of whom have been in detention or are still at risk of detention, is not knowing when the Government will do as they promised.
I want to look at some of the alternatives to detention. There is a strong moral case for community-based alternatives. However, I am often, if not always, on a different side of the argument from this Government when it comes to discussions based on morality and values, so I will make the arguments based purely on effectiveness of outcome and cost.
In this place, I have often accused the Tory Government of knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing. Yet when it comes to immigration detention, it seems that money is no object. Why? Why do we use the most expensive system, particularly in these times of austerity? Why is there no money to support people in need—vulnerable young homeless people who now cannot claim housing benefit, for example—but an unlimited pot of cash to put already vulnerable people through a living hell in detention centres, given that the Government agree that that is what they are doing and that it can be catastrophically damaging to people? Evidence is increasing that working with people in the community, using a case management approach, works.
The hon. Lady perhaps understates the costs. What about people whose stay is extended, so their time in detention is longer than legally required? The compensation bill is going up by millions of pounds. That is taxpayers’ money, which is being wasted on illegal, extended detention. Frankly, that is a scandal—it should go on effective, alternative ways of controlling people.
In a recent two-year period, the bill for compensation for people detained illegally was about £10 million. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for all that he does and says—it cannot be easy for someone when their Government are involved—and for all his campaigning on behalf of people in these circumstances.
There are a number of established alternatives to detention, such as the Toronto Bail programme, which is centred on community-based release. Importantly, that model has achieved a 94% cost saving compared with detention, and a compliance rate of 95%. I will not go into all the other models, but Sweden has a case management welfare and rights-based approach, which works with the person who is seeking asylum. Is the Minister aware that in 2014 in Sweden, the voluntary rate of return was 76%, whereas here it was 46%? Does he realise that the longer a migrant is detained, the more likely it is that they will be released from detention and not returned to their country of origin? Does that not just make the exercise completely pointless? Would it not be better to strengthen the decision-making process in the first place, and would that not be cheaper? Well yes, it would.
I am delighted that the hon. Lady has secured this timely debate. She talks about foreign examples, but we do not need to look offshore to reinforce her point. A signal achievement of the coalition Government was that they stopped locking up children in immigration detention and introduced the family returns panel. Since that was introduced in 2011, the voluntary return proportion has grown from 51% in 2011-12, to 76% in 2012-14, to a voluntary return percentage of 97% in 2014-16. Does that not fully reinforce her point without our needing to look abroad?
Absolutely. I pay tribute to my colleague, the hon. Gentleman, who is also on the Government Benches and has been a strong campaigner on this issue. I urge the Minister please to look at the different examples, domestically and internationally, because they save money and are more effective.
Before the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, I was about to invite the Minister to guess how much we spend each year on the long-term detention of migrants who are ultimately released and should therefore never have been detained in a removal centre. Well, he does not have to guess; independent research from Matrix Evidence uncovered the fact that we waste £76 million on that every year. I am calling on the Minister to look into strengthening the decision-making process—not just to save money, but so that we stop causing unnecessary trauma to individuals who have done nothing wrong.
The reason why we use the current system is definitely not effectiveness of outcome, given the much higher success rates in Sweden and Canada, and definitely not cost-effectiveness, so I am interested to hear the Minister’s explanation. Perhaps he can complete the following sentence in 15 words or fewer: “Well yes, Anne, it is the most expensive option, but it is worth it because…”. I tried, but he would not like my finished sentence and I do not like it either, so I ask him in all sincerity: why, when there are less expensive, more effective systems, do we not go for them as opposed to the system that we have?
I shall finish with this point. Yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon announced plans—this is relevant, Mr Davies—for Scotland to have an independence referendum. Last Thursday the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs had a debate in Parliament during which the Scottish National party called for immigration powers to be devolved. Either of those scenarios—further devolution or independence—are options for Scotland, but I have no crystal ball. There may be absolutely no change, but we will have to wait for the people of Scotland to decide. There is a real chance that we—not just SNP MPs, but MPs representing Scotland—will be out of here in the next few years, but we might not and people might still be being detained in Scotland against our Government’s will.
However, even if Scotland becomes independent, that does not mean we do not care what happens in the rest of the UK. Far from it—my fervent hope is that whoever is in power in the rest of the UK will see that Scotland is running a far more welcoming, humane immigration system and will follow suit when they see for themselves that it works and is cost-effective. I urge the Minister not to wait until then, but to make this something that he is personally in charge of and will expedite, because people have been waiting for long enough.
In this debate, I have focused primarily on those seeking refugee status—rightly so, because they are likely to be the most vulnerable, given that they have had to flee their own countries. But an IRC is an immigration removal centre, which means that anyone who is classed as an immigrant can be detained there—and they are. I was interested to read about the increasing number of Europeans being detained for long periods. The rest of the UK is leaving Europe, but that does not have to be hostile. Is it not time to extend the hand of friendship to our European neighbours and the rest of the world, and could that not start with treating their citizens who come to live here with respect, dignity and humanity?
Order. If hon. Members keep their remarks down to around eight minutes, we should get everyone in. I call Mr David Burrowes.
It is a pleasure to take part in this important debate, which gives the Minister a chance to get a taste of the cross-party concern that was amplified last year in the run-up to the Immigration Bill—now the Immigration Act 2016. Many hon. Members, from all parts of the House, made it clear that indefinite detention was unacceptable—that was the easy point to make—and that there needs to be progress, not least towards a statutory time limit. Through the passage of the Act, and through Stephen Shaw’s scrutiny and welcome report, it was accepted—some of us conceded—that the welcome recommendations, the broad thrust of which the Government accepted, could well lead to a reduction in the numbers being detained and for how long.
Stephen Shaw talked about the package of “adults at risk” policies, individual assessments for removal and reviews, and the welcome progress that was made on outlawing the detention not only of children, but of vulnerable people, such as pregnant women, unless there are exceptional, limited circumstances. We all recognise that that package might not be the only lever to deal with too many people being in detention for too long—there are also statutory time limits—but it might be successful. However, Stephen Shaw said he that he would revisit that tool if progress was not made. Time has now gone by and, sadly, we have not seen the steps that were promised to Parliament and Members, so it may need to be revisited. I say advisedly to the Minister that cross-party concern will grow, not least in terms of interest in the blunt instrument of a statutory time limit, unless we see further progress.
The hon. Gentleman and I have worked closely on these issues, and I pay tribute to his work. He is right to highlight that the progress we appeared to be making seems to have stalled. However, does he agree that there are worrying signs that things may be going into reverse? The most recent report on an immigration detention centre was done by the chief inspector of prisons on Brook House, where the average length of detention has increased, rather than decreased. Does he share my concern that that is a worrying sign? Clearly, we hope that the Minister will listen to the cross-party concerns that the issue needs to be addressed.
I agree. There are warning signs. We have seen the reports in the media and elsewhere on Yarl’s Wood and the scandals that have taken place. We do not want to be in that position. We want to ensure that the recommendations, which were broadly accepted, mean real results, but we are not seeing them.
In January last year, the then Minister committed in Parliament to safeguarding the most vulnerable, with a clear presumption that people who are at risk should not be detained. I want to talk about the victims of trafficking and the need for reviews and assessments relating to their removal, not least because Ministers have given assurances, as did the Prime Minister last July. She made it clear—rightly, given that she has championed the cause of tackling modern slavery—that the Home Office has taken the lead. The Home Secretary is leading the task force, bringing Whitehall together in regular meetings, in which I am sure the Minister is also involved, to ensure that we apply our full force in tackling the evils of modern slavery, so that we can, in the words of the Prime Minister on
“get a real grip of this issue”, and
“drive further progress in the battle against this cruel exploitation”.
The words of the Prime Minister are pertinent to today’s debate. She wrote:
“Vulnerable people who have travelled long distances believing they were heading for legitimate jobs are finding they have been duped, forced into hard labour, and then locked up and abused....These crimes must be stopped and the victims of modern slavery must go free.”
The victims of modern slavery must go free and not be in detention.
I will refer to an example given to me by Detention Action. It is about T, a trafficking survivor.
“Like many Vietnamese people in detention, he was trafficked to work in a cannabis farm.”
That was referenced by the Prime Minister.
“He has been left with long-lasting injuries and psychological trauma after being beaten by his traffickers. The Home Office accept that he is a torture survivor but have refused to release him. On the basis of limited information, the Home Office refuses to believe that he is a trafficking survivor. He has been detained for four months.”
Victims of modern slavery must go free.
I will refer to the Helen Bamber Foundation and a recent example this month about someone with a rule 35 report from a detention centre. The doctor noted extensive scarring that was in keeping with a history of torture. Sadly, though, there was a negative reasonable grounds decision that turned on the credibility of the applicant, as the trafficking claim was not raised when first questioned in the UK. We have made great strides in dealing with the issue of reporting referrals. Here is a clear example where no doubt the threats by the trafficker not to tell anyone of the exploitation at the time of initial questioning is something that is normal and not exceptional, but is not given any weight. There are also indicators that the individual had been re-trafficked after coming into contact with UK authorities initially.
I will draw on reports referred to by the Home Office. There are reasons why the claim of a torture survivor trafficking victim had not been properly maintained above issues around immigration. The vulnerability issue is the concern, but sadly it is weighed among immigration factors and the vulnerability concerns are downgraded. The Home Office report stated that entry into the UK took place
“in a clandestine manner”— in other words, on the back of a lorry. That is not surprising for a trafficked victim:
“You have no close ties in the UK to ensure your compliance.”
Again, that is not surprising in terms of the indicators present. The individual had been trafficked. Here is an example from the Shaw report in relation to mental health:
“Whilst it is noted that you have encountered physical torture and are suffering poor mental health as a result of this, the doctor has not diagnosed any serious physical or mental health conditions that are likely to worsen within the detained environment during the duration necessary to effect your removal.”
Page 306 of the Shaw Review states:
“Together the literature, which spans a 25-year period and a number of legal systems, tells a consistent story of the harmful effects of detention on mental health.”
That is compounded in a victim of trafficking. What is going on here? We have the Shaw report referencing clear evidence of mental health aggravated by detention, not least among those who are victims of torture.
The report continues:
“When balancing your vulnerability against your negative immigration factors, the negative factors outweigh the risks.”
What is happening here to very vulnerable people? At the time of writing, despite the adults at risk policy, this individual has now been in detention for four months, with a further three and a half months being proposed to effect removal. It is not the will of Stephen Shaw, it is not the will of Parliament, and I do not believe it was the will of the Ministers and the Government during the passage of the Immigration Act 2016. We must do better.
I must press the Minister on his answer to my questions that followed up on the clear will of the Minister’s predecessor in response to the Shaw report. My question is about timescales for individual reviews and assessments for removal, which should take precedence over issues around detention. It is what immigration removal centres are all about: removal and ensuring that individuals are assessed for removal, which is there to supplement the adults at risk policy. There was a clear commitment that that would be in place by the end of the year.
The then Minister responded on
“the Home Office should examine its processes for carrying out detention reviews, the Government will implement a new approach to the case management of those detained, replacing the existing detention review process with a clear removal plan for all those in detention.”—[Official Report,
The following month in the Select Committee on Home Affairs, the then Immigration Minister, now the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, told me that the current system of detention review will be replaced by removal assessments by the end of the year. It has not happened. The current Minister responded to my question yesterday by saying that “work continues on designing and implementing a more effective case management process to replace the existing method of reviewing detention. Case Progression Plans are intended to act as the single caseworking record for all individuals entering immigration detention. Wider rollout...is planned for later this year, subject to the findings from the evaluation of the pilot phase.”
Again, we must do better.
In conclusion, whether it is on that issue or publishing a plan for the whole of the estate that will be predicated on the Government’s commitment to reduce the numbers in detention, we must do better. At the very least, let us commit ourselves to follow through with what the Prime Minster said:
“the victims of modern slavery must go free.”
I congratulate Anne McLaughlin on setting out the issues so well. May I say at the outset that I would be very pleased to see our Scottish hon. Members remaining as part of the United Kingdom? As I always say, we are better together in relation to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, so we do not want to see them go. They make a valuable contribution, and today’s debate is an example. I thank the hon. Lady for that, and I thank also Dr Cameron, who will shortly make an equally valuable contribution.
I am concerned about this issue. As my party’s spokesperson on human rights, it is right and proper that this issue is raised and that the Department responds by saying how far the recommendations have been implemented. It is clear that change is needed. I was shocked to find that in 2015, the number of suicide attempts in UK detention centres averaged more than one every day, with 393 people trying to take their lives—a record high. If that is a record high, there has to be a change of direction or a change of attitude in how we stop that. Alison Thewliss referred in her intervention to some of the suicide attempts. I am sure it has much to do with the fact that people are not allowed to stay in the UK—it cannot simply be how they are treated in detention centres—and their dread of going back home. It is also clear that the recommendations in the Shaw report need to be implemented, which is why we are here to ensure that treatment does not exacerbate the problems that people already face.
I completely agree with the statement by our Prime Minster—she is our Prime Minster, whether or not we are in government with her—from when, in her former hat, she was Home Secretary. The fact is that we have asylum criteria for a reason. We have to have criteria to work to, and the Minister knows that. How the criteria work and affect people’s lives is the reason we are having this debate. We cannot sustain an influx of people from other nations. No country can do that—or, indeed, does.
We always have examples from people who work for us or from people who call in and regale us with their stories. My parliamentary aide went to South Africa with her entire family—some 20 of them in total—and they decided to spend a few days in Mozambique. The trouble that the family had to go to just to get a visa for three days was extreme and very costly. It was some £1,000 for the family to get the visa and documentation. The process is there for a reason. Although the hoops that the family had to go through to get access to their resort were extreme, they felt that the benefits outweighed the hassle. It is the same for our immigration process. The process is difficult, but it is so for a reason. We must protect our citizens first, and the immigration process does this.
Not everyone who wants to come here has a right to be here. That is a fact that must be accepted. The system and the process are there to ensure that the right people have the opportunity to come here. I support the Government’s ability to make that decision. However, it should also be accepted that people who come here but have to go home must be treated well. The hon. Member for Glasgow North East outlined that well.
The Prime Minister said in a written statement when she was Home Secretary:
“The Government believe that those with no right to be in the UK should return to their home country and we will help those who wish to leave voluntarily. However, when people refuse to do so, we will seek to enforce their removal, which may involve detaining people for a period of time. But the wellbeing of those in our care is always a high priority and we are committed to treating all detainees with dignity and respect.”—[Official Report,
However, the suicide figures perhaps do not reflect that. I ask the Minister to take that on board.
The question of treating people with dignity is particularly important when it comes to the detention of children. Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern about the closure of the Cedars centre, which was not easy to set up or cheap to run but was about exactly that—treating people with dignity? Is he concerned that, unlike Cedars, the new arrangement has not had the active participation of Barnardo’s?
I wholeheartedly agree with the right hon. Gentleman, as I think does everyone in the Chamber. What he has described shows the issue we face: changes happen, but are they for the better? In the present case I believe they are not.
I would like to know how, in the Government’s view, dignity and respect have been upheld since the Prime Minister’s statement was made just over two years ago. I understand that the recommendations in part 4 of the Shaw report, which addressed the concept of vulnerability, have largely been accepted by the Government. However, there are examples, including the one outlined by Mr Carmichael, that do not show that acceptance in action. There was a recommendation that the presumption against detention be extended to include victims of rape and other sexual or gender-based violence, including female genital mutilation, as well as people with a diagnosis of PTSD or with mental health issues and, as other hon. Members have mentioned, transsexual people and people with learning disabilities. Those are clear and specific categories where there are issues that need to be addressed. The presumptive exclusion of pregnant women should be replaced by an absolute exclusion, and the phrase
“which cannot be satisfactorily managed in detention” should be removed from the section of the guidance covering those suffering from serious mental illness.
It is always good to read the newspapers, although whether we believe them or not is another thing. However, a reputable newspaper that I read contained an article stating:
“In June last year, the Home Office published new guidance that says women on suicide watch in detention should never be watched by male guards. In July, it introduced a 72-hour time limit on the detention of pregnant women—a measure which I particularly welcomed as it was clear that detention was often harmful for pregnant women. And in September, the Home Office also published guidance which states that survivors of sexual and other-gender based violence should not be detained.”
If the Government are pressing ahead with such measures and protection for pregnant women, that is good news; if they are not providing them with protection, they should be. I tabled some questions on this matter some time ago, and I am keen to hear how the Minister responds to the debate. It is good that the Government action described in the newspaper report is happening, but more needs to be done. What more is scheduled to happen? I should like to hear the Minister’s thoughts on the protection of pregnant women in detention and whether the change to a 72-hour time limit has been effective. Is it working, and is it enough?
I have read reports suggesting other ways of dealing with asylum seekers, which we could explore, in countries such as Sweden. Sweden sets examples to the world of how to do many things. We can learn from each other. While we have the current system, we must ensure that procedures are followed and the Government send those who have no right to be here back home; but while they are here, their needs should be catered to in the most humane way. I know that that is the intention of the Minister and the Government but perhaps we need to see it more in action than in words. I offer support, but I ask that our procedures be carried out in a humane, compassionate and effective way.
The third member of the Celtic fringe—other than me, of course—is Dr Lisa Cameron.
It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and I thank you for that welcome. I congratulate my hon. Friend Anne McLaughlin on bringing the debate to the House and on an excellent speech, as well as other hon. Members, who spoke in a most informed manner.
Dungavel immigrant removal centre is in my constituency, so I have a particular interest in the debate and the issues. I have been several times to Dungavel. The current UK Government policy of detention is not the policy of the Scottish Government, but the dedication of the staff, who apply themselves to difficult work with extremely vulnerable individuals who are in some of the highest-risk times of their lives, is commendable. We may not believe that the people in question should be detained, but the staff work to the best of their ability in difficult circumstances.
I received an email this morning saying that at the weekend, when people went to make their presence felt outside Dungavel, they saw staff patrolling with what looked like police dogs. I wonder if my hon. Friend would ask the Minister to find out what that is about. I am sure it is not the idea of the staff. There must be a Home Office directive saying that that is a good way to look after people in detention.
That is certainly not something I witnessed when I visited Dungavel, but perhaps the Minister would like to comment.
It is recommended that the presumption against detention be extended to include victims of rape and sexual or gender-based violence, including FGM, people with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, people with learning disabilities and other vulnerable groups. As to the exclusion of pregnant women, surely we must agree that their care cannot possibly be managed adequately within detention. The Shaw report also found that rule 35 of the detention centre rules, designed as a key safeguard for victims of torture or those whose health would be at risk from continued detention, failed to protect vulnerable people in detention. The report highlighted a fundamental lack of trust in medical staff and advised consideration of independent GPs or professionals.
I should like to address several issues in the time I have: assessment of those with PTSD, assessment of those with a learning disability, and the important issue of the detention of vulnerable and traumatised individuals alongside foreign national offenders—something that I believe poses a risk in itself. As a psychologist, I can say that assessment of post-traumatic stress disorder is complex and cannot be done as a snapshot. I went on occasion, in a previous life, to Dungavel to assess mental health, but there is a brief timespan.
I want to reassure the hon. Lady that the worst foreign offenders are detained in the prison estate and not mixed with other detainees.
I thank the Minister for that response. I shall come on to the concerns that I have. The situation involves some detail on which we need further information.
The time afforded for clinical assessment is extremely brief—perhaps only an hour. Meeting clients in Dungavel, alongside an interpreter, makes it even more difficult, because more time is needed to get accuracy. In my experience, the time afforded has not been enough. Building rapport in clinical practice takes time. To expect professionals to do a full, thorough assessment within a snapshot of time is not realistic. It takes repeated appointments. Trust must be built. After all, it is expected that people will open up about some of the most traumatic incidents or experiences of their lives. That does not happen in a few appointments. Clinically, that approach is not good practice, and from the point of view of humaneness it could be re-traumatising. Post-traumatic stress disorder and its symptoms mean avoidance and suppression of emotion, so people are being asked to do something very difficult in the context of their disorder.
Another issue that I found was that the background information needed for a full diagnosis was often not available. Perhaps it has not travelled with the person, or not much is known about their background, meaning that even more careful consideration and lengthier assessment are merited. How many trained psychologists are working in detention centres, and what time and space are they afforded to complete mental health assessments? My concern is that people are slipping through the net; that PTSD is not being diagnosed, that mental illness is not being recognised and that vulnerable and unwell people are being detained when they should not be.
Individuals with learning disabilities are likely to be extremely vulnerable, and in my opinion they should not be detained at all. Assessment to detect individuals’ IQ and history of developmental delay and significant impairment in everyday functioning is even more complex than mental health assessment, and IQ tests are often not culturally transferable. Once again, information for such individuals is often lacking, although background information on development is necessary. It can take multiple sessions speaking to numerous people involved in someone’s care to avoid missing critical information.
The hon. Lady is describing powerfully the clinical issues that affect the diagnosis of vulnerable people who are detained. Does she agree that there is an additional layer involving trust? People who are detained may see clinicians as representing the authorities, which creates an additional barrier that must be penetrated in order to make an effective diagnosis.
I thank the right hon. Lady for that excellent point. I agree; that has certainly been my clinical experience. It is obvious that someone undergoing a clinical assessment will wonder about the motive for and outcome of the assessment, which will affect their level of trust and ability to open up. Once again, it shows just how lengthy and detailed an assessment must be, and that it must be built up over time.
How many people in detention are currently being assessed for learning disability, how is that being undertaken and are appropriate resources available for professionals? Such individuals are very vulnerable. If someone is presumed to have a learning disability, they should not be detained, due to that vulnerability. If there is any question of that, are alternatives sought straight away?
Thirdly, I have a concern about detaining foreign national offenders who may be sexual or violent offenders alongside those who are already traumatised. Often, information is lacking. When I visited Dungavel, I was told that sometimes when people come from prison, their records do not follow. That poses a clear risk to staff, because they do not know how high risk the individual is, and to the people alongside them in detention. We must ensure that information follows the person in order for a proper risk assessment to be made.
There is a clear risk to people with post-traumatic stress disorder following torture, rape or other trauma if they are detained alongside sexual offenders. That should not happen, but I know from my visits that, although some risk management procedures are in place, it sometimes happens; people speak about having been assaulted or sexually assaulted in detention. The risk management measures must be firmed up. What risk assessment and management measures are standardised to ensure that people are not at risk of further abuse? People with mental illnesses, learning disabilities or post-traumatic stress disorders should not be detained, and certainly not alongside offenders, which can re-traumatise and re-victimise them while they are in our care.
I call Richard Fuller to speak. I will call the Front-Bench speakers at half-past 3, so you have about six minutes.
Thank you very much, Mr Davies. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I am delighted to have the opportunity, presented by Anne McLaughlin at this important time, to review progress on the detention of vulnerable persons and to welcome the Minister. He is in the middle of a process, which is probably the most difficult period in which to be questioned, but I know that he is made of stern stuff. As others have done, I would like to thank some groups in particular—Medical Justice, Women for Refugee Women and Liberty—which have been constant companions on the journey for reform.
We have heard a number of reasoned and thoughtful voices in this debate. I shall be neither of those things. I had to be dragged kicking and screaming away from voting against the Immigration Bill and every part of it that dealt with the detention of women, or indeed detention, in due regard for the efforts of the Government to recognise that a well-entrenched policy in the Home Office was in need of root and branch reform. The then Immigration Minister presented it skilfully, I am sure with the support of the then Home Secretary, who is now our Prime Minister. As my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes mentioned, the Prime Minister has shown a sensitive interest in trafficking issues, many of which overlap with the issues that we are debating.
Here we are again. We have heard from members of the Scottish National party, the Liberal Democrats, the Democratic Unionist party, Labour and the Conservatives, in a cross-party consensus, arguing for the replacement of the default of detention with a case management system for those in this country with no right to remain, for the important reason, as the hon. Member for Glasgow North East said, that it is the most cost-effective and most just method of doing things.
The Shaw report, produced in January 2016, contains 64 recommendations. How many of those have been accepted, and how many have been implemented? I would like to ask the Minister how many victims of torture, rape and war crimes are currently in detention, but as we know, it is difficult for him to answer, because how do we differentiate a claim from a proven fact? He can get around that, but the man or woman in detention cannot, because the system in immigration detention is that if they cannot prove that they were a victim of rape, torture or war crimes, the claim has to be denied. That has led systematically to the detention of men and women who are vulnerable because of their physical history and their treatment, in a country that likes to call itself civilised.
With Stephen Shaw, we got a light that we could shine on Governments, of whatever colour, to say that this is not acceptable in a modern society. There are better alternatives, and we—this Government—have the courage to implement change, so that we will never again have to ask such questions about the detention of victims of torture, rape or war crimes. I do not want to ask those questions any more.
The Government have made some progress. They have drafted a detention services order on segregation—the most significant part of detention—but the draft order was deficient in many respects. It said that someone could be segregated for being a refractory detainee, defining “refractory” as “stubborn, unmanageable or disobedient”. I know many MPs who are stubborn, unmanageable or disobedient, but I would not say that they should be segregated.
I could well be. So why is that in the draft DSO? Why is it not phrased more tightly? There is not enough protection in the draft DSO against detention of more than 14 days, which was itself deemed unacceptable, but which the draft DSO said might be possible and could be applied for. No—we will not have that. We shall not have that, if the Government really mean business. The Government have really got to get to grips with the fact that they have to provide mental health support—the personnel there making the judgments—before they segregate anyone because of their mental health status.
I do not have enough time to go into more controversial topics about which I am slightly more passionate than the ones that I have mentioned. I will just say that the care progression plans that my hon. Friend the Minister outlined in his response to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate are the way in which this Government can demonstrate progress. So, can my hon. Friend the Minister please give us an assurance that he remains committed to those plans and that they will be implemented by the end of the year?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Davies. I congratulate my hon. Friend Anne McLaughlin on securing this debate, particularly as she has campaigned for many years for the rights of the very people who the UK Government choose to detain. She made a powerful and at times emotional speech.
I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend Dr Cameron, Mr Burrowes, Richard Fuller, who asked some very pointed questions, and Jim Shannon, who used his Westminster Hall season ticket to give a very thoughtful speech this afternoon.
The Scottish National party has long opposed the UK Government’s approach to immigration detention, which is not only inhumane but ineffective and hugely expensive. It is inhumane because it allows the indefinite detention of vulnerable people without a time limit and children and pregnant women to be detained; it is ineffective because evidence confirms that the longer a person is detained, the less likely it is that their detention will result in removal; and it is expensive, as we are detaining far too many people at great cost to the taxpayer, many of whom are not removed in any event.
The SNP’s position on immigration detention is very straightforward: we oppose indefinite detention. We oppose an abhorrent policy that allows pregnant women and children to be detained in these environments; instead, we favour an alternative approach that treats people with respect and dignity, helping those in need but still enabling us to abide by our responsibilities. We also support the calls for immigration detention to be limited to 28 days and for it to be replaced with community-based solutions. We believe that detention should always be the last resort.
The UK is the only country in Europe that allows vulnerable people to be detained in prison-like detention centres for an indefinite period. The former director of Liberty, now Baroness Chakrabarti, has spoken about
“The scandal of limitless detention”.
She has explained how this inhumane practice was designed “unashamedly for administrative convenience” and said that it is
“one of the greatest stains on the UK’s human rights record…a colossal and pointless waste of both public funds and human life.”
The Home Office defends its inhumane approach towards immigration detention by saying that detention can be used
“where there is a realistic prospect of removal within a reasonable period.”
However, that defence does not stand up to scrutiny. According to Government statistics, 7% of detainees have been detained for more than six months and in 2016 only 47% of those leaving detention in the UK were being removed from the UK. The figure for Dungavel detention centre is even more stark: a mere 23% of people leaving detention were being deported. However, those statistics do not reflect the true scale of detention in the UK; migrants detained in prisons by the Home Office rather than in immigration removal centres are arbitrarily excluded from them.
As we have already heard, in 2015, following a number of shocking stories that laid bare the toxic legacy of the UK Government’s present and past approach towards immigration detention, Stephen Shaw carried out a review into the welfare of vulnerable people who had been forcefully detained by the UK Government. My colleagues and others have spoken about this issue in great detail, but it is worth noting some of the Shaw report’s findings, which confirmed that the UK detained too many people and that detention was not an effective approach to removing people who do not have the appropriate right to live here.
The Government have appeared to accept many of Shaw’s recommendations; it is an indictment of them that, more than a year on from the report, the number of people spending more than two months in detention has actually increased. More than half the detainees across the UK and more than three quarters of those in Dungavel were released back into the community. If any other Government service or Department had that rate of failure, there would be demands for an urgent inquiry, to establish why so many people were being incorrectly detained and why so much public money was being wasted.
Those who defend the detention of innocent people in these prison-like environments suggest that the public generally support this policy. I can state firmly and with some authority that that is not the case in my constituency of Paisley and Renfrewshire North. Members might remember that, in an attempt to close Dungavel, the UK Government submitted a planning application to Renfrewshire Council for a short-term immigration detention centre to be built near Glasgow airport. That application was soundly and firmly rejected in a rare cross-party and cross-sector political and civic show of unity. Renfrewshire wanted no part in the UK Government’s inhumane, ineffective and expensive approach towards immigration detention.
The Minister’s desire to build a short-stay detention centre in my constituency was put forward only to make it easier to deport vulnerable individuals from their homes. That shameful approach would have resulted in individuals being moved hundreds of miles away from their homes, their families and their legal advisers. Again, the application for the centre was put forward with little concern for the rights of asylum seekers.
On that point, I have recently contacted the Minister about one of my constituents, Jorge Kidane, who has been moved hundreds of miles away from his family to Brook House immigration removal centre in London, where he has been for seven months. My constituent is a Spanish national but has lived in Paisley for 16 years and wants to move back to Dungavel to be closer to his friends and family. I would be grateful if the Minister could treat this case as a matter of urgency, because Mr Kidane’s mental health is deteriorating severely.
I return to the issue of the detention centres themselves. In the response to me confirming that the UK Government had decided not to appeal the refusal of planning permission for a new centre in Renfrewshire, the Minister helpfully stated that the UK Government were reviewing the detention policy being used in Scotland. At first glance, that seemed a positive move and something that the SNP have long called for. We do not believe that the UK Government’s approach towards immigration works for Scotland. We have continually called for immigration to be devolved, to allow Scotland to deliver a more flexible and humane immigration system that meets our own needs.
However, that review will be carried out away from the public eye, it will not consult widely with the public or experts, and its findings will not be published. The fact that the UK Government plan to review immigration detention away from the public gaze is telling, because the effectiveness of their approach is not and cannot be supported by evidence in any way whatever. The Government approach is flawed and ineffective. They should consult widely, listen to the views that have already been expressed in this place and beyond, and adopt a fairer and more humane approach towards immigration detention—particularly the detention of some of the most vulnerable people in society.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East has said, Scottish Detainee Visitors carries out invaluable work. SDV staff have met people in detention who have serious physical health issues, including some people with scars that strongly support their claim to have been tortured. SDV staff have also met people in detention who are suffering from mental ill-health, including people with pre-existing serious mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia, and people whose mental health has deteriorated as a result of their indefinite detention.
The latest inspection report of Dungavel by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons highlighted concerns about the detention of vulnerable people, including a torture survivor and a women with a serious health condition. There are 14 bed spaces for women in Dungavel, compared with 235 bed spaces for men. In a film made by SDV, one woman who had been detained in Dungavel described her experience there as being like that of
“a chicken surrounded by dogs”.
Over the years that SDV has been visiting detainees, it has not been unusual for there to be just one or two women detained at the Dungavel centre. That is an isolating and potentially frightening experience, particularly in light of research by Women for Refugee Women showing that many detained women have historically suffered from gender-based violence.
The most recent inspection report of Dungavel noted that
“there were inevitable risks associated with holding women in a predominantly male population” and that there were no specific policies focusing on this issue. That report recommended that
“a specific safer custody and safeguarding policy should be developed for women.”
I definitely support that call.
Regarding legal issues, wherever detained people are held, they are subject to frequent and arbitrary moves around the detention estate. Those moves are disruptive and disorientating for anyone who has been detained, but when the move is between Dungavel and centres in England the consequences can be particularly serious because of the differences between the legal systems in England and Scotland. A move to England often takes place just before an attempt is made to remove someone. It may not then be possible for a Scottish solicitor to make representations on a person’s behalf in England, and there may not be time to find an English solicitor to challenge a possibly unlawful removal.
As a country, we are better—much better—than the immigration policies that we have in place. Those policies do not stand up to scrutiny and are a blight on our human rights record. The UK Government should and have to use their power to reject this failed approach and replace it with one that treats people with respect and dignity.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate Anne McLaughlin on securing this really important debate on a subject that does not get enough public scrutiny.
In 1998, the Labour Government—my Labour Government—published a White Paper with the title, “Fairer, Faster and Firmer—A Modern Approach to Immigration and Asylum”. That Labour Government had many great achievements to their credit but this White Paper, and the legislation and the actions pursuant to it, was not one of our finer moments. It was that White Paper, and the legislation that followed, that led to a flurry of new detention centres being opened, mostly under the private finance initiative—Oakington, Yarl’s Wood, Dungavel and Harmondsworth. That is how we went from fewer than 50 immigration detainees in 1988, mostly detained within the airports where they had come in, to the current figure of 3,000, with the number of people detained at one time or another during the year now exceeding 30,000.
It is important to remind the House that we were told initially that we should not worry about due process, human rights and fairness because the people would be held for only a few months, but there is now very little due process around immigration. That is why we are faced with exploding numbers and a situation that is hard to defend.
Stephen Shaw was asked to report on the detention of vulnerable persons, and he recommended a series of exemptions for vulnerable immigration detainees, including, as we have heard, for victims of rape and other sexual or gender-based violence such as female genital mutilation; for those with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder; for transsexual people; and for those with learning difficulties. He also called for a presumptive exclusion of pregnant women to be replaced by an absolute exclusion, and for the words, “which cannot be satisfactorily managed in detention” to be removed from the section of the guidance covering those suffering from serious mental illness.
I am interested in hearing from the Minister how far advanced we are in putting in place those exemptions recommended by Stephen Shaw, who the Government themselves asked to report on the detention of vulnerable persons.
We have seen the explosion in numbers. The hon. Member for Glasgow North East asked the question more than once: given that it is so expensive and there are so many human rights issues involved, why do we not examine cheaper and more effective methods of managing immigration detention, possibly in the community? I have followed this issue for my entire career as a Member of Parliament and I am afraid that, for me, the reason the Home Office seeks to cling to the notion of immigration detention is that it is seen as a deterrent. There is always a debate in immigration policy between push factors and pull factors, and the notion, certainly at the time, was that if individuals were detained in this way—quietly, contrary to any due process and with no consideration of their human rights—that would somehow deter people from seeking to come here as immigrants and asylum seekers. Of course, that has not proved to be the case.
The hon. Member for Glasgow North East also talked about cost. The annual cost for one person is £34,000 and the total annual cost of detention is approximately £120 million. It is hard to believe that we could not spend that money on dealing with whatever immigration detention challenges we face more humanely, and in a way that reflected better on us as a country.
I have done a certain amount of work with Bail for Immigration Detainees and it has briefed me on some cases it has dealt with recently. Last week it won bail for a client who had spent 15 months in detention after serving a six-week prison sentence. How can that be proportionate? It also had a client held in detention in prison for almost a year, despite mental health problems and an outstanding appeal, and a male client who was the sole carer of a child with a serious health condition who was released on bail after nine months in detention. Another client spent 27 months in detention despite the fact that it would not be possible to remove them anyway and, finally, a client was released in January after spending two and a half years in detention, despite suffering from schizophrenia and, again, despite not being removable. Those cases are unacceptable, and I think that Members on both sides of the House want to hear what progress the Government are making towards living up to what the Shaw inquiry said.
Stephen Shaw also stated that there is little or no correlation between the number being held and those later deported, and that other methods, such as electronic tags, should be considered. He talked about mental health, which right hon. and hon. Members have spoken movingly about, and he also mentioned the number of cases in which the Home Office has breached article 3 of the European convention on human rights in respect of detainees.
I have always taken an interest in detention because of having been in Parliament when there was the explosion of detention that we now see. I am perturbed that, although I have been asking since November to visit Yarl’s Wood detention centre, we have yet to have a reply from Ministers. I remind the Minister, in case it has slipped his mind, that the chief inspector of prisons described Yarl’s Wood as a place of national concern. It was burned down three months after it was opened and there are current accusations of abuse, poor healthcare and inappropriate sexual contact. I put it to the Minister, therefore, that if four months after I first asked to visit he is not able to respond, people might ask what he has to hide.
In common with Members of all parties who have spoken in the Chamber today, I think it is time to address the long-running concerns about immigration detention—concerns that go back to the measures introduced in the ’90s by a Labour Government. I have talked about the role of the Labour Government because I do not approach the matter from a party political perspective. I have visited Campsfield, Oakington and Yarl’s Wood and, with the help of the Minister, I will visit Yarl’s Wood again. The conditions in which these people are held is a shame for this country. If people have a criminal record and should be deported at the end of their sentence, it is for the Home Office to organise itself so that they can be deported directly from prison. People should not be deprived of their liberty, with no due process, because the Home Office is chaotic in how it deals with people who have a recommendation of deportation when sentenced.
In common with other speakers this afternoon, I think we need to see an end to indefinite detention. I am glad that the numbers of detained children have fallen, but there are still 71 children entering detention, and that is 71 too many. Despite the fact that this subject does not excite the attention of the tabloid press and that Ministers might think there are not many votes in making immigration detention fairer and more humane, this is a long-running cause for concern. I hope that, decades after we introduced immigration detention at this level and on this scale, the Government will move to bring about some of the changes recommended by Stephen Shaw.
Minister, you may wish to allow a minute at the end for Anne McLaughlin to wind up.
I shall be delighted to allow Anne McLaughlin a minute or so at the end. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North East on securing the debate.
I welcome the opportunity to set out the Government’s position on these matters and to address the points raised by right hon. and hon. Members. Where a specific case has been mentioned or there has been a request for statistics, it may be better if I write to the Members concerned, not because I cannot give them that information but because time is restricted.
Detention and removal are an essential part of an effective immigration control system, but it is vital that they are carried out with dignity and respect. Indeed, I have visited a number of detention centres myself, including Yarl’s Wood and, recently, one in Belgium. The Government there face similar challenges and have similar facilities to the ones in the UK. We expect those who have no right to remain in the UK to leave the UK voluntarily, and we have programmes in place to support voluntary return. In many of the cases that have been discussed, people will have had the opportunity of an assisted return. There are financial packages and the airfare is picked up by the British taxpayer.
When people with no right to be here refuse to leave of their own volition, it is absolutely right that we take steps to enforce their removal. In those cases, detention may be necessary as part of that process. However, there is always a presumption of liberty for an individual, and the decision to detain any person under immigration powers is never taken lightly. Our policy already makes it clear that detention must be used sparingly and for the shortest period necessary. We are certainly not driven by any ideological motives, as was alleged at the beginning of the debate.
We take the welfare of detainees very seriously. That is why in February 2015, the then Home Secretary commissioned Stephen Shaw to carry out an independent review of the welfare of vulnerable people in the detention system. Mr Shaw’s report was published in January 2016, alongside the Government’s response. In our response, we accepted the broad thrust of Mr Shaw’s recommendations and set out three key reforms. First, a new “adults at risk” concept was introduced into decision making around detention, with a clear presumption that vulnerable people at risk of particular harm should not be detained, building on the existing framework. The second reform was the detailed mental health needs assessment in immigration removal centres, along with a joint mental health action plan developed with the Department of Health and the NHS. Although the action plan applies to England, we will work with colleagues in Scotland and Northern Ireland to share information and best practice on the provision of mental health services in the immigration detention estate. The final reform was a new approach to the case management of those detained.
Taking those reforms in reverse order, work has been ongoing to design a more effective case management process to replace the existing procedure for reviewing detention. Case progression plans take a more proactive approach to the monitoring and review of ongoing detention, with a focus on removal or, if appropriate, release. They are being piloted across the Home Office, and the pilot will then be subject to evaluation. As well as introducing case progression plans for individual detainees in February 2017, we also introduced case progression panels, which provide an increased level of oversight of cases within the detention estate. Although internal, the panels operate independently of the officials working on detention operations and aim to reduce the number of long-term detainees.
Turning to mental health, the Government published a joint Department of Health, NHS and Home Office mental health action plan on
I will expand a little on mental health, which was raised during the debate. Detainees are seen by healthcare staff within two hours of arrival and often have an appointment with a medical practitioner within 24 hours. Clinical pathways into other healthcare services, such as mental healthcare services, are initiated at that point, depending on the outcomes of the reception scheme. We take health needs seriously, particularly mental health.
The final element of the Government’s response to Stephen Shaw’s review was the new “Adults at risk in immigration detention” policy, which was implemented on
Individuals are detained only if the immigration considerations in their case outweigh the vulnerability considerations. The policy recognises a broader range of individuals as vulnerable than the previous policy, and we expect the policy to have the greatest impact in the cases of individuals who are most at risk, including—we heard some of these examples during the debate—victims of sexual or gender-based violence such as FGM, transsexual individuals, individuals suffering from learning difficulties and individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. All those groups are explicitly regarded as vulnerable in the context of the policy, in line with Mr Shaw’s recommendations.
The adults at risk policy has a statutory basis by virtue of the Immigration Act 2016. It is worth noting that through that Act we have placed a 72-hour time limit on the detention of pregnant women for removal or deportation. With ministerial authorisation, that can be extended up to an absolute maximum of one week in total. We also made it clear in the Act that pregnant women would be detained only if they could be removed from the UK shortly or if there were exceptional circumstances that justified the detention. In addition, we have placed a duty on those making detention decisions in respect of pregnant women to have regard to the woman’s welfare. We have asked Stephen Shaw to carry out a follow-up review later this year to assess the implementation of all the recommendations from his previous report.
Equally important to our strategy for detention is the need to keep our detention estate under constant review to ensure that we have the right resources in the right places and that we are providing value for money. The announcement of our intention to close Dungavel immigration removal centre was part of our wider estate planning. The closure was, however, dependent on the opening of a new short-term holding facility in Scotland. It was disappointing therefore that the planning application for that facility near Glasgow airport was rejected by Renfrewshire Council. Dungavel will therefore remain open for the foreseeable future, and we will continue to work with the centre service provider to ensure that Dungavel continues to receive positive reports from Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons.
One of the points raised in the debate was the protection of vulnerable families. The Government ended the routine detention of children for immigration purposes in 2010 by fundamentally changing the system to ensure that the welfare of the child was at the heart of every decision we made. That will remain the case at the new pre-departure accommodation. Pre-departure accommodation remains an essential component of the family returns process. The decision to accommodate families at a PDA is taken only after they have exhausted all legal challenges to their departure and have refused to comply with other options for return, and after advice has been obtained from the independent family returns panel. Children with families can be accommodated for 72 hours prior to departure and no longer without my personal authorisation.
A number of Members made the allegation that we are not doing better and are slipping backwards. I reassure Members that the Home Secretary and I are personally committed to ensuring that every individual in detention is treated with dignity and detained for the minimum time possible. The welfare of vulnerable people is particularly important to me, and Members can be assured that I am determined to see through the reforms started by my predecessors. I have invited Mr Shaw to return and review his policy and the work later in the year.
One particular point was made about the victims of trafficking. Home Office staff working in all immigration removal centres, including Yarl’s Wood, have been trained as first responders to identify signs that individuals may be victims of trafficking or slavery. Where an individual is identified as a potential victim, they are referred to the national referral mechanism for assessment. If the NRM takes a positive decision that there are reasonable grounds, the individual will normally be granted temporary release for a 45-day recovery and reflection period, unless detention has been maintained on the grounds of public order.
In conclusion, I hope that I have expressed the seriousness with which the Government take the welfare of those detained. The measures we have put in place, including the adults at risk policy, the statutory protections for pregnant women, the improvements to the approach to caseworking and the mental health action plan, represent a comprehensive package of safeguards for all vulnerable people in the immigration system who are detained or who are liable to detention, especially the most vulnerable.
I feel quite depressed now, because a number of questions have not been answered, although I accept that the Minister said he would write to us. I think I will write to him and remind him of some of those questions. One of the fundamental things he has not addressed is the gap between stated policy and practice. Policies are not being carried out in practice, and we have given numerous examples of that.
Will the Minister have a meeting with me and some of these groups, which have a lot of experience of detention and a lot of valuable information about the alternatives? He has not answered why we are not using all the alternatives that are far cheaper and far more effective. Why are we not looking at following those? Will he agree to that meeting? He is very good at agreeing to meet me, and he has responded before. Will he please give me half an hour of his time to sit down with some people who know exactly what they are talking about so that they can try to convince him a little bit more? It will save us money in the end and lead to a far better outcome.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered the detention of vulnerable persons.