Detention Inquiry Panel Members Statement on the Immigration Act 2016 becoming law

Last week the Immigration Act 2016 received Royal Assent. In response to the provisions contained within the Act, the assurances made by Ministers, and the concerns raised in both Houses, members of the cross-party panel of the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Use of Immigration Detention have made the following statement:

“Just over a year ago, we concluded that the UK detains too many people, for too long a time, and that in far too many cases people are detained completely unnecessarily.  In our report, we recommended that there should be a time limit of 28 days placed on the length of time anyone can be held in immigration detention, that detention should always be a last resort and that pregnant women should never be detained under any circumstances.

“As the Immigration Bill made its way through both Houses of Parliament, we tabled and supported amendments reflecting the recommendations made in our report. We would like to thank Ministers for their engagement with us on these issues, in particular the Immigration Minister James Brokenshire and Lord Michael Bates, as well as those other parliamentarians who supported calls for reform.

“We are disappointed that the Government continues in its opposition to an overall time limit, despite the growing evidence that indefinite detention has an extremely negative mental health impact, costs more to the public purse and is less effective than alternative immigration enforcement models. We are also disappointed that the Government has not accepted our case for an absolute exclusion of pregnant women from detention. However, we welcome the recognition of the need for automatic judicial oversight of immigration detention, as well as the introduction of a time limit for how long pregnant women can be detained.

“Stephen Shaw’s report following his review of the impact of detention on vulnerable people was published during the course of the Bill, and many of his findings and recommendations echoed those that we made. We note that the Government have said that they expect the reforms they have initiated in response to the Shaw report, as well as the amendments passed to the Immigration Act, will reduce the number of people in detention as well as the length of time people are detained, but we remain concerned that they may not produce the system and culture change that is needed. We also reiterate our recommendation that the Government should introduce a much wider range of alternatives to detention and call on the Home Office to commission research into best practice in this area.”

“In the weeks and months ahead we will be closely monitoring the implementation and impact of the Government’s reforms to ensure those expectations are met and we welcome the news that the Stephen Shaw will be asked to do a follow-up review. If they are not met, we will push for further legislative changes. We will continue to argue for a maximum time limit and for the absolute exclusion of pregnant women from detention, defending the United Kingdom’s proud tradition of upholding justice and the right to liberty.”

Paul Blomfield MP (Chair of the APPG on Migration, Vice-Chair of the Inquiry into the Use of Immigration Detention in the United Kingdom)

David Burrowes MP

Richard Fuller MP

Baroness Sally Hamwee

Baroness Ruth Lister

Lord David Ramsbotham

MPs back calls to end indefinite immigration detention

In a significant move today, the House of Commons passed a motion calling for radical reform of the UK’s immigration detention system, including the introduction of a maximum time limit on how long people can be detained.

The motion was passed after a three hour debate on a report published earlier this year by the All Party Parliamentary Groups on Refugees and Migration. In the report, a cross-party group of parliamentarians argued that the Government has an overreliance on detention, which should only ever be used a last resort.

A key recommendation of the report was that a 28 day time limit on detention should be introduced and this recommendation was highlighted by many of the MPs who took part in the debate. MPs also spoke about the conditions people are held in, with Conservative MP David Burrowes saying that despite most people held in Immigration Removal Centres having never been convicted of any crime they have to endure “prison-like conditions for administrative reasons”.

The report was the result of an inquiry carried out by a cross-party panel of parliamentarians including a former Cabinet Minister, a former Chief Inspector of Prisons, and a former law lord.

Commenting after the debate, Labour MP for Sheffield Central Paul Blomfield, who was vice-chair of the inquiry, said:

“In a week where the focus has been on how we support vulnerable people abroad, it is important that we also consider how we treat those who are already on our shores. Today’s debate highlighted the damaging effect indefinite detention has on detainees. Community-based alternatives in other countries are not only more humane but have proved to be less expensive and more effective.”

“During today’s debate the message from MPs from all parties and from all over the country was clear – it’s time for a time limit. The Government should listen to the growing number of voices calling for reform and act now.”

Chief Inspector of Prisons Supports Call for a Time Limit on Detention

A report published today by the Chief Inspector of Prisons has labelled Yarl’s Wood IRC a “place of national concern”.

Inspectors found dozens of pregnant women have been held at the facility in Bedfordshire against Government policy, while some are being held for more than a year because of “unacceptable” delays in processing their cases. In one case a woman had been held for 17 months. The prisons watchdog also found the centre is understaffed and healthcare services have declined “severely”.

Commenting on the report, Members of Parliament David Burrowes and Richard Fuller have called on the Government to respond positively to the inspection team’s recommendations. Fuller and Burrowes both served on the Parliamentary Inquiry into Immigration Detention – a cross-party inquiry run by the All Party Parliamentary Groups on Refugees and Migration – which recommended that a time limit of 28 days be placed on the length of time anyone can be held in an immigration removal centre.

In the HMIP report, the Chief Inspector Nick Hardwick supported the call for a time limit, saying “Other well-respected bodies have recently called for time limits on administrative detention. In my view, the rigorously evidenced concerns we have identified in this inspection provide strong support for these calls, and a strict time limit must now be introduced on the length of time that anyone can be administratively detained.”

Fuller and Burrowes, along with Labour MP Paul Blomfield, recently secured a parliamentary debate on the use of immigration detention. The debate will take place in the House of Commons on 10 September.

Commenting on the report, Richard Fuller, MP for Bedford, said:

“It is unacceptable that vulnerable women, including pregnant women and survivors of sexual violence, are locked up indefinitely at Yarl’s Wood when their cases could be considered just as efficiently while they are living in the community.

“I hope that my colleagues in Parliament will carefully consider this report from HMIP, and I hope that we can start to build a true political consensus for reform in the Parliamentary debate which is scheduled for 10 September. It is time to build an asylum process which is effective and which respects the dignity and humanity of vulnerable individuals, while preserving strong borders.”

The Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate David Burrowes added:

“This report adds further weight to the parliamentary inquiry’s conclusion that the current system of detaining people without a time limit works neither for taxpayers nor detainees.

“While there is a need to properly control our borders, people who arrive by fair means or foul must also be treated with dignity and respect throughout the immigration process. The current system of immigration detention is failing to do this.

“The Chief Inspector has echoed the panel’s call for a time limit. I urge my colleagues in the Government to respond positively when the House of Commons debates this matter in September.”

UN Committee back British Parliamentarians’ call for a time limit on immigration detention

Parliamentarians have called on the Government to take action following a recommendation of a UN Committee that a time limit on the length of time an individual can be held in immigration detention should be introduced. This echoes the call made by a cross-party group of parliamentarians earlier this year, who recommended that no one should be detained in immigration detention for longer than 28 days.

The recommendation was issued by the UN Human Rights Committee, a body of 18 international experts who monitor the implementation of the international covenant on civil and political rights, which was making its first review of Britain since 2008. In their report, the Committee said it “is concerned that no fixed time limit on the duration of detention in Immigration Removal Centres has been established and that individuals may be detained for prolonged periods. “

Earlier this year, a cross-party group of Parliamentarians published a report into immigration detention, in which they concluded that the enforcement-focused culture of the Home Office means that official guidance, which states that detention should be used sparingly and for the shortest possible time, is not being followed, resulting in too many instances of unnecessary detention.

As well as calling for a 28 day time limit, they recommended that the UK government should learn from best practice abroad where alternatives to detention are used, which not only allow individuals to live in the community, but which also allow the government to maintain immigration control at a much lower cost to the state.

Three of the Parliamentarians who published the report, Conservatives David Burrowes and Richard Fuller and Labour MP Paul Blomfield, have secured a debate on the report in the House of Commons that will take place on 10 September.

Currently, the UK is the only EU country not to have an upper time limit on the length of time someone can be held in immigration detention.

Commenting on the UN recommendation, David Burrowes, Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate, said:

“It is very welcome that this UN Committee has backed our call for the Government to introduce a time limit on immigration detention. It was clear from our inquiry that the lack of a time limit has very serious mental health consequences for people who can find themselves locked up for months on end, if not years.

“While there is a need to properly control our borders, all those who enter our country should be treated with fairness and dignity. The UK Government should learn from other countries who detained far fewer people while having higher removal rates.”

Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central, added:

“The UK is alone among EU states in detaining people indefinitely for immigration purposes. While Home Office policy states that detention should always be for the shortest possible time, in reality this is clearly not the case.

“The current system is expensive, ineffective and unjust. I urge the Government to respond positively to the UN Committee and our inquiry report.”

 

House of Commons to Debate Immigration Detention Inquiry Report

Members of Parliament will debate the report ot the All-Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry into the UK’s use of immigration detention on Thursday 10 September when the House of Commons returns after the summer recess.

The debate, which will last for three hours, was secured by three members of the detention inquiry panel – Richard Fuller MP, David Burrowes MP and Paul Blomfied MP – following an application to the Backbench Business Committee.

Appearing before the Backbench Business Committee to make the case for the debate, Richard Fuller raised the previous lack of parliamentary scrutiny of immigration detention. He told the committee that the detention inquriy panel found there had been a “lack of scrutiny of this particular area of immigration policy by Parliament. In the previous Parliament, many questions were raised and debates held on immigration and we had a flurry of immigration Bills through Parliament but there were only two debates specifically on immigration detention.”

Paul Blomfield added that the inquiry “had real strength in breadth and depth” with the panel including “a former Law Lord, a former Conservative Cabinet member and a former chief inspector of prisons.”

David Burrowes said that the debate would be very topical: “A debate would have great topicality and national interest, and it would also be timely and relevant because of the present Home Office review of conditions at Yarl’s Wood and the wider issues of immigration detention, which will be published in the autumn. That will be an important time for a wider debate about the principle and extent of immigration detention.”

The motion MPs will debate is:

That this House supports the recommendations of the report of the Joint Inquiry by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Migration, The Use of Immigration Detention in the United Kingdom; has considered the case for reform of immigration detention; and calls on the Government to respond positively to those recommendations.

The transcript of the Backbench Business Committee meeting is available on the parliament’s website: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmselect/cmbackben/ucbbc210715/ucbbc210715.htm

House of Lords debates Detention Inquiry Report

On Thursday 26 March, the House of Lords debated the report of the inquiry into the use of immigration detention in the United Kingdom.

The debate was opened by Lord Lloyd of Berwick, who served on the inquiry panel. Lord Lloyd, who had secured the debate, was also making his valedictory speech, during which he said:

We are the only country in Europe which allows indefinite detention of this kind. In France, the maximum period is 45 days. In Spain, it is two months and in Italy it is three months, so we are way out of line with these countries. In the end, the group came to the view that we should have a maximum limit of 28 days. In coming to that view, we were much influenced by the corrosive effect which prolonged uncertainty has on the detainees themselves. There was much evidence to that effect, both from the detainees and the experts.

Baroness Ruth Lister, who also served on the inquiry panel, added that:

What became clear during the inquiry was the disconnect between official policy and what actually happens. The current Home Office guidance that detention should be used sparingly and for the shortest possible period is rendered ineffective by working practices and culture.

A third panel member, Baroness Sally Hamwee, noted the international evidence submitted during the inquiry:

The evidence is that compliance rates from community-based arrangements for looking after asylum seekers are very high, and of course that is a much less expensive way of going about the work. There are relatively few absconds. The case management model used in Sweden is based on early intervention and a welfare and rights framework. Individuals feel that they are given a fair hearing—and if they have to leave, they can make their own arrangements with dignity. This inquiry has said to me, among other things, that one of the things that is most lacking is dignity. A fair process means that the outcome is much more readily accepted, so it is effective in every sense.

In total, 15 Members of the House of Lords spoke during the debate, which can be watched online here. The full Hansard report of the debate is available by clicking here. During the debate, a number of Peers mentioned a letter from the Immigration Minister, James Brokenshire, that was sent to Sarah Teather, the Chair of the inquiry panel. This letter can be found on the correspondence page of this site.

Time For a Time Limit – Parliamentarians call for a 28 day maximum time limit on immigration detention to be introduced

A cross-party group of MPs and Peers has recommended that the next government should introduce a maximum time limit of 28 days on the length of time anyone can be detained in immigration detention. The call comes in a report published today following a joint inquiry into the use of immigration detention in the UK by the APPG on Refugees and the APPG on Migration.

The panel, which included a former Cabinet Minister, a former Chief Inspector of Prisons, and a former law lord, considered evidence over 8 months, and three panel members visited the Swedish Migration Board to discuss with officials and parliamentarians the role detention plays in the Swedish immigration system.

The inquiry panel conclude that the enforcement-focused culture of the Home Office means that official guidance, which states that detention should be used sparingly and for the shortest possible time, is not being followed, resulting in too many instances of unnecessary detention.

The panel recommend that the UK government should learn from best practice abroad where alternatives to detention are used, which not only allow individuals to live in the community, but which also allow the government to maintain immigration control at a much lower cost to the state.

The panel argues that depriving an individual of their liberty for the purposes of immigration detention should be an absolute last resort and only used to effect removal.

The UK is the only country in the European Union not to have an upper time limit on detention, and the panel conclude that the lack of a time limit has significant mental health costs for detainees, as well as considerable financial costs to the taxpayer.

The panel also:

  • recommend that there should be a presumption in favour of community-based resolutions, which focus on intensive engagement with individuals in community settings, rather than relying on enforcement and detention;
  • conclude that the Detained Fast Track does not allow asylum seekers to receive the support they need and is not conducive to high quality decision making;
  • are concerned that individuals being held under immigration powers are increasingly being held in conditions tantamount to high security prison settings;
  • recommend that women who are victims of rape and sexual violence should not be detained and that pregnant women should never be detained for immigration purposes;
  • were shocked by the personal testimony they heard of people suffering from mental health conditions who were detained for prolonged periods of time and conclude that current Home Office policy puts the health of detainees at serious risk;
  • recommend that screening processes are improved to ensure that victims of trafficking are not detained and that when GPs complete a Rule 35 report they make a clinical judgement over whether any injuries are consistent with the account of torture; and
  • are concerned that current arrangements for challenging continued detention are not working and that many individuals in detention are unable to access high quality legal advice.

Sarah Teather MP, Chair of the inquiry panel and Lib Dem MP for Brent Central, said:

“The UK is an outlier in not having a time limit on detention. During the inquiry, we heard about the huge uncertainty this causes people to live with, not knowing if tomorrow they will be released, removed from the country, or continue being in detention.

“As a panel, we have concluded that the current system is expensive, ineffective and unjust. We are calling the next Government to learn from the alternatives to detention that focus on engagement with individuals in their communities, rather than relying on enforcement and deprivation of liberty.”

Paul Blomfield MP, Vice-chair of the panel and Labour MP for Sheffield Central, said:

“Current Home Office policy is that detention should be used as a last resort and for the shortest possible time. From the evidence that we heard, Home Office standard practice falls well short of this policy.

“In our report, we recommend that far fewer people should be detained, that detention should always be a last resort, and that it should only ever be for a maximum of 28 days. Other countries manage to maintain immigration control without resorting to indefinite detention. So can we.”

David Burrowes MP, a member of the inquiry panel and Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate, said:

“This inquiry is an unusual one. Immigration is on the political agenda but rarely do we unite on a cross party basis and consider the issue of immigration detention.

“The lack of a time limit is resulting in people being locked up for months and, in some cases, several years purely for administrative reasons. While there is a need to properly control our borders, people who arrive by fair means or foul must also be treated with dignity and respect throughout the immigration process.”

“The current system is failing to sufficiently do this and our report calls for an urgent rethink. We should follow the example of other countries where rates of detention are much lower and removal rates much higher.”