Parliamentary debate on immigration detention

On 10 September there was a parliamentary debate on immigration detention. 25 MPs spoke in favour of the recommendations in the Detention Inquiry report from the All Party Parliamentary Groups on Refugees and Migration.   Nicola Blackwood, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, including Campsfield, was not at the debate but Andrew Smith, MP for Oxford East, was and spoke powerfully against indefinite detention.

The full debate can be read here

Andrew Smith’s speech is below:

Mr Andrew Smith (Oxford East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow such powerful speeches. The hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) makes a very good point about due process, which is why increased judicial oversight is one of the recommendations of the report. There is a lot of concern about the issue in my constituency, especially with Campsfield being so close. That concern is felt by people of all parties and none. It is encouraging and heartening how broadly concern is being expressed today across the House.

We owe a vote of thanks to those who served on the panel and produced this excellent report. I wholeheartedly endorse its recommendations. It is worth underlining that the panel members came from across the parties and included a former Cabinet Minister, a Law Lord and an independent inspector of prisons. I hope that from this report comes the momentum for real change. As the report says, piecemeal tinkering with the system is not enough. The Shaw review is very welcome. However, by specifically excluding the decision to detain within its terms of reference, the Government are seeking to avoid the most important question.

The truth is that immigration detention simply is not working. The report concludes, and I agree, that the detention system is “inefficient, expensive and unjust”, so real change, not least the introduction of a time limit, is essential. I hope that following this debate the Government will commit to forming a working group to implement this and other recommendations of the inquiry.

It is clear that immigration detention is used too frequently. The Home Office is detaining more people than ever, with 32,053 people entering detention in the year ending June 2015, an increase of 10% on last year. There is general agreement across the House that detention for administrative purposes should be used only in rare circumstances when it is absolutely necessary, but that is not happening. Figures from 2013 show that the UK detained 30,418 people that year while Germany detained 4,309 people, Belgium detained 6,285 and Sweden detained 2,893. As has already been pointed out, Germany received four times as many asylum applications as the UK in that time. That shows that there are workable alternatives to detention.

A high percentage of those detained in this country are released, receive temporary admission or are granted bail—49% in the most recent relevant immigration statistics. That must raise the question why they were detained in the first place. Furthermore, as has already been said, immigration detention is expensive. In 2013-14 the annual cost of running the immigration detention estate was £164.4 million. There are cheaper community-based alternatives available, and there are certainly better uses for the money.

Most importantly, indefinite detention is unjust, which is why the Labour party committed to ending it in our manifesto. People are being detained for far too long. The most recent immigration statistics show that 187 people had been in detention for a year or longer and 29 had been in detention for two years or longer in the year ending June 2015. That is totally unacceptable. A time limit should be imposed. The 28-day limit suggested in the report, which would bring the UK into line with others in Europe, seems sensible. Of course, we need to ensure that that does not become an automatic period of detention, but the alternative of no time limit at all is simply not working and cannot continue.

Many of my constituents are involved in supporting detainees in Campsfield immigration centre, including in the bail observation project, which has done important work monitoring bail hearings. Its two reports have found many barriers to release on bail and difficulties in challenging ongoing detention.

Since the report was published there have been other concerning developments—some have been referred to already—such as publication of the report on Yarl’s Wood by Nick Hardwick, Her Majesty’s chief inspector of prisons. He called it a place of national concern and joined his voice to the call for a time limit. Worryingly, the Government’s consultation on reforming support for failed asylum seekers seems to aim to remove accommodation provision for those bailed out of detention, and I fear that the result would be more people detained for longer and at greater expense.

There have been far too many scandals about the conditions in detention centres. There have been enough calls for reform from campaigners, experts and former detainees. Every death in detention, such as those of Ianos Dragutan and Ramazan Kumluca in Campsfield, is one too many. There have been enough Government reviews. This time let us end this cruel and shameful practice by bringing an end to indefinite detention and looking at international best practice and community-based alternatives. In the past I have made many representations about the detention of children, and the previous Government made important progress in that area by radically changing how families with children are detained. It is now time to make such systematic reform to the use of immigration detention as a whole. I urge the Government to act on the report.



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