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Immigration Detention: Vulnerable Persons

Volume 604: debated on Thursday 14 January 2016

The Government are committed to an immigration system that works in Britain’s national interest, and commands the confidence of the British people. Coming to the United Kingdom to work, study or visit is a privilege, not an unqualified right. Accordingly, the Government expect anyone who comes to the UK to comply with their visa conditions and, if they do not, to return home voluntarily at the first opportunity.

We have put in place a robust legal framework, which prevents the abuse of appeals procedures and encourages timely and voluntary departures by denying access to services, such as bank accounts, rental property, the labour market and driving licences, to those with no right to be here. Where individuals nonetheless fail to comply with immigration law, and refuse to leave, we will take enforcement action to remove them from the UK. Where it is necessary for the purposes of removal, and taking into account any risk that an individual may abscond, this will involve a period of detention—which of course can be avoided if the individual departs voluntarily. The Government are clear that in these circumstances it is in the public interest to detain and remove such individuals, and the vast majority of those in detention are, accordingly, those who have made their way to the United Kingdom unlawfully or breached their conditions of entry, have failed to make their case for asylum, or are foreign criminals.

It is a long-established principle, however, that where an individual is detained pending removal there must be a realistic prospect of removal within a reasonable time. Depriving someone of their liberty will always be subject to careful consideration and scrutiny, and will take account of individual circumstances. It is vital that the system is not only efficient and effective but also treats those within it with dignity and respect, and takes account of the vulnerability of those detained.

It is against this background that in February last year the Home Secretary asked Stephen Shaw to conduct a review of the welfare of vulnerable individuals in detention. His review is being published today (Cm 9186). It makes recommendations for operational improvements, for changes to the policy on detaining vulnerable people, and for changes to the provision of healthcare services in detention. Copies have been laid in the House. The Government are grateful to Mr Shaw for his review, welcome this important contribution to the debate about effective detention, and accept the broad thrust of his recommendations. Consistent with our policies, we will now take forward three key reforms, working across Government and the national health service and with private sector providers.

First, the Government accept Mr Shaw’s recommendations to adopt a wider definition of those at risk, including victims of sexual violence, individuals with mental health issues, pregnant women, those with learning difficulties, post-traumatic stress disorder and elderly people, and to recognise the dynamic nature of vulnerabilities. It will introduce a new “adult at risk” concept into decision-making on immigration detention with a clear presumption that people who are at risk should not be detained, building on the existing legal framework. This will strengthen the approach to those whose care and support needs make it particularly likely that they would suffer disproportionate detriment from being detained, and will therefore be considered generally unsuitable for immigration detention unless there is compelling evidence that other factors which relate to immigration abuse and the integrity of the immigration system, such as matters of criminality, compliance history and the imminence of removal, are of such significance as to outweigh the vulnerability factors. Each case will be considered on its individual facts, supported by a new vulnerable persons team. We will also strengthen our processes for dealing with those cases of torture, health issues and self-harm threats that are first notified after the point of detention, including bespoke training to GPs on reporting concerns about the welfare of individuals in detention and how to identify potential victims of torture.

Second, building on the transfer of healthcare commissioning in immigration removal centres to the NHS, and taking account of the concerns expressed by Mr Shaw about mental healthcare provision in detention, the Government will carry out a more detailed mental health needs assessment in immigration removal centres, using the expertise of the Centre For Mental Health. This will report in March 2016, and NHS commissioners will use that assessment to consider and revisit current provision. In the light of the review the Government will also publish a joint Department of Health, NHS and Home Office mental health action plan in April 2016.

Third, to maximise the efficiency and effectiveness of the detention estate, and in response to Mr Shaw’s recommendation that 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. A stronger focus on and momentum towards removal, combined with a more rigorous assessment of who enters detention through a new gate-keeping function, will ensure that the minimum possible time is spent in detention before people leave the country without the potential abuse of the system that arbitrary time limits would create.

The Government expect these reforms, and broader changes in legislation, policy and operational approaches, to lead to a reduction in the number of those detained, and the duration of detention before removal, in turn improving the welfare of those detained. Immigration enforcement’s business plan for 2016-17 will say more about the Government’s plans for the future shape and size of the detention estate.

More effective detention, complemented by increased voluntary departures and removing without detention, will safeguard the most vulnerable while helping control immigration abuse and reducing costs.