The Government plan to end the routine detention of pregnant women. Similar to the arrangements put in place as part of ending routine detention for families with children in 2014, the Government will table an amendment to the Immigration Bill, when it returns to this House shortly, placing a 72 hour time limit on the detention of pregnant women. This will be extendable to up to a week with ministerial authorisation.
We have already made progress on this and the Government are clear that pregnant women should be detained only in exceptional circumstances. This is a difficult issue—we need to balance the welfare of pregnant women with the need to maintain a robust and workable immigration system and ensure that those with no right to be here leave the UK.
We expect people who do not have the right to stay here to leave voluntarily. As with the family returns process, we will be able to offer support to those who choose to leave voluntarily to ensure that individuals are able to exercise control over their departure.
However, we need to ensure that we are able to effectively manage returns for those who do not depart voluntarily. This new safeguard will ensure that detention for pregnant women will be used as a last resort and for very short periods—for example: immediately prior to a managed return; to prevent illegal entry at the border where a return can be arranged quickly, or if a pregnant woman presents a public risk.
Wider changes are under way to improve the welfare of all vulnerable people in detention through a series of reforms, including a new policy on “adults at risk”. The Immigration Minister set out details of these reforms in a written ministerial statement on 14 January in response to the recommendations in Stephen Shaw’s report on the welfare of vulnerable people in detention.
The Government have listened carefully to concerns expressed in Parliament and by others and believe that the proposed amendment, combined with the wider reforms, strikes the right balance between protecting vulnerable women and maintaining effective and proportionate immigration control.
In due course the Government also intend to invite Stephen Shaw to carry out a short review in order to assess progress against the key actions from his previous report.