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Immigration (Time Limit on Detention)

Volume 650: debated on Wednesday 5 December 2018

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make provision for a maximum period of detention under the Immigration Act 1971 of 28 days; and for connected purposes.

I realise that I have chosen to introduce my first ten-minute rule Bill in a very quiet week in Parliament, but I hope that colleagues from across the House will indulge me as I speak about a campaign that I am very passionate about and which is close to my heart. I am proud to be an MP for a constituency that has a proud history of welcoming immigrants. My constituency has a long history of welcoming economic migrants from Ireland and refugees fleeing political persecution in Nazi Germany. At this moment in time, my constituency has 22,000 European Union nationals, who form the very fabric of our community. I am proud that both the councils in my constituency recently welcomed refugees from Syria and Somalia. My mother came here as a political asylum seeker in the 1970s and settled in the very constituency I am now proud to represent here in Westminster.

I am sure Members from all parties will agree that we are proud of the fact that Britain is a safe haven for people who cannot go back to their country of origin. The practice in our country of indefinitely detaining people, however, blights the nation, and we should all be ashamed of it. We are the only country in the EU—and one of only a few in the world—that indefinitely detains people. Immigration officers go around in the middle of the night capturing people and putting them in prison-like cells. Many Members from all parties will have visited these detention centres and will know the conditions in which these people are kept.

In this country, we have legislation that limits how long terror suspects and criminal suspects can be detained. Terror suspects can be detained without charge for 14 days and criminal suspects can be detained without charge for 28 days, but we do not afford that same protection to refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants. That should put us to shame. The people who are detained range from nurses to doctors to teachers to students. Some of them have no previous criminal convictions and have come here to seek economic opportunity. Some of them are former offenders who have served their term and come here to make a life for themselves anew. They are people who have come here because they have gone through insufferable trauma in their country of origin and this is a safe haven for them. Many are men, some are women and some are children, but above all they are human. Detaining them indefinitely is a blight on their human right to freedom.

Members from Government and Opposition parties who have been to detention centres will know what they are like. People are ripped away from their families in the middle of the night and put in bare cells, with no recourse to legal advice so that they can know when they are going to come out. Unfortunately, cases of abuse and neglect are commonplace. When the Red Cross interviewed some of these detainees and asked them what was the very worst thing about being detained, Emmanuel said that it was not knowing when he was going to be released. The thought that there was no limit on how long he was going to be in that cell caused such mental trauma and mental health problems. A similar detainee talked to the Red Cross about how she could see no light at the end of the tunnel because she knew that her situation could go on forever. That should shame us all.

Being in indefinite detention leads to problems with mental health. There have been 600 cases in which people have needed medical assistance and treatment because they have suffered and gone on to self-harm. Indefinite detention has led to an epidemic of suicide and self-harm throughout our detention centres. It has reached the point at which, when Amnesty and the Red Cross interviewed people, nearly all of them had witnessed some form of suicide, self-harm or desperation, having been stuck in those cells for so long.

For me, the worst thing is that people are not detained for reasons of criminal justice but because of an inefficient administrative process that insiders themselves have admitted could be sped up and take only weeks, rather than months. That should make us even more embarrassed. The Home Office guidance says that people should be detained for a reasonable amount of time. Does the House think it is reasonable to detain someone for more than two years, as happens regularly? One fifth of detainees spend more than two months at a time in cells. At what point does that become reasonable or unreasonable?

When we have discussed whether we should have a 28-day limit, a lot of people have objected. For those who object and are not convinced by my arguments about detention being cruel or inhumane, let us think about the cost and how inefficient the system is. Currently, the system is wholly inefficient and hugely costly. The House should reflect on these figures: it costs £86 a day to detain someone and £34,000 a year for everyone who is currently detained. Matrix Evidence found that the if we imposed a time limit and got people out when they were meant to be out, we would save £344 million over five years. So those Members who are not convinced by the emotional argument should think about the money that could be saved if we had a proper time limit on detention.

Furthermore, the existing policy seems to be to detain first and ask questions later. Perhaps if there was a time limit, the immigration officers who go around could ask the questions, handle things more sensitively and detain later. A time limit might also curb the cruel practice of mistaken detention, which happened to two people from the Windrush generation last year.

The Home Secretary has said that a 28-day limit on detention is based on slogans rather than evidence. It is not based on slogans; it is a cry that has come from report after report, committee after committee and investigation after investigation. The all-party group on refugees has called for it, Select Committees have called for it, and experts in the UN, EU and international non-governmental organisations have called for it. My Bill is backed by Liberty and Amnesty.

When I put forward my Bill, I approached some unlikely names from the Government Benches and was impressed by how quickly people came back to me to say that they wanted to support it. For the past few months, we have had huge division in the House, but I was inspired and reassured by the fact that ultimately we are all here because we want to make society a better place. We want a more equal society in which the most vulnerable are protected.

We have to think about the history of our country. Some 800 years ago, in a field in Runnymede, the Magna Carta laid out our basic civil liberties. It set out how people should not be imprisoned without due process and a fair trial. The criminal system in this country now is not perfect, but it serves us well. However, there is one part of our legislation and criminal justice system—in society and generally in Parliament—where we have failed. We have absolutely failed to protect the most vulnerable because we allow them to be detained without any hope, without any reason and without a light at the end of the tunnel. I say to the Home Secretary: there is no time for a review—we have been there and done the reviews. This is about life and death, and we need to act now, so I implore Members from all parties, who have really indulged me by listening to my very long speech: please get together and support me—I ask for your support, too, Mr Speaker—to make sure that we end the indefinite detention of the most vulnerable in society.

Far be it from me to argue, but the hon. Lady has not made a long speech; she has made a speech absolutely within her rights and in conformity with the title. The clue is in the title: it is called a ten-minute rule motion. She was within her time.

Question put and agreed to.


That Tulip Siddiq, Mr David Davis, Mr Dominic Grieve, Dame Caroline Spelman, Mr Andrew Mitchell, Paul Blomfield, Lisa Nandy, Layla Moran, Rushanara Ali, Christine Jardine, Mr David Lammy and Stella Creasy present the Bill.

Tulip Siddiq accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 25 January 2019, and to be printed (Bill 302).