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Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre

Volume 753: debated on Tuesday 6 May 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government why the United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women was refused access to Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre while on an official visit to the United Kingdom.

My Lords, a visit to Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre was never agreed as part of this fact-finding mission. However, as part of her visit, the special rapporteur, Ms Rashida Manjoo, met the Home Secretary, the Minister for Crime Prevention and the Chief Inspector of Prisons.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister for that reply. As he will appreciate, it can do our national reputation no good at all if it should ever be felt that the United Kingdom is refusing access to a UN special rapporteur who is here in connection with the signature that we have given to the optional protocol on the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment. Therefore, I hope very much that, in future, that position will be clarified, as the publicity can have done no good at all. I would be very grateful if the Minister could inform the House of what action will be taken to ensure that future visits can be properly handled.

I disagree with the premise of the noble Lord’s question, because Ministers met the special rapporteur and were keen to support a programme for her visit that was more directly relevant to addressing violence against women and girls. That is why we offered the visit to a refuge, facilitated by Women’s Aid, and supported a number of other visits for the special rapporteur, including a visit to a number of government departments, devolved Administrations and front-line agencies relevant to the reasons for her visit.

My Lords, the recent report by Women for Refugee Women found that many of the women in Yarl’s Wood had experienced sexual violence, which surely makes it a relevant visit for the special rapporteur. What is the Government’s response to that report, which showed the traumatic impact on those women of detention?

No one can be unaware of the fact that detention is a necessary evil. It is part of the requirements that we have in enforcing an immigration policy. However, the inspection by the Chief Inspector of Prisons found very little evidence of victimisation of women at the centre. It was felt that there was insufficient recognition of particular vulnerabilities of detained women; those points were taken and are being addressed by Yarl’s Wood.

My Lords, apart from the chief inspector’s findings on the lack of recognition of the vulnerabilities of women detained in Yarl’s Wood, there was also a finding that the quality of rule 35 reports was poor. Was not the refusal to admit Ms Manjoo not only a kick in the teeth for the UN, violating the terms of its mandate, but an unfortunate indication that those concerns had not been addressed, as the special rapporteur seems to have suspected?

No, my Lords, that is not the case. Yarl’s Wood was inspected by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons last year and, overall, the report was positive. I mentioned those aspects of which I felt it was important for the House to be aware. Detention is an essential part of effective immigration control and we take the welfare of those in our care very seriously. Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons has responsibility for ensuring that those standards are maintained.

My Lords, does the noble Lord not appreciate that Yarl’s Wood has caused a lot of concern not only in this country but internationally, and that a failure to allow the UN special rapporteur to enter causes even more alarm, although I accept absolutely what he says about detention being necessary in some cases?

I have explained to noble Lords and, I hope, to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, in responding to his Question, the reasons why we felt that it was more appropriate to give the rapporteur the opportunity to see the effective measures that the Government are taking to address violence against women and girls.

My Lords, the noble Lord has been very good in explaining the meetings that the special rapporteur had and sought to say that he thought those meetings were sufficient. However, he has absolutely failed to explain to the House why the special rapporteur was denied access to Yarl’s Wood. It is a very simple question, not about the meetings that she had but why, specifically, she could not go to Yarl’s Wood.

Access to Yarl’s Wood is in the gift of the Home Office, which determines whether it is suitable for people to visit it. Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons has a statutory role to address that issue. It was not a question of denying this person the opportunity to do her job. She was given every chance to take up our offers to visit refuges, but she did not choose to do so.

My Lords, what statement did the Chief Inspector of Prisons make following the refusal to allow the rapporteur to enter Yarl’s Wood?