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Immigration: Detention of Pregnant Women

Volume 773: debated on Wednesday 25 May 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will make it their policy routinely to publish statistical information on the detention of pregnant women under the Immigration Act 2014.

The detention of pregnant women under Immigration Act powers occurs in only very limited circumstances, either where there is a clear prospect of early removal or in very exceptional circumstances. Very few pregnant women are detained. With the implementation of the Immigration Act 2016, the Government are considering options for the collection of data on detained women who have disclosed their pregnancy to the Home Office.

I thank the Minister for that reply, and it is welcome news. Is there any timetable on this? Can we be sure that it is going to happen within the next few months? It seems incredible to me that it is beyond the wit of the Home Office to count the number of pregnant women who are held in detention.

At present there are management data from diverse sources, including medical data, border data and detention data. The Government are considering how best to collate the information and whether it will be necessary to actually publish it. I ask the noble Baroness to bear in mind that our intention is to minimise the number of pregnant women in detention, and that will dictate how we proceed.

My Lords, I would be grateful if the Minister would detail the criteria and give examples of the exceptional circumstances that justify the detention of pregnant women under the Act.

We have made it perfectly clear that detention in all cases is the exception and not the rule. In the cases of vulnerable adults, including pregnant women, it will be wholly exceptional for them to be detained. In general it is anticipated that detention will be required only in circumstances where someone arrives at the border without any right to be in the United Kingdom and can be more or less immediately returned to their country of origin.

My Lords, is the Minister prepared to say that, as a matter of principle, pregnant women should not be held in detention? That should be the starting point. It is what this House wants to hear and what this House voted for.

Can the Minister assure us that these pregnant women will have adequate access to full medical care at any time that it is needed?

It is intended that even before a pregnant woman is detained, her welfare will be taken into consideration. Consideration of her welfare will include the question of whether adequate facilities are available to that woman if she is detained. In the event of detention in an immigration centre such as Yarl’s Wood, there are adequate facilities to deal with pregnant women.

On 26 April, the noble and learned Lord told the House that on that day there was one pregnant woman in the immigration detention system. He also said that further guidance on the question of vulnerable persons, including pregnant women, would be produced in May and laid before Parliament in order,

“that that position can be maintained”.—[Official Report, 26/4/16; col. 1095.]

Can the Minister tell us, first, how many pregnant women are in immigration detention today, and, secondly, what the highest number of pregnant women who have been in immigration detention has been on any one day since 26 April, when he said there was just one? Thirdly, what is the position with the further guidance being produced this month?

With respect to the present position, as of today no women with confirmed pregnancies are being detained under Immigration Act powers in an immigration detention centre or residential short-term holding facility. As for the statistics for the period since 26 April, I am not in a position to give a number, but I undertake to write to the noble Lord providing such figure as is available from the present data, which generally speaking are management data. On the matter of pregnant women and regulations, in accordance with the regulations made this week, the Act’s provisions on pregnant women and adults at risk will come into force on 12 July. The publication of guidance on the matter is in the course of final preparation and will be made available as soon as possible.

Given the history and events pertaining to pregnant women and other vulnerable people in Yarl’s Wood, as set out in the Shaw report, will the Minister ensure that priority is given to openness and transparency when we look at how pregnant women are detained, particularly when, as the Minister said, that would only be in exceptional circumstances? We need some transparency, because there has been a failure to declare this.

Clearly we liaise very regularly with those contracted to provide facilities at Yarl’s Wood. Over and above that, Stephen Shaw will be commissioned to do a short review in 2017 on the implementation of these proposals.

Is my noble friend aware that I have taken some interest in this matter, which included writing to the legal advisers who deal with these sorts of cases? So far as I could discover, there has never been more than a very small number—single figures—of pregnant women who have been detained who are not free, should they so wish, to return to other jurisdictions. It is merely that some of them are not allowed to enter this jurisdiction. They are perfectly free to leave if they wish to do so.

I would observe that detention and removal are essential parts of any effective immigration control.