My Lords, unpublished management information shows that the longest-serving person currently detained has been held for three years and that the longest period of detention since 2014 is six years and eight months. That individual was released in October 2017. In each case the detainees were foreign national offenders convicted of very serious offences, including serious violence and serious sexual offending. I am confident that our reforms will prevent such long periods of detention being necessary, while not lessening our determination to remove foreign national offenders.
My Lords, does the Minister accept that only we and the Republic of Ireland have no maximum timeframe for detention? Does she also accept what the United Nations action group on arbitrary detention stated:
“Lack of knowledge about the end date of detention is seen as one of the most stressful aspects of immigration detention, in particular for stateless persons and migrants who cannot be removed for legal or practical reasons”?
Is this not only indefinite detention but indefinite hopelessness? Should not we in the United Kingdom agree with the remainder of Europe, apart from Ireland, that we will put an end to it so that everybody will know exactly what the prospects are for their release?
My Lords, the law does not allow indefinite detention. It is our view that a fixed, arbitrary time limit on detention would actually serve only to encourage individuals to frustrate the removal procedures in order to reach a point at which they would have to be released.
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, for that rush of enthusiasm. I visited Dungavel detention centre in south Lanarkshire when it was a prison and as prisons go, it was not such a bad place. Since it became a detention centre, however, it has changed considerably. It is surrounded by barbed wire and looks much more like a prison for serious offenders than a place to house people who could be vulnerable and could be there without knowing how long they are to be detained. Why has it been necessary to make conditions worse for asylum seekers than they were for prisoners?
I refute the point that conditions for asylum seekers are worse than for prisoners. The detention estate has reduced by some 40% in recent years, so we are holding far fewer people in detention, and 95% of individuals who are asked to leave the country because they are not here legally do not actually find themselves in the detention estate.
My Lords, can the Minister say whether the welcome progress made in reducing the numbers of families in immigration removal centres during the coalition Government has been sustained? How many such families are still detained? Would she care to write to me on this point?
My Lords, once again the Minister insists that there is no indefinite detention in law. The dictionary definition of “indefinite” is “without fixed or specified limit”. Can she tell us what the fixed or specified limit is in law on general detention?
The other definition of indefinite is “unlimited” and I cannot find any examples of someone who has found themselves in detention for an unlimited period. For the reasons I outlined to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, we do not want to put an arbitrary time limit on detention.
My Lords, Stonewall and the UK Lesbian & Gay Immigration Group brought out a report called No Safe Refuge, which shows that those claiming asylum based on their sexual identity or gender identity who are put in detention suffer from prejudice, physical and sometimes sexual abuse. What is the Minister doing to ensure that this does not happen? Will she follow best practice from across the world that uses non-detention approaches for such vulnerable people?
Of course, that was something that Stephen Shaw recommended, and an R35 assessment is made before someone goes into the detention estate. I read that report, although unfortunately it was not attributed; I spoke to LGBT organisations about it and we worked through some of the issues. Also, as the noble Lord will know, we have worked with LGBT organisations extensively, including Stonewall, to ensure that conditions and training within the detention estate are sensitive to LGBT people who find themselves in detention.