Speaking in a debate on the detention of vulnerable people, David Burrowes speaks up for victims of trafficking and calls on the Government to speed up implementation of an improved case management process to reduce the number of people held in immigration detention and above all else that “victims of modern slavery must go free.”
It is a pleasure to take part in this important debate, which gives the Minister a chance to get a taste of the cross-party concern that was amplified last year in the run-up to the Immigration Bill—now the Immigration Act 2016. Many hon. Members, from all parts of the House, made it clear that indefinite detention was unacceptable—that was the easy point to make—and that there needs to be progress, not least towards a statutory time limit. Through the passage of the Act, and through Stephen Shaw’s scrutiny and welcome report, it was accepted—some of us conceded—that the welcome recommendations, the broad thrust of which the Government accepted, could well lead to a reduction in the numbers being detained and for how long.
Stephen Shaw talked about the package of “adults at risk” policies, individual assessments for removal and reviews, and the welcome progress that was made on outlawing the detention not only of children, but of vulnerable people, such as pregnant women, unless there are exceptional, limited circumstances. We all recognise that that package might not be the only lever to deal with too many people being in detention for too long—there are also statutory time limits—but it might be successful. However, Stephen Shaw said he that he would revisit that tool if progress was not made. Time has now gone by and, sadly, we have not seen the steps that were promised to Parliament and Members, so it may need to be revisited. I say advisedly to the Minister that cross-party concern will grow, not least in terms of interest in the blunt instrument of a statutory time limit, unless we see further progress.
The hon. Gentleman and I have worked closely on these issues, and I pay tribute to his work. He is right to highlight that the progress we appeared to be making seems to have stalled. However, does he agree that there are worrying signs that things may be going into reverse? The most recent report on an immigration detention centre was done by the chief inspector of prisons on Brook House, where the average length of detention has increased, rather than decreased. Does he share my concern that that is a worrying sign? Clearly, we hope that the Minister will listen to the cross-party concerns that the issue needs to be addressed.
I agree. There are warning signs. We have seen the reports in the media and elsewhere on Yarl’s Wood and the scandals that have taken place. We do not want to be in that position. We want to ensure that the recommendations, which were broadly accepted, mean real results, but we are not seeing them.
In January last year, the then Minister committed in Parliament to safeguarding the most vulnerable, with a clear presumption that people who are at risk should not be detained. I want to talk about the victims of trafficking and the need for reviews and assessments relating to their removal, not least because Ministers have given assurances, as did the Prime Minister last July. She made it clear—rightly, given that she has championed the cause of tackling modern slavery—that the Home Office has taken the lead. The Home Secretary is leading the task force, bringing Whitehall together in regular meetings, in which I am sure the Minister is also involved, to ensure that we apply our full force in tackling the evils of modern slavery, so that we can, in the words of the Prime Minister on 30 July,
“get a real grip of this issue”,
“drive further progress in the battle against this cruel exploitation”.
The words of the Prime Minister are pertinent to today’s debate. She wrote:
“Vulnerable people who have travelled long distances believing they were heading for legitimate jobs are finding they have been duped, forced into hard labour, and then locked up and abused....These crimes must be stopped and the victims of modern slavery must go free.”
The victims of modern slavery must go free and not be in detention.
I will refer to an example given to me by Detention Action. It is about T, a trafficking survivor.
“Like many Vietnamese people in detention, he was trafficked to work in a cannabis farm.”
That was referenced by the Prime Minister.
“He has been left with long-lasting injuries and psychological trauma after being beaten by his traffickers. The Home Office accept that he is a torture survivor but have refused to release him. On the basis of limited information, the Home Office refuses to believe that he is a trafficking survivor. He has been detained for four months.”
Victims of modern slavery must go free.
I will refer to the Helen Bamber Foundation and a recent example this month about someone with a rule 35 report from a detention centre. The doctor noted extensive scarring that was in keeping with a history of torture. Sadly, though, there was a negative reasonable grounds decision that turned on the credibility of the applicant, as the trafficking claim was not raised when first questioned in the UK. We have made great strides in dealing with the issue of reporting referrals. Here is a clear example where no doubt the threats by the trafficker not to tell anyone of the exploitation at the time of initial questioning is something that is normal and not exceptional, but is not given any weight. There are also indicators that the individual had been re-trafficked after coming into contact with UK authorities initially.
I will draw on reports referred to by the Home Office. There are reasons why the claim of a torture survivor trafficking victim had not been properly maintained above issues around immigration. The vulnerability issue is the concern, but sadly it is weighed among immigration factors and the vulnerability concerns are downgraded. The Home Office report stated that entry into the UK took place
“in a clandestine manner”—
in other words, on the back of a lorry. That is not surprising for a trafficked victim:
“You have no close ties in the UK to ensure your compliance.”
Again, that is not surprising in terms of the indicators present. The individual had been trafficked. Here is an example from the Shaw report in relation to mental health:
“Whilst it is noted that you have encountered physical torture and are suffering poor mental health as a result of this, the doctor has not diagnosed any serious physical or mental health conditions that are likely to worsen within the detained environment during the duration necessary to effect your removal.”
Page 306 of the Shaw Review states:
“Together the literature, which spans a 25-year period and a number of legal systems, tells a consistent story of the harmful effects of detention on mental health.”
That is compounded in a victim of trafficking. What is going on here? We have the Shaw report referencing clear evidence of mental health aggravated by detention, not least among those who are victims of torture.
The report continues:
“When balancing your vulnerability against your negative immigration factors, the negative factors outweigh the risks.”
What is happening here to very vulnerable people? At the time of writing, despite the adults at risk policy, this individual has now been in detention for four months, with a further three and a half months being proposed to effect removal. It is not the will of Stephen Shaw, it is not the will of Parliament, and I do not believe it was the will of the Ministers and the Government during the passage of the Immigration Act 2016. We must do better.
I must press the Minister on his answer to my questions that followed up on the clear will of the Minister’s predecessor in response to the Shaw report. My question is about timescales for individual reviews and assessments for removal, which should take precedence over issues around detention. It is what immigration removal centres are all about: removal and ensuring that individuals are assessed for removal, which is there to supplement the adults at risk policy. There was a clear commitment that that would be in place by the end of the year.
The then Minister responded on 14 January by saying in response to the recommendation that
“the Home Office should examine its processes for carrying out detention reviews, the Government will implement a new approach to the case management of those detained, replacing the existing detention review process with a clear removal plan for all those in detention.”—[Official Report, 14 January 2016; Vol. 604, c. 28WS.]
The following month in the Select Committee on Home Affairs, the then Immigration Minister, now the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, told me that the current system of detention review will be replaced by removal assessments by the end of the year. It has not happened. The current Minister responded to my question yesterday by saying that “work continues on designing and implementing a more effective case management process to replace the existing method of reviewing detention. Case Progression Plans are intended to act as the single caseworking record for all individuals entering immigration detention. Wider rollout...is planned for later this year, subject to the findings from the evaluation of the pilot phase.”
Again, we must do better.
In conclusion, whether it is on that issue or publishing a plan for the whole of the estate that will be predicated on the Government’s commitment to reduce the numbers in detention, we must do better. At the very least, let us commit ourselves to follow through with what the Prime Minster said:
“the victims of modern slavery must go free.”
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing a debate on a subject whose time has come again—many of us have been involved in debates on it in times gone by—but may I caution her on something? I welcome her scepticism: she is right to be sceptical, given the evidence that she will present to us. However, I would hope and expect my hon. Friend the Minister not to say that the reason for continued detention of vulnerable people is in any way ideological. Sadly, it could well be administrative. That is unacceptable too, particularly when the Government have said to Parliament that the presumption should be that those who are at risk are not detained.
I genuinely hope that the hon. Gentleman is right and the reason is not ideological, but we can only wait so long before we come to the conclusion that it is. Hopefully, though, it is not.
The hon. Lady perhaps understates the costs. What about people whose stay is extended, so their time in detention is longer than legally required? The compensation bill is going up by millions of pounds. That is taxpayers’ money, which is being wasted on illegal, extended detention. Frankly, that is a scandal—it should go on effective, alternative ways of controlling people.
In a recent two-year period, the bill for compensation for people detained illegally was about £10 million. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for all that he does and says—it cannot be easy for someone when their Government are involved—and for all his campaigning on behalf of people in these circumstances.
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