Meanwhile, in a Parallel Universe… – The Government’s response to the Detention Inquiry Report in Parliament so far – 18 March 2015

By the Detention Forum team

(Note – Also it is worth looking at the following exchanges on 23 March between James Brokenshire and Paul Blomfield MP and Sarah Teather MP where the same rhetoric was repeated. And is the government still planning to expand the size of the immigration detention estate? Minister doesn’t know the answer – yet – as of 23 March.)

With all eyes focused on the up-coming House of Lords debate on the Detention Inquiry Report on Thursday 26th March, the last couple of weeks in Parliament have seen some interesting exchanges in the wake of the Inquiry Report and a certain amount of disarray among Home Office ministers.

James Brokenshire in a written answer to Sarah Teather MP on 18th March said there were no plans for the Government to review “the use of detention”, that the Shaw review was confined to the “welfare of immigration detainees”.

However, in a mini-debate on immigration detention on the back of a question about the Immigration Regulations on 11th March 2015, Lord Bates announced that he had now read the Detention Inquiry Report, and that the Home Office would of course “give a proper response to such an important and thorough piece of work”. At the same time Lord Bates managed to present what appears to be, in his world, a rosy picture of immigration detention while assuring members of the APPG Inquiry Panel that a notice would go out on 17th March for all interested Peers to meet with officials to “offer reassurance about actions and steps which have been taken”.

The Lord Bishop of Chester, drew Lord Bates’ attention to the fact that “downward pressure from the authorities on non-EU immigrants is onerous, aggressive and…is producing all manner of injustice”. Baroness Hussein-Ece brought the debate back to Yarlswood, and the Channel 4 undercover filming, and the plight of older people with disabilities being detained there. Lord Bates expressed his distress, said the Home Office were investigating and so would the Shaw review, and left it at that.

Baroness Smith of Basildon raised with Lord Bates, one of his previous replies that Serco were contractually committed to delivering 66% women officers at Yarl’s Wood by 2015 and contrasted this statement with a letter she’d received from Rupert Soames OBE, chief executive of SERCO in which he says he is working to increase the figure to 60% by the end of 2015. Baroness Smith wanted to know whether there was any contractual, and therefore, legal obligation on SERCO to raise the number of women officers. Lord Bates rather dodged the numerical discrepancy, saying he would “look into” what the figure was, and appeared to duck the question on legal obligation, ambiguously saying the quota was “one of the conditions put out before renewing the contract”.

Lord Avebury raised the over-riding issue of putting an end to indefinite detention in the UK, being the only country in Europe to have such a system. Lord Bates took refuge in saying the House had rejected such an idea when debating Baroness William’s proposal to limit detention to a maximum of 60 days during House of Lords Report Stage of the Immigration Bill 2014. This appears to be fast becoming Lord Bates’ way of avoiding the issue. However, it will be remembered that Baroness William’s proposal was only defeated with the support of the Labour Opposition, and Baroness Smith of Basildon as spokesperson for the Opposition supported many of the objectives of the proposal but wasn’t convinced by the wording of Baroness William’s amendment.

We digress slightly here, with a reason, to also observe that in the mini-debate on the Immigration Regulations on 11th March, Baroness Lister of Buttersett raised with Lord Bates, the issue of the recent report on violence against women and girls, by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which expressed concern about how current Home Office policies leave some people destitute during the immigration and asylum process, leading to women being at greater risk of violence and sexual exploitation. In response Lord Bates was long on reassurances and short on specific measures. This is all the more concerning given that the question was asked only a few days before the Lords Debate on 17th March on the Modern Slavery Bill, in which the Government sought to deny any connection between the evil’s of Modern Slavery and wider immigration policy as a whole, and has shelved taking responsibility with another independent review.

The reason for the digression will hopefully become clear in the parallels with the Government response to the findings of the Detention Inquiry Report. The Government’s approach to the burning injustice of immigration detention is just as symptomatic of the disconnect between the high rhetoric of ostensible concern on the one hand, and the appalling plight of very vulnerable people resulting from Home Office policy on the other. Let’s look forward to the Lords debate on the 26th March on the Detention Inquiry Report further holding up the lack of joined up thinking in the Government’s current position on Immigration Detention.