“No ifs, no buts”, Theresa May! Detention Reform in Sight? Debate on the Queens Speech 2015

7 July 2015

(Belatedly…) Here’s a short piece summarising some of the key comments on immigration detention made during the Queens Speech.


On 27th May Members of Parliament crammed into the House of Lords to listen to the Queens Speech – including the greatest number of BAME MPs and Women MPs ever. The days since the Queens Speech have seen the large number of new MPs (around 180) give their “maiden speeches”. Many passionate contributions – with differing perspectives on immigration, migration generally, Britain’s role in the world, on human rights abroad and in the UK. They will all provide context for the big push in this Parliament to radically reform immigration detention.

Theresa May perhaps gave the most encouraging signs yet that the Government may be yielding on the current use of immigration detention. Responding to Richard Fuller, a Conservative member of the APPG Inquiry, raising the issue on the second day of debate on the Queens Speech (On Home Affairs and Justice), Theresa May said:

“The Home Office is looking at what estate is required and at the whole question of periods of detention. I and, I suspect, my hon. Friend would prefer to see people detained for a very short period—in fact, many people are detained for only a matter of days, and the majority of detentions are for less than two months. It is important that we have a system for identifying and quickly deporting people who should not be here. That is why we took some measures in the Immigration Act 2014, and I will come on to the further measures that we intend to take to enable that to happen.”

The fact that the APPG Inquiry saw Conservative, Labour and LibDem members all conclude that immigration detention is Costly, Ineffective and Unjust gives huge impetus to the cause. With the Home Office having to make massive cost savings over the next 5 years, community-based alternatives to detention must look more and more attractive with immigration detention used genuinely as a last resort.

Richard Fuller MP spoke eloquently of MPs back at Westminster bringing a renewed sense of energy from their engagement with the electorate over the past few weeks – people united on wanting to ensure a better future for their children and grandchildren.

He continued:

“This idea of a better future arises not only in the sense of a better economic future for our constituents, but in the sense that we have a Government that will stand up for and defend the freedoms of our country, and reflect the best aspects and values of our great nation”

“The Yarl’s Wood detention centre is next to my constituency, and it is part of a detention estate in this country that has grown under Governments of all colours and all stripes…At the moment, immigration detention is ineffective and costly, and for too frequently it leads to instances of injustice that are a stain on our country’s values. So I look to her [The Home Secretary] and her ministerial team to engage positively with people from all parts of the House to reform immigration detention.”

In the same debate Labour MP for Hammersmith, Andy Slaughter, robustly defended the Human Rights Act, lamented the passing of LASPO 2012 and praised Margaret Hodge’s , “extremely mature view of what was wrong with the Government’s immigration policy”. Nevertheless he was happy to praise Richard Fuller MP:

“I disagree with the hon. Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller) on many issues, but he made the point, as he has done many times, about the dangers of extended detention for immigration and has earned our respect for championing that cause.”

In the Lords, it was Liberal Democrat Baroness Hamwee, on the 4th Day of Debate of the Queens Speech, who drew attention to reforming immigration detention. In her speech she ripped into the Government’s approach to immigration, confiding to her audience she had found herself shouting at her radio “a lot” during the election campaign in April. She castigated the use of phrases such as ‘spurious human rights’ and ‘bogus asylum seekers’ – and the validation it gives to xenophobia.

But she is happy to find common cause with Conservatives proponents of radical immigration detention reform. As she memorably says:

“Humane treatment is intrinsically right and important.”

SNP MPs too, have lost no time in pushing for reform, tabling an Early Day Motion calling for the closure of Dungavel IRC in the following terms:

“That this House commends the protestors who gathered at Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre on 30 May 2015 to call for the closure of the centre; and agrees that the Government must pursue alternatives to detention with a view to achieving the closure of Dungavel House and other immigration removal centres.”

(Early Day Motion 72, http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2015-16/72)

Now, is surely a golden opportunity to engage with new and existing MPs of all political parties, while their minds are perhaps most open to reform, to petition them to implement the recommendations of the APPG Inquiry into immigration detention.

The Detention Forum team