At the last Quarterly Meeting of the Detention Forum in April 2017, we had a chance to reflect on the recent Westminster Hall debate on Detention of Vulnerable Persons, led by Anne McLaughlin MP (SNP) on 14 March 2017.

So what did we do for the debate?  Some of our members spent a busy week prior to the debate preparing briefing papers, urging MPs to attend the debate and planning communications work to promote the debate.  On the day of the debate itself, many did live-tweeting.  Several blogs about the debate were also published by members.  We would like to thank everyone who supported and took interest in the debate, and please see the bottom of this article for links to various material relating to the debate.

This was a much needed debate, in light of the Government’s failure live up to the promise of detention reform which was made more than a year ago.  The Immigration and Enforcement Business Plan 2016/17 was never published during the financial year, raising questions as to whether such plan actually existed in the first place.  Statistical information shows no sign of significant reduction in the scale of the use of immigration, and many people continue to be detained for years on end.  How does the Minister account for his failure to deliver what was promised?

In her opening speech, Anne McLaughlin MP cogently captured our shared sense of frustration as follows.

‘The most soul-destroying thing about being in detention is the unlimited nature of it – not knowing when or whether you will be released; the most soul-destroying thing for campaigners, many of whom have been in detention or are still at risk of detention, is not knowing when the Government will do as they promised.’


The Detention Forum has been monitoring how politicians talk about immigration detention over many years.  What was very evident during this debate was that the strength of cross-party support for urgent detention reform has not dissipated.  Before the parliamentary detention inquiry, few politicians talked about immigration detention.  Even when they did, often, there were not clear, sustained demands.  During the Westminster Hall debate, however, the key changes that the Detention Forum has been demanding, such as introduction of a time limit over immigration detention, ending of the detention of vulnerable people, automatic judicial oversight and developing and implementing community-based alternatives to detention were repeatedly and confidently mentioned by those MPs who participated in the debate.

Although the Immigration Minister faced sharp questioning by the MPs, his concluding response was, again, unsatisfactory and lacked substance.  In response, Anne McLaughlin MP said ‘One of the fundamental things he has not addressed is the gap between stated policy and practice. Policies are not being carried out in practice, and we have given numerous examples of that’.

Concluding the debate, Anne McLaughlin MP asked the Minister ‘Will the Minister have a meeting with me and some of these groups, which have a lot of experience of detention and a lot of valuable information about the alternatives? He has not answered why we are not using all the alternatives that are far cheaper and far more effective. Why are we not looking at following those? Will he agree to that meeting?’.  We are, of course, ready to meet with the Minister but there has been no word from his office.

Parliamentary debates are never conclusive events: they are simply one of the opportunities available for parliamentarians to scrutinise the government’s action, seek clarification from the Minister and put further pressure when the promised outcome has not been delivered.  From our point of view, they are also vital tools to keep the issue alive and involve ever increasing number of parliamentarians to take an active interest in the issue.  This Westminster Hall debate made clear that a broad consensus for detention reform exists in parliament and, however much the Minister wants to turn his blind eyes, this desire for detention reform is not going to disappear.


You can read the Hansard record of the debate here.  You will be able to find out which MP spoke at the debate and what they said.  If your MP was not speaking at the debate, perhaps you want to contact them to remind them how important this is?

The Detention Forum made a storify of the live-tweets on the day here.  A big thank you to everyone who took part.  Feel free to retweet if you wish.

Freed Voices at Detention Action produced this blog before the debate.  Mishka’s words were read out by Anne McLaughlin MP who was leading the debate.

Right to Remain’s blog about the debate is here.  It features images created by Sylvia, one of the Detention Forums’ social media volunteers.  Thank you Sylvia!

Briefing papers for the debate were prepared by Scottish Detainee Visitors, ourselves, Detention Action, AVID and others.

By the Detention Forum team