Immigration Bill

30th June 2020

Andrew Mitchell supports a 28-day limit for immigration detention.

I have listened carefully to what has been said by Opposition Members, and I am not persuaded that the Bill is anything other than a good piece of legislation on the whole. The question for the House this afternoon is whether it could be improved, and that is why I put my name to the amendments and new clauses tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and by the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. I will listen carefully to what the Minister says, but he should remember that the Bill has a long journey still ahead of it down to the other end of the Palace, where undoubtedly some of these issues will be prominent in the minds of their lordships.

Like the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) I had the opportunity, courtesy of the Home Office, to visit Brook House. I went there following the “Panorama” programme, which led us to believe that the conditions were inhumane. Actually, I thought the conditions were both humane and decent.

I will come directly to the point I wish to make about the proposal for a 28-day limit. The problem is that the best regime in the world cannot ameliorate the fundamental injustice of a system that arbitrarily imprisons people without time limit, solely for administrative reasons. This is a matter not of criminal justice, but of the administration of our immigration rules—the distinction is important.

Many people in immigration removal centres have never been charged with any crime, while some have previously been in prison following conviction for a criminal offence, but have served their time. All are detained purely and simply because they are liable for removal. Some go on to be removed, but more than half are released at an arbitrary later date and are able to remain in the United Kingdom either temporarily or permanently. As other Members have said, we remain the only country in Europe to detain people indefinitely for the purposes of immigration enforcement.

If individuals have no right to remain here, our priority should be to strongly encourage other countries to accept the return of their citizens. That is something the coalition Government spent a lot of time trying to do from 2010 to 2015. Indeed, we should negotiate such deals and procedures as an urgent necessity. In this way, individuals are no longer left in limbo in immigration detention.

The proposal for a 28-day limit applies only to the use of arbitrary indefinite administrative detention. Convicted criminals will serve their sentences and then face removal if they have no right to remain. If the crime is particularly serious and the prisoner presents a risk to public safety, it will be for a criminal parole board to carry out a risk assessment and decide when and if they can be released. In those extreme cases, we should surely expect the immigration service to have removal arrangements in place to coincide with the release date.

The proposal is not a seismic change, but it would save the country the more than £500 a week per person that is currently spent on detention. That is a significant saving, since 27,331 people entered detention in 2017 alone. In addition, I was surprised to discover, as I indicated to my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden, that over the past five years, £21 million has been paid out in damages for unlawful detention. That figure came from a recent Home Office question. That figure could be vastly reduced, if not eradicated, if a 28-day time limit were in place.

Of necessity, the amendments that have been selected apply only to EEA and Swiss nationals. Will my right hon. Friend join me in saying to Ministers that we would like the Government to adopt this proposal, but for everyone?
My hon. Friend makes an extremely reasonable point. I am sure that the Minister, who will have listened to the reasonable points that have been made on both sides of the House, but particularly on his own side, will take it on board.

The absence of a time limit does nothing to promote speed and efficiency in the administration of justice by the immigration service. I believe that the introduction of one would improve working practices, as well as creating a more humane system of immigration control.