Parliamentary Debates

We monitor parliamentary debates that have taken place in the House of Commons, relating to immigration detention. A summary of recent debates and links to the original transcripts can be found here.


Debate in House of Commons on Immigration Status of Windrush Children, April 2018


On 16th April 2018, Labour MP David Lammy asked the Home Secretary to make an urgent statement on the status of Windrush children (These children arrived in Britain from the West Indies in the 1960s and 1970s after their parents were invited as British Citizens under British Nationality Act 1948. Under the 1971 Immigration Act, all Commonwealth citizens already living in the UK were given indefinite leave to remain. However, the Home Office did not keep a record of those granted leave to remain or issue any paperwork confirming it, meaning it is difficult for the individuals to now prove they are in the UK legally.)

During the debate that followed some questions and statements were made about Windrush children who had been wrongfully detained and/or deported. David Lammy asked "how many people have been deported? ... Can she tell the House how many have been detained as prisoners in their own country?

Home Secretary Amber Rudd replied "I am not aware of any specific cases of a person being removed in these circumstances."

In response to a question by Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, the Home Secretary Amber Rudd said "The right hon. Lady asks particularly about removals and detention, and I reassure her and the House that I have given an explicit instruction. In accordance with my wishes today, there will be no removals or detention as part of any assistance to help former Commonwealth citizens get their proper documentation in place."

Yvette Cooper MP (Labour) said that the Home Secretary "should now be instituting a huge review, right across the Home Office, of all Windrush-generation cases, and not just suspending deportations and detention."

In topical questions that day Luciana Berger MP (Labour) shared a story from one of her constituents "My constituent Charles Mukerjee has special educational needs. He and his family were recently detained in Yarl’s Wood. In detention, his medication was taken away, and he had a number of seizures and stopped eating. A doctor who saw him there said that he was traumatised. Will the Home Secretary urgently look at this family’s experience and see what changes need to be made to ensure that we treat all people who are detained humanely and in a dignified way, especially those with learning disabilities and mental ill health?"


Debate in House of Lords on Detention of LGBT Asylum Seekers, March 2018


On 28th March 2018, Liberal Democrat Lord Scriven asked the government what progress they had made in implementing the recommendations of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration in the report, An investigation into the Home Office’s Handling of Asylum Claims Made on the Grounds of Sexual Orientation, March to June 2014.

Baroness Williams of Trafford answered that of the eight recommendations made in the report, they had entirely accepted seven, and partially accepted one. All have been implemented. 

Lord Scriven asked whether the government would end the indefinite detention of LGBTI asylum seekers in line with implementation of "Yogyakarta principle plus 10, on the application of international human rights law in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity"

Baroness Williams of Trafford said that the Government "does not detain asylum seekers indefinitely" and that "only a small minority of claimants are detained while their claim is considered... Detention under immigration powers is used only very sparingly"

There were further questions about the Government's treatment of LGBT asylum seekers in immigration detention.

Baroness Williams of Trafford said that "the training of people dealing with LGBT asylum claims in detention or seeking their removal has been done in conjunction with both Stonewall and UKLGIG to absolutely ensure humane treatment of LGBT people in asylum" and that "all people in the detention estate have training in dealing with LGBT claims and claims on the grounds of faith. "


Debate in House of Commons on Yarl's Wood Detention Centre, March 2018


On 6th February 2018 at 1.27 pm there was an urgent question asked by Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott followed by a debate in the House of Commons about the ongoing hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire and about immigration detention more generally.

Diane Abbott asked the Home Secretary to make a statement on the detention centre at Yarl’s Wood.

Minister for Immigration Caroline Nokes said that immigration detention is an “essential part of an effective immigration system.” She spoke about respect for the dignity and welfare of detainees, the length of time people are detained for (“92% of people were detained for four months or less, and nearly two thirds were detained for less than a month.”) and the provision of 24-hour, seven-day-a-week healthcare in removal centres. She said that hunger-strikers, such as those in Yarl’s Wood, are closely monitored. “Home Office staff will not only ensure that detainees are informed about how their actions may impact on their health, but make it clear that we will continue to seek to progress their case.

Diane Abbott spoke about her recent trip to Yarl’s Wood with Shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti, where Serco-employed centre staff told her categorically that there was no hunger strike. She referred to a letter received by hunger-strikers that states “the fact that you are currently refusing food and/or fluid…may, in fact, lead to your case being accelerated”. She questioned whether this was evidence of punitive deportations for those women who “dared to go on hunger strike.” Abbott asked the Minister when she first knew of the hunger strike, when she knew about this letter, whether the letter had been approved by officials and “How is it possible to accelerate deportations and conform to natural justice, as surely all cases are expedited in any event?”

Caroline Nokes said that the letter is only given to women after an “extensive welfare interview” and that “the letter is, in fact, part of official Home Office guidance and was published on the website in November last year. It was agreed after consultation with NHS England, Medical Justice, the Immigration Law Practitioners Association and a range of non-governmental organisations.” [The letter can be viewed online, and is part of the Detention Service Order on ‘Detainees who refuse to eat or drink’. Medical Justice has commented that they were consulted but that they responded by saying “That approach is wholly inappropriate and contrary to clinical best practice” and that they had been ignored.]

She continued that she heard about the hunger-strike at the same time as Diane Abbott did and said “I wish to do nothing that encourages them to put their own health at risk by suggesting that doing so might prevent their removal from this country.

Desmond Swayne (Conservative) said that “Accelerated processing would only be a threat if the judicial process was not seen to be fair and independent. Is it?” Caroline Nokes replied that there is an extensive judicial process.

Shadow SNP spokesperson for Immigration, Asylum and Border Control Stuart McDonald referred to immigration detention as a “stain on our democracy an affront to the rule of law.” He asked “Why does the UK detain more than other European countries? Why can every other EU country manage with a time limit on immigration detention, but not the UK? Why do the Government continue to detain vulnerable people, including victims of torture, to the serious detriment of their health and wellbeing?”

Caroline Nokes said that immigration detention is decided on a case-by-case basis and that “Some 95% of people with no right to be in this country are managed within the community. Only 5% will be within the immigration removal centres at any one time.

Chair of Home Affairs Committee Yvette Cooper (Labour) repeated calls for there to be no punitive action taken for those on hunger strike. Anna Soubry (Conservative) said that “nobody likes” immigration detention but that it was the “right policy to pursue”. Gavin Newslands (SNP) spoke about his constituents refusal of a short-term holding facility being placed near Glasgow airport.

Jess Phillips (Labour) spoke about a female constituent who “rang the police because of a threat to kill her from a violent ex-husband, was taken to Yarl’s Wood rather than a refuge, detained there and has since been granted indefinite leave to remain. She asked about whether such occurrences deter women from calling the police.

Edward Davey (Liberal Democrat) asked whether Stephen Shaw’s second review had concluded, when she expected to receive it and the Home Office to publish it. Caroline Nokes said that they anticipate it very shortly.

Gareth Snell (Labour) spoke on behalf of Ruth Smeeth (Labour) thanking Caroline Nokes for intervening in the deportation of Opelo Kgari and her mother. He asked “Does the Minister agree that the fact that Members of Parliament have to resort to weekend telephone calls directly to Ministers to try to stop individuals from being deported before they have had their due process is a sign that the immigration system in this country is simply failing?

David Lammy (Labour) said that “the possibility that the Government will accelerate deportation on that basis must be contrary to human rights” and described it as a “cruel and unusual punishmentGill Furniss (Labour) spoke about intervening in the detention of her constituent whose immediate healthcare needs were not met in Yarl’s Wood and was at risk of going blind. Kate Green (Labour) spoke about the plight of people stuck in the loop of “detention and release, detention and release”. Stella Creasy (Labour) spoke about cheaper and “much more compassionate and humane ways in which we can manage our immigration system”. The local MP for Yarl’s Wood, Mohammad Yasin (Labour) called for an urgent review of the detention system. David Linden (SNP) asked simply how many people in Yarl’s Wood are on suicide watch. Caroline Nokes said that those with mental health issues are kept under close supervision.


Debate in House of Lords on Yarl's Wood Hunger Strike, February 2018


On 27th February 2018 at 3pm there was a debate in the House of Lords about the ongoing hunger strike at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre in Bedfordshire. 

Lord Paddick asked what steps the Government are taking to respond and said that “One of the main reasons for the hunger strikes is that people are being detained unfairly, unreasonably and indefinitely. One woman has described as like being kidnapped, not knowing when it will end or what will happen to her.

Baroness Williams of Trafford speaking on behalf of Government, suggested that there are many reasons why someone might refuse food and fluid, including dietary and religious reasons. She also suggested that detention is not indefinite when a detainee is reassessed for immigration and bail every four months. “It is fair to say that 92% of people in detention do not stay there for more than four months. The notion that someone might be detained indefinitely simply is not there. The purpose of detention is removal; it is not to detain indefinitely.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark asked whether she agreed that “rape is a form of torture” considering that government policy says victims of torture are not suitable for detention.

Baroness Williams of Trafford said that victims of sexual abuse are deemed vulnerable adults. She said that “We are working with NGOs on the definition of torture, because the courts challenged us on it, but we are alive to some of the vulnerable people who might be in detention for a number of reasons, including sexual abuse.”

Lord Alton of Liverpool, who visited Yarl’s Wood and felt significant improvements had been made, spoke about the significant desperation and “shadow of fear” that hangs over women held there. He raised the issue of the women who had been taken to Yarl’s Wood after living in the UK for 24 years, since the age of 11. He asked about the wellbeing of those on hunger strike and about their access to legal aid and representation for a resolution to specific cases.

Baroness Williams of Trafford agreed to investigate individual cases outlined by Lord Alton and said that there are specific rules in immigration detention for how to treat those with mental health and vulnerability.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett raised indefinite detention, saying that it is not the case that people are never released, it is that they don’t know when that will be. She said that evidence shows this to have a devastating impact on mental health. She asked whether the Minister will ask Stephen Shaw to widen his review and look at whether indefinite detention should be ended “in line with what happens in other countries”

Baroness Williams of Trafford repeated that most do not stay in detention for more than four months. She referred to the short review Stephen Shaw is undertaking, looking at progress made against his previous review. “The work will be completed in the Spring and its findings laid before the House.

The Bishop of Salisbury asked what percentage of those held in immigration detention centres are released back into the community.

Baroness Williams of Trafford said she would refer back to the reverend with that information but that “somebody would be in detention only for the purposes of removal, and immigration bail would be in line with a risk assessment done on that person.”

Baroness Hamwee said that Government’s policy on achieving swift removal and the operation of their ‘Adults at Risk’ policy are not working. She said that the hunger strike in Yarl’s Wood is “the sort of response one might expect from people who feel unjustly imprisoned” and that Government should reconsider looking at mechanisms in Scandinavian countries, where “work is done successfully within the community to encourage people to leave when they have no right to be here.

Baroness Williams of Trafford said she disagreed and that Government policy is working. She blamed those in detention for their enlogated stays, stating that people stay longer in detention because “they might themselves have launched further appeals against their removal.”

Lord Green of Deddington asked for balance on the subject and stated that “fundamentally we have to be able to remove people or the entire credibility of the system disappears.

Baroness Williams of Trafford agreed with Lord Green and said that “the ultimate aim of the detention centre is removal.”


Debate in House of Commons on Immigration White Paper, February 2018


On 5th February 2018, the House of Commons debated the publication of the proposed Immigration White Paper. This paper will outline plans for the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system. During the debate Caroline Nokes noted that the Immigration paper will not be published until a Brexit transition deal is struck.

During the debate, Heidi Alexander (Labour, Lewisham East) asked how many immigrants from outside the EU who "are in the UK, who have had an immigration application refused, but have not had removal or deportation proceedings initiated against them?" Caroline Nokes replied saying that "we work very hard to make sure that people who are in this country without permission find it a very difficult environment in which to live." She described policies that have made it harder for undocumented immigrants and refused asylum-seekers to have a bank account or a driving licence or to rent property.

Paula Sherriff (Labour, Dewsbury) raised Yarl's Wood IRC and other detention centres as examples of an "obvious injustice" and places where "vulnerable people have been held, effectively indefinitely, when most of them have not actually committed any crime." She asked whether immigration detention will be reviewed in this paper. Caroline Nokes said that "detention will continue to form part of our immigration policy". 

The consultation on the Immigration White Paper will be in October 2018.


Debate in House of Lords on Legal Advice for Asylum Seekers, February 2018


On 5th of February 2018, the House of Lords debated access to adequate legal advice for failed asylum seekers facing removal.

Lord Roberts of Llandudn asked whether the government intended to ensure that anyone facing deportation had access to adequate legal advice. Lord Keen of Elie, answering on behalf of the Government, said that they have "commenced the post-implementation review of legal aid, which will include the scope of legal aid for immigration and asylum cases." and that legal aid is currently available for people challenging their detention and/or asylum refusal. Lord Roberts followed up by stating that many asylum seekers are unable to access legal advice for various reasons. He blamed this lack of access to legal advice for the many "unsound decisions" made by the Home Office that are later reversed. He said that in 10 years there has been a quarter of a million Home Office decisions overturned by appeal. Lord Keen stated that "all persons detained in immigration removal centres now have access to a duty solicitor and therefore have access to legal advice."

Lord Beecham raised the point of the Home Office attempting to deport people who have been living in this country for decades. Lord Keen stated that "the period for which a person has remained illegally in this country should not be and is not a determinant of their right to remain here."

Lord Thomas of Gresford raised issues from a recent report by the Bar Council on immigration detention. He said that 3,000 people at one time are held in immigration detention at a cost of £34,000 per person. Over half are then ultimately released into the community after successful appeals. He raised the specific case of an asylum seeker with mental health challenges who was detained unlawfully and awarded damages. He asked whether the Minister will review "the means and merits test applied by the Legal Aid Agency, which academic research shows operates to exclude detainees from legal aid by, “seizing upon the tiniest thing”, to declare their applications ineligible?" Lord Keen explained that the Legal Aid Agency is independent of Government. "The application of LASPO—the legal aid Act—is the subject of internal review at present."

The Bishop of St. Albans raised points from research by the Children's Society that found that hundreds of children are being left without a legal safety net. "Only 12 grants for exceptional case funding were made in 2015-16, fewer than 1% of the expected number of cases under the previous system." Lord Keen stated that "103 children were put into detention in immigration-related matters in 2016, of which 42 were under 12. Some of those may have been unaccompanied but, under the policy of the 2014 Act, unaccompanied children should not actually go into immigration removal centres; they should be held pending removal decisions. With regard to exceptional case funding, the figures for the first two quarters of 2017 indicate that the success rate for immigration-related applications was 73%. Some 652 applications were made during that period."


Debate on the immigration detention of vulnerable people, March 2017


Parliamentary Debate on Inquiry Findings, September 2015