Home Secretary lays Stephen Shaw Review before parliament

The Home Secretary Sajid Javid has today laid before parliament the follow up report to the Home Office from Stephen Shaw, assessing government progress in improving the welfare in detention of vulnerable persons. This statement in parliament comes just hours before parliament breaks for Summer recess. While we are still working to digest the 266-page document that Stephen Shaw has written, we have summarised here the Home Secretary's statement in parliament, his policy commitments and the responses from cross-party MPs.

.  In Sajid Javid's statement he made four key commitments from the Home Office, in response to Shaw's recommendations. These included:

1. The piloting of an 'Alternatives to Detention' scheme, designed by the UNHCR, so that vulnerable women "will get a programme of care and support in the community" instead of in detention at Yarls Wood.

2. In response to Shaw's criticisms of the Adults at Risk policy as a "work in progress", Sajid Javid committed the Home Office to "look again" at improving Rule35 reports on vulnerability. He also committed to piloting "an additional bail referral at the 2 month point, halving the time before first bail referral", increasing the number of Home Office staff in immigration removal centres and increasing staff training and support

3. Sajid Javid said the Home Office "will publish more data on immigration detention" and that he has commissioned the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration to report each year on "whether and how the Adults at Risk policy is making a difference".

4. Sajid Javid also said he wants a new drive to improve "dignity in detention". These measures will include a commitment to "modernising" toilet facilities, "ending immediately" the practice of three detainees living in rooms designed for two and working to provide better access for detainees to skype with their families.

Additionally the Home Secretary also committed to investigate how time limits for detention work in other countries, where they are implemented. Once an internal review is complete, he said he will look again at time limits. He said that he is "aware of arguments for time limits on immigration detention" but that he agreed with the Shaw that the campaign "rests too much on slogans than on evidence."

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott pointed out that the Home Office has only reduced the number of people in immigration detention by 8% since publication of the last Shaw review. However, she welcomed the move towards alternatives to detention, working with faith groups and community care. She described the desperation of the women she met in Yarl's Wood, saying that they lived "very sad, very undignified lives". She welcomed the move towards more transparency and data on detention saying that "immigration detention and the conditions in detention, have always existed in the shadows without sufficient scrutiny". She argued against the use of indefinite detention and welcomed further examination by the Home Office of time limits.

SNP MP David Linden said that"it is totally unacceptable, if not quite predictable, that the government has waited until the final few hours of this parliamentary term before releasing the new Shaw report and its response." He called on Sajid Javid to commit to a parliamentary debate on immigration detention after parliament returns in the fall. Sajid agreed to raise it with the Leader of the House. David Linden added that "the large-scale and routine detention of tens of thousands of people in large-scale private prisons, simply for the Home Office’s administrative convenience, is an affront to the rule of law and a stain on this democracy." He called for an end to "tinkering" and for "radical reform of detention policy".

Labour MP Yvette Cooper raised the ongoing inquiry by the Home Affairs Select Committee that will look to scrutinise the Shaw review findings and the government's response. She also urged the Home Secretary to end indefinite detention as soon as possible.

Sajid Javid said that Home Office's own safeguarding procedures have been shown to not always be effective. "We have learnt from the Windrush cases that those systems haven't always worked and there are more lessons to be learnt on this." He said that the 'lessons learned' review in response to the Windrush scandal is also going to be important in helping to improve immigration detention practices.

Liberal Democrat MP Edward Davey quoted the forward from the Shaw review "The time that many people stay in detention remains deeply troubling. Half of those released are returned to the community. The number of vulnerable people has actually increased." He describes this as evidence of the Home Office's "complete failure".

Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said that "The indefinite nature of detention is what makes it mental torture. Its a Kafkaesque nightmare." She called on the Home Secretary to acknowledge that "the Adults at Risk policy is fundamentally flawed because detention itself makes people more vulnerable."

Labour MP for Birmingham Steve McCabe referred to a question he asked in parliament on May 1st, about the number of people who are released and re-detained, for which no data existed. He is glad to hear the Home Office intends to be more transparent and release better data.

Sajid Javid ended the debate by reassuring MPs and by incorrectly saying that the Home Office does not detain asylum-seekers "as a matter of policy - at all". In fact, a large number of those detained within the immigration detention system have sought asylum at some point.

Statement from Harriet Ballance, Acting Director of AVID:

"We have today had first sight of Stephen Shaw’s second review into the detention of vulnerable people and will be reading and digesting the content of this in the coming days.  Shaw has reiterated concerns about the length of time people are spending in detention, and the numbers of vulnerable people who are still being detained despite safeguards designed to prevent this. Home Secretary Sajid Javid today announced the report with a number of commitments including a pilot of alternatives to detention for vulnerable women, and an internal review looking at the question of a time limit on immigration detention, which is so desperately needed. 

It will now be crucial that scrutiny of the system of detention is ongoing and that these commitments lead to meaningful reforms. AVID welcomes the scrutiny of the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights which has formally announced its inquiry into detention today.

In conducting its review on a time limit and in implementing its alternatives to detention pilot, it will be critically important that the government meaningfully engages a range of stakeholders including migrants who are affected by immigration detention, and the threat of detention in their everyday lives.  These measures must lead to a significant reduction in the numbers of people being detained.

We call on the government to show vision and leadership in building a fair and humane immigration system in which this cruel, expensive and unnecessary system of indefinite detention is a thing of the past."

Publication date: 
Tuesday, July 24, 2018