Our immigration system is made up of many different and interconnected parts, and immigration detention is an important part of that system. It encourages compliance with our immigration rules, protects the public from the consequences of illegal migration, and ensures that people who are here illegally, or who are foreign criminals, can be removed from this country when all else fails.
Detention is not a decision that is taken lightly. And, when we do make the decision to detain someone, their welfare is an absolute priority.
The Windrush revelations have shown that our immigration system is not perfect and there are some elements that need much closer attention, and there are lessons we must learn.
That is why I welcome the second independent review by Stephen Shaw into immigration detention. It is a comprehensive and thoughtful report which recognises the progress this Government has made in reforming immigration detention since his last report in 2016. But it challenges us to go even further.
As the review notes, we have made significant changes to detention in the UK in recent years. Over the past three years, we have reduced the number of places in removal centres by a quarter. We detained 8 per cent fewer people last year than the year before. Last year, 64 per cent of those detained left detention within a month, and 91 per cent left within four. And 95 per cent of people liable for removal at any one time are not in detention at all, but carefully risk assessed and managed in the community, instead.
Stephen Shaw commends the “energetic way” in which his 2016 recommendations have been taken forward and notes that conditions across immigration removal centres have improved.
We now have in place the adults at risk in immigration detention policy to identify vulnerable adults more effectively and make better balanced decisions about the appropriateness of their detention.
We have also strengthened the checks and balances in the system. Setting up a team of special detention gatekeepers to ensure decisions to detain are reviewed. We have created panels to challenge the progress on detainees’ cases and their continuing detention. We have taken steps to improve mental health care in immigration removal centres. And we have changed the rules on bail hearings. Anyone can apply for bail at any time during detention. Furthermore, detainees are also automatically referred for a bail hearing once they have been detained for four months.
All of that is good work. However, I agree with Stephen Shaw that those reforms are still bedding in, and that there have been cases and processes that we have not always got right. Now I want to pick up the pace of reform and commit to four priorities going forward.
First, the Government’s starting point, as always, is that immigration detention is only for those whom we are confident that other approaches to removal will not work. Encouraging and supporting people to leave voluntarily is, of course, preferable and I have asked the Home Office to do more to explore alternatives to detention with faith groups, NGOs and within communities.