Lords divided over controversial time limit in UK Immigration Bill

‘Medieval’ UK detention system is ‘one a dictator would rejoice in’

The House of Lords. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The House of Lords. Source: Wikimedia Commons


The House of Lords is so divided over the UK’s controversial new Immigration Bill that one peer has suggested scrapping the legislation altogether and starting from scratch. The Bill, which saw its fifth sitting in the House of Lords yesterday, is the subject of intense controversy, including over issues such as immigration detention.

Speaking in a House of Lords debate last week, former Chief Inspector of Prisons Lord Ramsbotham pointed out that over 150 amendments to the Bill have been tabled, adding:

“This unprecedented volume of associated activity after a Bill has been formally introduced […] suggests that the Government do not know exactly what they want to achieve, and that the Bill as currently constructed is not fit for purpose.”


Lord Roberts of Llandudno. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Lord Roberts of Llandudno criticised “medieval system”. Source: Wikimedia Commons


Time limit controversy

The Bill’s lack of provision for a statutory time limit on immigration detention is a major source of contention. In an impassioned speech made shortly before Christmas, Lord Roberts of Llandudno drew attention to the fact that while France detains migrants for up to 32 days and Belgium for two months, the UK remains the only country in the EU without a detention time limit. Lord Roberts said:

“In the UK our unlimited detention laws mean that in 2013 some 400 immigrants were detained for more than six months. It is a medieval system, one that a dictator would really rejoice in, but we are not like that. We are humane people with a record for showing compassion.”

Echoing his concerns, Lord Hylton added that “indefinite detention without charge [is] completely repugnant to public opinion in this country.”

Both peers, backed by other members of the house from across the benches, have repeatedly sought the addition of Amendment 218, which would impose a 28-day statutory time limit on administrative immigration detention.


The Shaw Review into immigration detention in the UK. Source: Home Office

The Shaw Review into immigration detention in the UK. Source: Home Office


“Too much detention”

Last month saw the publication of the Shaw Review into the treatment of vulnerable people in immigration detention, a sweeping 350 page-long independent review commissioned by the Home Office and conducted by former Prisons and Probation Ombudsman Stephen Shaw.

The review was strictly instructed to restrict its remit to conditions within detention centres rather than the system as a whole. Despite this, Mr Shaw concluded that indefinite detention without a time limit contributed to mental health problems and that detention was over-used.

The report said “there is too much detention” and that research “demonstrates incontrovertibly that detention in and of itself undermines welfare and contributes to vulnerability.” It concluded that the government should reduce its use of detention “boldly and without delay“.


Playing the system?

Some peers, however, remain reluctant to introduce a time limit. Lord Bates, speaking as a Minister of State to the Home Department, has argued that its introduction would “allow criminals and non-compliant individuals to play the system knowing that if they refuse to cooperate with removal for long enough they will be released.”

Lord Bates added: “There are significant, long standing and highly effective protections for individuals against indefinite detention in the current system. A statutory limit is therefore not necessary.”

The Bill continues its passage through the Committee Stage of Parliament. We will have more as the debate unfolds.

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