Bishop of Leeds supports motion to regret on secondary legislation regarding Manston Detention Facility

The Bishop of Leeds spoke in support of a Motion to Regret tabled by Baroness Lister of Burtersett on 18th March 2023:

“That this House regrets that the Short-term Holding Facility (Amendment) Rules 2022 (SI 2022/1345) remove important safeguards and reduce the standards for the lawful detention beyond 24 hours of migrants, including children and vulnerable adults, at the immigration detention facility in Manston, Kent; that the Home Office has not consulted on these changes nor provided an adequate policy justification for them; and that this potentially contentious legislation was brought into effect while the House was in recess.”

The Lord Bishop of Leeds: My Lords, I support the Motion to Regret in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. The Government were clearly right to openly acknowledge that the Manston short-term holding facility had been operating outside of legal requirements and that action was needed to improve conditions at the site. Therefore, the decision then to use secondary legislation not only to extend the length of detention powers at such facilities but to reduce the required safeguarding standards must be highly regrettable. It cannot be right that, when the immigration estate fails to meet legislation passed by this House, the response is simply to rewrite the rules. I am reading a lot about the Soviet Union at the moment, and there is an echo of that: if the five-year plan was not met, you simply changed reality to meet what you were going to get.

It is important not to forget that short-term holding facilities accommodate families, children, and survivors of torture and trafficking, following people’s often traumatic journeys. We should be committed to the highest safeguards when seeking to accommodate individuals in this position, and take the right steps to identify those with protection needs. I therefore ask the Minister why it was deemed necessary to reclassify Manston as a residential holding room, thereby disapplying key safeguarding rules for short-term holding facilities. Why was only one fewer day of permitted detention justification for such a downgrade in safeguarding rules and standards?

I want to be brief, so I will pay attention to just two key issues. First, it is unclear whether the Rule 32 process will fully apply to residential holding rooms. Will detention therefore be reviewed within the mandatory timeframes for those identified as vulnerable through the Rule 32 process? The modification to a review as soon as is practicable, as suggested in the Explanatory Memorandum, is highly concerning, as individuals, including children, may be harmed further by their continued detention.

Secondly, why is there no requirement for minors or families to be in sleeping accommodation in residential holding rooms that is inaccessible to other detained individuals not known to them? Surely this requirement should never be downgraded when it comes to a child, and the risk is even greater with extended detention for up to 96 hours.

Given that the Government are looking to impose a duty on the Secretary of State to detain those in contravention of Immigration Rules for any length of time deemed appropriate through the Illegal Migration Bill, this debate reminds us that detention safeguards and accommodation rules are vital in protecting the most vulnerable people. I therefore ask the Government to ensure full scrutiny of these rules as facilitated through the passage of the Bill, rather than has been the case in this instance thus far.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab): The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds raised an interesting idea, pointing out that quite soon we will deal with the Illegal Migration Bill, which may be an opportunity for this House, or perhaps the opposition parties, to investigate this SI and similar ones and to give them more thorough scrutiny. I was interested in that suggestion, and I will consider whether my party wants to take that further.

Baroness Hamwee (LD): Exceptional circumstances, which allow for more than 96 hours, have been mentioned. Can the Minister confirm that these are only external circumstances, not related to an individual—in other words, that if one of the people working in one of the centres gets a bit worried about an individual, they cannot decide there is something exceptional about the individual and exceed the 96 hours? The House’s committee reports are always worded very carefully, so it will have known what it was doing when it used the term “disingenuous” about this—and I think it was right to do so.

The right reverend Prelate raised the issue of children and families, but I could not pick up what the provisions about sleeping accommodation would be for families—I accept that I may have missed that. The SLSC commented that it had

“the strong impression that the new category is designed for the operational convenience of the Home Office, rather than for good reasons of public policy”—

the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, quoted this. This was where I started. The SLSC suggests that:

“The House may wish to press the Minister”

on safeguarding, welfare and the future operation, and on

“why potentially contentious legislation was brought into effect over a recess”—

this was mentioned. Adding to that, I ask why we only get to debate it three months later—although, sadly, everything we are talking about remains entirely topical.

Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con): Turning to the question of welfare raised by the committee, we will, as ever, strive to prioritise the welfare and processing of vulnerable adults and families from the initial point of their arrival. No unaccompanied children are detained at Manston; they are instead processed at the Kent intake unit. The proposed facility at Manston that will form a residential holding room—which I should add is only a part of the Manston site—will not contain unaccompanied children, because they are processed at the Kent intake unit. Single adult women and single adult men will continue to be held in their own discrete accommodation—I hope that goes some way to reassure the right reverend Prelate on his concerns in this regard. That is of course already the case in residential short-term holding facilities. The only time that residents mix is in family accommodation, which is carefully supervised and relatively lightly occupied. Families should be prioritised for processing; however, where it is necessary to use a residential holding room for families, guidance sets out that they should be provided with sleeping accommodation that must not be accessed by unrelated detained adults, where practicable.

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