The illegal Migration Bill – detention of pregnant women.

Jun 8, 2023 | News

Lord Alton of Liverpool
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My Lords, in 1979, when I was a young Member of another place, the then Conservative Government regularly kept us there all night. When you are younger, you are quite happy to do that but I suspect it would be better—and knowing how reasonable the Leader of the House and the Government Chief Whip are—if we could schedule our proceedings to include at least one extra day to consider this very important Bill, but also maybe to have a morning sitting if necessary to enable those of us who are not quite as young as we once were to ensure that we can focus properly on these very important questions.

I made common cause with the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, in 2016 and it was to the credit of your Lordships’ House that, after some ping-pong and debate between both Houses, we were able to ensure that the law was changed to introduce these restrictions on the detention of pregnant women. Similarly, the decisions that were taken about children were to the credit of this House. To see these things being rolled back brings no credit to any of us and I really hope that the Minister, when he goes away from our proceedings tonight and talks again to his officials and to the Secretary of State, will recognise the strength of feeling that has been expressed in the debate already, and that the very important points that my noble friend Lady Gohir made in her excellent speech will be taken into account.

The detention of pregnant women is currently restricted, as we have heard, to 72 hours. That limit would be specifically disapplied in respect of those detained because they are or may be subject to the Clause 2 removal duty. As the Bill stands, a pregnant woman could be detained for any period—I repeat: any period—considered “reasonably necessary”. Prior to 2016, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and I argued that it was unconscionable that there was no time limit on immigration detention for pregnant women, leading to some of them being detained for weeks, even months, on end. That, inevitably, put pregnant women and their unborn babies at risk.

The Royal College of Midwives says:

“The detention of pregnant asylum seekers increases the likelihood of stress, which can risk the health of the unborn baby”.

Stephen Shaw, the former Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, mentioned earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, was emphatic. He said:

“That detention has an incontrovertibly deleterious effect on the health of pregnant women and their unborn children … I take to be a statement of the obvious”.

Back in 2016, Medical Justice told Parliament that the level of care for pregnant women

“falls short of NHS equivalence and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) standards”.

Are we seriously going to turn the clock back to those bleak times? Some of the women who will be affected will have experienced barbaric treatment, including rape, torture and trafficking. To forcibly return such women will be traumatic beyond belief for them. It will endanger their lives and the lives of the babies in their wombs, and we have no business doing it. That is why I support Amendment 68, and even at this late hour I hope that many of your Lordships on all sides of the Committee will support the noble Baroness, Lady Lister.

Lord David Alton

For 18 years David Alton was a Member of the House of Commons and today he is an Independent Crossbench Life Peer in the UK House of Lords.

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