An important cross-party debate in the House of Lords on the findings and recommendations of the Brook House Inquiry report took place last week. The Brook House Inquiry is the first public inquiry into the mistreatment of detained people in the UK. Medical Justice was appointed as a core participant to the Inquiry due to our extensive first-hand experience of the clinical safeguarding and healthcare failures in IRCs.
The Lords debate was organised by Liberal Democrat peer Lord German, a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Immigration Detention for which Medical Justice provides the secretariat.
Medical Justice worked with peers to highlight crucial issues. A full transcript is available here. Some extracts from the debate can be found below.
Date for government response to the Inquiry report
“The inquiry exposed the dehumanising abuse of vulnerable people held in immigration detention. Unfortunately, the report’s author states that these issues remain in place today. We understand that a senior civil servant has been tasked to prepare the Government’s response, to be published “in due course”. I wonder whether “in due course” will have ended nine months from now. Perhaps the Minister could tell us.”
Lord German (Liberal Democrat)
Ongoing failure of safeguards for vulnerable people in detention
“Another of the inquiry’s findings was that vulnerable people in detention are not being afforded the appropriate protections that the safeguards recommended by Stephen Shaw are designed to provide, because of their dysfunctional operation.
The latest report of the independent monitoring boards and new clinical evidence from Medical Justice—a core participant in the inquiry—show that the safeguards are still failing, including not identifying people at risk of self-harm or suicide, with serious and sometimes tragic consequences for mental and physical health.
What steps are the Government therefore taking, as a matter of urgency, to ensure a more consistent and robust application of the safeguards, as called for in the inquiry report?”
Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Labour)
Need for urgent action on use of force and segregation
“My Lords, the inquiry found that the inappropriate use of restraint and force on detained persons suffering from mental illness was common at Brook House, with healthcare staff unaware of their responsibilities to monitor the welfare of detained persons during use of restraint.
“Regardless of this information, the Illegal Migration Act allows for the use of force against even children across the detention estate. What steps will be taken to ensure that the use of force is continually monitored and recorded for all detainees, but particularly vulnerable adults and children, to ensure that what occurred at Brook House is never allowed to happen again?”
The Lord Bishop of Chelmsford
“My Lords, recommendation 19 of the Brook House report is on the attitude and behaviour of healthcare staff. The use of force on one person who had a serious heart condition lasted for about 18 minutes, was positively harmful and put him at further risk.
The recommendation is for immediate guidance for healthcare staff and mandatory training. Can the Minister tell us if that has already been brought into practice?”
Baroness Brinton (Liberal Democrat)
“My Lords, Kate Eves’s report included a number of recommendations requiring immediate and urgent implementation, because they related to serious issues such as the use of force and use of segregation.
Can the Minister tell the House what the Government have now done in response to those particular recommendations? If nothing has been done, can the Minister explain why not?”
Baroness Meacher (Crossbencher)
Recommendation for a 28 day time-limit
“The Minister said that the Government are carefully considering the Brook House inquiry report and will respond in due course. Why has the Minister therefore told us that they have already come to the conclusion that they will ignore what the Brook House inquiry said, namely that there should be a 28-day limit on immigration detention?”
Lord Coaker (Labour)
On behalf of the government, Lord Sharpe of Epsom said a 28 day time-limit would “encourage and reward abuse”.
“The abuse found in the Brook House inquiry report was by G4S staff, with terrible abuse perpetrated against some of the most vulnerable people. We believe in custody time limits in this society. Even suspected terrorists can be held for no more than 14 days.”
Baroness Chakrabarti (Labour)
So, despite being asked several times in this debate, the government is not giving any commitment as to when it will respond to the Brook House Inquiry’s recommendations or what steps it is taking as a matter of urgency. Lord Sharpe claimed that “a lot of the work had already been done, because there was a report commissioned in 2016 by Stephen Shaw” even though this was before the 2017 BBC Panorama undercover filming that led to the Inquiry, and despite the fact that the Inquiry found that many of the same failures from 2017 were still persisting. He claimed that “we have strengthened our capacity to provide assurance and oversight of service provision” and said “I am confident that there is no way that such a situation would be allowed to happen again” but was unable to provide any information to explain the basis of his confidence.
Further Medical Justice work in Parliament to come
This is the first time Members have debated the report in Parliament since its publication. Medical Justice is very grateful to Lord German for ensuring the debate took place, and to the many peers that took part.
In the weeks and months ahead, we will continue to raise the Brook House Inquiry in Parliament and to work closely with MPs and Peers to ensure the government is held to account on its response to the Inquiry’s findings.