Dungavel Centre

Oral Answers to Questions — Scotland – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 29th June 2004.

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Photo of John Robertson John Robertson Labour, Glasgow Anniesland 11:30 am, 29th June 2004

What recent discussions he has had with the First Minister on the Dungavel immigration removal centre.

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) (Scotland)

The operation of Dungavel immigration removal centre is a reserved matter and the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. However, I have regular meetings with Home Office and Scottish Executive Ministers to discuss any specific concerns surrounding asylum seekers and refugees in Scotland.

Photo of John Robertson John Robertson Labour, Glasgow Anniesland

My hon. Friend knows that the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, of which I am a member, visited Dungavel last week. We were impressed with the facilities and the commitment of the staff. Will she join me in congratulating the staff on their efforts and assure me that any families in Dungavel will be detained for as short a period as possible?

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) (Scotland)

I welcome my hon. Friend's comments and I am sure that the staff in Dungavel will also welcome them. Some of the pictures that the media paint of Dungavel in no way reflect the high quality of service that good people provide there to refugees and asylum seekers who need support.

Of course, the Government continue to pay the greatest possible attention to the detention of families. I assure hon. Members that families are detained only as a last possible resort. In Dungavel, we try to turn families around quickly, although there have been one or two exceptional circumstances. It is important to acknowledge that, in any immigration structure, there eventually needs to be a place in which to hold people in the system. However, the facilities in Dungavel are first class and superb.

Photo of Ms Annabelle Ewing Ms Annabelle Ewing Spokesperson (Social Security (SNP Shadow Scottish Minister); Education & Skills; Home Office; Law Officers; Work & Pensions)

At Scottish questions recently, the Under-Secretary welcomed the fact that the new Children's Commissioner for Scotland intended to visit Dungavel. She knows that the commissioner has visited and that she said at the weekend that she wholeheartedly agreed with the conclusion of the chief inspector of prisons that detention compromises children's welfare and development. What does the Under-Secretary say in response to the commissioner's comments?

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) (Scotland)

The commissioner also said that the facilities inside Dungavel were good. She was there at the express invitation of the Home Secretary, as I said at the last Scottish questions. Yes, the commissioner is on record as saying that she does not believe in principle that children should be detained, and that is a difference that we have with some groups in Scotland about the detention of children. The reality is that if the hon. Lady's party were in charge of immigration in Scotland, it, too, would have to put in place a structure to deal with those who were unwilling to accept the outcome of the immigration or asylum process. I am due to meet the commissioner quite soon and I shall be interested to hear her views first hand, rather than through the media.

Photo of Mr John Lyons Mr John Lyons Labour, Strathkelvin and Bearsden

May I suggest to my hon. Friend that a joint meeting between the Scottish Executive, the Scotland Office and the Children's Commissioner, Kathleen Marshall, might be constructive in developing a way forward for dealing with the question of children at Dungavel?

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) (Scotland)

I reiterate that the management of Dungavel is a matter for the Home Office, although we obviously link very closely with the Scottish Executive and Home Office Ministers over some of the issues that I have already identified. I have had correspondence with the Children's Commissioner and, as a courtesy, we are meeting to discuss some of the issues that are causing her concern. I want to reassure my hon. Friend and other hon. Members that the Scottish Executive, Home Office Ministers and I meet regularly to discuss these issues, which are important not only to this House but in Scotland generally.

Photo of Mr Peter Duncan Mr Peter Duncan Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Local and Devolved Government Affairs

Having visited the centre recently, may I say to the Minister that one of its strengths is the separation between the centre's detention staff and the Home Office officials dealing with the legal process? However much those detained endeavour to destabilise the process, they are in my view still treated with the same concern. May I seek the Minister's reassurance that there are no plans to change that two-pronged relationship, as has been reported?

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) (Scotland)

There was a report in a national daily newspaper that the Home Office intended to extend Dungavel to provide a further 150 places for families, and it is totally untrue.

Photo of Mr Peter Duncan Mr Peter Duncan Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, Local and Devolved Government Affairs

Does the Minister agree that she and her Department would be under considerably less pressure over Dungavel if the wider asylum issue were not in such widespread chaos? Is not the real scandal the fact that so many of those awaiting removal have had to wait so long for the legal process to be concluded, in the knowledge that so many others have evaded the process entirely?

Photo of Anne McGuire Anne McGuire Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) (Scotland)

The real scandal is that when the Conservative party was in power, it allowed our immigration and asylum policy to descend into chaos. We have had to sort it out. The reality is that immigration and asylum cases are now being dealt with in a far more effective and efficient manner than they ever were under the Conservative Government.