Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:54 pm on 10th February 2010.

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Photo of Alistair Burt Alistair Burt Opposition Whip (Commons), Deputy Chair, Conservative Party 5:54 pm, 10th February 2010

Yes, and indeed they are. That remains one of the problems of the system that we are dealing with. When Yarl's Wood was built, the original intention was to hold people for a short period before they moved out. Originally children were not there at all. They were added relatively recently, and I am sure that the decision was taken that they should be there for very short periods. I do not know whether the Minister has the figures this evening, but during the day I asked her office for the numbers of children who have been held over the past couple of years for longer than six months, nine months and 12 months, and how many were held, for example, over last Christmas.

The argument that the House would make to the Minister is this. Recognising all the difficulties and the pressure outside, she should tell us more about the alternatives and the pilots for dealing with those children differently. That is what I want briefly to touch on now. I am aware of the experiment that has been conducted-the Millbank alternative-and of the differing opinions on the success of that experiment. The official line was to say that it had not been a success and that it did not reduce the number of people absconding. However, a report produced by the Children's Society, the Princess of Wales Memorial Fund and Bail for Immigration Detainees looked into some of the drawbacks of that pilot and some things that might have been done better. Those groups think that the pilot was too short and that the referral criteria were unclear. Case owners-those looking after cases for the UK Border Agency-had a disincentive to refer families to the pilot. Families were not given enough time to explore the possibility of return.

The consensus view is that there were deficiencies in the pilot. It would therefore be wrong just to dismiss it and not have another go. I hope that the Minister will be able to say a little more about the new pilot that is under way-it started in Scotland last year-because it is on such pilots that we pin many of our hopes. There is an understandable horror at seeing children behind bars. We know why it is difficult for the UK Border Agency to deal with families with children-we all understand that-but there has to be a better alternative.

I would like to use this opportunity to say that, quite rightly, facilities at Yarl's Wood have improved markedly. The new little school built inside the centre is terrific; or it would be if it did not lead out to closed doors and the centre itself. If the school were in the middle of one of my lovely Bedfordshire fields, it would be marvellous.

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