Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre

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

Alert me about debates like this

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

From the professional opinions that I have read-including those of general practitioners and those involved in psychology and health-these conditions almost always produce an impact for the bad. Children have varying degrees of resilience, but detention has an impact on all of them, and the longer the detention, the more difficult this becomes.

The Minister will know that it is not a question of these children being held for a period of time then all automatically leaving the country. Many of them are returned to the communities from which they came, because of a change in the way in which their case is looked at. With what degree of certainty can they go back to their former lives? They will always be wondering when the Benefits Agency will come knocking on the door at 6 o'clock in the morning to take them away again. I am sorry to put it that way, but it is true. Early morning removals are, as the Minister knows, part of the practice of the Benefits Agency, unless things have changed recently. Understandably, that also adds an element of fear.

I shall return to these points briefly at the end of my speech when I acknowledge the difficulties involved, but I shall leave them with the Minister for the moment. I want briefly to mention two further issues. The first involves ex-foreign national prisoners. There is a mixture of women detainees at Yarl's Wood, many of whom have had no contact whatever with the criminal process. They are purely asylum seekers who have been detained. Some, however, have been in prison and are being held at Yarl's Wood before being returned to other countries.

This poses a particular problem. Those women might have been held in prison for some time before being taken to the centre for an indefinite period. They also have complex lives. They might have partners outside, and they might have been separated from their children while they were in prison. They are now being separated from them again while they are in the centre. Some would say that criminal cases should be looked at quite differently, and I can understand that, but the same frustrations can arise. If their cases are not dealt with swiftly, further damage can be done. It is important to look at that particular category of case.

I also want to mention health issues. I want to pick out a further quote from the latest report by the independent monitoring board, if I may. I have some time, so I shall give the House a couple of examples. The 2009 report stated:

"Another example is that of a child with sickle cell anaemia, who had a letter from his specialist explaining that his mobility was severely limited by pain. His mother was engaged in a dispute with Healthcare"- at the centre-

"as to whether he should have to attend the clinic to take his painkillers, rather than have them brought to the residential unit. Leaving aside the question of whether a child with such a serious condition should have been detained, we felt that this dispute should not have been permitted to arise and, further, that it illustrated a scepticism which has a detrimental effect on patient care."

The report also states:

"A...more general consequence is the existence, as we see it, of a culture of scepticism about detainees' medical conditions. A detainee who had suffered a stroke whilst in prison was brought to Yarl's Wood at the end of her sentence in July 2008. There was a degree of doubt, particularly on the part of UKBA at the port, about the extent of her disability, with the result that there was some delay in providing the necessary equipment and services for her care. The need for physiotherapy was not recorded by Healthcare until two weeks after her arrival and did not start, as we understand it, owing to issues over funding, until more than one month after her arrival. Officers and UKBA staff locally did their best to care for her and to source the necessary equipment, but were confronted with scepticism about her condition, and with disputes between the relevant authorities over funding."

On a number of occasions, I have raised the issue of the independence of the health care offered at Yarl's Wood. The contractors-either Group 4 or Serco-have the responsibility to commission the health care, but I think that is wrong because the independence of the health care is inevitably compromised. Wishing no ill will on anyone involved, it looks difficult. Circumstances often arise where there is a dispute over the condition of the detainee between the contractor's health care officer and another specialist or other doctors outside.

Yarl's Wood exists to enable people to leave the country. If there is an issue about fitness to travel and the decision is made by a contracted company inside Yarl's Wood, what chance is there of having confidence that it has not been influenced by the contract given to the contractors to get people out of the country? It puts the medical staff in a compromised position. As on Monday, there is a dispute between those outside Yarl's Wood, who have heard reports from detainees about what happened, and those inside as to whether anyone was injured and whether any medical assistance was available-it is all run by Serco. I have little doubt that what I am told by Serco is the truth, but there are others who will be more sceptical than me. A degree of independence in respect of the health care provided at Yarl's Wood is now necessary. That would happen if the contract were not given to Serco, but to the NHS and the local primary care trust. Then we would have the necessary degree of independence and it would cover children, as well as HIV treatment when people with HIV have to leave the country. I believe it would be safer for the medical staff, for detainees, for Serco, for the Government and for everyone if such a degree of independence were there.

Finally-I appreciate the House's indulgence; I was fortunate to have this amount of time for my Adjournment debate-I have not mentioned fast-track; I have not mentioned escort services to and from Heathrow; and I have not mentioned the continuing presence of rogue legal advisers who fleece the most vulnerable and take money from the rest of us by the way in which they handle cases. I could have mentioned a variety of other things. Yarl's Wood comprises a mixture of women with different histories, and the public may feel more sympathy for some than others. I am afraid that there is an alarming tendency in modern Britain to judge all in Yarl's Wood as being the same, and for that judgment to be harsh.

I pay tribute to those who work with detainees: the independent monitoring board, the befrienders, and even some outside groups whose political views I do not share, as they would say no to borders and have no immigration controls. I pay tribute to them for their interest in, and care for, those who would otherwise lack a voice. A society that rightly protects its borders and that may need to detain and deport has a clear obligation to act justly, fairly and transparently to those involved and to hear the voices of those under lock and key-above all, those of the innocent children caught up in matters beyond their comprehension, which may mark them for ever.

None of these issues are easy; none of the problems on the Minister's desk are capable of an easy solution. It may be that the legacy of all we have spoken about passes shortly from the Minister's side of the House to mine-and the problems will still be there. I feel that although Yarl's Wood has come a long way, two or three more changes might make a difference. I would be grateful if we could start with a clear decision on health care. I would also be grateful if the Minister enlightened us about how the pilot projects with children are going and I would like to hear how she reacts to some of the issues that have been raised in frustration by detainees. For the benefit of all of us, the safe and secure immigration system that we all need demands clear and straightforward justice for those involved. There are still problems in the system that badly need dealing with. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

Embed this video

Copy and paste this code on your website