Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:39 pm on 10th February 2010.

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Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington 6:39 pm, 10th February 2010

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak briefly in this debate, and I congratulate Alistair Burt on securing it.

People in detention centres do not have a vote and there are no votes to be won by paying attention to what happens in detention centres. Whether we are willing to debate seriously and pay attention to the conditions of people who are not citizens or voters is a test of this House and a test of our humanity.

I do not have a constituency interest in that I do not have a detention centre in my constituency, but, like my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz, the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, and like some of my other hon. Friends, I deal with a huge volume of immigration casework.

Over the years, I have come to focus on what goes on at detention centres. I have visited Oakington and Yarl's Wood. Of course, one has to pay tribute to the staff working in them, but I have been in the House long enough to remember when the centres were set up and the assurances that MPs were given, which can be found in Hansard, that people would be held there briefly on their way to being transported out of the country. Issues that were raised then about the regime were brushed aside on the basis that people would be in the centres only for short periods.

As time has gone on, we have seen people being held for longer and longer. I believe that had MPs known when the idea first came before the House the length of time for which people would be held in the centres-and, in particular, the length of time for which children would be held there-MPs would have offered much more opposition to that proposal than they did at the time.

The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire touched on the issue of health care in detention centres. That is very important. One of the constant complaints one hears when one visits those detention centres and meets the voluntary groups that work with them concerns health issues and health care. It seems a simple step forward to allow the health care to be provided, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, quite independently of the private contractor that runs the detention centre so that there is no question of a conflict of interest or of costs being shaved. That would mean that detainees and their children could have absolute psychological confidence in the health care they were being offered.

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