Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:54 pm on 10th February 2010.

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Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Identity) 6:54 pm, 10th February 2010

It is fortunate that tonight we have a little more time to debate such an important topic than we would normally have in an end-of-day Adjournment debate.

I congratulate Alistair Burt on securing the debate and thank him for his measured tone when discussing all the difficult issues associated with immigration and immigrant detention, and the particular issues associated with Yarl's Wood. I know that he takes a great personal interest in the centre, as does my hon. Friend Patrick Hall. I am proud of the way that things have improved at Yarl's Wood. I do not have as long a history with the centre as the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire, but we all agree that there have been major improvements, and I am pleased that he acknowledged that.

The UK Border Agency has 11 immigration removal centres providing around 3,000 bed spaces. As the hon. Gentleman said, Yarl's Wood is the main centre for single women and families, providing 405 bed spaces, of which 284 are reserved for those who are part of the detained fast-track process-that is, people who enter the country and whose cases are dealt with quickly, increasingly within weeks or months of their arrival-and for foreign national former prisoners awaiting deportation. Although there are issues about how long that process takes, I will not deal with that today, as it is not the subject of the debate. I am happy to speak to the hon. Gentleman about the matter if he wishes, as it affects his constituency. Sixty of the rooms at Yarl's Wood, or 121 beds, are set aside for family accommodation in a dedicated unit, so they are separated from the prisoners.

Yarl's Wood operates in accordance with the detention centre rules 2001 and the UK Border Agency's operating standards. It is monitored, as hon. Members mentioned, by the centre's independent monitoring board. As the Minister responsible since December for this area of policy, I echo the hon. Gentleman's comments about the importance of the board's work. As a Minister, it is helpful to have independent advice and I welcome it. The independent monitoring board has free access to all parts of the centre in order to ensure that residents are treated well. The board hears requests and complaints, and there is no attempt to stifle that. The centre is inspected by Her Majesty's chief inspector of prisons. The most recent inspection was in November last year.

Yarl's Wood, therefore, can hardly be called a closed place of detention. I appreciate what hon. Members said about doors being locked, but that is the nature of a detention centre. It is my intention, however, as the Minister responsible to be as open as possible about what we do there. We have nothing to hide about the way in which we treat those in our care. There may be a debate about whether we should detain families and children, but we are open about what we do. It is important to make that clear.

In the time available, I will attempt to answer all the points raised. Let us be clear about who is at Yarl's Wood. When we talk about the detention of children, it is not children on their own. It is children with their parents. The only case where we would ever detain a child on its own would be an unaccompanied asylum-seeking child, who might have arrived on a late night flight and who, for various safety reasons, would need to be held in a secure environment, rather than being released into any other facility. That would happen only in exceptional circumstances. Of course, it is not Government policy to deport children who are on their own.

Yarl's Wood is a place where children are detained only with their parents, and at any time the parents can choose to leave on a voluntary basis. It is those who refuse to leave on a voluntary basis who are at some stage detained at Yarl's Wood. Those detained are removable people whose case has been concluded-they have reached what we would consider to be the end of the line in legal terms-foreign national prisoners awaiting deportation, or those on a fast track. Barriers, as hon. Members said, are invariably legal or related to documentation. We do not generally hold backlog cases until they are removable. I can testify to that from my constituency caseload.

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