Yarl's Wood Immigration Removal Centre

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:00 pm on 10th February 2010.

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Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Identity) 7:00 pm, 10th February 2010

I am keen to make progress, because although I have quite a lot of time, I also have to respond to quite a lot of points raised in the debate.

As I said, we would rather not have to do this: we would much prefer that families left the UK voluntarily when the courts have upheld the decision that they must leave. Nearly as many families left the UK under the assisted voluntary returns scheme last year as were removed, so the incentive of having some money and support to resettle has had some impact. Families do not always take up our offers of financial and reintegration assistance, and in those circumstances we are left with a dilemma. Do we leave people where they are, as some of my hon. Friends would suggest, or do we seek to deport them? If we seek to deport them and they do not willingly wish to go, we find ourselves with no alternative but to use detention in order to enforce their departure-a fact acknowledged by the Home Affairs Committee in its recent report. We are considering alternatives, and I will touch on those towards the end of my remarks. That is partly why I want to make some progress. I would hate to run out of time and be unable to go into how we could consider proceeding in a way that might help to satisfy some of the concerns expressed by hon. Friends and hon. Members.

The decision to detain a family is not lightly taken-it is a last resort, and it is intended to be only for the shortest possible period once appeal rights have been exhausted, there are no outstanding legal barriers, and a flight has been booked for a few days' time. The welfare of any child is paramount in that process, and full consideration is given to all the welfare issues given that they are going to be in a different, and more difficult, situation from that of children not in the detention centre. As we heard, there is concern about children being taken out just prior to their exams. The timing of educational examinations, where known, will be taken into account before the removal process starts.

Although our intention is that detention will be short, lasting just a few days, unfortunately some families and their legal representatives, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington said, wait until they have been detained and given their flight details before submitting applications for judicial review. The vast majority of those applications are spurious and fall at the first hurdle. That fact is acknowledged not just by the UK Border Agency and the Home Office but by the National Audit Office and the Home Affairs Committee. That said, when removal is deferred, the decision to maintain the detention of a family is subject to a regular and rigorous control process, including ministerial review in the case of all children held for more than 28 days, a matter that I take very seriously. My two predecessor Ministers with responsibility for the matter took it very seriously as well. I call in officials to talk to them about individual cases when I have concerns. That is a serious responsibility that lies on my desk, and I recognise the human lives involved.

I will not go further into why we detain people, because I have spoken enough about that. We have touched on the issue of documentation, and sometimes establishing nationality and identity or determining whether an individual qualifies for leave to enter the UK can take time. That is particularly true of establishing nationality, because some individuals destroy their papers and their suspected home country will not accept them.

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