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

That is indeed the case, but we are looking to improve facilities for 16 to 18-year-olds in particular, and we are creating a new kitchen and dining area to enable families to cook meals together, which we hope will help to maintain family bonds and a sense of normality-not to mention assist reintegration, whether in the country of origin or in the UK, even if only on a temporary basis.

The hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire also mentioned health care. My primary concern is that detainees receive the right standard of care and support while they are in our care. I looked into this issue closely before today's debate. Good-quality care can be provided by the private sector as much as by the national health service. The health care department at Yarl's Wood provides a good standard of care, which is comparable to primary care found in the community. Of course, referrals to secondary health care would be within the NHS.

All the health care staff at the centre are caring, qualified professionals, and no less able to care for detainees than the national health service does in the community. Residents are all seen by a nurse within two hours of arrival, and given an appointment to see a GP within 24 hours unless the nurse believes an earlier appointment is necessary. Thereafter they have access to the service on demand. We also vaccinate children and provide support to expectant and nursing mothers-an issue close to my heart as I am one myself, and I have always been alert to the extra pressure that pregnancy can put on women in detention, especially if they have other children.

I should also point out that health care in all our centres is subject to the standards, audit and inspection programme by the Care Quality Commission as national health service facilities. Indeed only a few weeks ago, the commission was at Yarl's Wood inspecting the services there, and we look forward to receiving its report in due course. I shall make a particular point of alerting both the hon. Members with a constituency interest in that report when it is published.

We are ensuring that we have proper screening for mental health issues, so that anyone with a mental illness is identified on arrival, together with the best pathway for their treatment. That is important because, as hon. Members have pointed out, that can be one of the key hidden health factors for someone facing the difficulties of detention.

As I have said, we really do not want to detain children at all and would much prefer that families accept the decision of deportation on their case and leave the UK promptly-although if they accepted the decision they would of course leave voluntarily. However, while we do not currently envisage a position in which we would never detain-I would not want to go that far at this point-we are committed to exploring alternatives that at the very least reduce the number of families being detained while ensuring that they depart the UK promptly when required.

Following the Kent pilot, a three-year pilot has been running in Glasgow since June 2009. I know where it is because I passed the properties when I was last visiting the area-before I had my baby-although they were not up and running at the time. However, I will visit Glasgow next week to see it for myself and, if possible, to talk to some of the families, although that can be difficult, given that they are all in flats. The project is providing intensive support to families who have exhausted all rights to remain in the UK, helping them to confront the issues delaying their departure.

The 12-month pilot of the migrant helpline was in Ashford, Kent, and that was aimed at providing accommodation, health care, education and legal services to the families with no basis of stay. It has been acknowledged that that was not a success, with only one family departing under the assisted voluntary return scheme. We are learning the lessons of that scheme to take on board in Glasgow.

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