Backbench Business — Immigration Detention

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 1:05 pm on 10th September 2015.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Stewart McDonald Stewart McDonald Scottish National Party, Glasgow South 1:05 pm, 10th September 2015

This has been a very good and quite informative debate. Members on both sides of the Chamber have outlined problems with the system and the lessons we could learn from countries such as Sweden and Australia, but it strikes me that it is worth remembering exactly what has brought us to this point. We are having this debate because the system has become so bad that it is falling apart and failing other human beings.

I want to read a few lines of a briefing, which I must confess I stole from my hon. Friend Stuart C. McDonald. It states that the system has recently had

“a raft of high profile scandals including allegations of sexual abuse at Yarl’s Wood, the death of a frail 84 year old Canadian man with dementia in handcuffs, and a proliferation of human rights breaches where the detention of no less than six mentally ill detainees has been found by the High Court to constitute cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”

The answer to the question of what has brought us here is twofold: a general attitude towards immigration and asylum—let us not kid ourselves: it has also been present in the Chamber during other debates this week—and the fact that successive Governments have been led by the nose by powers and forces that may not have many representatives in this Chamber, but have, my goodness, exerted an influence on this place of which most of us should be ashamed.

Years ago, during the last Labour Government, I used to campaign outside the offices of the Home Office on Brand Street with my hon. Friend Anne McLaughlin, my old boss when she was a Member of the Scottish Parliament, and my hon. Friend Chris Stephens. We used to go on marches campaigning for the rights of people held in Yarl’s Wood and Dungavel, and we used to stand outside those offices and watch going in and out the faceless people who presumably took them to detention centres. The point I am making is that this did not start recently; we have been on a slide for a long time. Under the coalition Government, the outside walls of the office where I used to campaign—asylum seekers had to turn up there weekly—were brandishing shameful posters telling them to go home and vans were driven around constituencies all across central London telling them to go home.

I hope that this debate marks a genuine change in spirit and approach on the issue of the detention of asylum seekers, but that change has to be so radical and so bold if we are to make any meaningful progress. How different would it be if, rather than having a Home Office Minister in charge of immigration, we had a Treasury Minister because, as we know, immigration brings economic benefits to this country? What would happen if, instead of having a Home Office Minister in charge of detention centres, we had a Minister from the Department for Communities and Local Government or the Department of Health?

I am sure that my party colleagues will back me up when I say that the UK Government must end their belligerent approach to the devolved Administrations on this issue. In the last Parliament, all but two of the elected Members of this House for the city of Glasgow were men. Many women who had been through terrible cases of torture and rape did not want to go and address the men who were their constituency MPs, some of whom were not known for having sympathy with such issues.

I remember the time when my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East was an elected Member of the Scottish Parliament and the Home Office would have nothing to do with her, or indeed with any other elected Member. Given the crossover in service use and delivery, it makes sense to involve not just the Scottish Parliament, but the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Welsh Assembly and the London Assembly, which I understand the UK Border Agency would correspond with in certain cases. I say that not to make a political point, but because it makes sense.

If we choose to be so bold and radical as to completely overhaul this system on a cross-party and cross-Parliament basis, our country will be much the better for it.