First Minister's Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:00 pm on 21st June 2007.
To ask the First Minister, during refugee week Scotland 2007, what stage has been reached in implementing the March 2006 agreement between the Executive and the Home Office on the treatment of asylum seeker families. (S3F-88)
I salute Bill Butler for the consistent work that he has done on the issue over many months since he came to the Parliament. We are working towards full implementation of the March 2006 agreement. We will hold the Home Office and the Border and Immigration Agency to account for every element of that agreement, and we will press for further progress where that is required in the interests of children, families and communities in Scotland that are affected by these issues.
The First Minister will know that, when I raised the matter with his predecessor on 29 March, Mr McConnell was able to report significant progress in respect of enhanced background checks on immigration staff and that agreement had been reached on
"lead professional arrangements, which should ensure that the particular needs of children are taken into account."—[Official Report, 29 March 2007; c 33757.]
Mr McConnell also evinced a hope—indeed, an expectation—that the 1,000 so-called legacy cases would be treated in a proper and sensitive manner, resulting in many such individuals being allowed to stay. Given the overlapping nature of devolved and reserved responsibilities in this area, will the First Minister, when he meets the new Prime Minister, pledge to continue the approach of Jack McConnell in working co-operatively with Westminster, so that the agreement is put fully in place and legacy cases are dealt with humanely? Will the First Minister report back to the chamber on the outcome of his discussions with Gordon Brown on this very serious matter?
The answer to the last part of Bill Butler's question is yes. I saluted him for his work on the issue and I do so again. However, I do not share his interpretation that substantial progress has been made on the issue since 2006. The former Minister for Education and Young People provided a detailed written update on the non-implementation of the agreement to the Communities Committee and the Education Committee on 20 March. We should all realise that there has been considerable dragging of feet by the BIA in respect of lead professional arrangements. Adam Ingram is meeting Glasgow City Council today to ensure that there can be no suggestion that there will be any delays in Scotland to excuse in any way either the BIA or the Home Office from implementing an agreement that, after all, was reached in March 2006. I think
I am sure that the First Minister is aware that one of the reasons why children of asylum seekers have been treated so badly, especially in Glasgow in incidents known as dawn raids, is that the United Kingdom Government has made a decision to exclude those children from the terms of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Does he agree that it is shameful that some of the most vulnerable children in our country do not have access to the same basic protection on which children in civilised countries around the world can rely? Will he commit the Government to ensuring that its devolved functions are exercised as though the UNCRC applies to those children?
I agree with what Patrick Harvie says and I make the commitment that he requests.
I am sure that the First Minister agrees that Dungavel figures prominently in the issue that Patrick Harvie raised. What discussions has the First Minister had with the UK Government about the situation of young people in Dungavel?
I intend to hold such discussions with the UK Government as soon as we get the institutions established that will enable them to properly take place.
Given that there is a substantial feeling that the Home Office and the BIA have not been as quick as they should have been in implementing the agreement, it is a priority that we ensure that there is no suggestion that any institution, council or governmental body in Scotland can be accused of foot dragging. I know that there is concern about the issue right across the Parliament and I assure Hugh O'Donnell that, through the proposed institutions, I will do everything that I can to continue to pursue the issue until the blot and stain of dawn raids is removed from our country.
Does the First Minister share my concern about the plight of Sana Hussein and her four children, one of whom is a nine-month-old baby, who were taken to Dungavel on Friday and then had to suffer being transported by van to Tinsley house—a journey of 14 hours—on Sunday? Does he agree that that is totally unacceptable? Will he join me in welcoming Sana, who was released yesterday and who phoned me last night, back to Glasgow?
I share Sandra White's concern, I join her in welcoming Sana Hussein back to Glasgow and I pay tribute to her extensive work on the issue.
When people consider the general issue of asylum seekers and dawn raids, they sometimes think that there is logic and sense behind some of the attitudes that have emanated from the Home Office. However, I suspect that when people look at specific cases—when the issue boils down to individual families and individual children—and become aware of the circumstances of many of the families and children concerned, their opinion changes quite dramatically. Sandra White does well to bring to the Parliament one such case and I salute what she says.