Enforced Removal (Families with Young Children)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:00 am on 10th January 2006.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Chris Mullin Chris Mullin Labour, Sunderland South 11:00 am, 10th January 2006

I certainly think that such offers should be made sensitively, but I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman if he is suggesting that we should not make it clear to people that help can be given with voluntary passage home. Quite a few people opt to take that route, and others would if they were aware of it. It is a sensible approach to allow people to make up their minds about whether to take advantage of such an offer.

I come back to my question. Given the existing powers, and given that we use them in some cases, why do we not use them in cases of the sort that I have outlined? What is stopping us? I entirely understand that Ministers are anxious to create an incentive for failed asylum seekers to return voluntarily, and there well may be a case for maintaining a differential between the assistance available to those who return voluntarily and those who are forcibly removed. However, I cannot accept that we should offer no help whatever to families who are forcibly removed to some of the world's most dysfunctional countries. My view is that in cases involving such countries, we should not remove children who have lived here for years and who are, for all practical purposes, British in all but name.

I draw the Minister's attention to the recent remarks of Professor Aynsley-Green, the Government-appointed Children's Commissioner for England, quoted in The Times on 5 January, who described what is happening as outrageous in a civilised society. I stress again that the Professor is Government-appointed. He continued, saying that many of the children regarded themselves as English and could not understand why they were being treated as criminals.

I put it to the Minister that where children are concerned, there is a case for tempering our new-found rigour towards asylum removals with a little basic humanity. Again, there is a precedent. In October 2003, my right hon. Friend Mr. Blunkett, the then Home Secretary, announced an amnesty for families who had been in this country for three years or more and

"had suffered from historical delays in the system."

The Angolan family to whom I referred earlier had the bad luck to fall six months short of that deadline. I do not argue that we should go as far as we did two years ago. I would be content for an amnesty on a case-by-case basis, applying only to long-staying families from the most dysfunctional countries—and if the word "amnesty" offends the Minister, he need not even call it that. Far from being a sign of weakness, it would be evidence of a common humanity that would enjoy support across the political system. I look forward to hearing what hon. Members who speak for the other main parties have to say on that point. As we all know, it is much easier to make progress on asylum if there is cross-party consensus. We should not get ourselves into a position where one party is seeking to outbid the other for the favour of the Daily Mail, the Daily Express or whatever.

Finally, for the avoidance of doubt, I repeat what I said at the outset. I am generally supportive of the Government's tough stand on asylum. Over the years I have supported, in and out of government, all measures to speed up the process and eliminate abuses. As a Foreign Office Minister, I was involved in discussions about returns at the highest level to countries that are the source of many of our failed asylum seekers. I do not resile from that for one minute. All that I seek today is a little basic compassion when we are contemplating the return of families with young children to a handful of the world's most dysfunctional countries. We should not be returning to destitution children who have lived here so long that they know no other life than ours. Surely that is not too much to ask.