Enforced Removal (Families with Young Children)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:34 am on 10th January 2006.

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Photo of John Robertson John Robertson PPS (Dr Kim Howells, Minister of State), Foreign & Commonwealth Office 11:34 am, 10th January 2006

I thank my hon. Friend; he has put that much better than I did, and he is absolutely correct. There was no general amnesty as such, but there was certainly a slackening of the rules to allow people who have been here a long time to stay.

I can understand the arguments of immigration officials. I have been to the immigration service in Glasgow with asylum seekers many times to talk to officials and try to alleviate the misunderstandings created—in some cases, maliciously—between people seeking asylum and the immigration service. Unfortunately, there are those in our society who seem to want to use the subject of asylum for their own political ends, and I find that totally abhorrent. Whenever I can, I denounce those parties. They know who they are; they are on the extreme right or extreme left of our society, and as far as I am concerned, they have no place in British politics. I hope that we shall weed them out. They do no service to people who genuinely seek asylum, and who ask their MPs to solve their problems and help them to remain in the country.

By the time the media take control, they have totally distorted the actualities of the case. By the time the case gets to the Home Office, the Home Office has been put in an intolerable position. Eventually the people concerned are removed, although in some cases I know that I could probably have saved them if they had got to me first, and had not got involved in a series of lies and stories given to them by certain people. That has to be investigated—but the Home Office and its officials, too, have to think seriously about the information that they give out.

I appreciate that many of the details that the Home Office receives are personal and should not be revealed to the general public, but if someone goes to the press and gives their whole life story, as they see it, in support of their case for remaining here, I feel that the Home Office should be entitled to give the story as it sees it, too. It is also important that it should give the hows and whens of the enforced removals. We want to know why people have been removed at a particular time, after having been four, five or six years in this country, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North has described.

I commend Drumchapel high school in my constituency. The students there have won many awards, and many of them are from asylum-seeking families. They have done work to promote and campaign not just for themselves and their families but for other children from such families, and they should be commended. It is pleasant to see children taking an interest in what happens in everyday life, rather than just worrying about whether they will get the new PlayStation or Xbox or whatever, which is all that some young people care about. It is a pleasure to see that they care about each other and their fellow pupils. Long may it continue, and long may the students keep giving me a hard time. They come to my office and ask me why this happens and why that happens.

We politicians need to look at ourselves, too. I have a quote from one of my colleagues from Glasgow who is a Member of the Scottish Parliament. In a statement about a family who were allegedly thrown out of their home in a so-called dawn raid, he said:

"Police should not wear body armour".

The report adds the comment:

"despite the fact that one officer in England has been killed carrying out such duties."

Norrie Flowers of the Scottish Police Federation said:

"They don't really understand the issue. We are asked to go along in these situations in order to assist immigration officers. The bottom line is that we don't know what we are walking into. It can go from being very quiet to a frantic affair within minutes and they therefore wear protecting clothing for that."

I totally agree with him.

That is the kind of information that the Home Office should give us. They must tell us what happened when they removed a family. I want to know if the removal was easy or hard, what kind of force was needed and why, how many people were there, and what time it was. That is simple information, which any Member of Parliament would want to know about something that had happened in their constituency. If I found that something had gone wrong, that would give me the opportunity to try to do something about it. I would be grateful if the Minister would take that on board, talk to his officials and try to get something done about it.

Talk of children being handcuffed is very distressing. However, I have been to the immigration service and heard some of the horror stories from its side, of parents hurling children at officers who are there to remove them. The question would then be: should we take the children from the parents in the first place? Are those responsible parents? Sometimes such questions are addressed, and it does happen that children are removed from asylum-seeking parents. Those children are now part of our society, because the parents were incapable, or did not want to look after them in the first place.

We need to be told about such things. There are people in our society who are living and working, have been part of the system and are happy to be here. We may not want to know who they are, but we certainly want to know the numbers of such cases. The story is not always bad news.

I would be grateful if the Minister, in describing the procedures, could put some more meat on the bones of the thought behind the removals—although of course, he may not know about that. Why, after four and a half years, do we suddenly come to the decision that a family must be removed today?

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland talked about a more responsible way of removing people. Surely there must be a more humane way. I do not think that there is a humane way of removing any family that has been here for such a long time, but there must be a better way. I understand why the early morning visits happen. They may not be dawn raids as such, but people certainly go early in the morning and, if they go back, I know that that is because they can be sure that the family is in situ in the house at the time. I understand that.

Part of the main problem is that—as many have said here today—children are the innocent bystanders. They just happen to be there, or happen to be born, yet they bear the brunt of the removals. We should show some kind of sympathy, but the parents have to take the responsibility. It is not the Government's fault that people are here illegally. They have been told, I am assured, on many occasions that they can have an assisted passage back to their country of origin or they can make their own way back. They are told almost from the moment that they arrive in the country that if they refuse to do so, at the end of the process they will be removed. It is unfair to say that those people—those parents—did not know that they would be removed. They did know.