Enforced Removal (Families with Young Children)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 11:56 am on 10th January 2006.

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Photo of Stewart Hosie Stewart Hosie Shadow Spokesperson (Women), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury) 11:56 am, 10th January 2006

I am pleased that this debate was requested and granted. My worries about removals are similar to those of John Robertson. The process is causing great consternation in Scotland. One of the questions posed continually during the recent tranche of high-profile removals involving children to which reference has been made was about enhanced disclosure through Disclosure Scotland for the immigration and police officers. Obviously, enhanced disclosure is required from Disclosure Scotland for anyone who works closely with children or vulnerable adults categorised in a certain way—and, in the case of asylum seekers with children, where there are the mental and psychiatric difficulties that have been described. I hope that the Minister can tell us whether the immigration and police officers in attendance were covered by enhanced disclosure from Disclosure Scotland.

Has the Minister been advised about the guidelines for the number of uniformed immigration and police officers required in such circumstances? I shall come to what Norrie Flowers of the Scottish Police Federation said about the use of body armour, but if the reports are to be believed, the number of immigration and police officers in attendance is in the high teens, which may seem excessive for a routine removal.

We can only imagine the trauma experienced by young children when woken in their own beds by a uniformed officer, not by their parents, and finding a large number of uniformed people in the bedroom. Will the Minister explain the rationale behind the removal of different family members in separate vehicles? Children see their fathers and perhaps older siblings being removed in separate vehicles. What about the use of handcuffs? I hope that he can contradict me, but the use of handcuffs for adult men and boys in their late teens appears to be routine; if he tells me that that is not the case, I shall be delighted.

It would also be useful if the Minister could explain the procedures for the use of handcuffs in such circumstances. Has the Department done any assessment of the overall impact on children involved in the process? If so, could it be made available? The hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West suggested that we needed more information from the Home Office about the procedures and protocols of the removal process—concerning the separate vehicles, the body armour, the handcuffs and so forth. That would be helpful for us all.

The processes that I have described have been well documented and well reported, although in some cases with a little hyperbole in certain quarters. I shall not repeat the more hysterical remarks that have been printed in the press. None the less, the process and the removals have upset a great many people. They have led the children's commissioner for Scotland, Kathleen Marshall, to suggest that the process terrorises children. I mention that because she is a sane, rational, intelligent professional woman doing a particular job. This is her role. I am not quoting some of the maddies on the ultra-left, but someone in a very specific position.

Dr. Marshall said:

"I've become increasingly distressed by the inhumane methods of removal of children and families from Scotland. What can happen is immigration officers and police, big groups of them, 11 to 14, go to a family's house at seven o'clock in the morning, sometimes earlier, and waken the children in their beds. The officers in bullet proof vests"—

I suspect she means stab vests, but never mind—

"waken the children, not the parents, they handcuff the parents in front of the children and then they remove them by van on long journeys down to these prisons, basically to other detention centres or to holding centres."

Those are genuine and legitimate concerns for the children's commissioner, and they led the Lib-Lab First Minister in Scotland, Jack McConnell, to seek an asylum protocol. The BBC reported that he had asked the Home Office to involve Scottish education and social services when it deports and removes the families from their homes. I would add that the children's commissioner should be involved in any discussions about the procedures and processes for the removal of families, particularly those with children.

The best description of the fear that the families face was by an Algerian lady, who in advance of the process said:

"We are scared all the time . . . every morning I get up between 5 and 6 o'clock and get . . . dressed . . . I don't want to be in my night clothes when they bring the door down. I want to be ready so that I don't get shocked and so my children don't get frightened . . . what happens to children of 7 and 3, they could not stand the shock of doors being brought down, seeing my husband being handcuffed, being separated from their mother."

To be that afraid for one's children, or to be a child oneself and consider the possibility of that happening—particularly if it has happened to one's school friends, as it has in certain parts of the country—must be quite horrendous.

I welcome this debate and am delighted to have had the opportunity to contribute to it. I agree with Mr. Mullin. He said that he broadly supported the immigration and asylum system, but that the issue was about specific countries. Like him, I would support a case-by-case review of certain cases in certain circumstances. I hope that the Minister will take on board the genuine anxieties felt by many people awaiting removal and deportation. Their Members of Parliament have anxieties, and many other people feel concerns about the process. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer some of the questions that I have put to him.