Enforced Removal (Families with Young Children)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 12:20 pm on 10th January 2006.

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Photo of Andy Burnham Andy Burnham Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) 12:20 pm, 10th January 2006

First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mr. Mullin for securing this debate and for focusing our attention on the extremely important issue of the removal of children, particularly those born in this country, to some of the most challenged and economically difficult countries in the world. It was welcome that he rightly focused our attention on that point, and I shall seek to address it directly.

Many excellent points have been raised in the debate. We have covered a broad terrain in discussing this issue, which arouses strong feelings. I fear that I shall not be able to do justice to every point, but I shall seek to do so as much as possible. However, I assure hon. Members that their comments will be heard in the Home Office. My hon. Friend said that he was disappointed that the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Nationality is not here. The Minister of State is chairing the Ministerial Committee on Asylum and Migration—a Cabinet Committee—this morning; otherwise he certainly would have been here. I assure my hon. Friend that he is deeply engaged in the issues that have been raised this morning and has asked Ministers to consider them—and I will, of course, draw these proceedings to his attention.

I am grateful that my hon. Friend made his comments in the measured and considered way which is his hallmark. We are dealing with what I believe to be the most challenging and emotive area of public policy. For that reason the use of language, particularly by people such as ourselves—those in positions of responsibility and those who hold public positions and public office—is all important. That point was made well by my hon. Friend John Robertson. Too often, because of the emotive nature of the debate, hyperbolic language is used at both extremes, whether to demonise those who come to this country to seek asylum or, at the other end of the spectrum, in comments about the nature of enforcement operations and the staff who carry them out. Such language is wrong in both cases. What the debate needs—in this place, more than anywhere—is accuracy and temperate language that reflects the facts and deals with these most difficult issues in a considered manner. I am glad that we have been able to achieve that this morning.

I welcome Damian Green to his new position as the Conservative spokesman on immigration. I was pleased that he said at the start of his remarks that he would follow a civilised and credible immigration policy—although that begs the question of why Conservative policy was not like that before he arrived. Perhaps we can all welcome his party back to a more civilised position on these matters, and I hope that that will remain the case in the months ahead. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South said, we do justice to the people who seek asylum by conducting the debate in that manner.

Let me make it clear to my hon. Friend that Ministers—including the Minister of State—would prefer no enforced returns to any country, and particularly no enforced returns of children. We would prefer to persuade and encourage people with no basis of stay or leave to remain in the country to leave voluntarily. That would be better for all concerned. Clearly it would be better for the Home Office, but it would also allow people to leave with more dignity and at a time of their choosing. That is a preferable outcome for all concerned.

We must do more. Responding to the issues raised by the National Audit Office report on returns, we must do more to encourage people to return voluntarily. I draw to the attention of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South the fact that later this week my hon. Friend the Minister of State will put forward more proposals on precisely that subject. His statement will deal with helping reintegration in society and providing more assistance, and will address some of the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South.

The broader picture relates to international development concerns that go beyond the remit of the Home Office. As my hon. Friend knows, the asylum system does not deal with the economic hardship, conditions or development of some of the most deprived countries in the world. As my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn said, the system must follow the terms of the 1951 convention on refugees. We do not forget about nor draw a veil over those conditions. They are important, and that is why we must work closely with the Department for International Development on these issues.