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Asylum Seekers

Volume 457: debated on Monday 19 February 2007

2. What recent discussions he has had with the Scottish Executive on the removal of failed asylum seeker families. (121291)

I have regular conversations with the Scottish Executive about matters relating to the removal of families who are appeal rights exhausted. In addition, our regional director for Scotland has regular meetings with his officials.

I thank the Minister for that answer and welcome his recent acceptance that the practice of removals using dawn raids has a traumatising effect on children. When can we expect to see published a full agreement between the Scottish Executive and the Home Office on the practice of removals? Can he commit in principle to having as part of that agreement the appointment of a lead official, perhaps from social work or education, to ensure that the rights of children are always protected and heard in removal cases?

I am grateful for that question. Our immigration officers in Scotland do an extremely difficult job under very difficult circumstances. I am particularly grateful to Glasgow city council for its work to ensure that when people have broken the law and an independent judge has passed a verdict, it is possible to remove them in the most civilised fashion. We are proposing a number of changes in Scotland. One is to ensure that there are teams that are responsible for a case from the beginning to the end, so that the decision is made entirely in Scotland. I think that the First Minister was right to propose that. Agreement has now been established in principle on the appointment of a lead professional to ensure that there is the right liaison on matters that relate to health and education when children are to be removed.

I am sorry to be a dog with a bone, but the Minister has not answered the question that I asked on 5 February during the debate on the UK Borders Bill. Why do clauses 1 to 4 and, I think, 21 exempt Scotland? The hard-working immigration officers in Scotland, to whom he has just referred, will not have the power to detain, but that power will be extended to England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Will he take this opportunity to explain the logic of that? What special arrangement has he reached with the Scottish Executive? Immigration officers in most of the United Kingdom have to be given in legislation powers to detain and powers on forfeiture, but apparently it is not necessary to apply that to Scotland. I simply do not understand the logic. Will he explain it to me now?

As ever, I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention, as I was last week. As I promised him last week, I furnished him with the relevant advice that afternoon, and I have ensured that copies of it will be placed in the Library. I will happily review it with him if parts of the letter and the supporting advice are unclear.

As I am not at present entirely comfortable about the dependability of executives, can the Minister assure the House that we truly do have a uniform policy throughout the United Kingdom and that the Scottish Executive are doing precisely what they should be doing?

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary urges me from a sedentary position to pass on to the hon. Gentleman the best wishes of Labour Members. I am happy to be able to give him the assurance he asks for.

There is no doubt that the longer a family remains in Scotland, the harder it is to remove them if their application is unsuccessful, as roots are put down and children develop relationships at school. What is my hon. Friend doing to ensure that, in Scotland, removals, and decisions about them, are made as swiftly as possible? I understand that there are some quirks within the Scottish legal system that mean that certain kinds of decision are not made as quickly in Scotland as they are in England.

My hon. Friend is right that there are aspects of the Scottish judicial system that lead to decisions being made more slowly: for example, when there are judicial reviews, they are not processed at the same speed as in England. However, the First Minister made the crucial point that it is important to have teams that are based in Scotland that are responsible for decisions from the beginning to the end. It is important to make sure that decisions are both taken in Scotland and as swiftly as possible. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary last year set a target of ensuring that 90 per cent. of decisions to grant, or to remove and deport, are taken within six months. We are now able to move towards achieving that in Scotland, as faster decisions are often fairer decisions.