Regardless of a recent report, the fact is that we have ended Labour’s antiquated policy, whereby children were locked up for indeterminate periods in horrible institutions.
A recent report published on 23 October by HM Inspectorate of Prisons into the government’s first “family friendly” detention facility for parents and children awaiting removal from the UK shows that the Lib Dem policy has worked and that there are still some areas of treatment which require improvement.
Understandably, everything is not a bed of roses: evidence is cited within the report of unacceptable force used against a pregnant woman in a wheelchair and also highlights force used on six of 39 families placed in the facility.
The Chief Inspector of Prisons, Nick Hardwick, argues in the report that “children became very distressed during removals”, and also says “it was not possible to measure the psychological impact of that process on them”.
He also pointed out some recorded incidents of self-harm and some gaps in healthcare and staff training.
In addition, an article published in the Guardian by Diane Taylor on 23 October http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/23/britain-sill-locking-up-children provided a much skewed assessment of the current state of our detention facilities, and by doing so has attempted to undermine our Lib Dem family immigration policy success.
The article was wholly wrong and misleading in that it completely failed in the simple exercise of separating children detained whilst their immigration status was determined, from those in exceptional circumstances awaiting removal once the courts had ruled so.
We are not saying at all that the UK Border Agency is a bastion of perfection…there is always room for better performance and improvements. But let’s be clear, we have as Liberal Democrats most definitely ended the unacceptable and inhumane scandal that was overseen by Labour.
Respected professionals and activists such as Barbara Nalumu from Citizens UK, do indeed thank us for ending child detention, and have themselves reacted to the article in the Guardian on the subject, responding to criticism that child detention is still going on. She wrote:
“Importantly, the new measures we have taken, such as the Independent Family Returns Panel, have ensured that the vast majority of children and families can stay in their communities before returning home.”
It is only those who can’t and are awaiting removal who are accommodated in the new “exceptional facility” – Cedars. This place consists of nine self-contained, family-friendly apartments and is a vastly improved place, and completely different from the Labour Government’s previously feared family unit at Yarl’s Wood – now closed by the coalition government. Indeed, Barnardo’s have now been contracted to provide invaluable emotional support and educational play to help families and children to sensitively understand the difficult process they are going through.
We have to accept that a facility such as Cedars is still required because there will always be certain exceptional cases in which some families, who when the courts rule that they should be returned home, need a humane and decent stopping off point before they can board a plane. As Liberal Democrats, we understand that this is a necessary part of a civilised, sensitive but effective immigration system.
Diane Taylor’s critical article is flawed in that she is not comparing like with like. The contrast between the new system and what existed just two years ago under Labour could not be starker.
Whilst Labour was in government, a head in the sand approach meant that it was acceptable practice to allow thousands of innocent children to be locked up, very often for weeks at a time. Citizen’s UK led a highly effective campaign by shining a torch on this barbaric policy and created an issue of public concern. As Liberal Democrats, we worked hard with them to ensure that our policy when in opposition reflected the underlying decency and respect for human rights of the British Public.
Today, there are no families locked up in prison like conditions and treated like criminals. The Liberal Democrats have worked hard on this policy to put the welfare of children at its heart.
Both Nick Clegg and Barbara Nalumu of Citizen’s UK have together written a wonderful rebuttal of Diane Taylor’s misconceived article…it clearly tackles line by line her ill-informed analysis:
As a Liberal Democrat, I for one am very proud of this policy success and would urge others to push the message out through our campaigning materials at every possible opportunity!