Saturday, 13 February 2010

Hackney MP mums battle over motherhood

On Wednesday there was a debate in Parliament about the Yarl's Wood detention centre. Only two women spoke in the debate. They were both Hackney MPs and both mothers: (Yarl's Wood debate via

Diane Abbott said: "I know that the Minister (Meg Hillier) is a mother. She will have a brief from her officials and she will talk to us about immigration control, but I ask her to imagine that it was her children behind bars. Are these the conditions that she would want for them? They would not be able to run completely free as far as they like, or to go into town to see Father Christmas, or to go into town to meet their friends. Are those the conditions that anyone would want for their child? Not for three months, not for two months, not for a month-not even for a day."

Meg Hillier said: "I can go into some of my plans to look at other options as the Minister now responsible for the matter, but there are important issues about whether we keep children with their parents. I should not want children to be separated from their parents, and, importantly, we must recognise that as part of the issue when detaining children: the parents refuse to leave, and they should take some responsibility for the situation."

Later in the debate:

Diane Abbott: "My hon. Friend said that when immigration officials and other appropriate officials carry out their - I know that she deprecates the phrase - dawn raids, there is always somebody there who has the interests of the child at heart. Is she saying to the House that she is confident that these raids, with people being taken from their homes in this way, do not traumatise the children?"

Meg Hillier: "Clearly, any child going through this process will find it very challenging. As my hon. Friend rightly predicted I would say, the Government have certain responsibilities as regards immigration and immigration control. If she will wait to the end of my comments, I can talk to her about some of the work on alternatives that is under way. I also reiterate that parents have responsibility. As a parent myself, I have some responsibility for what my children do, what harm's way I put them into, and what situations they are in. Equally, parents who are facing detention or deportation have made a choice not to leave voluntarily; they therefore have some responsibility, and it is important to recognise that."

Diane Abbott: "She says, and I have heard a succession of Ministers in her position say, that the parents have made a choice and that that is why their children are in detention. Can she tell me of any other area of public policy in which we make children suffer because of the choices of their parents? The role of the state is normally to protect children from bad choices that their parents make."

Meg Hillier: "I will provide figures in a little while about the number of children detained for different periods, but there are many areas in which children suffer because of the choices of their parents, such as when a parent is in a domestic prison. I have spoken to head teachers in my constituency who have known children who have come home from school to find that Dad or Mum has been in prison, which affects them massively. There are other matters on which children are affected by the decisions of their parents, and we do need to detain people on certain grounds."

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