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3. Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East) (Lab): When he last discussed with the Scottish Executive the conditions for children held at the immigration removal centre in the former Dungavel prison in Scotland. 
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Anne McGuire): The operation of the Dungavel immigration removal centre is a reserved matter and is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. However, I have regular meetings with Home Office and Scottish Executive colleagues to discuss any particular concerns surrounding asylum seekers and refugees in Scotland.
Mr. Connarty : I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I am aware from conversations with many people that there is much anguish that we are still locking children up in the former prison at Dungavel. All five major Churches in Scotland have made it clear that they oppose the continuation of that practice. I hope that we now have an opportunity to have a dialogue on this matter. Kathleen Marshall, the new Commissioner for Children and Young People in Scotland, has said that she wants a dialogue and not a collision. She has said that she will make looking at the conditions facing children in Dungavel a priority, and it is possible that the facility will no longer be used for that purpose. I suggest that it is time to step back and have a genuine conversation about this matter, behind the scenes and with all interested parties involved. In that way we can see whether we can work out a better solution for the problems that arise when children are put in detention. We should stop locking children up, as that contravenes the UN convention on the rights of the child.
I would suggest to my hon. Friend that there is not a doubt over whether we are contravening the rights of the child. In fact, children are not detained at Dungavel for most purposes. There are specific cases in which children have to be detained as a result of the actions of their parents. It does no service to the great support given to asylum seekers in Scotland and across the United Kingdom if people continue to perpetuate the myth that we lock up children as a matter of course.
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Of course I recognise the comments made yesterday by the new Children's Commissioner, and I welcome the fact that she has said on the record that she does not know what is happening in Dungavel and will go on a fact-finding trip. The Home Secretary will welcome that visit, and the commissioner will see for herself the excellent conditions for families who need support at a time when they are traumatised by all sorts of events in their lives.
John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): Is the Minister aware that, in a press release dated 15 August 2003 in response to concerns raised and recommendations made in the report of Her Majesty's inspectorate of prisons, the Home Office said it would consider the recommendations carefully and reply in due course? Has she had any discussion with her colleagues at the Home Office as to when the response might be received, and does she not think that having waited eight months is already too much? Surely the incarceration of children in Scotland is a matter that should be considered somewhat more timeously.
Mrs. McGuire: I am delighted to be able to advise the hon. Gentleman that the former Minister for Citizenship and Immigration commented on the situation at Dungavel some months ago. New systems put in place to deal specifically with people's genuine concerns about children in detention mean that children will not be detained any longer than is absolutely necessary. After 28 days, they will be detained only on the specific undertaking of the relevant Home Office Minister, and their cases will be reviewed weekly after that. The average length of detention in Dungavel for children over the past year was approximately 10 days. The Home Office has already made its views known on HMIP's report, and I shall arrange for a copy to be given to the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Bill Tynan (Hamilton, South) (Lab): Dungavel is obviously a last resort as far as the immigration problem is concerned. However, the question of children's education at Dungavel is an issue of major concern, and I have made representations to South Lanarkshire council about it. Will the Minister make representations to the council's education department to try to ensure that children have the opportunity to attend local schools during their stay at Dungavel? That would help to alleviate some of the concerns that many people have.
Mrs. McGuire: I respectfully suggest that, with an average stay of around 10 days, it is educationally difficult to put children resident at Dungavel for such short periods into the local schools. The Home Office, the organisation that manages Dungavel and South Lanarkshire's education authority co-operate closely to ensure that maximum educational input is given to children while they are there. I can assure those of my colleagues who have not seen the educational facilities at Dungavel that they are first class. It would be helpful if people would recognise that the Home Office, the company and the local authority are working full out to ensure that education and care are given, in difficult circumstances, to the families and children in the detention centre.
Annabelle Ewing (Perth)
(SNP): The Minister will be aware that children are imprisoned at Dungavel
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through no fault of their own. One day, surely, is one day too many. Will the Scotland Office stand with the Children's Commissioner against the imprisonment of children at Dungavel, or is it content to continue to prop up a discredited UK Government policy?
Mrs. McGuire: The problem with complex issues is that there are no simplistic answers. To be honest, it is incumbent on the hon. Lady to tell us what she and her party would do in a situation in which families abscond after going through the whole legal system that manages our asylum policy. Making trite statements about a complex issue is just not good enough.
David Taylor : Given the £10 million a day Scottish public spending advantage over comparable English regions such as the east midlands, and the recent comments by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local and Regional Government that the case for reconsidering the basis for funding is getting stronger all the time, does my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State agree that Scotland should get the Chancellor's cash only on a needs basis or should have total fiscal autonomy? The days of building castles in the air at Holyrood with other people's taxes must end, and soon.
Mr. Darling: No, I do not agree with my hon. Friend. He might wish to reflect that thanks to this Government, whom he supports on occasions, I think, public expenditure has risen in the east midlands by 30 per cent., and that has enabled, for example, the employment of more teachers, more nurses, more doctors and more police. The Government have increased public expenditure across the piece. As for the Barnett formula, the Chancellor and the Chief Secretary have made it clear that they do not have any proposals to amend it. Instead, we are concentrating on addressing some of the disparities and the historic underinvestment in areas such as the one that my hon. Friend mentioned. As for fiscal autonomy, he ought to understand that it is Natspeak for separation.
Sir Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield) (Con): Will the Secretary of State, who is always rational in what he says, accept that Lord Barnett, the initiator of the Barnett formula, believes that it should now be phased out? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that those of us who represent English boroughs and counties such as Macclesfield and Cheshire are concerned that the population we represent get 20 per cent. less per head than the resources allocated to Scotland? Does he further accept that, bearing in mind the fact that that enables Scotland to provide free tuition and free residential and nursing care, whereas we cannot provide those in England, it is really stretching the patience of those who live in England.
On the question of tuition fees, of course, if Parliament approves the measures currently
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before the House, substantial advantages will be provided to students living in England that were not previously available. I cannot remember whether the hon. Gentleman supported his party's opposition to those measures, but he should bear that in mind. Expenditure in the north-west, including the hon. Gentleman's constituency, has also risen by more than 30 per cent. The hon. Gentleman was nice about me, so I shall be nice about him. Throughout my 10 years in opposition, I was always taken by the fact that he spoke as much against his own Government as about other matters. He sees the need for public expenditure and I think that he would agree that increasing it by 30 per cent., with all that that entails for his constituency and others in the north-west, is a good thing.
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