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6 Feb 2007 : Column 258WH—continued

The family continued to refuse to leave voluntarily. On 9 January, therefore, immigration officers visited the home again to effect removal. Again, the family was unco-operative throughout the visit. As a
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result, unfortunately, it was necessary to handcuff Mr. Bokhari for his safety and for that of his family. It is sometimes necessary for the IND to enforce removal in that way. The visit will also often take place early in the morning, simply because that is when the family is together. I have made it my business to go along on such visits sometimes, because it is important that I, as a human being, understand their impact, as well as the realities and implications of my actions, for which I am responsible to myself and the House.

Sometimes, restraint methods are used, and that is possible under the law. However, they are only ever used to protect an arresting officer or the person who is being arrested. Although I can speak only from my own experience, I believe that the tact, skill, diplomacy and care shown by front-line immigration officers is second to none. When one asks them which cases are easy and which are difficult, one gets a pretty simply answer: the removal of families is, to use a phrase that was once used to me, “gut-wrenching work”—it is extremely difficult. Many immigration officers have families of their own, but they do their job with some professionalism and skill.

The medical history of Mr. Bokhari, in particular, was well known, not least because of my hon. Friend’s representations. Detention co-ordinators and escorts were therefore made aware of his potential medical condition in a risk assessment that they were sent before the visit.

Removal did not take place on 9 January, and directions were reset for 22 January. The family was notified on 16 January to allow me further time to consider last-minute representations. On this occasion, the family remained in detention while my hon. Friend’s representations were considered. On the day of removal, unfortunately, the family was once again disruptive and abusive. No member of the family was handcuffed. The only time that a member of the family was handcuffed was when Mr. Bokhari was taken from the home, and that was for the reasons that I explained.

It has been intimated that the Home Office sometimes handcuffs children, but that is absolutely not the case—the Home Office does not handcuff children to effect removal constraint. Control of minors is limited to situations in which it is necessary for an officer to use physical intervention to prevent harm to the child or the individuals present. Children up to and including the age of 17 are considered to be minors.

The fact that the family established itself in the UK was not due to a delay in the processing of its application, which was fairly speedy. Despite full knowledge of its immigration status, however, the family chose to put down roots in the community, as is their right. The decision, the appeal and the permission to appeal to the tribunal were all dealt with in less than 12 months, but the family remained here for a further two years, in the full knowledge that it had no basis for doing so.

The point that I want to make is that the immigration rules are approved by hon. and right hon. Members and by Parliament, so they apply without
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prejudice to everybody in the country. My hon. Friend said that the members of the family were model citizens, and that may be the case, but it does not follow that there should therefore be some kind of discount from the immigration rules that were approved by this House. The family’s efforts to integrate into the community did not, therefore, constitute sufficient reason to allow it to remain. We cannot go down the route of allowing families to remain on the basis of a subjective opinion about who is nice, who is a model citizen and who is making efforts to integrate into the community. The immigration rules should be applied equally and fairly to everybody.

Some hon. Members argue that we should never remove families, but such a policy would not be sustainable. Furthermore, the exceptions created would act only as an incentive for people to come to this country illegally. That would increase the risk of trafficking, given that three quarters of illegal immigration is, as we know, in the hands of organised crime. It is therefore important that we not only tackle those who traffic others for exploitation, but close down the incentives to cross our borders illegally in the first place. Tackling such abuse and increasing the number of removals reduces the attraction of the UK to those who wish to enter illegally.

I am happy to come to the House at any time to debate the Government’s immigration policy. It is quite wrong to claim that Ministers boast in some way about the number of people whom we remove, and it is regrettable and inappropriate that my hon. Friend should say that. Home Office Ministers are tasked with ensuring that the immigration rules are fulfilled. It is right and proper that we debate the way in which that policy is conducted and the way in which Ministers are held accountable for their decisions. Those are difficult decisions, and the public often have strong views about them, so it is important that right hon. and hon. Members have the opportunity to question Ministers not only about the conduct of Government policy in the round and the development of policy into the future, but, sometimes, about the conduct of individual cases. I promise my hon. Friend that I shall review in Hansard the questions that he has posed. I believe that I have answered most of them in my remarks, but I shall write to him if there are any gaps where I have not dealt satisfactorily with the issues.

I conclude, however, on the point with which I started: many people have been involved in this case. They include the caseworkers who originally processed the decision and the family’s application for asylum when they were visiting the country; the caseworkers who then supported the family; the immigration judge and adjudicators who reviewed the decision; the immigration officers responsible for effecting the removal; the people at the detention facilities where the family were held, including the medical staff; and myself. A large number of people have therefore been involved in the case, and we all take such cases very seriously, because they involve the most difficult, challenging and emotionally fraught decisions that we must take day to day. Such decisions are difficult and have an emotional impact.

Where people disagree with the decisions that are ultimately made, it is wrong to question the motives of those involved. Parliament has made its view clear and
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expressed the law very clearly. As a result of that law, the people at the IND and Home Office, myself included, must often make difficult decisions. If we make certain decisions, that is not because we are in some way heartless or without emotion—that would be
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impossible when we have children of our own—but because that is the right thing to do.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Two o’clock.

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