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Last Updated: Friday, 5 September, 2003, 07:54 GMT 08:54 UK
Labour MSPs speak out on Dungavel
Cathy Peattie
Cathy Peattie: Broken silence among Labour MSPs
The self-imposed silence of Labour MSPs on the Dungavel Immigration and Removal Centre has been broken.

Cathy Peattie, who chairs the Scottish Parliament's equal opportunities committee, described as "crazy" the policy of locking up asylum seekers and called for the closure of Dungavel as soon as possible.

Ms Peattie urged the First Minister, Jack McConnell, to intervene and said many of her Labour colleagues shared the same view.

Mr McConnell has distanced himself from the controversy, consistently saying that immigration and asylum are the responsibility of the Home Office and do not fall within the remit of the devolved Scottish Parliament.

Ms Peattie, MSP for Falkirk East, told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme: "It is a reserved issue, it is for the UK ministers to be dealing with this and I don't think we can expect Jack McConnell to stand up in the Scottish Parliament and make a speech on this issue.

I think the Scottish community are appalled at the stories they are hearing, mothers having to sneak food into rooms to feed children
Cathy Peattie
"But I would urge our Scottish ministers to be speaking to UK ministers to find a solution and to move this forward quickly. I think it's an appalling system and we can do better than this.

"I know that Scottish ministers over the summer have been speaking to UK ministers. I know they have been speaking around education etc.

"I think the Scottish community are appalled at the stories they are hearing, mothers having to sneak food into rooms to feed children.

"I'm sure my Labour colleagues are equally concerned. I'm sure people are equally concerned and are aware it's a reserved issue but I'm sure they feel exactly the same as I do that this situation is unacceptable."

Asked if she felt her comments would jeopardise her career, she said: ""Who knows? I don't think so."

Another Labour MSP, Elaine Smith, described Dungavel as an "aberration".

'Unsustainable' position

BBC Scotland political correspondent Glenn Campbell said that Mr McConnell's current line in which he was insisting that he could not even share his personal view was unsustainable.

If he did speak out, he would feel under pressure to support the Westminister line which would provoke problems among Labour MSPs and cause a rift with his party's coalition partners in Scotland, the Liberal Democrats.

Pressure for action is being increased by campaigners who want the former prison to be shut with newspapers falling in behind those pressing for closure.

Dungavel retains the look of a prison
An editorial in Friday's Herald is headlined "Dungavel, Scotland's shame... First minister should voice his opinion on centre."

In a letter to the newspaper from the Roman Catholic Bishop of Paisley, John Mone, wrote: "Our first minister must have a view on this subject. I call on him in a spirit of openness to make it known."

A spokesman for Mr McConnell insisted that immigration policy was reserved to the UK Government and Scottish ministers were unable to discuss issues publicly.

At a public meeting in Glasgow on Friday night, campaigners will repeat their insistence that the centre should be closed and children held there integrated into mainstream education.

A protest is being organised to take place outside the centre at midday on Saturday.

'Ugly scar'

The anti-racist charity Positive Action in Housing has branded the Dungavel Immigration and Removal Centre in Lanarkshire "an ugly scar" on Scotland's conscience and condemned Labour MSPs for their "wall of silence".

In a further twist, the secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), Bill Speirs, described Dungavel as being like Guantanamo Bay, the camp in Cuba where the US is holding terror suspects.

His claim was rejected by Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes, who said it was a "slur" on staff who worked diligently at Dungavel.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Dungavel row deepens
Bill Speirs, STUC, and Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes debate Dungavel


BBC Scotland's John Knox
"A handful of Scottish Labour MPs have joined the campaign"



SEE ALSO:
Call to close Dungavel
05 Sep 03  |  Scotland
Mother and child leave Dungavel
04 Sep 03  |  Scotland
Anger at Dungavel 'punishment'
03 Sep 03  |  Scotland
Asylum children pressure mounts
15 Aug 03  |  Scotland
Asylum centres 'not for children'
15 Aug 03  |  Scotland
Report exposes devolution tension
15 Aug 03  |  Scotland


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