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Judicial review presents a serious problem: between January and March this year we received an average of 79 judicial reviews a week challenging enforcement activity. Some 94 per cent. were refused permission at the paper stage; none the less, one ongoing case has been running for 12 months and is on its second judicial review. Another case has been running for 14 months and is on its fourth judicial review, while a further case has been running for seven months and is on its third judicial review. People often try to exploit the judicial review process as a last-minute barrier to removal. I fear that the change to section 11 proposed by the hon. Member for Ashford would simply multiply those barriers.
While I understand what the Minister is telling us, he also says that it is not the intention to deport, or send home, children at least until they become adults. The provision would not apply after people reached the age of 18, so I do not understand
why they cannot be subject to section 11 of the Children Act 2004 while they are children in the UK, which is all that we want.
Mr. Byrne: We will often be making arrangements to send those people home. I simply do not understand how anyone cannot envisage that in judicial review proceedings, lawyers would make the argument that I cited. The proposal would lead to the multiplication of judicial review proceedings.
This is a serious matter. It is important to go further than we have to date on the Border and Immigration Agencys duty to safeguard the welfare and livelihood of children. I said in Committee that we were keeping the matter under review. This summer the agency will publish its safeguarding strategy, which has been drawn up in close consultation with childrens organisations. If the Bill is enacted, we will commission advice from the new inspectorate about how it can examine specifically the way in which the safeguarding strategy is implemented, so that we can ensure two things. The first is that the strategy is actually working, with policy being translated into practice. The Joint Committee on Human Rights, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore), has helpfully and successfully highlighted instance after instance when policy has not been translated into practice, which explains why the single inspectorate is important. The second is that hon. Members, and the wider public, have an assurance that the safeguarding duty is being implemented properly.
We can make important changes. While the point about transparency is particularly important, we need to continue to listen to the argument about how a specific and appropriate legal obligation could underpin the safeguarding responsibilities of the border and immigration authority in a way that would not multiply the grounds for judicial review, but would ensure that hon. Members ambitions were achieved.
Paul Rowen: I am listening carefully to the Ministers explanation. He cited an example involving the DRC. Given that that is an unsafe place, we would not deport anyone to that country, whether they were under 18 or over 18. The section 11 safeguards would not be affected in such circumstances. As I understand the way in which the system operates at the moment, an asylum seeker will not be sent back to an unsafe country.
children to have optimum life chances and to enter adulthood successfully.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the DRC is the size of western Europe. There are places in the DRC to which the asylum and immigration tribunal has consistently found it very safe to return people. However, one can easily envisage how a cunning and clever lawyer could look at the part of the obligation that I cited and question how deporting a child from the worlds fourth largest economy would promote optimum life chances or help that child to enter adulthood successfully. That is my fear. I do not think that anyone in the House would want us to remove defences in a way that
prevents us from deporting people successfully. I genuinely think that hon. Members understand that if defences are weaker, Britain will become a target for child traffickers, and no one in the House wants that.
We need to go further in ensuring that the Border and Immigration Agency has a stronger safeguarding obligation. I have sketched out a couple of ways in which I think that that can be brought about, but I remain open to the argument that a legal requirement should be put on the BIA, and a specific safeguarding element should be written into the law. I have yet to be convinced of that, and I do not think that the answer is in section 11 of the Children Act 2004but when the Bill goes to another place there will still be a case to be listened to and answered.
Damian Green: I start my response to this extremely good debate by apologising to my hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Mr. Steen). I knew that he was going to be unavoidably detained elsewhere, but I had not realised for how short a time. If I had, I would have explored the issue in even greater depth. I assure him that I have now had one unprecedented experience this afternoon: sitting down at the end of a speech and being criticised for having made it too short. I am grateful to him for that. I can reassure him that his case was made most eloquently by the hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore).
To pick up on some of the Ministers points, I thought that he was pushing the envelope a little in saying that the Government were leading in Europe on the fight against trafficking. As he will be aware, the Government made the good move of signing up to the Council of Europe convention rather later than many Governments did. He was right to say that the Government do not want to ratify the convention until they can actually implement it, because we have had enough of gesture politics from the Government, both in that field and in others. I find it refreshing that the Minister is seeking to avoid that, but I point out, as he did, that seven countries have already ratified the convention, and when 10 countries ratify it it will come into force, so it is likely to come into force soon. At that point, the Government will presumably start implementing it. I thought it slightly ominous that he could not give the hon. Member for Hendon any reassurance about the timing, and could not say when the Government will be in a position to do something practical and useful in that respect.
I am grateful for that. Ambition for accuracy is a good thing in Ministers. The Ministers central point was about striking a balance between the protection of children and the protection of the interests of the Executive, which should not be tied down with judicial reviews. I found his argument on that point beguiling, but it was not convincing, because the Government have had a long time to think about the subject. They have known what the refugee childrens organisations and others think about the issue for a long time. It is not wholly convincing for the Government to come before the House on Report, after a long Committee stage, and say, Were looking
into the matter, and we may bring forward appropriate measures, but not those supported by both main Opposition parties and the organisations concerned. Well come up with better measures during the later stages of the Bill. The Government have had a long time to consider the issue, and they have not yet found any other measures.
I would hate to miss this opportunity to register the point that underlies all our discussions, which is that the current arrangements are not satisfactory. Indeed, what the Minister said this afternoon made it clear that he does not think that they are satisfactory either, and is looking for better ways to protect the rights of refugee children. If he cannot come up with concrete proposals at our final opportunity to discuss the Bill before it proceeds to another place, it is for other parties to submit such proposals to protect those children. That is what we have done, and we commend our proposals to the House.
Mr. Steen: Is not my hon. Friends concernindeed, the Oppositions concernabout the fact that many thousands of unaccompanied minors arrive somehow or other in the country every year at airports and ports? I do not know how they get here. The Government are then expected to finance their care in local authorities, provide legal aid, food and shelterbut then what? Does my hon. Friend believe that something needs to be said about how we are going to manage better those thousands and thousands of children who are still pouring into Britain? Certainly we are not doing enough at the moment.
Damian Green: My hon. Friend is exactly right. One of the things that the Government have failed to do is make our borders secure enough so that people traffickers and other evil criminals are not encouraged to try to smuggle children into this country. That brings us on to a debate about our proposals for a border police force, which is the most effective way of minimising the effects of that particularly repellent crimebut I suspect that you would pull me up, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I went too far down that road, because it is not strictly relevant to this group of amendments.
Finally, the Minister talked about the European Commission and biometric documents for children. Whether the proposals are introduced by the Commission or by central Government, if biometrics for children do not workall the technical evidence suggests that they do notthose documents will be ineffective in protecting them. I am relaxed about whether the proposals come from the Commission or from the Home Office; they will not work in either case. In summary, I have not found the Ministers arguments that we should wait for the Government to come up with a convincing way of protecting children at all persuasive, however well he put them, so I commend the new clause to the House.
An immigration officer must ensure that any clothing covering the face, or part of the face, of an individual is removed for the purposes of verifying the identity of that individual upon entering or leaving the United Kingdom.. [Philip Davies.]
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