Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

I am well aware that the LASCH’s capacity is currently limited, and I remind the Minister that the STCs are a new addition to the range of available disposals. I regret that instead of developing and investing in the quality and type of care, treatment and containment of children who seriously need to be in secure accommodation, money which has gone towards supporting and investing in STCs did not go into supporting and developing what could theoretically have been a wide range of different types of provision according to age. As I said in my speech, need as well as age is very important with children, and they are not necessarily concomitant.

I also recognise that it is nearly half past ten o’clock and that it would not be sensible for me to try to push my amendment to a Division. I sincerely hope, however, that the Government will go back and think again about this issue. We must all agree that what we currently have is seriously not good enough. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 13 [Schedule to be inserted into the Protection of Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1978]:

[Amendment No. 136 not moved.]

Clause 46 [Immigration and asylum enforcement functions: complaints and misconduct]:

Viscount Bridgeman moved Amendment No. 137:

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in Committee we did not have time to address this amendment, which stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Anelay. It addresses a specific aspect that is very much complementary to the problems of children which were so eloquently debated by noble Lords in the previous group.

The Explanatory Notes inform us that Clause 46 enables the remit of the Independent Police Complaints Commission to be expanded to provide oversight of certain personnel in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate exercising specified enforcement functions. The IPCC was established under Part 2 of the Police Reform Act 2002. Clause 46(1) of the Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to make regulations by negative procedure, conferring functions on the IPCC in relation to the exercise of specified enforcement functions by immigration officers and the exercise by officials of the Secretary of State of specified enforcement functions relating to immigration and asylum.

The amendment inserts a new subsection to ensure that these regulatory powers may confer functions on the IPCC to set up a procedure to enable children and young people to register complaints with regard to these immigration and asylum enforcement functions. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Children, in its child impact statement on the Bill, highlighted that the IPCC has already recognised the special needs of children and young people who wish to make

10 Oct 2006 : Column 235

complaints about the police. It argues that the IPCC needs to do the same for immigration and asylum-seeking children and young people.

The “No Place for a Child” campaign argues that the Government currently detain more than 2,000 children, including babies, in immigration detention centres every year. That is equivalent to the number of pupils at, say, a large inner-city secondary school. A coalition of children’s NGOs are concerned that, despite the estimated number of children involved, there is a distinct lack of awareness of children’s issues—or, as one put it, a lack of child centeredness—in the asylum and immigration process. The Refugee Children’s Consortium in particular believes that,

It goes on to state that,

Will the Minister tell the House what training IPCC officers currently receive on children’s issues—or indeed asylum and immigration officers, particularly contract workers enabled by the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill?

I am sure that the Minister is fully aware of Professor Al Aynsley-Green, the Children’s Commissioner for England, and his report on his visit to Yarl’s Wood in October 2005. The inspection report raised a number of points, including the fact that none of the young people spoken to were aware of why they were being detained or how long they might be there. Nor did they seem to have access to any complaints procedures.

10.30 pm

My noble friends Lady Morris and Lady Buscombe had debates before the Summer Recess on the voice of the child in the childcare and education Bills. Many speakers to the previous amendment referred to the same problem. There can be no doubt that listening to children’s views can enhance and help our understanding of the process and impacts on those experiencing it. We on these Benches wholeheartedly agree that there is a fine balance between consulting children and burdening them with decisions beyond their years. Facilitating the creation of a targeted procedure by which children and young people can register concerns and complaints will not only lead to potential improvement in the service but also help children to feel that they are being listened to and have some way of getting across their views, and that they are not isolated in this regard. I beg to move.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, we support the view that there is insufficient protection for children and young people’s safety and well-being, particularly as there is no statutory requirement on immigration authorities to safeguard and promote

10 Oct 2006 : Column 236

the welfare of children. The removal of asylum seekers has frequently not been carried out in a dignified or humane manner. Excessive or gratuitous force has been used on occasion and significant harm—both mental and physical—has been inflicted on children as a result. As the range of people authorised to conduct searches and, if necessary, to use reasonable force and to detain people arriving at ports of entry has been extended, people without proper training or accountability are carrying out these functions. That is highly inappropriate. The same rules should apply to immigration officers and private contractors alike.

We agree with the Chief Inspector of Prisons that the use of and conditions of the detention centres are inappropriate for children, which is echoed by the Children’s Commissioner. There are complaints of assault, but there is no proper body authorised to hear those complaints. There must be an independent body to which individuals should complain. All that is extremely worrying and unsatisfactory. We must maintain civilised, dignified, human procedures and conditions for all detainees, with a minimum requirement that their human rights should be observed. We support the amendment.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I have listened with care to the contributions made by the noble Viscount and the noble Baroness on this issue. I entirely understand their approach, and, personally, have some sympathy with it. Anybody who has ever had or worked with children could not fail to care in the impassioned way that they have demonstrated.

Regulations made under Clause 46 would enable the Independent Police Complaints Commission to investigate complaints about, and conduct arising from, immigration enforcement activities in England and Wales. Any such complaints will be investigated thoroughly. The particular circumstances of the individuals concerned in each case, including age and vulnerability, will be taken into account and sensitively handled.

Clause 46 will ensure that there is similar independent scrutiny of immigration officers and officials exercising police-like powers within the community, as are in place for the police themselves. Under the current legislation giving the IPCC oversight of the police, there is no separate legislative provision enabling children to register complaints with the commission as has been suggested in the proposed amendment. We take the view that such a provision is unnecessary. Procedures already exist within the commission which are sufficient for children and young people who may wish to make a complaint regarding the police. It is anticipated that the same procedures will be put in place for children who wish to make a complaint in connection with immigration enforcement.

The commission's current statutory guidance states that where a young person under the age of 16 wishes to make a complaint, the commission encourages the police to have regard to the principle in the Gillick competency guidelines that children under the age of 16 years are able, under common

10 Oct 2006 : Column 237

law, to give valid consent provided that they have sufficient understanding and intelligence to enable them fully to understand what is involved.

Applying that to the complaints system means that as long as a child under 16 understands fully what is involved in making a complaint, they should be able to do so. However, the police service and the commission have a responsibility to ensure that a young person making a complaint understands the process and potential outcomes and, where necessary, is provided with appropriate support in making the complaint. A complaint can be made on behalf of a child or a young person by a parent, guardian or third person.

At regional level, the commission's central England office is focusing on increasing access to the complaints system for young people as a priority for 2006 and 2007. This will enable better understanding of the position with regard to young people and the police complaints system with a view to increasing awareness, trust and confidence, as well as access to the police complaints system.

The work will involve: analysing complaints data on young people to ascertain their demographics and the type of complaints; identifying what the barriers are to complaining; and identifying proactive steps that can be taken to overcome those barriers and assessing them in terms of their feasibility. Examining police force data in relation to complaints that the commission deals with from young people will also be part of that work.

A number of stakeholder meetings have already taken place. That forms part of the commission’s guardianship role, concerned with the promotion of public confidence in the complaints system—including, I may add, improving and ensuring accessibility. Through that role the commission can ensure that the system is accessible to children. In addition, the Immigration and Nationality Directorate recognises the importance of providing information to children subject to immigration control and is discussing with the Children’s Commissioner for England how best this can be achieved.

I hope that what I have said has offered a measure of reassurance to the noble Viscount and the noble Baroness that their concerns are being addressed. The noble Viscount asked a particular question about IPCC staff and training issues. I cannot provide him with an answer this evening. However, I undertake to write to him and the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, on the issue. I quite understand its import and recognise that it is sensible that we get training programmes right and much more sensitised to the issues raised.

It is perhaps worth saying that during the development of the commission's statutory guidance for the police service in England and Wales, which the Home Secretary approved and the police service must follow, which took effect from December last year, the IPCC met a range of children's organisations, including the Children's Legal Centre—based at the University of Essex—Barnardo's and the Children's Society to consult on specific issues concerning

10 Oct 2006 : Column 238

children and young people's access to the police complaints system. The commission is committed to continuing work with the police and young people's organisations on the issue in future. It is our anxious anticipation that the same approach will be followed and adopted when the commission is responsible for the oversight of immigration enforcement as well. We have found our contact with those organisations to be especially beneficial in framing the Government's approach.

So we have some agreement—or comity, if you wish—on the issue. We are extremely happy to ensure that the active dialogue that I have described continues so that we ensure that young people can access and understand the complaints process and feel included in it, even though, as most would willingly concede, the processes and procedures can appear somewhat complex and disconcerting at the outset. We want to ensure that we get this right, and we are grateful for the help and support that we have. I express my gratitude to the noble Viscount and the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, for their interest and concern, but I trust that, having heard my remarks, the noble Viscount will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for his reassurance that the Government are addressing the problems of children and young people making complaints in the immigration and asylum system. I am also grateful for his undertaking to write to me about training. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal moved Amendment No. 138:

“Repatriation of prisoners “(c) in a case in which the terms of those arrangements provide for the prisoner to be transferred only with his consent, the prisoner's consent has been given,”.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 138 and 155 refer to foreign national prisoners and repatriation. Although it is quite late, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has several issues that she very much wants to have clarified, and it is therefore right for me to spend a little more time than I would otherwise spend at this late hour to ensure that those issues are covered and that we can have a proper debate.

10 Oct 2006 : Column 239

Foreign national prisoners currently make up approximately 12 per cent of the prisoner population. The Government believe that they should, wherever possible, serve their sentence in their own country. At present, the Repatriation of Prisoners Act 1984 requires three-way consent involving the sentencing state, the receiving state and the prisoner. That means that a prisoner can in effect veto a transfer properly agreed between the two Governments concerned by refusing to consent to the transfer, and the Government believe that this is no longer appropriate.

The new clause amends the Repatriation of Prisoners Act by clarifying the circumstances in which a prisoner will be required to consent to a transfer before that transfer can take place. A prisoner will be required to consent to the transfer only if the relevant international agreement makes consent a prerequisite to the transfer. Amending the 1984 Act in this way will enable the United Kingdom to ratify and conclude prisoner transfer arrangements that do not require prisoner consent. The consent of both Governments involved will still be required in each case, so where prisoner consent is still required by the relevant international arrangement, Ministers must be satisfied that that consent has been given in accordance with the requirements of those arrangements before transfer can take place.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has tabled an amendment that seeks to replace “satisfied” with,

The amendment would enable the Government to transfer a prisoner without having established beyond doubt that the prisoner had given consent in a case where the international arrangements require it to be given. We respectfully suggest that repatriating a prisoner in such circumstances without knowing for certain whether the requirement for consent had been satisfied would be inconsistent with those arrangements. Accordingly, I cannot commend the noble Baroness’s amendment to the House, but I am sure that she will say in the usual way that she was simply giving me an opportunity to make it clear that such iniquitous practice would not happen here, and I am happy to oblige her.

The Repatriation of Prisoners Act came into force about 21 years ago. Since then, the international thinking and practice on prisoner transfer has moved on. Arrangements such as the additional protocol to the Council of Europe convention on the transfer of sentenced persons opened for signature in 1997, and provide for the transfer of prisoners without their consent where they are to be deported or otherwise removed at the end of their sentence.

10.45 pm

The EU is also considering a proposal for a framework decision on prisoner transfer between member states, which would enable prisoners to be transferred without consent if that framework decision were to be adopted in due course. This amendment will enable the United Kingdom to start negotiations with like-minded countries to put in place prisoner transfer agreements that do not require

10 Oct 2006 : Column 240

prisoner consent. The Government will also enter into discussions with those countries with which they already have an agreement with a view to removing the requirement for consent. Their intention would be to transfer those prisoners who have no links with the United Kingdom and those who, in any event, may face deportation at the end of the sentence. Often prisoners, such as drug offenders, will have entered the United Kingdom solely to commit a criminal offence. In those circumstances, the Government believe that it is right that the prisoner should serve his sentence in his own country where he can also receive support from family, friends and the community, aiding his chances of rehabilitation. Subject to the agreement of the Government of the receiving state, prisoners will be returned to their state of nationality or, if appropriate, to the state of residence. The Government will not seek to transfer those prisoners whose primary links are agreed to be with the United Kingdom and who are therefore unlikely to be removed at the end of the sentence, although each case will be considered on its individual merits.

Those comments deal with the generality of the noble Baroness’s concerns, but she asked some additional, specific questions in relation, for example, to how many transfers per year the Government are expecting. It is not possible to estimate the number of prisoners who may be transferred without consent. That will depend on our ability to negotiate new and revised prisoner transfer agreements. The provision is part of a package of proposals aimed at increasing the number of foreign national prisoners who return to their own country to continue serving their sentence.

The noble Baroness wants to know where some of those prisoners come from and, in particular, whether Jamaicans form the largest group in the United Kingdom, which they do. Negotiations on the prisoner transfer agreement between the United Kingdom and Jamaica are now at an advanced stage. I have the happy task of involving myself in those negotiations and we await their outcome. The noble Baroness is also interested to know whether the Government expect to make any savings on the expenditure of maintaining prisoners within the prison estate in the United Kingdom. Removing prisoners at an early stage of their sentence will free up prison places. That is important at a time when the Prison Service is facing considerable pressure on its accommodation.

The extent of savings in prison places is of course similarly difficult to estimate. The savings will be dependent, once again, on the agreements that the Government are able to put in place and the stage in the sentence when a prisoner is transferred. This is not a scheme in the normal understanding of the word because it does not introduce any freestanding power to remove prisoners without first obtaining their consent. The amendment simply clarifies the domestic law provision on whether in future prison consent is required before a transfer can take place. As I tried to explain earlier, the option of negotiating agreements with other states without this as a provision is not available to us.

10 Oct 2006 : Column 241

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page