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Lord Renton: The Minister is well justified in moving this new clause. However there is one item in it that he should reconsider. Subsection (1)(b) of the proposed new clause states:

Surely that should be "under 18". Elsewhere in the Bill the age of 18 is regarded as the age of maturity. To choose 17 creates a rather unusual situation. I do not expect the Minister to reply at once, but I suggest that on Report he should consider amending it to 18 rather than 17.

Lord Dholakia: I welcome the amendment. We discussed yesterday the role of the visiting committees and the monitor. It would be very helpful if information of this nature was examined very thoroughly in order that no pressure is put on a family to stay in an accommodation centre. There should be an independent assessment of people's needs and there should be no pressure put upon them to stay there.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness Whitaker: I warmly support my noble friend's amendment. He knows that I believe six months is a rather long time for a child. I hope to press him to reduce the period.

My question relates to subsection (3) which states that,

    "the Secretary of State must consult the person"—

by which he means, I think, the parents. I remind him that the Joint Committee on Human Rights complained that the department—that is, the Home Office—appeared to envisage the children's parents acting as the main channel for children's views. I draw to his attention that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires due weight to be given to the views of children—all children—particularly in any judicial or administrative proceedings affecting them. That appears under Articles 12(1) and 12(2). Perhaps

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my noble friend will confirm that he envisages the children themselves being consulted under the amendment.

Earl Russell: This amendment also has been moved in response to representations from my honourable friend Mr Hughes. It is one of considerable importance to these Benches and to our attitude to other parts of the Bill. I am extremely grateful to the Minister for the care and trouble he has taken with it and for his serious efforts to be helpful.

He is of course handicapped by the extremely wide, permissive language in which regulations are now normally drafted. The amendment refers to,

    "a continuous period of time specified in the regulations".

Like the Minister, we shall need to reflect and consult during the Summer Recess. Is there any chance whatever of our seeing the draft regulations during the Recess? This would materially assist us in regard to matters to do with Clause 31.

Is the Minister saying that it will always be the case that people will need to be held in the centre during the six plus three period while their appeals are being considered, or will there be some cases where after the six months they may be allowed out? Will the Government allow flexibility in such cases or not? Anything the Minister can say to help us on this matter will be taken very seriously and discussed very carefully.

Lord Filkin: As to the good question of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, about why not under 18, let me give him the Government's response. This will give him two or three months to reflect on the matter before we come back on Report.

We have made it under 17 because we believe that the situation is different for those of compulsory school age and below. Young people aged 18 and over will be able to seek, for example, voluntary activities in the local community or attend further education outside the accommodation centre, subject to meeting the requirements of colleges. So there is more opportunity for people of that age to address any concerns about developmental needs.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, made good points in regard to visiting committees and the monitor. One would expect that these are the kind of issues that could well be within their purview to ensure that people and families were being treated appropriately in the centre.

As to the points raised by my noble friend Lady Whitaker, she will not be surprised to hear—I said this a few minutes ago—that there is no change in our position in regard to six months. It is right that parents or the person in the parental role should be consulted. When conducting his consideration, there is nothing to prevent the Secretary of State taking into account the views of the child. We shall consider slightly more positively how best to do this.

I am absolutely certain that it will come as no shock to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that it is unlikely that draft regulations will be available during the Summer

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Recess. However, we could have further discussions on these issues in order to focus down on areas of particular concern. I should be delighted to do so if that would be helpful.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clauses 23 to 25 agreed to.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 115:

    After Clause 25, insert the following new clause—

There shall be inserted after section 36(2)(a) of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 (c. 43) (meaning of "regulated position")—
"(aa) an accommodation centre provided under section 14 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002,""

The noble Baroness said: This amendment, by which I hope to remedy a perhaps unintended loophole left by the Government, is essential for the welfare of children who will reside in accommodation centres. The amendment adds to the meaning of "regulated position" in Section 36 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 and "accommodation centre" created by this Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Joffe—I am disappointed that he is not in his place—raised in his earlier amendment the much wider question of child welfare. I focus on the much narrower and, I hope, resolvable issue of accommodation centres. The Refugee Children's Consortium, for whose briefing last week I am grateful, made it clear that it is important that such centres, whether or not they have a statutory duty to provide a child protection policy, should have designated staff to deal with child protection issues and that children must not be at risk.

My concern is that the Bill as drafted could place children at risk because sex offenders would not be covered by the regulations contained in the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 if they sought work in a voluntary or employed capacity in an accommodation centre. My amendment is therefore very tightly drawn to solve a single problem. It fairly and squarely ensures that sex offenders could not be engaged in employment or voluntary work in accommodation centres where, I believe, they would put children at risk. I hope that the Minister will feel able to accept this amendment or that he can draw to my attention other legislation which ensures that such people would be prevented from accepting such positions in accommodation centres. I beg to move.

Lord Dholakia: The amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, which we support, has some substance. I therefore hope that the Minister will give it further serious consideration.

Lord Hylton: In view of the scandals that have plagued a number of children's homes in a variety of English and Welsh counties, it is very important to

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prevent, by whatever means possible, similar occurrences in accommodation centres. Should they happen, the whole concept of accommodation centres would be brought into grave disrepute.

Lord Filkin: I thank the noble Baroness for tabling this amendment, which deals with the important issues to which the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Hylton, have referred.

We agree that the safeguarding of children in accommodation centres is of paramount importance. In accommodation centres, they will be with their families. Therefore, the situation is not identical to that in other establishments, such as children's homes or local authority secure accommodation, which are for the exclusive use of children not accompanied by their families. Nevertheless, concern for their protection still prevails. That does not remove the need to ensure that people working in accommodation centres are properly vetted and suitable to be working there.

The existing statutory framework will apply, including the child welfare provisions in the Children Act 1989. It is also the case that those disqualified from working with children are already prohibited from employment in those positions that meet the definition of "regulated position" within the scope of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000.

The Criminal Justice and Court Services Act uses the concept of regulated positions and provides that it is a criminal offence for an individual who is disqualified from working with children to apply for, offer to do, accept or undertake any work in a regulated position. It is also an offence for an employer knowingly to offer work to or employ such a disqualified person. A regulated position is so defined that it can relate both to type of establishment and type of work. Thus, for certain types of listed establishments—children's homes, children's hospitals and the like—all employees are considered to be in a regulated position. Noble Lords opposite seek to add accommodation centres to that list.

However, in addition, a person is considered to be in a regulated position if he undertakes work of a type listed in Section 36 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act. Therefore, accommodation centre staff would be in a regulated position if their normal duties involved caring for, training, supervising or being in sole charge of children. Thus, accommodation centre teachers, creche workers and the like will be caught by the legislation. We need to consider more fully the position of ancillary staff.

We shall ensure that any contract with an accommodation centre provider enables the Home Office to approve staff before they start work at the centre. We shall also require the contractor to undertake the highest possible level of criminal records check for each member of staff. Our initial view is that those contractual requirements, together with the existing statutory protection, are sufficient. However, in the light of this amendment, we shall consider whether there is merit in providing some additional statutory protection.

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We should like time to consider in more detail the legal position and the extent to which accommodation centres are already covered or not. We should therefore be grateful for an opportunity to reflect on this amendment. Should we conclude that it is necessary, we shall look forward to tabling a suitable amendment at Report stage.

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