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Lord Judd: The right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, have argued the case for their amendment very fully and effectively. However, I should like to know the thinking of my noble friend the Minister on one specific point. As I understand it, the Government's position is that people in these places could conceivably—despite being there—be accepted as legitimate asylum seekers. If it should prove that they are legitimate asylum seekers, God knows what traumas and awful experiences such families and children will have been through already. How can we contemplate putting them in a position of anxiety and stress, which will inevitably be found in such centres, after all they have been through? How can my noble friend deal with that point?

The Earl of Sandwich: I, too, support the right reverend Prelate in his reasonable amendment which seeks to restrict the use of detention to adults, ensuring that families with children under 18 are not kept in detention. It is the view of the Refugee Children's Consortium and many others that detention centres are not appropriate for vulnerable children. We forget sometimes that we are talking about a vulnerable category of children who have committed no offence and whose parents have committed no offence but are merely awaiting the outcome of an application. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, implied that a very small number of children are affected. In fact, they constitute a substantial number of those in detention.

Under successive UN conventions these children should receive more protection than other children. I was working with Save the Children soon after the UN convention was passed and signed and I remember how strongly children's charities felt at that time about those rights as they passed into our own legislation in the form of the Children Act 1989. Those organisations now say that the Bill, unamended, could be in breach of no less than 12 articles of the convention.

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As the right reverend Prelate said, it is well established under the Children Act that the best interests of the child should be a primary consideration. So why have MPs and Peers had to repeat this amendment on children in various asylum Bills over the 13 years since that Act was passed?

Like the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity, yet again, to explain the Government's reservations about Article 22 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which are beyond most people's comprehension. Phrases such as "not normally detained", "used sparingly", "regrettable" and "most exceptional" will not do. If the Minister repeats those phrases today he will not satisfy those who work with these children and will only bring us back to the same arguments at Report stage.

When discussing the issue of bail for immigration detainees on Second Reading, I referred to the case of a mother who was detained with her sick 18 months-old child for four months pending removal and a judicial review. As the right reverend Prelate said, the fire at Yarl's Wood is another recent example of the risks associated with such a policy. We now know from our debates on Monday that detention means detention and rarely removal. The holding of children for that length of time is both immoral and against international law.

Lord Hylton: For a long time now the theory has been that detention should be used only in the minimum necessary number of cases. When the Minister replies, will he say what has changed since 1999? Will he also give an explanation of what is meant by "exceptional circumstances". Do not the Government agree that daily reporting would be far more satisfactory than either the detention of children or, if that is to be avoided, the splitting up of families? Both procedures are totally deplorable and should be avoided at all costs.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I owe an apology to my noble friends on the Front Bench. Such has been the frenzied progress on the Bill that I fear an act of politeness has failed me. When I was a pairing Whip the late Lord Braine once gave me an excuse that he had missed a Division because he had been in a Hindu temple meditating and the matter had slipped his mind. I am in the same condition on this occasion.

I notice that the party which I share with my Front Bench has not put its name to this amendment. I am not clear whether my noble friends believe that Mr Malins received a satisfactory answer in Standing Committee E in the Commons on 14th May at cols. 235-236 of Hansard or whether the circumstances in which the issue was raised, which concerned detention by the Secretary of State, referred to a different case. It may be that I shall learn more about our own attitude before the Minister responds to the debate.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: I do not normally take part in the Committee stage of this Bill but, before the

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Minister replies, I wish to speak to the issue on which the debate concluded on Monday. This is the first opportunity I have had to do so. I believe that it raises serious constitutional issues.

We were discussing at that point in Committee the issue of the naming of the centres in which these children might be detained. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, raised the issue of whether some centres have already been renamed as removal centres, with official headings on letters to that effect, even though there has been no approval by this House or Parliament as a whole about that change of name.

If we are discussing a crucial amendment about the detention of children—which is an appalling act for a modern, civilised state—we should at least consider it in the context of what kind of centre these children are being sent to. We now understand that under the direction of the Home Secretary—which, with great respect, sounds more like an action of President Putin than that of the Parliament of the United Kingdom—these changes have been made.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, promised the House an explanation and said that we would be allowed to see documents. I apologise, in particular to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for intervening. However, it raises grave constitutional issues if a Minister acts as though legislation has been passed when it has not. I hope that the Minister will be kind enough to offer an explanation as we proceed with the amendment.

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: The right reverend Prelate has done us a favour in bringing forward this important amendment, and my noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville always does me a favour when he intervenes, as on this occasion. Indeed, when my honourable friend Mr Malins spoke to these matters in another place and when we looked in detail at the Minister's answers in Hansard, we determined that we were not fully satisfied with that response. We felt that the Government needed to be pressed more closely in this place to justify their policy.

A couple of weeks ago, I met representatives of the Refugee Children's Consortium. I was struck by their deep concern over the Government's continuing policy of detaining families with children. I noted their strong objection to the detention of children, based on the belief that detention centres cannot afford children the care and protection they need or uphold their rights under human rights law. They drew attention to the interference with the child's rights to freedom, to a normal social life and to education. As the consortium rightly pointed out, detention facilities are never the best environment for children and may have a serious negative impact on their physical and emotional health and well-being.

These are sensitive issues to which the Government must address themselves. They may provide justification which persuade us. But this is the time and the place to press the Government. If we are unable to reach a conclusion today, I am sure that this will

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continue to be an issue. I am willing to give the Government the opportunity to persuade me. I shall listen carefully to their reply.

Lord Filkin: Before my noble friend responds to the amendment, perhaps I may respond to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.

I have the Home Office press release before me. I do not have the PA report referred to. It is clearly desirable that the Bill is passed as soon as is practicable, consistent with parliamentary consideration and scrutiny. It will be clear to all Members of the Committee that that will not be before the Summer Recess.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Before I deal with the amendment, I want to pick up the point quite properly raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, about the naming of removal centres. I gave a clear undertaking the other day that I would write to Members of the Committee on the matter. That remains the case. I am not in a position to provide a response today, but we shall provide the response that was properly requested. As I believe I said when the matter was raised previously, I will ensure that all Members of the Committee who have taken part in the discussion will be availed of a copy of the correspondence.

This has been a useful debate. It has enabled us to focus on some important issues and some tough decisions that often have to be made in the exercise of immigration and asylum legislation.

The amendment to Clause 56 moved by the right reverend Prelate would mean that removal centres could not be used to hold detained persons under the age of 18. Let us be quite clear about that. However, it would not prevent the detention of those under 18 in other places designated for the purposes of detention under the Immigration Act 1971. I refer, for example, short-term holding facilities.

Our current policy on the detention of minors is clear. It is, of course, very regrettable to have to detain those who are under 18, but there are two limited sets of circumstances in which we may decide to do so. The first is where it is considered necessary in line with our policy to detain a family with children. In such a case, it is surely better for the children to be detained with the parents rather than to separate the family, which is likely to cause the children needless distress and anxiety. To suggest that in that case families should not be detained is, frankly, unrealistic. They may need to be detained while their identities or the basis of their claim are established, because they are unlikely to comply with the terms of temporary admission or release, to effect their removal, or as part of the fast-track asylum process at Oakington reception centre.

Secondly, there are exceptional instances where it is necessary to detain an unaccompanied minor while alternative care arrangements are made. The detention would normally be just overnight and in most cases with appropriate care facilities. A minor arrives alone late at night at a port of entry, for example, without

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family or adult relatives to go to. I am sure we can imagine circumstances arising from time to time—fortunately, not too frequently, but they do arise—in which immigration officers and staff have to make hard decisions.

In such cases, we believe that it is right that the minor should be held until alternative care arrangements can be made, either with relatives or with the local social services department. The limited circumstances in which minors may be detained are sensible and reasonable—and fair for those who may be affected. If a young person comes to this country with no knowledge or understanding of the language and is confronted by officialdom, there may well be a strong case for holding that person in secure accommodation until someone can be brought there who has a knowledge and understanding of the language and who can explain what is likely to happen to that young person. In those circumstances, it would be foolish not to have some secure accommodation available.

A number of questions arose during the debate. I stress that the number of people affected at any one time is fairly limited. The total detention capacity is just 2009. Excluding Oakington, there are approximately 150 family beds. These are usually organised in family rooms with four beds. Therefore, the total number of families is likely to be no more than 30 to 40 at any one time, including parents. Therefore, it must be plain that the vast majority of families are not detained.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford raised the important issue of child protection. Every removal centre with family accommodation has to have a child protection policy in place, and appropriate training is provided to staff. Policies and training programmes have been carefully drawn up in consultation with experienced members of staff from local authorities and the NSPCC. Staff take child protection issues very seriously indeed.

We believe that we are acting within the spirit of our human rights and UNCRC obligations. Questions were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and others about compatibility with Article 5. Article 5(1)(d) specifically permits the detention of a minor by lawful order for the purpose of education supervision and his or her lawful detention for the purpose of bringing him or her before the competent legal authorities. Article 5(1)(f) expressly permits the detention of a person to prevent his effecting an unauthorised entry to the country or of a person against whom action has been taken with a view to deportation.

The detention of children, regrettable though it is, is necessary from time to time. It is within the scope of Article 5(1)(f) and is not prevented by Article 5.

We believe that we are exercising our powers in a proportionate, reasonable and fair-minded way. We make full provision to protect the welfare and interests of the child. The circumstances in which detention is effected are limited and are related to the two areas

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that I outlined earlier. For those reasons, I ask the right reverend Prelate to consider withdrawing the amendment.


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