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Lord Hylton: My Lords, I believe that the amendment is necessary, particularly because there are not to be regular and automatic bail hearings. The onus is on the Government to show that non-acceptance of the amendment would lead to serious difficulties with the removal of people who have exhausted all possible appeals and processes in this country. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned pregnant women. I believe I am right in saying that the Minister has already given assurances that they will not be detained. If that is the case, I hope that he will repeat them again this evening.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, rightly, we have previously spoken about this issue at length. Therefore, I shall not go into too much detail. I explained at the previous stage of the Bill that we virtually never detain unaccompanied minorsa matter which comes under the first part of the amendment. The circumstances in which we do, which I instanced, are when they arrive late at night at a port and it is not possible to access social services to take them into care on their own.
As regards families with children, we start from the position that we want to minimise their detention, but it is clearly necessary to detain them in certain circumstances. The Government do not approach this frivolously. Perhaps I may make clear the circumstances in which we use detention. It may be used for persons whose identity and basis of claim need to be established; for persons who are unlikely to comply with the conditions of temporary admission or temporary release, and to effect removalin other words, where we think it necessary to detain a family with children for the proper administration of immigration or asylum processes otherwise there is a judgment that they would abscond. The other reason concerns the use of Oakington, which we have discussed previously. Where it is judged that persons can be fast tracked, they may be detained at Oakington.
The other implication of the amendment would be that we would detain the parents and take the children into care. That is an horrific implication. We do not believe that children should be separated from their parents in those circumstances; they should be with their parents or their legal guardian. Alternatively, the argument is that we should never detain a family with children for more than seven days. The consequence of thatI am sorry to have to spell it outwould be significant abuse. It would be known that a family with children would be unlikely to be detained for long and would be able simply to disappear into the community.
However, detention involving children is a serious step. We do not take it lightly. The interests of the child are taken into account. The ECHR and domestic law stipulate that detention must be for no longer than is reasonably necessary for the purposes for which it is authorised and must not be of excessive duration.
I shall say little more, but should respond to the concern that there might be tens of thousands of people potentially at risk. The number of families with children detained to date is 19. The number detained a week ago was 16. No doubt it would be a better world if no families with children were detained but we do not believe that that is the real world. I invite the right reverend Prelate to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Judd: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down perhaps he would clarify what he has just said; it may be that I am at fault. When he said that there are certain numbers presently detained, did he mean that they were actively detained during that period, or that that is the total number of people detained? It is important to know the total number of families with children detained.
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down would he reconsider presenting the ghastly spectre of care as an alternative to detention? It is not so ghastly and there are many other alternatives.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, the Government's position is clear: where possible, families should be together. The same applies to asylum seekers as to British citizens. We believe that it is better that children are with their families than taken into care.
The Lord Bishop of Guildford: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he confirm that in relation to these children the public policy that we pursue in this countrythat the interests of the child are paramountholds in the philosophy that the Government pursue in this matter?
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I have not much to add apart from repetition. The interests of the child are extremely important. That is why we believe that they should be with their parents or legal guardian while they are claiming asylum. If the argument is that we should never detain for a sufficient period to operate
The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his continuing patience with this whole process. We are talking about detention centres, not the new accommodation centres. I simply do not accept his line about unknown identity and significant abuse. If the numbers being detained are so few, why not impose this limit in the context of a government giving every commitment to speeding up the process? I have no alternative but to seek the opinion of the House.
*[The Tellers for the Contents reported 68 votes. The Clerks recorded 69 names.] Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
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