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Lord Dholakia asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The Home Office is committed to mainstreaming race equality into its policies and services. The Home Office race equality scheme "requires members of the core Home Office to assess and consult wherever practicable, on the potential impact of policies on different communities".

This includes procurement requirements and is reflected in the associate race equality schemes. The scheme requires the Home Office to consider, for example, "whether contracts should be used to specify actions that contractors should take to ensure the Home Office does not fail to meet its obligations".

The Home Office race equality scheme is under review. The reference to procurement processes will be maintained in the new scheme.

Lord Dholakia asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The available information on the organisations awarded research contracts with the Home Office Research Development and Statistics Directorate over the past three years will be placed in the Library.

Lord Dholakia asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: The available records show that Home Office Research Development and Statistics Directorate has given research contracts to two individuals who had previously been employed by the Home Office within 24 months of their departure.

Strip Searches: Under-18s

Lord Dholakia asked Her Majesty's Government:

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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: In England and Wales, there are no arrangements at present specifically for recording strip searches centrally. However, there are plans to introduce such monitoring within an improved electronic prisoner information management system. This project will initially undergo a pilot exercise, which is due to be completed in June 2005.

Information on the number of illicit drugs or weapons cannot be provided except at disproportionate cost. At present there are no central records of finds of weapons from strip searching and the central records of finds of drugs and drug user equipment do not provide separate data on juveniles.

The Northern Ireland Prison Service does not have a centralised database of search statistics and no separate search records are held for those under 18. Physical restraints to achieve searching are not used in Northern Ireland. Finds arising from searches are logged but again there is no central database. Drug finds are reported to the service's drugs adviser but these are not broken down by age. To obtain this information would be at disproportionate cost.

You should approach the Scottish Executive about Scottish prisons as this is a devolved matter.

Immigration Detention Centres: Children

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Management information indicates that on 27 March 2004, 30 children were in detention who were detained solely under Immigration Act powers. Twenty-five (83 per cent) of those had been in detention for 14 days or less and the remainder had been detained for less than six months. These individuals were all detained as part of families whose detention as a group was considered necessary.

Records show that all children held in detention under immigration law for a period greater than 28 days since 16 December 2003 have been subject to ministerial authorisation. Outcomes of the cases detained for a period greater than 28 days vary according to the circumstances of individual cases.

Detention of families with children is used sparingly, usually to effect removal, and only where this is judged to be necessary on the basis of the individual circumstances of the case. Close scrutiny of cases involving families with children ensures that removal is effected as early as possible or, where this is not feasible, that the family is released from the removal centre.
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Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: A system of welfare assessment at day 21 of a child's detention has not yet been introduced. We are continuing to explore the possibility of establishing protocols with local social services to facilitate these assessments. This work is being carried forward initially at Dungavel and, if successful, we would plan to extend it to other removal centres that may hold families with children.

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: Information on individual cases is confidential and cannot be divulged without the expressed consent of the individuals concerned. This is due to the Home Office's legal obligation under common law, human rights and data protection legislation, and the treatment of private and personal information under the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information (paragraph 2 of Part II).

Government policy on the use of detention is that it may normally be appropriate:

In addition, asylum applicants may be detained as part of the fast-track asylum process if it appears that their applications are straightforward and capable of being decided quickly.

As with any case, there is a presumption in favour of granting temporary admission or temporary release to families with children wherever possible. There will be occasions when temporary release is not considered appropriate. In these cases detention is necessary in the interests of maintained effective immigration control.

Cases involving families with children in detention are dealt with as expeditiously as possible to ensure that the period of detention is kept to a minimum. Cases of families with children detained for more than 28 days are subject to ministerial authorisation. Such cases are small in number and by their nature tend to be exceptional.
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Unfortunately in some cases, the detention of families with children is prolonged as removal is deliberately disrupted by resistive behaviour by some family members or through deliberately belated legal challenges.

Immigration Service

Baroness Anelay of St Johns asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: To support the top-to-bottom review of the immigration system called for by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary set up managed migration taskforces.

The taskforces work across the whole of Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) and with other departments and stakeholders to identify and address any areas of abuse of managed migration routes, drawing on intelligence, the experience of front-line staff and management information from across the system. In this way, the department is building on what worked to reduce abuse of the asylum system in a comprehensive monitoring and reporting framework. This will allow resources to be properly directed to target potential abuse even before problems arise.

Based on the work to date, we have already announced a number of steps to tackle abuses of the marriage, students and employment routes. These include:

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We are consulting with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) at the NGO quarterly meetings, which discuss developments in European and international asylum policy. This group is made up of representatives from bodies including UNHCR, the Refugee Council, the Scottish Refugee Council, Amnesty International, Oxfam and Refugee Action. Ministers also have regular meetings with the chief executive of the Refugee Council and UNHCR to discuss issues of concern relating to immigration and asylum.

Further, the marriage taskforce has formed a cross-governmental joint working group made up of officials from the offices of the registrars general for England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Department for Constitutional Affairs, the Church of England, LACORS, and registrars from across the UK. The group is working on identifying strengths and weaknesses of current systems and will facilitate the introduction of the aforementioned designated centres.

The student taskforce has held key meetings with stakeholders in the education sector, including Lord Tomlinson's group of blue chip private colleges. Workshops have been organised with the sector to discuss how best to implement arrangements for notifying us of overseas students who fail to turn up for, or drop out of, a course, as well as for strengthening the fees requirement for applications.

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