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Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. I have not looked up the relevant legislation; it occurred to me only when we were having the debate this afternoon. However, my recollection is that the person whom I have described as a subordinate constable—I have not been able to get the title right—did not actually have the right to detain; he simply had the right to request the individual to remain. Therefore, any explanation of why we are going from half an hour to three hours might also include a reference to why detention is granted to a contracted person whereas somebody who is actually wearing the uniform of Her Majesty in the subordinate capacity is allowed only to ask the person to wait until a constable arrives.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I will indeed look at that. I do not have the benefit of the length of experience of the noble Lord, but when I was reading the clause, it seemed to me that if there is someone whom it was felt important for the Immigration Service to talk to, we should be able to hang on to them properly. That means not just asking but requiring them to stay. I took it as being important to state how that would be done and for what length of time. There is no general power of detention, it applies in a very specific set of circumstances. I will look at that again to ensure that we have got it right.

It is important that training is done well. I wanted to say a little more about that. Several Members of the Committee mentioned the position of people who may be found in those circumstances. The training that must be included involves, among other things, managing detention anxiety and stress, including the detention of vulnerable trainees; health and safety; suicide and self-harm prevention; and race relations, cultural awareness, and human rights issues. The safety and security of those who will be in the care of the authorised person is of the utmost importance—I want that to be on the record—and must not be jeopardised. It is therefore very important that the training is done properly and I have deliberately tried to set out the kind of training that we are thinking of so that the Committee can see that we take it seriously. It will be only on that basis that people will be authorised to do that.

If I may, I shall spend a little time exploring the issues that have been raised about children. Individuals will receive training to ensure that they are fully competent in the care of children. They will not be authorised unless the Secretary of State is satisfied on that point. The Committee will know that the
 
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Immigration Service works closely with local authorities and other agencies and will be determined to meet those obligations.

To take a particular example, children arriving in Dover are placed in the care of Kent social services almost immediately. I visited some teenage boys who are in the care of Kent social services. They are not interviewed until two weeks later, when they are spoken to by officers trained in the handling of minors and with the presence and support of a Kent social worker. The Immigration Service at Dover has procedures in place that meet exactly the requirements set down and agreed with Kent social services. I am happy to ensure that we give further detail, but I hope that that will reassure the Committee on that point. Contractors will be required to demonstrate that they have procedures in place to ensure that they provide suitable care for any children that they deal with. As I said, in most cases, we would expect them to be placed in the care of the Immigration Service almost immediately.

The Committee was also concerned that we were clear about ensuring that people were checked. Authorisation will be granted only following stringent checks against a number of criminal record databases in the UK and in France, because people operating in France may be French. That will include the Sex Offenders' Register, as the Committee would expect. They will mirror existing procedures that apply to current contractors who already hold detention and escort contracts.

I have said that we will ensure that there is a period of training before authorisation that will include the care of vulnerable persons, including children. All contractors will be required to submit to the Secretary of State detailed procedures for handling vulnerable groups, including unaccompanied minors. Authorisation will be granted to individuals and will be suspended or revoked if there are any concerns. A monitor will be appointed, who will consider any complaints of failings made against a contractor.

I was asked whether we might consult the Children's Commissioner. I have no remit to say this, but I am perfectly happy to talk to Al Aynsley-Green on the Committee's behalf, if that would be appropriate, to confirm that he is satisfied with the arrangements that we have in place. I hope that I have given the Committee sufficient reassurance at least to consider what I have said, especially about children, because I agree that that is critical, but also more broadly about vulnerable people in general and, more broadly again, about the quality of service that we expect and the individuals who will be required to provide it. The system is working quite well in those places where it is operating already, so to a degree we are building on success.

However, this is not about hiring a company and assuming that they will have done the work without controlling it in a proper way, which I fear was the concern of Members of the Committee at the start of this debate. It is essential to get this right. I have undertaken to look into the three-hour period, but I
 
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hope that I have indicated how important it is that this should work seamlessly. We are looking to use our immigration services in as professional and effective a way as possible and to release staff from some of the more mundane responsibilities that could be undertaken by others. However, we recognise that those involved in such work need to perform to the highest possible standards, bearing in mind that the care of the individuals concerned is absolutely paramount. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

6.30 pm

Lord Dholakia: Is the Minister satisfied that similar arrangements to our Criminal Records Bureau are in place in France? Is there a register of people convicted of sex offences and do we have access to it? I am more worried about the position abroad. We have some controls in place over here, but what about British posts abroad?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: France is the other country with which we are concerned. I have not looked into the detail of the French system, but I would like to have a conversation with the equivalent children's commissioner in France to see to what extent the French system mirrors our own. Inevitably there will be differences, but I anticipate that we will find that the system is robust. I shall hold those discussions and report back to the Committee.

Lord Avebury: A distinction should be made between the Children's Commissioner "thinking" that the arrangements in France are robust and being "satisfied" that they are. The words have a different meaning in the English language. If you say that someone is "satisfied" that something is a fact, that means the person has inquired diligently and looked at all the evidence into the assertion that it is a fact, whereas if you say that a person "thinks" it is a fact, that is just a thought. From what I have read in the newspapers, it appears that the French have in place just as good a mechanism for ensuring that sex offenders do not work in the wrong places as us. I am sure that the noble Baroness can see the distinction between the two.

It is good that the noble Baroness has agreed to consult the Children's Commissioner about the whole range of problems raised by every noble Lord who has spoken. It is worth noting that no Member of the Committee has risen to defend the Government's proposal. Every speaker apart from the Minister in this debate—as she would, of course—has expressed concerns about not only the effects of these clauses in general and the extensions of powers to private contractors which so far have been limited to professionally trained officers, but also the particular dangers that this proposal may have for children. I think that the noble Baroness is in no doubt about the strength of feeling on the issue and will convey the flavour of our debate to the Children's Commissioner. I hope that she will be able to report back to us on those discussions before we conclude this Committee.
 
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Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I rise to interrupt only briefly. We are to finish the Committee stage on Thursday, so I am not convinced that I will be able to report back in time.

I take the point he makes about the distinction between the words "thinks" and "satisfied", and I shall pass that to parliamentary counsel. That is his problem rather than mine in this instance. However, I hope that this is not just about the Children's Commissioner. We are always in danger of latching on to a solution. But I hope that when the noble Lord has had a chance to consider all the things that I have said we will do, he will feel more comfortable with the arrangements.

I want to discuss with the Children's Commissioners his views on our position on these issues and to take any suggestions he can offer that may be of benefit, given that he is a very experienced person. However, I would not want it to be thought that if the Children's Commissioner gives his approval, that will be fine. We have a range of things we need to do and it is important to make the point.


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