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Lord Avebury: Of course not. We would not abdicate our responsibilities as Members of Parliament of scrutinising very carefully the Government's proposals, but we could certainly be swayed by the advice that the Children's Commissioner might give. I accept that the noble Baroness cannot possibly do as I casually suggested and come back to us before the Committee has finished its proceedings. Perhaps it would be best to hope that she is able to produce something before we reach the Report stage. We will then be able to consider what the Children's Commissioner has had to say.

I want to take up the point just made by the noble Baroness. I accept that her broad approach ought to satisfy us, if we could believe that all she has set out will be implemented in the detail. I take as an example her remark that everyone will be authorised individually. I hope that it means that the checks to be made on the staff of the private contractor will be as onerous as those made on people working in the public sector. I am afraid that the noble Baroness did not take up the point made by her noble friend Lady Turner on the concerns expressed by the public sector unions. Discussions should take place with those unions so that they can fully air the enormous weight of experience they have brought to bear on these questions and that their advice should be brought before noble Lords, if not in Committee then before the Report stage.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: There is no question that those discussions are taking place. Equally, I would not want the noble Lord to think that the Government would abdicate their responsibilities to children in any way, shape or form. Of course the checks will be as rigorous as those made in the public sector; that is the whole point. We do not want anyone to be given access to children who should not have it. I am absolutely determined on that point and I speak
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on behalf of Home Office Ministers in saying it. The checks must be rigorous and done properly because we have to protect children in all circumstances.

Lord Avebury: I am sure the noble Baroness means what she says, but, as my noble friend has said, it may be more difficult for her to carry out these undertakings in the case of the French authorities. We shall have to wait for the results of her inquiries, and I dare say that the Children's Commissioner here will want to have a word with the children's commissioner in France, if such a person exists, to see what arrangements for checking on those working in the juxtaposed ports of entry are in place over there.

I want to go on to say that we understand that the people working for these private contractors are going to be individually authorised, and the noble Baroness has just said that those checks will be to a standard at least as high as that which applies in the public sector. She has also said that they will be properly trained, and she has enumerated the matters in which they would receive training. She pointed out that the care of children would be a priority in that training. Given that, I do not see why we need "highly trained professionals"—her earlier words—concentrating on what they do best when, so far as her assurances are concerned, the individuals working for private contractors will be just as skilled as immigration officers.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: We have to make a differentiation here. On training in relation to children, we want to make sure that those who will deal with such children or people in a vulnerable situation are properly trained in issues like human rights, racial awareness, dealing with vulnerable people in traumatic circumstances, and of course all the issues around children. That is quite different from the kind of skills needed by immigration service officers as a part of their professional training. While they will have the skills I have outlined, they will have other skills as well. I want to differentiate between those carrying out reasonably mundane and regular tasks, but who need to be professional in how they deal with people when they come across them, and those undertaking far more detailed and challenging tasks in order to ascertain where people are and so forth.

Lord Avebury: I agree absolutely with the Minister that if someone is being asked to take the cover off a truck, that is a relatively non-sensitive task which can be done by anyone with a reasonable degree of personal skills when talking to the driver. However, if someone is to be responsible for detaining children for three hours, that task demands a very much higher degree of expertise. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, made an extremely good point in comparing this work with that undertaken by community support officers, the people who have been recruited to help the police. They have been given far fewer powers. As the noble Lord explained, they may not actually detain anyone. All they can do is request that a person remains on the spot for a very short period, about half an hour, until a police officer arrives. The Secretary of
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State considers that it is well and good in crime prevention to bring in people who are less highly trained, but the kind of duties they may perform are correspondingly far more limited. In particular, the cut-off point regarding whether someone can be detained has always been considered to be very important.

There is a mechanism in the Bill by which people can be authorised without being certified individually. Clause 41(4) gives the Secretary of State a power to specify a class of persons for the purposes of Clauses 40(3) and (4). Clause 40(3) states:

A whole group of constables could be designated by the Secretary of State under Clause 41(4) as having these powers. But, as I understand it, they would not require to be individually certified. Again, that brings in the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. If we are talking about a "class of constable", does that include community support officers? Perhaps the Minister could explain that.

We have raised a number of serious anxieties in this discussion. As usual, the noble Baroness has done her level best to reassure us that the fears we have expressed can easily be resolved in the detail. However, we do not have the detail or the orders which will bring these clauses into effect. We do not know what kind of private contractors are to be employed or how the arrangements will work in France. I still feel as strongly about these clauses as I did when we began our debate, despite the emollient words we always hear from the Minister. I am sure that we will return to these matters on Report.

The Earl of Listowel: Before the noble Lord withdraws his amendment, perhaps I may thank the Minister for her response to the concerns I expressed earlier, and those Members of the Committee who spoke in support of them. I want briefly to put to her two questions. First, in Clause 41(6), is it the Minister's intention that these criminal offences should be applied to children?

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Viscount Simon): A Division has been called. We shall resume our proceedings in 10 minutes.

[The Sitting was suspended for a Division in the House from 6.43 to 6.57 pm.]

The Earl of Listowel: I return to the questions I want to put to the Minister. First, can she make it clear how the provisions of Clause 41(6) might affect children? Secondly, I think that the noble Baroness referred to an example of this practice already being in place. If so, I would be grateful if she could provide me with details of where the system is operating and how it works. She may wish to write to me on these points.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I shall certainly write to the noble Earl on the latter point. The system is not exactly the same, but of course private contractors are operating in the field. I shall write to him with further clarification.
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On Clause 41(6), dealing with issues of committing an offence, we would not apply this provision to children. Children may be frightened, speak little English and have no idea what is going on. They may try to run away or perhaps might lash out—that is always a possibility. One issue to address is to ensure that staff are properly trained to hold a child. The noble Earl knows well from our discussions on children with special needs and behavioural issues that this is an important point. The point about obstruction in paragraph (c) is aimed at lorry drivers who seek to obstruct searches and therefore would not apply to children. We seek to ensure that children are kept in safety if they seek to run away. If the paragraphs apply at all, it would be for those reasons. However, in no sense would they be committing an offence; that would not apply.

Lord Avebury: I was about to conclude when the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, rose to speak, and I must say that it was extremely useful that he did so. We now have an assurance that Clause 41(6) does not apply to children, whether in terms of absconding from detention or obstructing,

I must say that that was a useful intervention.

Much of what the noble Baroness said is extremely useful, but I am left with concerns about these clauses, particularly about the way that they will be applied in the juxtaposed regime. When one is talking about the detention of children in this country, all sorts of other agencies can come into play, such as Kent Social Services, which the Minister briefly mentioned. None of those things apply regarding Calais or the other juxtaposed places. Maybe the Minister will be able to discuss with the Children's Commissioner whether we shall be able to rely on French social services and French children's services to supply the deficiency.

For reasons that we all know, we cannot take these matters any further in Grand Committee, and although many of the concerns that we expressed at the beginning still remain, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

7 pm

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 64B and 64C not moved.]

Clause 40 agreed to.

Clause 41 [Section 40: supplemental]:

[Amendment No. 65 not moved.]

Clause 41 agreed to.

Clause 42 agreed to.

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