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Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in this short debate. I hope that the Minister's suggestion of on-site advice surgeries will work. It strikes me that that will turn on whether there are sufficient interpreters of the right languages to meet all possible needs. I shall reflect further to see whether something simpler could be salvaged from the text of the amendment but, meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Listowel moved Amendment No. 71:


"IMMIGRATION SERVICE: WELFARE OF CHILDREN
In section 11(1) of the Children Act 2004 (c. 31) (arrangements to safeguard and promote welfare), after paragraph (m) insert—
"(n) a regional office of the National Asylum Support Service;
(o) the centre manager of an immigration removal centre;
(p) the Chief Immigration Officer at a port of entry.""

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the amendment would apply Section 11 to the key elements of the Immigration Service who have day-to-day dealings with children. While fulfilling their primary function, they would have to give regard to safeguarding those children and promoting their welfare.

It is with regret that I introduce this amendment at such a late stage. I do so because, with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I listened to the evidence from the Chief Inspector of Prisons and the Children's Commissioner last Wednesday on Yarl's Wood. Their concern was so well evidenced and deep that I felt that I needed to act to prevent, as far as possible, such circumstances arising again.

The noble Earl, Lord Howe, moved an identically worded amendment to the Children Act 2004. He said:

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now Clause 12—

I apologise for quoting at such length, but I do not think it could be put more lucidly and rationally than it was by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, on this occasion. Eventually this amendment was put to a Division and was lost narrowly, 90 votes to 99 votes. Indeed, all children should be protected in this way. This is why the Green Paper was entitled Every Child Matters.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, elsewhere in the course of the Bill—in Committee I believe—said that

I highlight that I tabled this amendment only at the very deadline, last Friday. The Minister has had very little time to prepare a response to this and I apologise. However, I hope that there can be some thought before Third Reading on this matter.

The noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, also gave an assurance in response to the amendment tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, speaking of the performance of the Immigration Service and of the National Asylum Support Service. She said:

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I am sure that the Minister said that in good faith. I am sure that all the people in the services seek to consider the needs of children, but they have a strong target to work for—removing families. That is a top government priority and they have to double the numbers of families and individuals returned in, I think, a three-month period. There is no clear counterbalancing measure to ensure that children are protected in that process. We are all human, if we are faced with such a challenge—I will come back to that point.

The chief inspectors' report—on which I tabled a debate last October—which was published in July of last year, expressed deep concern about this matter. Paragraph 7.3 stated:

The chief inspectors' report also refers to the lack of co-ordination between the local social services and Yarl's Wood, which is lamentable. The most vulnerable children were being dealt with and it was not thought through at the start that there should be a close relationship with the local social services. I apologise for taking far too much of your Lordships' time at this late hour. I do not know how else this important measure can be considered before we complete this Bill and when there would be another opportunity.

The report cites examples of particular cases. For example, a child who was diagnosed with autism by a psychiatrist was held at Yarl's Wood for five days. The child was not eating properly and was very upset at being placed in such new surroundings. There was no system to identify his weak vulnerability and to remove him tout de suite.

I know that the Minister in her reply will say that the danger of this amendment is that it will cause delays in the removal process and will prevent the Immigration Service doing its necessary job and its primary function. She will speak from her experience as a previous Minister in the Department for Education and Skills, relating to her experience of what it means to have regard to the duty. The authorities would have to demonstrate that they have given due consideration to the welfare of children in their actions.

I hope that your Lordships welcome this obligation on the authorities to demonstrate that they have given due regard, which would be a balance to the tremendous drive that they have on achieving their important target of removing families and individuals. Earlier, we discussed Section 9, which makes failed asylum-seeking families destitute. That was taken to the court of judicial review, which decided that the Immigration Service was acting within its primary function. It rejected the request that families should not be treated in this way.
 
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I again thank your Lordships for your patience at this hour. I welcome the opportunity to raise these concerns with the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, who piloted the Children Bill and is receptive to these concerns, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, who has a particular interest in children. My aim is to encourage the authorities to think more carefully and deeply about the needs of vulnerable children. A short term in detention could be better for a family if it meant that their children will get back to their home country and be settled in quickly, rather than leaving them hanging around in this country in limbo. But it needs to be done in a thoughtful way. My amendment may fetter to a degree the discretion of the authorities, but a limited fettering would be a good balance to the drive in the other direction. I look forward to the Minister's response and I beg to move.


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