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Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has no reason to apologise for bringing this forward. It is important and he is right to point out that he had to table this on Report. He would not be able to introduce it as a new matter of principle at Third Reading. I admire him for his fortitude and sticking with us until this time. I will be brief. Because this was a late tabling, the noble Earl, with his usual courtesy, today put on my desk a full briefing and a reference to the participation of my noble friend Earl Howe in the previous Bill. I am grateful to him for that. Although I took part in Divisions on that Bill, I did not have my eye on the intricate workings of it. I think that I was involved in the domestic violence and crime Bill at the time. I have not had an opportunity to discuss this matter with my noble friend because I was involved in the Identity Cards Bill yesterday, but I certainly undertake to do so between now and Third Reading.

The noble Earl quoted the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, in another guise. He repeated some words which go to the heart of the problem for the Government and, indeed, for us all:

It is here that the tension exists between the position argued by my noble friends Lord Howe and Lady Morris of Bolton, in her role as opposition Minister for Children, and the position of the Home Office. I am aware that in the past I have called repeatedly on the Government to make removals faster and tougher. But the other side of the argument is that one must have regard to the welfare of the children in that system, usually through no fault of their own. Moreover, if they are unaccompanied minors, special circumstances govern them, and they may have been put in that position by adults.

I recognise the validity of the argument raised by the noble Earl. The problem the Government face in trying to resolve it is not one that may be achieved by Third Reading. However, I shall certainly discuss it with my noble friend to see if we can come forward with a common position.
 
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10.45 pm

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, I came across this amendment only rather late in the day. I should like the noble Earl to know that I would certainly have put my name to it if I had seen it earlier.

The noble Earl is absolutely right to propose this new clause. Ultimately we are not talking about the removal of a child, but about the provisions made to look after the welfare of children in relation to the three categories mentioned in the amendment. During the passage of the Children Bill the noble Baroness said:

Let me take the noble Baroness back to what is being proposed here.

The amendment refers first to Section 11 and how three categories from the Children Act might be imported. The first is the regional offices of the National Asylum Support Service. Those officers are not involved in removals, they are there to look after the welfare of children. For the centre manager of an immigration removal centre to be involved, the policy decision would already have been taken. All we ask is that when children are being held in a detention centre, the managers should look after their welfare. Lastly, the chief immigration officer at a port of entry should rightly be concerned with this. We have discussed how children should be interviewed, whether they understand the procedures and so forth. All these details need to be looked at carefully.

The amendment is quite simple. It says nothing about removals and does not address the policy of immigration. It is therefore right and correct that these Section 11 matters should be included in the overall provisions of the Bill. Including provisions of this nature will put an acceptable face on our Immigration Service. People elsewhere will see that this is how we treat those immigrating to this country. It will be to the advantage of the Immigration Service and its support services. More importantly, it will be to the advantage of the managers of removal centres. I support the amendment.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thought I saw the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, in the Chamber not so long ago, who definitely has some responsibility for the welfare of children. But he, too, has melted away. I am very happy to support my noble friend in his amendment, both on the grounds of vulnerability which we discussed earlier, and in the interests of fully joined-up government between the department of the noble Baroness, the Department for Education and Skills and the Home Office. A concerted effort is needed to improve things.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am always grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for his contributions on children. I have two senses of déjà
 
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vu, if I might be slightly frivolous. The first is the number of times the noble Earl has asked the House to forgive him for what are, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said, issues of critical importance, for which we would forgive him for ever for raising. That is one of his roles in life and we are grateful for it. Secondly, as the noble Earl has indicated, it was I who piloted—if that is the word—the Children Bill to become the Children Act 2004.

My noble friend Lord Adonis was indeed here. He had no idea which amendment we were on. He is very busy with other issues. Had he known, I am sure that he would have stayed—he takes his responsibilities, which the noble Lord, Lord Hylton raised, extremely seriously and I know that he will read our conversations with interest.

I do not want to detain the House longer than I need to, although this is important. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has hit the proverbial nail on the proverbial head. I do not suppose it will surprise any noble Lord to know that, when we came to this issue in the passage of the Children's Bill, I for one was keen to see whether we could accept the amendment. The principle of ensuring that our children are safe, whoever they are, and particularly those who are vulnerable, is, I hope that the noble Earl will agree, as dear to my heart as it is to his. It is a fundamental part of what the Government do, through the work we have done in legislation, Every Child Matters, the bringing together of children's issues and so on. We have sought to make children a much more central part of the way in which we approach policy and legislation. I know that that is supported on all sides; I am not making a party political point at all in saying it. But that approach is still relatively new.

I looked at the consequences of trying to agree to this amendment. As the noble Earl would expect, I probed them at enormous length. I remembered that, before I had had any briefing on this issue, the noble Earl and I had talked about it and had faced the tricky issue that the noble Baroness has quite rightly raised—that if you prevent people from doing what is essentially their primary purpose, or you undermine it without meaning to, that has potentially great repercussions. We discussed earlier the critical importance of ensuring that, when people should not be here, they go back and get their children settled in the community as quickly as possible. The answer is not always to be here, by any means.

It is clear, if you look at the way this would work, that if a chief immigration officer said that he wanted to return a family of failed asylum seekers, the decision could, under the amendment, be challenged in the courts on the basis that removing their access to health and education in Britain and returning them to a country where the education and healthcare may well not be of the same standard is not consistent with the duty to make arrangements to safeguard and promote children's welfare. It is possible, legislatively, that if this were inserted it would become virtually impossible to return any family with children or any accompanied child or young person.
 
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I am not prepared to do that. I completely accept that we want to ensure that we support vulnerable children, but this is not the means to do so, because we would end up in a position where we could, in an odd way, make the situation worse for those children and young people and their families. To go back to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, about having effective Home Office policies and immigration and asylum controls, we have to have a position where, if people should not be here, be they individuals or, in this context, families, they should go. That is an important part of what we are seeking to do. As I explained to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, with whom I immensely enjoyed working on the Children Bill—he is a man of great integrity, who I know felt strongly and passionately about these issues—that is the basis on which I have to reject this amendment. I simply cannot put our immigration services in that position. It would be wrong to do it. That does not mean that we and they do not care about the welfare of children, but we simply cannot—by accident, as it would almost be—undermine the services in that way. I do not think that the noble Earl would wish that. It would undermine what we have and what we are seeking to do.

The noble Earl knows too that I will do anything that I can to try to support his objectives of making sure that vulnerable children are adequately protected and looked after, but this is simply not the way to do it for the reasons that I have given. I hope that the noble Earl will feel able, on that basis, to withdraw the amendment.


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