There was an exchange in the House of Lords yesterday, following a question by Lord Kirkwood, which gives an update on where the Government is regarding its promise to end child detention. It follows calls that there must be swift action, and that the process must not get bogged down in civil service bureaucracy .
1. As we knew, there is a review going on.
2. The Government is not yet setting a timetable.
3. We can expect an announcement with more detail in the next few weeks.
4. They are refusing to guarantee that it will happen before the autumn.
5. When the plans are announced, they won't involve families being split up.
Full exchange can be found here :
Asked by Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope:
To ask Her Majesty's Government when they will end the detention of children for immigration purposes.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Neville-Jones): My Lords, the Government are committed to ending the detention of children for immigration purposes. My honourable friend the Minister of State for Immigration is heading a review on the way forward, which aims to protect the welfare of children while ensuring the removal of those who have no right to be in the UK. He will set out the way forward as soon as possible: certainly in the coming weeks. Currently, I might add, there is one family with two children in immigration detention.
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, and I welcome her to her new high ministerial office and wish her well for the future. When does she expect to be able to end child detention for immigration purposes? Does she not agree that it would be a signal success for the new Government if there could be an early announcement that ended the practice? Is there any chance of her being able to do that sensibly before the House rises for the Summer Recess?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord very much for his kind words. I certainly agree that we want to progress this as rapidly as possible. I cannot unfortunately give him a deadline today, but I hope that my honourable friend in the other House will have more details really quite shortly. At the moment, we are working with various charities and NGOs that will help us to find solutions so that we can come forward with something that is not just process but that incorporates a solution. We will do that as rapidly as we can. The noble Lord is quite right that we need to end this as soon as possible.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, many of us who have argued for years that children should not be detained under immigration powers will welcome what the Government appear to want to do. Will the Minister confirm, however, that ending the detention of children must mean that families - parents as well as the children - will no longer be detained? If it does not, this will involve separating children from their families, which would be a retrograde step.
Baroness Neville-Jones: We certainly aim not to separate families from children or children from families. The noble Lord is quite right, and I think the House would agree, that this is not an ideal form of detention. I cannot say categorically how we will work it out, but the aim is certainly to keep families together.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I welcome the Minister to her position. While I welcome the statement about ending the detention of children, will the review consider the position of another group of children who are held in detention? I refer to the hundreds of independent juvenile asylum seekers who are currently being held in social services care around the country. There is a real need to look at the consistency of their treatment and conditions because those differ widely in different parts of the country.
Baroness Neville-Jones: The noble Lord makes a very important point. I am aware that children who are not in immigration detention and who are unaccompanied are indeed with local authorities. I will take back his point about the inconsistency of treatment and report back to the House.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness. Is consideration being given in the review to the bereavement needs of children, given that many children who come here as asylum seekers, or indeed for other immigration purposes, have often undergone traumatic bereavements? The incidence of severe bereavement reactions among these children is particularly high, and lack of attention to that in the processes to which they are subjected may make their experiences worse.
Baroness Neville-Jones:The noble Baroness makes an important point. All I can say at the present stage is that in the guidelines that we agree consideration should be given to cases of this kind in which an individual problem needs extra help.
Lord Avebury: My Lords-
Noble Lords: It is the turn of the Bishops.
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that this is the only category of children who can be detained indefinitely without the oversight of the courts and without ever having committed a crime?
Baroness Neville-Jones: That is the formal case. However, in current circumstances, the average time for which children are being detained is only about 11 days. We are trying to bring that figure down. I pay tribute to the previous Government who did great work in bringing the timescale of these detentions down. I entirely agree that it is a problem. We are trying to make the system as humane as possible.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, perhaps I may ask my noble friend about the consultations which on 12 May Mr Damian Green said had already started. Stakeholders, such as the Children's Society, do not seem to be aware of that. Is it the intention to complete the consultation in six weeks, as we have heard? Will that be in time for them to incorporate any necessary amendments to the Secretary of State's powers to look after these children under alternative arrangements in the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act which will come before your Lordships?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I will look into that point. I cannot give the noble Lord a definitive answer. All I can say is that we intend to proceed with this really fast. This review will not take very long. I hope that that timescale can be met.
Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the Minister on her new post. I was delighted to hear her say how well the previous Government had done, which I never thought that I would hear. This shows the complexity of this entire subject. Having been beaten around the Floor of this House again and again by my friends, particularly those who were Liberal Democrats in the past, people are realising how extremely difficult it is. When I looked at this in the past, the difficulty was that one might apply sanctions and restrictions on people that were even worse than having people in detention for a short period. Will the Minister confirm that we will not do that in trying to ensure that we get these sometimes quite cute people who use children as a way of getting around our laws and that we will ensure that we do not put the children in a worse circumstance?
Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his kind words. The object of the exercise clearly is to alleviate the situation of children and not to make it worse. I take the point that he is making and we will look at it in our discussion of the arrangements with the stakeholders to whom we are talking.