Immigration: Detention of Children

Asked by Lord Foulkes of Cumnock
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made regarding the ending of the detention of children of failed asylum seekers.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Neville-Jones): My Lords, there has been progress in the pilot studies that the Government have been conducting. We remain determined to end the detention of children for immigration purposes and intend to make a Statement on the subject before the Christmas Recess. As the House will be aware, the number of children in detention for immigration purposes has fallen dramatically-and is now very low-and takes place only for very short periods. There are no children in detention at present.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Is the Minister aware that the Government kept their promise to end the detention of children in Dungavel in Scotland by shipping them hundreds of miles away to detention in Yarl’s Wood? The Observer reported on Sunday that the replacement for Yarl’s Wood is no better than Yarl’s Wood. How will the Government end what Nick Clegg described as a moral outrage or will this be another pledge he wishes he had not made?

Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, the Observer is inaccurate. It is not the case that the accommodation that will be provided will be “no better than Yarl’s Wood”. The picture painted of the current Yarl’s Wood was inaccurate. The Labour Benches opposite will know something about the changes that they made. The accommodation will not be like Yarl’s Wood and will not contain any means of detention.

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The Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, the Government will be aware of the Church’s continuing acute interest in this subject not least because of an open letter to all party leaders that was sent before the general election touching this question. What are Her Majesty’s Government’s plans to keep monitoring the psychological and mental medical impact of detention upon children and families and, also, the impact of some aspects of the whole regime that currently obtains, including the practice of dawn raids, the proposed suggestion of indeterminate dates for expulsion and comparable matters? Will Her Majesty’s Government be prepared to raise and press some of these issues with other European Union countries?

Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, the most reverend Primate raises a number of important points. The reason why we are concerned about the mental condition and psychological effect on children and their families of what has thitherto been the practice is the reason why this Government made a commitment to end the detention of children for immigration purposes. We will honour that commitment.

As a result of the number of questions that I have been asked on this subject, I have kept the House aware of the pilots that we are already conducting to alter procedures such that some of the things that have been mentioned will no longer take place. There will not be a need for the “raids” that used to take place. We are endeavouring to bring about a system that ensures that those who are not entitled to be in this country are not able to stay here and that they are not able to abuse the system, but that in its procedures is humane and just.

Baroness Afshar: My Lords, I declare an interest as someone who is involved in the Child M question and has raised the question of children in detention. It seems to me that the treatment of these children as numbers rather than as human beings, and the idea that they are a category that belongs or does not belong in this country, simply denies them their rights as human beings. Can we please take these cases as human beings and think what we would do if these were our children? I feel that Child M is being pulled every which way. The family is breaking up and the future of that child is being destroyed. We talk about future pilots. Here is an example. Please let us do something.

Baroness Neville-Jones: I say to the noble Baroness that these pilots are in progress; they are not future pilots. We are endeavouring to introduce means by which we can encourage families to return on a voluntary basis. I lay stress on the fact that we keep families together as much as we possibly can. It is now a very rare circumstance, such as, possibly, the brutality of parents within a family, that would result in family separation. We try to keep families together. Our aim is to get them to depart voluntarily if they are not entitled to be in the country and, if they do not do so, to make as humane arrangements as we possibly can to remove them, but we do not intend to involve detention in that process.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, is the Minister aware that in seven months we as a Government have made more progress to end the detention of children

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for immigration purposes than the Labour Party did in 13 years? Can she arrange a visit to Yarl’s Wood to enable the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, the noble Baroness, myself and others to see the ending of that desperately sad regime?

Baroness Neville-Jones: My Lords, I have already offered the possibility of a visit to Yarl’s Wood, which will, in due course, become a centre for adults only. However, I would be very happy to demonstrate to Members of this House the arrangements that we are piloting and hope to put in operation shortly. As I said, there will be a Statement on this issue before the Christmas Recess.