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Secondly, the amendment requires the consent of the Scottish Minister in relation to children detained in Scotland. Immigration is, of course, a reserved
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Thirdly, the amendment would allow detention only when there is no alternative. That is attractive superficially but is too narrow in practice. The code of practice on keeping children safe from harm permits detention when no appropriate alternatives are available. That is a sounder basis for decision-making.
Fourthly, the amendment requires the Secretary of State to have regard to guidance issued under Section 11 of the Children Act 2004. Section 11 does not apply to the Border Agency, that is why we are introducing Clause 51, so that reference is technically deficient.
The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, mentioned chicken pox at Yarl's Wood. She is absolutely right that it is under quarantine. I wished to visit it myself because, knowing that she and others were going there, I wanted to find out exactly what it was like before anything was said here. I was told that I could not go. I was a bit surprised, because I had chicken pox when I was about nine. I do not know how often the centre has been put in quarantine. Perhaps I may write on that point.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, mentioned the issue of checking age. It is correct to say that we went through the process of asking whether we should take X-rays and it was absolutely agreed not to do so. There is no intention for us now to do that. I am not exactly sure where the working party on age determination has got to. Perhaps I may get back on that in writing. Our policy is to accept a local authority, a Merton-compliant age assessment. Of course, that is conducted by a social worker following the guidance outlined in the specific case involving the London Borough of Merton.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, mentioned the Children's Panel. As I understand it, either the Children's Panel or the local authority picks a social worker who is allocated to the child who then has to estimate their age. I am not sure what difference there is between their choice of social workers. Perhaps I could discuss the detail of that with the noble Earl outside the Committee. On funding, we are not severing our relationship with the Children's Panel. We have agreed to continue to fund the panel for other necessary services for children, so we are not totally withdrawing, but perhaps we may discuss this outside.
My noble friend Lord Judd and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, mentioned effective alternatives to detention. As all noble Lords will know, last year we ran a 12-month pilot in Kent because we are fully committed to exploring alternatives to detention. It would be good if there were something else. That was aimed at failed asylum seekers with children. It explored alternative ways to return families. The pilot ended on 31 October, and we are still assessing all the findings. I do not yet
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The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, referred to the comprehensive welfare framework and how it is looked after. At Yarls Wood, there is a comprehensive framework and a health-led initial assessment of all children arriving. Ofsted inspects the childrens crèche facilities, which are open daily. There are extensive sport and leisure services, a childrens forum, a statutory childrens social work service and a weekly welfare meeting. I could go on: there are a lot of things there. As I have said, I am keen to see it. I believe that we take as much care as we possibly can to look after the children, who we would much rather not have in detention.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, mentioned children pursuing a freestanding claim. Such childrenunaccompanied or separatedwill not be detained in a removal centre or a detention centre. That is done with children who are with their families, or occasionally a prisoner we are trying to get rid of from the UK who we feel is a threat to our public. The noble Earl also mentioned the Refugee Legal Centre report, which we are considering, and its recommendations. We wish to work with those who made it, but if the Refugee Legal Centre was really serious about working with us, it might have been nice if it had shown or discussed its findings with us before giving them to Channel 4. I know that Lin Homer, the official in charge of this area, is extremely upset by the report. Basically, we reject the vast majority of the reports findings because treating children with care and compassion is the number one priority for our UK Border Agency. But we will respond formally to that later.
I hope that that has answered the various points raised and that I have reinforced the fact that this is not something we like to do. We take it very seriously. We are doing a lot of things to make statistics better. We can still do more and we will do it. On the basis of what I have said, I hope that Members of the Committee will realise, with this fuller explanation and the seriousness with which we take it, that the systems will not be improved by these amendments. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: Perhaps the Minister will indulge me further. I am concerned to know whether it is the Governments view that unaccompanied children should be interviewed on their own rather than be accompanied by a representative, a guardian. I say this particularly because the recent report says that there is sometimes a culture of disbelief among some of the officers when they conduct interviews. The report gives as an example the case of a girl who was 12 years old when she arrived in the UK. She was raped and made pregnant by the man who brought her here. The UKBA refused to believe that she was trafficked even though it knew that she had had a termination and that the police were investigating the case. This is obviously a fairly serious charge. But, above all, if children are to be detainedthat horrifies me enoughin these circumstances, at the very least, they should have someone to represent them and to speak on their behalf, if necessary.
When an interview takes place it shall be conducted in the presence of a parent, guardian, representative or another adult ... who has responsibility for the child. The interviewer shall have specialist training in the interviewing of children and have particular regard to the possibility that a child will feel inhibited or alarmed. The child shall be allowed to express himself in his own way and at his own speed. If he appears tired or distressed, the interview shall be stopped.
The Earl of Sandwich: It is always refreshing to hear the Minister saying that the Government will do better, and I genuinely believe that. I have heard him say it before and I hope that they will. On Amendment 117, does he accept that his answers have been generally about statistics, not about childrens statistics in particular? Will he give some reassurance that when the Government do better they will pay more attention to childrens statistics and the details thereof?
The Earl of Listowel: Perhaps I may add to that. I understand the model that has been suggested by my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham, which is that employed in the prison system. Can the Minister let me know the cost of implementing the model already in use in the prison system in this setting?
Lord West of Spithead: Perhaps I did not make myself clear enough in my rambling statement, but the position is that we are improving childrens statistics and looking at ways of making them even better. Certainly I admit that some of the examples that I gave refer to adults, but that was to show how we are tackling all these figures. In terms of data mining, the problem lies in putting them in a gridded format so that they can be used for statistics. We are working to achieve that. Our intention is that they will be fully available. I am afraid that I do not know how the prison monitoring system works or what it costs to run, but I shall get back to the noble Earl on that in writing.
Lord Judd: I am grateful to my noble friend for what he said about alternative accommodation and for saying that the report on the experiment would be published as soon as possible and that he would give us the results. I hope that he will forgive me for stating the obvious, but it is an important point. There are children going through this unhappy experience at the moment and therefore the need for the expeditious publication of the report and speedy action on it cannot be overemphasised. I am sure that my noble friend agrees with that.
The Earl of Listowel: I do not want the Minister to feel that he has to stand up again; rather, I want to say that I am grateful to him for his careful response. He has said that he recognises our concerns and has given a generally positive response. I listened to his answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and the concerns about proposed new subsection (2)(b). On one of the occasions when I visited Yarls Wood, I was told by a parent that he had another child who, when the parent was picked up, was with a childminder and so was missed. I could not verify his story and I can see the difficulty in keeping these statistics. One could have a statistic that goes from zero to y, which would be accurate because the lowest figure might be zero with y as the maximum number. That would give some indication of the scale of the problem, but I see the difficulty in keeping statistics.
Lord Avebury: I am extremely grateful to the Minister. He need make no apology for the length of his response because he has dealt thoroughly with every contribution made by noble Lords, starting with that of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who said that the treatment of children and vulnerable people generally is the test of a civilised society. The Minister acknowledged that, saying that every case mentioned by his noble friend was a personal tragedy. He went on to comment that we have to face a situation where many children are in breach of immigration control and need to be detained under immigration laws and sent back to their countries of origin. Among those children, he enumerated those who, in his word, abscond. I would prefer to use the word disappear from custody. We believe that in many cases the disappearance is involuntary and that the fact that a large number of children vanish is evidence of the wicked phenomenon of trafficking. That is one of the reasons, if I may say, why we need more thorough statistics.
Lord West of Spithead: Perhaps I may say that I share the view of the noble Lord on that. There is a real concern that these children disappear and are trafficked again. I absolutely agree, which is why I believe that these figures are important and why I have given an undertaking to ensure that we get them recorded.
Lord Avebury: That was the next thing that I was going to say. We are grateful to the Minister for his assurance that the statistics are in the process of improvement and that he is conscious of the need for that. I am a little concerned that, if we do not have something like this on the face of the Bill, how will we monitor the continuous improvements that the noble Lord is going to make? I see the point about flexibility and the need for a power that continues after this Bill has left us; in that sense, it is best to do this by order or by guidance. Howeverand I am talking off the top of my head here, because I have not consulted anyone about itI would like an undertaking from the Minister that Parliament will be consulted and involved in this process and that the guidance that he intends to publish will be made available in draft so that we can comment on it before it is set in stone. He said that there was some way to go and that it would be helpful to have further information. That is extremely useful to hear.
The Minister also said that, in the case of the surveys that are conducted weekly of every child in detention, apart from a report being made on a statistical basis to the Immigration Minister, there is a case conference that involves the childrens champion. I do not know whether the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, who recently had a meeting with the childrens champion, was aware of that, but we should know more about that process as well. It gives me a certain amount of reassurance that there is oversight of the individual cases of children being detained.
However, I would still like to know how the Secretary of State or the Immigration Minister comes to a conclusion on a particular case. There are so many children in detention that it would be impossible for him to spend more than a few seconds on each. I suspect that the process is that a volume comes up to him with all the cases in it and at the end of each one there is a recommendation, which he rubber-stamps. I am reinforced in that opinion by looking at what has happened in the past when the authorisation for detention beyond 28 days has come before Ministers. For example, when Liam Byrne was Minister, he said, when he was asked about it in the Joint Committee on Human Rights, that he had never refused an authorisation to extend detention beyond 28 days. The publication of more detailed statistics will enable us to evaluate how the Secretary of State or Immigration Minister exercises these responsibilities.
I was pleased to hear what the Minister said about the pilot alternatives to detention. This was reinforced by the question that was put to him by the noble Lord about whether he would accelerate publication of the report, which concluded its investigation in November 2008. Five months have passed since then. It will be a key element in trying to reduce the number of children who are held in detention.
I shall not go through every speech, but I am grateful to noble Lords who have taken part. I am also grateful to my noble kinsman for his contribution. I would have preferred to have imposed a condition on the Secretary of State not that she should have regard to Section 51 but that she should be satisfied that arrangements were in place to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child. We shall look carefully at what the Minister has said and it may or may not be necessary, after consultation, to come back to this on Report. In the meanwhile, I express our sincere gratitude to the Minister for the trouble that he has taken and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord West of Spithead: I shall deal with Amendments 118 and 119 together, as they are related. They relate to an amendment that the Committee approved on Wednesday 25 February, which inserted a new clause on the application of the PACE orders into Part 1 of the Bill. Amendments 118 and 119 make small changes to the wording of Clause 53 to clarify that the new clause, like Clause 22, which also relates to PACE, extends to England, Wales and Northern Ireland only. Clause 23 deals with investigations and detention in Scotland, where PACE does not apply. I ask the Committee to accept Amendments 118 and 119.
Lord Henley: I am afraid that I was not here last Wednesday. I have one simple question, which I am sure the Minister will be able to answer. I understand Amendment 119, which changes the singular to the plural. However, we seem to be deleting Section and then putting in Sections but leaving in Clause 22. Presumably that means Clause 22 and something else, but no clause number is given. Perhaps the Minister can assist us on that little matter.
Lord Henley: I hope the Minister will be able to. I know that he likes to portray himself as just a simple sailor, but it is important that he getsperhaps he has received an answer. If he wants to turn a blind eye to that answer now and give it to me later, I am prepared to accept that and leave it to my noble friend when she comes back to the Bill.
Lord West of Spithead: The Box has given me some advice that I find difficult to follow. It says: Add Amendment 29that is the new section. I thought that this was technical but clearly there is much more complexity to it. I will find out exactly what the position is and get back to the noble Lord. Perhaps it is just a simple matter. I hope it is.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: Amendments 120 to 123 all go together. They relate to Clause 53(5). I apologise that I am now detaining the Committee at a relatively late hour, but there is an important principle here.
At the end of a great many Bills that we have in this House, there is a clause on extent that usually contains the highly permissive phrase, Her Majesty may by Order in Council extend the provisions of this Bill to some or all of the Crown dependencies. We have debated some of this already with regard to Clause 46; indeed, the Minister was rather fierce about the problems we have with the Irish part of the common travel area. He said that,
I read an interesting article on what is happening to those migrants who come in through the Mediterranean, desperate to get to Britain, and end up holed up in illegal encampments in France. Until recently they have been camped around Calais and trying to get across the Channel that way, and now, we are told, they are spreading along the coast. They come in originally through small islands in the Mediterranean, from Lampedusa to Lesbos. Because the local authorities are overwhelmed, they let them go on their way. We have some rather small islands very close to the French coast. They are called Jersey, Guernsey and Sark. The number of small boats which cross the channel and go through the Irish Sea is far greater than the border agency is able to monitor or control.
There are some real issues here. I have for a long time found it puzzling that we have a Government whose attitude is that any local authority smaller than half a million people is incompetent to manage serious local services but accept that the Crown dependenciesthree of which have populations of less than 100,000, while Sark has less than 1,000are somehow competent to manage a great deal of their own affairs.
The Crown dependencies were consulted at length. Part of the problem is that, after all the consultations, they were a little surprised when they saw the legislation as it stood.[Official Report, 4/3/09/; col. 766.]
I was a little more worried when it appeared to meperhaps I was mistakenthat the Minister confused the British-Irish Council with the Council of the Isles, which includes the Crown dependencies. It may be that the Council of the Isles no longer meets and that consultation with the Crown dependencies is therefore done only on a bilateral basis.
To show how complex and full of loopholes this relationship is, I draw your Lordships attention to a memorandum submitted by the Ministry of Justice to the Justice Committee in the other place last December. It says:
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