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Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: My Lords, in some ways we seem to be treating young people who are asylum seekers in a way which is worse than the way in which we treat young criminals. Under Section 38 of
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I listen all the time, but of course I have to take notes while people are speaking. I was taking a note at that particular moment. I have heard what the noble Baroness has said so far.
Baroness Hilton of Eggardon: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that. I wish to make a point about young juveniles who are detained. They may not be detained in police stations unless local authority accommodation would not be adequate to protect the public from serious harm from that child. I feel that a similar standard should be applied to asylum seekers who have committed no crime; against whom a crime may well have been committed; and who, by being detained in a detention centre, are not receiving the education that they should. They are being detained with adults who may bully them or molest them in other ways. It is clearly inappropriate that children should be detained in detention centres rather than with foster parents or in local authority accommodation.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, detention is of course a serious situation. It may be even more traumatic for a child. I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister could put this matter into perspective. What percentage is currently detained? How many does that represent? How many are children? I have read that only one child is involved. Is it correct that the majority of those in detention have already had their claim for asylum refused? Are we dealing with cases that are not straightforward? So do we need to legislate specifically for such a small number? Surely they could be dealt with as very special cases.
Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, perhaps I may return to the subject of families. Will my noble friend the Minister tell us whether the children who are detained are detained because they are with their parents? It may be better for children to be with their parents than to be taken away and put in a place on their own.
Lord Renton: My Lords, as I understand it, only 1 per cent. of all asylum seekers is detained. A recent spot check--I am told on 19th June--showed that only one child under 18 was detained. If that is so, we need to bear that factor in mind.
It is also very important to remember that if a child comes here and is not genuinely seeking asylum--we know that there are a number of such children--it may not be in the child's interest to allow him or her simply to abscond and to get lost in the community. The child will find it difficult to live and may not have any money. The circumstances may be bad for the child. I should have thought that in such a case detention would be an advantage. I shall be interested to hear what my noble friend the Minister has to say, but I believe that it is a matter on which we need to be very careful.
The practice of detention is not widely used by other states which are signatories to the UN convention. The UN Commission on Human Rights and Amnesty International have considered the matter. For reasons which a number of speakers have mentioned, it is contrary to a good many of our international obligations. It is contrary to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, especially if children are detained with adults and if, as regularly goes with detention with adults, they receive no education. Of course, with the debate about proof of age, many people are detained as adults who in the view of many expert people should not be.
There then arises the question of whether such detention without any procedure that can be used to review it is contrary to Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, and I engaged about the clause on the first day of Report. The words were agreed:
As recently as four years ago in this Chamber we used to hear Ministers of this Government proclaiming how proud this Government were of their ability to abide by their international legal obligations and how much they wished other governments would match the standards which they set. That does not seem to be the case now. Whenever we cite any international legal obligation we receive very much the standard reply--that the Government are confident they are not in breach of their international legal obligations.
However, it is not the Government's task to judge whether they are in breach of their legal obligations. That is something to be done by courts, whether national or international. So if the Government believe that they are not in breach of their legal obligations, that is simply their private opinion. It has no more status than the private opinions of any other litigant, and those are often wrong. It is because on questions of this kind the Government so regularly mistake their private opinion for fact that they are having such an unfortunate series of encounters with the courts. They ought to consider that their view of the matter is not necessarily infallible;
Lord Renton: My Lords, I hope that I am in order in intervening but the noble Earl issued a challenge and mentioned me to answer it. Perhaps I may remind him that procedure is laid down under the Immigration Act 1971, Schedule 2, paragraph 16, which the amendment proposes to leave out. That paragraph refers to the procedure in paragraph 2, and we know that there is a mass of procedure governing the whole of this matter.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, was concerned about the need for children to be reunited with their parents. Perhaps I may point out to her that the amendment deals only with unaccompanied children. Therefore, any child accompanied by an adult--the phrase used is "a responsible adult", and one assumes that the child's parents would come into that category--would not be caught by the amendment. I fully sympathise with the noble Baroness's wish but I do not believe that the amendment addresses that issue. It addresses only the issue of children specifically not so accompanied.
As regards the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, I believe that there is no Member of this House with more knowledge of what is involved in keeping people in detention. As a former senior police officer she is well aware of what she is talking about. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, said, at any time about 600 young people under the age of 18 are kept in detention while their cases are being considered. That has been the situation since about 1994. Of that number, some 54 have been dealt with and have received advice from the Refugee Council. I understand that of that latter group a substantial number is kept in detention for six or seven months. It is true that most are kept only for a few days but a substantial number has been kept for longer.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, referred to the significance of what happens when a youngster under the age of 18 is kept with adults. All those children to whom I referred are detained with adults. The noble Baroness mentioned the difficulty of breaking off their education. None of those children has received any education; that appears to be true of them all.
Therefore, in pressing the amendment we are entitled to ask for a reassurance from the Government that children under the age of 18 will not be kept with adults, which in many cases may put them at grave risk. Secondly, I believe that we are entitled to ask for an assurance that in so far as is possible--none of us is asking for the impossible--those young people will be allowed to continue their education.
I strongly support the amendment. I believe that the objection raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, has been met and that the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton, should receive significant consideration.
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