Committee (Fourth Day)
117: After Clause 51, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to collect and publish statistics on detention and childrenDuty to collect and publish statistics on detention and children
(1) In pursuance of his duties under section 51, the Secretary of State shall collect and publish statistics regarding detention of children in relation to immigration, nationality and asylum on a regular basis.
(2) In this section “statistics regarding detention and children” includes information relating to—
(a) the total number of children detained under immigration act powers, during the relevant period, including details of—(i) their ages,(ii) their nationalities,(iii) where they are detained, and(iv) the length of their detention,(b) the number of people who have dependent children under the age of 18 and who are detained under immigration act powers, without those children, and(c) the number of people whose ages are disputed and who are detained under immigration act powers.”
In moving this amendment in the unavoidable absence of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, I should like first to repeat a concern that he expressed previously about the number of children who go missing when they are in the care of UKBA and local authorities. In replying to that amendment, the Minister said merely that the police are informed. Now that we have the code of conduct issued in January under the UK Borders Act 2007 and the obligations in Clause 51 coming down the track, the very least that we can expect is that statistics be published on the missing children at regular intervals. In addition, we would really like to have the expertise of the DCSF safeguarding team deployed on this problem and on the other new responsibilities of the UKBA.
As we have always said, the detention of a child is rarely justifiable, and then only for the shortest possible time. There may be exceptional cases where it is necessary—for example, to establish their identity or to prevent trafficking—but we believe not only that every case should be sanctioned by the Secretary of State but also that regular reports should be made so that Parliament can monitor the way in which the power is being exercised.
The chief inspector said:
“Any period of detention can be detrimental to children and their families, but the impact of lengthy detention is particularly extreme”.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child states that, to comply with the convention, the UK Government should,
“intensify its efforts to ensure that detention of asylum-seeking and migrant children is always used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time”.
The duty in Clause 51 to make arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of children obliges the Government to seek further means of reducing the incidence and duration of children’s detention. The guidance issued by the UKBA recognises that,
“detention must be used sparingly and for the shortest period necessary”.
It is difficult to reconcile that objective with the information provided by the chief inspector in her latest report. We cannot rely solely on the sparse information in the Government’s quarterly asylum statistics. The immediate necessity is for Parliament and the public to know what the numbers are, where they are being held and why.
When debating the UK Borders Bill in 2007, we suggested that Ministers be obliged to place anonymised copies of their decisions to approve continued detention beyond the 28-day period in the Libraries of both Houses, with a note on the reasons for their decisions in each case, so that Parliament would be able to evaluate the process and be assured not only that the declared purpose of children’s detention was being strictly observed but that, wherever possible, alternative arrangements were being considered and made. The chief inspector found that, of 450 children held at Yarl’s Wood between May and October 2007, no fewer than 83 were held for more than 28 days, but the Minister is under no obligation to give reasons for the decisions or to explain why the number had shot up from 27 in a comparable period in 2005, in spite of a reduction in the total number of children passing through the centre.
The Refugee Children’s Consortium expresses particular concern about the failure of the UKBA to maintain statistics on the number of age-disputed claimed minors held in detention, or the number of those disputed cases that are found to be children in the end. There are many such cases in spite of UK policy not to detain unaccompanied children other than in the most exceptional circumstances. Of the 165 age-disputed cases dealt with at Oakington by the Refugee Council in 2005, 89, or 54 per cent, turned out to be children. In 2008, it worked with 55 age-disputed young people in detention, of whom 12 have been found to be children, with 10 cases still unresolved.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child specifically recommended that disaggregated statistics should be published to show the number of age-disputed cases and their outcomes. However, in the latest statistics, published last month, no assistance is given on age disputes in detention. The figures are rounded, so it is impossible to know the precise number of children in detention at any one time. They are still, as ever, snapshots, so that the number of children passing through detention in any particular period cannot be assessed. That also means that children who have spent long periods in detention but who happened not to be there at the time of the snapshot can be missed. The one table that is not a snapshot relates to children removed from the UK from detention, but ignores those released from detention rather than removed. Moreover, it gives only numbers in, and not length of, detention. There is nothing on the aggregate cumulative time that is spent in detention by all children, which may involve in each case more than one period.
The UKBA treats claimed children as adults if its officials form the opinion, on appearance alone, that they are significantly over the age of 18, in which case they may be held in detention until a full age assessment has been conducted, which may take several weeks. The problem was well illustrated by the case reported in today’s Guardian of the Afghan boy Majid, whose age was assessed as over 18 by a social worker but as 15 by a highly experienced paediatrician. To be Merton compliant, the local authority is required to consider qualitative factors, such as family circumstances and history, educational background and the applicant’s statements about his activities in the previous few years, but the paediatrician uses a different approach, employing medical and psychological criteria. The difficulty with both those techniques is that there are no population statistics for rural Afghan populations, for example, so as to guide the experts on the spread of ages at which particular events are expected to occur. In the case of Majid, the paediatrician has been trying to put the 500 cases that she has dealt with so far into some kind of scientific framework. However, up to this point there is no universally accepted algorithm for determining age, leaving plenty of scope for disputes between the professions.
The problem of age determination, which has a strong bearing on the number of children in detention, because you cannot detain minors, has been around ever since I can remember. In the paper Planning Better Outcomes, there was a proposal to resuscitate the use of dental X-rays for age determination, a practice that was abolished on 2 February 1982 by the then Home Secretary Mr Willie Whitelaw, afterwards Viscount Whitelaw in your Lordships’ House. That followed the publication by my office, in June 1981, of a report on the use of X-rays for age determination in immigration control by my then research assistant Ted White, who was at Yale University at the time and is now head of a law firm in Denver, Colorado. The conclusion that we reached was that the use of radiological examinations for non-clinical purposes was unethical and inaccurate and should be stopped. That was endorsed by an ad hoc medico-legal committee consisting of representatives of the BMA, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, the UK Immigration Advisory Service, the TUC, law centres, regional health authorities and individual lawyers and doctors.
Similarly, the proposal to revive the practice a quarter of a century after the decision of Mr Whitelaw to end it attracted vehement opposition from the Children’s Commissioner, the BMA, the BDA, the Royal College of Paediatricians and Child Health, the Children’s Society and so on. Their opinion was reinforced with a legal opinion from Mr Nicholas Blake QC that X-raying children for non-therapeutic purposes was unlawful, partly because the child subjected to the procedure would not be capable of giving informed consent.
When in January 2008 the Government published the outcome of consultations on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, they had to admit, in a masterly understatement, that there was,
“a lack of consensus among stakeholders about the merits of x-rays as a means of accurately assessing age”.
However, the response continued:
“There is a need to consider this further. We will, therefore, set up a working group with key stakeholders, including medical practitioners, to carry out a thorough review of all age assessment procedures with a view to establishing best practice”.
As far as I can see, there has been no further word from the Government about this working group, but the four UK Children’s Commissioners presented a unanimous report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child last June saying, among other things:
“We strongly object to Government proposals to introduce dental x-ray procedures to establish the age of asylum applicants on the grounds that they are unethical, unlawful and cannot predict chronological age any better than non-invasive methods”.
The inaccuracy of the procedure is not the main reason for objecting to it but, as an aside, all the studies that produce U-curves purporting to relate chronological age to tooth eruption have been on European populations; no attempts have been made to carry out surveys of the child population in asylum-producing countries such as Iran, Afghanistan or Somalia.
What has happened to the working party, which last met in July 2008? The code of practice contains not a single word about age determination. Will the Minister say for the record that X-rays have been definitively abandoned for this purpose? The Government should also amend the guidance so that officials are advised not to make initial decisions based on physical appearance but to give applicants the benefit of the doubt on their claim to be under 18 until a thorough professional assessment has been conducted.
The lack of statistics relating to children has occasioned the debate. I hope that the Minister will now remedy the position by giving some undertakings. I beg to move.
This is an important amendment. I hope that my noble friend will not simply bat it back to the Liberal Benches. I am sure he will not. I am sure that he will understand what lies behind it, and will do his level best to meet that concern. We all like to regard our society as a civilised society. One of the tests of a civilised society is how it treats children. It is difficult to exaggerate the trauma that some of these children find themselves caught up in through no fault of their own. It is therefore terribly important that the Government do not only have good intentions. I have no doubt whatever about their good intentions; indeed, I commend them for their recent work to improve the situation of children in this predicament. However, it is not good enough to have just good intentions and generalised policies. Each of these children is an individual child in a desperate situation. God knows what the cost may be in terms of the behaviour of that child, and potentially the cost to society, if the child’s experience is as bitter as it may be.
From that standpoint, it is essential that we have a way of monitoring very precisely what is going on in this area of policy: where children are, the numbers involved, where they come from and all the rest. It is crucial that this detailed information is available not only to the Government and those working on behalf of the Government, but to all of us in Parliament and, indeed, the wider public, so that we can understand the situation for which we are responsible and debate it and discuss it in an informed way.
The amendment does not deal with the issue of where children are detained. I feel very strongly about the issue. I do not believe that any child should be detained in a general detention centre. As soon as a child is involved, I believe that there should be proper provision, but that is another matter. As far as this issue is concerned, I earnestly entreat my noble friend, for whom I have very great regard, to take the drive behind the amendment seriously and to try to meet it as well as he can in his response.
I, too, support the amendments. I also endorse the extra point made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to the point of my noble friend Lord Ramsbotham that, now there is a code of conduct, a statement should be made on a regular basis on the numbers of missing children, as there is real concern about what exactly has happened to them. I think that the country is fairly ashamed of this issue, not to put it too strongly.
My other point is to join the Refugee Children’s Consortium in expressing the same disappointment that it has expressed in its briefing to us that the Bill is silent—indeed, it does not really mention it—on the issue of detention of children. We all know that a detention centre is a pretty awful environment for a child to grow up in and learn. Indeed, we have had illustrations of the serious effects on emotional well-being and mental health that this has had. There was a story, which I shall not go into, only a couple of days ago from the Welsh Refugee Council, describing the treatment as dehumanising and abusive. There are serious concerns.
Any length of time in detention is detrimental to a child. The amendments, which will require numbers to be kept in detail and reported on, are absolutely essential. We have had recent briefings, not least from lawyers defending human rights and Refugee and Migrant Justice, pointing out how frequently children are interviewed by the UKBA without a legal representative, despite the fact that the issue can be a matter of life and death. All these areas need looking into again. We are also told that children are subject to a hostile legal process marked by a culture of disbelief about what they are actually saying.
All the statistics and briefings that we have been given by those organisations are prepared with the intention of helping the Government to fulfil their obligation more effectively. They have not written all these things down with the intention of just being critical, although there is obviously an element of criticism—rather more than that—in all that they say. They are setting out how it will be possible for the Government to do their duty in this respect in future. As we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Judd, the Government have begun to try to do that.
I hope that the Minister will be able to accept the purpose of these amendments, which go quite a long way to satisfying all our concerns, and that the result will be, for everyone to see, regular reports on the length of detention. Rather than the inaccurate reports, which we are told quite a number have been, we hope to see effective ones that Ministers will also see and, in one of the amendments, will have to see to give approval for any further detention. I am very willing to support the amendments.
I support my noble friend’s amendment, and I shall speak in particular to proposed new subsection 2(b).
It is evident that we should have full information on detained children; my noble friend and other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Judd, have made a strong case for why that should be so. Subsection 2(b) also talks of the need to record the number of people with dependent children under 18 who are detained under immigration Act powers. That is important, too. When talking of the welfare of children, we should know how many people have been affected and how many children have been deprived of their parents because they have been detained. There are many arguments about whether it is better to detain the family together or just the one person or whether we should detain people in this way at all.
On the subject of statistics, I voice my gratitude to the London Detainee Support Group. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, read us extracts from its recent report, Detained Lives, in a previous Committee sitting. This report is crucial to our discussions about statistics. It is so easy to focus on the statistics, but this publication shows the faces of the people behind the statistics. It shows the reality of what it is like to be detained away from your children.
Last year, my noble friend and I and some other Members of your Lordships' House visited Harmondsworth and witnessed the terrible plight of some of the youngest men in there, although I appreciate that they were not children. They are called detention centres but to all intents and purposes—given the locked doors—they are prisons by any other name.
The Minister made arrangements for me to visit Yarl’s Wood to see the situation there for myself but it seems that there was an outbreak of chicken pox and quarantine has been imposed. I was therefore not able to visit. I am surprised that quarantine has been imposed for chicken pox, which, after all, is prevalent in just about every community and school. Every time you get on a bus, you probably risk catching it from somebody. Nevertheless, the implications of that go beyond my frustration at not being able to visit and see with my own eyes what we are talking about before this Committee stage. I presume that if I could not visit the establishment, the people in Yarl’s Wood could not receive visitors for the duration of the quarantine. That was not the first occasion when quarantine had been imposed. How often have quarantine restrictions been imposed on Yarl’s Wood, and what are the implications for the families concerned? I shall be grateful for any detail that the Minister can provide tonight. I shall be particularly grateful to him if he will follow that up with written details on what infections have occurred and how long the quarantine lasted on each occasion.
As for the amendment, the absolute least we can ask for are very full statistics on this matter. I therefore hope very much that the Minister will give a positive reply on the amendment.
I support the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and my noble friend who, unfortunately, is unable to be present. In preparing for the amendment, I was surprised to learn that the Home Office does not collect detailed statistics on children who have been in detention and have been either voluntarily or forcibly returned. Under the Freedom of Information Act, it is apparently possible to obtain a general table headed:
“Removals, voluntary departures and assisted returns of asylum applicants, by country of nationality, age and sex, 2007”.
The table shows that at least 105 children under 18, including 45 under 14, were removed in 2007 alone. These included children from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sudan. These children are not dependent on relatives’ claims but are pursuing their own freestanding asylum claims, which surely strengthens the argument. Apparently it is not possible to be given more details of what has happened to those children—such as how long they were detained and whether they were removed forcibly or went voluntarily—except, in the famous phrase, “at disproportionate cost”. I take issue with “disproportionate cost” being used again and again when people are trying to get at the truth. Nobody wants to overcharge the taxpayer but we are talking about children on their own. Bearing in mind the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, surely it is important to track their movements and work out how they left the United Kingdom, even if we do not follow them all the way back home.
As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, reminded us, Article 3 of the convention provides that the Government must always have regard to,
“the best interests of the child”.
Article 2 states that all children are entitled to that protection irrespective of their legal status or any other matter—something which the Government forget. The collection of statistics on their detention and removal should be a necessary prerequisite for their interests to be properly assessed and protected. Therefore, I strongly urge the Government not to hide behind the phrase “disproportionate cost” but to remember that we need to put disproportionate energy into helping children who are in distress or in detention. It is apposite that today the Does Every Child Matter? report was published by Refugee and Migrant Justice, formerly the Refugee Legal Centre, because it shows that despite government claims that every child matters, children seeking asylum are still denied the basic protection enjoyed by all other children in the UK.
I support the amendment, particularly what my noble friend just said about disproportionate cost and about our concern, if every child matters, for these most vulnerable children. These are the only children in this country who are held in confinement, not having committed any crime. They certainly can feel that way. They have not committed any crime, and they do not know how long they are going to be held in confinement. We should be very concerned about these children. We should know how long every one of these children has been confined for. We should certainly be confident that the information that we are provided about them is accurate. The chief inspector on her last visit clearly found that information to be deeply inaccurate. Is the Minister able to explain, either now or in a letter, why the chief inspector was provided with inaccurate information on her last visit?
My noble friend makes a very important point, which I raised with Jeremy Oppenheim when I met him. He answered by saying that it was too costly to introduce the sort of system that we are talking about in Yarl’s Wood. I pressed him and asked how much it would cost. He was not able to answer that. He may be preparing an answer to that question, but surely we could at least know how much it would cost, and then we could see whether it is indeed too expensive to provide. How much would it cost to install the system that we are discussing at Yarl’s Wood?
I visited Yarl’s Wood on two occasions, the first a year after it opened. In parentheses, it has improved dramatically since I first visited and since it first opened. I pay tribute to the staff and management of Yarl’s Wood for taking it forward. Now there are murals instead of bare walls. Now they do not need to unlock as many doors as they walk children through. Now they do not have to walk through a bare, barred prison gate when they enter the reception area, as it is now disguised to some degree. There have been improvements, but for any child being removed forcibly early in the morning is a very frightening experience. Then to be confined for an unknown period in such a place must be very distressing, as I am sure we all agree. The Government, of course, recognise that children should be held there only as a last resort and for the shortest possible time. All that we are seeking to do is to help the Government to ensure that their policy intention is in fact implemented.
On the second occasion that I visited Yarl’s Wood, not so long ago, I spoke to a young woman of 16 who had been confined there for five months and her eight year-old sister, who had been confined for eight months. I spoke with a mother with a three year-old, who had been there for one month, and they were returning for a further period. We really need to have accurate information about these circumstances. We are all fallible, we all make mistakes, but if it is up to us, if we are properly to scrutinise the work of Yarl’s Wood, as far as possible we need accurate, detailed information. I support the amendment.
I shall speak briefly to the question of age determination. The noble Lord spoke eloquently to this point, so I simply make the point that I am concerned that the children’s panel has an uncertain future. It has been concerned that it would no longer receive any funding for what it does, and now it has one year’s grace to continue its work, but it will not be dealing with the age determination issue. That concerns me because of the general problem, which the Government recognise, that unfortunately, over the years, social work has become a less and less attractive proposition. I was speaking earlier to a social worker who was about to qualify on Friday. She highlighted the high turnover of social workers; they will perhaps spend quite a short time—a few years—at the front line, and then they will quickly move to another job or into management.
Experience and expertise is at a premium in social work. We desperately need people who have seasoned experience at the front line and of working with children and families. My understanding is that the social workers on the children’s panel are just those sorts of people. We really need to treasure that sort of expertise and experience, and it concerns me that their future has been in question. Again, their responsibility for age determination has been passed to local authorities. I understand that it is the Government’s intention for children to be placed with local authorities with specialist expertise in this area. The policy plan is there, but has not yet been implemented. I am concerned that the Government may be being premature by removing support for the panels’ work on age discrimination, especially as they seem to be doing a good job in that area.
Has the Minister been able to think again about this matter, and can he offer any comfort to those concerned about the future role of the children’s panel? I look forward to his response.
I begin by offering an apology for my noble friend Lady Hanham, who was unable to stay after our rather lengthy debate on the Postal Services Bill. She asked me to offer my support to my noble kinsman’s amendment and to speak to her Amendment 117A in this group.
As the Minister will have realised, both amendments seek better statistics from the Government. He will have heard the extent of concern among many Members of this House, and many parties outside the House, about the lack of statistics and data kept by the UK Border Agency and its contractors on the children it detains or how inadequate they are. We all know how inadequate a great deal of government statistics are. Only the other day, I came across a response to a Question that my honourable friend Mrs Eleanor Laing in another place put to the Department for Transport. She was told that drivers’ records were 81.5 per cent accurate. The Answer stated:
“This equates to 7,906,275 records that are inaccurate”.—[Official Report, Commons, 23/2/09; col. 488W.]
That is just one example of government statistics.
We need government statistics to be accurate and we need government Ministers to treat them with some respect. Some of us remember with some dismay the rather cavalier attitude of certain government Ministers to government statistics relating to knife crime. They released those statistics well before the statistics office said that they ought to, purely because they thought that they could make some good party-political points. What we are asking for are good and accurate statistics. I hope that the noble Lord can respond to that.
It is a matter of very great regret that children have to be kept in detention at all, although we recognise that that is sometimes an unavoidable step. However, it is entirely avoidable that the Government should keep their statistics in such a chaotic and unhelpful manner. The statistics published by the Home Office on control of immigration provide only a limited insight into the information held on children in immigration detention. It is not possible, for example, to track “cohorts” or to know how many children were detained over a given period, the length or outcome of their detention, the child’s nationality or at what point in their asylum claim they were detained. If statistics are not routinely collected on the number of such cases held in detention and on the number who are in fact later found to be children, it seems hard to believe that the border agency can itself know or be satisfactorily held to account by others on its policy.
Amendment 117A in the name of my noble friend requires the Secretary of State, or the equivalent Scottish Minister where the child is detained in Scotland, to give ministerial authorisation if a child is detained beyond 28 days, and thereafter every seven days. Although, as I have already made clear, it is unfortunate but sometimes necessary that children are detained for the purposes of immigration control, when the detention of children does occur, there must be meaningful safeguards in place.
The Secretary of State should have a duty to consider the welfare of the child before detention can continue beyond 28 days in order to ensure that all welfare considerations are properly taken into account. This duty may be seen as an extension of the duty to safeguard the welfare of children under Clause 51, which the Minister must be aware has attracted widespread support across the Committee. My noble friends tabled this amendment because the detention of children must be seen as different from the normal immigration functions, to which Clause 51 applies, in that it requires a specific and separate mention in the Bill.
The Government’s immigration policy, if they have one, has been a shambles, and the exercise that it controls over the country’s borders often appears to be tenuous in the extreme. It is entirely unacceptable that children who have had the misfortune to get caught up in the Home Office’s habitual blunders should run any unnecessary risk. It is our hope that, by compelling the Secretary of State to get involved and play an active and supervisory role in the detention of children, young and vulnerable people will be guaranteed a measure of security if they are detained at our borders. I hope that the Minister will recognise the desirability of these safeguards and accept our Amendment 117A.
As some of the noble Lords who tabled these amendments are not present, it is important that I go into some detail so that it can be recorded in Hansard and they are able to read it. Therefore, I make no apology for being slightly overlong in my response.
These two amendments draw attention to the very difficult issue of the detention of children. I fully recognise the concern that many—indeed, all—of your Lordships feel about this. None of us wants to see children detained, and my noble friend Lord Judd spoke about that very eloquently. Each case is a personal tragedy, as we all know. The Government would much prefer families to leave this country voluntarily when they no longer have a right to remain here. Unfortunately, they do not always choose to do so. Often, they try to disappear within the country to get away from the fact that they might have to leave, and that often puts their children at risk. When they try to disappear and are not willing to return voluntarily, detention becomes a necessity in order to ensure compliance with the immigration laws. However, we fully recognise the sensitivities of detaining children and, where it does happen, we want to ensure that it happens as a last resort and for as short a period as possible. That is our aim. We understand the need to have proper systems in place for monitoring and authorising its use, and that is why these amendments are so important.
As an aside, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, made a sideswipe at immigration laws. Over the many years before I was involved in politics, I watched with amazement the total lack of any immigration policy from the party opposite. At least there is now an indication of trying to get some sort of policy. However, that is a side issue.
I shall deal with each of the amendments in turn, beginning with Amendment 117, which concerns statistics. Statistics are a crucial tool in enabling us to monitor and understand the number of occasions on which detention takes place. We already publish statistics on children in detention as part of the quarterly statistical summary of the control of immigration. In that respect, a statutory duty is not necessary and would add nothing to what already happens every three months. The most recent figures, covering October to December 2008, were published last month. They show the number of those detained at the end of December 2008 as a snapshot. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked why they are rounded and why it is a snapshot. All migration statistics published are currently rounded to ensure that individuals cannot be identified within those statistics and snapshots show the situation at any specific point in time. The details of those removed from the UK are also published. As I say, the statistics show the number of those detained as a snapshot at the end of 2008 and details of those being removed on leaving detention. They also give details of those removed from the UK on leaving detention by age and place of last detention, and show snapshot statistics by place of detention, gender and length of detention. Finally, all tables separately identify children—those under 18 years.
Nevertheless, I recognise the concern which underpins the amendment about the adequacy of the existing statistics. I would argue that placing on the face of the statute the precise areas to be covered by statistics is not the way to address this concern. It is too restrictive an approach and a statutory requirement may, at a future date, be a hindrance to our ability to adapt and to improve data that we already collect so as to address a new issue. A process of improvement is going on. I admit we have a way to go. For example, we produce statistics on the length of detention of adults. They were published this quarter for the first time since 2006 and that was after developing new methods because of the data quality issues. That is a problem concerned with continuing the series as it was.
Removal centres like Oakington and Harwich were added to the statistics for the first time. One was added in 2007 and one in 2008. In the future, we will seek to develop statistics on the number of persons entering the entire border force detention estate and publish that series for the first time. We intend to expand the statistics on the number leaving detention. Currently, only the figures of those who leave detention for the purpose of removal are published. We intend to compare data held on the border force and Prison Service databases to assess whether the quality is sufficient to publish figures on those detained in the prison estate under immigration powers. I believe that this shows our commitment to trying to develop published detention statistics, but it also shows some of the difficulties in ensuring that those data are collected.
I shall deal with the areas highlighted in the amendment in turn. Statistics on age, nationality, place of detention and length of detention are currently included in the quarterly publication to which I have already referred. However, they are published as a snapshot of those in detention at the end of the relevant quarter. Further statistics are published on those leaving detention, but only for the purpose of removal. We recognise that it would be helpful to have fuller information of this kind. We accept that this is an area where we must achieve more to develop confidence in how children are being treated. We are already assessing what can be done in the future. I know some of that is jam tomorrow, but we understand the difficulties. We are trying hard and it is not always straightforward.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, raised the issue of statistics for those who have absconded from local authority care. No doubt my officials’ hair will stand on end, but I agree that we should record that. I will undertake to see how that can be done. I think it should be done and I am surprised it is not done already.
The areas covered by proposed subsection (2)(b), as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and proposed subsection (2)(c) are a little more difficult. They are not based on the same hard evidence as proposed subsection (2)(a) and cannot be produced from the same databases, using the same processes as that hard evidence. I have already said how important I believe statistics are, but the noble Lord, Lord Henley, raised the importance of statistics being firmly based and being absolutely right. They are important in enabling you to do things and to make decisions, but there is an element of lies, damn lies and statistics. We do not want to get too carried away with them, but that is probably me speaking as a sailor rather than as a Minister. On proposed subsection (2)(b), how many dependent children a detained person has will totally depend on the individual case files and information that has been supplied by the detainee and would not include information which has been withheld. For example, detainees will sometimes, for understandable reasons, deliberately withhold information about children they have. As the information is not centrally available, the results would not be sufficiently robust for publication as national statistics. That is the problem we have, but we continue to look at this.
As I have already said, we need to do better. Workshops and consultations take place at regular intervals to obtain the views and priorities of internal and external users of published immigration statistics. We have a detention user group that is currently looking at data on age-disputed cases and detention. In particular, Home Office statisticians specifically discuss with NGOs their views on requirements for published statistics. The statistician responsible for detention statistics regularly attends the detention user group meetings with NGOs, and a separate meeting is planned very shortly to discuss issues around detention statistics. As I said, we have to do better and keep on adjusting and moving forward on this.
I turn now to the second amendment, Amendment 117A, which requires the continued detention of children to be subject to ministerial authorisation. In fact, we have a system for ministerial authorisation already, and I do not think that seeking to place that on a statutory footing is either necessary or helpful. Perhaps it will assist your Lordships if I set out how the current system works. Let me begin with our approach to the decision to detain.
It is our policy that unaccompanied children must be detained overnight only in the most exceptional circumstances and with appropriate care while alternative arrangements for their care and safety are made. In the case of foreign national prisoners aged under 18, detention may be authorised in exceptional circumstances where it can be shown that they pose a serious risk to the public and a decision to deport or remove has been taken. For children who are in the care of adult family members, the position is as follows. If the adults are refusing to depart voluntarily and a decision to detain them is made, the children will normally be taken into detention with the adults in order to avoid separating them from their parents. This decision will be taken with due regard to Article 8 of the ECHR on the right to respect for private and family life.
Once in detention, such children are subject to enhanced detention reviews. The family detention unit in the border force reviews the detention of children at days seven, 10 and 14 and every seven days thereafter. The family detention unit also seeks, from the Minister with responsibility for immigration, weekly authorisation to continue detention of those families with children who remain in detention beyond 28 days. In practice, the Minister receives a weekly submission detailing all cases with the potential to reach 28 days’ detention and all cases where continued detention has been authorised previously. This submission is informed by a conference call that takes place each Monday morning. The call is chaired by the family detention unit and brings together officials from the relevant border force enforcement team, social workers from Bedfordshire social services who are based at Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre, representatives from the healthcare and children’s services teams at Yarl’s Wood, UKBA staff at Yarl’s Wood and the UKBA office of the children’s champion. The call looks at each family in turn and considers factors such as the reasons for detention, progress towards the earliest possible removal and welfare concerns that might weigh against continued detention. We keep this system under constant review and make improvements where necessary—for example, an updated best practice note was issued to participants in the call in November—but we think the system itself is fundamentally sound.
For this reason, I think it unnecessary to place the requirement for such a system on a statutory footing. I see no need to legislate for what we do already. Indeed, by setting out the detail in the Bill, we risk denying ourselves the flexibility to continue our process of improvement over time and in the light of experience. I realise that some noble Lords may be concerned that without a statutory requirement, the policy will not be applied with sufficient rigour or consistency. I do not think that is the case. We already have considerable safeguards in place. The involvement of the agency’s children’s champion ensures a significant level of internal scrutiny, and the policy is reflected in the statutory code of practice, Keeping Children Safe from Harm, which came into force on 6 January 2009. The code makes clear that staff who do not follow the code can expect to be subject to disciplinary action.
The arrangements will be further strengthened when Clause 51 comes into force and the code is repealed. The process will then have to be applied with regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. The guidance that will support the new duty will also require adherence to the policy on detaining children, and failure to do so could be challenged. In other words, it is unnecessary to put ministerial authorisation on a statutory footing because it will be in the guidance which staff will be obliged by primary legislation to follow.
However, the detail of the amendment differs slightly from our current practice, so it may be helpful if I address those differences in turn. First, the amendment requires authorisation to be given by the Secretary of State personally. I do not think that that would enhance scrutiny. On the contrary, the Immigration Minister, with his greater focus on the specific issues, is far better placed to scrutinise the lengthy and detailed advice given to him week-in and week-out.
Secondly, the amendment requires the consent of the Scottish Minister in relation to children detained in Scotland. Immigration is, of course, a reserved matter and children in Scotland are detained under legislation that applies throughout the UK. Ministers in Scotland do not, therefore, have any role in that decision. The involvement of a different Minister would also risk delaying and complicating a process in which decisions need to be made quickly. The amendment is silent, for example, on what would happen if the two Ministers disagreed.
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 know the final result; the report will be published shortly. When I know more about it, I will let the House know.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, referred to the comprehensive welfare framework and how it is looked after. At Yarl’s Wood, there is a comprehensive framework and a health-led initial assessment of all children arriving. Ofsted inspects the children’s crèche facilities, which are open daily. There are extensive sport and leisure services, a children’s forum, a statutory children’s 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 children—unaccompanied or separated—will 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 report’s 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.
Perhaps the Minister will indulge me further. I am concerned to know whether it is the Government’s 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 detained—that horrifies me enough—in these circumstances, at the very least, they should have someone to represent them and to speak on their behalf, if necessary.
The Immigration Rules for dealing with children states:
“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”.
I cannot speak on that specific case, which sounds horrendous. I am afraid that I do not know the detail of it. But that is the basis on which these interviews are carried out.
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 children’s statistics in particular? Will he give some reassurance that when the Government do better they will pay more attention to children’s statistics and the details thereof?
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?
Perhaps I did not make myself clear enough in my rambling statement, but the position is that we are improving children’s 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.
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.
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 Yarl’s 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.
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.
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.
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. However—and I am talking off the top of my head here, because I have not consulted anyone about it—I 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 children’s champion. I do not know whether the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, who recently had a meeting with the children’s 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.
Amendment 117 withdrawn.
Amendments 117A and 117B not moved.
Clause 52 agreed.
Clause 53 : Extent
118: Clause 53, page 42, line 14, leave out “Section” and insert “Sections (Application of the PACE orders) (application of the PACE orders) and”
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.
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.
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 gets—perhaps 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.
The Box has given me some advice that I find difficult to follow. It says: “Add Amendment 29—that 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.
Amendment 118 agreed.
119: Clause 53, page 42, line 15, leave out “extends” and insert “extend”
Amendment 119 agreed.
120: Clause 53, page 42, line 21, leave out “any of”
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,
“we have found that a large number of people are slipping through the hoop, with some very real risks and problems … nasty people had been moving backwards and forwards”—[Official Report, 4/3/09; col. 757.]—
and so on. He went on to say that none of that applies to the Crown dependencies; everything is fine there. He said that,
“we have no intention to introduce routine controls on routes from the Crown dependencies”.—[Official Report, 4/3/09; col. 766.]
I am not sure that we should accept that without further examination.
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 dependencies—three of which have populations of less than 100,000, while Sark has less than 1,000—are somehow competent to manage a great deal of their own affairs.
Later in his speeches on Clause 46, the Minister went on to say:
“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.]
That is not entirely surprising. These are very small bodies which do not have a large staff, and it is very easy for them to be overwhelmed.
I was a little more worried when it appeared to me—perhaps I was mistaken—that 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:
“It is acknowledged that the constitutional relationship between the UK and the Crown Dependencies is complex and that it contains areas of uncertainty”.
It goes on to say that,
“the UK Government is responsible for the external relations of the Crown Dependencies”.
Border agencies are part of the external activities of the UK. If the UK represents the international interests of the Crown dependencies, we need to know who handles relations between local border authorities and their opposite number in other states. When I was chair of EU Sub-Committee F, which dealt with justice and home affairs matters, we were told very firmly by the Finns that the basic principle of good border management is close relations of mutual confidence with the authorities on the other side—good relations with the French, good relations with the Irish and good relations with those other states from whose ports the small boats which travel into the Irish Sea and the English Channel come.
One of the great puzzles of the debates in Committee and of the Bill as a whole is the almost complete absence of reference in the Bill to the European and international dimensions of border management. I became aware, when I was involved in the sub-committee, of the extensive network of international co-operation among police and customs agencies within the European Union and more widely in which the British play an active part. We need to know how the Crown dependencies and their authorities fit into this. I suppose that the Metropolitan Police handle this on their behalf, but there are probably two or three people in Jersey and another two or three in Guernsey who are receiving the very important exchanges of data. I suspect that this does not work very well.
There is a remarkable contrast between the concern over the abuse of the Irish border and the lack of concern regarding the Crown dependencies. Some other questions came up earlier in our debate about Customs issues regarding the Crown dependencies. I ordered through Amazon half a dozen copies of a single CD to give people as Christmas presents. They arrived in six individual packages from Jersey, thus benefiting from the small package waiver on VAT—tax avoidance of a highly developed form and a clear loss of revenue to the British state.
The evidence to the Justice Committee hearing on 10 December was even more astonishing in a whole host of ways, with the noble Lord, Lord Bach, saying:
“It is not our job to nanny the Isle of Man in any sense. Our job is, in the broadest sense, to have a close relationship with them and to assist”.
The official who then tried to get him out of the hole that he was digging himself into said:
“I think that it is to put it too strongly to say that we have abdicated all responsibility for them”.
That is a wonderful series of double and triple negatives which say, “I think the Minister has got it wrong, but I am not quite sure how”.
Later on, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, was asked what would happen if the Crown dependencies’ Administrations refused to implement any proposals that the British Government made to them, to which he replied:
“We would very much hope that the Crown Dependencies … approach constructively”,
the proposals made to them. He continued:
“It is absolutely up to the Crown Dependencies, as you suggest, to respond as they see fit … we do not have levers at the end of the day”,
“believe that all sides will act sensibly and that the Crown Dependencies themselves will not be against … reforms”.
That is not good enough when it comes to borders. There has to be a very clear sense of who is in charge and how British borders are maintained and defended. We also need to know how relations with the border agencies and customs authorities of other states within the European Union are managed. I am one of the many people who have spent time in the Channel Islands and am conscious of how close to the French coast they are. There are some important issues here which cannot be left in this clause, filled as it is with all kinds of conditions into which the Isle of Man might come but the Jersey and Guernsey authorities not, or vice versa—we leave it entirely up to them. While we wish to be much stricter with the Irish, we apparently have no leverage to insist that if, for example, there were a surge of illegal immigrants or people being trafficked who hit the Channel Islands, we would know what to do.
Even at this late point, I should like to hear from the Minister how the Government are going to handle this matter, and I seek some firm assurances before we on these Benches consider whether we might wish to test the opinion of the House on Report. I beg to move.
Before I answer the various points made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, perhaps I may go back to the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Henley. It has now been clarified by my team that Amendment 29, which was tabled on the first day of Committee, inserts a new PACE clause. That will resolve the sequencing concerns which the noble Lord raised with me. It was a fairly detailed minor amendment. I was not sure exactly which clause it referred to, but I hope that it resolves the problem.
The drafting of Clause 53 is consistent with that of the Immigration Act 1971 and all subsequent immigration legislation. The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man have always been able to adopt any part of our immigration legislation, with or without modification, and we consider it appropriate for this to continue. There is dramatic difference in scale between the flow of people coming through the Republic of Ireland into the United Kingdom and that coming through the Crown dependencies.
I reassure the noble Lord that, with reference to border management, the Crown dependencies already mirror a lot of the UK immigration legislation. Therefore persons arriving in the Crown dependencies will have already been checked by the respective immigration officials upon entry into the common travel area. I am not sure about the scale of involvement of those Crown dependencies with the EU. Perhaps I may write to the noble Lord on that detail. Furthermore, there is provision in Section 9(3) of the Immigration Act 1971 to exclude from the common travel area any of the Crown dependencies which adopts different immigration laws from those of the UK if it is considered appropriate by the Secretary of State to do so. A measure can therefore be used if we feel that they are not adopting our immigration laws.
The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, raised issues of border management and VAT evasion. On the latter point, as the noble Lord will be aware, the Channel Islands are not part of the VAT system. The immigration provisions of the Bill are about the movement of people and not about taxation or the movement of goods. However, I assure the noble Lord that the Government are working very closely with the Channel Islands authorities to address the issues that he raises and I can, if he would like, provide more in writing on what we are doing on the CD and DVD issues. The Crown dependencies also do not like being used for that purpose.
The noble Lord raised a number of other issues. I shall study the detail of some of them and ensure that he gets a suitably comprehensive reply to those. I know that I have answered some of them but not all of them. I am due to meet the authorities of the Crown dependencies next week, and I shall be sure to bring the noble Lord’s speech to their attention when I talk to them. I hope that on that basis he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I want to ask the Minister one question, although I am conscious of the lateness of the hour. He said at one point in his speech that there was a dramatic difference in the numbers of those coming in from the Republic of Ireland and those coming in from the Channel Islands. My noble friend was trying to point out that that may not always be the case in future. In France, you have those large encampments of illegal entrants, who are in a sort of limbo because they have not been admitted to France. At some point in future, you might get a flow of such people into the Channel Islands, which would make a vast difference to their ability to cope with the situation. The Minister did not quite address that point in his reply.
In his answer to me the Minister said that the Channel Islands have always been permitted to do what we are providing for here. I always get a little nervous dealing with this issue. The Ministry of Justice memorandum says that the most recent statement of the constitutional relationship is to be found in part 11 of volume 1 of the report of the Royal Commission on the Constitution, published in 1973. When I first came into this House and asked a question on the relationship of the Crown dependencies, a senior official from Jersey demanded to come and see me the next week and said that I should understand that Jersey had been a low-tax area since 1204. Indeed, the 1973 report, which I have not obtained and which is very difficult to find in the Library, takes us immediately back to 1204, but life and movement across borders has changed a little since 1204 and has changed a great deal since 1973. Some of our arrangements may need to adjust as well.
We need to know a good deal more about how adequate the border staffing is in the Crown dependencies. It would be helpful to know how many UK Border Agency staff are posted there. I was interested to discover not long ago that the numbers of UK Border Agency staff posted in France is now in the high hundreds. Do we have people posted to the Crown dependencies?
The point that my noble friend Lord Avebury emphasised was that, five years ago, very few people were arriving on Greek islands and, 10 years ago, very few people were arriving on the Italian islands. This is not a hypothetical case. As we have all seen, human trafficking patterns and illegal migration patterns move very quickly, and one has to be willing to respond. I shall withdraw the amendment, but it seems to me that there are a great many questions to which we shall need to hear answers if we are not to divide the House at Report stage.
Amendment 120 withdrawn.
Amendments 121 to 123 not moved.
Clause 53, as amended, agreed.
Clause 54: Commencement
124: Clause 54, page 43, leave out line 2 and insert “the day this Act is passed”
Your Lordships will be relieved to hear that I shall be very brief. Clause 54(4)(b) provides that the new duty regarding the welfare of children comes into force on a day to be appointed by the Secretary of State. We would have liked to see it come into force on commencement. Perhaps the Minister can explain why a delay is necessary, considering that the Section 11 duty has been in place for all other public authorities for something like five years, and that we have been pressing for a similar duty to apply to immigration, asylum and nationality for most of that time.
In tabling the amendment, we hope that the Minister will tell us what date the Government have in mind for the commencement of the provision, what conditions need to be satisfied before an order is laid, and what steps they are taking to bring those conditions about. I beg to move.
Lord Henley: On behalf of my noble friend, I also offer my support to my noble kinsman the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on the amendment. I do not think that the Government can have been taken by surprise. The clause could easily have gone into the Children and Young Persons Act 2008 after my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton won a vote. As I remember, the Government promised that they would bring the clause back in the next immigration Bill. They do not seem to have done so. They have certainly had enough time to prepare for this.
I add one further point to the remarks of my noble kinsman. The Government are giving themselves powers to bring the provision in,
“on such day as the Secretary of State may by order appoint”.
We have seen this form of words a great many times over the years in Home Office Bills. Can the noble Lord tell us—I do not suppose he will be able to give us the answer, but he can no doubt write to me in due course—how many sections of how many Home Office Bills have not yet been brought into effect since 1997? Not only that, how many sections have since been repealed before they were brought into effect? That might make an interesting academic exercise for the noble Lord to consider over the next few days. I should be very grateful for a written response in due course.
We have had some valuable debates on the duty regarding the welfare of children. I am grateful for the opportunity to explain our approach to bringing the provision into force. There is little between us on this. The Government are also committed to bringing the duty into force as soon as possible. Indeed, in preparing the Bill, our original intention was to adopt the approach set out in the amendment and to bring the duty into force on Royal Assent.
We modified our approach for purely practical reasons—that staff will be undergoing training, and that we will be reviewing existing policies for dealing with children and adapting them where necessary to ensure that they are consistent with the duty we have set ourselves. As we have already discussed, we also intend to issue guidance along the lines of that that supports the Section 11 duty. We want to prepare that guidance in consultation with stakeholders and, where appropriate, we want it to reflect concerns that may be raised during the passage of the Bill through Parliament.
We also want to issue the guidance to the agency in advance of the duty coming into force. That is why we decided to bring the duty into force by order instead. I should stress that this is not a delaying tactic. We will bring Clause 51 into force around three months after Royal Assent. That means that if the Bill gains Royal Assent before the Summer Recess, we expect the provision to be in force in the early autumn.
The noble Lord, Lord Henley, asked questions about how many Bills have not been brought into effect and various other points. I do not know the answers. I am always keen to have academic examinations; it keeps my brain going. I will respond in writing to him. I hope noble Lords will agree that this is a sensible way to proceed, rather than embarking on this before all those things have been prepared. Accordingly, I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.
I certainly agree that it is necessary to take into consideration whatever is raised during the passage of the Bill through both this House and another place. I accept that that is a reasonable excuse for not bringing the provision into force upon commencement.
There is also something to be said for ensuring that there is thorough staff training, an issue that has been raised many times in previous amendments. I take it that the three months mentioned by the Minister are calculated on the basis that all the staff who need to be trained will in fact have been to their course by the end of three months from the date of commencement.
I am quite happy with the explanation. It is useful to have on the record that the three-month limit will be adhered to. As my noble kinsman has said, there are so many provisions in other Home Office legislation where we have been left hanging for years. I remember the provisions that he mentioned which had actually been repealed before they were brought into force. It was excellent to have this on the record. I am grateful to the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 124 withdrawn.
Clause 54 agreed.
Clause 55 agreed.
Schedule : Repeals
125: Schedule, page 44, line 5, at end insert—
“Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (c. 33) In section 147, in the definition of “short-term holding facility”, the word “solely”.”
“Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (c. 33)
In section 147, in the definition of “short-term holding facility”, the word “solely”.”
Amendment 125 agreed.
Schedule, as amended, agreed.
Bill reported with amendments.
House adjourned at 10.08 pm.