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Immigration: Cedars Pre-departure Accommodation

Volume 754: debated on Wednesday 18 June 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report Cedars: two years on by Barnardo’s; and what plans they have to implement the recommendations made in that report.

My Lords, the Home Office welcomes the Barnardo’s report, which has been carefully considered. Of the five recommendations, family escort teams have been implemented. Of the remainder, what was recommended is largely current policy, including use of force, which is subject to review. We are unable to accept the recommendation not to separate families as there will be occasions when this is unavoidable. Any such decisions are scrutinised at senior level and by the Independent Family Returns Panel.

I thank the noble Baroness for the Answer and welcome her to her first time at the Dispatch Box. I want to rejoice today because in Cedars this morning there was not a single child there for immigration purposes. We have achieved what we aimed for at the time of the coalition agreement, because in 2009 more than 1,000 were children detained for immigration purposes. I am sure the whole House will agree with me in rejoicing at this fact.

However, I am not entirely happy with that Answer. I came into this coalition—I am sorry, I am not allowed to say that. Of course I welcome this coalition agreement. Is it not possible that when a family has to be separated, authority must be given at ministerial level?

I thank my noble friend for his very kind words of welcome. These separations are a last resort; they are temporary; and they are always authorised at assistant director level and with reference to the family returns panel. Where there are complex or difficult cases, they may well have to be referred up to the Minister.

My Lords, the Barnardo’s report shows an alarming instance of families being split up. Many of the children involved are unprepared to be sent to another country. They are dealing with the loss of family, dislocation and also with their parents’ anxieties, caused by the separation. What are the Government doing to help these children understand what is happening to them in the first instance? Secondly, how are they working to counter the fear and confusion these separations are causing these young children?

The noble Lord is undoubtedly right that this sort of separation—indeed, the whole situation—is very difficult and has to be handled very sensitively. The family escort teams have been set up in to provide support right from the beginning of the journey of return until the end. They went live on 19 May and I hope that whole family approach and whole journey approach will see an improvement in some of the distress that might be caused in these removals.

My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness to the Dispatch Box. When do the Government intend to put in place the specialist family teams? Will Barnardo’s, which is the expert and has a vast amount of experience in this area, have an input in recruiting and training the teams? In asking that, I declare my interest as a vice-president of Barnardo’s.

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. As I said earlier, the teams went live on 19 May, and I am very pleased about that. All people dealing with children have to be—it is almost obvious to say—CRB checked. All staff in Barnardo’s are trained in safeguarding and child-protection issues.

My Lords, the Chief Inspector of Prisons has written a subsequent report on Cedars. It describes a worrying incident where an arrest team arrived in full protective clothing and spent three minutes battering down the door of a house; there was no awareness of whether there was a child or children in the house, which could have been deeply traumatic for those young people. Does the noble Baroness agree that we need to have a full review of arrest procedures to try to prevent such situations?

I thank the right noble Prelate for his question. I am sorry—I was so focused on the answer that I forgot the right reverend Prelate’s title. I think that there are lessons learnt from situations like that, and I know that refresher training is going on. I hope that, again, the specialist teams will provide that more consistent journey and that the lessons learnt will enable a better arrest and removal procedure in future.

My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness to the Dispatch Box, and I hope that she enjoys the experience of sitting on the government Benches. Can I bring her back to the point that she was answering about children being separated from their families? When we had the Immigration Bill debates, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, informed the House that the Government would never separate a child from their family,

“solely for a compliance reason”.—[Official Report, 3/3/14; col. 1133.]

He said that it would be only in cases of safeguarding or welfare. That is not quite what the noble Baroness’s Answer said today. The Barnardo’s report says that families are split in one-sixth of all cases and that family splits,

“are often a plan or contingency in response to actual or potentially”,

non-compliant behaviour. That is not what the noble and learned Lord said in the debates on the Bill. Given that commitment, will any further action be taken in light of the Barnardo’s report?

I thank the noble Baroness for her comments. The points that I made probably cover the points that she has made, so disruptive behaviour might include welfare issues as well. I hope that I have answered that satisfactorily.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the advisory group to the Government on the detention of immigrant children which resulted in the Cedars being formed. During the passage of the Immigration Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, and I discussed the establishment of a code of practice that covered the whole of the extradition process, including the point made by the right reverend Prelate. Where has the Home Office got to on the work on that code of practice?