The welfare and safeguarding of children is at the heart of the family returns process, and our policy is clear that we do all we can to keep families together. Other than in exceptional circumstances, a child will not be separated from both parents for immigration purposes. Detention is used sparingly, for the purposes of public protection and removal. We encourage those with no right to remain in the UK to leave voluntarily, and all detainees have the right to bail, which is decided by a judge.
Despite compelling evidence of the harm caused to children by the indefinite detention of their parents, the Home Office continues to separate them in an arbitrary and cruel manner, but its replies to my questions show that it has no idea how many children are currently separated. The Department paid £50,000 in compensation after a three-year-old girl was unlawfully separated from her father, who was placed in immigration detention. She was reunited with him just days before she was due to be placed for adoption. What is the Minister doing to get a grip on the situation, stop this unlawful practice, tell us how many children are affected and reunite them with their families?
In the case raised by the hon. Lady, the Home Office acknowledged its mistakes and indeed paid compensation. It is worth remembering that more than 1,000 children went into detention in 2009, whereas only 44 did so in the last year for which figures are available. The Home Office has taken significant steps to ensure that children are not detained with their parents, and they can be in an immigration removal centre only when they can be removed within 72 hours.
This year, Bail for Immigration Detainees has represented 155 parents separated from their children while in immigration detention, yet the Prime Minister states that that is not the Government’s practice. Can the Minister condemn the practice and finally stop it?
There is clear and published guidance on how a family unit may be defined, and on the separation of individuals from their family group for immigration reasons. Cases may involve pre-existing separation of family units for non-immigration reasons. For instance, in the case of foreign criminals, children might already have been taken into care when the individual received a custodial sentence.
The Prime Minister has condemned Trump’s family separation policy, but this Government’s hostile environment separates parents from their children every day. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mary Creagh) pointed out, last week the Home Office was forced to pay £40,000 in damages for falsely imprisoning a father, unlawfully separating him from his daughter for three months. The Home Office failed at every stage of the process. The Home Secretary has said that he will pause the hostile environment, but immigration detention is a key part of it. Will the Government look again at indefinite detention, and at the use of detention more widely, and publish the Shaw review in good time for us to examine it before the summer recess?
The hon. Gentleman will have heard me say that some cases might involve pre-existing separation. As I have highlighted, back in 2009 there were more than 1,000 children in detention, and that number has now been reduced to 44. The Home Office has acknowledged the mistakes that were made in the case he mentioned, but it is important to reflect on the role that detention plays in ensuring that those who have no right to be here and no right to our public services are removed in a timely manner.