We always need to hold some families at the border, either until the next available return flight or until further inquiries are made, or, in the case of unaccompanied children, until alternative accommodation is arranged. Not to do so would weaken border security, and would not meet our duty of care to keep children safe.
I thank the Minister for his reply and warmly welcome the Government’s efforts to end the detention of children in immigration removal centres such as Dungavel in Scotland. As he has said, some detention of children at ports and airports is necessary, and the average period of detention for children is currently about 10 hours. What is the Home Office doing to minimise the amount of time that children are detained for, and thus minimise the distress caused to the children involved?
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s support for our general approach of ending the detention of children for immigration purposes. She asked specifically about ports, and we have introduced tighter governance, which means that a greater level of authorisation is now required for the detention of a family in a removal centre or when detaining them for more than 25 hours or overnight. Family cases at ports of entry are specifically prioritised and dealt with as quickly as possible in order to minimise the time that families are held in short-term holding facilities.
Can the Minister confirm that detailed statistics on children at ports of entry are now being kept? Will he tell us what type of accommodation they are required to be detained in, and whether the Government have any specific plans to reduce the number of children being detained in that way?
As I have already explained, we detain children largely for their own protection. In practical terms, if an unaccompanied child arrives at Heathrow in the early hours of the morning, keeping them in the room at Heathrow that is set aside for them is a lot more sensible than allowing them to roam the streets of London. I hope that my right hon. Friend will recognise that the accommodation in which they are kept is being improved, and that they are kept there for the minimum amount of time that we need before moving them on to somewhere where they can be safe.