During 2011, 99 children entered immigration removal centres, short-term holding facilities and pre-departure accommodation, which compares with 436 in 2010 and with 1,119 in 2009. The numbers held at any one time in 2011 were very low; snapshot figures from the end of each quarter ranged from zero to one child.
When the coalition Government made their unequivocal statement in May 2010 that they would end all
“detention of children for immigration purposes”,
many of us welcomed that, because we had always thought such detention to be wrong. Will the Minister therefore explain what response she has given to the Refugee Council’s “Not a minor offence” report, which describes the detention of unaccompanied children arriving in this country from Afghanistan, Iran or Iraq? These children arrive deeply disturbed and very frightened, and they find that their first interaction with this country is to be put in detention and kept there. Will she please guarantee that no more children will be kept in detention, and that instead cases will be referred to the relevant local authority immediately where children arrive in this country?
The hon. Gentleman raises the issue of the report by the Refugee Council that was published this morning. Obviously, we will consider the Refugee Council’s recommendations as we continue to improve at all levels, but I point out to the hon. Gentleman that under the Labour Government it was 28 days before Ministers got involved, whereas under this Government it is 72 hours.
What happens to families who are claiming asylum in this country having passed through other safe countries before getting here? Are we returning them to the last safe country that they left or do we offer them the opportunity to stay in this country indefinitely?
We return where we can, obviously, but the important point is that we have a process for returning and we follow it.
Many of the children whom the Minister describes are age-disputed young people. Will she confirm that the appalling and shambolic X-ray pilot—described as “appalling” by the four UK Children’s Commissioners and subsequently abandoned—will not resume and that she will work with children’s professionals and medical experts to find an effective solution to the very difficult problem of determining the age of children?
The hon. Lady might or might not know that, in light of the view expressed by the National Research Ethics Service that that trial is research and therefore requires NRES approval, we have paused it while we work with our partners to seek formal ethical approval.