My Lords, as noble Lords will know, the Bill gives legislative effect to our current policies on family returns by putting key elements of the new process into primary legislation. Noble Lords have spoken of the Government’s record and our policies towards children, and mentioned them in favourable terms. I think it is a shared opinion across this House that we take policies towards children seriously. I hope to demonstrate that we are doing that in the passage of this Bill.
Amendments 4 and 6, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, would narrow the definition of a family return case. It is important that families where children are being looked after by someone other than the parents, such as an older sibling in some cases, a grandparent or another adult member of their extended family, are included in the family returns process so that their cases can be resolved together and so that they benefit from the intensive support provided by the new process. Under our definition of “family”, a parent must be living with their children to benefit from the family returns process. That is a reasonable definition. Other than in exceptional cases, where common sense would prevail, if a parent is living apart from the child they may be removed separately.
With regards to Amendment 5, and separating children from their parents, I assure noble Lords that we will always seek to ensure that families remain together during their return. I am sympathetic to the amendment, but there are exceptional cases. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred, I think, to the comments of my noble and learned friend Lord Wallace of Tankerness in previous debates on the Bill. Splitting families would never be done for tactical reasons to achieve compliance. However, in exceptional circumstances, we may need to remove an adult family member separately, even during the 28-day grace period which Clause 2 will establish. This may be, for example, where there is a public protection concern or a risk to national security.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, also asked what the criminality threshold is over which we might separate families. He wanted a stronger definition than perhaps my words just now have offered, but there can be no fixed threshold. Each case will be considered on its merits, based on an assessment of whether an adult poses a threat of offending that cannot be satisfactorily managed without removal. That is the only fair answer that I can give the noble Lord.
Amendment 8 seeks to ensure that children are detained only as a last resort and for the shortest possible time. That is already, as noble Lords will know, government policy. Clause 5 will, in effect, ensure that detention is for the shortest possible time, while reflecting the operational reality that, in very exceptional circumstances, unaccompanied children may need to be held for short periods in transit to a port of departure or at the port awaiting departure. If we do not hold children safely while they are coming in and out of the UK unaccompanied, we increase the risk that they may fall prey to traffickers or, indeed, abscond.
Later this afternoon, we will be considering an amendment concerning children tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, to which I have added my name. I mention this because it is important to consider our approach to children in the Bill in the round. That amendment will confirm that the important statutory duty towards children in immigration decisions applies to every matter in the Bill. It will of course apply to this part of the Bill, further underlining that when families and children are being returned, we must have regard to those children’s best interests.
I will address the questions posed by my noble friend Lady Hamwee, whose help on this matter and on the Bill in general has been very positive.