Immigration Bill — Report (1st Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:45 pm on 1st April 2014.

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Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench 8:45 pm, 1st April 2014

My Lords, before speaking to my amendment I would like to say just a few words on what the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, has just said. She reminded me very much of the work of the child psychotherapist Anna Freud, who wrote several books on law and children with two eminent jurists from Yale University in the United States. She wrote about the difference between child time and adult time. A year in the life of a child is obviously disproportionately large compared with a year to an adult. We are all very concerned about children who languish in the care system who are just sitting waiting to be adopted. Even six months for a very young child is a huge chunk of their lives. I have a lot of sympathy for what the noble Baroness said.

I shall speak to Amendment 58 standing in my name and that of the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach. There has been concern that this Bill may weaken the welfare rights of children. The purpose of my amendment is to provide clarification that the rights of children will be undiminished.

I am most grateful to the Minister for adding his name to this amendment. I could have wished that the amendment went further to include reference to the best interests of the child, as was mentioned earlier in a debate this afternoon. However, having discussed this with officials, I understand that there are procedural difficulties that prevent the Government agreeing such a reference in the legislation at this stage of the Bill. I regret that, but I am grateful at least for this. I hope that the Minister will reiterate and make clear in his reply that the best interests of the child remain a priority throughout this legislation.

I also take this opportunity to reiterate my thanks to the coalition Government for having done so much to improve the welfare of children detained with their families. I have followed this issue for many years and the change has been remarkable and wholly in the right direction. I am most grateful that the Government are now enshrining those changes in this Bill. I also appreciate the opportunity that the noble Lord, Lord Storey, and I had to meet the Minister, the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, and officials, to discuss our concerns about the welfare of young care leavers who arrive here as unaccompanied asylum seekers. I think that the Minister shares our concern for these young people—18, 19 and 20 year-olds—who are resident here without their parents, having experienced the loss of their homeland and their families, often having made a perilous journey to this country as children.

I hope that the report on these young people, to be published by the Children's Commissioner for England very shortly, will be favourably received by the Minister. I trust that any noble Lords who have been a parent or worked with young people will think about what it would be like for their own children, bereft of their parents, unguided and uncertain in a foreign land. I hope that they will keep that at the forefront of their minds when considering the immigration status of these young people and wish to treat these young people with consequent humanity.

I would be most grateful to the Minister if he would consider writing to local authorities to remind them of their particular duties to these young people. Many local authorities extend themselves very far to help them, but there remains evidence that not all authorities are clear about their duties in this area. I look forward to the Minister's reply.