My Lords, as Amendments 61, 62 and 66 are consequential to Amendment 58B, I will speak to all three at the same time as moving it; they all sit together.
Currently, pursuant to Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971, the Secretary of State for Home Affairs may detain people for immigration purposes only in places set out by her in a direction. Detention in places not specified by her in a direction will be unlawful. The Bill amends that direction to include
“any place that the Secretary of State considers appropriate”.
Following the publication of the Bill, the Immigration Minister in the other place outlined that the expansion of the asylum and migrant estate will include military barracks and that the Home Office will
“continue to explore the possibility of accommodating migrants in vessels”.—[
More recently, the Government announced plans to house 500 asylum seekers on a barge in Portland, off the coast of Dorset. It remains unclear whether these settings will also be used as detention facilities as the provisions of the Bill seek to give the Home Secretary the power to detain individuals in such places, despite the risks posed by facilities such as Manston, which I will come to later. Some of the further mooted facilities present additional risks of their own, with military bases potentially triggering pre-existing vulnerabilities in people who have likely fled war and/or persecution. Will the Minister explain the reasons for granting the Secretary of State the power to detain people in “any place” that she “considers appropriate”?
If the intention is to allow detention in places not currently set out in the Immigration (Places of Detention) Direction 2021, will the Minister give details of where these places will be? For example, will the detention centres include military sites, such as Scampton in Lincolnshire, Wethersfield in Essex and Bexhill in East Sussex, or barges, such as the “Bibby Stockholm”, due to be moored in Portland? With the announcement this week by the PM of more barges to house asylum seekers, can the Minister advise on the cost of these, given that the aim has been to reduce money spent on accommodation, especially if some of this will be used for detention purposes?
Current Home Office plans suggest that these facilities are being considered for use as asylum accommodation only rather than detention. Can the Minister confirm whether the Government in fact plan to use them in whole, or part, as detention sites? If the intention is to allow detention in places not currently set out in the immigration direction of 2021, will the Minister explain how the Secretary of State will ensure that the standards set out in the Detention Centre Rules 2001 and the Short-term Holding Facility Rules 2018 are met in relation to the treatment of detained persons, including the safeguarding of vulnerable people known to be at particular risk of suffering harm in detention, such as victims of torture and trafficking, pregnant women and those with serious mental health conditions? What legal framework will exist to ensure these standards in such places? Are we to expect regulations and, if so, will we see them in draft before the Bill is completed? Has the Home Office carried out a full risk assessment linked to the proposed expansion of the detention estate and will it be published? How will the Minister seek to avoid scenes such as those at Manston, described by the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration as “wretched”, if there is no extra detention capacity when the Bill passes?
It is interesting to note that, just this week, we have had the publication of the report of the unannounced inspection of Manston by His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons. I am sure Ministers have seen his comments. They are clearly concerning, and I shall briefly mention four priority areas: detention in the facilities was too long; the governance of adult and child safeguarding was poor; there was no accurate data on the use of force or separation from the general population or of incidents of violence and non-compliance; and professional interpretation was not always used consistently. There is a danger that Manston will not be able to cope any better than it was coping when the disturbances took place there more than 12 months ago. The response to the report from the Chief Inspector of Prisons is therefore important, to show that the Home Office will ensure safeguarding and care for individuals, which is not currently present.
According to Charlie Taylor’s report, there is no oversight of leadership and safeguarding, or of the use of force. These are incredibly important issues in places of detention. Care planning for vulnerable detainees and children with disabilities was poor and did not demonstrate individual planning, risk assessment or meaningful welfare checks.
Given the responses that we see about the current detention regime in this very recent report from His Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, how does the Minister expect to provide new and extra accommodation, given the challenges the Government are already facing, across the country, from many Conservative MPs, for example, who do not want these in their backyards—not in the run-up to an election, I understand? Can the Minister tell us whether barges are really suitable places for the detention of families and children?
Amendment 62 would place the Secretary of State under a duty to consult local residents before authorising the use of any new facility within these categories. This is critical for community cohesion and well-being. Removing someone’s liberty is a deeply serious issue and we are extremely concerned about the consequences of this clause for the most vulnerable in our society, particularly children, torture victims, pregnant women and victims of modern slavery. It seems to us that the Home Secretary is moving far beyond the sorts of powers necessary to detain people in an appropriate manner, and this manner at the moment gives us minimal recourse to scrutiny.
The lives, liberty and well-being of fellow human beings should not be put on the line as collateral damage for a policy which most of us know will never achieve its stated aims but is being used for political appeasement. For the reasons I have outlined, I also oppose Clause 10 standing part of the Bill. I beg to move Amendment 58B.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 59B, 61A, 64B, 66A and 79C in my name.
Amendments 61A and 66A would ensure that, if children are to be detained or held in temporary accommodation before they are placed with a local authority, there are basic standards in the Bill to ensure that the type of accommodation is suitable, along with the services and standards that are needed to ensure that the best interests and the welfare of the child are paramount, and that the provisions are exactly the same as in the Children Act 1989.
Amendments 59B and 64B would ensure that the regulations about detention or the holding accommodation of children are made not by the Home Secretary but by the Secretary of State for Education, whose department has a far better understanding of the Children Act and what it means to put the interest of the child first. Because of this I have also tabled Amendment 79C, which would ensure that until such time as a young person is allocated to a local authority’s care, the department that understands fully the details of the Children Act, the Secretary of State for Education’s, is responsible for the welfare of children in the holding accommodation.
I will explain the rationale for these amendments. It is clear from what has been happening to young children seeking asylum who have been held in hotels that the Home Office has no idea what to do to put the interest or welfare of the child first. The Home Office seems, at best, not to have a detailed understanding of the provisions of the Children Act 1989. At worst, it ignores certain provisions of the Act and has no regard for putting the interests and welfare of the child first and central to its policy of temporarily holding children. What we have seen happening to some of the young people housed in these Home Office temporary hotels is nothing less than a national scandal and a disgrace.
Since summer 2020, unaccompanied children seeking asylum on arrival in England have had their rights systematically breached by the Home Office and have been denied the full protections they should have been afforded under the Children Act 1989. Their needs have not been assessed and they have been unlawfully denied the care of local authorities for unlimited periods of time. Instead, they have been placed in Home Office hotels, many of which are unsuitable, are out of reach of the standards laid down in Section 22 of the Children Act and house vulnerable children alongside adults. Many children have gone missing. I eventually got the Minister to answer from the Dispatch Box that 200 children were still missing. Some of these have been well documented; reports from Greater Manchester Police have indicated that children who have been scooped up have been found in Greater Manchester, used by drug gangs and trafficked for sex. Yet in the Home Office Answers to Written and Oral Questions in this House, it is in total denial about what is happening and refuses to accept that it has evidence from police, such as Greater Manchester Police, about the plight of some of these vulnerable children.
That is why these amendments have to be accepted. To be blunt, if they are not, these vulnerable children will still go missing and will not have the standards that every child in this country should have; the needs of the child will not be paramount.
Amendment 79C would ensure that the Secretary of State for Education is responsible for the temporary care of a child from the moment they arrive here and would be responsible for them until they are placed with a local authority. As I indicated earlier, this is far more desirable—not perfect, but more desirable—than the Home Office having responsibility. The Department for Education has years of experience in dealing with these vulnerable children through close-working liaison with local authorities and issuing detailed guidance for unaccompanied children seeking asylum. This amendment would help to ensure that the interests of the child are put first the moment they step into the country.
Amendments 59B and 64B are in the same vein. The Department for Education fully understands the law and nuances of the Children Act, and the rights and obligations to children to ensure that their interests and welfare are put first. It is therefore appropriate that the Secretary of State for Education, and not the Home Office, issues such regulations under Clause 10.
Finally, Amendments 61A and 66A would ensure that unaccompanied children seeking asylum would not be dumped in unsuitable accommodation, as we are seeing at present, but would have afforded to them the same standards and provisions that are in Section 22 of the Children Act 1989. Section 22(3) sets out the general duties of the local authority looking after a child to safeguard and promote their welfare. This duty underpins all activity by the local authority in relation to looked-after children and has become known as “corporate parenting”. In simple terms, corporate parenting means the collective responsibility of the council, elected members, employees and partner agencies for providing the best possible care and safeguarding for the children who are looked after by the council.
My amendments would mean that those same provisions would apply to children who are not in local authority care but in temporary accommodation that the Home Office has given—that the corporate parenting responsibility would be for the Secretary of State for Education. That includes an assessment of the suitability of the accommodation required for each individual child. Amendments 61A and 66A would confer the same responsibilities and duties on to the Secretary of State for Education the moment the child enters the country, until such time as they are placed with a local authority.
The welfare and care of unaccompanied children seeking asylum is paramount. They should have the full protections of the Children Act 1989 from the moment they reach our shores. These amendments will ensure that the rights of the child are paramount if the Home Office insists on detaining a child or putting them into temporary accommodation before they are in the care of a local authority. I believe it is paramount that this is in the Bill. The rights of the child and the Children Act 1989 are absolutely key to protect vulnerable children who are seeking asylum. That is why I tabled these amendments.
First, I ask the Minister directly about the issue of capacity. I also want to ask him about the role of the Independent Family Returns Panel. Dr Peter Walsh says that the current detention estate has capacity for about 2,500 individuals, yet we all know that last year 45,000 people arrived on our shores. In addition, there are 160,000 asylum seekers still awaiting decisions. If we take those numbers together, how do they square with the capacity that is planned for the estate? I was also struck by the Taskforce on Victims of Trafficking in Immigration Detention saying:
“We expect that tens of thousands of individuals will be indefinitely detained in immigration detention facilities, with the current already overstretched detention estate being unable to hold anywhere near the numbers anticipated”.
My second question is brief. I am concerned about the disapplication of the duty currently placed on the Secretary of State to consult with the Independent Family Returns Panel in every family returns case, particularly where the family involves children. Has the Minister seen the statement from the UK Committee for UNICEF, which has described this decision for disapplication as “regrettable”? Is that something he might give further thought to?
My Lords, I want to make two quite separate points. I pick up on what the noble Lord just said; have the Government looked at what is really happening on the ground, the numbers of people currently waiting to be removed—that is a very large number—and the numbers coming in? How on earth are they going to get people away? Where they are going and what is going to happen was set out in much greater detail on an earlier amendment.
What worries me as I have sat listening, today in particular but really throughout the debates on the Bill, is that I do not think the Government have yet put their mind to the problems of numbers and how on earth they are going to get rid of these people, if I may put it rather bluntly.
The second point, which is so much more important, relates to what the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, just said, and I not only support him but admire him enormously for saying it. As I said on another Bill some time ago, I remind the Government that the Home Secretary is not a corporate parent, nor indeed at the moment is the Secretary of State for Education. The concept of the corporate parent is to be found in the Children Act 1989, as a local authority. Currently, the Government are expecting to deal with sometimes quite young children. I think they are concentrating on the 16 and 17-year-olds who are coming through and are not looking at a minority—but probably a relatively substantial minority—of children who are much younger. They have to be looked after. I do not want to repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, said, but it is crucial that they be looked after. The only corporate parent who can care for them is in fact the local authority where the children are. It is about time the Government started to look at not just the best interests of the children, which is so obvious—it worries me that I keep having to talk about that—but the points that the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, made, which really should strike home.
My Lords, I support Amendments 61 and 62 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord German, and welcome the opportunity to discuss what rules and regulations His Majesty’s Government will adhere to when selecting a site for the purposes of detention. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham had intended to speak but is unable to be here for this group of amendments; I am glad to be here in his place. I am grateful to Medical Justice for sharing how existing legislation governs both the nature and operation of detention centres. As it is a detailed policy area, I will focus my time on the context for these amendments while also posing questions to the Minister.
First, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham explained at Second Reading, the Bill before us changes the nature and scope of detention considerably. It moves detention away from an administrative process to facilitate someone’s removal to a punitive system of incarceration intended thereby to deter asylum seekers from travelling to the United Kingdom. Deterrence, as we have seen, is a key theme stressed by the Government, albeit no evidence or impact assessment has been adduced in its favour. This shift towards incarceration signals a major transition in policy, but in embarking on this shift in the purpose of detention, the Government leave us with a lack of detail on what rules and guidance will be adhered to when the Secretary of State is selecting a place of detention.
However, the Minister replied on
“in places that are listed in the Immigration (Places of Detention) Direction 2021”.
I know that the right reverend Prelate was grateful for that answer. Furthermore, the Minister stated:
“All Immigration Removal Centres … must operate in compliance with the Detention Centre Rules 2001, this includes any additional sites that are opened as IRCs to increase detention capacity”.
Can the Minister therefore say whether it will remain unlawful for the Government to authorise places of detention outside those specified in the direction?
Secondly, will the Minister explain how the power granted by Clause 10 to the Secretary of State to detain people
“in any place that the Secretary of State considers appropriate” marries up with the Immigration (Places of Detention) Direction 2021? The Minister may understand my concern that the power to deprive a person of their liberty, and how and where someone is detained, should be constrained by law and not the discretion of a Minister of the Crown, or anyone else.
The Home Office has announced plans to accommodate asylum seekers on military sites such as Scampton in Lincolnshire, Wethersfield in Essex and Bexhill in East Sussex, or on barges such as the “Bibby Stockholm”, already mentioned, due to be moored in Dorset. So I further ask the Minister to confirm that these sites will not be used for the detention of people deemed inadmissible on arrival but for those awaiting a decision on their asylum application.
The Government will understand the potential impact of wide discretionary powers to detain people anywhere, without adherence to particular standards, given the events at Manston in 2022. With a maximum capacity of 1,600, Manston became overcrowded, with the number of people detained there nearing 4,000 towards the end of 2022, and there are concerns that the conditions are likely to have amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment. We cannot allow another humanitarian crisis such as this to occur.
I appreciate that the Minister may not be able to answer all my questions tonight. If that is the case, I ask him kindly to write to me in advance of Report and to send a copy to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham.
It is the concern of several of us that the proposed new regime of detention facilitated by the Bill does not distinguish whether you are a child, a victim of trafficking or a pregnant woman, and that you will be subject to initial detention of not less than 28 days. Due to the ouster clause, there are also no means for anyone to challenge the lawfulness of the Government’s action, putting it beyond legal remedy. It is therefore of the utmost importance that we understand the legal framework that will be put in place to ensure that detention and safeguarding standards are established, and that detention sites are designated by law, not by expedient, as suitable.
My Lords, Amendment 69 is in my name. I am very grateful to those who have co-signed it: the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble Lord, Lord Cashman.
The amendment provides for a general standard or series of standards to be applied—to some extent, picking up some of the more specific points that have been raised by other Members of the Committee. The amendment says:
“The conditions under which persons are detained pursuant to this section must comply with United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Detention Guidelines”.
This becomes particularly important in the context of this proposed legislation because there is no time limit currently provided for detention. Indeed, earlier today, the Minister, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, made great play of the fact that currently Rwanda is the only country in Schedule 1 which has actually signed up to admit people and therefore the rest of the people are not going to be accommodated by way of a removal.
People who are not suitable to go to Rwanda, which, according to the FCDO’s travel guidelines, would certainly include LGBT people, would be subject to indefinite detention until some other arrangement—if and when, if ever—with a truly safe place for that group was arrived at.
The UNHCR’s refugee Detention Guidelines currently set out, in guideline 8, some 18 minimum conditions of detention. They range from general propositions on treating asylum seekers with dignity to conditions around medical treatment; the ability of persons resident in detention to make contact; physical exercise; for children, education and vocational training; standards of food; and so forth. We certainly know that, on the ground at the moment, those standards are not being adhered to in the accommodation currently being occupied by those who seek asylum.
The time has come—particularly in view of the possibility of detention without any limit whatever; although that issue is going to be dealt with in a later group, I might add that it is in itself contrary to guideline 6 of the UNHCR’s refugee Detention Guidelines —when the Government must commit themselves to the minimum recognised standards that apply to asylum seekers. As others have said, we are not just dealing with numbers—number 1,231, for example. Each of these cases is a human being deserving of dignity and proper treatment.
Those are the minimum standards set down in guideline 8. I would like to know whether it is the Government’s proposal that they should adhere to these minimum standards.
My Lords, I rise in support of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, whose Amendment 69 I have signed. It would require detention conditions to comply with those set out in guidelines by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. I need not repeat the arguments that the Committee well understands about the United Kingdom’s historic role in the refugee convention and other aspects of the post-war human rights settlement.
Like many noble Lords in this Committee, I have been in these debates for some time, so I understand that there is some dispute on the Government Benches about the UNHCR. The UNHCR says something; they say, “So what? It is just another woke NGO”. Well, it is not. The UNHCR has a special role in the convention. It is a UN body and it was given a special role in the supervision of the refugee convention.
I simply refer noble Lords to Article 35 of the convention, headed “Co-operation of the national authorities with the United Nations”. We were an architect of the convention and a key signatory to it; I am sure that every Member in this Committee wants to abide by it. Article 35 states:
“The Contracting States undertake to co-operate with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, or any other agency of the United Nations which may succeed it, in the exercise of its functions, and shall in particular facilitate its duty of supervising the application of the provisions of this Convention”.
This body was given from the beginning the very special role of supervising the convention. That is fair enough, is it not? It cannot just be that every nation gets to interpret the convention in its own way; that would not exactly be global governance.
Is that not precisely what the Vienna convention on the interpretation of treaties provides for: that each nation interprets it? States have to relate to and deal with the body to which the noble Baroness refers, but that is separate to the legal question of what the convention actually means. These are two distinct legal questions, are they not?
Well done. Article 35 continues:
“In order to enable the Office of the High Commissioner or any other agency of the United Nations which may succeed it, to make reports to the competent organs of the United Nations, the Contracting States undertake to provide them in the appropriate form with information”.
The bottom line is that the UNHCR is not just any other body, think tank, NGO or pressure group. It is a specific organ of the United Nations that was commissioned right at the beginning, when this convention was drafted, to have a special role in its supervision. That is why I support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, in suggesting as a bare minimum that our detention provisions ought to comply with guidelines—they are only guidelines—set out by the UNHCR. We can have these lovely little Oxford Union interventions from Members opposite, but the bottom line is that if we do not comply—
I am sorry, but this is not an Oxford Union intervention. There is a clear distinction between an obligation to co-operate with a body in the implementation of the convention and that body having a role in the interpretation of the convention. They are different legal concepts and, with great respect, the noble Baroness knows that; it is quite wrong to elide one with the other. “Interpretation” does not appear in Article 35 and is deliberately excluded.
I am very grateful, obviously, to the noble Lord for his intervention. I repeat:
“The Contracting States undertake to co-operate with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees”.
This was the body given special status in the drafting of the very precious convention that was drafted with key instigation by the wartime generation in this country for reasons that I need not repeat.
If we do not comply with guidance from the UNHCR in relation to the detention of asylum seekers and refugees, who will? For that reason alone, I am very glad to support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton.
My Lords, Amendment 70A in this group is in my name and also signed by my noble friend Lord German. It is focused on the protection of unaccompanied migrant children and child victims of modern slavery. Picking up on the theme from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, I want to make a brief reference to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 22 on refugee children says if a child is seeking refuge or has refugee status Governments must provide them with appropriate protection and assistance to help them enjoy all the rights in the convention.
There is consistent medical evidence that immigration detention is damaging the mental health of those who are detained. This Bill now forces children to be detained beyond the very short period which has been about acceptable before, although it was good that during the coalition years we stopped children being held in detention.
People seeking asylum have a very high prevalence of pre-existing vulnerabilities, including serious mental health conditions and histories of being trafficked, tortured and suffering sexual and gender-based violence. This puts them at particular risk of being further harmed in their time in detention.
The health implications of this Bill to detain people anyway without adherence to particular standards was highlighted by the events at Manston. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark has mentioned, it had a capacity of 1,600 but last autumn it was overcrowded, with the number of people detained nearing 4,000 following a decision by the Home Secretary not to send people on to hotels. People were beyond the 24-hour time limit without clear lawful basis for detention in holding rooms or five days in holding facilities.
My noble friend Lord German referred to the recent reinspection of Manston, but it is worthy of note that Charlie Taylor said there seemed to be some improvements while it was “fairly empty” but that he
“was not assured that if numbers increase … the site will be able to cope much better” than last autumn, which is why I wish to persevere with my amendment. Conditions at Manston deteriorated very quickly and are likely to have amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment in violation of Article 3 of the ECHR, including overcrowded living conditions, unclean and unhygienic facilities, inadequate food provisions—some days without sufficient food or drinking water—lack of adequate medical care and spread of infectious diseases.
This was not new. Charlie Taylor’s inspection last year made a number of points which I will not go through now, except to say that the care pathways lacked co-ordination, clinical leadership to govern the standard and quality of care was not there and facilities for the management of detainees with Covid or other infectious diseases were poor. There are still reports from doctors that healthcare is patchy. I have talked recently to some directors of public health and GPs in areas that have received asylum seekers. NHS access for those who really need it is very slow and piecemeal, and often there is still no clinical oversight and no real clear strategic co-ordination or pathway, meaning that access to healthcare is delayed.
This is important for children because the position for the healthcare and well-being of children is even more worrying. Medical Justice assessed children detained at Yarl’s Wood and identified psychological harm caused and exacerbated by detention. Symptoms included bedwetting and loss of bowel control, heightened anxiety, food refusal, withdrawal, disinterest and persistent crying. The children expressed suicidal ideation, and physical health problems included fevers, vomiting, abdominal pains, diarrhoea, musculoskeletal pain, coughing up blood and injuries because of violence. They also witnessed their families being subjected to racist abuse during dawn raids and other people being subjected to violence in detention. Children were also reported to have been physically harmed because of violence in detention, and a number of royal colleges of health have described the detention of children as unacceptable, saying that it should cease without delay.
That is why initial health assessments for children must be carried out by a qualified doctor in a safe environment, with an interpreter. IHAs should not be carried out by care assistants working for detention centres and their contractors. Too much is at stake. Does the Minister believe, as he has repeatedly said in Committee, that deterrence should take precedence over rights? What is happening to these children in detention should not be tolerated. What healthcare and well-being standards will be in place for those in detention centres, especially minors, whether with their families or unaccompanied? The amendment sets out the legal framework by which it is perfectly possible to create safe standards to ensure that these children are protected properly. If the Minister cannot provide details, will he accept my amendment?
My Lords, I was going to ask this question in the next group, but it is more appropriate to ask it here. It was raised by Doctors Without Borders in its damning briefing: what specific care will be provided for children with pre-existing or emergent health needs?
Also, following on from my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti, I have been in correspondence with the UNHCR about the different interpretations of the UN convention and the refugee convention that came up when I asked on our first day in Committee why we should accept the Government’s interpretation of the refugee convention over that of the body which has global responsibility for it. The Minister was rather dismissive of the UNHCR, which, in response, highlights that its position on the Illegal Migration Bill—one diametrically opposed to the Government’s—is that it will go against the obligations under the refugee convention. The UNHCR’s institutional position has been conveyed to the Government in the exercise of its responsibilities under Article 35. It does not accept that this is a legitimate interpretation of the refugee convention.
My Lords, I will speak briefly on Amendment 69 in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and others. My intervention is prompted by a meeting I had earlier today with the disabled Greens group, specifically on the question of meeting the needs of disabled asylum seekers and refugees. That caused me to look up the details of the UNHCR Detention Guidelines, specifically point 9.5, which says that states may be required to make reasonable accommodations to ensure that they meet the specific needs of disabled asylum seekers. It says:
“As a general rule, asylum-seekers with long-term physical, mental, intellectual and sensory impairments should not be detained”, and that accommodation needs to be accessible.
The disabled Greens raised with me their particular concern about the barges, about which the Government seem very enthusiastic and to which they have been paying a great deal of attention. It is difficult to see how those barges could possibly meet the accommodation requirements of disabled asylum seekers.
A number of noble Lords referred to the historic situation at Manston, but we have seen the Chief Inspector of Prisons expressing great concern about what is happening there right at this moment. The focus has very much been on children but, if we are not able to identify and assist children appropriately, I really wonder whether we are also able to identify and assist refugees with disabilities, who may have specific needs. Can the Minister say how the Government will ensure that they meet the needs of asylum seekers with disabilities?
Finally, without in any way daring to intervene in a discussion between two lawyers on a fine technical point, I just note that Article 35 of the convention, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, says that:
“The Contracting States undertake to co-operate with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees”.
The relationship does not look much like co-operation at the moment.
My Lords, I am afraid I rise again to make a point that really should not have to be made. I made the point on a previous group that we are a dualist state where international law is not part of domestic law unless and until it is so incorporated by this Parliament. Later, perhaps in a question, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, rather poured scorn and said that this was some sort of technical dualist point. It is not a technical dualist point; it is a fundamental part of our constitution.
Another fundamental part of our constitution is that, when we sign up to international treaties such as the Vienna convention, we have to look at what they actually say. This is not an Oxford Union debating point for two reasons: first, it is far more important than that; and secondly, I have never been a member of the Oxford Union. Article 31 of the Vienna convention, on the interpretation of treaties, says:
“A treaty shall be interpreted in good faith in accordance with the ordinary meaning to be given to the terms of the treaty in their context and in the light of its object and purpose”.
Each state therefore has to interpret its obligations under a treaty.
Some treaties, such as the European Convention on Human Rights, have a court attached to them. If you sign that treaty and sign up to the court, you are obliged to abide by the rulings of the court, in so far as those rulings emanate from the treaty. For example, Article 46.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides that the UK has to abide by any judgment given against the UK by that court. That is what we signed up to in the treaty. The refugee convention does not have a court attached to it. Therefore, this country, like every other, has to interpret the treaty bona fide—in good faith.
What, then, is the position of the UNHCR? It is exactly as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, read out from the treaty, but it is not the gloss that she put on it. The word “interpret”, which she used in her speech, does not appear in the treaty. That is not an accident, because the states were not going to give the UNHCR the power—[Interruption.] I will give way if the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, wants to make an intervention; otherwise, I cannot hear her.
If the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, does not want to take that opportunity, I would quite like to. The noble Lord makes the point that Article 35 of the refugee convention does not have the term “interpretation”, but it does say, as the noble Baroness quoted:
“The Contracting States undertake to co-operate with the Office of the … High Commissioner … in the exercise of its functions, and shall in particular facilitate its duty of supervising the application of the provisions of this Convention.”
I suggest that that is not a million miles from assisting in the common interpretation of the convention.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord. Acoustics are not always with me. I literally read from Article 35 and so did not use “interpret”. I used words such as “co-operate”. I think that I might have said “supervise”—I believe there is a supervisory jurisdiction. At this late hour, I really do not think that this should be a great beef between lawyers. I just say that there is a duty to co-operate with the UNHCR, and it has a special position as an organ of the UN that we set up. That is why I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, that our detention policies ought to have serious regard to the guidelines from the UNHCR.
I may have misheard, but I thought I heard “interpret”. I think that other noble Lords did as well. The Official Report will make it clear, no doubt. With great respect to the noble Baroness, in legal terms there is a million miles between a duty to co-operate and giving that other party the right to interpret. There is a huge difference between this country as a state saying that the treaty means whatever the UNHCR says it means and, on the other hand, saying that we will co-operate with the UNHCR to enable it to fulfil its obligations under the treaty but we as a state arrogate and retain the right to arrogate to ourselves in good faith and bona fide what that treaty actually means. It may sound like one is drawing fine distinctions but there is a very clear distinction, as lawyers will tell you, between the right to interpret a document, whether that be a contract or a treaty, and co-operation in the implementation of whatever that contract or treaty means.
The noble Lord is a good lawyer and I am not, and I know that time is pressing on. However, it says more than just that we should co-operate with the UNHCR. It asks contracting states to facilitate the UNHCR’s
“duty of supervising the application of the provisions of this Convention”—
I emphasise “supervising”. I do not know how that terminology was arrived at but it is saying more than that the UK must co-operate with the UNHCR. The UNHCR has a sort of supervisory duty, and I think that is more than what the noble Lord is saying.
I am not focusing on the supervisory duty. For these purposes it does not matter whether we have a duty to co-operate once a month or once a day, or to get in touch with it every half an hour. That is just on the scale of the nature of the co-operation duty. My point, and I submit that it is a fundamental one, is that there is a difference in essence—a conceptual distinction—between a co-operation duty with the UNHCR as to whatever the treaty means and agreeing that whatever the UNHCR says the treaty means is what it means. It is not an accident that interpretation was excluded from Article 35. Having made that point about five times, I will sit down.
Perhaps I could just add to all of this. I am sorry to do so; it is a bit unseemly for the lawyers to start arguing among themselves but I think I ought to record that I do not agree with the proposition of the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, that the effect of Article 31 of the Vienna convention means that this country or any country can give to such a refugee convention any meaning it wishes to. It has to apply, under Article 31 of the Vienna convention, the wording of the refugee convention, bearing its ordinary meaning in the context of what it proposes.
This is a sideline. The Committee needs to concentrate on what the role of the UNHCR is. I think that it is perfectly obvious to virtually everybody that it has a special supervisory role under the refugee convention, as interpreted in accordance with the Vienna convention, in the application and the practical application of the refugee convention. What I was talking about in my amendment, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, was giving due weight to such a body. There is no other body that has that role. This body does, and it has been given by the United Nations.
My Lords, I am slightly nervous to stand up here. On a serious point, I want to say a few brief words in support of the amendments in this group, in particular Amendment 58B, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord German, Amendment 60, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, and Amendment 69, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Etherton, my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti and others.
In the interests of being brief, I will try to cut through to what I think is the fundamental issue. This group is about standards in detention. The reason this raises such concern, which I think the Minister should address, is that new subsection (2I), as inserted by Clause 10, as has been mentioned by others, says:
“A person (of any age) detained under sub-paragraph (2C) may be detained in any place that the Secretary of State considers appropriate”.
That is a huge power to give to the Secretary of State: to allow the detention of people arriving since
I thought that the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, on behalf of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, cut to the chase. If that is the situation, how are those standards going to be maintained? What actually are those standards? Are the standards the same in a barge or in a military camp? These are the sorts of details that the Committee would wish to hear from the Minister. What are the standards, given that it can be any age and in any place? What difference will there be between arrangements for unaccompanied children, families and others? This is particularly important because the power in new subsection (2C) is not actually for people who have been definitely determined as being people we would wish to remove; it is that the immigration officer “suspects”. We are talking about the detention of individuals, maybe children, who we suspect.
That leads us into the next group. However, if we are talking about standards, this becomes particularly relevant. We are talking about people who might actually be regarded as legitimate and eligible asylum seekers, even under the criteria of this Bill.
In order to be brief, I think noble Lords are seeking an answer to the question posed by new subsection (2I). A significant extension of power to the Secretary of State to designate any place for somebody of any age demands that the Minister be very clear about what the standards will be in each of those places, and who will monitor them to ensure that those standards are kept to.
My Lords, as we have heard, these amendments bring us on to the issue of detention. The amendments in this group look at the standards of detention accommodation and seek to impose certain minimum standards in respect of accommodation and the treatment of detained individuals.
As I have repeatedly made clear, we need a new, radical approach if we are successfully to tackle the people smugglers and put an end to the dangerous, illegal and unnecessary small-boat crossings of the channel. The scheme provided for in the Bill needs to be unambiguously clear that if you enter the UK illegally you will be liable to detention and swiftly returned to your home country or sent to a safe third country. I want to make clear that the welfare of those who are detained is of the utmost importance. We will detain families and children, including unaccompanied children, only when it is necessary to do so and in appropriate accommodation with appropriate healthcare provision.
Amendments 61, 61A, 62, 66A and 69, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord German and Lord Scriven, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, deal with the issue of accommodation standards and limiting the place of detention. I assure noble Lords that persons detained under the powers conferred by the Bill will be detained in age-appropriate accommodation that meets appropriate standards.
We detain persons for immigration purposes only in places that are listed in the Immigration (Places of Detention) Direction 2021 in accordance with the long-standing provisions of the Immigration Act 1971, at paragraph 18 of Schedule 2. In answer to the point raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, following Royal Assent we will update that direction in line with the new detention powers. Moreover, we already have robust statutory oversight of immigration detention, including inspection by the prisons inspectorate and independent monitoring boards at every detention facility, and effective safeguards within the detention process that, I submit, are sufficient.
My noble friend Lord Wolfson made some powerful points about the application of the international instruments to the question of detention standards, and clearly made the point that the UNHCR was expressly not given the right to issue determinative interpretations of the convention. It is up to states to interpret its terms in good faith, as we are doing.
The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, also has Amendments 59B, 64B and 79C in this group, which seek to transfer certain powers in relation to the detention and accommodation of unaccompanied children from the Home Secretary to the Secretary of State for Education. To be clear, the noble Lord referred to the temporary housing of unaccompanied children in Home Office-provided accommodation prior to their transfer to the care of a local authority. Such accommodation is not detained accommodation and is therefore not caught by the provisions of these clauses. I assure the noble Lord and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, that we will return to this issue when we reach Clause 15.
The immigration functions provided for in the Bill are properly a matter for the Home Office. As noble Lords would expect, we regularly consult and work with the Department for Education on matters impacting on children, and that will continue to be the case in respect of the powers conferred by the Bill as they impact on unaccompanied children. As I have said, these are matters that properly fall within the purview of the Home Secretary and, as such, the functions to which these amendments relate should be exercised by her.
In relation to Amendment 70A which is specifically on the health and well-being of detained individuals, I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, that we will work closely with the Department for Education to ensure that there are proper provisions for children in detention, and we will build on our current detention facilities to ensure that they are appropriate and provide safe and secure accommodation for children. The statutory guidance referenced in the noble Baroness’s amendment would not be applicable where someone is detained, but we will ensure that all relevant policies that relate to detention will continue to apply.
All persons entering detention are medically screened on arrival and have access to round the clock healthcare. This will continue to be the case. The existing adults at risk in immigration detention policy will be updated in line with the Bill and will continue to act as a safeguard for vulnerable persons in detention.
The noble Lord, Lord German, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, asked about our plans to increase detention capacity. We are increasing our detention capacity to ensure we have enough detention space, and we already have plans in place to build two new immigration removal centres. These include developing a new immigration removal centre in Oxfordshire on the former site of Campsfield House and a new immigration removal centre at Gosport in Hampshire on the former site of Haslar.
I can imagine the noble Lord’s response if we did not expand detention centres. The point is that, as a matter of government planning, we need to have sufficient capacity to ensure that we can detain and swiftly remove those who enter the country illegally, in particular those embarking on dangerous journeys across the channel.
Change will not happen overnight, but we are committed to making this legislation work. We are working to find other solutions to scale up our detention capacity too. The first step is to change the law, which is why we are focusing on getting this Bill through Parliament.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, raised a related point, suggesting that large numbers would need to be detained in the absence of returns agreements. I remind him that in addition to our partnership with Rwanda we have returns agreements with 16 countries and that, as I have indicated, a returns agreement is not a prerequisite to our ability to remove people. I hope I have been able to reassure noble Lords about our commitment to maintain appropriate standards of detention accommodation and to provide appropriate care for those held in detention under the powers conferred by the Bill. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord German, will be content to withdraw his Amendment 58B.
Amendment 79C intends to ensure that the Secretary of State for Education has responsibility for unaccompanied children as soon as they arrive in the UK. I suggest that the amendment does not in fact have this effect. It places no duty on the Secretary of State for Education to have any responsibility for arriving children. It would give the Department for Education the power to provide accommodation but not a duty to do so. At this stage the children are already in the Home Office system and the Home Office has pre-existing duties under Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 towards those children. The Home Office also runs existing relevant mechanisms such as the national transfer scheme. It is a matter for the Government as to which department should operate these powers.
This amendment could create a great deal of legal uncertainty, which is not in the best interests of children. For example, where children were not accommodated by a local authority on arrival, the Home Secretary could not use her powers under Clause 16 to move children into local authority placements quickly unless those children were in DfE-run accommodation, which DfE would be under no duty to provide. That uncertainty continues with regard to the application of Clause 19 and how any accommodation power linked to a government department that operates in England only could be applied to the devolved Administrations. For that reason, I invite the noble Lord not to move that amendment.
I asked whether confirmation could be given that the Government will adhere to the 18 minimum conditions in the UNHCR Detention Guidelines. It would be very helpful for the Committee to know specifically which ones they intend to comply with and which they do not.
As I have already indicated, the standards that will be adhered to are those prescribed already in legislation. While the points set out in the UNHCR’s document map on in some respects, there is no exact overlap. The regime which will be applied is that which I have already described.
I wonder if I could ask the Minister two questions. The first relates to his comment before last to my noble friend Lord Scriven about whether the Secretary of State for Education should be the corporate parent for government, as opposed to the corporate parent being local authorities. In the event where there is a delay after a child has arrived before a local authority is allocated to be the corporate parent, who is the corporate parent for that child? The Home Secretary does not have that power; there is no protection and no oversight. I say this in light of the fact that, in Kent, there is a special arrangement for Kent not to be the corporate parent for all unaccompanied minors that have arrived there, for fairly obvious reasons. The concern would be that that child might not get the protection that it needs. That is the first question, which is completely separate to the one on my Amendment 70A.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his comments about appropriate healthcare, but without knowing what appropriate healthcare is and whether it meets standards that have been set out—even if he says that the guidance would not work—I am somewhat at a loss. Could he write to me to set out exactly what those standards were, because many doctors are extremely concerned about the current standards available for children in detention at the moment?
Yes, certainly. In response to those two points, as the noble Baroness will have seen, we will discuss this again when we reach Clause 15. But Clause 15(1) provides that the Secretary of State may provide or arrange for the provision of accommodation in England for unaccompanied children. As the noble Baroness rightly identifies, presently in Kent there is an agreement which works well. Initial reception facilities are provided by Kent County Council as the corporate parent, then any unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are transferred within the national transfer scheme. Obviously, it is sensible to have the powers in Clause 15(1) as a backstop, in the event that those powers might be needed. I hope that therefore provides a complete answer to the noble Baroness’s first question.
In relation to the second part of her question as to the standards, as I hope I have already made clear, we will be applying the standards that presently remain. It is abundantly clear that those standards are very detailed as set out. I would be happy to write to the noble Baroness to outline what they are. We will definitely be able to provide that.
I thank the noble Lord with regard to the first issue. I wondered if there was actual data on the time that it takes to provide that transfer for children. What I am concerned about is the gap; we may be discussing it later, but the noble Lord raised the issue himself. Could he provide me with a letter that shows exactly how long it takes to get that transfer through, because I am hearing that there are gaps?
Because the powers in the Bill are obviously not yet in force, I cannot answer as to whether there would be a gap. But clearly it is anticipated—it is hoped—that there will not be a need to utilise the powers in Clause 15 routinely, because the situation with respect to Kent and other relevant local authorities should provide an answer. I am afraid that the noble Baroness cannot expect me to look into my crystal ball and predict what the situation will be after the Act is implemented.
I am really sorry to prolong this. The noble Lord referred to the national transfer scheme. There is a concern that either it is taking some time or some children are not being transferred; they are, at the moment, without a corporate parent. There must be current data. That is why I ask: what is the normal gap and how many children have not been allocated?
I am very happy that the noble Baroness has asked me that question. I am delighted to say that, as of yesterday, there are zero children in Home Office UASC hotels. They are all in the care of local authorities. I hope that provides a fairly clear answer to her question. Perhaps I can invite the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to intervene.
I am grateful to the Minister. My question rather builds on what the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, has been asking. Earlier I specifically asked about the disapplication of the duty on the Secretary of State to consult with the independent family returns panel and the criticism that has been made by the UK Committee for UNICEF, which said that it regretted that decision. I asked the Minister if he would give further consideration to that point and think further about the safeguards that it enables to be put in place to deal with the kinds of issues the noble Baroness has put to him.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord. I am sorry that I did not answer that question. The relevant provision is in Clause 13 of the Bill. We will come to discuss it in the 11th group of amendments. Perhaps that might be the moment to explore those detailed points more thoroughly.
My Lords, may I press the Minister on the issue of disabled asylum seekers? I raised this specifically in terms of what is happening in general provision, what is happening at Manston, how the Government foresee—or not—disabled asylum seekers being accommodated on barges and whether they foresee provision in the new arrangements under this Bill complying with UNHCR detention guidance for disabled asylum seekers.
The noble Baroness raises an important point. It is obviously right that our guidance reflects the special needs of disabled people in accordance with our duties under the Equality Act. That will continue to be the case. I hope that provides some reassurance for the noble Baroness.
My Lords, this has been a very interesting debate, not least because I have seen two lawyers agreeing with each other after having a debate of 10 or 15 minutes about a point of law. It is a fascinating experience.
To turn back to the amendments before us, I thank everyone who participated. In the response the Minister just gave, there are a number of matters which I would like to ask him about. If I understood correctly, he said it is the intention to only allow detention in line with the Immigration (Places of Detention) Direction 2021. I think that is what the Minister said. He then immediately said that, after this Bill is enacted, we will amend it—we will uprate it. I do not quite understand what the uprating mechanism is and why you need to uprate a direction you presently agree with. It would be helpful if the Minister could say what he means by uprating and if they are following the Immigration (Places of Detention) Direction 2021—which, I acknowledge, is the right thing to do.
On Campsfield and Gosport, the Minister said that the capacity would be increased. Could he give an indication of the numbers of places there will be in each of those, or the total for both.
Finally, I have what I consider a bit of a non sequitur, but the Minister said it several times and repeated it today. He said that return agreements are not a prerequisite for returns. I did not quite understand that because if you want to return somebody, you need an agreement that they will be taken. That seems to be an agreement. It was a bit of a non sequitur and certainly did not fall within the wonderful statements we had from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, about these matters earlier. If the Minister could address those three questions, I will then be in a position to deal with the amendment.
As I hope I made clear, once the Bill is passed, the direction will need to be updated, rather than “uprated”. It will reflect the new provisions and any new detention facilities that are available to be utilised at that point. I am afraid that I am not in a position to give the noble Lord an indication of the size at this stage.
On returns agreements, as I think I made clear in a previous group on the second day in Committee, there are different relations with various countries, so circumstances can arise where people can be returned to countries with which we do not have a formal returns agreement. I can write to the noble Lord in more detail on that subject.
I thank the Minister for his answer. It would be helpful to know whether the matter of capacity of the two places is just unknown or whether it has not been concluded yet. If that is the case, I presume that the Minister could tell me at some stage what the capacity is.
This has been an important debate and I am sure we will return to it on Report. On the basis of those answers, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 58B withdrawn.