My Lords, we now move to the second area of Clause 10, which is about the powers of detention. The clause significantly expands the current powers and use of immigration detention. It removes the current protections for vulnerable groups and the current limits on the detention of children, which offer UASCs 24 hours, children and families 72 hours, and pregnant women 72 hours. It gives extensive detention powers to the Home Secretary, away from the scrutiny of the courts, removing effective remedies to challenge unlawful or unjustified detention. That upsets the constitutional principle of the separation of powers. I am sorry that one of the lawyers has disappeared, because I would have liked to have raised the matter of the separation of powers whereby, in the past, the courts have determined the appropriateness of how long people will be detained.
The Bill says that it is for the Secretary of State, not the courts, to decide the reasonableness of the period of detention. It therefore weakens judicial scrutiny and removes a safeguard which is especially important for individuals who are particularly vulnerable to harm from prolonged detention. The Hardial Singh principles, which were established through UK case law, place limitations on the Home Office’s detention powers, so that it is for the courts to determine the reasonableness of a given period of detention. Those are the current principles under which the courts operate.
The role of the courts, including the High Court in particular, in reviewing the lawfulness of detention is critical to maintaining the rule of law fully in accordance with the role of the judiciary under the constitutional principle of the separation of powers. In respect of detention, the Bill infringes that principle. I expect that the Minister will talk about habeas corpus, but that is not about the reasonableness of detention; it is about whether it is legal to detain. Clearly, that is a distinction which makes the case I am trying to make more appropriate and important.
Amendments 58C, 58D, 63A and 63B probe the threshold for detention; my noble friend Baroness Hamwee will talk about that in a moment. Leaving out “suspects” and inserting “reasonable grounds” to believe the person meets the four criteria of Clause 2 for removal. The lower threshold of “suspects” requires no evidence; I can suspect that something is happening without evidence, except when I see what I think I am seeing in front of me. However, having a cause for “reasonable grounds” means that there has to be some evidence. It is unclear whether legal advice will be available in presenting their case for the inadmissibility of due process, especially when there will have been no judicial oversight for 28 days, under the Bill.
Amendment 60 would reapply the existing statutory time limit on children, and we will support the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, on reapplying existing statutory time limits. This clause reverses the safeguards put in place during the coalition Government to end the routine detention of thousands of children and families. The Refugee Council says in its impact assessment that 13,000 people will be detained annually if this clause proceeds. That is an alarming departure, and the Bill will allow the routine, indefinite detention of children, unaccompanied or with their families. UK evidenced research and, more recently, that in Australia, demonstrates the long-lasting damage that detention does to children’s lives, physically and mentally.
The Bar Council—I believe it is a reputable body in understanding how the law works—considers it unlikely that these provisions in the Bill comply with the United Kingdom’s obligations under the United Nations 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, in particular, Article 37, which says that
“detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time”.
It is deeply troubling and surprising that Parliament should be considering a detention power that could potentially offend that convention. The British Medical Association echoes concerns expressed by the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium that the proposals contained in this Bill will have
“severe consequences for the welfare and physical and mental health of extremely vulnerable children who have fled conflict, persecution and other unimaginable harms and are in desperate need of support, stability and protection”.
So, has the Home Office carried out a full assessment of the risks linked to detaining children and families?
Finally, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee’s report says that the procedures of the SI that are to come, the regulations, should be done by the positive procedure and not the negative resolution procedure which has been adopted. I would be grateful if the Minister said that the Government are considering that matter. In the end, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that individuals who are vulnerable and cannot be safely detained will be swiftly identified by appropriately qualified staff and released, with appropriate safeguards in place, following the removal of currently available legal challenge? Of course, we expect to see the Home Secretary’s risk assessment in the impact assessment which we understand is to follow.
My Lords, I would like to accept the invitation of the noble Lord, Lord German, as another lawyer, to address the Hardial Singh principles and habeas corpus, but since, on my reading of the Bill, they arise under Clauses 11 and 12 respectively, I think it might be best to reserve that treat for another day. I do have a question about Clause 10, which I candidly admit I do not find the easiest to understand. The Bar Council, in its briefing prepared by immigration practitioners far more expert than me, states that the powers already exist to detain any individual who is suspected to be subject to the Clause 2 removal duty, that Clause 10 does not provide for any additional persons to be detained, and that the purpose of the clause is simply to remove existing protections for unaccompanied minors, families and pregnant women. Is there any more to it than that?
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 59, 63, 64 and 67 standing in my name. I am immensely grateful to my noble friends Lady Helic and Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham for adding their names to these amendments. I am also extremely grateful to the many children’s organisations that sent invaluable briefings and gave clarity on the subject. I refer noble Lords to the relevant interests in my name in the register.
The words “detention” and “children” have no place in the same sentence. In the case of this Bill, it can also mean the possibility of indefinite detention, as proposed by the Government. In 2010, the organisation Medical Justice coined the term “state-sponsored cruelty” in relation to children in immigration detention. Its reports highlighted the great calamity being inflicted on thousands of innocent children, with lasting and detrimental consequences, including leaving them traumatised and suicidal. This led to a deep conviction across the political spectrum that such practices were inherently wrong and that a better, more humanitarian approach had to be taken. A pledge was given in 2010 by someone seeking the office of Prime Minister—David Cameron. He pledged that, if elected as Prime Minister, child detention would end. He was true to his word, and it became part of the coalition’s programme for Government in 2010, with policy changed as soon as 2011. With the Immigration Act 2014, the routine detention of children came to an end. That was progress. It was, as one would expect, a humanitarian response to an unacceptable and cruel practice. It is therefore with some dismay and disbelief that we are seeing attempts to reverse the progress made. Almost a decade on, we are discussing the reintroduction of those measures in an even more draconian form.
This Bill creates powers to detain en masse those who arrive in the UK without permission, on or after
“in any place that the Secretary of State considers appropriate”, and without the possibility of bail for 28 days. Needless to say, children’s and refugee organisations are aghast at what is being proposed. They are not alone. Many of us across all Benches in this House and the other place feel the same.
Let us stop and think for a moment that perhaps it is not the intention of the Home Secretary to lock up thousands of children. Perhaps we can put this down to the lack of an economic impact assessment or child’s rights impact assessment conducted by the Home Office itself. If that is the case, now is the opportunity, in Committee in this House, for my noble friend the Minister to reconsider what is being proposed. Of course it is understood that there will inevitably be very specific and limited occasions when children are detained, but the existing legislation already gives parameters for this. That is why I propose amendments to Clause 10, to retain the existing time limits of 24 hours in detention and with safeguards for unaccompanied children. Amendments on those who are with families seek to retain existing time limits so that they can be detained only for up to 72 hours, or not more than seven days where detention is personally authorised by a Minister. Importantly, this should be in short-term holding facilities or pre-departure accommodation.
Existing legislation on the detention of children, as under the Immigration Act 2014, is already in place. I ask only that the status quo be maintained. The Home Secretary may argue that by not detaining children we are creating another pull factor, but the evidence shows that there was no significant increase in the number of children seeking asylum once routine detention ended in 2011.
The question then is what the intention of the Government is if, as Prime Minister Sunak says:
“The intention of this part of the policy objective is not to detain children”.
We were given reassurances by the Minister during the Commons Report stage on
“we do not want to detain children. We will do so only in the most exceptional circumstances”.
There was also assurance from the Minister that the time limits
“will be as short as practically possible”.—[
However, these tests of “most exceptional circumstances” and
“as short as practically possible” cannot be found in the Bill. All that can be found following the Government’s amendment is a delegated power for the Home Secretary to make regulations under the negative procedure that specify circumstances for the detention of unaccompanied children. There is also a discretionary power for the Home Secretary to make regulations that specify time limits. There is no clarification in the Bill as to the length of the time limits for detention or to which unaccompanied children they might apply, or how discretion might be exercised. Moreover, the regulations may or may not specify time limits for unaccompanied children. We have no assurance in the Bill that they will. Either way, they will do nothing for children and families.
I understood from my noble friend the Minister that later in the Bill’s passage the Government propose to
“set out the new timescale under which children may be detained for the purposes of removal without judicial oversight”.—[
I must ask for clarification from my noble friend. If the Government truly wish to detain children for as short as practically possible, why are they disapplying the 2014 safeguards to children affected by this Bill? These safeguards were put in place by a Conservative Prime Minister and a Conservative Home Secretary.
Given this late stage in the Bill’s passage, when do the Government propose to set out these new timescales in the Bill, and what will they be? What are the circumstances in which unaccompanied children would be detained and why can these “most exceptional circumstances” not be stated on the face of the Bill and be open to full scrutiny during its passage? Will those timescales in regulations be an absolute time limit for the detention of children, or merely a timescale for judicial oversight of that detention? As a country in which the rule of law is a pillar of our constitution, can we detain children without judicial oversight? I presume detention is for the purposes of removal but would like clarification on whether the Government are proposing child detention for other purposes. If so, can the legal basis for such detention be explained?
Verbal reassurance is completely inadequate. I am no expert but I understand that this is not the way that laws are made. Laws must be much more firmly established. They cannot just fluctuate depending on which Home Secretary is in the driving seat; that is surely a dangerous precedent. Amendments 59, 63, 64 and 67 seek to place our current safeguards for the detention of children in the Bill, so that children impacted by it need not rely on mere verbal assurance. I understand that the issue of illegal migration is complex and requires a deterrent factor so that those who genuinely qualify can be identified, and that it requires a genuine solution, but I think most here would agree that the solution being proposed is not the right one on so many levels.
We are speaking about defenceless children. I say to noble Lords that it may be difficult for us to think back to our six year-old selves, so let us think about our children or grandchildren, who have neither the physical strength to defend themselves nor the verbal sophistication. We have a moral obligation to ensure that we protect the rights of these most vulnerable human beings.
My noble friend the Minister has a really difficult task, and he is aware that I am not comfortable with many aspects of the Bill. However, I hope he will acknowledge that with these amendments I am offering something he can accept as a viable alternative to what is currently proposed in the Bill. I look forward to his response.
My Lords, I support these amendments generally, in particular those in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik—it is a pleasure to follow her powerful speech. I have added my name to Amendments 60 and 65.
It was to the Conservative-led coalition Government’s credit that they ended the routine detention of children and replaced it with strict limits. It is thus inexplicable, as the noble Baroness said, that the present Conservative Government should choose to reverse that policy. Prior to that reversal, the Royal College of General Practitioners, together with other royal colleges, published an intercollegiate briefing paper which described the
“significant harms to the physical and mental health of children and young people in the UK who are subjected to administrative immigration detention”.
It concluded that the immigration detention of children and their families is “harmful and unacceptable”. Among the evidence at the time was that provided by Medical Justice clinicians, who
“identified psychological harm to be caused and exacerbated by detention. Symptoms included bed wetting and loss of bowel control, heightened anxiety, food refusal, withdrawal … and persistent crying. Many children exhibited signs of developmental regression … some attempted to end their own lives”.
Today, many organisations—health, children’s and refugee—have briefed us about the likely health implications of such a reversal. To quote the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium, the effects on children’s
“physical and mental health included weight loss, sleeplessness, nightmares, skin complaints and self-harm, depression and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder”.
It also cites, as did the noble Lord, more recent collaborative evidence from Australia. The Royal College of Psychiatrists warns of the likely damaging impact on child mental and physical health of
“the restriction of movement, lack of community exposure, and limited access to health and educational services” associated with detention. The Independent Advisory Panel on Deaths in Custody, a non-departmental public body, has warned the Home Secretary that this is
“a group who are particularly vulnerable, including in respect of mental ill-health, self-harm, and suicide due to trauma caused by dislocation from family”.
It also emphasises
“the link between the indefinite nature of detention and feelings of uncertainty and hopelessness, which can increase the risk of suicidality”.
A group of people with lived experience of the asylum system who advise Doctors of the World have written an open letter to Peers which speaks of their particular concern about the detention of children and pregnant women, whose plight I think we will debate shortly. However, more generally on the basis of their experience they write that
“some of us start shaking when detention centres are mentioned, or crying when watching the news about this Bill”.
The Children’s Commissioner has expressed deep concern at the prospect of children being detained for significant periods of time. She has not been reassured by the government amendment—mentioned by the noble Baroness—which does not specify any time limits or cover children who are with their families. Can the Minister tell us what steps will be taken to ensure that children are detained for as short a period as possible, as he assured us they would be? Also, what is his estimate of the numbers of children in detention as a result of this change of policy, in the absence of an impact assessment?
The Children’s Commissioner points out that Article 37 of the UNCRC is clear that children must be detained for as short a time as possible. UNICEF makes the point even more strongly, warning that the broad discretion on the detention of children provided by the Bill
“is not compatible with international standards” and
“would not comply with the principle of the best interests of the child”.
Some, including the Committee on the Rights of the Child, have gone so far as to argue that Article 37 means that children should simply not be detained at all in an immigration context. Whether or not one accepts that interpretation, it is clear that the powers given to the Home Secretary in Clause 11 once again contravene a key international convention.
Although the Chief Inspector of Prisons’ report published yesterday, mentioned earlier by the noble Lord, Lord German, welcomed some improvements in the short-term holding facilities in Kent, it noted:
“Children were detained for far too long at all sites”.
During the previous six months:
“Detention records indicated that 337 children had been held in breach of the statutory 24-hour time limit”, with one held for just over three days. It notes that some particularly vulnerable children were held for too long, giving the example of a 17 year-old girl with a 10 month-old baby—conceived, she said, following rape—who was held from 11.30 am and then overnight, for nearly 24 hours. If this is already happening, I dread to think what the situation will be like if Clause 10 reaches the statute book.
The incentives—pull factor—argument used by Ministers in their attempt to justify this retrograde policy would be laughable if the implications for children’s well-being and best interests were not so serious.
My Lords, I support Amendments 59, 63, 64 and 67. I believe these are measured and proportionate steps to preserve existing safeguards around child detention—safeguards introduced by a Conservative Government.
Child detention must only ever be a last resort. That is a clear requirement, as many have said, of Article 37 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which also requires that detention be for the shortest appropriate time. Article 22 requires states to ensure that children seeking refugee status receive “protection and humanitarian assistance”. I hope and believe that these principles will be recognised and shared across your Lordships’ Committee.
There is strong evidence that the mental and physical health impacts of detention on children are severe. For refugee children, often escaping from traumatic circumstances, detention can further compound their trauma. Detention separates children from their peers, interrupts their education, exposes them to violence and denies them the safe, loving and supportive environment that children need to develop and thrive, and which is their right. Detention undermines parental authority and strains the parent-child relationship. This lasts well beyond the period of detention itself. Even short spells in detention can cause trauma and long-term mental health risks for children. When we detain refugee children, we should know that we are making their future lives and integration into society even harder.
My noble friends in government may have said that they recognise these impacts and do not want to detain children, but I am afraid that, as written, this is precisely what the Bill will do. My noble friend Lady Mobarik has explained the existing limits and how the Bill would change them. To reiterate: the detention powers in the Bill would apply to all migrant children and could see them routinely detained in any location for an indefinite period. This is simply not in line with the principle of child detention as a limited last resort.
We know that the immigration system is overstretched. As such, we can reliably expect every time limit and latitude granted to immigration officials by the Bill to be exploited to the full. Therefore, we must make certain that children’s rights and the limits on their detention are guaranteed in law. It is not good enough for my noble friend the Minister to say that child detention should be exceptional. The law must make it exceptional.
There are some problems which new laws can solve. There are other times when new laws will have no effect—or such serious side-effects that they are entirely disproportionate to the problem. If the Government do not feel that they can regulate immigration and asylum without locking up children for extended periods, that is indicative of a broken system. It is not a problem that is resolved by detaining children.
There is no evidence that the introduction of the existing limits on child detention have led to an increase in illegal immigration. There is no reason to think that removing these limits will improve the Government’s ability to control immigration and prevent the dangerous channel crossings. Exposing children to greater risk of harm, with no guarantee of preventing harm, is not a step we should accept.
The existing limits on child detention, brought in after careful consideration by the Conservative Government, meet the practical need that sadly exists. They ensure that detention is strictly controlled and time-limited, as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child requires. They mitigate the harm that detention causes. They make detention the last resort. That is what we must retain, and I urge noble Lords to support these amendments.
I remember well when the detention of children was ended by legislation. I visited Cedars, the property—I do not like the term “facility” in this connection—near Gatwick that was used for two or three days before the removal of families who were going to be removed and were at the end of the argument, if you like. What was particularly notable to me were the facilities for the children, and the support that was given to them, who were accommodated there for a very short time, to help them prepare to go back to a country that they may or may not have remembered—indeed, that they may not have ever lived in. It suffused the whole place and was really admirable. You only had to walk into the place to see the equipment and toys, and the information that was set out, as well as the work being done by social workers to support the children concerned. There were no families there at that point; the property used to allow visitors only on days when it knew that no families would be in residence.
I have a number of amendments in this group. The first is Amendment 59A, which seeks to probe the “discretion” given to the Secretary of State in making regulations regarding the detention of unaccompanied children. Amendment 64A is a similar amendment. The reason for my tabling this amendment is to understand whether the envisaged discretion can be exercised to extend the circumstances specified in an earlier part of the clause or to narrow those circumstances.
I discovered a possible answer to this when looking at my next amendment, Amendment 61B, which would provide for the affirmative procedure. Amendment 64C is a similar amendment. I tabled this amendment out of pure instinct that there should be an affirmative procedure, not a negative one. I subsequently discovered that the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, with considerably more logic than I bring to the matter, recommended the affirmative procedure. I quote its report:
“The Memorandum explains that the negative procedure is considered appropriate because ‘the effect of any regulations is to limit the circumstances in which an unaccompanied child may be detained or the duration of detention for the purposes of removal’. In our view, this explanation is misconceived”.
That is very much committee speak for, “We really disagree”. The report went on:
“The regulation making power can only be viewed as a limiting power from the perspective of the Bill as introduced into the House of Commons which conferred an unfettered power to detain unaccompanied children”.
However, amendments were then made in the Commons, so
“no such unfettered power of detention exists in the Bill as introduced into the House of Lords. It is the regulations alone which will specify the circumstances in which unaccompanied children will be capable of being detained, in the absence of which there is no power to detain such children. Given the importance and sensitivity of the subject matter, we consider that the affirmative resolution procedure should apply”.
As I say, the committee approached this with considerably more logic and power than I was planning to bring to it.
Amendments 74, 75 and 76 regard matters on which I rather doubt there will be sympathy from the Government Front Bench, given the debate so far. They would provide for a 72-hour time limit on the detention of vulnerable people, or seven days with ministerial authorisation. I remember some years ago a meeting chaired by a very senior MP who had been a Minister. She argued how important it was to have ministerial authorisation in sensitive and arguably unusual cases because it ensures that Ministers apply their minds to the individual’s real situation.
Pretty much everyone has been through what led to flight and the experience of that flight—people must be vulnerable. There is a definition of vulnerability in Amendment 76, and I think it would be hard to argue that anyone in the list is not vulnerable and therefore in need of appropriate treatment.
Amendment 75 would require the Secretary of State to provide to the tribunal all relevant—which I realise now has become quite a topical term—information they have on an individual when there is an application for immigration bail or a bail hearing.
Amendments 76B and 78A would restrict the detention of potential victims of slavery and trafficking. We have already in this Committee spent some time on reasonable and conclusive grounds, and that a victim or potential victim can be referred only by a first responder; there is no self-referral. We have also spent time on the very particular needs of potential victims, including those who have reached the first stage of a “reasonable grounds” decision.
The detention of this already vulnerable group increases the risk of retraumatisation and there is a risk to their long-term physical and mental health. On Monday, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, talked about the fact that victims must be identified because that enables them to be supported. In turn, as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, has referred to several times, that affects the willingness and ability— ability is important too—to engage in investigations and prosecutions. This group of people is very much at risk of retrafficking and further exploitation, and needs the protection that these amendments put forward.
My Lords, I speak in support of Amendments 59, 63, 64 and 67 which, as has been demonstrated, have strong support from all quarters of this Chamber. It was the intention of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham to speak to these amendments but he is unable to be in the Chamber tonight.
I believe that the strength of opposition to any change in the current detention limits for both accompanied and unaccompanied children is because it is one of the most alarming and unedifying provisions in the Bill. Ministers have set out what they see as the need to detain children for immigration purposes in order to ensure that we do not inadvertently create incentives for people smugglers to target vulnerable individuals. Were this the case, then there would be a case for considering some sort of remedy. However, yet again we have been provided with no evidence that this is the case.
Building an asylum system with deterrence diffused throughout, as described by His Majesty’s Government, has led to this inappropriate proposal to restart detaining children, potentially for an unlimited period. As the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, said, it was a Government led by the party currently in office who took the brave decision to end the routine detention of children. That was against significant departmental pressure to retain the practice. How have we arrived, just 10 years later, at the conclusion that the well-being and welfare of children can now be sacrificed in consequence of the need to control migration?
In a rare admission to an evidential base for policy, on Monday the Minister referred to most persons deemed children in these categories being around the ages of 16 and 17. I accept his assertion on this point. However, as was said then, some children as young as 10 are involved.
The noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, elegantly set out the impacts of detention of children. Studies show that the inescapable institutional nature of detention is traumatic for children and detrimental to the child’s physical and mental development. The Government are fully aware of the damaging impact of detention on children. I quote from one small section of the Home Office’s Assessing Age guidance, published only this March:
“Failure to adhere to the legal powers and policy on detaining children can have very significant consequences, for example … detention can be extremely frightening for a child, with their perception of what they might experience potentially informed by previous negative experiences of detention”.
It needs to be said explicitly that the Government will be sanctioning an intolerable level of emotional distress for the most vulnerable children. Understandably, a child will ask themselves, “What must be wrong with me to have been subjected to such conditions?”.
The Prime Minister stated that the Government’s objective behind the Bill is not the detention of children. None the less, that is what the Bill does. Given the Prime Minister’s just objective, why has the 2014 requirement that child detention be for the shortest time possible been expressly removed? In the year to March 2023, more than 8,000 children entered the UK who would meet Clause 2 conditions and who therefore could be detained indefinitely. In the first three years of the Bill’s operation, this may mean that up to 25,000 children will be deprived of their liberty. Should the deterrent effect of the Bill—about which we currently have no modelling whatever—fail, surely the 2014 requirement must be retained.
The Home Secretary bears a legal duty to safeguard children. Home Office guidance makes clear that this duty requires a demonstration of fair treatment that meets the same standard that a British child would receive. Would we tolerate the Bill’s proposals for our own children or grandchildren?
I welcome the amendments made in this area in the other place, but they do not go far enough. Legislating for the option to place limits on detention and for these limits not to be specified in the Bill is simply not adequate. It is an area that cannot remain entirely at the discretion of a Secretary of State, and children must have a means of challenging the lawfulness of a decision. Also, there have been no equivalent provisions for children within families. Why is one child different from another? Children will be detained after they have fled unimaginable horrors at home or been trafficked against their will. Children will be born in detention and others will have their futures shaped by it. It is the hope on these Benches that we are better than this and know what is right, having banished this immoral practice before. It will take real courageous leadership to change course, but we must. There is concern among my brother and sister bishops about the state of the nation’s soul if we tread so easily down this path.
My Lords, that was a powerful intervention by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, whom it is a privilege to follow. I pick up a point he made a few moments ago about the amendments that were passed on Report in another place. Like him, I welcome those amendments but do not believe they go far enough. Nevertheless, the House of Commons recognised in those amendments that the power to detain unaccompanied children under the Bill should be exercised only in the circumstances specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State. Those regulations may include a time limit on such detentions, but the Bill neither requires nor establishes what other restrictions on detention will be put in place.
This is why the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made about the use of the affirmative resolution is so important. As things stand, the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee was right to say that, given the importance and the sensitivity of the subject matter, if regulations are made concerning the detention of children, the affirmative resolution procedure should apply. I hope that, when the Minister responds, he will deal specifically with that point and perhaps discuss with us how Clause 10 might be amended to take into account what the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee suggested.
I turn now to the substantive points made in the wonderful speeches by the noble Baronesses, Lady Mobarik and Lady Helic, from the Conservative Benches. I hope that the Government will take into account the arguments that they have placed before your Lordships tonight. There is an echo of what they said in the evidence from the UK Committee for UNICEF, to which I referred in an earlier intervention, which said this about Clause 10, permitting the detention of children both unaccompanied and in families:
“This is not compatible with international standards and also risks undermining the great progress that the UK has achieved in working to end immigration detention of children since 2010”.
That point was made eloquently by both noble Baronesses, who do not want to see the clock turned back.
Whatever limits on the detention of children are made in regulations issued by the Secretary of State, they are unlikely to be sufficient to meet the requirements of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 37(b) of the convention establishes the general principle that a child may be
“deprived of … liberty … only as a … last resort and for the shortest … period of time”.
The UK Committee for UNICEF says:
“Two relevant UN Committees have stated that the possibility of detaining children as a measure of last resort … is not applicable in immigration proceedings as it would conflict with the principle of the best interests of the child and the right to development … The Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment has stated that ‘within the context of administrative immigration enforcement … the deprivation of liberty of children based on their or their parents’ migration status is never in the best interests of the child, exceeds the requirement of necessity, becomes grossly disproportionate and may constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of migrant children’”.
The power to detain unaccompanied children pending removal or a decision on whether to grant them leave to remain would no longer be subject to the 24-hour time limit and other protections currently provided in Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971. The Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, noted that this time limit was established by law
“because widespread evidence showed the long-lasting damage that detention has on children’s lives”.
The Government have stated that the detention of unaccompanied children will be
“for the shortest possible time in appropriate detention facilities with relevant support provisions in place”.
In an echo of what the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said earlier, I simply press the Minister to say what that word “appropriate” actually means. Please spell it out, because it has no definition as things stand and we are being asked to agree to something pretty awesome in this Bill tonight. That is why the speeches by the noble Baronesses, Lady Mobarik and Lady Helic, are so important and the Government should take proper note of them.
My Lords, at this hour, I do not propose to repeat anything that has been said, so splendidly and excellently, in relation to children, save to say that it is good news that, as the Minister told us, there are no unaccompanied children currently being detained. But that does not mean that they will not turn up next week, and there will certainly be unaccompanied children in the future.
I will say something very briefly about Amendments 76B and 78A on modern slavery from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I refer to my involvement in various aspects of modern slavery, which I set out earlier. I am very concerned, because it is intended that victims of modern slavery who have got through the first part of “reasonable grounds” ought, under the NRM, to be given the appropriate support. The support provided when they get to that stage of the NRM is generally very good, but none of it, as far as I can see, would be available to those detained by the Home Office under the Bill. That would be a huge deprivation to people who, by definition as having been trafficked, and likely to have been trafficked as well as enslaved, will have already suffered very greatly. This is really an extraordinary and another very cruel move of this Government.
My Lords, I will speak briefly in support of Amendment 59 and its accompanying amendments. We have heard from many tonight about the impact that detention has on children; I do not need to repeat that. We heard on Monday from my noble friend the Minister, making the case against creating loopholes in this legislation. I understand his reasons for that, but, like the group that follows, this amendment is about detention and not the other powers in the Bill. We also heard on Monday from the Minister that we cannot evidence what is yet to happen. Of course we cannot, but we can look at what has happened before in this area. When routine child detention was ended in 2011, there was no proportional increase in children claiming asylum.
We all remember the situation before the current protection was in place, in Yarl’s Wood and elsewhere. I remember the campaign back in 2010, which garnered support from hundreds of parliamentarians and parliamentary candidates across the political and professional spectrum. I remember the pledges of all political parties to end child detention if elected, and I remember the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, delivering on that commitment. There remains widespread cross-party support for not returning to child detention and for maintaining the status quo of the current protections.
At Second Reading, four weeks ago today, my noble friend the Minister said that later in the passage of the Bill the Government would set out the new timescale under which children may be detained. That is very much welcome. It is clear from tonight’s debate that that detail is needed. I hope that this report will be simpler and quicker to produce than the oft-raised impact assessment. Is there any update on when this timescale will come, and can my noble friend confirm that we will see it before Report?
The troubling situation that we are seeing in our immigration and asylum system—the small boats, the backlog in processing, and the lack of broader safe and legal routes—was not caused by the lack of detention of children, and nor will it be solved by reversing our long-standing policy against child detention. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will consider accepting these amendments.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 60 and 65 in my name. I thank my noble friend Lord German and the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister of Burtersett and Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for adding their names to these amendments.
Because of the lateness of the hour, I will not add to the very powerful speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, and give all the reasons why increasing child detention time limits is a bad thing to do. However, I want to go back to what so many noble Lords have asked during this Committee stage: where is the evidence that this is required? The Government have not given any evidence or any reason why 24 hours-plus is required. Since the time limits for unaccompanied children were introduced back in 2014, there has been no empirical evidence and no indication of problems that have arisen which have caused either a pull factor or a push factor for child migration to this country. What is the problem? For a change of policy of this significance, which affects some of the most vulnerable children in the world, the scale of the problem and what problem this will solve have to be put before this House.
We could make the comment that so many noble Lords have, and which I am sure the Minister might: in due course, it will be in the impact assessment. However, the real issue is this. When the Minister stands up at the Dispatch Box, the reason and evidence for this, and the problem it is going to solve, need to be placed before your Lordships, otherwise we cannot in any conscience extend the detention limits.
It was a great part of our history when the Deputy Prime Minister in the coalition Government, Nick Clegg, insisted that children, for immigration purposes, should not be detained, and the Conservative partners in that coalition Government agreed. Noble Lords can see that nothing has changed, so the Minister has to explain what the problem is, what has changed and what problem this will solve.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, and to speak specifically to the amendments in this group to which I have attached my name and to the general tenor of this. I did consider not rising to speak at all, because the incredibly powerful speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, and her proposition that the words “detention” and “children” do not belong in the same sentence, can be said to sum up all of this debate.
However, I did want to give voice to someone else in this debate—the voice of a nine year-old who was held in immigration detention previously in the UK before the laws were changed. When asked how detention made her feel, this nine year-old said very simply, “Sad and angry. Feel like screaming or breaking something”. That is a nine year-old, talking about the kind of experience that we could again be subjecting children to in this country if the Bill goes through.
“Reported child mental health difficulties include emotion and psychological regression, post-traumatic stress disorder … clinical depression and suicidal behaviour.”
A more recent paper, published in 2023 by Tosif et al, entitled Health of Children Who Experienced Australian Immigration Detention, said it showed devastating impacts on children’s physical and mental health and well-being and on their parents’ parenting capabilities. I wanted to allow that voice to be heard and to share that medical reference.
I just want to make one final reflection. There is a hashtag I use on Twitter quite often, #CampaigningWorks. Sometimes people say, “Well, it should have worked indefinitely. Why do we have to fight this same battle again?” I think that what the Government have got this evening is a very clear message that this battle has been fought before. We have learned a huge amount and got all the evidence from last time, and it is going to be fought again, even harder, from all sides of your Lordships’ House, to stop this element of child detention and to stop this Bill going through.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow a number of the contributions to this debate. I shall concentrate on Amendments 59, 63, 64, and 67 by the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik. These, along with some others, are the most important amendments in this group, and we support what she has said.
I am a proud Labour politician, but I am not someone who thinks a Conservative Government have never done anything that deserves recognition or praise. The Modern Slavery Act is one such thing; the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and I do a lot of work with respect to modern slavery, and we know that to be the case. Another, under the prime ministership of David Cameron, was the ending of child detention for immigration purposes. That Government —to be fair, they were a coalition Government—deserved an awful lot of credit for that, since it was an affront to our country that it was happening in the first place.
So it is a great surprise to us to see this Government, in their desperation to do something about the small boats crossing—which we all want to see something done about—driving a coach and horses through that. I would have thought they would have said, “This is something we are proud of. This is what we stood up for. Whatever measures we take to try to deal with small boats, we will not abandon that principle”. I know the Minister will say that the Government made a concession in the other place and came forward with a regulation-making power that will allow exceptions to be made and so forth, but that is not good enough.
The noble Baroness’s amendments are supported by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, my noble friend Lady Lister and many others, and I hope the Government listen. Whatever else we would wish to see done in order to tackle the problem that we face with respect to small boats crossing the channel—and there is a problem—I do not think any of us want to see children used as one of the ways of doing that. To be fair, I do not believe the Government would wish that either, but the fact is that the legislation as it stands means that unaccompanied children will be detained, and most of us find that unacceptable. That needs to change. We need to go back to the situation that existed before, as suggested by the amendments by the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik.
I have a specific question for the Minister. Many of us received the briefing from the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium, which says:
“If the Government’s intention is to detain and remove those arriving on small boats, then more than 13,000 children may face detention annually under this government proposal”.
Is it wrong? If so, it is incumbent on the Minister, if not now, to look at the way in which the organisation has arrived at that figure and tell us why it is wrong. Thirteen thousand children annually facing detention under the Government’s proposals is a significant number of children.
If that figure is wrong—this goes back to the problem of the impact assessment—then what figure are the Government using? The Minister says, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, referenced this, that there are no unaccompanied asylum-seeking children in detention at present. What assumptions are the Government working on here? They must have some figures somewhere for their expectation of the number of children who will be impacted by the proposed legislation as it stands. It would be helpful for us all to know what the Government’s assumption is of the number of unaccompanied children who may be detained as a result of these measures. Presumably they have scoped out the regulations that may be necessary which the Secretary of State may pass in future, so what is the number that the Home Office is working towards?
Secondly, what is the number of children who would be detained under the measures as currently drafted in this Bill who are with a family? I think it would be extremely helpful to all of us to have some sort of understanding of the number of children the Government are expecting their proposals to impact.
We have heard movingly from the noble Baronesses, Lady Mobarik and Lady Helic, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark about all the moral reasons for which we should not proceed with the Bill as it is currently laid out in respect of children. I think that the country would be in a situation where it would say to our Government that, whatever they do to control small boats, not to do it at the expense of children.
My Lords, Clause 10 is an integral part of ensuring the success of this Bill, both as a deterrent and as a means of ensuring that the Home Secretary can comply with the duty to make arrangements for removal. The statutory powers to detain are spread across several different pieces of immigration legislation, such as the Immigration Act 1971 and the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. The provisions in this clause create new powers that will enable the detention of illegal migrants to establish whether the new duty to remove applies and to promptly remove those eligible from the UK. Many of the amendments in this group seek to limit these detention powers in one way or another, impacting our ability swiftly to remove those to whom the duty applies.
Amendments 58C, 58D, 63A and 63B, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord German, probe the threshold for detention and in effect seek to raise it by replacing the current test based on an immigration officer or Secretary of State suspecting the relevant matter with a test that requires an immigration officer to have “reasonable grounds for suspecting.” To deliver the objectives of this Bill, our detention powers need to enable detention of illegal migrants to ascertain whether someone falls within the duty to remove, and these amendments seek to reduce our ability so to do.
The issue of time limits is the subject of Amendments 60 and 65, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, and Amendments 59 and 63 tabled by my noble friend Lady Mobarik and co-signed by my noble friend Lady Helic. The detention powers in the Bill are fundamental to our approach, and here, as elsewhere, we need a robust and uniform scheme that broadly applies to all and does not allow the system to be gamed, for example by adults pretending to be children, or provide scope for the people smugglers to exploit any exceptions or carve-outs. The Bill will create new detention powers specific to all migrants subject to the duty to remove being introduced in this Bill. These new powers will not be time-limited. However, in line with our other existing immigration detention powers, detention will be limited to a period of time that is reasonably necessary for the statutory purpose to be caried out. The new detention powers will not be subject to the same statutory limitations as existing detention powers to ensure the power can apply more widely.
We recognise the particular vulnerability of unaccompanied children, and therefore the Bill provides that the statutory detention powers may only be exercised to detain an unaccompanied child in circumstances prescribed in regulations by the Secretary of State, such as, but not limited to, for the purpose of family reunion or where removal is to a safe country of origin. We will set out, in due course, having reflected on debates in this House and the other place, a new timescale under which genuine children may be detained for the purposes of removal without judicial oversight—
I will certainly take that request back to the department.
Along with a new timescale under which genuine children may be detained for the purposes of removal without judicial oversight, the Bill will also allow the Secretary of State to make regulations specifying time limits to be placed on the detention of unaccompanied children for the purpose of removal, if required. I would remind my noble friends Lady Mobarik, Lady Helic and Lady Sugg that unaccompanied children are not subject to the duty to remove and the power to remove them will be exercised only in the limited circumstances we have already described. For the most part, unaccompanied children will not be detained under the provisions of the Bill but will instead be transferred to local authority care—that care which the Committee has broadly agreed is the correct place for these children to be located.
In answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, I do not recognise the figure of 13,000 detained unaccompanied children in the NGO report to which he referred. Those statistics did not of course include any allowance for the deterrence effect of the measures in the Bill.
Amendment 73, put forward by the noble Lord, Lord German, seeks to introduce time limits on detention that apply at large, not just to detention under the powers conferred by the Bill. An absolute bar on detention of all children and a 28-day time limit on detention of adults would significantly impair the effectiveness of our enforcement powers. Such a time limit is likely to encourage individuals to frustrate immigration processes to the point where the time limit is exceeded, necessitating their release, which would then significantly inhibit our ability to remove those who have no right to be here and are subject to the duty. I agree that immigration detention cannot, and should not, be indefinite; as we will come on to with later clauses, the legislation places clear limitations on the duration of detention and provides for judicial scrutiny of continued detention. We judge the existing safeguards provided for in respect of existing and new detention powers to be sufficient.
Amendments 61B and 64C, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, relate to the recommendations of the Delegated Powers Committee. I am grateful for the work of the Delegated Powers Committee in its careful scrutiny of the Bill. We are considering the report, published just before the Whitsun Recess, and will respond ahead of Report stage.
Turning to Amendments 74, 75 and 76, which relate to the detention of vulnerable persons, I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that the existing adults at risk policy, which I discussed earlier, will be updated to take account of the provisions in the Bill, and will act as a safeguard when detention decisions are made in respect of such persons. This statutory policy requires that evidence of a person’s vulnerability be balanced against immigration factors when considering whether detention is appropriate in their particular case. Finally, I remind the noble Baroness that under the terms of Section 59 of the Immigration Act 2016, revisions to the statutory guidance must be laid in draft before each House and then brought into force by regulations subject to the negative procedure, so there will be an opportunity for this House to scrutinise the necessary changes.
There are no exemptions from immigration detention for any particular groups of people. Amendment 76B, again tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, seeks to create an exemption to immigration detention for potential victims of modern slavery. When decisions are currently made regarding detention or continued detention, potential victims of modern slavery are considered under the existing adults at risk in immigration detention policy.
To sum up, the Government recognise that unaccompanied children are particularly vulnerable. That is why we amended the Bill in the other place to place limitations on their detention under the powers conferred by the Bill. For all others caught by the duty to remove in Clause 2, we believe it is appropriate for the Bill to provide for a single legislative framework for their detention, with tailored provision being made in our adults at risk statutory guidance. On that basis, I invite the noble Lord, Lord German, to withdraw his amendment.
Before the Minister sits down, can I clarify that the 13,000 figure was not just in respect of unaccompanied children? It included families with children.
My Lords, it has been an interesting debate in which it appears there has been one speaker against and everybody else in favour of changing the Government’s proposal.
To sum up the discussion, with the exception of the Minister, the key issues have been the impact of detention on children, that this is a backward step, that it is not in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and that no evidence is given of a sufficiently robust nature to state the objectives of these clauses. To sum it up in a single phrase, “We are going to lock children up to deter the boats”. The rationale of locking up children has just been put to one side. It is a backward step. Therefore, I am sure we will return to these matters at the next stage of the Bill. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 58C withdrawn.
Amendments 58D to 67 not moved.