Examination of Witnesses

Immigration Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:46 pm on 20th October 2015.

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Ilona Pinter, Kamena Dorling and Adrian Matthews gave evidence.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn 4:10 pm, 20th October 2015

Good afternoon. We will now hear oral evidence from the Children’s Society, Coram Children’s Legal Centre and the Office of the Children’s Commissioner. As I indicated, this is the final panel, and we can go up to 5 pm. May I ask the witnesses to introduce themselves for the record?

Ilona Pinter: I am Ilona Pinter. I am policy adviser at the Children’s Society and co-chair of the Refugee Children’s Consortium.

Kamena Dorling: I am Kamena Dorling. I am head of policy and programmes at Coram Children’s Legal Centre and co-chair of the Refugee Children’s Consortium.

Adrian Matthews: I am Adrian Matthews. I am the policy adviser to the Children’s Commissioner for England on immigration and asylum-related matters.

Q 165

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Shadow Minister (Home Office)

To all of you, please—if you could answer briefly—what do you perceive to be the risks for children’s welfare of the provision to remove support from families who have been refused asylum under clause 34? May I start with Ms Pinter?

Ilona Pinter: We think the risks for children from this provision are very serious indeed. Essentially, it would see families becoming destitute—they would no longer have accommodation and financial support under asylum support. That obviously brings with it a whole range of risks, from families being street homeless to families having to move around, potentially for short periods of time, to stay in potentially unsafe accommodation. The research broadly, including the Children’s Society’s research, shows that children who are currently destitute are at a heightened risk of being exploited, as well as at risk of remaining in circumstances where they are facing domestic violence. Obviously, some of the evidence that currently exists from serious case reviews highlights the real child protection risks for children of having no support.

Adrian Matthews: Could I add that some families will no doubt go into the woodwork? That actually creates all sorts of problems, because parents will then, in order to feed their children, resort to very unsafe practices—unsafe childcare practices and unsafe working environments, and so on and so forth. The other effect is very clear: a lot of families will turn to local authorities for support, and whether they are given that support or not I think is almost immaterial in the end. The fact is that it will massively increase the burden on local authorities in terms of processing applications and claims from families who are destitute and street homeless.

Kamena Dorling: I would echo what both Ilona and Adrian have said. A key concern is, as Adrian has mentioned, this shift of the burden on to local authorities. We are already seeing local authorities struggling to support the number of families currently in the UK with no recourse to public funds. This would look to increase that pressure, and one of the results we are seeing of that pressure is very low levels of support for families that are turning to local authorities, if they are getting anything at all, but also quite high levels of gatekeeping, where often families are turned away anyway.  Then we are just going to see either children visibly destitute and homeless or going missing entirely from services, and that will presumably have a knock-on effect on their access to education, access to healthcare and all the problems that we are already seeing for children in families who are undocumented at the moment.

Q 166

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Looking at current practice, from your experience, how are children’s best interests currently being assessed by the Home Office? How would this play a role in a decision to deport a family under the clause?

Ilona Pinter: The first thing to say is that there is currently no mechanism by which children’s best interests are decided, considered or assessed. That has implications not only for support, but for how families’ substantive decisions within the asylum process are taken into account. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees did a piece of research in 2013 that highlighted a lot of failings where children’s best interests under the protection claim were not considered, which has consequences down the line. The Home Office’s own evaluation of the family returns process highlights that most families involved in the process feared returning home. Reasons include families fearing what will happen to them and their children if they are returned. We believe that the provision to end support for families to encourage them to go home will not work, because they still have those remaining fears about the consequences.

Adrian Matthews: The current practice of Home Office decision makers in taking into account the best interests of children is patchy, to say the least. We had a good example last year that we were involved in as the Children’s Commissioner, in which the Home Office had removed a mentally ill Nigerian mother with a six-year-old who had been born here. She did not survive in Nigeria. She only survived through the foster parents, who had been fostering the child for six months and supporting her while the legal process was going on in the UK. Eventually, the upper tribunal decided that the Home Office had acted unlawfully in not taking into account the child’s best interests and returned the family to the UK.

Q 167

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Shadow Minister (Home Office)

So building on that, the potential in the Bill to deport before appeal presumably raises concerns.

Adrian Matthews: Yes, exactly.

Kamena Dorling: I was going to say that when we look at a range of provisions within the Bill, there appears to be an assumption that children’s interests will be considered as a matter of course. From our day-to-day practice and at Coram Children’s Legal Centre, where we represent children and families in such situations, at best we get lip service paid to children’s interests. Quite often, there is no detailed analysis of how any immigration decision would affect a child in a family or on their own, which is really concerning. There is a huge absence here both when we are talking about changes to support for families in the asylum system and when we are talking about the extension of the deport-first appeal. Children are absent from later provisions. There is no consideration of the impact on children.

Adrian Matthews: I would very much like to echo that. One of the most serious aspects of the appeal provisions is the test of “serious and irreversible harm”  but that is applied to the person who is to be removed, excluded or refused entry, depriving the child a voice in proceedings. Under the current arrangements, in an in-country appeal under article 8 human rights grounds there is at least the potential for the child’s voice to be heard. The change specifically excludes children who are settled or who are UK citizens from having a voice in the proceedings about how they will be affected by the removal or exclusion of a parent. That is a serious concern that engages the UK’s obligations under the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, particularly article 12, which requires the state party to allow the child to have a voice in such proceedings.

Q 168

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Shadow Minister (Home Office)

The Government believe that they are compliant with the European convention on human rights and that there is no conflict with any children’s legislation. You would disagree with that.

Adrian Matthews: I would not agree with that.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Okay. To the rest of the panel, do you think that the legislation complies?

Ilona Pinter: It is notable that on the provision to withdraw asylum support, for instance, there is no mention of the section 55 duty on the Home Secretary to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in relation to all of the functions, including asylum support. There is no mention of how many children would be affected specifically by that provision.

Kamena Dorling: If we look broadly at the UN convention on the rights of the child, as has been already mentioned, article 12, which is about the voice of the child, is key, but so is article 3, which requires us to take the best interests of the child as a primary consideration. We have had a number of cases go to the Supreme Court on that, and we have got very good guidance from the Supreme Court about how the interests of children should be examined.

One of the findings of the Supreme Court is that children should not be blamed for the actions of their parents. Again, what we seem to see in this Bill is this idea that any immigration behaviour that is deemed undesirable can result in a policy of forced destitution, for example, which seems to me a very stark means of punishing children for the action of their parents. So there are a number of concerns.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Shadow Minister (Home Office)

To reassure the panel, I will point out that we are blessed with a Minister who has always been a child advocate and campaigner, so I am sure he will look very closely at these matters.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

I am sure that was put on the record.

Q 169

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I have a question for all members of the panel, which really follows on from that point. In your experience and with your background, can you think of any circumstances in which the Home Office could argue that it was in the best interests of the child to remove support? Did the Home Office ever make a decision that it was in the best interests of a child to remove support?

Ilona Pinter: I think it is difficult to say that by specifically removing support, if there are no other mechanisms, that children would be protected. There are obviously some circumstances—a lot of the cases  that we deal with are very complex—in which there are child protection issues. However, that would need to follow child protection proceedings. We do not believe that removing support from families will be an effective way of getting families to leave the country, and that has been shown through evidence time and time again, through the Home Office’s own evaluation.

Q 170

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Perhaps I should just nuance the question. Are there any circumstances where support is removed in which the same support, or similar support, is not simply picked up by another agency that could ever be argued to be in the best interests of the child? Obviously, if things just swap to another agency and somebody else just picks up the bill and provides the service, it is a bit of a pointless exercise.

Adrian Matthews: Well, it either swaps to another agency or the parent puts themselves in a precarious position in order to support the child. So I think that the short answer to your question is no, there are not really any circumstances in which withdrawing support is in the best interests of the child.

Kamena Dorling: But of course what this Bill is trying to achieve, as I read it, is to increase the numbers of families returning. What we are trying to advocate is that we have a family returns process, so why not put more effort and resources into increasing the capacity of that process, through which ideally families might return? Then at that point you would be withdrawing support, because you would have already put steps in place for them to depart the UK.

Adrian Matthews: To reinforce that, if you read the reports of the independent family returns panel you see that there is quite a lot of evidence that there has been a vastly greater uptake of the voluntary return packages that are available through consistent and careful engagement by family engagement managers with those families, addressing their fears and so on and so forth. That is a much more realistic, and in the end productive, way to go, rather than simply using punitive methods of withdrawing financial support and accommodation.

Q 171

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Thank you. I have a similar question in relation to the proposal on appeals, which is “remove first, appeal later”. Can you think of any examples where it is in the best interests of the child to remove first and appeal later?

Ilona Pinter: The difficulty is that, as I said before, there is not a best interests determination process, so we do not know what the best interests of the child are. However, that is not the same as saying that families or children should never be removed; that is not our position. Our position is that if you do not know what the best interests of the child are first, how can you do that balancing? There are obviously lots of circumstances in which it would be fine for families to return to their country of origin, and even children who have been born in the UK and grown up here would be able to adjust to another environment. It is not about never being returned but about how the process is best dealt with. To engage with children’s welfare there needs to be a conversation with families. As Adrian said, the returns process is working. The first report of the family returns panel showed that around 50% of returns did not need an ensured return. The next time the panel reported,  76% of returns did not need an ensured return. Families are co-operating, but there is a need to address those barriers to return, and that can be dealt with only with co-operation with the families, through working and engaging with them.

Q 172

Photo of Keir Starmer Keir Starmer Shadow Minister (Home Office)

To be clear, absent that co-operation and support, in a simple case of deport first and appeal later, is your answer as I understand it, namely, that it is simply impossible to assess whether deportation is in the best interests of the child because the exercise is never carried out?

Adrian Matthews: I would add one thing. There are enormous practical difficulties in appealing from abroad, particularly for families who have been destitute in the UK. They will be going back with virtually no resources at all; questions about how you organise an effective appeal from abroad in those circumstances need to be answered. But I do not think it will be, because once they are out of the country, they are out of sight and out of mind. Appealing from abroad is a really tricky problem.

Kamena Dorling: Presumably you can envisage a situation in which there is a mind to remove a parent or a family from the country so that they can appeal from abroad, and we would move the family unit as a whole. That might not be detrimental to the child. Families move all the time. I could remove my son from the UK with me and that would still be in his best interests. I go back to the point that we do not have an assessment of the impact on the children so we do not know.

Ilona Pinter: To put this into a little perspective, one thing that is often overlooked is that deport first, appeal later is going to affect a range of families, including those in which the children are British, those who have status, those who do not have status or those who have an irregular status. We know from the University of Oxford that 120,000 children are undocumented in this country and over half of those were born and have grown up here. Many will not have the language of the country that they are being returned to; they may have never been there, as they have grown up here. Effectively they will be going to a country to which they have never been before.

On the point about British children, which is important, we have had cases in which families have been removed where we believed that the children were British. Because there is no system for finding out the best interests of the child, or even for checking details such as whether the child is British, or whether they would be stateless if returned, there is a real risk that those families would be removed and find themselves in very difficult circumstances.

Q 173

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

You are making an assertion that the best interest of the child is not part of the consideration of the decision maker—for example, in this provision relating to certification of whether a deport first, appeal later procedure should be adopted—but is that actually right? Is not the evidence that, on a case-by-case basis, each individual family situation will be assessed? There may be occasions when it is in the best interests of the whole family to deport the entire family, and there may be instances when it is better for the child to remain in the UK while the subject of the application is deported. Is it not really an issue of  looking at matters on a case-by-case basis, rather than the blanket suggestion that the best interests of the child simply do not come into it?

Ilona Pinter: I think we agree that it is on a case-by-case basis. We are saying that there is no assessment of children’s best interests. The UNHCR report highlights strong examples in which children’s best interests were not taken into account in the decision making.

Q 174

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

Forgive me, but that is different, is it not? There may be some cases in which the view of the Commission is that the child’s best interests were not put front and centre, but that is different from saying that there is a blanket approach of not taking children’s best interests into account.

Adrian Matthews: There are cases, clearly, where it may be in the child’s best interest for the parent to be removed from the country—for example, if the child is affected by domestic violence. That takes individual consideration but, excluding those cases—the UN convention covers this—it is normally the case that it is in the best interest of the child to be brought up by both parents unless it is in their interest not to be. The sorts of circumstances you are envisaging would address that. Of course, decision makers will need to look at those factors but, in general, it is in the interest of the child to be brought up by both parents. We recently did some research on the family migration rules, and I was genuinely shocked to find out that missing parents for what might be considered, from an adult point of view, a short amount of time—a matter of months, but sometimes years and sometimes longer—has a profound effect on young children at a time of their life when they are forming bonds with their parents. It is essential that the state does not interfere with those early things, because that could be what you would regard as irreversible and serious harm.

Q 175

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

Which means that sometimes it will be in the interest of the family for the entire family and the children to temporarily leave the country together.

Adrian Matthews: It may be, but that would be very circumstance dependent. Of course, the immigration authorities have no power to remove a British citizen from the country. That might be in the family’s control, and families do make decisions to do precisely that.

Kamena Dorling: I think it comes down to a question of the current decision making that we see. We are not saying that there is a blanket disregard. I just do not think that in a lot of decision making there is meaningful engagement with what effect a decision will have on a child. As we have seen in guidance from the Supreme Court, you are first meant to assess what is in the best interest of the child before looking at competing considerations. No other considerations, not even immigration control, automatically trump what is in the best interest of the child. We do not really see that level of engagement in decision making; we see what I would call lip service: “We have a section 55 duty. Obviously we have considered this and it is fine.” I am paraphrasing, obviously.

There needs to be more onus on proactive assessment, and we have provided a case study in which the child was actually British—we were looking at the decision to remove that child—and because the mother could not  show evidence that the child was British, she was going to be removed with that child. It was only in the process of the in-country appeal that the tribunal ordered the Home Office to look into the status of the father. It was then confirmed that the child was British and should not be removed. It is about that kind of proactive engagement.

Adrian Matthews: Part of the weakness of the system—you might be right that there is some consideration of the best interest of the child subject to immigration control—is that there is no consideration of the best interest of the child who is not subject to immigration control. That could be a settled child or a British national child. The decision-making process, because it is geared towards immigration, is not set up to look at the wider effects. A clear example is that the Home Office does not know how many children are affected by the family migration rules. It does not know how many British children and settled children are affected by the exclusion of a foreign national parent. The Home Office does not count them.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

That was an interesting and important exchange. I am conscious that Simon has been waiting patiently, and then I will bring in Anne, Craig, Mims and Kelly.

Q 176

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Conservative, North Dorset

I have two questions that I hope you can deal with reasonably quickly. The first might just be a yes or no answer. Do you understand the rationale and the public demand that sit behind this Bill?

Adrian Matthews: Yes.

Kamena Dorling: If it can be yes or no, then, yes, I understand.

Ilona Pinter: indicated assent.

Q 177

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Conservative, North Dorset

We heard from Lord Green and I think one or two others that people who are seeking asylum or refuge in this country are usually pretty well linked in terms of communication and understand what is going on through the use of mobile telephones or established relationships with friends or relatives already in the country. So they know broadly what the new “regime” is going to be all about. If that is the case—I will be interested to know whether you dispute that—casting forward to the future again, someone would know that under the criteria they are bogus, for want of a better phrase, and would know that their application could not be successful, because they do not qualify under any criteria. So why would a caring or loving parent want to put their children through the mill of being destitute while they are trying to prove a point that they know is unprovable? I appreciate that it is a different kettle of fish for those who are here now, but as a signal for the future I wondered whether you think that parents, irrespective of where they come from, would be prepared to put their children at risk in order to make their point.

Adrian Matthews: It took me a number of years of studying law to understand the asylum process. I think the assumption that parents are well acquainted with the rules and regulations is very overstated. If you go to the camps in Calais at the moment there is absolutely no information about the British asylum system. Lawyers who have been there have found that people are really  misguided and really do not have a sound understanding of what they are coming to when they intend to come to the UK.

Ilona Pinter: I agree. The idea that people know what they are coming to is not realistic. It is certainly not the experience that we have with the families that we work with. Actually, they are incredibly vulnerable and the fact that families would remain here destitute, rather than returning, is a sign of the difficulties that they would face being returned. Again, this is highlighted in the evaluation of the family return process—most of the families cited fear of return as one of the issues. It was shown that financial incentives and reduced re-entry bans were not helpful in persuading families to leave, because they had an overwhelming sense of what the risks would be for them and their children. While I appreciate the public rhetoric around this, the reality is very different for these families. They are willing to survive on so little because of the risks that they face if they return.

Q 178

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Conservative, North Dorset

Risks in their judgment though?

Ilona Pinter: In their judgment, of course—but in that respect they are doing what they believe is in the best interests of their children, because they believe at the end of the day that remaining in the UK will give their children the best life chances. Whether that is an accurate interpretation is debatable, but that is what they believe, and it is not about—as it is often characterised—trying to frustrate the system. What we see are very desperate families trying to do the best by their children.

Kamena Dorling: I agree entirely. It is not our experience that families and children arrive in the UK with any kind of detailed knowledge of the asylum system, nor with a detailed knowledge of the asylum support system. We certainly do not see people coming here simply for that level of support.

I wanted to add a little bit, because I think it is an important point about the rationale and the public drive behind the Bill. Presumably, in wanting to respond to that, we want changes that will bring in the change that the Bill purports to be introducing. One of the points that we have made is that taking away asylum support from families has demonstrably been shown not to incentivise them to leave the country. You make children destitute and homeless, but you do not achieve your intended aim, which is for more people to leave the UK. If we accept that—and the Home Office has conducted its own evaluations that show that—all we see, really, is punishing children for their parents feeling that it is best for them to remain in the UK. I think that that is problematic. If we have legislation, we want it ideally to achieve its purpose.

Adrian Matthews: I would echo that. I think it is an absolutely legitimate aim of the Government to remove failed asylum seekers if they have been through a fair and proper process. That is it, really; I do not have anything to add to that. It is simply about the method that you use to go about it. I sincerely believe that what is proposed in the Bill is not going to achieve the Government’s aims, and that there are better ways to do it through an established and workable family returns process that has proved that it is capable of increasing the take-up of voluntary departure, which is greatly preferable to enforced removals.

Q 179

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Civil Liberties)

I presume that you will continue to campaign and lobby against parts of the Bill. From what you are saying, one of the biggest things for all of you is the inclusion of children in the groups that will not receive support if their or their parents’ asylum claim has been refused. I do not know whether you were watching earlier, but I wanted to alert you to the fact that you have a supporter in Lord Green of Migration Watch UK. I think he is quite a valuable supporter to have, given that he did not seem overly keen on having too many asylum seekers in the country. He seemed quite surprised that children might lose support. He said we have to make a distinction between those who have children and those who do not, and that they would have to be treated differently. If I were you, I would contact him and get him to support any campaigning that you are doing.

I wanted to ask whether you agree with me that rendering families destitute will shift the financial burden not simply on to local authorities and charities, but on to the health service. I am not sure what the situation is in England these days, but I know that in Scotland, those who have had their asylum claims refused can access free healthcare. I do not know whether it is the same here, and I do not know what Wales and Northern Ireland are like. Do you agree that the health of these families will be so significantly impacted that there will be an increased cost for those services that provide healthcare?

Adrian Matthews: And not only to the families. There is a public health issue if you deprive the children of the right or the means to go to hospital or to visit their GP, or if their parents are too scared to do so. That public health issue affects all of us, not just the families.

Ilona Pinter: I agree. This was the subject of the previous Immigration Bill, where issues around health were debated at length. Like immigration control, public health is a public interest, as are child protection and international protection. There needs to be a review of those and more debate, particularly around other public interests.

Costs shift to health services. We already see in families who are awaiting their asylum decisions, particularly where parents have poor mental health because they have suffered trauma already and because of the pressures that the immigration process brings to bear on them, parents being sectioned under mental health provisions and children being taken into temporary foster placements as a result. One of the ways in which costs could shift to local authorities is through children being taken into care. If families are made destitute and parents have to rely on working without permission, provisions in the Bill will mean that the parents will be criminalised, which will again mean that children need to go into care. There are other considerations to take into account.

Adrian Matthews: I understand you are going to be hearing from local authorities and they will evidence the fact that during the section 10 pilots in 2004-05, a number of children were, in fact, taken into care as a result of what the Government were attempting then, which was to withdraw support and accommodation, so it does not work.

Q 180

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Conservative, Calder Valley

I want to come back to the Minister’s earlier point. The point about assessment is that the children’s best interests forms a part and is an  integral part of that process. I think it was Kamena—I apologise if it was not—who said children should not be blamed for the actions of the parents. However, they are in this situation because of the parents. For those families who have exhausted their appeals rights, those who could and should leave the UK, how long do you feel we should give support? Do you think it should be indefinite?

Adrian Matthews: It has to be case sensitive and based on the best interests of the child. Take, for example, a child born in this country. If you are going to send them back to another country, they will need to be returned with certain things that can prove their identity—establish or re-establish their identity—so they will need an original birth certificate and their medical records; they will need documentation from the embassy to show that they have legitimately travelled from the UK to the country of return. All these things are case sensitive. A lot of different factors would need to be taken into account. So I do not think there is an answer to your question in terms of a set time or limit. It has be done on a case-by-case basis.

Q 181

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Conservative, Calder Valley

Sorry to cut you short, but the Minister has already made it clear that it will be done on a case-by-case basis. My question to you is: when families that include children get to the point where they should leave the UK, how long do we continue to support them? Indefinitely? Until they decide to go? I am a little confused by what you say.

Adrian Matthews: In the system currently in operation, families are given a lot of opportunities. They are encouraged to take up voluntary return and they go through various stages. If they do not, there is a required return stage where they are given a ticket and are expected to turn up at the airport. If they do not do that, they enter a stage of enforced return, so they will get a visit from the immigration service, who will take them from the house and to the airport, or take them to Cedars, pending their return. So the answer to your question is that we already have structures in place to ensure families get removed if they come to the end of the process.

Ilona Pinter: On the returns process, one helpful point might be that at the moment there are set time limits between family conferences, but information from Barnardo’s, for instance, highlights that for families that go through the returns process, it can take around a year for those families that go through Cedars. There are other estimates for how long it can take.

We do not advocate for families being on asylum support any longer than they need to be. Asylum support is incredibly low at £5 a day per child, and it has been reduced recently through regulations. Children are already living in very difficult circumstances. It makes it very difficult for families to afford food and clothing and be able to take care of their children. Also, parents cannot work on asylum support, so it is in the interests of children to be taken off asylum support as soon as possible either by families having their determination and being able to integrate or move into employment or other benefits, or, if they do not have a right to remain and if there are not risks for them on return, making that process as short as possible.

Q 182

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Conservative, Calder Valley

But if they are going through the returns process, one would presume that it has already been determined that they need to leave the UK.

Ilona Pinter: This is the problem that we have tried to highlight. A lot of the families come to the end of the process, but because they have not had a fair chance to have their claim considered, they have existing fears of return. That is highlighted by the fact that 40% of families that entered the family returns process are actually granted leave to remain. It means that families are not getting proper access to legal advice. They are not having a proper chance to have their claim considered, and more needs to be done on improving the decision-making process in the Home Office.

Q 183

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Conservative, Calder Valley

So it is more about the decision-making process, rather than what is in the Bill, which proposes to remove them or cut off the support once a decision has been taken. Is that correct?

Ilona Pinter: I am not sure what you are asking.

Q 184

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Conservative, Calder Valley

What you are saying to me is that it is more about the robustness of the decision-making process rather than the elements in the Bill that say that once you get to the end of that process, we pull support.

Ilona Pinter: Yes.

Q 185

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Conservative, Calder Valley

If the decision-making process was robust, you would support this process?

Ilona Pinter: We would not support making families destitute, no.

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Conservative, Calder Valley

But that is not what I am asking; I asked you a specific question.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

Craig, Ms Dorling is trying to respond.

Kamena Dorling: I think it might address the question as well—

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Conservative, Calder Valley

No, I do not want to adjust the question. I want the question answered; it was very specific.

Adrian Matthews: If we have robust decision-making—

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

Order. One at a time, please. Ms Dorling is being patient.

Kamena Dorling: There are two things that need addressing. One, as Ilona has addressed, is the decision-making process at the beginning of the asylum process. The other is how families are engaged with at the end of the process. We are advocating that more energy be put into that family returns process. I appreciate that we do not want a situation whereby families are on asylum support indefinitely, but if they are part of that process and they are being worked with, either through assisted voluntary return—although funding is being cut for that—or through the family returns process, of course, they should be supported within that, and there are timescales as to how long return takes. I suspect you are talking about the families that do not engage with anything at all, which is a very tricky area, and I am not sure that we have cracked it, but given that we know that cutting off support will not encourage those families to return, it seems more practical to think how we would engage with those families.

Q 186

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Conservative, Calder Valley

What I am getting at is that a process is in place, which families will go through. I understand and accept that you are arguing that the process is not robust enough, but the great British public cannot understand, once a decision is made to deport somebody in this country, why it takes forever to do so. Let me just ask this question: what is a reasonable time that people should expect it to take for someone to be deported forcibly?

Kamena Dorling: I do not feel I can answer that, but I do feel it is a question to go back to the Home Office, because there is an enforcement question there, is there not?

Q 187

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Conservative, Calder Valley

The Home Office has come up with the Bill and that is why I am asking. You do not think the Bill is acceptable.

Kamena Dorling: But we know that the great number of people who are here in the UK, who the Home Office believes should not be here, are not being removed by the Home Office. The independent chief inspector of borders and immigration has already pointed to the fact that that enforcement process is not working well enough. I am not sitting here advocating that families are all removed immediately, but I think there is a question there. We are saying put more energy into the family returns process and assisted voluntary return, but also that there is something for the Government to think about, which is that if you think that more families need to be removed, then address enforcement. Do not just withdraw support in the hope that they will go. That does not answer your time issue, because I do not know how long that should take.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

I am sorry, but we are going to move on now. A number of people are indicating that they want to speak. I have Mims and Kelly down, but the Minister and Sarah want to make a brief intervention on this point.

Q 188

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

I was interested to hear the point about engagement in the process of deportation. Would you agree with me that there is an opportunity to do that, because people who are in a position of having had their leave refused and their asylum-seeking status rejected can apply for an extension of support from the Home Office, if they show that there is a genuine obstacle to their being removed; for example, ill health or a failure by the home state’s embassy or high commission to provide documentation? Do you think that mechanism is an opportunity for both sides to engage with each other, explore the obstacles and find a way forward that allows families to be deported?

Adrian Matthews: My understanding is that the precise conditions would be set by regulations. Is that correct?

Adrian Matthews: It is very difficult to answer your question without seeing how those regulations will be set. The indication from the consultation was that they would be on fairly restricted grounds. You are correct that there was a mention of health but my experience is that—particularly where the Home Office engages with mental health issues—you are asking caseworkers to  make decisions on things that they are really not competent to make decisions about such as the mental health of parents. We end up with quite a lot of distressing situations where the mental health of the parent might be a genuine obstacle but it is not recognised as such.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

Yes, but my question was: is it not an opportunity for both sides to look at the evidence and come to an informed decision? I agree that people cannot make decisions on mental health unless they have evidence in front of them. If there is evidence that the applicant has a mental health problem, that should guide the decision making, should it not?

Q 189

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

With a panel of three it is always difficult because each wants to give an opinion, so if we have one question to them, we will get the responses quickly. We only have four minutes. Two people want to ask questions and Sarah wants to make a brief intervention, so do not feel that you all have to respond to the questions.

Ilona Pinter: Can I make a point?

Ilona Pinter: The big problem is on decision making. The Asylum Support Appeals Project highlights that 65% of asylum appeals are successful. The section 95A provision does not have a right of appeal, so it will be very difficult for families to extend that grace period, which I think you are referring to. If the Home Office makes an incorrect decision, which happens often, families will not be able to challenge it. That is one of the big worries. Sorry, this is not short. This has not been set out yet. The Home Office proposes 28 days of a grace period. We think that is far too short. We have highlighted what we think it should be or, at least, some considerations and the evidence to take into account on what the grace period should be.

Q 190

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

We have three minutes. I will take the three questions and we will see how we get on with the replies.

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies Conservative, Eastleigh

The issue that you see is the decision-making process and resources in terms of impact on potentially destitute families. I am really keen to know what level of families we are talking about. Are they clustered in certain areas? How much will that be a resource issue on other children in communities, where people are then putting pressure on those local resources because of these impacts?

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

We will just take Sarah and Kelly, and then we will try to get some responses in two minutes, I am afraid.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Shadow Minister (Home Office)

The panel responded to all the questions by talking about families. Does the Bill have any implications for unaccompanied children?

Photo of Kelly Tolhurst Kelly Tolhurst Conservative, Rochester and Strood

I represent a constituency in Kent, where the issue of unaccompanied minors has caused great pressures over the past 12 months. It is already a burden on the local authorities and the local people.  I wonder whether you think there are any measures that are not in the Bill that would discourage families from allowing their young people to travel here on their own?

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

We are time-restrained. If you can give brief answers, I will bring all three of you in.

Ilona Pinter: Shall we answer all the questions in one go?

Ilona Pinter: I am not sure about the question on geographical concentration but I imagine that there may be greater concentrations in the dispersal areas and urban areas, where most undocumented migrant families live and where there are more communities in which those families would get support.

The question about unaccompanied children is important. There is nothing in the Bill that says how unaccompanied children who come here, including care leavers—over 18-year-olds who would be subject to some of these provisions—will be treated. This is a really important point because, as the Bill is drafted currently, the deport first, appeal later provision could apply to care leavers who came here as unaccompanied children. These are children who have grown up here. They may be orphaned and they may be at risk—

Ilona Pinter: What was the third point?

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

Okay, it does not matter. I will go on to Ms Dorling.

Kamena Dorling: I cannot answer very helpfully about certain areas, but of course you see families dispersed in the process of getting asylum support. So, with more knowledge about where those dispersal areas are, you could envisage that, when that support is cut off later down the line, those are the local authorities and regions that will be impacted more than others.

On accompanied children, as Ilona said, we are very worried that the extension of deport first, appeal later would affect those who arrived as unaccompanied children and did not get granted asylum but did get granted what was called UASC leave—temporary leave until you turn 17.5. There is huge concern there.

The other point I quickly want to make is that we have also raised concerns about changes to what is  currently called temporary admission and replacing it with immigration bail. There is a suggestion that, as part of that, that could include a prohibition on studying, which for children who arrive and claim asylum and have not had their decisions dealt with, for example, would mean that they would be here and unable to go to school or college or higher education. That is in our evidence, but it is another thing to raise.

Adrian Matthews: There are probably about 15,000 individuals, split between about 5,000 who are currently on section 4 support and about 10,000 who are currently on section 95 support. The section 95 support obviously includes parents and children. There is some information in the immigration statistics. I think they will have a disproportionate impact on Wales, which is one of the dispersal areas, and also on Scotland and some of the urban areas of England. That is the answer to that.

On your question about whether you can stop parents sending their children, if you look at the profile of the countries, with one or two exceptions the majority of unaccompanied children who come to this country come from the most war-torn and dangerous areas in the world—Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Eritrea and so on and so forth. They are the big refugee-producing countries in terms of unaccompanied children. From their point of view, those parents are making the decision and raising the money to send their children here to protect their children’s lives. Until we get changes in those countries, and they are more stable, I am afraid that those children will keep coming.

Are there provisions in the Bill that I am concerned about that have not already been mentioned? Yes. I am concerned about clause 30, on 3C leave, which is the extension you get when you are awaiting a further decision. That will have a disproportionate impact on unaccompanied children when they hit 18.

Photo of Albert Owen Albert Owen Labour, Ynys Môn

The session started early and has finished late. I will take the rap for that. It was very interesting, and if there is anything that the panel feels they have not given us in their very technical answers, they can supply that to us in writing. I thank the witnesses for your evidence and Members for their questions.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned—(Charlie Elphicke).

Adjourned till Thursday 22 October at half-past 11 o’clock.

IB 01 David Smith, Policy Director, Residential Landlords Association

IB 02 NSL

IB 03 Recruitment and Employment Confederation

IB 04 Coram Children’s Legal Centre

IB 05 Tony Smith CBE, Former Director General, UK Border Force

IB 06 Scottish Federation of Housing Associations

IB 07 Adrian Matthews, Principal Policy Adviser, Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England

IB 08 Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA)