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Consequential etc provision

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 26th February 2019.

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In addition, court judgments continue to highlight cases in which children’s welfare is not properly considered before they are forcibly removed from this country or separated from parents indefinitely. One such example is RA and BF v. Secretary of State for the Home Department in 2015, when the court ordered the Home Secretary to bring back a UK-born child and his mother, who had been removed to Nigeria, because the Secretary of State had failed to have regard to RA’s best interests as a primary consideration. The Secretary of State had not taken into account the implications of the mother’s mental health, the risk that it would degenerate in the Nigerian context, and the effect that that would have on the child, who had been in a foster placement previously due to his mother’s poor health. Without an existing systematic approach to fully considering and recording children’s best interests, further clarity is needed from the Minister on how she will ensure that the best interests of every child will be fully considered in the future, so that the Home Office can be held accountable when a decision is taken to remove an EEA national child from the UK.

The introduction of a fully comprehensive system of best interests assessments for all children, including the children of EU nationals, is essential to ensure that immigration decisions—particularly where children and their close family members or people on whom they are dependent are at risk of detention or removal from the UK—are always expressly and fully considered and recorded. I know that colleagues from across the House are keen to explore how an amendment of this sort could be given effect. If the amendment does not pass in Committee, I suspect we will seek further assurances on Report, as it would add an important and safeguard to our immigration system in so far as it relates to all children. I strongly encourage the Minister to consider what more the Home Office can do to promote the best interests of children within our adversarial immigration system.

I therefore ask the Minister: what process is in place to ensure that the Home Office carries out best interests assessments in full when making immigration and asylum decisions? How many children have been separated from their parents by a forced removal within the past two years? How many children have been forcibly removed from the UK with their parents in the past two years? How many of those children were British citizens? We have later amendments relating to Zambrano carers, but will the Minister say whether Zambrano parents will be granted EU settled status? Will the Home Office commit to establishing a comprehensive best interests assessment process to be used when making decisions about EU and EEA nationals, with recorded justifications for each decision, especially in cases of detention or removal?

I would also like to speak to amendments 24 and 25, which are in my name and that of the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham. Amendment 24 would require the Minister to undertake a children’s rights impact assessment of the Bill before commencement. Amendment 25 requires the Minister to have due regard to the United Nations convention on the rights of the child when making powers under clause 24.

Roughly 1.2 million EU parents and 900,000 EU children currently live in the UK. The proposed changes to the immigration system in the Bill and in the Government’s White Paper, and in its statement of intent, equate to a significant change in the rights status of those families. On Universal Children’s Day, just four months ago, probably as this Bill was being drafted by our officials, the children’s Minister called on all Departments to give consideration to the UN convention on the rights of the child when making policy and legislation.

In collaboration with the children’s rights sector, I am pleased that a children’s rights impact assessment template has been developed by the Department for Education. That hard work underpins the amendments that I am proposing this afternoon. However, to my surprise, as it stands, no children’s rights impact assessment has been undertaken by the Home Office on the provisions of the White Paper or this Bill, nor is there any requirement for one to be undertaken for powers that are now being afforded to Ministers by clause 4.

Amendment 25 would require the Minister to have due regard to the United Nations convention on the rights of the child when making powers under clause 4. Members and colleagues in the House of Lords will be incredibly concerned by the wide-ranging powers afforded to Ministers in the Bill. Given the insufficiencies of children’s rights provision in the UK, a commitment from the Minister today to have due regard to the UN convention when making provisions under clause 4 would go some way towards reassuring me and colleagues.

The Government must appreciate that it is nearly impossible for a change to the UK’s immigration system on the scale that we now envisage not to have a profound impact on children and young people. This Immigration Bill alone removes certain protections afforded to EU children under treaty law and free movement and it is simply insufficient to believe that the default of domestic law and the existence of the UN convention will protect all children from having their rights impacted.

For example, EU national children in local authority care and children who are victims of trafficking may struggle to achieve settled status successfully, as I think has been demonstrated already in the beta testing pilot. That would have a massive impact on the human rights of many vulnerable children and young people in the UK, who could find themselves undocumented and facing all the penalties and exclusions that come with that. Any changes to an EU national parent or carer’s status or impact on their rights will have a further impact on their child. Any impact on parents’ or carers’ right to work, claim benefits or continue residing in the UK would have a serious impact on the wellbeing and most likely the rights of that child, as defined in the UN convention.

It is absolutely necessary that the Government stick to their own commitment and follow the advice of the children’s Minister by carrying out a comprehensive children’s rights impact assessment of the Bill and commit to holding children’s rights in due regard when introducing new policy and legislation changes to immigration, as we move to the post-EU immigration system.

Amendment 24 would require a children’s rights impact assessment of the Bill to be undertaken before the Act comes into effect. A child rights impact assessment is a child-focused human rights impact assessment to understand the impact of policies, legislation and administrative decisions on the rights of the child, looking at both direct and indirect impacts to ensure that the child’s wellbeing is safeguarded. Yet between 2010 and 2017, only five Bills were considered for their impact on children’s rights, and so far no assessments have been made for any of the proposed changes to the UK immigration system. The Government assert that children and young people will be protected by domestic law and our commitment to the UNCRC.

There is no such thing as a child-neutral policy. Whether intended or not, every policy impacts on the lives of young people. The Government’s claims that the rights of children are already protected by domestic law and international convention are simply not translating into practice. Evidence for that is the lack of comprehensive best interests determinations completed by the Home Office.

Has the Minister or any of her officials undertaken any civil service training or other training on child rights and child rights impact assessments? Has the Home Office performed a child rights impact assessment? If not, will it perform such an assessment, and when does it intend to do so? Is the Minister aware that the children’s Minister has called on all Departments to undertake a child rights impact assessment when developing new policy and legislation? Does she agree with him on the importance of such assessments, and will she tell us what the Home Office is doing to deliver on that commitment?