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Consequential etc provision

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:00 pm on 26th February 2019.

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Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration 4:00 pm, 26th February 2019

I commend the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston, my hon. Friend Tim Loughton and Ms Harman for their well-known commitment to children’s welfare, which is reflected in the proposed amendments. I apologise for this somewhat cheeky aside, but my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, who is not on the Committee, is looking down at us from the Annunciator. I am sure he would want to feel part of this process: he is a former children’s Minister who always took his role very seriously indeed. It is a commitment that I share, and which is already required of the Home Office.

The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston has certainly given considerable thought to this whole area. Unfortunately for me, she predicted some of my comments. I want to explain how the Government seek to carry out their functions in a way that takes account of the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the UK, as required by section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009. This requirement applies to all children—not simply to those who are the children of EEA or Swiss nationals—and is therefore much more comprehensive and appropriate than the proposed amendments.

Amendment 27 addresses the situation of children of EEA or Swiss nationals. Hon. Members will be aware that the UK takes very seriously its responsibilities to safeguard the welfare of all children in the country. Significant safeguards are already in place for children who might be required to leave the UK as a result of immigration legislation. That relates mainly to children who are required to leave because their parents are required to leave. It is unclear whether the amendment deals only with children in that situation or whether it seeks to encompass unaccompanied children of EEA and Swiss nationals. If it is the latter, I remind hon. Members that the Home Office’s published guidance prevents the removal of an unaccompanied child unless there are safe and adequate reception arrangements available to them in the country of destination.

Hon. Members will be aware that the unaccompanied children with whom we have the most frequent dealings are unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Other unaccompanied migrant children, who are the minority, will fall within the safeguarding measures of the relevant local authority, which has a duty to ensure that children are placed, preferably, with family or in situations where their needs can be properly met. A child can be removed from the UK only if safe and adequate arrangements are in place. I cannot cover the full range of circumstances that might be involved, but essentially that means the care of a parent or a family member or the statutory services for children in that country.

The most frequent instances involving the return of children under immigration legislation is when a parent is no longer entitled to remain in the UK. The safeguards that are built in require consideration of whether it is reasonable for the child to leave the UK, starting with the child’s individual right to family life and then their right to a private life. Consideration is then given to any exceptional circumstances that are specific to the child, and which might make it unreasonable for them to be required to leave the UK. These safeguards for children are provided by a combination of primary legislation and guidance. The need to ensure that children’s best interests are considered is set out in primary legislation, and the detail of how this should be done is set out in guidance that is relevant to particular case types. It is done in that way so as not to impose—as the amendment would—a level of detail for each and every case that might not be relevant in every situation.