Amendment 46

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords am 6:15 pm ar 19 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Baroness Lister of Burtersett:

Moved by Baroness Lister of Burtersett

46: Clause 4, page 4, line 22, at end insert—“(c) a court or tribunal from considering, in the case of a person who was but has ceased to be an unaccompanied child, a claim that their removal to the Republic of Rwanda would be contrary to their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights based on compelling evidence relating specifically to the person’s particular individual circumstances.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment ensures that a person previously recognised as an unaccompanied child has the ability to challenge their removal to Rwanda when they cease to be an unaccompanied child at the age of 18 on the basis that removal would be contrary to their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. In particular, this would enable consideration to be given to any rights accrued under Article 8, right to private and family life, by virtue of having lived in the UK for a period of time, including building relationships and connections etc.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Llafur

My Lords, I am moving Amendment 46 as an understudy to my noble friend Lord Dubs, who apologises that he cannot be here today because of a long-standing commitment. I will speak also to Amendments 54 and 55 in my name. All the amendments in this group are designed to ensure that we do not overlook the best interests of children who stand to be removed to Rwanda and that we provide a degree of protection for them. These concerns were raised briefly on Wednesday.

Amendment 46, the technical details of which I will not go into as I am advised that the wording may not be perfect, aims to ensure that when an unaccompanied child asylum seeker reaches 18, they are able to challenge a decision to remove them to Rwanda. There are two compelling arguments in support of this. First, having lived in the UK for what could be some time, it would be cruel to uproot an 18 year-old from the life they have forged and the relationships they have developed in order to remove them to a country about which they know nothing.

Secondly, there is the concern put forcefully by the Children’s Commissioner that there is a real danger that the prospect of removal at 18 will result in these children disappearing. This could open them, in her words, to huge risks of exploitation by the kinds of criminal groups that the Bill is supposed to smash. I refer to the Committee’s exchange on morality in our previous sitting. As the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, said:

“It is immoral to facilitate the activity of criminal gangs”—[Official Report, 14/2/2024; col. 292.]

and traffickers and it is “our moral imperative” to stop them. This amendment would contribute to this moral imperative.

I turn to the amendments in my name and those of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford and the noble Baronesses, Lady Neuberger and Lady Brinton, to whom I am grateful for their support. I am also grateful for the help of ILPA, the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium, and RAMP, of which I am an associate. I shall begin by making some general points and then speak to each amendment separately.

My starting point for the two amendments is last year’s concluding observations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, in which it urged the UK to:

“Ensure that children and age-disputed children are not removed to a third country”.

It expressed deep concern about the potential impact of the Illegal Migration Act, which underpins this Bill, and the lack of consideration for the principle of the best interests of the child. This is clear from the failure to provide a child rights impact assessment until the very last minute of the Bill’s passage, despite repeated calls from noble Lords—and then it amounted to little more than a post hoc justification of the Bill’s measures. Needless to say, there has been no child rights impact assessment of the current Bill. In the debate on the treaty, when I asked whether there would be one, I did not receive a reply.

UNICEF warned that a blanket provision on inadmissibility and subsequent removal that applied to children without undertaking a best interests procedure and implementing its determinations would not be compliant with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in particular Article 3, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay of Chiswick, advised on Wednesday, we need to take seriously. Yet the treaty, while acknowledging the convention, makes no reference to determining a child’s best interests. Concerns about children’s best interests are not assuaged by the treaty’s statement that it does not cover unaccompanied children and that the UK Government will not seek to relocate them, as the Minister reminded us on Wednesday.

The treaty does cover accompanied children, which brings me to Amendment 54. Amendment 54 would require consultation with the Independent Family Returns Panel on how best to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and families due to be removed to Rwanda. Veterans of the Illegal Migration Bill might recall that it disapplied the existing duty, introduced in 2014, to consult the panel with regard to families covered by what is now the Act. The purpose of the panel is to provide advice on the welfare and safeguarding aspects of removal arrangements for families of children facing removal, with particular regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children in the family. Importantly, it states that its role includes ensuring that the best interests of children are considered. The Children’s Commissioner has described this role as vital, and she has asked how the Government will ensure that there is appropriate scrutiny of the plans for the removal of a child. Who will consider their best interests?

While it is difficult to see how it could be in any child’s best interests to be sent with their family to a country over 4,000 miles away with which they have no connection, this amendment would at least allow for independent consideration to be given to the welfare and best interests of specific children.

One fear expressed by the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium is that removal to Rwanda of accompanied children could have a devastating effect on their mental and physical health, with implications also for their future development. Yet according to the BMA, Rwanda faces a critical shortage of skilled health workers. How can the Government be sure that the complex mental and physical health needs of child asylum seekers will be met, especially as those needs are likely to be intensified by the process of removal on top of what they have gone through to get to the UK in the first place?

Amendment 54 is a very modest amendment, which would do no more than put back in place safeguards introduced by the Conservatives in 2014. These safeguards are needed more than ever, so I hope that the Minister might be willing to concede it.

I turn to Amendment 55, which is about unaccompanied children. The amendment aims to ensure due process by disapplying the provision of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 which would enable the removal of an individual to Rwanda before a court or tribunal can consider whether they are under the age of 18 and which would limit any judicial review to a point of law rather than consideration of whether the decision was wrong as a matter of fact. The amendment would serve to avoid a situation in which an unaccompanied child is erroneously relocated to Rwanda.

As I have acknowledged, the treaty states that it does not cover unaccompanied children, but it goes on to make it clear that the UK Government would have to deem them to be under the age of 18 to remove the possibility of their relocation to Rwanda. It continues:

“Any unaccompanied individual who, subsequent to relocation, is deemed by a court or tribunal in the United Kingdom to either be under the age of 18 or to be treated temporarily as being under the age of 18, shall be returned to the United Kingdom in accordance with Article 11 of this Agreement”.

In other words, it is tacitly acknowledged that the UK Government might send a child to Rwanda on the grounds that they deem them, wrongly, to be an adult. Should the child challenge the decision, they may have to continue to do so from Rwanda and only on narrow grounds for judicial review.

There are a number of problems with this. First, and most fundamentally, is the high likelihood of the age assessment being wrong. Just last month, a report from the Refugee Council, the Helen Bamber Foundation and Humans for Rights Network catalogued the existing evidence in the absence of reliable data from the Home Office. Over an 18-month period from January 2022 to June 2023, more than 1,300 children were wrongly assessed to be adults by the Home Office. The organisation found children who had been assessed as adults living in an adult setting, including shared accommodation with an unrelated adult. I do not need to spell out the safeguarding implications, an issue which I know is of great concern to the Children’s Commissioner.

I have a statement from the Children’s Commissioner, who says that she is

“deeply concerned about children who are wrongly age assessed and the potential removal/or a threat of removal for these age disputed children. This is even more concerning in the context of the potential of children being sent to Rwanda and the risks that could pose. We know that we are not good enough at age assessment and I have seen shocking examples of those who are wrongly assessed being sent to adult prisons for entering the UK illegally. My concern is that the use of so-called scientific methods will only make this worse. We need to support these children to integrate in their new home and community and not face another huge disruption through removal”.

During the debate on the treaty and at Second Reading, the Minister sought to reassure us about the safeguards to prevent the wrongful treatment of children as adults occurring. He said that:

“The Home Office will treat an individual claiming to be a child as an adult without conducting further inquiries only if two officers—one of at least chief immigration officer grade or equivalent—have separately determined that the individual’s physical appearance and demeanour very strongly suggest that they are ‘significantly over 18 years’ of age”.—[Official Report, 29/1/24; col. 1097.]

That sounds reassuring, but according to the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium it is precisely this practice, with two officials, that has resulted in hundreds of children being incorrectly assessed as adults. It points out that the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration and the Chief Inspector of Prisons have respectively highlighted the failings of this supposed safeguard. Indeed, the Home Office’s own guidance for the National Age Assessment Board warns that

“physical appearance is a notoriously unreliable basis for assessment of chronological age” and that

“demeanour can also be notoriously unreliable and by itself constitutes only somewhat fragile material”.

Yet despite the strong evidence of its failings, we are supposed to be reassured by a test that is accepted to be “notoriously unreliable” and “somewhat fragile”.

Secondly, the Minister pointed out that a challenge to an age decision can be made through judicial review, but, as he acknowledged, only once the applicant has been removed and, under the Illegal Migration Act, on narrow grounds only. As was pointed out in written evidence to the International Agreements Committee, even taking account of the provision for video conferencing under the agreement, it is unlikely that such an approach could be said to be in the best interests of the child.

Thirdly, even if such an appeal is successful, we have the unedifying prospect of a child being sent back and forth like an unwanted parcel—again, hardly in their best interests. Prior to the Illegal Migration Act, a Written Answer to me set out clearly that this should not happen under the MEDP. It said:

“No one undergoing an age assessment, or legally challenging the outcome of an assessment, will be relocated until that process is fully considered”.

Surely, if that was the right thing to do then, it is the right thing to do now, and Amendment 56 would simply take us back to the status quo ante.

I shall finish with a case study from the report I mentioned. Ahmed was a 17 year-old Afghan who arrived on a small boat last June, having been rescued following a frightening voyage. He had photographs on his phone of documents proving his age, but he was not permitted to show them to immigration officers. He was treated as an adult, spent two days at Manston sleeping on the floor in a tent, and ended up in a London hotel, where he had to share a room with an unrelated adult male. He experienced acute distress and discomfort and felt that no one was listening to him. He took himself to a police station and finally, with the help of Humans for Rights Network, was visited by social services and was accepted by them as a child. Under the Bill, Ahmed might have ended up in Rwanda without a civil society organisation to help him. We must try to prevent that happening, so I hope the Minister will seriously consider this amendment. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Neuberger Baroness Neuberger Crossbench 6:30, 19 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I support the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister of Burtersett and Lady Brinton, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford, and I wish to make only a very few short points in relation to Amendments 54 and 55, to which I have added my name. I apologise that I could not be here for the two previous days in Committee, due to prior commitments.

Once again, we are considering the age-old issue of age assessment of young asylum seekers. I will not rehearse the many arguments about the validity of such age assessments using so-called scientific means or, indeed, any other means; I have spoken in this House on many occasions on this very subject. Now, the consequences of these age assessments may be very much worse than hitherto: as the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, rightly said, you may be sent to Rwanda, and you might even be sent back and forth like an unwanted parcel. This is really serious: time and time again, we have seen unaccompanied children incorrectly assessed by the Home Office as adults on their arrival in the UK and treated as if they were over 18, only for them to be determined to be children after further assessment.

In addition to the evidence the noble Baroness has just given us from various organisations that have found age assessments to be wrong, we have evidence from local authorities’ children’s services—and noble Lords might think that they would know. They reveal that in the first six months of 2023 alone, 485 children were wrongly assessed by the Home Office as adults. Under the Bill, those 485 children, as well as all the others cited by the noble Baroness, would face removal to Rwanda. Furthermore, should those children seek to challenge the incorrect assessment, Section 57 of the Illegal Migration Act provides that the Home Secretary can still make arrangements to remove them to Rwanda, as we have heard, while the UK courts and tribunals are considering the challenge of the age assessment. There is a real risk, given the numbers we already know about, that children arriving alone in the UK in search of safety will mistakenly be sent to Rwanda before they can access justice. That is truly shocking.

We also know that mistakes are made; we have the evidence. The Rwanda treaty itself acknowledges that, so lone children may well in fact be facing the nightmare of being removed alone to Rwanda. The very article, already cited, that sets out that unaccompanied children will not be removed provides that any unaccompanied individual who is removed to Rwanda and subsequently found by a UK court to be under 18 years of age is to be returned to the UK: the parcel that goes back and forward and seems to be somewhat unwanted. So, we have to take this seriously and allow the courts and tribunals to take their time over the assessment, and not allow these children to be removed to Rwanda before a determination is made.

Of course, once these children have been removed to Rwanda, it is another problem to make sure they are even identified as having questions as to their actual age. Their only hope is that their plight might be acknowledged, their challenge quickly progressed through the UK courts while they remain in Rwanda, and the mistake reversed. This is all at devastating risk to their physical and mental well-being; and of course, we already heard in considering the previous group of amendments that there is some question whether systems are in place in Rwanda that might help these young people, who may be so very considerably at risk. A child’s best interests cannot be upheld when they are located more than 4,000 miles away from the proceedings to determine their age, with little, if any, access to legal representation and no support from services dedicated to children. We have not heard anything about services in Rwanda that might be dedicated to looking after any of these young people.

The proposed amendment provides for a legal challenge against an age assessment, to be completed before a young person is removed to Rwanda, to ensure that no unaccompanied child wrongly determined to be an adult by the Home Office is removed and that the UK upholds its commitment to give due weight to the best interests of the child. We have national and international commitments to do just that. It is, indeed, the best that we can do.

Photo of The Bishop of Chelmsford The Bishop of Chelmsford Bishop 6:45, 19 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I too support Amendments 54 and 55, to which I have added my name. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for giving us the opportunity to ensure that the voice of the child is heard in this debate. For we should never forget that both accompanied and unaccompanied children, and those who may well be found to be children, are in the scope of the Bill, which the Government cannot confirm is compatible with convention rights under the ECHR. I spoke earlier in Committee on the universality of human rights, but to remove children from their reach is simply unforgivable. For this reason, I repeat the noble Baroness’s request that a children’s rights impact assessment be published as a matter of urgency.

I believe strongly that changes are needed to Clause 4 if we are to ensure that the welfare and best interests of children are protected. For safeguarding is not a discretionary requirement, and the UK is legally obliged to protect and promote the interests of the child. The fundamental issue that Amendment 55 seeks to address is that the treaty itself excludes unaccompanied children from the partnership agreement, while acknowledging that they may be sent to Rwanda erroneously. This contradiction means that the treaty, in a section entitled “Part 3—General”, provides only vague information about Rwanda’s plans to safeguard children, a group surely more vulnerable than any other we could possibly imagine.

It is not my place to doubt the sincerity of the Rwandan authorities’ commitment to providing child-suitable safeguards, but good intent is no basis for safeguarding, and sending children before the treaty is fully implemented would be a dereliction of our duty to them. This, combined with leaving a potential child with no suspensive legal redress against their removal, is simply unconscionable. If the treaty has identified the risk of sending a child to Rwanda in error, why has no mitigation been put in place? Has it been decided that the risk is tolerable, regardless of all the anguish and trauma it would cause to a child? Can the Minister assure us that all children would be returned in these circumstances? Although it is in the treaty, it is not a legal obligation in the Bill.

The Home Office’s own figures, although incomplete—they do not include the number of children moved into an adult setting—indicate that, last year, 60% of all resolved age dispute cases found the young asylum seeker to be a child. This point was well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, but I will emphasise it because of its importance. There are 2,219 children without a parent or guardian, who, if the Bill had been in operation, may have been eligible for removal to Rwanda if a full assessment had not been completed. I therefore ask the Minister: what assessment has been undertaken to evaluate the impact of removing a potential child from the UK’s child support services, and then from the UK entirely, before awaiting the conclusion of all outstanding age assessment challenges?

Age assessments are complex—again, we have already heard this—and therefore it is understandable that visual age assessments by immigration officers can lead to inaccurate judgments. I will not repeat the quote from the Home Office’s guidance on this. Given that errors are an inherent part of the age-verification process, can the Minister reassure us that, at the very least, when an individual’s age is disputed, they will not be subject to removal before having met with a social worker and child protection team for a more comprehensive age assessment?

Under the Bill, the repercussions of inaccurate age assessments are disastrous. Even if a child were to be returned to the UK after they were verified to be a minor, the impact would be devastating for their physical and mental well-being, and it would likely leave an imprint on them for the remainder of their life. The amendment proposed does not hinder the Government’s objective to begin the transfer of asylum seekers to Rwanda, but it ensures that there has been a definitive determination of a person’s age before their removal. It supports the Government in meeting the treaty commitment.

The determination that a young person may be a child, and therefore could deserve all the rights of a child, should and must be reason enough to prevent their removal. A child is a child, regardless of whether they remain with their family or not. Amendment 54 simply seeks to maintain a current safeguard when a child is being considered for removal, which requires the Home Secretary to consult with the Independent Family Returns Panel to ensure that their safeguarding needs are appropriately met. Section 14 of the Illegal Migration Act, which is not yet in effect, disapplied this safeguard.

I do not believe that children seeking safety in the UK should face removal to Rwanda. But, at the absolute minimum, the process should ensure that their welfare and best interests are considered, and maintaining a role for the panel would help facilitate this. If the Government proceed to send minors to Rwanda without appropriate safeguards, vulnerable children will undoubtedly face an intolerable level of emotional distress. I therefore implore the Government to give the utmost consideration to these reasonable and principled amendments.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Llafur

My Lords, I strongly back the amendment of my noble friend Lady Lister, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger. I am unclear at the moment about whether the Government are saying that they will do this anyway, even though it is not in the Bill, on the basis that there appears to be a commitment on the part of the Government not to deport any unaccompanied child to Rwanda. Despite the exclusion of anybody, including the Home Secretary, saying Rwanda is not safe, that necessarily involves the Government having a process in mind for how they will deal with any unaccompanied person who comes to this country and says that they are under 18. Can the noble Lord set out for the Committee the process that will be applied and the basis for dealing with an unaccompanied minor saying that an age assessment is wrong and that he or she is under 18? Will there be a right to go to a tribunal or any other court to contest that? If there is not some such process, I am not clear how the Home Secretary can be sure he will comply with his assurance that he will not be deporting unaccompanied minors to Rwanda.

Photo of Baroness Mobarik Baroness Mobarik Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, I support Amendment 55, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, supported by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford and the noble Baronesses, Lady Neuberger and Lady Brinton. I also support Amendments 78 and 79, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, supported by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. These amendments relate to children who arrive in the UK alone, unaccompanied by any adult.

Lone children have no one. They are some of the most vulnerable members of our society, and their welfare and best interests should be safeguarded. I am glad to see that it is not the intention of the Government of this country or of the Government of the Republic of Rwanda for this scheme to cover unaccompanied children. Article 3 of the Rwanda treaty is clear, stating:

The Agreement does not cover unaccompanied children”.

Therefore, on my reading, this amendment helps safeguard that intention while upholding the best interests of such children.

If the agreement with Rwanda does not cover unaccompanied children, it seems to me common sense that the United Kingdom should make sure that it is not sending unaccompanied children to Rwanda. The constitutionally proper way for us to be sure of that is after an assessment that an individual is an adult, to allow our courts and tribunals to have an opportunity to fully consider whether an individual is an unaccompanied child, as they claim to be, before the individual is removed.

The safeguard this amendment seeks to maintain and restore is nothing more than due process. I am certain that your Lordships’ House does not wish to see children forcibly sent to Rwanda on the mistaken belief that they are adults, or to allow them to be wrongly treated as adults in Rwanda, potentially placed in accommodation that is unsafe and unsuitable for them, only to have our courts subsequently confirm they are children and order that they be brought back to the UK.

It appears to me that the Government are conscious that mistakes may happen, because Article 3 of the Rwanda treaty also states:

“Any unaccompanied individual who, subsequent to relocation, is deemed by a court or tribunal in the United Kingdom to either be under the age of 18 or to be treated temporarily as being under the age of 18, shall be returned to the United Kingdom in accordance with Article 11 of this Agreement”.

That is a wholly unsatisfactory state of affairs, and it is not in the best interests of the children concerned.

That is not only my view but the view of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which stated last year that Section 57 of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 was

“clearly not in the best interests of any child and is likely to breach the child’s rights under Articles 6, 8, and 13 of the ECHR”.

Those rights are to a fair trial, to respect for private and family life and to an effective remedy.

While the debate on Section 57 last year related to age assessments for removal to a vast range of countries under the Illegal Migration Act, your Lordships’ House is now considering removal to Rwanda under the conditions to be put in place by this Bill. Amendment 55 would disapply Section 57 in relation to this Bill only and Amendments 78 and 79 would remove unaccompanied children from the remit of this Bill altogether. All three go to the heart of the matter. Surely, flights returning traumatised children to the UK from Rwanda are not an image that the UK Government, the Rwandan Government or the public wish to see. Nevertheless, there is strong evidence to suggest that we would see such images if this Bill were to pass unamended and come into effect.

Unaccompanied children are often incorrectly assessed by the Home Office as being adults on their arrival in the UK and treated as over the age of 18, only to be determined to be children after further assessment. As other noble Lords have mentioned, even though two officers must separately determine that an individual’s

“physical appearance and demeanour very strongly suggests that they are significantly over 18 years of age”, mistakes can happen, and they have. As the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, said, evidence from local authorities’ children’s services have revealed that, in the first six months of 2023 alone, 485 children were sent to adult accommodation or detention by the Home Office. These 485 children would have been sent to Rwanda, in error, under this Bill.

I worry that, without a lawyer or support from child protection professionals, when mistakes happen, children may never access justice and be returned to the UK. For these common-sense and humane reasons, I support this amendment, which seeks to remove the possibility that unaccompanied children are sent to Rwanda under this Bill, contrary to their best interests and without being able to access due process on our soil.

Photo of Baroness Lawlor Baroness Lawlor Ceidwadwyr 7:00, 19 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, the purpose of this measure is to deter immigration by unsafe and illegal routes. Your Lordships have mentioned the best interests of the child. Is it in the best interests of the child to be trafficked across the Mediterranean from Libya, their body perhaps being found off the coast by some unfortunate fisherman—I have seen reports of this—whose heart is then broken? Is it in the child’s interests to be trafficked across Italy from Lampedusa to the French border, up through France to Calais and then across the channel?

I too believe in serving the interests of the child and agree with much of what your Lordships have said about the horror of such a journey for youngsters under 18, but I strongly oppose any measure or amendment that would weaken the prospect of the deterrence that unaccompanied children, once they are 18, will be removed to a third country, including Rwanda, if it is safe to do so. For this reason, I strongly oppose this group of amendments.

Photo of Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Crossbench

I do not entirely follow the argument of the noble Baroness. If an individual is trafficked across the Mediterranean and the channel, I do not see how the argument about deterrence applies. Their movement to our shores is involuntary; how would the passing of this Bill deter those who did not choose to come here but were trafficked here? I do not really follow the argument.

This is an important group of amendments, for the reasons given by the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger. When I was a trustee of the Refugee Council, I was struck by the high number of initial age assessments that turned out in the end to be wrong. The noble Baroness gave some statistics on this. What arrangements are we making or have we made for age assessments of those sent to Rwanda? It is very good that we are not planning to send unaccompanied children there, but we will be sending a number of people who, had they been subjected to the age assessment procedures in our country, would have been found to be children, not adults. Therefore, they will have been wrongly sent to Rwanda. The way to remedy that will be to have in Rwanda a system for age assessment analogous to the one we have in this country. I assume that that is the Government’s intention. I hope the Minister will tell us about it.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I signed Amendments 54 and 55. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Neuberger, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford for introducing them. I will not repeat their important comments and scene-setting.

I will also pick up on the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor, about deterrence. To say that a trafficker or smuggler of a 14 year-old child in north Africa wanting to come across the Mediterranean will be deterred by the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill is extraordinary. However, I will not focus on that.

Amendment 54 seeks to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within families who may go to Rwanda. I asked at Second Reading about special educational arrangements for children being sent with family groups to Rwanda, because it is not evident from what we have seen of the accommodation in Rwanda under the treaty that appropriate education is provided. I commented that, while Rwanda thankfully now has a good and fairly widespread primary system, it does not have a secondary system at all. As I have no idea, can the Minister tell us what arrangements will be made for this very small number of children—given that the number of people going to Rwanda will itself be very small—to continue their education, which, I remind your Lordships’ Committee, is their right under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child? Will they be living in an environment that is right for family groups and not in the sort of detention arrangements we have in the United Kingdom? Does he know what the living arrangements will be for this small number of family groups?

I will spend the rest of my time talking about Amendment 55 and all the issues, which have been laid out, around a child deemed to have been an adult in the UK. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and I tabled regret amendments in November to an SI that arose from the Illegal Migration Act on the use of age assessment techniques, and I continue to have great concerns about the medical use of those assessments. But it is not just that—it is also visual assessments and, frankly, guesswork by the people assessing them.

The report she referred to, Forced Adulthood, spoke very clearly about the fact that some age assessments that happen as young people arrive in our country may take 10 minutes, which also includes discussions about how old they say they are. Forced Adulthood says that, quite often, the wrong interpreters have been provided for the young people; we do not even know if they are getting a proper and effective translation that would support them.

A couple of references have been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, and possibly the noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor, to support for young people going through the process. It was not at all clear from the SIs or the debates on the Illegal Migration Act that the sort of protection you would expect for somebody who is, or claims to be, a child—which we see in many other European countries that carry out this age assessment—would be provided for by the Bill or the SIs we covered on 27 November last year. I am very happy to see the noble Lord, Lord Murray of Blidworth, in his place, as we frequently had this debate.

Can the Minister say what age assessments are being used now, given that the SIs have come into force? Do they include the medical assessments that the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, referred to? If so, are they happening under the terms the noble Lord, Lord Murray, outlined at the Dispatch Box? These included that the Home Office would ensure that the individual has the capacity to fully understand the process and is communicated with in a child-friendly and clear way, and that interpreters would be available to assist with understanding information. I could go on. The key phrase was that it would be Merton-compliant.

Young people who say that they are children are now arriving in this country; the Government may disagree with them. Therefore, can the Minister confirm that those processes are now under way? Do the children have—as we fought for but did not win—independent representatives to support them in the process to help them with appeals? For all the other reasons that all noble Lords have spoken about in the debate, once a child arrives in Rwanda, they will find it extremely hard to appeal as—given the process—they are deemed to be an adult upon arrival. This amendment in particular is important because there may be a few who are able to articulate that and are finally believed, but who fell through the net.

There are consequences of getting it wrong. The Forced Adulthood report, which was published in January and refers to figures for last year but builds on figures from previous years, talks about local authorities’ concerns when they have received those deemed to be adults into hotels, but it quickly becomes clear that they are actually children. The consequences of them perhaps being abused and trafficking themselves from those hotels are unconscionable. We must do everything we can to make sure that everyone who is, or believes they are, aged 18 or under gets the support they require—including the transitional support the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, was looking for in his Amendment 46.

I hope the Minister will be able to give us some detail that might provide reassurance on that. Even with that, however, we need a clear pathway back for anyone who has been misdiagnosed as an adult and gets to Rwanda, where it becomes apparent that they are a child. Perhaps the Minister can outline exactly how that will happen.

Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench

My Lords, I shall be brief but I will widen my remarks beyond just children. The Committee has made a very thorough examination of the Bill. I admire the quality of contributions from our legal colleagues. The debate has, however, been rather one-sided. The noble Baroness, Lady Meyer, is the only person who has touched on the wider issues, which is what the debate is about.

We are not dealing with saints. We are dealing with people entering our country illegally and on a considerable scale. This raises policy issues which are not part of this debate but are very important. Just the backlog of claimants, as I have mentioned, is enough to fill Wembley Stadium. Roughly 80% of the claimants are males aged between 18 and 40. I accept, of course, that children need special treatment, but most of them are young men and virtually all have destroyed their documents, and all have come from a country where they were already safe, mainly France or Belgium.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 7:15, 19 Chwefror 2024

I apologise for not being able to rise to intervene. I am grateful to the noble Lord.

The Government have claimed that in almost half the age-disputed cases, the people in question were found to be adults. This figure, however, fails to include the many hundreds of children deemed to be adults by the Home Office who were subsequently referred to local authorities and then found to be children. It is children we are talking about in this group of amendments.

Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench

I understand that but I said at the beginning of my speech that I was going to range more widely. There are difficulties concerning children, but the point of the Bill is deterrence. If the Government can deter people from coming here, they are saving themselves a lot of difficulties. If the Government can deter people from sending their children here, often alone, they can avoid the difficulties the noble Baroness and her colleagues have so rightly described.

I have just one other point to make. The British public are very angry indeed. Some 68% want to see effective action; I sympathise with them and would like to find a way to deal with the problem. The Bill clearly has some serious difficulties and it has been strongly attacked in this House without much attention given to the real issue facing the Government—and the next Government—of how to deal with the inflow and the state of public opinion.

In reviewing where we have got to, I have looked at the amendments being discussed. There are at least nine that would render the Government’s policy completely ineffective; they would torpedo it and, therefore, later in this process, will have to be addressed. I am referring to Amendments 1C, 8, 20, 36, 39, 48, 57, 81 and 90. Most of those would pretty much destroy the Government’s policy.

I conclude with a quotation from the former Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, who wrote in connection with a paper produced by the CPS:

“The British public are fair-minded, tolerant and generous in spirit. But we are fed up with the continued flouting of our laws and immigration rules to game our asylum system. And we’ve had enough of the persistent abuse of human rights laws to thwart the removal of those with no right to be in the UK. This must end. Saying so is not xenophobic or anti-immigration”.

I recognise that that is a different note and I am quoting the former Home Secretary, but a lot of people outside this Chamber would agree with that.

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Green. For my part, I agree with his assessment. However, it is one of the unfortunate features of the area that our more generous arrangements for handling unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are open to abuse and are abused. We needed to take steps to stop that. That is why, in the Illegal Migration Act, we put into force Sections 57 and 58. In the Nationality and Borders Act, authorisation was given for the utilisation of scientific methods of age assessment, all of which aim to prevent adults abusing our special arrangements for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

All these amendments, in particular Amendment 55, will not have the objective that the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, sought to persuade the Committee. She says in her Member’s explanatory statement that the amendment

“avoids a situation in which an unaccompanied child is erroneously relocated to the Republic of Rwanda”.

That is simply not the case. If one looks at the Illegal Migration Act, one will see that Section 57(1) makes it clear that it applies only if the

“relevant authority decides the age of a person … who meets the four conditions in section 2”— ie, that they are an illegal entrant—and determines their age in accordance with Sections 50 and 51 of the Nationality and Borders Act, using scientific methods. The effect of the provision is to avoid the hazard that there will be repeated challenges which would be suspensive of removal. It does not take away someone’s opportunity to challenge completely the finding that they are, in fact, an adult. It simply says that they have to do that from Rwanda, and there is nothing wrong with that. For those reasons, I oppose these amendments.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, this group has been about children. We spoke at length during the passage of the then Illegal Migration Bill about the danger posed to children by the changes in that legislation. To open, I have a couple of questions for the Government. Can the Government give an update on the number of children who have previously been identified as adults but have later been identified as children? How many of them would have been on the list to be moved to Rwanda had the scheme been working?

It is clear that the asylum system is failing, and failing vulnerable children. Beyond the risk of children being sent to Rwanda before their age has been identified, there have been ongoing reports about missing children, children exposed to assault, and children waiting potentially years for a decision on their protections claims. Given this, how can we trust the Government to make the correct decisions for children when it comes to Rwanda?

My noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett said that it was cruel for children who come in under the age of 18 and live here for a number of years to be sent to Rwanda when they get to 18. She rightly said that this provides an incentive for children to disappear when they know that birth date is arriving. The noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, talked about the age-old issue of age assessment. I know that very well because, as a youth magistrate, one of the first bits of training I did was on age assessment. Despite all the processes which are rightly in place, sometimes you are bounced into making those decisions, both as an adult magistrate and as a youth magistrate. I am very conscious of the difficulty in making those decisions. I think it was last week that somebody referred to Luke Littler, the darts player, and how he does not look like a 16 year-old boy.

All noble Lords have set out the case very well, and I will not go over the same points that they have raised. I will raise a different point, which I have raised in previous debates. This arises out of a trip with my noble friend Lord Coaker to RAF Manston about a year ago, facilitated by the noble Lord, Lord Murray. At that trip, it became evident to me from talking to the officials there that there is a reasonably large cohort of young people who identify as adults. I have debated this with the Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe—before, and he has written me a letter about it. They identify as adults because they want to work when they get here. They may well have been working in their own countries since they were about 14 years old. They identify as adults, they may look like adults, and they move into an economy—maybe an underground economy—because they want to work. It seems to me that by having the provisions within the Bill, they will have no incentive to identify as an adult. That will be taken away from them. They would prefer to identify as a youth. Have the Government made any assessment of the increase in people likely to identify as youths when they are coming irregularly into the country? I suspect it is not an insignificant figure and that it is actually quite a large figure.

Nevertheless, this is a very important group of amendments, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this debate, which, as we have heard, brings us on to the relocation of unaccompanied children and the subject of age assessments.

Amendment 54 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, would reinstate the statutory duty to consult the independent family returns panel in circumstances where we would seek to remove families with children under 18, who fall within the remit of the Illegal Migration Act, to the Republic of Rwanda. This amendment would effectively undo Parliament’s previously agreed position in relation to the removal of families to Rwanda, taking them out of line with those being removed to any other destination, either a safe third country or their home country where it is safe to do so.

I reassure noble Lords that the welfare of a family will continue to be at the forefront of decisions to detain and remove them, regardless of the proposed destination, and we remain in open dialogue with the independent family returns panel about the role that it will have in the removal of families under the Illegal Migration Act.

The intended effect of Amendment 55 is not clear, as the Bill is an additional legislative provision that will apply to removals under the 2023 Act. However, I consider that the amendment is intended to mean that when a decision is made to remove someone under the 2023 Act to Rwanda, Section 57 of the 2023 Act will not apply if there is a decision on age.

I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for Amendment 76, which inserts a new clause on age assessments. The intended effect of this amendment is that when a decision is made to relocate someone to Rwanda under the Illegal Migration Act 2023, Section 57 of that Act will not apply if there is an outstanding decision on age. It also seeks to prevent the removal of an age-disputed person from the UK to Rwanda if they are awaiting an age assessment decision under Sections 50 or 51 of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022 or have received a negative decision under these sections and are awaiting a final determination of either an appeal under Section 54 of the 2022 Act or a judicial review application.

It is important that the Government take steps to deter adults from claiming to be children, and to avoid lengthy legal challenges to age assessment decisions preventing the removal of those who have been assessed to be adults. Assessing age is inherently difficult, as all noble Lords have noted. However, it is crucial that we disincentivise adults from knowingly misrepresenting themselves as children. Receiving care and services reserved for children also incurs costs and reduces accessibility of these services for genuine children who need them.

Accordingly, Section 57(2) of the 2023 Act disapplies the yet to be commenced right of appeal for age assessments that was established in Section 54 of the Nationality and Borders Act 2022, for those who meet the four conditions in Section 2 of the 2023 Act. Instead, under Section 57(4) of the 2023 Act, those wishing to challenge a decision on age will be able to do so through judicial review, which will not suspend removal and can continue from outside the UK after they have been removed.

Section 57(5) of the 2023 Act also provides the basis on which a court can consider a decision relating to a person’s age in judicial review proceedings for those who meet the four conditions in Section 2 of the 2023 Act. It provides that a court can grant relief only on the basis that it was wrong in law and must not on the basis that it was wrong as a matter of fact, distinguishing from the position of the Supreme Court in the 2009 judgment in R (A) v Croydon London Borough Council, UKSC 8. The intention is to ensure that the court cannot make its own determination on age, which should properly be reserved for those qualified and trained to assess age, but instead consider a decision on age only on conventional judicial review principles.

In the scenario whereby the Home Office has doubts over a person’s age, they would not be subject to the duty to remove until such time as a final decision on age has been made by the relevant authority referred to in Section 57(6) of the 2023 Act. We consider that those provisions are entirely necessary to safeguard genuine children and guard against those who seek to game the system by purporting to be adults. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked me whether we have looked into the opposite. The honest answer is that I do not know, but I will find out and come back to him if we make any assessment of that.

To strengthen age assessments further, the introduction of scientific age assessments is a measure to improve our age assessment system by providing additional biological evidence to aid better-informed and more thorough decisions on age. Scientific age assessment will be one piece of evidence used alongside the existing Merton-compliant age assessment process, which is a holistic, social worker-led assessment. Importantly, the UK is one of very few European countries that does not currently employ scientific methods of age assessment. X-rays and MRIs of various body parts will be—

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol 7:30, 19 Chwefror 2024

When I spoke earlier, I asked whether the scientific age assessment had been introduced. The Minister has just referred to other European countries. I said that all those European countries gave the child an independent representative to work with them and to help and support them. Is that happening for children going through this process in the UK?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes. Basically, all individuals will also have access to interpreters. There will be appropriate adults to assist the young person with understanding, as well as providing support with communications. As I said, the interpretation services—

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

I am very sorry, but the language here is important. An appropriate adult need not necessarily be independent of the process that is assessing them. When we debated this during the passage of the Illegal Migration Bill, it was made clear to us that that person would not be independent of the process. Is that person independent or, in effect, employed by the Home Office?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, this is a new and obviously complex process, and the full plans for integrating scientific age assessment into the current process are being designed. The statutory instrument that is now in place specifies X-rays, MRIs and so on as scientific methods—they are the building blocks. I will have to come back to the noble Baroness on the question of who is also in the room with the individuals, because I am not 100% sure of the answer.

As has been discussed many times during the course of this Bill and various others, these methods have been recommended by the Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee.

I will respond to the comments made last week by the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Hamwee, on the incidence of potential children being assessed by the Home Office as adults, which was highlighted in a Guardian article and the published January report that had input from various children’s rights NGOs. According to the assessing age guidance details in the Home Office’s age assessment policy for immigration purposes, an individual claiming to be a child will be treated as an adult without conducting further inquiries only if two Home Office members of staff independently determine that the individual’s physical appearance and demeanour very strongly suggest that they are significantly over 18 years of age. The lawfulness of that process was endorsed by the Supreme Court in the case of R (on the application of BF (Eritrea)) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2021] UKSC 38.

Where doubts remain and an individual cannot be assessed to be significantly over 18, they will be treated as a child for immigration purposes and referred to a local authority for further consideration of their age, usually in the form of a Merton-compliant age assessment. That typically involves two qualified social workers undertaking a series of interviews with the young person, taking into account any other information relevant to their age. “Merton compliant” refers to holistic, social worker-led assessments adhering to principles set out by the courts in several court judgments dating back to 2003.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

I apologise for intervening again, but the Minister referred to the AESAC’s report, which is now being implemented. I will not repeat the detail, but in five different paragraphs it asked questions of the Home Office that it said needed to be further looked at before it could give a clean bill of health. Has that now happened? I will write to the Minister with the references in Hansard to our debate on that, which was on 27 November. Does he know whether the AESAC’s concerns about some of the science have now been answered? They had not when we discussed it on 27 November.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, as I pointed out in answer to the previous intervention, the system is still being designed, so I do not know the precise answer to that.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am sorry if that upsets the noble Baroness, but I do not know the precise answer. I will find out more and write.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

I am very sorry for intervening and grateful to the Minister for giving way. We are now back to the same sort of the debate that we had on the previous group, where we are just going round in circles, being told that it is all being developed and that it will all be fine in the future. Yet we are being asked to agree to legislation without protection for children. That is the real issue: it does not provide protection for children.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, the Government fundamentally disagree with that; we do provide protection for children. As I said, I will come back to the noble Baroness’s specific points. Any decision—

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Llafur

I apologise for also intervening. I was very interested in much of the answer that the Minister gave, and I am genuinely grateful to him for doing his best on this. He said that a judicial review could be taken against the Government where somebody asserts that he or she is under 18, but they have deemed him or her to be over 18. That can be challenged by a judicial review. So, presumably, the courts could stay the deportation until the conclusion of the judicial review. Is that right?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

No. As I understand it, the judicial review will take place when a person has been relocated to Rwanda.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Llafur

I am very interested in that answer, too. Surely that is not right. If a judicial review is possible, it is a matter for the court to decide, in its discretion, whether it should give interim relief pending the conclusion of the judicial review. For example, if it took the view that the person who brings the judicial review would be harmed by being sent to Rwanda before a conclusion of the judicial review, the court would have the power to stay it pending the hearing of the judicial review. There is nothing that I see in this Bill that would prevent that. If there is, could the Minister refer me to it?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I have to respect the noble and learned Lord’s point of view on that; I am afraid that I am not as well up on the court process as perhaps I should be. I will have to come back to him, if he will allow me to do so.

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth Ceidwadwyr

My noble friend the Minister might want to make reference to the powers that this Parliament has already passed in Section 57 of the Illegal Migration Act, which provide for those judicial reviews to be conducted abroad once the section comes into force.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My noble friend is right; I might very well want to refer to that.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Murray, referred to this in his contribution, he used the term “simply”. He said that it would simply have to be dealt with by the young person in Rwanda. Does the Minister agree that “simply” is an appropriate word to use in this context?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am not in a position to agree or disagree, because I do not know how the judicial review process take place; I am afraid that I am not a lawyer.

Any decision on age made by the Home Office for immigration purposes is not binding on the civil or criminal courts. Where an individual is charged with a criminal offence and the presiding judge doubts whether the individual is a child, the court can take a decision on the age of an individual before them based on the available evidence or request that a Merton-compliant age assessment be undertaken.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, asked me a consider number of questions on safeguarding, so I will go into some detail on the safeguarding arrangements. They are set out in detail in the standard operating procedure on identifying and safeguarding vulnerability, dated May 2023. It states that, at any stage in the refugee status determination and integration process, officials may encounter and should have due regard to the physical and psychological signs that can indicate that a person is vulnerable. The standard operating procedure sets out the process for identifying vulnerable persons and, where appropriate, making safeguarding referrals to the relevant protection team. Screening interviews to identify vulnerabilities will be conducted by protection officers, who have received the relevant training and are equipped to handle safeguarding referrals competently. The protection team may trigger follow-up assessments and/or treatment, as appropriate. In addition, protection officers may support an individual to engage in the asylum process and advise relevant officials of any support needs or adjustments to enable the individual to engage with the process. Where appropriate, the protection team may refer vulnerable individuals for external support, which may include medical and/or psychosocial support, or support within their accommodation; and, where possible, that should be provided with the informed consent of the individual.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Llafur

Perhaps the Minister can clarify this since he is answering my questions. Are we talking about here or Rwanda? Does Rwanda have those kinds of safeguarding systems?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, as we discussed in previous groupings, with any of these decisions and any of the evaluations that take place in this country, all the relevant information will be shared with Rwanda. I think that answers the noble Baroness’s question.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Llafur

I am sorry, it does not. I raised a concern, asking a specific question: how can the Government be sure that the complex mental and physical health needs of child asylum seekers will be met in Rwanda, especially as those needs are likely to be intensified by the process of removal on top of what they have gone through to get to the UK? You can send all the information you like from here to Rwanda, but—this is not a criticism of Rwanda but being realistic—what kind of support does it have for traumatised children?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, I cannot give details on the very specific question about traumatised children but I will find out, and again, I will come back to the noble Baroness.

Amendments 78 and 79, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, seek to prevent the relocation of unaccompanied children aged under 18 from the UK to the Republic of Rwanda. The Government consider these amendments unnecessary. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will be aware that Article 3 of the UK-Rwanda treaty makes specific reference to unaccompanied children not being included in the treaty and that the UK Government will not seek to relocate unaccompanied children under 18 to Rwanda.

Amendments 46 and 56, also tabled by the noble Lord, seek to ensure that a person previously recognised as an unaccompanied child has the ability to challenge their removal to Rwanda when they cease to be an unaccompanied child at 18, on the basis that removal would be contrary to their rights under the ECHR. Our asylum system is under increasing pressure from illegal migration and the Government must take action to undercut the routes smuggling gangs are exploiting by facilitating children’s dangerous and illegal entry to the United Kingdom, including via such dangerous routes as small boats. These amendments would increase the incentive for adults to claim to be children and would encourage people smugglers to pivot and focus on bringing over more unaccompanied children via these dangerous journeys. The effect would be to put more young lives at risk and split up more families.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, asked a number of questions about the educational opportunities that will be available under the arrangements with Rwanda. I refer the noble Baroness to paragraph 5 on page 3 of the Second Reading letter that I wrote, which details some of those. However, education is also dealt with in paragraph 8 in Annex A to the treaty, and I can go through some of that if it would be helpful. It is headlined “Quality education”, and 8.1 says:

“To support successful integration (and in accordance with the Refugee Convention) … each Relocated Individual shall have access to quality education and training at the following stages (as relevant to their age and needs) that is at least of the standard that is accorded to Rwandan nationals: … early childhood … primary education … catch up programmes and accelerated learning, that is, short-term transitional education programmes providing children with the opportunity to learn content that they may have missed due to disruption to their education or their having never had access to education … secondary education … tertiary education … and … vocational training”.

In addition:

“Rwanda shall recognise foreign school certificates, diplomas and degrees as provided for by MINEDUC regulations”.

I think I also referred in an earlier group to the initial investment of £120 million in 2022 as part of the economic transformation and integration fund, which was created as part of the MEDP. I said then, and I will reiterate for the record now, that the ETIF is for the economic growth and development of Rwanda, and investment has been focused in areas such as education, healthcare, agriculture, infrastructure and job creation.

The Government recognise the particular vulnerability of unaccompanied children who enter the UK by unsafe and illegal routes. It is for this reason that unaccompanied children are not considered for third-country inadmissibility action under the current guidance. Furthermore, the duty to remove in the Illegal Migration Act does not require the Secretary of State to make removal arrangements for unaccompanied children until they turn 18, at which point they will become liable for removal as an adult, either to their home country if safe to do so, or to a safe third country.

In answer to this debate more generally, it seems self-evident—I think my noble friends Lady Lawlor and Lord Murray, and the noble Lord, Lord Green, pointed this out—that a child’s best interests are best served by claiming asylum in the first safe country that they reach. I therefore respectfully ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment and other noble Lords not to press theirs.

Photo of Lord Falconer of Thoroton Lord Falconer of Thoroton Llafur

My Lords, the Minister did not deal with the question—perhaps understandably—about how this House, which has been constituted as a court by the Government, will get a chance to keep under review the question of whether Rwanda is safe. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, said it was coming in a later amendment; it has not come in any of the amendments so far. I simply raise it now to ask the Minister: when is it coming? We will end Committee only an hour or two after dinner, so could he give an indication when we might hear the answer to that question, which has been promised on a number of occasions by the Front Bench?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 7:45, 19 Chwefror 2024

I reassure the noble and learned Lord that we will have an answer by the end of the evening.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Llafur

My Lords, I am grateful to everyone who has spoken. I hope those who spoke in support of the amendment will forgive me if I do not spell out what they said, but they strengthened the case remarkably, helping to make a very strong case. I am conscious that other noble Lords want to get on with the dinner-break business so I will be as quick as possible.

I wanted to say something in response to the noble Lords who spoke against the amendment, particularly around the point about deterrence, which a number of noble Lords raised, including the Minister. I just remind them about the impact assessment on the Illegal Migration Act, which said:

“The academic consensus”—

I speak as an academic—

“is that there is little to no evidence suggesting changes in a destination country’s policies have an impact on deterring people from … travelling without valid permission, whether in search of refuge or for other reasons”.

I am sorry, but I do not think that all those arguments about deterrence are very compelling.

The noble Lord, Lord Green, seemed to use what was supposed to be our opportunity to focus on the best interests of children to make a much more general point about a whole list of amendments that are not in this group at all—and I am not sure that that is valid in Committee procedure. He did not make convincing points about children as such. However, he made the point about the British public being very angry. Has anyone asked the British public what they think about children being wrongly assessed as adults and then being put in adult accommodation? I suspect they would not be very happy about that. So I do not see the relevance of the more general point—the noble Lord is trying to get up; perhaps he has some evidence about that.

Photo of Lord Green of Deddington Lord Green of Deddington Crossbench

The noble Baroness is probably right that the public are not focused on children, still less on the precise means by which they are assessed. However, they are concerned about large-scale, illegal immigration into Britain, which is what I was referring to.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Llafur

I remind noble Lords that it is illegal only because we made it illegal in the legislation that previously went through this House. There is nothing illegal about seeking asylum; there is an international right to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Murray, questioned the explanatory statement. This has been drafted by a lawyer for me; I will not go into all the legal stuff now. The Minister rattled through section this and section that, and I am afraid I could not even keep up with it, so I will not try to address that; obviously, I will read what he said afterwards. The noble Lord, Lord Murray, said that there is nothing wrong with sending children to Rwanda and expecting them to challenge a decision from there. There is everything wrong with it. Think about it.

Photo of Lord Murray of Blidworth Lord Murray of Blidworth Ceidwadwyr

There is nothing wrong with sending adults, I said rhetorically, because that is the effect of Section 57. Those who are found to be adults may be sent, and if they wish to challenge that finding, they can do that from Rwanda.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Llafur

We are talking about children who have been wrongly assessed. I do not think it is reasonable to expect them to challenge a decision. Other noble Lords made points on this: the sort of legal support they will get there; they will have to do it through video; and then, if they are lucky, they will be sent back.

The Minister simply repeated what we said about two separate senior immigration officers assessing people visually, but he did not engage with the arguments that we put as to why that is inadequate. I sometimes feel as though we take note of the arguments that have been put, look at them and come up with evidence that suggests that they are not strong arguments, only for those arguments to be put all over again. There is no real attempt to engage with what we have said. I am sure that we will come back to this. A number of questions have either not been answered adequately or not been answered at all, so I look forward to the Minister’s letter. I hope that we will get that letter before Report, because there are important questions that need to be answered.

I finish with the image raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Mobarik, for whose support I am grateful. Do the Government really want us to see images of traumatised children on planes, because we can be sure that when that first plane goes to Rwanda there will be a lot of TV cameras there? Does the Minister really want us to see that image of traumatised children either being sent to Rwanda or being sent back again like parcels, as I said, because they have managed somehow to be assessed as the children that they are? I do not think so.

I will leave it there for now, although I do not think that my noble friend Lord Dubs will be satisfied with the responses that we have had. We will certainly come back at Report with something around children and probably age assessment, but for now I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 46 withdrawn.

Amendments 47 to 56 not moved.

Clause 4 agreed.

House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.37 pm.