Arrangements to safeguard and promote welfare

Children Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:33 am ar 19 Hydref 2004.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children) 10:33, 19 Hydref 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 134, in

clause 8, page 6, line 40, at end insert—

'( ) the British Transport Police Authority, so far as exercising functions in relation to England;'.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Llafur, Bootle

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 149.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children)

The amendments reflect a promise that we made in the House of Lords. We had omitted to place the British Transport police on the list of organisations that will have a duty to make arrangements for ensuring that

''their functions are discharged having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children''.

This is not a contentious issue. We have discussed it with the Department for Transport, and everybody has agreed that as the British Transport police have wide contact with the public, and with children in particular, it is appropriate to include them in the clause. I hope that the Committee will accept the amendment.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons)

I welcome the amendments. There is just one point that I want the Minister to respond to. All the bodies and authorities mentioned in clause 23 are either devolved or situated in Wales, but the British Transport police headquarters is in London, so how will they exercise their responsibility? The Welsh Affairs Committee is conducting an inquiry into policing in Wales and will examine the role of the British Transport police in Wales, but it may be more appropriate to specify in the Bill that the Welsh headquarters of the British Transport police be involved.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children)

I hope that we have covered the hon. Gentleman's concerns in the amendment to clause 23, in which we agreed that it would be helpful to have a mirror clause for Wales to ensure consistency. Unless I have missed something—if I have, perhaps he would like to reply—I thought that we had covered that point.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons)

I think that we have covered the point, but my question is how the British Transport police will fulfil their responsibilities in practical terms. Will that be done be through a local arrangement, or will it be bureaucratic and done through its headquarters?

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children)

I could write to the hon. Gentleman if that would be helpful, but the answer is that we cannot specify in the Bill exactly what parts of an organisation will have the duty imposed on them. We are attempting to specify that Welsh children will be protected. This is a technical point, so it may be helpful for me to write to the hon. Gentleman to give him the comfort that he seeks for Welsh children.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

I beg to move amendment No. 30, in

clause 8, page 6, line 44, at end insert—

'(ja) the chief immigration officer at ports of entry to England;'.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Llafur, Bootle

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 99, in

clause 8, page 6, line 46, at end insert—

'(l) a regional office of the National Asylum Support Service;

(m) the centre manager of an immigration removal centre;

(n) the Chief Immigration Officer at a port of entry.'.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

Amendment No. 30 would add an extra person to the list of people involved in arrangements to safeguard and promote welfare. In another place there was a lot of talk about this issue, and a number of children's organisations have made representations to the effect that the whole of the asylum and immigration service should be included in the list of those having a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. That is a contentious issue.

I have some sympathy with the argument that, if the Government had to pay undue regard to the welfare of children in the asylum system whose claims, with those of their parents, were being assessed, that could advance the claims of certain asylum seekers. The welfare of children could therefore be used to extend the stay in this country of people who are not entitled to stay, and that is fraught with problems. That is why we have not replicated such amendments in Committee.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Ceidwadwyr, Hertsmere

My hon. Friend makes an important point. If it could be established that the clause would have no effect on the operation of the immigration laws and the determination of asylum claims, would he be sympathetic to the idea of giving those children the same protection that is afforded to children elsewhere?

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

My hon. Friend makes an important point: children are children wherever they may be. We will not stand by and allow harm to come to children who happen to be in the asylum system in this country. We must ensure that the asylum and immigration service, under the Home Office, has measures in place to ensure that those children, as well as the rest of their families, are properly looked after. The risk is that having greater regard to the welfare of those children in the asylum system would in some way prejudice the assessment of their case by the immigration services, and that situation could be used by people who would bring children here to advance their own asylum cases. That argument was mentioned in another place, which is why I have not tried to replicate it. I have limited the additional consideration to the chief immigration officer at ports of entry.

That consideration is reflected in amendment No. 99, in the name of the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre. That would extend the measure to the National Asylum Support Service and immigration removal centres; he will no doubt argue as to why he thinks it should go that far. I have explained why we would not extend it that far.

I believe that a particular role is played by chief immigration officers at ports of entry to this country, especially with regard to unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Many of us have spoken on this subject before, and it featured in a private Member's Bill that I promoted last year, which also included the registration of private fostering considerations. Too many minors appear at ports of entry to this country and then get lost in the system for a host of reasons. In some cases, it is difficult to prove their age and, therefore, whether they are a minor.

A case in my county, of which the Minister is aware, involved a number of girls arriving from west Africa, particularly Nigeria and Sierra Leone, as unaccompanied asylum seekers. Many of them had been intimidated out of their countries by unscrupulous pimps—I use that word advisedly—with threats of voodoo curses befalling them if they did not comply. Those children arriving at Gatwick airport were, correctly, taken into the care of West Sussex social services and put into foster care—private foster care, in some cases—but then they mysteriously disappeared. At least 44 girls have disappeared over the past few years. Girls have been taken by those pimps, often in the middle of the night, and driven to the continent, via Belgium for some reason, where many of them have ended up in the sex industry in northern Italy, particularly Milan.

Fortunately, because the profile of that hideous practice has been raised here and in the media, and because of excellent work by West Sussex social services, Sussex police and the Home Office, the practice appears to have ended. I fear that it has not ended altogether and has just gone elsewhere, but at least we have stopped it being a problem at Gatwick airport. It is still a problem in other parts of the country, however.

We must do more. I know that the Minister has taken that fact on board and that there is now greater co-operation between social services departments and the Home Office in the form of the immigration service at ports of entry. That happens at Gatwick airport, at Dover in Kent and at other airports and ports. It means that social services are, in effect, part of the welcoming party, so that a child claiming to be 18 when he or she is not, and a child accompanied by someone who is not obviously a parent or does not obviously have parental authority, are not just nodded through. Unaccompanied minors should be passed on to the appropriate social services department.

We must place a duty of care on the immigration service at ports of entry to ensure that when such children arrive, their welfare is a consideration. People should be concerned not only with whether they have the right documentation but with what will happen to them when they go outside the confines of the port or airport and are in the big wide world of the United Kingdom.

This probing amendment is designed to see how we can include in the Bill the chief immigration officer at the port of entry without going into the argument

about including the whole immigration and asylum service; I fully acknowledge that there would be problems with that. We need to have far greater regard to children arriving at ports of entry, and that is what the amendment would achieve.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Llafur, Lancaster and Wyre 10:45, 19 Hydref 2004

I support much of what the hon. Gentleman said. I should like to speak to amendment No. 99, which goes a little further. The reason for adding more agencies to the lengthy list in subsection (1) is sound: those agencies play a critical role in the welfare and support of refugee children, who are some of the most vulnerable children in the world. They are generally outside the remit of the Minister for Children, Young People and Families and within that of the Home Office, so seems important to identify them at this stage.

One good reason for identifying those agencies is because article 18 of the European asylum reception conditions directive, which has to be implemented by February 2005, requires the Government to ensure that the best interests of children seeking asylum shall be a primary consideration. It is therefore vital that the regional offices of the National Asylum Support Service, the centre managers of immigration removal centres—there has been a sixfold increase in the number of children living with their parents in such centres—and the chief immigration officer at ports of entry should be included.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham spoke eloquently about the situation at Gatwick. Some good joint work has been undertaken through Operation Paladin Child at Heathrow. Over three months last year the immigration services, the police and social services worked together on the issue of unaccompanied children arriving at Heathrow. During that period no fewer than 1,738 children arrived entirely unaccompanied; 551 of them were risk-assessed by the joint team with the result that 31 were accommodated by the local authority straight away. Three were placed on the child protection register, and an attempt was made to follow up the other members of the group who had gone off to other parts of the country to be met by relatives or people who purported to be relatives.

Of those 28 children, 14 had either left the country or had sought asylum under different names and identities from those under which they entered the country. But 14 children remain completely unaccounted for. That is 14 children over a three-month period. We can all do the maths and think about what that means annually for Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester and all the other possible ports of entry. This is the most serious situation that one could possibly imagine.

Victoria Climbie would not have come under the remit of Operation Paladin Child because she came into the country on an EU passport, but how many of those 14 children, or multiples of 14 children, are living in dire circumstances such as those experienced by Victoria Climbie? How many are working in the sex

industry or subject to domestic servitude? How many are privately fostered? No one, either inside or outside the Room, knows.

It is fundamental—I cannot see why anyone should disagree—that the main agencies, which have a critical role in relation to refugee children, should be brought firmly within the remit of subsection (1). They would thereby be included in the arrangements for safeguarding children and involved in compiling the information databases, which is fundamental if we are to have an effective information system across the UK. We are dealing not only with children who were born in the UK, but with intensely vulnerable children at the point at which they enter the country. I hope that the Government will respond positively to my amendment and that tabled by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons)

Liberal Democrat Members support the spirit of the amendments, which ties in well with the Government's assurance that they will accept the UN convention on the rights of the child as regards immigration and asylum.

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre made some sound points. He obviously has great experience of the nature and scale of the problems that we are discussing.

Many children who come in with families that are seeking refugee status—asylum—in the UK have experienced conditions that are almost inconceivable for people living in this country. That is why they wish to make a new life in the UK, safe from threats to their well-being and their lives. They are in a very vulnerable state, and it is the duty of a civilised country—indeed, it is a test of how civilised we are—to protect those children in their time of need.

My colleagues and I support amendment No. 99, because it would give fuller and more comprehensive protection to children in those conditions. In Committee in another place, Lord Howe made a telling contribution on those lines. He pointed out that the Government's objection that the imposition of a duty might affect the primary function of those bodies could equally apply to the primary function of all the other organisations that are included. We do not believe that an exception should be made for the bodies that are responsible for asylum seekers and others who come to the UK as immigrants. I hope that the Government will examine the amendments and seek to accommodate the principle that we are trying to establish.

The amendment tabled by Conservative Members relates only to England, but should relate to all the devolved nations as well, because they, too, have ports of entry that may be implicated.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

I take the hon. Gentleman's point, but immigration is not a devolved matter and therefore not covered by the Bill. It would not be left to the Welsh Assembly; it would come under the Home Office.

Photo of Roger Williams Roger Williams Opposition Whip (Commons)

That is surely the point. We are making primary legislation for the UK which, if amended, would cover ports of entry in the devolved countries as well. That is why it is important not to limit the measure to England. The amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre does not have that limitation.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Ceidwadwyr, Hertsmere

I rise briefly to say that I am attracted by both amendments. My qualification is the same as the one that I made earlier: I would not be so sympathetic if the amendments interfered in any way with how immigration cases, in particular asylum cases, were dealt with. They have to be dealt with according to the law and determined on their merits. If there was any interference, I would not be so sympathetic. I should like to hear from the Minister whether there would be such interference and why that would be so.

I note that the other bodies included in the clause as ones that deal with children include police authorities, chief police officers and governors of prisons, and there does not seem to be a problem with that. They do not seem to be prevented from implementing the law in respect of the people whom they are dealing with, and by the provisions they are made subject to the duties. They will be able to do their duty of investigating crime, sometimes arresting young people and bringing them to justice, and managing them if they receive a custodial sentence. If those functions are not to be affected, and they will carry out the law normally, subject to a duty of care to the children, I do not see why the immigration service should be an exception.

As matters stand, there is a worry in my mind that, without a good explanation, it would look as though we were making the children of asylum seekers and immigrants second-class children who do not receive the same duty of care as others. The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre gave fair reasons for his amendment. It is likely that many such children will be vulnerable, having been through various experiences before coming here, and in particular need of being looked after properly. I look to the Minister for an explanation of why they are not covered in the Bill, when otherwise the clause appears to be as comprehensive as possible and designed to ensure that all children are looked after properly.

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I want to make two brief points. First, since speaking to senior police officers, I have had great concern about the data collected on children entering this country. I received a written parliamentary answer indicating that there is no systematic collection of data. That is why I believe that the amendment is important. We will talk about the database in due course. If the clause does not specifically mention children entering the country, how will they be picked up on the database? I know that Victoria Climbie did not quite fit into that model, but we could easily envisage how somebody arriving in the country in such circumstances could fail to be protected by the database, which, as the Minister has said, is a central point of the Bill. I emphasise that

point about data collection, because otherwise how will we know that we have the children in the country and that they are being protected?

The second point is that, as the Minister will know, I do not agree with the detention of any children. If they are to be detained in removal centres, it is vital that the centres have such a duty of care.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

I should like to say one or two things that may be unpopular, and to echo the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) and question the Minister on why amendment No. 99 might be less acceptable than the EU directive to which the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre referred.

I do not think that it is unfair to say that a child who has no right of abode in this country is a second-class child when compared with a child who has that right. That does not mean that that child should be treated less well for the purpose of this Bill, but I wanted to pick up on the phrase used by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere. A child who comes from another country is the responsibility of that child's parents, wherever it is. Let us not try to take on the burdens of the world, even though they sometimes present themselves at our ports of entry.

Having said that, of course I accept that there is a need for us to extend to children in this country whatever protection we can. I am therefore attracted to the amendment No. 99, although I have to say that I am more attracted to amendment No. 30. When the Minister rejects the former amendment, as I suspect that she will, I should be grateful—I was not aware of this until the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre mentioned it—if she could explain what is meant by the words

''having regard to the need''.

The hon. Gentleman is essentially asking that not only the chief immigration officer but a regional officer of the National Asylum Support Service and the centre manager of an immigration removal centre ''must make arrangements'' for ensuring that their functions are discharged

''having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children''.

Meanwhile, the EU directive appears to say—I hope that I have written the words down correctly—that the best interests of children seeking asylum shall be a primary consideration, presumably of each nation or each high contracting party, or some such terminology. It seems to me that that phrase places a greater obligation on the Government than

''must make arrangements . . . having regard to the need''.

Mr. Dawson indicated assent.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Vice-Chair, Conservative Party 11:00, 19 Hydref 2004

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre is nodding. I take it, although I am not sure, that the Government have accepted the EU directive. No one seems to know, but given that it—

Mr. Dawson rose—

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can enlighten me.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Llafur, Lancaster and Wyre

I understand that the directive is under consideration by the Government but is required to be implemented by February 2005.

Photo of Andrew Turner Andrew Turner Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

That means that it is the mode of implementation that is under consideration, not the acceptability in principle of the directive. The hon. Gentleman gestures in the direction of the Minister, and I am sure that she would intervene to tell me, if she knew, whether the directive has been accepted in principle by Her Majesty's Government. She is not receiving much enlightenment from the usual sources.

If the Government have accepted the directive, that surely subsumes anything in the hon. Gentleman's amendment. The Minister is looking like the grin without the cat. What can possibly be the objection to amendment No. 99 if the EU directive is acceptable? If the amendment is unacceptable, surely the EU directive is also unacceptable and will be resisted—or has been resisted, successfully one hopes—by the Government in Brussels and will not be implemented, because that would drive a coach and horses through our immigration legislation.

If the best interests of a child seeking asylum shall be a primary consideration for Her Majesty's Government or the agencies of the Government, then it is in the best interests of any child to remain in the United Kingdom. To be born a citizen of the United Kingdom is to win first prize in the lottery of life, and to have the right of abode in the United Kingdom is a pretty good second prize. I do not see why the EU directive should be acceptable to the Government if amendment No. 99 is not.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children)

I hope that we can make the progress that hon. Members have shown they desire in considering these clauses so that we leave proper time to consider some issues that are important to both Government and Opposition Members. I hope that we can work in a mood of co-operation.

The issue is important to us all. The vulnerability of children who come to this country as asylum seekers, and are granted asylum, is enormous. They are fleeing from terror, violence and oppression, and our duty of care to safeguard and protect them, and promote their well-being and welfare, must be paramount. The issue is complex because we are talking about children who arrive in different ways. They may arrive as unaccompanied asylum seekers, or they may arrive in families and then be exploited in some way—that is extremely difficult to detect and protect against. There may also be children who come to the UK via the EU and therefore are not subject to immigration procedures. We are trying to deal with a pretty complex set of issues.

When we discuss clause 9, we will see that one of its prime purposes is to establish a system for collecting information about every child in Britain. More than anything, that must include asylum-seeking children who are in this country. Once a child is here we have a

duty to safeguard and protect them and to promote their well-being. Too many get lost in the system in one way or another. Establishing a tool that provides information about children will support the endeavour of better tracking children so that we can better protect them. It is very much that vulnerable group of children that is at the heart of our concerns in establishing the database.

Clearly, if and when we accept the EU directive—as I understand it from the best advice that I have been given this morning, it is currently under consideration—we will consider carefully how best to implement it in a way that does not have an impact on the running of the immigration service. That is where we are. I cannot give the hon. Member for Isle of Wight any more details this morning, but clearly we will have regard to that issue.

Amendment No. 30 is intended to place a duty on the chief immigration officer at a port of entry. The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham would probably accept that a chief immigration officer at a port of entry makes decisions about detention, temporary admission and removal, as well as leave to enter. Thus, in practice, he or she represents the whole of the immigration service. Although amendment No. 99 would include other bodies in the Bill, the intent of the two amendments is pretty similar. The agencies that my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre mentions have clear and specific functions in relation to managing the immigration system, so in a sense both amendments are part of the same thing.

The problem with the amendments was alluded to by the hon. Members for Hertsmere, for East Worthing and Shoreham, and for Isle of Wight. In considering the wording of the clause 8 duty and the agencies on which we would want to impose it, we have been careful to ensure that we do not place a duty on agencies that would make it difficult for them to fulfil their primary function. I want to explain that. There are safeguards in place throughout the whole of the immigration and nationality directorate. A statutory duty to make arrangements to safeguard and promote children's welfare could, perhaps not in intent but in implementation, undermine the immigration and asylum system by providing opportunities for individual families or children to challenge what might be perfectly legitimate decisions taken under immigration legislation. That could lead to the system being misused by those seeking to secure admission to and residence in the UK.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Llafur, Lancaster and Wyre

I do not therefore understand why those points do not apply to either the police or the Prison Service, which are explicitly identified in the clause.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children)

The phrase ''having regard to'', which relates to how bodies would have to implement their duties, is stronger than omitting a body altogether—we are omitting the immigration service from clause 8. It means that bodies have to give serious consideration to and act in a correct way that is consistent with children's needs unless there is a good reason not to do so.

As all hon. Members know, the immigration service is a highly contentious issue in the context of maintaining social cohesion in our communities. I speak from experience in my constituency where a British National party councillor was recently elected in a by-election. That arose largely from the fear that has emerged from the sudden growth in the number of people perceived to be coming into the constituency through the immigration system—ironically, they are not necessarily coming in through that system, but come from different parts of London and choose to live there. It is a difficult situation to get right and we must be extremely careful in administering our immigration service to be utterly fair to genuine asylum seekers. I say that from a heartfelt position as one who benefited from the immigration system that existed and allowed my parents entry to this country. We must also have regard to the social cohesion argument.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children)

Let me finish my argument. The difficulty with the amendment, and with giving dual functions to the immigration service, is that people could legitimately be turned down for an application for asylum, but if the immigration service has to have regard to the duty of safeguarding and promoting the interests of children, the family could argue that, given that the health and education services are better in this country than in the country from which the children came, it would be in the children's interests to remain here. Giving the family the opportunity to raise that argument, which is legitimate, would undermine the integrity of the immigration system, which we must maintain if we are to achieve social cohesion and welcome into our community people coming in either through the work permit system, or who are seeking asylum.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Llafur, Lancaster and Wyre 11:15, 19 Hydref 2004

Surely the police service is no less important to social cohesion than the immigration service. No one is suggesting that the function given to the police service to make arrangements to safeguard and promote children's welfare will stop them dealing with crime or arresting people. If we continue to draw this distinction, we are falling into the difficulty that the hon. Member for Hertsmere and the Joint Committee on Human Rights identified, that we could be seen to discriminate against people.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children)

I understand my hon. Friend's concerns, and the answer is that if we are to promote social cohesion in relation to immigration, it is important that we have a swift, speedy and fair system of dealing with asylum seeker applications. If we were to put that duty on the immigration service, in whatever way we want to formulate it—through either amendment No. 99 or No. 30—it would give a legitimate cause for further appeals if the original appeal on the right to entry had been rejected. That would prolong the system and militate against the

creation of a speedy, fair immigration system, which is a precondition of ensuring that we can promote a multiracial society where there is social cohesion.

The issue that causes me concern is the attempt to place a duty on the immigration service. We need to be clear about the consequences that that duty could have. People would perceive flaws in the asylum and immigration system, which could be difficult for us to handle.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Llafur, Lancaster and Wyre

Is my right hon. Friend therefore saying that the immigration service is to be entirely excluded from the requirements to take part in information databases and the work of information services that the Government will place on other authorities?

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children)

My hon. Friend asks a question about the immigration service. I want to come on to what we are trying to do with that service and others in relation to whether it is unaccompanied asylum-seeking children or children coming in through other mechanisms who may be in danger. I am working with those services closely to ensure that we have systems that are safe for those children who are temporarily or permanently in this country and for whom we therefore have overriding responsibility.

I would just make one final argument on the difference between immigration services and the police. All the evidence we have suggests that the immigration service is particularly vulnerable to challenges. As my hon. Friend will know, people desperate to stay will exploit any avenue open to them. The police are not in the same situation. By and large, they are not challenged in the same way, and although I recognise the difficulty of that position, I hope that he understands that for the purposes of social cohesion we have to tread very carefully.

I now come to the IND's commitment to children, which is our chief area of concern. I assure all Committee members that we take the matter seriously throughout Government—those responsible for the immigration service and the rest of us. In the course of its work, the immigration service and NASS encounter many children in different circumstances. They are acutely aware of the need to ensure that any vulnerable children are properly identified and referred to the appropriate agency. The concern of both NASS and the immigration service towards children in their care can be viewed through the actions that they have taken in accordance with the spirit of that duty. Both NASS and the immigration service have well-established working arrangements with local authorities and other agencies so that concerns are swiftly dealt with.

I shall give some examples of the improvements that have been brought about recently. We now have a single point of contact established for all local authorities and social workers who want to clarify the immigration status of a child with whom they come into contact. We have issued new instructions to case workers to ensure that they take the necessary steps to engage social services at the earliest stage in any cases

involving a child where there is a cause for concern. We have developed and issued best practice guidance and distributed it to all ports of entry throughout the UK on the procedures to be followed when immigration officers encounter children, especially those who may be at risk. We have developed courses and run training since November 2003 with the aim of training at least 10 per cent. of operational staff in the specialist skills required to interview children, and to ensure full-time coverage at all ports of entry.

We have also set up Operation Paladin, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre referred. We have an evaluation system that we are reviewing. Sadly, that system, whereby if the asylum seeker is unaccompanied, the immigration officer works together with a social worker at the port of entry, has not captured those children that we believe to be so much at risk and who appear in my hon. Friend's constituency, and indeed all our constituencies. We need to reflect on the workings of that system to decide whether we ought to replicate it or whether there are other ways in which we can go forward.

On removal centres, managers have a legal responsibility for the safety, security and well-being of all in their custody, particularly under paragraph 2(3)(d) of schedule 13 to the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and rule 11(3) of the Detention Centre Rules 2001. The latter requires that:

''Everything reasonably necessary for detained persons' protection, safety and well-being and the maintenance and care of infants and children shall be provided.''

I hope that, on what I accept is a difficult issue, hon. Members are reassured by what I have said and understand why I cannot, on behalf of the Government, accept amendment. Nos. 30 and 99.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

I am grateful to the Minister and think that we have had a good debate on the matter. Many hon. Members have made useful points. I echo the case that was made by the hon. Members for Lancaster and Wyre and for Mid-Dorset and North Poole about the unquantifiability of the problem of children entering the country and the paucity of data that we have for taking account of where they go. I also take the point of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Williams) that my amendment would need to include the whole of the United Kingdom.

The Minister has made the case that what she is trying to achieve is what we are trying to achieve without placing extra burdens on the asylum and immigration service that people might use as loopholes to exploit, and that if my amendment includes the whole of the asylum and immigration service—just by naming the chief immigration officer at ports of entry—it will not achieve what I am trying to achieve. We had a good airing of all the points that we are mindful of, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Llafur, Lancaster and Wyre

I beg to move amendment No. 100, in

clause 8, page 6, line 46, at end insert—

'(l) courts with the power to sentence a child to detention or remand a child in custody.'.

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Llafur, Bootle

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 112, in

clause 8, page 6, line 46, at end insert—

'( ) The Youth Justice Board.'.

No. 31, in

clause 8, page 7, line 3, leave out from 'discharged' to 'the' in line 4 and insert

'in a manner consistent with the objective of safeguarding and promoting'.

No. 101, in

clause 8, page 7, line 7, at end insert—

'(2A) In exercising their functions under this section courts must notify the Local Safeguarding Children Board in which the child is ordinarily resident of—

(a) any decision to sentence or remand a child to custody;

(b) any factors that could give rise to concern for the child's safety or well-being while in custody.'.

No. 113, in

clause 8, page 7, line 7, at end insert—

'( ) The Youth Justice Board for England and Wales shall ensure that—

(a) every child referred to them by a court for placement in custody is appropriately accommodated, having regard to the need to safeguard and promote their welfare, and

(b) where any child is not placed in the type of custodial accommodation considered appropriate under this section a record of the reasons for, and length of, such a placement is kept, and an annual report on such cases made to the Secretary of State;

(c) the Local Safeguarding Children Board in which any child in custody is ordinarily resident is notified of the details of their place of custody and any changes to their place of custody.'.

No. 102, in

clause 11, page 10, line 29, at end insert

'(1A) A Local Safeguarding Children Board established under section 10 will be responsible for monitoring the safety and well-being of children in custody.'.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Llafur, Lancaster and Wyre

The amendment is, I believe, very important. It aims to address the scandal and disgrace of not only the huge number of children in prisons in this country—some 2,700 or 2,800—but the fact that so many of those children are so exceptionally vulnerable.

The fact that 14-year-old Adam Rickwood died in August 2004—he was the youngest person in modern British penal history to die in custody—is a fact that we should address through the course of the Bill. We should do everything that we can to try to ensure that the situations of Adam Rickwood, Gavin Myatt, Joseph Scholes and so many other young people who have died in prison custody in recent years are not replicated. Children in trouble are invariably troubled children, and we should attack the historic distinction that has been made in this country between those two categories.

The amendments aim to bring the courts into the safeguarding framework, requiring them to notify local safeguarding boards of decisions to detain children in custody. They aim to bring the Youth Justice Board into the—

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, THE CHAIRMAN adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.