Schedule 3 - Advisory and support services for family proceedings

Children Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 5:00 pm ar 19 Hydref 2004.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 5:00, 19 Hydref 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 199, in

schedule 3, page 42, line 7, at end insert—

'In section 12, in subsection (1), after ''in respect of family'', insert ''or immigration''.'.

I realise that it is late, but this is a probing and serious amendment, which seeks to test the Government's intentions to provide in this Bill and through the most appropriate existing legal framework a statutorily appointed guardian for all unaccompanied and separated children in the United Kingdom, particularly, although not exclusively, those seeking asylum. It also seeks to ensure that the welfare needs of these children are properly safeguarded within the context of their status, as determined by the immigration authorities and the courts, and to ensure that the support and care needs of this especially vulnerable group are met by all agencies charged with those functions.

The Committee has not passed earlier amendments to provide safeguards for asylum-seeking children, so in many ways the concept of a children's guardian becomes all the more timely and necessary. It is important to appreciate that the number of new asylum claims from unaccompanied children aged 17 and under, excluding age-disputed cases, was, according to Home Office statistics, 725 for the first quarter of 2004 and 585 for the second quarter. We really are talking about large numbers of children.

''Every child matters'' identifies unaccompanied children as the ''most vulnerable,'' and specifically asks how we can improve support for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, building on the work of the

children's panel. The Bill does not answer that rather difficult question, and the amendment would offer a solution or at least open the debate on what the solution might be. It is quite clear that a full model of guardianship would need to be worked out carefully and backed by detailed research to ensure a best-practice model that worked in the context of the UK.

The children's panel is often quoted as providing a guardianship role for unaccompanied children in the UK, but many professionals believe that that is a misconception. The panel has, without a doubt, played an important role, but the question is whether that is enough. Are these very vulnerable children accessing services in the way that they need to so that they are given the utmost protection after they have reached this country? I believe that we are all concerned about these children receiving that utmost protection while they are here. Will the Minister say what consideration has been given to developing the role of the children's panel to include that of a guardian?

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

Because of an imminent vote, I must say that we had a lengthy debate on this point, and although I am happy to talk to the hon. Lady outside the Committee, I simply say to her now that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are covered by the Children Act 1989, so they have the same protection for ensuring their safety. I accept that they are a vulnerable group, which is why all the things that I discussed this morning are central to ensuring that they are properly safeguarded when they are in this country.

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

I will accept the Minister's offer to discuss the matter further outside the Room. I sincerely believe that we need to discuss this issue further and develop the role of the children's panel. I know that several professionals in the field are working on this concept right now, so we are back to the assurance that there will be further discussion, albeit informally. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Clauses 35 and 36 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Vernon Coaker.]

Adjourned accordingly at ten minutes past Five o'clock until Thursday 21 October at five minutes to Nine o'clock.