New Clause 24

Part of Children and Young Persons Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:30 pm ar 3 Gorffennaf 2008.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education) 2:30, 3 Gorffennaf 2008

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This new clause is very much intended to be probing, although the principle was discussed in the other place. I wish to ascertain the Government’s position on a statutory system of guardianship for all separated children who are subject to immigration control in England and Wales. I want to ensure that the welfare needs of those children are properly safeguarded within the context of the asylum determination process and that their support and care needs are met by all agencies charged with those functions.

Each year, 3,000 children who are separated from both parents and are not being cared for by an adult who by law or custom has responsibility to do so come to the UK and claim asylum. I have a feeling that I might have put the same arguments forward during the passage of the Children Act 2004, as they seem remarkably familiar and there is a sense of dÃ(c)jà vu. We also proposed at that time that the Border and Immigration Agency should come under section 11, so I think that it is worth carrying on putting the points forward.

The Bill presents an opportunity to strengthen the protection for children in the care of the state and cover asylum-seeking children and trafficked children, which is a matter of great concern. The new clause does not seek to establish any detailed mechanics on how a system of guardianship would operate, but it is important to recognise that there is no systematic provision of independent oversight on matters involving separated children who are subject to immigration control. Children can go unrepresented in their asylum application and might be placed in inappropriate accommodation with inadequate support. Indeed, they might not understand the implications of their asylum application. In the current system, separated children seeking asylum, some as young as eight years old, have to instruct their own solicitors, yet these children might not be competent to instruct a legal representative. Although there is provision through CAFCASS, which I appreciate, we still need guardianship.

Indeed, my noble friend Baroness Walmsley raised the issue, but I think that the Minister misunderstood what she was saying. Obviously we accept that CAFCASS can be helpful for a small number of non-citizen children going through the family court system, however, there is a gap in provision. A very low number of children is granted asylum. The majority are granted discretionary leave, which means that they need greater protection during the time that they are here, certainly to comply with the European convention on human rights.

We still have the reservation to article 22 of the UN convention on the rights of the child. I was heartened earlier this year when the Minister addressing that issue said that it was being looked at. I am not sure whether we have any information on that matter. I want particularly emphasise trafficked children. Lord Adonis commented in the other place that the Government are considering the changes needed to comply with article 10 of the Council of Europe convention on action against trafficking in human beings, which states that every unaccompanied child identified as a victim will be provided with representation

“by a legal guardian, organisation or authority which shall act in the best interests of that child”.

I would like some more details about that because it is so important. There is cross-party concern for trafficked children.

It is also important to note that the 10th report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, published March 2007, expressed concern that asylum-seeking children were not getting as much protection as other children. The report recommends

“that a formal system of guardianship should be established for separated children subject to immigration control, including separated asylum seeking children. The guardian would have a statutory role and would be appointed by a statutory body to safeguard the best interests of the child and provide a link between all those providing services and support. The guardian should be expected to intervene if public bodies act in contravention of their legal duties towards a child”

There is a great opportunity to protect further the rights of separated children subject to immigration control. I hope that the Minister will consider favourably something that has been asked for on many occasions. I know the concerns about control of asylum and immigration, but we are talking about children. I believe that child in this country have the same rights to protection as citizens do.