This happened on Wednesday 4th November 2009 and is fully reported in Hansard, cols 317 – 331.
I give below my opening paragraphs, and two paragraphs from the government’s reply by Lord West of Spithead, a Home Office minister. There were four other speakers.
“My Lords, I start from the proposition that it is wrong to lock up parents and children who have committed no crimes in this country. To do so when they have little or no legal advice, and for periods of unknown length, is doubly bad. Those affected are mainly asylum applicants who have not succeeded in being recognised as refugees. They also include people who have overstayed their leave to remain. All of them may already have been here for years, and have married here and produced children. All may have very real fears of what might happen to them if they are removed to their countries of origin whatever the Government may say about memoranda of understanding.
Political persecution, tribal and personal vendettas, and sexual and gender crime persist in all too many countries. A recent joint report from the Scottish Refugee Council emphasises the sufferings of women, both in their home countries and after their arrival here. That council recommends that the UK Border Agency should identify vulnerable and traumatised women from the start so that they may receive appropriate care. UKBA should also screen out from the detention process pregnant women, all mental health cases, as well as torture survivors.
In the second quarter of this year, 235 children were detained. About 7,000 persons entered detention in each quarter this year almost balanced by those leaving. Two hundred and fifty-five had been detained for between six and 12 months, and 225 for over a year.”
reply: “Our policy as a Government on detention is clear. Although there is a presumption in favour of granting temporary admission, detention may be appropriate in several circumstances. It may be appropriate in order to effect removal, or while a person’s identity and claim are being established, which my goodness me, is sometimes extremely difficult. I am not sure if it was the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, of the noble Lord, Lord Best, who talked about Malawi passports, but it is sometimes difficult and long-winded to establish someone’s identity; you have to remember that these people are fighting not to be identified. Detention may be appropriate where a person presents a risk of abscond – some people have done that in the past when being held – or where an asylum application is capable of being done very quickly, which has been touched on as well.
Detention should be used sparingly and for the shortest period necessary. We believe that that is especially true in the case of families with children, and that is reflected in our practice of not detaining families with children, until close to their planned removal from the UK; they are usually detained just a few days before removal. There are some exceptions, but that is normally the case.”