Ending detention of children for immigration purposes: details and dates published

Today (as predicted) Nick Clegg is announcing the details of how the government will end detention of children for immigration purposes.

Since the government review started on 1 June, the number in detention has dropped sharply – 78 compared to 594 in the same period under Labour in 2009. Now the government is committed both to ensuring that no children are in detention over Christmas and that the policy is completely abolished by May. As previously announced, the family wing at Yarl’s Wood being shut. (More details here.)

Tom Brake (Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Committee on Home Affairs and Justice) has said of the news:

Today’s announcement marks the fulfilment of an important Liberal Democrat policy: by the first anniversary of the Coalition Agreement not a single child will be detained for immigration purposes.

Over the last five years of Labour’s government, an average of nearly seven children a day were in such detention, with 173 of them detained for more than a month in the last year alone. The average length of time children spent locked up over the five years was just under thirteen days.

The detention (a polite term for locking up) children involved in immigration cases was a policy that Labour at times almost seemed proud of as showing so-called ‘toughness’. It was also a policy which the ending of has been high on the list of coalition ‘must haves’ for many Liberal Democrats. Retaining such detention was also a policy that many Conservatives have argued hard for within the coalition since May. Today’s news is a clear example of something that would not have happened if the Conservatives were governing alone.

Two other significant policies where news was originally planned before Christmas will now await the new year. These are control orders (where the vigorous debate between Liberal Democrats and some Conservatives versus other Conservatives continues) and the next set of details on how elections by PR for a reformed Upper House will be carried out.

Both of those are important issues in their own right, but also will have an important political impact. If ending child detention is followed by control orders being axed and radical plans for the Upper House, then tuition fees will look like the (very important) exception in how the coalition is doing at delivering policies Liberal Democrats have long argued for. However, if the government does not deliver on one or both, the big political risk is that tuition fees starts to look like a typical outcome for the coalition – with a resulting rapid drop in support for it from Liberal Democrats.

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  • Susan Gaszczak 16th Dec '10 - 8:09am

    @Ellie families will be kept together

    The maximum a child was kept in detention was 91 days and when I visited Yarl’s Wood there were over 30 children in the unit. At least 5 of whom were babies under 2!

  • TheContinentalOp 16th Dec '10 - 8:36am

    Very welcome news. I hear their is some sniping from the Tory backbenches regarding possible absconds so it is excellent that the Lib Dems have delivered this.

  • Roger Roberts 16th Dec '10 - 9:52am

    Absolutely delighted by this announcement. It’s been quite a battle. Thanks to Nick for this news. In 13 years Labour allowed children of Asylum Seekers to be detained and as recently as last month when I raised this again in the House of Lords Labour’s former Minister – Jeff Rooker defended this “lock them up” policy. This was the main pledge that won my personal backing for the Coalition.

  • Reducing control orders to being basically a form of travel restriction would be a huge improvement on the status quo.

  • matt, you missed out the all-important bit in the BBC report that ‘Lib Dems are insisting that any future terror suspects be subject to the new regime as a precursor to prosecution, not as an alternative.” It’s the absence of any need for a move towards prosecution that are the key way in which control orders are unacceptable.

    Here are Chris Huhne’s criteria in a 2009 parliamentary debate: “If control order-like powers are still needed for a few individuals, they must be granted by a judge, time limited, subject to a higher standard of proof than mere reasonable suspicion, and subject to regular and thorough assessments of the possibility of prosecution. Securing convictions or letting the innocent go free should be the key goals.”

  • Congratulations on achieving this. This is great news! Now please keep pushing for control orders to be axed.

  • Basically, the Lib Dems’ job re. control orders is to ensure that whatever they are replaced by doesn’t quack like a duck in terms of civil liberties and human rights violations. The fact that the publication of the review has been continually delayed – four times, and now seemingly until after the New Year? – is I think testament to the fact that the Lib Dems are doing a lot of pushing.

  • matt – do you know the details of the review already?!

  • Matt

    I’m well aware that it does not look like to be shaping out to be the ideal policy, which would be the whole-scale scrapping of control orders. But I completely reject your notion that ideological purity must become before progress. If we denigrate reforms simply because they do not reach the unachievable ideal we would never progress.

    (I’m assuming it is unachievable – perhaps you can see a route by which the Lib Dems would be able to scrap Control Orders completely, I’d be interested to hear it),

  • Liberal Neil 16th Dec '10 - 1:28pm

    @ellie I think your points are very strong and i hope the leadership are listening.

    @matt – even if there is some compromise on this the outcome will still be far better than if we had had a minority Conservative government (the Conservatives support control orders) or a minority Labour government (Labour strongly support control orders) and I am not aware that it is something Labour would have given ground on had we had a Lib/Lab government. So this seems to be the best available outcome to me.

  • @Matt – could you respond to Athirat’s question? Basically, how could we achieve the total abolition of control orders?

  • How many times has Clegg announced the ending of child detention for immigration purposes? As I have said before, I won’t be cheering until I see what the coalition will do to replace it. Increase use of ‘dawn raiding’ is just as immoral in my opinion.

  • Excellent news and a milestone achievement to everyone involved in the effort including the many children’s charities that have stayed on this issue and emphasised enough. This is the best gift to children in christmas and I can already see the good start to 2011! 🙂

  • David Allen 16th Dec '10 - 5:50pm

    Excellent news indeed. However:

    “If ending child detention is followed by control orders being axed and radical plans for the Upper House, then tuition fees will look like the (very important) exception in how the coalition is doing at delivering policies Liberal Democrats have long argued for. ”

    Sorry, that’s too optimistic. The nation at large isn’t interested in plans for the Upper House and doesn’t much care about whether a few people are subject to control orders. The nation does care about student fees, alongside jobs, taxes, fairness, public services, and keeping promises. Winning on what the nation sees as sideshow issues doesn’t look like winning.

  • Andrew Suffield 16th Dec '10 - 8:28pm

    Any sanctions placed on a person who has not received a fair trial is Illiberal

    Disagree. Persons released on bail have restrictions placed on them (typically with regards to travel), and have not yet received a fair trial.

    The problem with control orders is that they are restrictions placed on persons who will never receive a fair trial.

  • This could be really good news, but some clarification on the detail would be helpful. I am worried by this:

    Professor Carolyn Hamilton, the director of the Children’s Legal Centre, said she was happy with the “long overdue” closure of Yarl’s Wood’s family wing but said the government had not gone far enough to end child detention.

    She said: “We are disappointed that the current detention system will not end until May. Furthermore, the proposals for secure and supervised pre-departure accommodation appear to be detention by another name. Holding children in accommodation from which their parents are not allowed to leave for up to a week may prove just as psychologically damaging as other forms of detention.

    “If we are to have the ‘most child-friendly immigration system in the developed world’, as Nick Clegg has promised, there is still a long way to go. Rebranding detention is not the same as ending it.”

  • @Matt – that wasn’t my question. No Liberal Democrat disagrees with you, and we remain the only party which opposes control orders [if we had a majority].

    My question was this – How do you propose that 57 Liberal Democrat MPs overturn the determinations over 550 other MPs who support control orders. In the present practical situation, how will we do this?

    I do of course, utterly agree with you, and long, deeply for constitutional protection – but the only party which supports this, yours and mine, does not have a majority.

  • I don’t think anyone disagrees with you Matt. But it can’t be done until another General Election takes place and people vote for the protection of our civil liberties. Put simply, this hasn’t happened yet.

  • Dan – I think you’re being unfair on Matt, and we shouldn’t assume people are Labour just because they disagree. Hopefully though, he’ll understand that we are limited only by our smaller number of MPs. A bit of electoral reform and a few more votes could rectify this, but for now we are in the situation we are in…

  • @Matt – hopefully you will have read my comments and realise that this is not the ‘views of most of those in the Liberal Democrat Party’.

    However, you suggested that standing firm might secure a change – it might, and I am fairly confident that Lib Dems in government are doing this, but it might not be. There remains, with Labour and Conservatives, an overwhelming majority to keep control orders. So I think this is the crux of our disagreement.

    A quote from Mill to keep you going: ‘Their practical conduct as politicians necessarily partakes of compromise. Their demands and systematic aims must often fall short of their principles. But let them not therefore cut down their principles to the measure of their demands.’

    Also, good to hear that you will likely continue to support Simon Wright. He is excellent.

  • Foregone Conclusion 17th Dec '10 - 1:53pm

    Some very, very good news. It didn’t happen overnight, but it shows that when people of goodwill get together and try to sort out a problem like this, some sort of solution can be drawn up that is much much better than the status quo.

  • @Matt – The Liberal Democrats were indeed right to vote against Control Orders, and would be wrong now if they voted for them. However, if they negotiated a far weaker, more liberal alternative – even if it wasn’t quite what we wanted – this would be acceptable to vote for based on the notion of compromise and working with other people who we do not agree with.

    In a similar instance, if I were elected, I would usually vote against elected police commissioners, but if, through consultation and compromise, a rehabilitation programme and reduction in pointless imprisonment were adopted, I might agree to vote for them.

    The point I am trying to make is a) compromise happens [in every walk of life], b) it can even happen contrary to your principles if those principles are un-attainable in the practical context [we might disagree on this], and c) we don’t even know what will be proposed yet… I am still optimistic.

  • @Matt – you are being a bit unfair now. I will debate the issue further when we know what is coming forward – at the moment, we don’t and as mentioned, whether or not our ministers can vote for it is dependent on what is proposed. I agree wholeheartedly with what you say about trial/charge/innocence and justice, but we must wait and see what is proposed – if we had a Lib Dem majority, I have no doubt that these would have gone in weeks, once services were able to consider how to protect liberty without infringing it.

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