migration bill lords maintain child migrant detention limits
Last updated on July 7th, 2023 at 06:06 am
The government’s plans to loosen the detention restrictions for children and expectant women in its migration bill have been rejected by the House of Lords.
The legislation would eliminate current legal restrictions on how long they could be detained before being expelled from the UK for entering the country illegally.
However, after several amendments, peers decided to keep the current safeguards in place. They also voted to forbid LGBT migrants from being sent back to countries like Rwanda.
In votes on the Illegal Migration Bill on Monday night, ministers were defeated 11 times, including once on the suggested changes.
When the bill returns to the House of Commons, where the government has a majority (unlike in the Lords), it may be overturned.
However, it creates the possibility of yet another conflict over contentious parts of the legislation between ministers and Tory backbenchers.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s well-publicized pledge to “stop” small boats from crossing the English Channel is centered on the bill, which MPs backed in March.
It would make the government legally obligated to detain and remove individuals entering the UK illegally to Rwanda or another “safe” third country.
Despite the Court of Appeal’s ruling last week that it was illegal, the government insists that it is committed to its plan to send migrants to Rwanda. It has already declared that it will take the ruling to the Supreme Court for review.
There have been complaints that the UK’s current laws preventing modern slavery would be undermined, along with worries about how children will be treated under the new immigration bill.
Although minors would not be subject to the legal obligation to be deported, the bill would give ministers new authority to do so under certain conditions.
Additionally, it would eliminate the current three-day cap on the amount of time that pregnant women and children can be detained, as well as the 24-hour cap on children who are not with an adult.
No one would be held longer than is “necessary” to ensure their deportation, according to the government, which claims detention powers are required to ensure migrants headed for removal do not “disappear into the community“.
Leaving the UK voluntarily will “always be an option for all,” the statement continues, adding that there is also an overarching legal obligation to ensure that the duration of detention is “reasonable.”
However, a small number of Conservatives joined forces with opposition peers to keep the detention limits in place during a series of votes on Wednesday.
The amendments were proposed by Tory peer Baroness Mobarik, who claimed that “verbal assurances” from ministers were insufficient and that “necessary safeguards” needed to be incorporated into the bill itself.
She continued, “The psychological harms of detention on young children are significant and likely to have a long-term effect.“
Pregnant women who are being held already have protections in place, according to Lord Murray of Blidworth, Minister of Immigration, while those who are further along in their pregnancies will be released on immigration bail.
Removing the LGBT Ban
When the bill was being discussed in the Commons, the issue of child detention came up. The government avoided a confrontation with Tory rebels by promising to hear their concerns.
Tim Loughton, the instigator of the uprising, declared at the time that he favored maintaining a cap.
In other votes on Monday, the Lords decided to forbid the deportation of LGBT migrants to 10 countries, mostly in Africa, including Rwanda, Nigeria, and Kenya. They also decided to forbid the deportation of trans men and women to Brazil.
Crossbench peer Lord Etherton, who proposed the bans, said the nations were “hostile and unsafe” for LGBT people when the proposals were first discussed last week.
Peers also approved an amendment to eliminate new ministerial decision-making powers and keep the courts’ role in determining what constitutes a “reasonable” length of detention.