On 21st March the House of Lords considered the Government’s Immigration Bill at Report Stage. The Bishop of Norwich, Rt Revd Graham James co-sponsored and spoke in support of a series of amendments on care leaving support for young people in the immigration system. Introducing the amendments the Earl of Listowel said:
“These amendments ensure that young people leaving care are able to continue to access leaving-care support from their local authorities in circumstances where their departure from the UK is not envisaged. This includes young people with pending applications to remain in the UK whose long-term future may be in the UK, and young people who cannot leave the UK because there is a genuine obstacle to their removal.”
The amendments were not put to a vote. The Bishops’ speech and the Minister’s response are below.
The Lord Bishop of Norwich: My Lords, the situation of most young adults in this country reveals why this group of amendments is needed. I am glad to add my name to it and pay tribute to the noble Earl for his introduction. In 2015, half of all young people aged 21 in this country and 40% of all 24 year-olds were still living with their parents. As many Members of your Lordships’ House will know from personal experience, even adult children who have left home often return when need arises. Indeed, my own personal experience of adult children is that territorial control of bedrooms continues even when they have got married or have their flats elsewhere—I am thinking of introducing a bedroom tax in Bishop’s House in Norwich.
Children in care are not somehow exempt from the societal pressures of this age. In this regard, the Government recently changed legislation so that all care leavers can stay put in foster placements until they are 21, which is a recognition of a massive shift in our society and is good for their welfare. The current system of leaving care is designed to keep contact with young people, wherever they end up.
Care leavers who have exhausted their appeal rights and find themselves alone in this country face the same difficulties as other children leaving care but additional ones as well: isolation, loneliness and fear are common. They have often suffered abuse, violence and trauma earlier in their lives. Migrant care leavers need help from their corporate parents to gain access to legal advice and representation in relation to their immigration status.
Research for the Children’s Commissioner, published 18 months ago, included interviews with care leavers who had become appeal rights exhausted. They had a pervasive sense of fear, anxiety and depression. Some said that they contemplated suicide. The experience of friends hardened their resolution to remain in the UK. One young person said of this friends that,
“one of them is currently in a detention centre, one was sent back years ago, and one was sent recently, sent back to Afghanistan … but he is in a big trouble. His father is telling him to join the Taliban”.
This amendment is necessary because such young people undoubtedly continue to need support, whether it is to make sure that returning them to their country of origin is truly safe or to work with them in preparing them to return with assistance and proper support, without the need for enforcement. I hope that the Minister will look sympathetically on this group of amendments.
Lord Bates: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, for moving the amendment. He is one of the Members of this House whom we all greatly admire. He focuses on a particular area that he cares passionately about—namely children, particularly children in care, and seeks to introduce their voice into all pieces of legislation that go through your Lordships’ House. That is to his credit and we appreciate him in that spirit. My officials and I were grateful for the opportunity to meet with the noble Earl about his amendment, and I know that James Brokenshire, the Immigration Minister, was grateful to have the meeting with the Alliance for Children in Care and Care Leavers on 8 March.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, invited me to write another of my famous letters. I was particularly proud of the one that we wrote on 11 March following the meetings and the consultation. Not only did we listen to the concerns that were raised, but on page 4 we went into some detail about how we would respond to those concerns. We said that we would look at how provision should be geared to what the local authority is satisfied is needed to support a person through their assisted voluntary return or forced departure. Let us just be clear for those who may not have followed all the aspects of this issue. We are talking about people in local authority care who, after various appeals for leave to remain, are deemed to have no legal right to be here, and furthermore—this is very important from the perspective of the noble Baroness and the right reverend Prelate—there is no barrier preventing their return. These are important provisions to bear in mind in relation to the group that we are talking about.
I emphasise that the great majority of care leavers are not affected by the changes in Schedule 11, including those with refugee status, leave to remain or an outstanding asylum claim or appeal. They will all remain subject to the Children Act framework. Under new paragraph 7B of Schedule 3 to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, this also includes those who have been refused asylum but have lodged further submissions on protection grounds that remain outstanding, or who have been granted permission to apply for a judicial review in relation to their asylum claim.
Under new paragraph 2A of Schedule 3, the Children Act framework will also continue to cover those awaiting the outcome of their first application or appeal to regularise their immigration status where, for example, they are a victim of trafficking. This means that the young adults affected by the changes in Schedule 11 will be those who have applied for leave to remain here on asylum or other grounds but have been refused, and who the courts have agreed do not need our protection, have no lawful basis to be here and should now leave the UK.
I shall now deal with the points referred to by the noble Earl and the noble Baroness. It is possible for individual cases supported by local authorities under the new 2002 Act framework to continue in a foster placement or to be supported by a personal adviser where the local authority considers this to be appropriate. That is an important safeguard.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Hamwee, asked about the meaning of “unaccompanied” in Clause 64(10), concerning the transfer of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. We understand the concern to ensure that all relevant cases are properly safeguarded, including victims of trafficking. We will set out in writing how we intend “unaccompanied” to be defined and how it will operate. My notes do not say when that will be, but it will be done by Third Reading. That is an important point and I am grateful that it has been raised.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, asked about care leavers being dispersed across the country. These cases will qualify for Home Office support under new Section 95A only where they are failed asylum seekers facing a genuine obstacle to departure from the UK. It will be possible in these cases for the person to remain in local authority accommodation funded by the Home Office—for example, while they await a travel document from their embassy. We will develop appropriate guidance with the Department for Education on those cases. I am sure that the views of the organisations that the noble Baroness referred to will be valuable in formulating that guidance, and would be appreciated.
The noble Baroness also asked about the need for individual assessments and plans. We will work closely with the Department for Education and key partners in the sector on new guidance for local authorities to make sure that there is the right approach to assessment by local authorities of cases under Schedule 3 to the 2002 Act.
Local authorities should not be obliged to provide Children Act care-leaver support simply because the person has sought a judicial review in these circumstances. Likewise, where the person has exhausted their appeal rights and should now be leaving the UK but there is a genuine obstacle which prevents this—for example, they have yet to receive a travel document—the combination of the new Section 95A of the 1999 Act and paragraph 10B of Schedule 3 to the 2002 Act will ensure the provision of appropriate support while this obstacle remains.
I conclude where I began by paying tribute to the work of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in this important area. I have listened extremely carefully to what he, the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Hamwee, and the right reverend Prelate have said. I am also grateful to the Alliance for Children in Care and Care Leavers for its advice on these issues, and we hope that that will continue as the guidance is formulated. It will be essential that there continues to be close engagement with such partners as these new measures are taken forward. I regret, however, that we are not able to agree to the particular change that the noble Earl is seeking in relation to Schedule 11. I ask that he consider withdrawing his amendment at this stage based on the reassurances that I provided in my letter on 11 March and the ongoing engagement that we look forward to having with the noble Earl on these very important issues for this very vulnerable group.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for his encouraging reply. I should have acknowledged the meeting on 11 March with James Brokenshire. In particular, his offer for ongoing discussion with the Refugee Children’s Consortium is very reassuring. There is just one matter that I would like to clarify with the Minister. He said that this would apply only where there are no barriers preventing the return of these young people. That would include those young people who are here and who one would wish to return to their country but, for various reasons, they cannot be returned. For children who cannot be returned to their home country, for whatever reason that may be, would that be considered a barrier?
Lord Bates: I am happy to come back on that. Where it is not safe for the person to be returned because there is a real fear of danger, persecution or irreversible harm—I think “real” is a legal term in this context—we would not be able to return them in those circumstances. Basically, these are circumstances where there is no barrier; where the courts have looked at the case, and at the country to which the person would be returned, and adjudicated that they do not believe the person would be at risk and there is no reason for them to continue to stay in the UK. That is the definition that applies there.