Royals vote to maintain migrant child detention limits – BBC News

  • By Paul Seddon
  • Political journalist

image source, Getty’s image

The House of Lords has voted against the government’s plan to weaken detention limits for children and pregnant women in a migration bill.

The law would overturn existing legal limits on how long they can be detained before being expelled from the UK for arriving illegally.

But the colleagues voted to keep the current safeguards in a series of amendments.

They also voted to ban the deportation of LGBT migrants to countries including Rwanda.

The proposed changes were one of 11 losses that ministers suffered on the Illegal Migration Bill in a vote late on Monday.

They can be overturned when the bill returns to the House of Commons, where – unlike in the Lords – the government has a majority.

But it raises the possibility of another clash between ministers and Tory supporters over contested aspects of the law.

The bill, which was endorsed by lawmakers in March, is the crux of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s high-profile pledge to “stop” small boats crossing the English Channel.

That would place a legal obligation on the government to detain and transfer those who arrive in the UK illegally, either to Rwanda or another “safe” third country.

The government says it is committed to its plan to move migrants to Rwanda, although the Court of Appeal ruled last week that doing so was unlawful. He has said he will appeal the decision in the Supreme Court.

There were concerns about how children would be treated under the new migration laws, as well as accusations that existing British regulations to prevent modern slavery would be violated.

While the legal obligation to deport migrants will not apply to children under 18 years of age, the bill will give ministers new powers to deport them in certain circumstances.

It would also remove the current three-day limit on how long children and pregnant women can be detained, as well as a maximum of 24 hours for unaccompanied children.

The government argues that detention powers are necessary to ensure migrants to be transferred do not “disappear into society” – and says no one will be held longer than is “absolutely necessary” to ensure they are deported.

He added that there was also a legal obligation to ensure lengths of detention were “reasonable”, adding that leaving the UK voluntarily would be “always an option for all”.

But in the series of voting on Wednesday, a handful of Conservatives worked with their opposition counterparts to maintain containment limits.

Tory peer Baroness Mobarik, who proposed the amendments, said the minister’s “verbal assurances” were insufficient and “necessary safeguards” should be added to the bill itself.

“The psychological harm of incarceration for young children is significant and will likely impact them for the rest of their lives,” he added.

Immigration Minister Lord Murray of Blidworth said safeguards were in place for the detention of pregnant women, while those in the final stages of pregnancy would be released on immigration bail.

Tim Loughton, who spearheaded the mutiny, said at the time he wanted the max line to remain.

In another vote on Monday, the Lords voted to ban the deportation of LGBT migrants to 10 primarily African countries, including Rwanda, Nigeria and Kenya – with a specific ban on trans men and women being deported to Brazil.

When the proposed ban was initially mooted last week, Crossbench colleague Lord Etherton, who suggested it, said the countries were “hostile and unsafe” to LGBT people.

The colleagues also approved an amendment to retain the court’s role in deciding how long a detention is “reasonable” – removing a new power in the bill that would have allowed ministers to decide.

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