HC Deb 18 April 2002 vol 383 cc1155-6W
Mr. McNamara

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will list the reasons why he rejected the conclusions set out in the legal opinion obtained by Save the Children UK on the United Kingdom's Immigration Reservation to the United Nations Convention on the Child. [48659]

Angela Eagle

[holding answer 17 April 2002]: We have carefully reviewed the reservation in the light of the legal opinion submitted by Save the Children and other recent requests that it should be withdrawn. We have taken legal advice which strongly suggests that the reservation remains necessary in order to maintain an effective immigration control. We consider that, not withstanding the reservation, there are sufficient checks and balances in place to ensure that children are protected.

The United Kingdom always takes its international obligations seriously. We are obliged, under the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to consider all applications for asylum made in the United Kingdom. Each application is considered on its individual merits. While awaiting a decision on their claims, all asylum seeking children have access to primary health care and education facilities and there are currently no outstanding cases where the United Nations Convention on Rights of the Child (UNCRC) has been cited by children seeking asylum here. The majority of asylum seeking children are, of course, accompanied by their families.

We fully appreciate the potential vulnerability of unaccompanied children and the distress they may experience while awaiting a decision on their asylum claims. The need for anxious scrutiny is stressed in training and guidance to all staff involved in the asylum decision making process. Because of the particular sensitivities surrounding applications from unaccompanied children, their cases are given priority and dealt with by specially trained caseworkers, who are provided with comprehensive instructions setting out areas to consider when dealing with such applications. These instructions are available on the Internet and are reviewed on a regular basis.

All unaccompanied minors who apply for asylum are referred to the Refugee Council's Panel of Advisers, a non-statutory body which acts as adviser to the child in his/her dealings with the Home Office and other agencies for the duration of the asylum claim. Unaccompanied minors are not entitled to benefits but are supported under the Children Act 1989 (maintenance and accommodation being provided by social services departments of the local authorities). It has been agreed that no unaccompanied child will be removed from the United Kingdom unless we are satisfied that adequate reception and care arrangements are in place in the country to which he/she is to be removed. If care arrangements cannot be established, the child is normally allowed to remain here exceptionally, outside the Immigration Rules, on compassionate grounds.

For these reasons, we do not accept the recommendation made in the legal opinion forwarded by Save the Children.