"We will end the detention of children for immigration purposes"So says the Coalition's Programme for Government on page 21 and this is what I expect to happen, despite today's story in the Guardian saying the Government is climbing down on this I'm having trouble trying to find the actual answer to Greg Mulholland referred to in the article. However, it's clear from Hansard that only on Monday of this week, Damian Green confirmed in a written answer that the Government was committed to ending child detention. He told Peter Wishart:
The Government have been clear in their commitment to end the detention of children for immigration purposes. We therefore continue to work with our corporate partners to find an alternative that protects the welfare of children, without undermining our immigration laws.The Guardian waits until the last paragraph of its article to print a statement from the Home Office saying something pretty similar.
I'd like to see that commitment become a reality, an absolute, now. I suspect that Home Office Civil Servants will be opposed to the move, but on this one, the Minister must over-rule them and insist on a permanent end to child detention.
So I guess this is a classic case of don't believe all you read in the newspapers. Having said that, I want to see some concrete results.
I am extremely disappointed that Theresa May declined to use the discretion she admits she has to allow Florence and Precious Mhango to remain in the country. Precious is effectively Scottish now and the threat of removal should be lifted from her now. I hope that Liberal Democrat ministers, including the Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore are making a robust case for them to stay so that Precious can go back to school with her friends. Their removal would be utterly unacceptable as far as I am concerned.
While I was reading through Home Office questions from Monday, I found this question from Liberal Democrat Annette Brooke and subsequent answer which upset me greatly:
Annette Brooke: To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) how many times physical force has been used to board a child under the age of 18 years on to an aeroplane by each company contracted to provide UK Border Agency escorts in each month of the last five years; 
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(2) whether (a) staff in immigration removal centres and (b) UK Border Agency escort providers have been authorised to use the holds and techniques on children under the age of 18 years referred to in the Physical Control in Care manual; 
(3) what training on the control and restraint of children under the age of 18 years has been provided by the Prison Service (a) in each immigration removal centre and (b) to each company contracted to provide UK Border Agency escorts; 
(4) how many times (a) she and (b) the manager of a (i) directly-managed and (ii) contracted-out immigration removal centre has ordered a detained child in each removal centre under the age of 18 years to be put under special control or restraint for (A) injuring himself or others, (B) damaging property and (C) creating a disturbance in each month of each of the last five years; 
(5) what techniques are in the category of special control and restraint; how many times each of the techniques has been used on a child under the age of 18 years (a) in each immigration removal centre and (b) by each company contracted to provide UK Border Agency escorts in each of the last 12 months; and for how long each technique was used in each case. 
Damian Green: Use of restraint is governed by schedule 13 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and specifically in relation to Immigration Removal Centres, by the Detention Centre Rules 2001.
In order to exercise any use of restraint, detention custody officers and escorts must be accredited by the Secretary of State, a condition of which is that they have undergone training of techniques approved by the National Offender Management Service. Officers receive refresher training every 12 months. Any use of restraint must be justified, proportionate and for the shortest possible period to achieve the objective.
Some officers receive specialist training in the use of restraint on children using non-pain compliant techniques (Physical Control in Care), including shepherding and guiding.
We only use restraint on a child where it is strictly necessary to prevent self-harm or to protect others and property. In very exceptional circumstances, officers may be given authority to restrain a child in order to enforce their removal from the United Kingdom where every effort has been made to secure their compliance, but unfortunately they refuse to do so, often encouraged by their parents.
In the 12 months to June 2010, the period for which data is available, officers have been authorised to restrain children on 18 occasions for the purposes of removal. However, it was only necessary to restrain three of them. One further child was restrained in an immigration removal centre when officers had reason to believe she might self-harm.
The following table shows the occasions from 2008 to the present time when children were restrained by officers to board an aircraft. Such information is not available prior to 2008. The officers were provided by G4S on each occasion.
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The above data is based on management information, and is not subject to the detailed checks carried out for National Statistics. It is provisional and subject to change.
Special restraint involves the use of any device other than handcuffs such as leg restraints (velcro straps). No child has been subjected to special control or restraint in the last five years.It makes me very angry to think of a child, through no fault of their own, being so distressed that they have to be forced on to the plane that takes them away to an uncertain future in a place from which their families have fled because of persecution of some description.
I would go as far as to say that I don't think we should be removing children from the country at all, especially if they have been born here or settled in this country for a significant part of their lives.
It's a simple matter of compassion and humanity as far as I am concerned.