The government’s attempt to extend the detention period for children in its migration bill has been rejected by the House of Lords. The Illegal Migration Bill, introduced by the government, aimed to increase the maximum duration for which children can be held before being deported for illegal entry into the country. However, the House of Lords voted to reinstate safeguards that align more closely with existing legislation. They also voted to restore protections for individuals claiming to be victims of trafficking.
On Wednesday evening, ministers faced a series of defeats on the Illegal Migration Bill, as each vote reintroduced provisions that had been previously removed by Members of Parliament in the House of Commons on Tuesday. It is important to note that these changes can be removed once again when the bill returns to the House of Commons, where the government holds a majority. According to parliamentary procedure, the House of Lords can request that MPs reconsider bills but cannot compel the government to accept amendments. Nevertheless, this situation raises the possibility of a confrontation between ministers and Conservative backbenchers over contentious aspects of the legislation.
The bill, which received support from MPs in March, holds great significance for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s prominent commitment to “stop” the influx of small boats crossing the English Channel. It would impose a legal obligation on the government to detain and remove individuals who enter the UK illegally, either by deporting them to Rwanda or another designated “safe” third country.
Despite a Court of Appeal ruling that deemed the government’s plan to remove migrants to Rwanda unlawful, the government remains steadfast in its commitment and intends to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
Concerns have been raised regarding the treatment of children under the new migration bill, as well as allegations that it would undermine existing UK regulations aimed at preventing modern slavery. Although the legal duty to deport migrants would not apply to individuals under the age of 18, the bill would grant ministers additional powers to deport children under specific circumstances.
Furthermore, it would extend the maximum period for which children can be detained from three days to eight. A previous version of the bill had proposed an even longer detention period of up to 28 days.