Unravelling the Lib Dem spin that they’re ending child detention

Labour MP Lisa Nandy is correct to point out that Nick Clegg has reneged on his promise to end child detention, writes End Child Detention Now’s Simon Parker.

Fib Dems: Nick Clegg and his cronies have caved in to the xenophobic nastiness of the Tories and reneged on their pledge to end child detention

Simon Parker is a co-ordinator of the campaign group End Child Detention Now

Labour MP Lisa Nandy is correct to point out that Nick Clegg has reneged on his promise to end child detention.

Rushing to his leader’s defence, Tom Brake responded to Nandy’s article on these pages with the staggering claim:

“The Liberal Democrats are proud of the central role we have played in delivering the coalition government’s commitment to end pre-departure child detention and we have delivered big time.”

Staggering because although the number of children detained by the UK Border Agency in designated immigration removal centres has declined, the number of children held at ports and airports (as a recent Children’s Society report revealed) remains shockingly high.

What Brake refers to as ‘Cedar House’ (the centre is officially referred to as ‘Cedars Pre-Departure Accommodation’) has the capacity to detain more than 4,000 family members a year for up to seven days and there is no obstacle to the UKBA re-arresting and detaining families at will.

The coalition government’s so-called ‘Independent Family Returns Panel’ (whose entire membership is appointed by the Home Office and whose officials sit on it) acts as a clearing house for ‘noncompliant families’ who have been identified as requiring arrest and detention prior to removal.

Brake lauds the presence of children’s charity Barnardo’s, which has secured the contract to run welfare services at ‘Cedars’, but neglects to point out the contractor in charge of actually running the converted former special needs school is G4S – a company is under investigation for corporate manslaughter following the tragic death of Jimmy Mubenga in the custody of its escort staff in October of last year.

He also fails to mention Tinsley House Immigration Removal Centre will continue to detain ex-offender parents and their children, ‘border turn around’ cases and families deemed too disruptive for Pease Pottage.

Brake is quite wrong to claim ‘Cedars’ is “significantly different to a detention centre”. As Damian Green admitted in a parliamentary reply to Lisa Nandy on October 12th, ‘Cedars’ will be subject to inspections by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons and will have its own Independent Monitoring Board.

‘Cedars’ may have been expensively refurbished to give it a ‘homely feel’. Its less homely features include a 2.5m security fence, floodlit grounds bristling with CCTV cameras, and the accommodation boasts locked ‘anti-suicide cupboards’. Detainees cannot come and go as they please, they must apply for permission to leave the facility and be escorted by security guards at all times.

Before taking the credit for ending child detention, Tom Brake needs to explain when it can ever be in the best interests of children to lock them up – as his government is still doing.

And Lisa Nandy, while rightly pursuing the coalition for failing to honour its pledge on ending child detention, should be pressing Ed Miliband to apologise for the thousands of vulnerable children the previous Labour government subjected to significant harm, and pushing the shadow home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, to commit a future Labour government to never putting a single child through such abuse again.

See also:

Lib Dems: We *are* delivering on our End Child Detention pledgeTom Brake MP, November 18th 2011

Nick Clegg dodges, again, the question of what he’s doing to end child detentionLisa Nandy MP, November 15th 2011

When will the coalition deliver on its pledge to end child detention?Daniel Elton, September 8th 2011

Campaigners fear child detention coalition back trackDaniel Elton, January 2nd 2011

Time for coalition to deliver on child detention pledgeDaniel Elton, December 16th

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  • Ash

    I confess that I don’t really ‘get’ this debate. It’s not obvious to me that (assuming it’s legitimate to detain parents), children are worse off living with those parents in a detention centre than living in, say, foster care or a children’s home outside a detention centre. Indeed, you could describe any children’s home or boarding school as being in the business of ‘child detention’, since their duty of care presumably means they’re required to keep children there who may not want to be there, by locking them in if necessary. Some prisons even have babies and toddlers living with their mothers, but nobody thinks of that as ‘child detention’ – it’s something that’s done for the benefit of the child.

    None of which deals with the question of whether a particular environment is appropriate for a child; but I would (genuinely) like to see an explanation of what is meant by ‘ending’ child detention, and why it’s felt this would be best – e.g. if it means having children separated from their parents in childrens’ homes, why do we think that’s preferable to arrangements in which they are ‘detained’ along with their parents?

  • oskarsdrum

    Well, this is a fairly good (albeit typically literary!) summary of the rights and many wrongs of the matter:


    Most significantly, “Asylum seekers with children almost never abscond” – mainly because it’s just about impossible to do that without causing serious and immediate harm to the children in question. The detention system in operation is nothing to do with a short holding period prior to deportation, and is implemented with a totally unnecessary cruelty throughout.

  • Simon

    A follow up post from Simon Parker on ecdn.org
    Over 80% of children detained in UK ‘pre-departure accommodation’ held for more than 72 hours. http://ecdn.org/2011/11/24/over-80-of-children-detained-in-uk-%E2%80%98pre-departure-accommodation%E2%80%99-held-for-more-than-72-hours/

  • Simon

    Correction ‘Most children detained in UK ‘pre-departure accommodation’ held for more than 72 hours.