Migration Bill: Lords reinsert minor detention limits

The House of Lords has rejected the government's attempt to extend the detention period for children in its migration measure. The government's Illegal Migration Bill increases the length of time minors can be detained before being deported for illegal entry. However, peers voted to reinstate protections more consistent with current law.

In addition, they voted to reinstate protections for alleged victims of human trafficking. Wednesday evening, ministers suffered a series of defeats on the Illegal Migration Bill. Each vote reinstated provisions that had been eliminated by House of Commons ballots on Tuesday.

When the measure returns to the House, where the government has a majority — unlike in the Lords — these amendments can be removed. Parliamentary practice dictates that the House of Lords can ask for a reexamination of measures by members of parliament but cannot compel the administration to accept revisions. However, this raises the possibility of a rematch between ministers and Conservative backbenchers over contentious aspects of the legislation.

The measure, which was passed by the House of Representatives in March, is central to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's prominent vow to "stop" small boats from crossing the English Channel. It would impose a legal obligation on the government to detain and remove illegal immigrants to Rwanda or another "safe" third country.

Although the Court of Appeals ruled that the government's plan to deport migrants to Rwanda was unlawful, the government maintains its commitment to the plan. It has already stated that it will file an appeal with the Supreme Court.

Concerns have been raised regarding the treatment of minors under the new migration bill, as well as allegations that existing UK regulations to prevent modern slavery would be undermined.

Although the legal obligation to deport migrants under the age of 18 would not apply, the measure would grant ministers the authority to deport them in certain circumstances. It would also increase the maximum length of detention for minors from three to eight days. A previous version of the measure proposed allowing up to 28 days of detention for children.

The government argues that detention powers are required to ensure that migrants destined for deportation do not "disappear into the community" and that no one will be detained for longer than "absolutely necessary" to ensure their deportation. In addition, there is an overarching legal obligation to ensure that the duration of detention is "reasonable," and "voluntarily leaving the United Kingdom will always be an option for all."

Before Tuesday's vote in the House of Commons, the Home Office proposed reinstating a 72-hour limit on the detention of expectant women. In addition, amendments passed by the House of Lords would impose a 72-hour limit on the detention of unaccompanied minors, which could be extended to a maximum of seven days with ministerial approval. Peer-approved proposals limit the length of detention for accompanied minors to 96 hours.

The government had previously scaled back its juvenile detention plans in response to a rebellion by Conservative backbenchers. In other votes on Wednesday, the Lords voted to reinstate a prohibition on the deportation of LGBT migrants to ten predominantly African countries, including Rwanda, Nigeria, and Kenya, as well as a ban on the deportation of trans men and women to Brazil. In July, peers had previously endorsed the same proposals.