Ending detention of children for immigration purposes: details and dates published

Today (as predicted) Nick Clegg is announcing the details of how the government will end detention of children for immigration purposes.

Since the government review started on 1 June, the number in detention has dropped sharply – 78 compared to 594 in the same period under Labour in 2009. Now the government is committed both to ensuring that no children are in detention over Christmas and that the policy is completely abolished by May. As previously announced, the family wing at Yarl’s Wood being shut. (More details here.)

Tom Brake (Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Committee on Home Affairs and Justice) has said of the news:

Today’s announcement marks the fulfilment of an important Liberal Democrat policy: by the first anniversary of the Coalition Agreement not a single child will be detained for immigration purposes.

Over the last five years of Labour’s government, an average of nearly seven children a day were in such detention, with 173 of them detained for more than a month in the last year alone. The average length of time children spent locked up over the five years was just under thirteen days.

The detention (a polite term for locking up) children involved in immigration cases was a policy that Labour at times almost seemed proud of as showing so-called ‘toughness’. It was also a policy which the ending of has been high on the list of coalition ‘must haves’ for many Liberal Democrats. Retaining such detention was also a policy that many Conservatives have argued hard for within the coalition since May. Today’s news is a clear example of something that would not have happened if the Conservatives were governing alone.

Two other significant policies where news was originally planned before Christmas will now await the new year. These are control orders (where the vigorous debate between Liberal Democrats and some Conservatives versus other Conservatives continues) and the next set of details on how elections by PR for a reformed Upper House will be carried out.

Both of those are important issues in their own right, but also will have an important political impact. If ending child detention is followed by control orders being axed and radical plans for the Upper House, then tuition fees will look like the (very important) exception in how the coalition is doing at delivering policies Liberal Democrats have long argued for.

However, if the government does not deliver on one or both, the big political risk is that tuition fees starts to look like a typical outcome for the coalition – with a resulting rapid drop in support for it from Liberal Democrats.

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