Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

Migrant age assessment plans ‘certainly not scientific’ – Lord Winston

A group of people thought to be migrants crossing the Channel in a small boat travelling from the coast of France and heading in the direction of Dover, Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA)
A group of people thought to be migrants crossing the Channel in a small boat travelling from the coast of France and heading in the direction of Dover, Kent (Gareth Fuller/PA)

Testing migrants’ teeth and bones to verify whether they are children is “using the instruments of science” but is certainly not scientific, ministers have been warned.

Home Office ministers faced questions about the accuracy and safety of using X-rays and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans to verify the ages of migrants, as they put the measures to a vote in the House of Lords.

The Lords gave its backing to the plans, which will see X-rays used to examine teeth and wrist bones, and MRI scans used to examine thigh bones and collarbones, as a means of assessing biological age among migrants who claim to be children.

The power to use new assessment methods was created by the Nationality and Borders Act, amid concerns that some migrants were claiming to be children for favourable treatment in the asylum system.

But Labour peer Lord Winston questioned the accuracy of the measures as the details were put to a vote in the House of Lords.

Lord Winston, a professor, medical doctor and broadcaster famed for the Child Of Our Time television series, told the Lords: “I would argue that this is a matter of science primarily and actually the idea that scientific assessment is not scientific, and what we are doing is using instruments developed by science but the assessment is certainly not a scientific one.”

He asked ministers to reveal how accurate the tests were, including if an assessment has been made of the “confidence limits and the error bars” of the assessments.

Lord Winston also suggested that the tests may not account for lack of nutrition or growth deficiencies.

He asked: “Can he tell us what the preceding situation with those immigrant children are? For example, what diet were they on before they came in? Did they have normal calcium, for example, in their diet? Were they deficient in calcium? Did they have other issues which might have changed their bone age?”

He also raised concerns about the harmful impact of radiation from X-rays, telling peers: “The risk of ionising radiation is a serious one. How do we know that this child later on might not need another X-ray for a medical condition?

“In which case you have an accumulative risk, or perhaps has had ionising radiation before getting to the United Kingdom, or on its way if it was going to come here. That is one of the issues.”

Home Office minister Lord Sharpe of Epsom told peers that he did not know how accurate X-rays of bones were in establishing age, but said teeth assessments could offer an estimate of “two years either side”.

Lord Robert Winston
Lord Robert Winston (Yui Mok/PA)

He insisted that the radiation risk of exposing migrants to such X-rays was the equivalent of “less than two hours on an international flight”.

Lord Sharpe added that the Government was conscious “that methods to assess age such as bone development are affected by factors such as ethnicity, body mass, sex, puberty” and was taking advice to ensure accuracy.

He went on: “The Home Office will not use the scientific methods to determine an exact age or an age range but rather use the science to establish whether the claimed age range of the age-disputed person is possible. It is key that methods used for age assessment have a known margin of error.

“Combining assessment of dental and skeletal development is important as it increases the accuracy of the approach.”

While the Lords gave its backing to the Government’s plans, a large number of peers backed a series of motions to express their dissent towards the age assessment plans.

Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Brinton led calls for a vote, telling peers: “I did not do this lightly, but believe that this Government is contradicting itself and moving ahead with legislation that medical and dental experts say should not be used yet.”

Her motion called on ministers to “withdraw the regulations until the policy has been developed in full and an impact assessment and costings have been provided to Parliament”.

Peers voted 165 to 86, majority 79, and 164 to 75, majority 89, to back her motion to regret the measures.