Go to content

Lords demand dentists have voice on dental age checks

We continue to lobby against the introduction of the unethical and inaccurate practice of using dental X-rays to assess the age of undocumented child migrants.

Lords debate the use of dental X-rays for age assessment - April 2022

Last month the Government suffered a heavy defeat in the House of Lords on this issue when Peers voted with a large majority to pass an amendment we've lobbied for. That amendment would have required the sign-off of the BDA and other relevant national bodies before the Government could introduce dental age checks.

Unfortunately, the amendment was overturned by Conservative MPs when the Bill returned to the Commons subsequently. In response, the Peers put down a tweaked version of their age assessment amendment, but sadly the Government failed to accept it when the Bill made its way back to the House of Lords last week.

When debating the latest iteration of our suggested amendment, many Lords expressed their objection to the use of ionising radiation for non-clinical purposes in migration cases, and their disappointment that the Government continues to refuse to listen to expert advice on this issue.

Baronesses Hamwee and Lister both reiterated the unethical nature of using X-rays for determining age, quoting BDA evidence. They insisted that – at the very least – a practising dentist must be included on the Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee, which will advise the Government on the accuracy and ethics of various scientific methods of age assessment. Shadow Home Office Minister Lord Coaker said he found it “remarkable” that the Government refused to heed this “perfectly reasonable and moderate ask”.

Lord Harris of Haringey – the current Chair of the GDC – also spoke up against the use of dental age checks, stressing the BDA was “very exercised” by this issue. He questioned whether migrants undergoing such checks would not be under duress to agree to them, and warned that for a dentist, “to carry out a dental X-ray without that free consent is unethical and against all professional standards”.

In his response Minister Lord Stewart of Dirleton said he “recognised the strength of feeling in the House about this issue”. He stressed no decisions have yet been made on which exact methods will be used in age assessment processes, saying it was the Government’s intention to be guided by the views of the Age Estimation Science Advisory Committee. However, in response to the calls for a dentist to sit on that body he insisted he was “not in a position to commit to there being a member of any specific profession on the committee”.

We are requesting a meeting with the Chair of the Committee Baroness Black and will continue our campaign to definitively rule out radiographic age tests.