|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Blunkett: I agree entirely, which is why, as Secretary of State for Education and Employment, I brought in the compulsory teaching of citizenship and democracy, which starts this September.
Simon Hughes: I know and welcome that. I know also that the Citizenship Foundation has thoughts on the Bill,
The difficulty with the nationality and immigration parts of the Bill is in clauses 105 to 110, and there is a coalition of concerns about those issues. The CBI, the TUC and others are very concerned that private sector employers should not act as immigration officials. I am keen to ensure that information properly acquired by an employer, a family or a landlord is not passed, without any controls, to others in the private sector, or to other individuals and organisations. The protection of data personal to an individual should be similar whether they are an immigrant or British-born. I am keen that we do not have new and draconian powers to intervene or to break into a person's home or office which are in any way different from those that would apply to a British-born person who was breaking rules on health and safety or employment. I hope that the practice will be non-discriminatory, and we need urgently to look at part 7.
The most controversial subject of the Bill is, however, asylum rather than immigration or nationality, and it remains so in this Bill. The hon. Member for West Dorset was right to say that the crucial issue is getting right the decision making. We need good initial decisions that do not need to be appealed against, and therefore people should be legally represented from the beginning of the process so that everybody has confidence in the system.
I have never understoodMinisters might say that I never will unless I become a Minister in a Department like the Home Office, which is why I am trying so hard to get therethe reason why the targets set are so often not reached. The Home Secretary was very honest when he said that the Home Office makes progress slowly; I think that that is true. Let me give an example from the most recent targets set for the immigration and nationality directorate at Lunar house. The Government set themselves a target of 60 per cent. of asylum claims dealt with within two months; the latest performance figure is 45 per cent. [Interruption.] The Minister says it is now 48 per cent. A target of 70 per cent. of claims dealt with within four months was set; the figure for Lunar house posted on 25 March was 61 per cent. I realise that we often fall short of our aspirations, so let us concentrate on making sure that we set and meet realistic targets, and above all on making decisions quicklyand properly, so that there are not lots of appeals.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Angela Eagle): We have high aspirations and hope to meet the targets. I agree that we need to improve the standard and quality of initial decisions. The hon. Gentleman says that, if we did, there would not be appeals, but does he recognise that in the context of asylum and immigration, if there is an appeals process, the vast majority of people involved will use it? There will always be appeals: every part of the system that allows appeals will be used because, as the evidence shows, that is how asylum seekers use the rights that they have.
Simon Hughes: I understand that, but that is why I point out to Ministers that quicker recent initial decisions
We welcome the pilot of accommodation centres, but there are problems. There must be access to legal advice from the time that people arrive. Although that was mentioned in the White Paper, the Bill does not mention it, and it should. That is a major defect. The Bill also leaves other services listedfor example, transport, education and trainingas optional. I hope that they will become requirements.
The Conservative spokesman spoke about the size of the centres. There might be a case for trialling some large accommodation centres, and there is certainly a case for having some smaller ones. It is important that they work in themselves and that they are not isolated from the rest of the world. It is no good having a non-detention centre if there is nowhere outside for its people to go. People have to have some links with the local community.
My colleagues and I are unhappy about the idea of privately run detention and accommodation centres. Whatever the arguments that apply to the Prison Service, the asylum seeker centres should be kept in the public sector, especially while they are being trialled. We hope that that will be possible. We look forward to seeing the regulations as soon as possible, because that is where all the details will be found.
There is a problem with the conditions of residence. Currently, most people are dispersed around the country. In theory, people will have a choice between going to an accommodation centre and remaining with family or friends. There should be no financial penalty if people choose to go to family and friends. I will be grateful for an assurance from the Minister that the Home Office will look again at that matter. I understand that currently between 20 and 40 per cent. of people do not look to the Government to provide accommodation, choosing instead to provide for themselves; clearly, however, they need income to cover food and other necessities of survival.
Earlier, I said that there were arguments in favour of education at the beginning of the process that addresses the interests of refugees, normally non-English-speaking children. However, that depends on there being a six-month upper limit to the time that people spend in accommodation centres.
Mr. Coleman: I will be grateful if the hon. Gentleman clarifies the Liberal Democrats' position on the education of child asylum seekers in accommodation centres. From the remarks that he made just now and when he intervened on the Home Secretary, it appears that the Liberal Democrats support the proposal to withdraw mainstream education from the children of asylum seekers. Is that the official Liberal Democrat position? Before he replies, perhaps I should advise him that last night, when my hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) and I were asking people to sign
Simon Hughes: That is a perfectly proper question. I was extremely careful in my intervention on the Home Secretary. There should be no withdrawal of state education or any other state provision from asylum seekers or immigrants. The question is at what stage they enter the mainstream system. I put my question to the Home Secretary to elicit an assurance that there will be a maximum period that people will spend in the transitional arrangements, as he put it, before going on to mainstream schools. I made clear my understanding, and the Home Secretary confirmed it, that Government policy is to have a maximum of 3,000 people in accommodation centres. If the hon. Gentleman has read the figures, he will know that currently about 90,000 applicants enter this country each year. The vast majority will therefore be dispersed around the country and the children will go to local schools in the normal way.
Mr. Coleman: I am well aware of those figures and I understand them. Does the hon. Gentleman and do the Liberal Democrats officially regard it as acceptable to remove mainstream education from hundreds of asylum-seeker children for up to six months? Yes or no?
Simon Hughes: The answer is no. I have never said otherwise.
The proposal in our manifesto was to trial reception centres around the country, with the implication that all the services would be provided in the centres as long as people remained there, but that the people would be moved on to other accommodation as soon as possible. The arrangement is temporary and transitionala post on people's way, whether or not they are accepted for permanent settlement, to the mainstream system of education, health and so on.
In a Committee debate, the Minister said that she would examine the level of income support available to asylum seekers. The proportion currently available is 70 per cent. of that given to British citizens. I shall be grateful for an assurance that there will be an independent adjudication to determine the right level, and that the Government will reconsider the matter. I hope that we will also get the answers from the dispersal review as soon as possible, because we cannot judge the best system until we have seen the results of the investigation of the process.
The Bill still reflects real confusion about detention and removal. The Government propose to create new removal centres, but under the existing arrangements many of the people in such centres have not completed all the processesnot the initial process, and certainly not the appeals process. According to all independent assessments, more people are detained for longer and with less scrutiny in this country than in any other European country: thousands of people are affected each year in a rolling programme.
I shall be grateful therefore for much greater clarity in the legislation about the fact that detention will be possible only at or just before the time that the final decision is made, and that the rest of the people who come to this country will not be detained. In addition, I want it to be clear that the presumption will always be that there
In addition, there must be a limit to the time that someone can be detained. Such limits do not appear in the Bill, even though after visiting Campsfield House some time ago, Her Majesty's inspector of prisons recommended that there should be limits.
My final substantive point concerns appeals, on which it is difficult for us to comment yet because we have not seen the Government's final proposals. It is wrong, however, that there is an absolute bar after a certain time on adjournments to cases, which are often called for, not by the applicant or asylum seeker in my experience, but by the Home Office or other parties who want extra time. It cannot be impossible for there to be proper procedures all the way through the process of determining whether somebody can stay here or not.
I hope that I have made clear some of the significant items in the Bill that remain to be improved. We reserve judgment tonight; the Government have said that we may get more time in Committee, which is welcome. We hope that important changes to the Bill can be made in Committee and on Report. Indeed, that must happen if we are to get the Bill right. In the meantime, we must continue to use moderate language if these issues are not to risk in the near future provoking extreme political reactions like those they have provoked across the channel. We all have an interest in making sure that that does not happen here.