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Ms Abbott: My hon. Friend has referred to the consensus on the Bill, especially that between the two Front-Bench teams. I point out to him that the fact that Front-Bench Members agree on a measure does not mean that it is any good: they agreed about the Child Support Agencythat was rubbish; they agreed about the Dangerous Dogs Act 1989that was rubbish; and they largely agreed about the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999and much of that was rubbish.
Mr. Lammy: We have a cosy arrangement in north-east London and I defer to much that my hon. Friend says; we work together on many issues. Many Members who represent north London constituencies have things to say about the Billmy hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), for example. We have already heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) and I suspect that we shall hear from my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn).
Many Members have strong opinions on the issue owing to the nature of our constituencies, and I shall comment on that later. I was suggesting that there has been progress. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) may not believe that it is genuine but she must forgive me: naive or not, because of my age I should like to assume that it is. I need to assume that it is because young peopleethnic peoplein this country need a spirit of hope, given what is going on across the water. I hope that my hon. Friend will indulge me in my belief. She has, of course, been a Member of this place for some time and it is possible that in 15 years or so I shall join her and accept that I was wrong. On this occasion, however, I think that there has been genuine progress.
I want to talk about the reality for asylum seekers and refugees in my constituency. I am able to do that owing to Tottenham's unique position as a gateway community for asylum seekers and refugees. I also want to touch on the important subject of education in the proposed accommodation centres.
Like other Members, I have reservations about certain aspects of the Bill. As a lawyer, I am concerned about bail for detainees. That important basic human right is not included in the Bill and I ask the Home Office to look again at that point.
I am also concerned about the language testnot about the test per se, because I believe in social cohesion and people must have a route up through the system. We should all accept that being able to speak the language of the country one is in must be an added bonus, but with any ruleagain, I return to my basic legal trainingthere are exceptions. There probably ought to be exceptions for those who are elderly and those with special needs, and there probably ought to be some subjective analysis at least for women from communities for whom a language test might pose a very serious problem. There are therefore general reservations.
The Home Secretary has admitted that chaos is part of the current situation. My hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens, South (Mr. Woodward) spoke about that in referring to Save the Children's "Cold Comfort" report. I experience that situation daily in my constituency. I said in an intervention that there are between 15,000 and 20,000 asylum seekers and refugees in my constituency. I ought to make it clear that I should have referred to the London borough of Haringey. There are two constituencies in that boroughmine and that of the Minister of State, Cabinet Office, my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche). However, that is a significant number of people.
There are 5,000 homeless families in the area1,000 more than in any other London borough. Why? Certainly in Tottenham and in parts of Hornsey and Wood Green, the housing stock is unlike that in other boroughs. The area is not full of housing estates; it has a lot of owner-occupied terrace housing, which landlords buy up to rent out to some of the most vulnerable people. I spoke in a housing debate in the House just a few months ago on this very issue. I do not want to repeat much that I said then, but it is clear that there are some serious modern-day pariah landlords in London, preying on some of the most vulnerable people, many of whom reside in constituencies such as mine.
Those people sleep on dirty floors. Some live in so-called bed-and-breakfast accommodation, but they do not get bed and breakfast. The beds are falling apart and there is absolutely no breakfast. They are tremendously vulnerable people in a very poor part of London. Indeed, many of the Members whom I have mentioned face similar deprivation in their constituencies.
Tottenham has wards that are in the top 10 per cent. of the most deprived in London. Our services are under serious pressure. GPs should have 1,300 patients on their lists; in Tottenham, they have more than 3,000. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Rooney) said that 64 languages were used in the schools in his constituency. It would be nice if that were the case in our schools, where more than 160 languages are used. It is very difficult indeed to provide quality education in that context. Providing education in those circumstances would challenge the brains of the leading educationists in the world. Given that pressure on our housing, education
Some hon. Members say that that proposal cannot work because of size. Forgive me for being young, but let us please try to imagine something else. We have institutions where people board and receive quality health care, education and other services. Many Opposition Members know about thatthey went to Eton and similar places. Many hon. Members will be jaded and say, "But we never provide that for the most vulnerable." Well, we must work for a society in which we do provide the most vulnerable with those services, and we must believe that we can achieve that.
Mr. Connarty: My hon. Friend knows that I regard him very warmly, but is he suggesting that the accommodation centres will somehow deal with the problem? He has said that 20,000 people in his constituency are seeking asylum or want to emigrate to this country, but we are talking about 3,000 places in possibly four centres, so perhaps we need a spark of realism about what the proposal will do to help the problems that his constituency suffers.
Mr. Lammy: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I suggested at the very beginning of my speech that we need to make progress. I believe that the proposals constitute progress, and I say no more than that. I referred to housing in my constituency in a very important Adjournment debate because I wanted to bring that issue to the Government's attention. We need to take important measures in housing policy to ensure that constituencies such as mine can move up, not slip down. I was born in working-class Tottenham; I am very sad that it has become socially excluded Tottenham.
It is important that we provide specialist education services for the children who need them most. When we criticise education provision in those centres, we must ask ourselves whether our children are currently receiving that standard of education in all our schools. Those centres could attract the very best teachers, who are experienced at working with refugee children. We should hope that that will be the case. The Secretary of State for Education and Skills will ensure that those centres will be inspected by Ofsted and that they will meet the conditions of the European convention on human rights. So, broadly speaking, I welcome the Bill and would urge other hon. Members to do the same.
Vernon Coaker (Gedling): I am very pleased to participate in this debate and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) who, as usual, has made an interesting and thoughtful contribution.
Given the very worrying events in France at the weekend, with the electoral success of Le Pen, and given the threat from the BNP in our local elections, this debate takes on even greater significance. It presents hon. Members with the challenge of responding to the legitimate concerns of people worried by the current asylum and immigration situation. While responding in a way that does not dismiss such fears as ignorant or racist, we must remain true to the principles of fairness and tolerance for which this country is famous.
Much of the Bill is to be commendedas is the Home Secretaryfor the way it seeks to address issues that for too long have remained no-go areas with respect to nationality, immigration and asylum. As with all Bills, we will have reservations about certain clauses, but that fundamental fact about the Bill needs to be recognised by all. There has often been a failure to engage openly and frankly with the debate on such issues in a rapidly changing world, when our society is now culturally diverse and international migration is increasing. That has led to an opportunity for those who would peddle narrow-minded nationalism. We have a potent brew if we add to that the feeling of isolation and exclusion on some of our poorer estates from the general prosperity and opportunities available in society.
We have to respond, and part of that response, which includes the Bill, must be the regeneration of those areas, empowering local people and reconnecting them to the political process. Ministers must keep talking about the Bill to people on the ground, allowing them the chance not only to have their say but to influence the policy.
The social and political context in which we debate the Bill is crucial. For too long, the debate has been caricatured as one of wishy-washy liberals on the one hand, who are willing to let anyone into the country with no thought about the consequences and, on the other hand, rabid racists who do not want anyone to be allowed to cross the channel. The truth for most people is somewhat different, and the intention is to create a new consensus for the future.
For centuries, this country has welcomed economic migrants to its shores. They have come with skills and talents, enhancing our economic prosperity and adding to our cultural diversity. We have rightly prided ourselves on the fact that we are a safe haven for those who flee persecution, war or religious or political intolerance. I have seen examples of such problems in Kosovo and Angola. If we found ourselves and our children in those circumstances we too would flee and seek shelter and safety in the lands and communities of others. Increasing globalisation has made migration easier. As I said, however, the opportunities that that presents also give rise to challenges, and the Bill attempts to address some of those in a modern context.
We can be proud of the fact that so many people have arrived in these islands. The diversity of culture that they have brought with them has enriched our nation. However, the tensions in some of our communities, reflected in last summer's disturbances, show that there have also been policy failures. The reports into those disturbances painted a vivid picture of fractured and divided communities that had no sense of shared common values or a shared civic identity to unite around. The Bill introduces measures on nationality and citizenship to address some of those concerns, which I welcome.
I stress that the Bill needs to be set within the context of a range of other Government measures and policies. Many of those have been taken on board, especially with regard to employment, and we need to pursue them with a greater sense of urgency. We need measures to regenerate our poorest communitiesblack, Asian or white. We must renew their social fabric by providing new housing, youth and community facilities and improved schools. We all need to think about how people can be made more responsible for the regeneration of their communities by taking crucial decisions.
A Bill on nationality, immigration and asylum needs to be set, to an extent, within the context of Government measures to improve the quality of life on our estates by tackling crime, a poor environment, social exclusion and political alienation. If we do not do that, the extremists will use that alienation to gather support by making scapegoats of an ill-defined group. It is up to us in Parliament and elsewhere to take the lead. We need to say loudly and clearly that we do not blame others for the problems, that we will try to find solutions to them and that we are proud of the cultural diversity in this country. It is against such a background that the Bill allows us to restate the value of skilled migrants who come to this country. They are essential to the success of our public service reforms and to our continued economic growth. We should welcome them as we have done others in the past.
The Bill also deals with issues relating to asylum and illegal immigration. The Home Secretary and the Government are to be congratulated on their efforts to do more to tackle those who traffic in people. They bring them here to work in, for example, the sex industry by using force, lies and deception. The harsher penalties are welcome, especially when we realise that many of the people who are brought to this country are young children. We should be proud of our record of offering a safe haven to those who flee terror abroad and we should continue to proud of that.
Of course people want to know that their borders are secure and that the system that the Government operate is fair and not abused. However, we should also recognise that for a long time we have been a country that welcomes people. We should never allow the need for tough and effective action on asylum to blind us to the needs of people who seek refuge here, because many of them are children. I am proud of what we do for people who seek refuge here.
Because everybody is dying
How long must this be
My heart is full of blood
Even if I will be hanged
I will keep writing my poems
And colour the pages with my words".
Anywhere in the world otherwise I would have bought
It for my country".
Save the Children estimates that in 2001 there were 6,000 asylum-seeking children under 18 in the United Kingdom without parents or guardians. Many more refugee children are with parents or guardians. It is essential that the Bill's measures are fair to them and are consistent with the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. Those young people may be asylum seekers, and clearly there have to be systems, but first and foremost they are children. That was made even more real to me when I participated in a project organised by
Previous legislation and the measures in this Bill have to address the needs of those and other children. We must ensure that the induction centres and the processes within them are child-centred. We must make progress on the Government's social exclusion agenda and targets for tackling child poverty, and apply them to refugee children. In that respect, the abolition of vouchers is welcome, but we must keep the level of support that we give to children and their families under constant review so that it is adequate and consistent with other Government objectives. We need to ensure that the accommodation centres provide proper access to quality services. We must also ensure that the needs are met of those children who are refugees now, and that in the search for tomorrow's solutions we do not forget the needs of today.
The Bill has much to commend it with respect to nationality and immigration. It attempts to rebuild the trust of the British people in a system in which they have lost confidence. In that important respect, the Home Secretary deserves much praise. However, I leave my last words to another child who said: