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Annabelle Ewing: I have been absent from the Chamber for a total of about six minutes in a debate that has lasted five hours and 14 minutes, so the hon. Gentleman's first remark was a cheap shot. I shall deal with his substantive point, however. First, no one was talking about the oath. That is the existing requirement. The new requirement is the pledge of loyalty to the United Kingdom. I do not know his view, but I would have thought, as I said before, that it would be rather odd to impose such a requirement on a new applicant for citizenship who seeks to reside in Scotland when the official Opposition of the Scots Parliament would not be prepared, if a similar requirement were imposed on everybody, to take such an oath. That raises a serious constitutional question that no one has tried to answer tonight.
Mr. Connarty: The people of the United Kingdom and the people of Scotland may be amazed by the hon. Lady's intervention. She has repeated that the Scottish National party does not feel any allegiance and could not feel any loyalty to the United Kingdom, despite the democratic will of the people. Democracy is about winning the people to our side and then going down the road that we would follow. It is not about saying, "We can't win, so we will do something completely different." I keep reminding the people of Scotland that Scottish National party Members have said that they feel no loyalty and would not swear an oath of allegiance to the democratic nature of the United Kingdom. That is what the oath says.
Several debates about immigration are going on. Interestingly, a debate is being led by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that seems to suggest that we should probably not, in the beginning, have opted out of the immigration arrangements for the rest of the European Union when we had a chance to stay in the treaty. As this debate has shown, that has caused us amazing problems, and we should try to come into those arrangements so that there would be one set of rules for the European Union. It was a good election gambit to say, "We are going to defend Britain against people trying to come into this country", but it has caused us tremendous problems, and we should probably have signed up to the treaty.
Another debate is going on in which the Home Office is involved at a European level. That debate touches on all the issues relating to immigration in the Bill, and some of those issues cause problems for the Bill. The debate is
To set up 3,000 accommodation places, even in four 750-place units, that are of a decent standard for families with children, or even for individuals, would be extremely expensive. I would hate to think that ex-public buildings would be filled with people waiting for their asylum decision to be made. In addition, if there are only four centres, and people are not allowed to move around, article 7 of the EU directiveon the right of appeal on residence and freedom of movementwill be used again and again. Anyone who feels oppressed by their situation would be well advisedwe are told that legal advice will be available to themto appeal immediately for the right to move to a place where they feel that they are better accommodated.
On the right to education, article 10 of the EU directive is more oppressive. I do not know who initiated discussion of this issue in relation to the directivewe never see the minutesbut it says that what was a right to education contained in the relevant articles is being amended to a right not to the same education conditions as everybody else but to similar conditions. That would allow the accommodation centres to be used as education centres, which is a backward move in Europe in terms of people's rights. I would hate to think that our Government were leading that charge in discussions of the directive. As an ex-teacher, I agree with most hon. Members who have spoken tonight that it will not be possible, in an accommodation unit, to give people an education that is similar or the same as that given outside.
I wonder whether those units will provide forced English lessons and be places where people learn to speak English or are given a brief but steep learning curve on how to be British instead of receiving an education, which I understand to be much broader than that. I would be worried if allowing that to happen is the intention behind changing the European directive.
It is the right of everyone who wants to come here as an asylum applicant to try to achieve economic viability and what I would call normalisation. People must be able to use their skills, if they have them, to achieve economic independence. If they could, and if it turned out that they were not allowed to stay, they would not be more impoverished when they left than when they arrived.
Therefore, I agree with the point made by the hon. Member for Perth, which I have made before, that the green card system should be available almost immediately to people with skills, particularly professional skills, to offer this society while they wait the six months that we are now told it will take for their applications to be dealt with.
Returning to the Scottish scene, clause 33 appears to suggest that the Home Secretary will take on board all costs necessary to provide a full education for the children in accommodation centres, should they lie in Scotland. I have a particularly good knowledge of the Scottish education system and I note that the national inspectorsthat is, the UK inspectorswill be responsible for verifying the adequacy of that education.
However, that does not chime with the Scottish education system, because we still have a good system based on the local authorities, which are responsible for delivery and the standard of education. I would be concerned if some UK standard for what happens in the accommodation centres were to lie alongside much higher education authority standards.
I would prefer to integrate those educational facilities outwith the accommodation centres but into the local education authorities. Perhaps that is what the hon. Member for Perth was alluding to, but, due to the pressures on resources, I do not think that the honest citizens of Perth would welcome a large number of people being dispersed to Perth and put in the local housing and education systems.
I hope that that issue will be discussed at length and that there is Scottish representation in Committeenot just from the Opposition, but from within Government ranksto tease out those points in debate.
I want to say a word about Dungavel prison, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Sarwar), who spoke well about it. I have been to Dungavel prison, as it was until three or four months ago. Now it is Dungavel detention centre, or whatever else it is being called, but it is a prison. The last people I went to visit there were two constituents who were the last political prisoners in Scotland. They were sentenced to 10 years for gun running for the Ulster Volunteer Force, which is one of the loyalist groups.
Dungavel is adequate for that purpose, but I cannot see how it can be turned into an acceptable place to put asylum seekers, whether they are awaiting deportation or not. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Govan tells me, and I have no reason to doubt it, that there are people in there whose cases have not yet been finished. They are still awaiting appeals, yet they are in a prison situation with their children. That is not acceptable, and the quicker we get them out of that prison and into decent accommodation while they await deportation or whatever else we want to call it, the better.
Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes): I am an economic migrant. I am a Scots-born, Belgium, Plymouth and Durham-educated economic migrant to Cleethorpes who spends most of her working week in London. Most of us in the House are probably economic migrants by the mere fact of having to come to London to work. There is nothing wrong with people wanting to move for work.
A site in my constituency has been identified as a possible location for an asylum seeker accommodation centre. It is in an industrial area close to two of Britain's largest oil refineries and two power stations, with a third under construction. Four villages are nearby, but the site is much closer to the industrial area than to those residential properties.
When the site was identified many people wrote angry letters to the local newspapers. I decided to undertake a consultation exercise to gauge the views of the residents in the four nearby villages. Out of about 1,000 questionnaires and factsheets that I put out, I received 400 responses. I was surprised, because I did not think that I would get such a response.
People said to me that they felt that putting people who were fleeing in fear of their lives into a dangerous industrial area was no way to treat asylum seekers. Those views were replicated in all the villages. The majority of people in each of those villages said that they supported the philosophy of accommodation centres, but not in that particular location.
To put that in context, about a year ago a serious explosion occurred at one of the refineries, which frightened many people. Much damage was caused in the area. Luckily, as it was Easter, the refinery was on shutdown, so not many people were on site and no lives were lost. Given the Yarl's Wood fire, I can understand the fears of people in that area. One person wrote:
Other general comments made to me with regard to this centre were about asylum and immigration. A number of people who were supportive of the policy said things like "I'm not a racist, but . . . ". I do not like that language, but they were expressing genuine concerns about the lack of public services in their area. For example, one woman wrote to explain that her village has no GP, no school, and no recreational or leisure facilities, yet Government press releases state that all such facilities will be provided in asylum seeker accommodation centres. Although she latched on to asylum seekers, her problem is not them but the lack of public services in her area. Many similar comments have been made to me.
We must be more sophisticated in dealing with this issue. We need only look to France to discover the problems inherent in such arguments. If, in the same breath as discussing asylum seekers, we demonise those who express concerns about their locality, this country or Government policies, problems will arise. We must not demonise those people because if we ignore their views, we will subtly push them towards extremist, neo-fascist organisations such as the British National party and the National Front. That is a serious worry, and in that regard we all have a responsibility. It is easy to see how people could be seduced by the argument of the far right if we ignore the genuine concerns that they express not about asylum seekers, but through the device of asylum seekers.
My message to the Government is that we have a responsibility to distinguish between different types of people who come to the UK, and to ensure that the public understand that fact. However, we must also distinguish between those who express blatant and abhorrent racist views, which we must dismiss, and those who express concern about public services. If we do that, we will never go down the road of France.