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6.30 pm

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. May I remind the hon. Gentleman that there is limited time for this debate? I am not sure that I can connect his reminiscences directly with the new clause to which he is speaking, which refers to asylum-seeking children rather than those who might potentially seek asylum.

Mr. Dawson: I am grateful for your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall be brief, but I am trying to set out the profound needs of asylum-seeking children who come to this country, compared with the inadequate services that we currently offer them.

Jeremy Corbyn: I endorse everything that my hon. Friend said about the Medical Foundation, which does fantastic work in supporting unaccompanied children seeking asylum. Is he not concerned, however, as I am, that support for asylum seekers increasingly comes from charitable and voluntary organisations that receive public funding that is insufficient to deal with their casework? The problem with new schedule 1 is that it will probably increase the pressure on the charitable sector because the state will be withdrawing from provision.

Mr. Dawson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is precisely the issue that I try to address in new clause 17. If young people were offered accommodation under section 20 of the Children Act 1989, instead of the limited support available to them under section 17 of that Act, they would experience a good level of public sector care. They would undergo proper and thorough assessment by professional people, and they would be properly looked after, as children who come to this country should be. There is no reason why every local authority should not tackle this issue.

In the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000, the Government strengthened section 20 of the Children Act, making even more powerful the argument that young

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asylum seekers should have the benefit of support up to the age of 21. Indeed, the experience of many who work with young asylum seekers is that they are hungry for the education opportunities that are available. Having demonstrated resilience in undergoing dreadful experiences, they should benefit from the support provided under the 2000 Act for people in higher education up to the age of 24.

During the proceedings on the Adoption and Children Bill, I tried to strengthen section 17 of the Children Act. I was assured by the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), that more work was being done to ensure that local authorities carry out proper assessments under section 17. I accept that that is true for children from the United Kingdom who, even if their links with their birth families have broken, may have links with an extended family, with their community or with friendship networks that can support them.

However, Section 17 provisions are not appropriate for unaccompanied children who arrive in this country without any of those forms of support. We should offer them the opportunity to be looked after properly by local authorities. So often in the Chamber we hear criticism of local authorities and the care system, and in many cases it is justified, but there are good parts to the system. There is good foster care and good residential care, and a great deal could be offered to young people from abroad. We should have the confidence to deliver that.

Amendment No. 261 relates to measures to deny families with children the protection offered by section 17 of the Children Act. Frankly, that is deplorable. The issue was discussed in proceedings on the Immigration and Asylum Bill, and an amendment was passed to prevent such a provision being implemented. Section 17 is a fundamental building block in the support and care that we offer families with children in particularly difficult circumstances. It goes far beyond the provisions of asylum Acts and mere financial benefits. As an hon. Member said earlier, children are children, wherever they come from, and we should not exempt the children of asylum-seeking families from the Children Act.

Beverley Hughes: We have had a wide-ranging debate, although I accept that, judging by the comments made by some hon. Members about new clause 10 and new schedule 1, it has not been as wide ranging as they would have liked. No doubt additional points will be made in another place and again when the Bill returns to this House.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) did not go into detail about his amendments to new schedule 1, but I should like to comment on them for the record. Several of those amendments seek to ensure that the rights of individuals and rights granted by the European convention on human rights and EU law are safeguarded. When the hon. Gentleman has time to look at the new schedule in some detail, he will see that it specifically safeguards those rights.

As I said earlier, most of the amendments seek to reinstate the support that the measures propose to withdraw, so they are simply in complete opposition to the Bill.

Mr. Allan: The hon. Lady will accept our concern, which we tried to express earlier, that although we

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understand that the Government want to deal with a specific instance—that of an individual with refugee status who comes to live in a community in the UK—we believe that the issue goes much wider. When we are talking about the rights of every citizen of every other EEA state, we are talking about social security legislation that should be dealt with in the round, but it has been inappropriately tacked on to immigration law. We have tried to express that general concern in our amendments, but it was difficult, in such a short time, to deal with the generality of EU social security law, which is a huge and complex subject.

Beverley Hughes: The hon. Gentleman may take that position. However, I take him back to a principle that I outlined earlier. We have to consider whether it is perverse to allow people who cannot draw on central Government sources of support because they have support in another country, they have reached the end of the road in our procedures for assessing asylum seekers, or they have illegally entered the country, to get support from other sources at a local level. The issue is a difficult one, and I know that if the measures are implemented, all hon. Members—including me, as a constituency MP—will face difficult constituency cases. However, I still feel strongly that we cannot duck the difficult issues. There are important points of principle to be dealt with and we as MPs have to represent many different constituencies of people.

Having made those general comments on the proposed amendments to new schedule 1, I acknowledge that we have to work through a great deal of the detail of the implementation of the new schedule. My hon. Friends the Members for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) and for Ilford, South (Mike Gapes) and others asked about those details. The law surrounding these issues is complex and the operation of the measures will, to some extent and in some areas, also be complex. I anticipate that when the measures are enacted, whatever form they take, considerable guidance and regulations will be required to help local authorities to implement them. However, I do not accept the view that the measures are about foisting on local authorities decisions that should be made by the immigration service, as one of my hon. Friends said they were. The decisions will be made by the Home Office, the immigration service and the immigration and nationality directorate, but implementation, in so far as it has implications for local authority support, will clearly and rightly be for the local authorities to carry out.

Mr. Hancock: It is useful that the Minister recognises that there will be additional tasks for local authorities. Will she give the House and, more importantly, local authorities an assurance that the Government will resource local authorities properly to pick up that obligation?

Beverley Hughes: No. In fact, if the hon. Gentleman thinks though the implications of the measures, the points I made at the start of my speech and those made during the debate, he will realise that local authorities have been providing support—and some continue to do so—to people whom the measures that we are dealing with will say are no longer entitled to that support. The measures are about removing that responsibility and the burden that that responsibility generates for local authorities, thereby considerably reducing the cost. I understand that before it

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took forward its recent case, Birmingham estimated that it had spent £2.6 million—I hope that I have remembered that figure correctly—on providing support that the measures before the House will allow local authorities legally to claim is not their responsibility. They will be able to say that, for specific reasons, it is not legal for them to give support. Therefore, the cost and the burden for local authorities will be reduced. None the less, I accept that the technical detail of the measures' implementation at local level will require local authorities to be given guidance and regulation, and we intend to provide that.

Jeremy Corbyn: The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) raised the question of non-NASS-supported asylum seekers who are sent to another part of the country but then return to London—it is usually London—to live. They receive no housing support but vouchers only, and they often live in terrible poverty with other similarly destitute families. Is there any discretion for local authorities to give such people any support?

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