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7 Nov 2002 : Column 455continued
Mr. Blunkett: I take your strictures, Madam Deputy Speaker. I merely observe, however, that I would say Xcollaboratively" rather than Xprior" given the fact that education authorities no longer run schools as they did 15 or 20 years ago. That is emblazoned on my heart because I dealt with it for four years before I took on this job.
We are dealing with end-to-end reform of the process once people reach our shores, from new induction centres through accommodation centres and, where appropriate, dispersal and reporting, to integration or speedy removal. The task is clear: to provide a fairer and
Tony Baldry (Banbury): By implication, surely we are talking about a proposed location. The Government will not go to the expense of building an accommodation centre before they ask the independent monitor whether it meets the needs of asylum seekers. Clearly, the Government will have to ask the independent monitor to express that view on a proposed location before an accommodation centre is built. Otherwise, there will be considerable nugatory expenditure.
Mr. Blunkett: We want to ensure that we have thought the matter through and have an evidence-based approach. My hon. Friend the Minister for Citizenship and Immigration said on Tuesday that different needs will have to be met in different types of centre. Some centres will be appropriate for single individuals. Others will be designed to meet the needs of those from a particular region who have a particular language requirement. That will help us to deal with the adjudication process, which requires not only legal advice but interpretation of that advice. If an identified need cannot be met, the other parts of the process will kick into play. The measure is an addition, an underpinning and a reinforcement of the process with regard to, for instance, education, on which we said that a special or specific need might have to be met in a different way. We now accept that that might be dealt with in a broader context, with the monitor offering a view.
Mrs. Ellman: Will my right hon. Friend commit the Government to assessing in the experimentation that is now to go ahead the model proposed by the Refugee Council as one possible way in which to run the centres?
We are continuing that process of dialogue. I mention the Refugee Council in particular because it has had slightly more impact on us than others, not because it has been less vigorous, but because it has been more reasonable. When it has been given assurances, it has been prepared to accept them, and when an argument is put to it, it has been prepared to listen.
Let me conclude by making one thing absolutely clear, and I hope that those in the other House will hear my words: we are now at the last throw of the dice. I will make no more amendments to the Bill. I hope that the other House will allow us to pass the legislation and so enable us to do what we all want to do, which is to establish a more effective, reasonable, sensitive and sensible system in which the British people have trust and which people throughout the world will know offers them a better opportunity to come to this country legitimately, to work here legitimately, or to seek sanctuary here in a more effective fashion.
Mr. Oliver Letwin (West Dorset): I echo the Home Secretary's thanks to my colleagues, my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) and my noble Friends Lord Kingsland and Baroness Anelay of St. Johns, for their splendid work on the Bill as it has proceeded through its parliamentary stages.
I thought that the Home Secretary made both an ingenious and an elegant little Third Reading speech, which skilfully avoided any direct reference to the matter in handthe Government amendment. That is understandable, given that it would not have been conducive to his having a good morning were he to have admitted that it echoes extremely closely an amendment first suggested by my noble Friend Baroness Anelay on 10 Octoberat which time the Government denied that it was in any way possible to accommodate the problems of accommodation centres by doing what they now suggest should be done. However, it would be churlish of me not to welcome what the Government have done, because they have done what needs to be done.
The amendment creates an independent arbiter who will be required, as well as requested, to look into whether the place in which a particular accommodation centre is put is appropriate from the point of view of its residents. To make that judgment, the monitor will need to look both at the nature of what is being put in that place, and at the place in which it is being put. That was the intent of the original amendment, No. 17, and it is far from our intention to cavil at the replacement of one amendment proposed by Conservative Members in the Lords by an amendment that is, in effect, another of our amendments. It is an excellent result, which we welcome.
The Home Secretary gave one of the most masterly pieces of obfuscation as a reply that I have yet been privileged to hear, even from his mouth in this place. I do not think that I could have matched in any way the efforts that he made to avoid answering that question, but I can answer it for him. Unless the right hon. Gentleman intendsI am sure that he does notto delay unreasonably the appointment of a monitor, it will be the case that a year from now the monitor will report on this issue. I will lay an extremely large wager that the accommodation centre in my hon. Friend's constituency will not have been built one year from now. I suspect that it will not have been given planning permission a year from now. I suspect that the monitor will have reported long before the centre is built. Therefore, the answer to my hon. Friend's question is yes. That does not require any obfuscation.
Secondly, so far as we can see, if the monitor is to report to Parliament as amendment No. 37 dictates specifically that he shall, the monitor will need to explain to Parliament what depositions he has sought and what depositions he has received from experts. That is necessary to avoid judicial review of his process. I am sure, therefore, that he will seek the views of the various groups that concern themselves with and have expertise in relation to the needs of those who are to be housed in accommodation centres. We know which groups these are because 10 of them wrote to the Home Secretary not long ago to make their views known on these matters. We can reasonably accurately predict what they will say to the monitor about the proposed large rural locations. The monitor will clearly need to take their views into account.
The monitor will obviously have to take into account what the Home Secretary says to him. None of us is in a position to determine what the monitor will take as his view in the light of the two sets of depositions from the Home Secretary and from other bodies. However, it seems likely that if the monitor concludes that the needs of those who are to be housed are not properly to be met in large rural accommodation centres, that will at least provide a prima facie basis for a judicial review of the original decision. It is a different thing for the monitor to conclude on the merits and for a judge to conclude on whether the Home Secretary's view was reasonable. We have always accepted that the reasonableness test is a harsher test than the merits test. In other words, the monitor might conclude that the place was not a good one. Yet a judge might take the view that the Home Secretary, in reaching the opposite conclusion, was reasonable. We accept that.
Finally, I have a request. It is that following the passage of the amendmentI shall be asking my right hon. and hon. Friends not to oppose it, and similarly my noble Friends in the other placeand therefore the Bill, I hope that we shall move forward and discover what is likely to lead to the rapid processing of claims. I believe that that is the aim of everyone in the House. The Home Secretary made that clear in his remarks. It is certainly the aim of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) and of every Member who has spoken in these debates.