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Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman recall Kent county council closing old people's homes about six years ago?

Mr. Gale: I am not talking about Kent county council's old people's homes, which, by modern seaside standards, are simply not viable. If the hon. Gentleman wants to go down that route, I can tell him that Campfield, in my constituency, is about to be closed by the county council because it cannot meet the standards required under regulations. That has been the case way down the line. If the hon. Gentleman is seriously suggesting that somehow the county council should be able to keep open homes that do not meet today's modern standards or offer the desired facilities, I have to say that I do not agree with him. If he is saying that Kent ought to be refurbishing, rebuilding, modernising and reopening these homes, I might just agree with him, if Kent had the money to do it.

Jonathan Shaw: The hon. Gentleman argues in favour of the Care Standards Act 2000, which I supported—but which the Opposition did not—for the reasons that he now presents. The home closures of six or seven years ago took place because Kent no longer wanted to be a provider, but merely a commissioner and purchaser. The closures had nothing to do with quality.

Mr. Gale: That is incorrect, as there were severe implications about the quality of the homes involved. Those Opposition Members who know something about the matter did oppose elements of the 2000 Act—I have to be careful, as I chaired the Bill in Standing Committee—but on the basis that taking away an en suite lavatory from an elderly person merely to provide an extra square metre of floor space was a nonsense. To be frank, the elderly person involved was not likely to get out of bed and play football, so a lavatory was of more use than the space. There are many other examples that I could give the House.

The Registered Homes Act 1984 led to improved standards in both local authority and private residential homes by the end of the decade. The provision then was good, but lack of money has made it impossible to maintain that standard. The result now is that a granny in Kent is worth a third of one in Islington— why?

Another difficulty is the problem of dumped cared-for children. In the social services they are known, rather revoltingly, as "Friday afternoon children". When, for emergency reasons, a borough in west London has to place a child on a Friday afternoon, he or she is sent to Thanet. No provision is made for education or medical
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care and there is no consultation with the county council. There is no advance preparation at all. Does the Minister think that that is satisfactory?

Kent county council's Thanet report spells out what happens, in stark terms. The young people involved are taken out of their environment in London and removed from their friends, family, extended family and school. They are taken from the familiar area in which they were brought up and dumped in a place where they have no sense of ownership at all. Is it then surprising that they resort to daubing graffiti and to engaging in antisocial behaviour, vandalism and truancy? Of course it is not.

Best practice in social services says that those young people should be placed as close to home as possible, yet they arrive in Kent with no provision having been made for their education or medical care, and they receive no attention worth speaking of from social services. No resources follow them to provide the policing and other back-up that they need. They are simply dumped.I have spoken to the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), who has responsibility for these matters, and asked for a moratorium. To date, nothing has happened, even though the Thanet report has been on her desk for months. The cost incurred in looking after these dumped children is another one that the Government are not meeting.

I come now to the question of asylum costs. Opposition Members in Kent have fought long and hard for the money that the Government acknowledge that the county should have to meet the costs incurred by asylum seekers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells said, we have just about cleared the slate up to 2004, although that has involved rather more give than take on our part. The Home Office agreed the figures—grudgingly—and has finally shelled out for the costs incurred up to 2004.

Jonathan Shaw: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Gale: In a moment.

A further £4.3 million is outstanding, for the period between April 2004 to April 2005. Can we have the money, please?

Jonathan Shaw: The hon. Gentleman refers to the grudging way that the Government have reimbursed Kent county council for its expenditure in respect of asylum-seeker children. I want to emphasise that the county has spent that money on children, as adults are dispersed around the UK. When the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) was Home Secretary, no money at all was reimbursed to the local authority. Does the hon. Gentleman recall that?

Mr. Gale: What I cannot recall is when the hon. Gentleman came to the House, but I have a clear recall of other matters.I recall clearly saying to a Home Office Minister in the summer of 1997, on good advice from Kent police, that a wave of asylum seekers from the Czech and Slovak Republics was about to hit Kent. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and I drove from Kent to the Home Office, demanded to see the Minister
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and warned him, on the strength of the information given to us by Kent police, that that was about to happen. The Home Office did nothing about it. When my right hon. and learned Friend was Home Secretary asylum figures were falling. The problem started in 1997 and worsened. I will take no lectures whatsoever from the hon. Gentleman on that score.

Jonathan Shaw: I would not want to appear to be lecturing the hon. Gentleman. For his information I came to the House in 1997. Before that I worked for 10 years for Kent social services, so I have first-hand knowledge. I knew that the local authority was not reimbursed by one single penny from the then Government. His idea is that when we arrived in office in 1997, that was somehow a watershed for asylum seekers. Does he recall the conflict in Kosovo and the conflicts that have arisen around the world? It is not just Kent and this country that have seen an increase in the numbers of asylum seekers, but many countries across the world.

Mr. Gale: I am prepared to give way again if the hon. Gentleman would like to place on the record—in his words, not mine—the number of asylum seekers resident in Kent in the spring of 1997 and in the spring of 2000. The costs bear no relation to each other. The costs to Kent of asylum seekers prior to 1997 were minimal.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. The hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw) has made the point for us—the big wave came as a result of Kosovo, which was two years later, in 1999.

Mr. Gale: I hope and believe that perhaps the hon. Gentleman's constituents and his colleagues' constituents may listen to or read the debate, and may then know from the record how they are letting down their constituents in Kent, our county. With respect, the hon. Gentleman did nothing whatsoever to help to secure the funding. Kent was owed £14 million by central Government and had to fight for every penny of it, but still did not get every penny of it.

Jonathan Shaw: On what does the hon. Gentleman base his belief that I did nothing to assist Kent county council?

Mr. Gale: Simply on the strength of the information and representation made to us by the leader of Kent county council. If the hon. Gentleman can produce the letters that he has written to Ministers asking for payment, I should be delighted to see them and even more delighted to acknowledge that perhaps he played a tiny part in securing the money. The fact is that the hon. Gentleman's Government have for years failed to pay. If he made representations, they were not effective. We waited a long time for the money. Perhaps he can now explain why we are still waiting for the £4.3 million for the period from April 2004 to April 2005. Why has that money not been paid? That is probably a question that the Minister should answer. To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, he is at least trying to play some sort of bat and I only wish that one or two more of his colleagues would give him a hand.
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I shall not speak for much longer because other colleagues wish to participate. My hon. Friend the Member for Tunbridge Wells referred to the development that is being imposed on Kent. I say "imposed" advisedly, because the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, having been prepared to see asylum seekers, cared-for children and grannies dumped in Kent, now wants to dump housing in Kent. The garden of England will soon be the backyard of England—

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