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That, at the sitting on Thursday 26th January, the Speaker shall put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of Mr. Edward Leigh relating to Public Accounts not later than three hours after their commencement; proceedings may continue after the moment of interruption; and Standing Order No. 41A (Deferred divisions) shall not apply. [Mr. Watson.]
Mr. Iain Wright (Hartlepool) (Lab):
I rise to present a petition from residents and businesses in Hartlepool and others for a direct rail link between Hartlepool, Sunderland and London King's Cross. The rail link is supported by Hartlepool borough council, Hartlepool Economic Forum, One NorthEast, the local newspaperthe Hartlepool Mailand all the local authorities throughout the north-east. They are all
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confident that such a link would boost economic development in Hartlepool and would benefit the whole north-east. The lead signature on the petition is that of Mr. Michael Johnson of Benmore road, Hartlepool, and 1,242 other people signed it in just three days.
Declares that there should be a direct rail link from Hartlepool to London Kings Cross, as proposed by Grand Central Trains. There is a need for a direct link at a reasonable price to help to boost Hartlepool's economic regeneration and development and to allow the town's residents to visit other areas of the country at a price which is financially viable.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons consider this wide support and urge the Government to ensure that the Office of the Rail Regulator considers the issues raised in this petition and the petitioners support for Grand Central Trains' bid when the bid is evaluated.
Mr. Eric Joyce (Falkirk) (Lab): My aim in raising the issue of the removal of asylum seekers in Scotland is to put a United Kingdom matter in a Scottish context, and to ask my hon. Friend the Minister a couple of questions about the progress of Government policy.
I want to mention some resources that I found extremely useful when trying to understand a matter that directly affects relatively few people as yet, but which most people place quite high on their list of priorities when it comes to public policy. The ATLAS partnership is based in Glasgow city council. ATLASAction for Training and Learning for Asylum Seekerswas set up to help organisations in Glasgow to respond to the dispersal of asylum seekers to Glasgow, which started in 2000. The partnership is led by Glasgow city council, and includes Falkirk college in my constituency.
I find ATLAS interesting for two reasons. First, it has produced a publication, "Asylum Matters from Scotland", which reads very well and is a useful resource. Secondly, the way in which people perceive ATLAS's rolewhether they consider helping asylum seekers to find training while they await judgments to be a central or a peripheral aspect of the asylum processwill tell them something about their perception of the overall concept of asylum.
The Scottish Executive have produced a number of excellent documents describing the way in which asylum seekers awaiting a decision are supported by local authorities and other agencies. One report, "Asylum Seekers in Scotland"which does more or less what it says on the tinwas produced by Barclay, Bowes, Ferguson et al at the university of Stirling in 2003. Leaving aside the happy coincidence that I am a graduate of that excellent university and the fact that it is on the doorstep of my constituency, I found the document measured, informative and useful. Since it was written in 2003, and as subsequent practice in Scotland appears to conform quite closely to its main tenets, I think that the document was influential in framing public policy at both Executive level in Scotland and local authority level.
Mr. Joyce: Dispersal in Scotland is only to Glasgow, of course, but there are from time to time people seeking decisions on asylum who appear in my constituency and who in one way or another are sponsored by local organisations. The Central Scotland Racial Equality Council therefore interfaces with the issue on a fairly regular basis.
As my hon. Friend the Minister knows, while his Department and its agencies liaise with local authorities and other regional assets in England, in Scotland the
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picture is a little different. Scotland, uniquely in the UK, legislates for all the areas of policy devolved to it through an Act of Parliament, the Scotland Act 1998. That includes education, health and social services. As those services play important roles in supporting people awaiting asylum decisions, and as the media pay close attention both to public dialogue around those policy areas in general and to the issue of asylum, there is a tendency among some in the media and public life in Scotland to see matters of asylum and immigration through the prism of locally provided services.
There are many good aspects to that perspective, if I may put it that way, and the small size of Scotland in comparison with England means that those involved in the local provision of services can have a more direct relationship with legislators in those policy areas. Many more give evidence to parliamentary Committees, for example. Proportionately speaking, one has a 10 or 15 times greater chance in Scotland of doing that, so there is a bit of a closer link between the two.
Here, I make a distinction between the subtleties and trends of debate among those with a particular interest in the areas of asylum and immigration, and Scottish public attitudes in general. I have surveyed a great many of my constituents and find that, for the large part, Falkirk folk do not deviate from UK norms in their views on asylum and immigration. In my experience, most people want an asylum system that is well administered and an immigration system that is right for the UK, which is fair and designed to benefit economically both the UK and those who settle here through our immigration system. It is true that people often confuse asylum and immigration, and I wish to say a word or two about that in a moment. The point I make here is that in Scotland, for good or ill, it seems that sometimes the opinions of those who have special experience of a given area diverge to a higher degree from public opinion than is the case across the UK as a whole.
Whether or not my perception accords with reality, it is the case that there is a lively public debate among those closer to the issue of asylum removals in Scotland, and that is reflected in media coverage. I am struck by the extent to which debate in Scotland on the matter of asylum is anchored around the Scottish Parliament and its Members rather than the UK Parliament and its Members. As I have already noted, that is because of the Scottish Parliament's legislative powers in the areas that support those awaiting asylum decisions. In my view, one effect of that trend is that MPs tend to be sent material by interest groups that looks pre-cooked; it begins to look rather polemical. It has already passed through a political filter, as it were. By the time it reaches us here in the House, it is almost impossible, in some cases, to have meaningful dialogue.
I have also been struck by the fact that sometimes, although not always, the crux decision points faced by Ministers in this place are evaded, not always intentionally, by some involved in public debate in Scotland. I believe that there is room for a more productive relationship between Members of this House and Scottish groups with an interest in those issues.
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