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Lord Filkin: Having said that I would reflect on the points raised, I shall add that point to the pile that the noble Earl has already offered me.

Earl Russell: That is exactly the note on which I was about to conclude my remarks. I thank the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 15 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 109 not moved.]

Clause 16 agreed to.

Clause 17 [Destitution: definition]:

[Amendment No. 110 not moved.]

Clause 17 agreed to.

Clause 18 [Dependant: definition]:

Lord Bhatia moved Amendment No. 110A:

"( ) is over 18 years of age"

The noble Lord said: I want to raise another issue relating to children in the accommodation centres. Earlier, we debated Amendment No. 107, which dealt with the issue of providing education for children in accommodation centres. My amendment deals with the issue of whether children should be placed in accommodation centres with their families. It would also be useful to consider whether children should be placed in the proposed accommodation centres at all. That issue has not been explored in the Bill's passage to date. but it should be an important consideration for us.

Children's charities and refugee organisations are concerned that accommodation centres will not afford children the care and protection they need and will not uphold their rights under human rights law. My amendment would ensure that children and their

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families were not housed in accommodation centres. It would mean that dependants of asylum seekers, as defined in Clause 18, would not include children. There are concerns that because of the repeated reforms of the support arrangements for asylum seekers, children are losing out. We cannot continue to experiment with children's lives by testing policies on them to see whether they are feasible and withdrawing them after some children have been irreparably damaged. If there are genuine fears that living in accommodation centres could do lasting harm to a child's development, the policy should not proceed.

An understanding of the degree of trauma, upheaval and loss that children seeking asylum have suffered should always be uppermost in our minds as we determine policies that impact on them. Their emotional and mental health are likely to be extremely fragile and they will often be disorientated, confused and frightened. They will need specialist, and sensitive care and support.

It is highly unlikely that accommodation centres of the kind proposed will provide the right kind of care and support in the best environment for the child. Moreover, placing children in institutions that are not focused on meeting their individual needs is likely to delay substantially the healing process, if not exacerbate their problems, by adversely affecting their development and well-being.

As we know, the centres will be large, sited in remote places and insular in so far as they will not encourage residents to engage with the local community by providing all services on site. Is that the environment that any of us would wish for our own children? More to the point, should we force such an environment on extremely vulnerable children, many of whom will have acute needs?

The Government have sought to justify their proposals by saying that most asylum seekers who are recognised as refugees will remain in the accommodation centres for only two months, but in Standing Committee in response to calls to have a six-month limit on a stay in an accommodation centre, Angela Eagle said that six months was a "tough call" in terms of processing claims.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child should provide our guiding principles in all decisions relating to children. The convention provides a critical standard against which our treatment of children seeking asylum can be assessed. In particular, the best interests principle, which is set out in Article 3 of the convention, should be our overriding consideration as we develop policy. Children's charities point out that the Government have failed to demonstrate that placing children and young people in accommodation centres is in the best interests of those children.

The placement of children and their families in accommodation centres also gives rise to serious concerns under other articles of the convention. Under Article 6, there is a duty on the state to ensure to the maximum extent possible the development of the child. Article 15 refers to freedom of association, but

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living in isolated areas will make it difficult for families to make cultural links and participate in normal community life. The communal experience of accommodation centres may militate against the rights of children to privacy and a family life, to which Articles 16 and 18 refer. Families will be denied a say in the location and type of accommodation that would best meet their needs and the best interests of their children under Articles 5 and 18. The removal of opportunities for children to participate in social, leisure, recreational and cultural activities available to other children in the UK is covered by Article 31. Children will be denied a voice in major decisions that affect them, to which Article 12 refers.

All those concerns were considered by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which concluded that the most serious concerns were in respect of Articles 3, 12, 15 and 31. In particular, the Committee emphasised that the duty on the Government under Article 3 is to make the best interests of the child the primary consideration in all actions concerning children. In respect of Article 15, which sets out children's rights in relation to freedom of association, the Committee stated:

    " . . . in our view, it would be a matter of real concern if life in an accommodation centre for destitute asylum seekers and their dependants were to be regarded as an example of that 'normal community life' with which children are entitled to make cultural links and in which they are entitled to participate. We accept that the Department intends to make efforts to make life in the centres as pleasant as possible, but such a life would be inherently abnormal by most people's standards. It would also be likely to be somewhat cut off from local communities. The proposal to educate most children inside the accommodation centres rather than in local schools . . . would deprive the children of an important opportunity to forge links with the local community, and could delay the process of integrating into the community those who are successful in establishing a right to remain. Making links is likely to be particularly difficult if accommodation centres are located in isolated areas, as seems to be quite possible in many cases. We are concerned that this will make it difficult to meet the requirements of children's rights under CRC Article 15".

If it is in the best interests of children to be housed in accommodation centres, we would expect children seeking asylum to welcome the Government's proposals. However, young people consulted by Save the Children felt that accommodation centres were not a good idea for children and they were particularly concerned about being segregated from local communities. One of the children said:

    "Young people need to get out and experience things".

Another said:

    "We will not be able to make friends, especially with local people"

A third person said:

    "Some people [in accommodation centres] will make trouble and noise and there will be no space to be individual".

What is the alternative to accommodation centres? We should not forget that, while the pilots are taking place, the vast majority of asylum seekers will still be dispersed in the normal way. More importantly, many organisations working with asylum seekers are of the view that dispersal is starting to work much better in some areas. Where the right infrastructure is in place

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and community partnerships of service providers have been built, there is growing evidence that dispersal placements can be very successful.

The Government's operational review of the dispersal scheme last year, made a series of practical recommendations on how the dispersal system could be further improved. It addressed issues such as clustering, and improving communication between NASS and other local agencies better to prepare communities in dispersal areas and to ensure that there is a better match between children and families and the services that they need. But the Government have given no time for those recommendations to be implemented before coming up with yet another proposal on how to accommodate asylum seekers. That is difficult to understand, particularly given that the emerging evidence on dispersal was increasingly positive.

The priority should be to improve existing services to enable children to access mainstream services and to piece their lives back together in as normal an environment as possible, rather than create new systems that divide, disrupt and exclude. The onus is on the Government to evaluate whether or not, according to objective criteria, it is in children's best interests to be placed in an accommodation centre rather than in their own home with their family in the community.

The Government have failed to demonstrate, or even to argue that it is better for a child seeking asylum to be placed in an accommodation centre than in his own home. It is difficult, therefore, to accept the Government's claim that they treat such children as children first and foremost. Indeed, it seems that the rights and needs of those vulnerable children are being subordinated to the demands of an inflexible, politically driven asylum policy. I beg to move.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: The Select Committee on Delegated Powers in its 24th report referred to this clause and Clauses 59 and 60. The report stated that the definition of dependant would be prescribed in regulations. However, a Home Office memorandum to the Committee before it considered the Bill suggested that the Government were thinking that they might define what a dependant was and could consequently remove the delegated power. Does the Minister know whether it was the Government's intention to do that? I do not think that an amendment has been tabled to that effect. To leave the definition to delegated legislation is slightly worrying and perhaps some of those worries were encapsulated in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia.

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