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The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I read with care our previous debate on this matter. As I understood it, the Government accepted that it is likely to take more than two months for asylum applications to be processed and that appeals may then take four months. They did not expect that to change in the near future. But I know that the noble Lord has great experience in this area and I look forward to his clarifying that point.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for making that point. I will say now to the Minister that my support for the principle of the accommodation centres is founded on the belief that the system must be more efficient in the time taken to deal with applications. We must get better at that. One way to do so is through accommodation centres, where advice is available—provided either by non-governmental authorities or by the Legal Services Commission, through local qualified solicitors—that can speed up the process.

I do not want fairness thrown out of the window in dealing with applications and I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us a little more about the time-scale envisaged. Let me put it this way to your Lordships: there are those who accuse the Government of being target-mad—setting a target for everything in sight. Even if that is not the case, it may be appropriate to set firmer targets for the Immigration Advisory Service on time taken to deal with asylum applications.

On size, I have already said that it is unlikely that the centres will be crammed—that, whatever their capacity, whether 250 or 750, they will be full every day of the year. The Government have fairly stated—it is important to recognise this—that their intention is to set them up on a trial basis. It must be acknowledged that if the range of facilities envisaged by the Government—education for children, healthcare, purposeful activities, facilities for religious observance

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and so on—are to be provided, a certain scale is involved. So to the extent that the issue of size is a matter of trial against the services to be provided on-site, I am prepared to let that trial proceed—from the opposite perspective to that of the noble Baroness.

Turning to my last point, I should immediately apologise to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and confess that I brought old habits from the other end of the Corridor when I interrupted him from a sedentary position, but I want to make a serious point about the provision of foodstuffs.

It is obviously envisaged that shops will be provided on accommodation centre sites. I do not say this facetiously, but with regard to the proposed Throckmorton site, for example, plenty of shopkeepers in the great city of Birmingham are used to providing the foodstuff needs of ethnic communities. I can tell the noble Earl and the rest of your Lordships that I dare say that even now, down the Alum Rock Road, where shopkeepers have been doing that for years, there will be those thinking, "I wonder when the centre at Throckmorton will open because I want to put in for a licence to run the shop." I do not say that in any facetious manner, because I believe—as, I am sure, does the noble Lord, for the reasons that he gave and others—that it is important that the foodstuffs to which asylum seekers have been used are provided on-site in their accommodation centres. I do not doubt for a minute that, if only for vulgar commercial reasons, they will be.

I do not want to touch on the point about education, because separate amendments have been tabled on that, but I repeat to your Lordships that we should not lose sight of the purpose of the accommodation centres and the responsibility on all of us in Parliament to respond to concern about the need to deal more efficiently and effectively with asylum applicants.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, to respond to the noble Lord, the argument is not about accommodation centres; it is about the practicalities of the particular accommodation centres proposed by the Government. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, talked about bleeding heart Liberals. I can bleed my heart with the best of them if I want to, and I confess to being a Liberal. But on issues such as this, I try to be hard-headed and consider the practicalities of particular proposals.

With that in mind, a couple of weeks ago, I went to look at Throckmorton—the county councillor there is Liz Tucker, an old political colleague of mine—and, in doing so, I tried to put aside my preconceptions on the matter and everything that I had heard and consider it as if I were determining a planning application to see what was the likely impact on the ground. I must say that it would be difficult to find a less suitable proposal—to use the words of Amendment No. 12, a proposal that is less

    "suitable to the needs of the persons to be accommodated therein."

I was really quite shocked by what I found. Throckmorton itself is really a small hamlet of 120 people with no facilities. It is surrounded by a ring of

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villages: Bishampton, Pinvin, Wyre Piddle—names that noble Lords may think amusing; but the people there are not terribly amused at the prospect of those small villages surrounding an accommodation centre for 750 people from a completely different part of the world who do not know where they are, who do not know the area and who have nothing to do outside the accommodation centre other than wander up and down the country lanes. Those villages are, so far as I could see, mainly commuter villages in which, during the day, few people can be seen around.

The proposed centre is three miles from Pershore, which is a small market town of about 3,000 people. I asked some people in Pershore, "Isn't it fair that you should take a fair share of the burden, if there is a burden of looking after asylum seekers while they are here?" They said yes, because the sort of people that I talk to are reasonable people, especially if they are Liberals. But they said, "What is the appropriate size?" I said that if the proposal were for 10, 20 or even 30 people to come to the area, I would come to defend it, just as I have defended the needs of asylum seekers in the part of Lancashire in which I live, where we have had dispersal. But 750—including a substantial number of young, single men, who no doubt would walk into the town because it is the most interesting place, insofar as anywhere is interesting to young men in such an area?

I asked, "What is it like? Do you have problems here?" They said, "The main problem here is that there is nothing much for our local young men to do. On Friday and Saturday nights, there is bother on the streets". One has only to put two and two together—or one group of young men from the asylum centre and one group of local young men together—to see that people are concerned that there would be bother.

But my main concern when considering the proposed site is the interests of those who would be living there. As my noble friend Lord Russell said, there is a huge tip there. It is the biggest that I have ever seen—no doubt there are bigger—that is not filling up a huge hole in the ground. Instead, it is building a new hill—because that is what we have to do nowadays in terms of landfill. I stood on the corner of the tip nearest to the proposed site, which is half a field away. Half a field the other way, the machinery was still landscaping the site on which the carcasses of thousands of cattle were buried during the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. That will all be flattened out and landscaped, and, no doubt, it will be looked after nicely. On the other side, half a field away, is the proposed site of the accommodation centre. My noble friend explained the difficulties that there will be. There is an open tip, with open access to it, and there is no doubt that that will cause huge danger. Why on Earth are we saying to people who have come halfway across the world to seek asylum that they will be accommodated next to a huge refuse tip? That is the wrong message in every way.

On the other side of the centre—next to it—there was what appeared to be a radar research outfit in the old hangar buildings on the old airfield. It has big signs on it saying that the site is covered by the Official

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Secrets Act and suggesting that anyone who gets in or tries to get in will be shot or whatever it is that they do to them. No doubt, some asylum seekers will be used to that sort of thing and might be able to cope, but I do not know that the children will be able to read the notices about the Official Secrets Act. Having seen that site—but not the other two—I came away convinced that the Government's chances of getting planning permission, if the system works properly, are nil. For that reason alone, we ought to consider proposals for smaller sites in more sensible areas.

In Committee, the Minister said the urban areas of this country had taken more than their fair share of the burden and that it was time for the rest of the country to take its share. I do not disagree with that. However, we are not talking about the rest of the country taking its share, we are talking about three rural areas with small communities taking a huge share. That is not right.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I had wanted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, but I am glad that I did not, as we have just heard a very interesting speech. However, I shall say to the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, that I accept everything that he said. He is right to say that the Government have an enormous problem and that there is no decrease in the number of people coming here to seek asylum. In fact, the trend is going the other way, and the Government have an urgent duty to find ways of dealing with that situation, while reassuring the public that they can do so, as the noble Lord said.

At the moment, the plan for trial accommodation centres is being treated by the Government as a way of reassuring the public. That has been happening over the summer. It is helpful to the public to know that the plan exists, and the details of the centres are constantly under discussion, as now. However, there is little mention of the fact that, of the 80,000 applicants for asylum who come in each year plus their dependents, only 5,000 will be dealt with in accommodation centres. That is less than 6 per cent and is a small part of the whole operation. It is none the less important for that that the matter must not be got out of proportion. I may be wrong—my suspicious mind often takes over—but I suspect that the plan is talked about because it is easy to understand and because it is comforting to know that it exists.

My noble friend asked the Minister to tell us the current situation on planning permission for the centres. Can he also tell me whether the plan to have one in Scotland still exists or has been abandoned, as someone told me yesterday? I would be interested to know, as would the people of Scotland.

We must get the system right. It is a small operation at the moment, but it may be replicated on an enormous scale if it is a success. It will be expensive, but, if it is a success, it may be the right way. We hope that fewer asylum seekers will come and that the system will play a big part in meeting their needs.

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However, we must get it right, and the job must be well done. The amendments tabled by my noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns are concerned with doing that.

At the meeting last night, to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth referred and which other noble Lords attended, there was an epic happening. The right reverend Prelate stood up and spoke three sentences, whereupon he was cheered by 86 people—I counted them. That does not happen often to a right reverend Prelate, so I am sure that he enjoyed it.

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