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Lord Filkin: My Lords, the Home Office must make a judgment about cost and the quality of service provided. I shall not go into the detail now, but we are looking at those issues. One factor is that if we reduce the number of languages spoken, we reduce some of the costs. For example, a specialised residence, such as a centre without children, by definition would not have in-house educational facilities. We would want to hold firm to the aspect discussed in some detail in Committee, that is to say, the benefit of trying to do as much of the initial decision-making and the first appeal stage in the centre or as close to it as possible. Effectively, that would bring the decision-making to
I shall expand on that issue, if I may. Seventy per cent of all new asylum applications are being dealt with within two months. That is an increase on the 60 per cent we were achieving when I last spoke, and I hope that the rate will continue to rise. If we have accommodation centres operating as I described, we must achieve that and, one hopes, go further. Also, as I shall discuss later, we want to make the appeal process as rapid as possible, consistent with doing the job fairly. I hope that this signals that by no means are we dogmatic in our approach. However, we do think it right that the Government of the country should experiment as regards how better we can provide support requested and meet the principles set out. That is what we are doing.
I shall respond to some queries. This may take a while, so I trust the House will bear with me. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, made important points about the traffic impact. That is a proper consideration for the planning inquiry process. In principle, our position is that we would not have made applications if we did not think they were consistent with traffic management. However, those will not ultimately be our decisions; they will be for others to make. I agree with his point about shops. Appropriate food must be available to buy in the on-site shop for people from the ethnic groups, and we intend to ensure that that happens. Local shops may also provide an appropriate range of food. One would hope so, as competition in principle is a good thing.
Discussion took place with the Refugee Council at official level in July. My honourable friend Beverley Hughes wrote to the Refugee Council a couple of days ago to request further discussions at both ministerial and official level on the options I talked about.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, I hope that I have indicated that we do take these issues seriously. I do not think that we start from the position that a small centre or a big one is automatically right or wrong, but it is important that some of the principles are met, especially the speed of processing.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, asked what was the position on current applications. If I have it right, two planning applications have been submitted. I suspect that it will be no great surprise to him that the local authorities in those areas have rejected them on initial application. The Home Secretary has appealed in both cases, and there will be public inquiries on both. The first will take place on 10th December, and the second on 8th April. A planning application for a further site may be submitted before long.
Lord Filkin: Yes, my Lords. From recollection, both applications were for centres of approximately 750 people, with a full range of on-site facilities. I have not referred in full to those facilities, but they were referred to in Committee. They include healthcare, activities, a nursery, a schoolthe whole works.
On the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, I cannot but stress that it is not our intention to segregate asylum seekers, nor do I believe that that will be the effect of what we are doing. We are giving them the support they want initially for what I hope will be a relatively short period.
There are two points arising from that. On the time, clearly most people who are granted asylum will be out of an accommodation centre within two months, because most people who are granted asylum have it granted on initial hearing. We are dealing with 70 per cent of all cases within two months. It therefore follows that most people who get asylum will be out relatively rapidly, which is one of the benefits. However, assuming that they are there for two or three months, I agree with the point made by, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, that, potentially, that period could provide us with a very good opportunity to support and give guidance to people about living in Britain, language training and acclimatisation before they move on to permanent residence in Britain, if their application is approved.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, spoke about Pershore, which I know well. My father lived there. I do not think that I should go into the detail of the site. That will be part of the planning application, if one is submitted. I have heard the noble Lord's points.
The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, is absolutely right, as so often. We are talking about 3,000 places on this pilot. That is 3,000 out of 50,000 currently receiving NASS support. That is a minute proportion. It is a very small experiment. We might better be criticised for it being too small an experiment rather than too large a one.
We should talk later rather than now about the quality of initial decisions. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, raised issues about children. I have enjoyed discussions with the children's organisation. Some of the children will have been traumatised. We strongly believe that the support and facilities that we will provide to them in accommodation centres when they come into this country will be at least as good as, and I hope substantially better than, the support they will be receiving in some dispersal situations. They will be there for only a short period if their case is approved. I am glad to acknowledge that the Bishop of
I am in danger of boring the House, so I shall seek to conclude. I have explained why we think that more than just carrying on the current dispersal system is necessary. It would be irresponsible of a government to continue with the current situation and not try to improve support processing and avoid some of the pressures on local communities or the difficulties of support that people are feeling. That is what the trial is about. It is a trial for 3,000. It will not run to the time that we had originally envisaged, because the planning process will delay it, so it will not happen immediately. The test is whether we meet those four goals.
I shall be pleased to bring the issue back on Third Reading, when I should like to put on record much more strongly the process of evaluation of those centres. I should like to document before the House how we will monitoragainst what criteria and through what processand by what means this House will be given the opportunity of ongoing investigation of the accommodation centres as they are piloted. Ultimately, the House and the Government have to see whether the centres will do the job better than the status quo. It would be right and proper for the House to be given the opportunity to do that.
I shall seek to put that on the record on Third Reading. We may even be in a position to write more fully to noble Lords beforehand so that they can see how the House will have an opportunity to engage in scrutinising the process of evaluation.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in the debate. I thank those who have opposed me as well as those who have supported me. The noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, pointed out clearly the responsibility of this House to the public, who are worried and want to put pressure on the Government to make the system work. They will continue that pressure. He was right. We have that duty. This debate is the way in which we carry out that duty, with our own measured way, our deep concern and the tremendous experience around the House.
The noble Lord, Lord Corbett, proved my point for me. The system that the Government are proposing will not work. It will not deliver what the public wisha resolution to the problem of those who come to seek asylum in this country and find that the process that they have to go through is lengthy and difficult for them. It is difficult for the country, too, to see that occurrence.
As always, the Minister was courteous and thoughtful in his response, but I must remind the House of the moving speech of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-DavisI beg his pardon; he is also right honourable. He expressed his deep concern and
I have been accused by some of trying to impose inflexibility on the Government. I assure the Government that Amendment No. 12 would do nothing of the sort. It is reasonable in the extreme. Indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, thought that I was being too reasonable in the power that it would give the Secretary of State for change. I am simply saying that the Government must have an open mind. They must consider different types of accommodation centre. I am the one giving them the flexibility on the face of the Bill, yet the Minister has again said that there will be 3,000 places in four accommodation centres.
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