Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Earl Russell: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. I hope that he will forgive me for beginning a reply on a serious matter on a slightly irreverent note. When he says that the Government take the sanction seriously and that it will not be imposed lightly, he reminds me of the Kaiser, then aged five, being spanked by his nurse. The nurse said, "This hurts me more than it hurts you". To which the Kaiser replied, "Oh? And in the same place?"

The Minister asked me how many safety nets I require. The answer is, "Until we get down to one that does not have any holes cut in it". So the answer is in the Minister's own hands. The safety net is increasingly resembling the Irishman's famous definition of a net—a series of holes tied together with bits of string. But the holes are getting rather wider as we go along.

I accept, of course, that there must be a sanction. In any human affairs where any discipline or order is necessary, there must be a sanction. The question is whether this sanction is, as it would be put in European law, disproportionate to what it is dealing with. In extreme cases, clearly imprisonment may be an appropriate sanction. I would regard that as a very much milder punishment than the deprivation of support. That is something I ask the Government to take on board; it is a long-standing conviction. You do not in normal circumstances die of starvation because you are imprisoned; you are fed.

9 Oct 2002 : Column 380

I remember very vividly being in this Chamber when we finally agreed to ratify the protocol of the European convention which abolished the death penalty altogether in this country. We were led by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, whom I admire very much for doing what he did. He did it brilliantly. But I did not take part in order to adopt the lines of A H Clough's New Decalogue:

    "Thou shalt not kill but need not strive officiously to keep alive".

I refer to the real problem of withdrawing support from people with no right to work; namely, how does the Minister believe that they will make a living in the meantime? I know about the right of appeal to an adjudicator. That is where the case of Husain v Asylum Support Adjudicator which I mentioned came from. But the problem remains: how are you to remain alive while you are appealing and while you have no support while you appeal? You do not necessarily have a network of relatives you can fall back on. You do not necessarily—although some asylum seekers do—have a community of your own you can fall back on.

I remember a case found by the CAB of one Somali who was sent to Brighton under the dispersal policy where there was not a single other person in the whole town who spoke his language. If he were deprived of support, to whom should he turn? One hopes that such people will not turn to crime but it is hard to see what other alternative is open to them.

Before I withdraw the amendment—which is my present intention—I want an answer from the Minister: how does he think that people will make a living when they have been deprived of support? I await the Minister's answer with interest. I shall not withdraw the amendment until I have it.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I have made plain that the circumstances in which support can be withdrawn will in our estimation be few indeed. However, it is an ultimate sanction. As I understand the position, it is not a sanction unknown across the benefits system.

The noble Earl makes the easy point and it is a fair one in the circumstances. However, I cannot believe that an asylum seeker seeking support in an accommodation centre will be entirely without in the kinds of circumstances that the noble Earl envisages. This is the longstop, ultimate sanction for those who are mendacious and who deliberately flout the rules and are in breach of them. It is intended to bring people up sharply to consider the position in which they find themselves and to ensure a reasonable degree of compliance.

If they comply with the rules, they will receive support. As I have said clearly on at least one occasion—perhaps two occasions—there is a discretion. The Secretary of State will be able to exercise that discretion in the circumstance to reinstate support at any time if it is felt that the Article 3 threshold has been reached.

During one of our exchanges, I made the point that there is a circumstance which will permit the local authority to provide a degree of support, in particular

9 Oct 2002 : Column 381

for any children who might be affected by a severe breach—that is what it would be—of the asylum support system. That may not satisfy the noble Earl, but it is the situation as we see it.

The noble Earl has conceded that we are right that there should be some form of sanction. We believe that it is the most appropriate form in these sets of circumstances.

Earl Russell: My Lords, the Minister has answered every question under the sun except the one that I asked. I take the point about children, which I will leave there for the time being. However, if we are dealing with a single adult who is deprived of support, how does the Minister expect him to keep alive? That is the question to which I want an answer before I withdraw the amendment. It is a fair question and the Minister should have considered it before introducing the measure.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I believe that I have answered the noble Earl's points and questions as best I can. He may not believe that I have dealt with them all directly. Obviously, the question he asks is important in the context of this debate. I am happy to give further thought and reflection to the points he has made, but I shall not give him any further answers. I shall be happy to share correspondence with him on the issue in order to clarify some of the points on which he may disagree with us.

Earl Russell: My Lords, will the Minister reconsider his answer that he will not give me any further information? If he does not, I shall have no option but to divide the House, which was not my wish.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not believe that I can add further clarification today. I am happy to share with the noble Earl further thoughts in correspondence outside the confines of today's debate.

Earl Russell: My Lords, the Minister should not have introduced the measure without having an answer to the question ready. He does not and I would like to test the opinion of the House.

10.33 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 23) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 26; Not-Contents, 61.

Division No. 3


Alderdice, L.
Anelay of St Johns, B.
Attlee, E.
Avebury, L. [Teller]
Barker, B.
Bhatia, L.
Blatch, B.
Brabazon of Tara, L.
Bridgeman, V.
Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L.
Burnham, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Craig of Radley, L.
Dholakia, L.
Durham, Bp.
Greaves, L.
Joffe, L.
Kingsland, L.
Mackie of Benshie, L.
Northbrook, L.
Portsmouth, Bp.
Roper, L.
Russell, E. [Teller]
Sandwich, E.
Shutt of Greetland, L.
Williams of Crosby, B.


Acton, L.
Alli, L.
Amos, B.
Andrews, B.
Bassam of Brighton, L.
Blackstone, B.
Borrie, L.
Bragg, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Campbell-Savours, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Cohen of Pimlico, B.
Corbett of Castle Vale, L.
Crawley, B.
Davies of Coity, L.
Davies of Oldham, L.
Desai, L.
Dixon, L.
Dubs, L.
Elder, L.
Evans of Parkside, L.
Evans of Temple Guiting, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Faulkner of Worcester, L.
Filkin, L.
Gale, B.
Golding, B.
Goldsmith, L.
Goudie, B.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Grenfell, L.
Grocott, L. [Teller]
Harris of Haringey, L.
Harrison, L.
Hayman, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Howells of St. Davids, B.
Hoyle, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Jones, L.
Judd, L.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Macdonald of Tradeston, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller]
MacKenzie of Culkein, L.
Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.
Massey of Darwen, B.
Mitchell, L.
Pendry, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Sainsbury of Turville, L.
Sawyer, L.
Scotland of Asthal, B.
Simon, V.
Tomlinson, L.
Turnberg, L.
Whitty, L.
Woolmer of Leeds, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

9 Oct 2002 : Column 382

10.45 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 24:

    After Clause 26, insert the following new clause—

"Prohibition of persons disqualified from working with children from working in accommodation centres: amendment of section 36 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 (C. 43)
There shall be inserted after section 36(2)(a) of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 (c. 43) (meaning of "regulated position")—
"(aa) an accommodation centre provided under section 14 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002,"."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the effect of this amendment would be to make it a criminal offence for a person who is disqualified from working with children to apply for, or accept, a job in an accommodation centre. Those disqualified from working with children under the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 must, first, have committed a crime that falls within the definition of an offence against a child in the Act. That includes not only sex offences but also other crimes, such as child cruelty, child abduction, serious assaults on children and dealing class A drugs to a child. They must also have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 12 months or more.

9 Oct 2002 : Column 383

We are talking about people with a serious criminal history. Section 36 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act defines the jobs that such people are disqualified from doing. They include all jobs that involve caring for, training, supervising, or being in sole charge of children, whether permanent, casual, paid or unpaid work.

When I moved this amendment in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, pointed out that any such jobs in accommodation centres would therefore already be covered under this provision. However, that definition in Section 36(1) of the Act does not cover ancillary positions whose duties do not involve direct work with children; for example, security guards, caretakers, gardeners or office staff—people who will still come into contact with the children during their stay in accommodation centres. Section 36(2) of the Act therefore lists a number of types of establishment where those disqualified from working with children may not work in any position, no matter whether or not the job involves direct contact with children.

The establishments listed in Section 36(2) include children's homes, children's hospitals and educational institutions. It is that list into which my amendment seeks to insert the accommodation centres that the Government propose to establish in the Bill. The effect of it would be to prevent those disqualified from working with children from taking up any position whatever in an accommodation centre.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, pointed out that children will be living with their families in accommodation centres. Thus, he said, the position is not exactly the same as in, for example, children's homes. That is a distinction, but I invite the House to consider whether the arguments in favour of additional protection outweigh it.

Of course, the children will be living with their parents. The parents will be on site but not always by their side. None the less, those children will be some of the most vulnerable in our society. They will know little or no English at that stage. They will have no experience of life in this country. They may well be eager to seek to please those in what they regard as positions of authority and will thus be extremely susceptible. After all, they may not wish to complain for fear of jeopardising their families' claims for asylum.

Last month I received a letter from the Minister of State at the Home Office, Beverley Hughes. I thank her for that courteous letter. I understand that it was copied to the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Hylton. In her letter, Ms Hughes states:

    "I fully understand your concerns and agree that all children, wherever they are housed, schooled or looked after, ought to be protected as much as possible from those that seek to cause them harm. I am also in agreement with you on the particular vulnerability of asylum seeking children who may be scared, confused or unable to communicate because of language difficulties".

9 Oct 2002 : Column 384

But she then goes on to say that the Government are unable to accept the amendment. The principal reason given in the Minister's letter appears to be that to include accommodation centres in the list would be "disproportionate and illogical". I beg to disagree on that. I believe that the amendment is both necessary and desirable, that it will provide an additional level of protection, and that it will send a clear message that accommodation centres should be places of safety not only from the threats that asylum seekers face overseas but also from those that, sadly, all too often persist in our own country. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page