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Lord Dholakia: My Lords, we find it astonishing that this amendment is not being accepted. In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, saidI remind himthat accommodation staff, such as teachers and crèche workers, would already be covered under Section 36 of the Act. The position of ancillary staff, which the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, mentioned, should be acknowledged and reconsidered.
The reason that one feels suspicious about such an arrangement is that it is very difficult to obtain the details of contracts between the Home Office and, for example, Group 4 because they are considered to be matters of commercial confidentiality. It is unlikely that people who are not part of that particular set-up would ever find out the precise arrangements between the Home Office and the contractors.
The Government may argue that there is no problem because children are with their families, a point mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. However, many of them may not speak English and their families may not speak English. Also, their cultures will be different. Families may fear that any complaint would result in support being withdrawn or, worse, that they would be sent back to face persecution. To a greater or lesser extent, children will be confined in accommodation centres. They may see the staff as a whole and be reluctant to complain to a teacher or creche worker or someone outside the family.
Some of the children may be in a position which the psychotherapists working with children at the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture describe as "emotionally unaccompanied". The parents may be in such an acute state of distress,
This amendment is fairly modest. The notion that the Government may reject it is frightening and I hope that the Minister will give sympathetic consideration to the proposal made by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, which we support.
Earl Russell: My Lords, if I were the Minister I would accept this amendment at once before there was any more discussion on it. The moment when a government cannot recognise a hot potato when they see one is the moment when they have been in office too long. This Government seem to be reaching that stage rather early. They have been extremely activeI make no criticism of thatin the matter of child protection in every other area, as anyone trying to fill school teaching vacancies is well aware. If they do it for everyone except asylum seekers, they risk giving the impression that they regard asylum seekers as a lesser breed who are without the law.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, I have much sympathy for the amendment. However, earlier we heard that there probably will be some accommodation centres that will cater for adults only. If that is the case, the amendment, should it be accepted, would need further modification.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I support the amendment. I shall be extremely shocked if the Minister does not accept it. We have had two absolutely extraordinary replies to two recent amendments. I found the last one completely extraordinary, causing me to vote against the Government, which I was not intending to do. I hope that the Minister will at least listen and not just turn it down. There is not the smallest doubt that the vulnerability of people in accommodation centres will be enormous and greater than in any other institution that one can think of because of their unusual situation and the unpredictability of the way in which people may behave. The Government have to look to their laurels. They are being cruel.
The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: I support the amendment. It is a symptom of the fact that the Bill is being rushed through. One sympathises with the Government wanting to get the legislation through, but we are fulfilling our responsibility in giving it proper scrutiny, which it has not received elsewhere. I urge the Government to consider this amendment carefully.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I can see absolutely no defence against the amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lady Anelay. Perhaps I may ask the Ministerhe owes the House at least an explanationto counter an answer that I believe was given on a previous occasion. That is, the distinction has been made because the children live on the campus with their families so somehow or other they are not vulnerable enough to warrant this amendment.
I proffer the following scenario, which is entirely probable. One envisages a campus, which is usually a disused military base. The distance from it that children undertaking activities with other adults are likely to be is as great or even greater than my children were from their school in the village in which I live. The Government are absolutely insistent, and have put in an elaborate programme, to make sure that the children who attend my local village school, who live a matter of yards away from their families, are fully protected. Yet these children can be half a mile, a mile, or even more on some of these campuses, away from their immediate families in the hands of adults who would not be subject to this checking. I believe that that is wholly indefensible. It would be helpful if the Minister could answer that point when he answers the debate.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I think that we are missing something slightly. The amendment is designed to protect children. But the parents could be young and vulnerable. So the amendment protects the parents as well.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I have certainly listened, and I will consider everything that has been said in the debate so far. I invite the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and other noble Lords, in terms of what I say, which to my mind affords an adequate response to their quite legitimate concerns, perhaps to enter into further discussions with me subsequently.
I start from the position of accepting the thrust of the concerns of the noble Baroness. One is aware of the risks to which children in accommodation centres with limited English and in a different culture could be exposed.
As noble Lords know, most of the establishments to which Section 36(2) applies are where children are separated from their families or educational establishments. Accommodation centres do not fall into that category since asylum-seeker children will be in the care of their family or guardian. There are many other government organisations or institutionsfor example, hospitalswhere Section 36(2) does not currently apply.
I shall briefly set out what we believe will address adequately noble Lords' concerns. First, we all know that the best protection is to ensure that children are taught how to be safe. That is often done through schools. We shall ensure that that is part of the curriculum for the on-site educational provision. Teachers are often well-placed to detect any problems
Further, we undertake to consult relevant children's organisations in order to learn from their work and experience and to get their advice on how best to build in these protections at accommodation centres.
As one would expect, all accommodation centres will be required to have a child protection policy and procedures for putting it into effect. Clearly those will be open for inspection and study by the monitor or by the advisory group. One would expect the advisory group to be alert in looking for potential areas of risk or concern.
LastlyI think that this achieves the same objective that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, mentioned, albeit by different meanswe will write into the contract with the safety operator the requirement that all of those working in accommodation centres, including the ancillary staff that she correctly identified as not being covered by our previous discussion, undergo the highest level of criminal record check. That will be part of the specification for the contract, rather than part of the contract submission with prices by the supplier.
I can therefore envisage no reason whatever why that contract should not be in the public domain and available for inspection by any Member of the House who wants to read it. In other words, that commitment will be on the record and the contractual documentation will spell it out. Again, one would expect the monitor, when he or she visited, to ensure that the contractor was in practice complying with the requirements. It therefore seems to the Government that that achieves exactly the position sought by the noble Baroness, albeit by a slightly different route.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he answer the following question? Why do the Government deem it necessary to underpin by law the obligation on teachers in all of our schools to carry out those checks but not to underpin by law the obligation on teachers in these circumstances to perform such checks?
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