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Lord Renton: My Lords, I hope that the Government will accept this amendment. The accommodation centres will be of great public importance. They will cost a great deal of public money. That is one factor to be borne in mind. Another factor is that they will have an effect on asylum seekers and enable the Government to decide whether they are genuine. They will provide a chance for the merits of asylum seekers to be considered one way or the other. If there is no report to Parliament by the Secretary of State, the whole system will have failed to fulfil its public importance.
Lord Judd: My Lords, very much for the reasons referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, I am slightly puzzled by the drafting of this amendment. No one is suggesting that the regular reports, which are a very interesting idea, should not make reference to the impact on the local community and services. I am sure that that would be an important ingredient. However, I am mystified that there is no reference in the amendment to the impact on the residents of the centres, the role that the centres play in helping in a humane way to achieve their purpose and the theory behind their existence, or the fulfilment of government policy as a whole. I suggest that those who moved the amendment take it away and think about that. It would be unfortunate if this House went on record as saying that it was interested only in the impact of the centres on the local community.
I add this one thought: the fact that I made the same mistake five times in a speech of less than one column's length leads me sadly to the conclusionand I am sure that it is the right onethat since nobody intervened to correct me, nobody thought that anything I said was worth listening to at all.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, this amendment has our support also. I assure my noble friend Lord Carlisle, with whom I have worked in other capacities, that when he referred to attendance centres we had no doubt whatsoever that he meant accommodation centres. We listen very carefully to what the noble Lord says.
The argument of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, was interesting. However, having looked at Clause 32, it is clear that information on the impact on residents and local services is provided by the advisory groups and the monitor himself. The monitor is expected to report to the Secretary of State, and that information will be laid before Parliament. One has no difficulty with that, because when any such report comes before Parliament, I am sure that I, the noble Lord, and others, will jump to make sure that right and proper services are provided at the accommodation centre.
Interestingly, I see no evidence in that part of the Bill about the obligation of the Secretary of State in relation to the interesting and lengthy debate that we had yesterday about accommodation centres. All Members from all sides of the House expressed serious concern not only about the size and location of centres, but about services and other related elements. It is right and proper that the Secretary of State should be accountable, reporting to Parliament on precisely what is happening and on the impact of the centres. On that basis we will be that much wiser. Reports will be published at some stage to detail the precise effect of the pilot schemes.
Lord Judd: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Is he really suggesting that among busy Ministers and senior administrators a sound evaluation of what is happening will really be helped by a confusion of different reports from different quarters? Surely, the job is to look at the centres to judge their effectiveness and their consequences for both the local community and the inmates.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I have no difficulty with what the noble Lord says. Ultimately, we will probably receive a filtered version of what finally emerges. A total picture will be given, but the obligation on the Secretary of State to produce such an impact statement or report is very important, bearing in mind the
The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to this amendment. I have much sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has just said. Perhaps the amendment, if passed and recognised, could be extended.
During yesterday's debate the Minister stressed the need to make provision for the future in accommodation centres. Although there is no question of not trusting the Secretary of State, if I, in the diocese of Portsmouth, were running a new initiative, I would expect to be accountable to my diocesan synod. This amendment is highly correct and appropriate, and I hope that it has the support of the House.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I do not understand why the second part of the amendment cannot be covered by Questions, oral or written. We do not want to be suffused by a whole plethora of reports. Not for the first time, I agree with my noble friend Lord Judd. Although we should, of course, see what the Government have to say on the matter, I do not think that the amendment is right, particularly subsection (2).
Lord Renton: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I hope that I am in order to say that surely if there is to be a report to Parliament, it must be on the effect on asylum seekers of living in accommodation centres and on the effect on local people. Surely Parliament should not be deprived of either conclusion.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I have been asked a question, so I hope that I will be allowed to answer it. If anybody has any reservation about this point, they will let Members of Parliament and noble Lords know. I do not depart from my point about the plethora of information that would come before noble Lords and others which I do not think would be helpful.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, most amendments, like most Bills, are capable of amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, has suggested some minor improvement to the amendment. Nevertheless, the kind of reports called for by the amendment should prove to be a useful tool for post-legislative parliamentary scrutiny, for which so many people have called for so long.
Lord Desai: My Lords, there is a subtlety here that we have all missed. Yesterday the noble Baroness told us that the Secretary of State should be satisfied that the proposed location is suitable to the needs of the people in the accommodation. That was yesterday. Today he has to be sure to worry about people affected by the location. He will get it wrong either way.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I am utterly four-square on the importance of the Government being available to give an account to Parliament about the operation of the centres. Before I go into the detail, we heard every word that the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, said yesterday. We had heard "attendance centres", but we knew exactly what he meant. Perhaps, like me, he finds that Hansard is not very good at capturing what I meant to say, as opposed to what I did say, which is always a difficulty.
On the specifics, perhaps it might help if I say something about how we envisage the evaluation of the trial accommodation centres being undertaken. The White Paper in February set out a series of evaluation criteria against which we would test them. It would be impossible to do this without looking at the associated issues that may contribute to the effect on the locality, either positive or negativeor, given how life is, most likely both positive and negativeand the effect on community relations. It is likely to include matters such as local residents' perceptions of asylum seekers and the impact of their use of local services. There will undeniably be an impact. We hope that it need not be overall a negative one. In fact, we are quite optimistic. We certainly do not expect them to place a burden on local services, given the points that we have emphasised in the Bill about them being designed explicitly in part to avoid that. We shall also evaluate the effect on those areas and compare it, as far as we are able through research methodology, with the alternative of dispersal to make a judgment in the round. We envisage that the evaluation will include a combination of management information and consultation with people and more formal research carried out by independent researchers under contract
The results of the accommodation centres evaluation will be publicly available and will clearly be made available to Parliament. I shall go further than that. We are happy to provide interim results after the first centre has been in operation for a full year. As a number of speakers have said, over and above that commitment there are many ways in which this House or another place can probe Ministers on the issue, through Starred or Unstarred Questions. We have no trouble with that. Quite the reversewe would welcome being open about the objective evaluation and scrutiny of the centres. We are committed to putting information about them into the public domain.
I respect the spirit of the amendment, but the problem is that it would require us to make an annual report on the impact of each accommodation centre every year, by definition. While one can understand the eagerness to have early informationI hope that what I have said will helpafter a while that would become an enormously burdensome process. We do not require prisons, mental hospitals or immigration detention centres to make similar annual reports.
I have not responded explicitly to every point, but I hope that I have captured the broad thrust of the points made. We welcome an evaluation. We think we can meet the thrust of what the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has said in the ways that I have set out.
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