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Lord Avebury: My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord is able to deal with my other questions. I am grateful to him for the figures that he has given, but I asked him what plans the Government have to expand the accommodation for families when total capacity in the detention estate is increased from its present 2,000 to 4,000.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I had not forgotten the noble Lord's question; it was in the pile of notes that I was coming to, but I shall deal with it now. No firm decisions have been made as to the exact number of family beds that will be provided when we reach the stage of commissioning or putting out a specification for them. Clearly it will be supplied, and I should welcome a question nearer that time if the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, would like to raise it with me. Raising such a question on the back of the generality of the subject of the family detention estate would be perfectly appropriate.
In terms of the question, "why more?", I believe that the House knows the answer. There is a significant increase in the in-flows of asylum claimants to the country. If we are to increase the number of removals of those who have no valid grounds for staying, then it follows as a factif an unfortunate onethat there will be a need for an increase in the size of the detention estate.
I do not pretend that I have answered every question, but I hope that I have cut to the heart of the issue. Essentially, in an ideal world it would be wonderful if one did not have to detain families in this way. In our view, it is better to keep families together rather than to separate the children. Clearly, in an ideal world it will be even better simply to identify rapidly people who have a genuine claim
Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, will he be kind enough to answer the point about the families I described who have to go into detention? Will they have a choice as to whether or not the children go into detention with them?
Lord Filkin: My Lords, the answer is: no. In principle, without going into the hazy detail of my recollection of the child care laws, there are two grounds. I believe that social services would not lightly separate a child from his parents if an alternative provision were available. That seems to be right and proper in child care law. If I am wrong in my recollection of that law, I shall certainly write to my noble friend.
For the reasons that I have illustrated, while we wish to minimise the time that children are detained with their families, we believe that it is an unavoidable part of a necessary process of managing the asylum system.
Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, I noticed that the right reverend Prelate asked for clarification on a point which perhaps has been puzzling other noble Lordsthat is, the position on Amendments Nos. 34 and 35. Those amendments were debated in a group yesterday and a vote took place. One's usual understanding is that, when a vote takes place after a group of amendments has been moved, there is, for the convenience of the House, only one vote. I believe it is technically the position that Amendments Nos. 34 and 35 were not moved and that therefore Clauses 34 and 35 are still part of the Bill.
However, is it not also the position that the main heat in the debate yesterday was generated by the reference in Clause 34(2) to the fact that an accommodation centre cannot place children in a local authority school? The Government will now be looking at the position on Clauses 34 and 35 in the light of the amendment moved yesterday. Although the right reverend Prelate assumed that he was correct in saying that Clauses 34 and 35 had fallen, that is not the position.
However, in the light of the circumstances, no doubt the whole question of what to do about yesterday's amendments and Clauses 34 and 35 will be considered. I believe that people who are unfamiliar with the proceedings of this House might assume that either the right reverend Prelate should have pressed the matter to a vote after dinner yesterday, which would have been awkward, or that he should have pressed a vote today. Therefore, it might be useful if my noble friend were to respond by saying that his understanding is different from that of the right reverend Prelate but, nevertheless, is along the lines of what I have just described.
Earl Russell: My Lords, the position as explained to me by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, when he was Leader of this House some time ago, is that an amendment follows on another which has been put to a vote without further ado if it is consequential upon it. As I understand it, the amendment moved last night by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth was intended to, and had the effect of, placing children of asylum seekers in mainstream schools. Therefore, it was necessarily consequential upon it that Clauses 34 and 35 should fall. However, I understand that that must still be formally moved by the right reverend Prelate. If he wishes to do so, I believe that that would put the matter to rest.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I am extremely reluctant to speak on this matter but I probably have no choice. The first point is that I have been advised by the Table that we have passed Amendments Nos. 34 and 35 andfor reasons that the House knows better than Ione cannot go backwards in terms of our processes.
The second point is that the noble Earl is right and, if I understand the record correctly, Amendments Nos. 34 and 35 were not moved and therefore still stand. I am speaking not as an expert on the process so if that is not the case, we will confer with the usual channels rapidly. This is not an issue on which the Government want in any way to get involved. We will accept whatever procedural ruling the House makes. We do not wish to be caught up in an issue about procedure on a vote on which we have lost the first of the three amendments that were moved together.
Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that in light of the amendment that was moved and passed last night, if Clauses 34 and 35 remain the Bill is now a nonsense? It would be helpful if my noble friend could indicate what steps the Government will take to make logical a Bill that is, at the moment, illogical.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, if I am right, the House is master of the Bill rather than the Government. I will not comment on whether or not the Bill is a nonsense. I remind the House of how much work we have to do today and how important it is to give attention to these measures. The advice that I have given the Committee is the best and most honest that I can give. It is true advice and we are where we are. This is not an issue on which the Government have a view or in which they wish to get involved.
The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, I apologise for being responsible for this muddle. I returned to the Chamber, leaving my hot dinner in the oven, to move Amendments Nos. 34 and 35 but was told that I did not have to do so. I was not quite quick enough earlier. I am very sorry to have landed the House in this mess, but I hope that it can be picked up.
I would just point out that I heard from BID about the family who had a refusal. They were served with it at home and were immediately detained. They were not given a removal date at that stage. They had always complied and never absconded. If anyone wants to find out more about that family or anything else, I ask them to contact BID.
Turning now to the amendment, I will not detain the HouseI have been turbulent enough as it isbut with regard to the 11-month issue, I pass around statistics reluctantly. That is partly because I cannot add up. Maths have never been my strong point. I fully support the two-month dream that the Government have. In every word that I have spoken about asylum seekers in this Chamber since I entered the House, I have supported the Government and encouraged them to grasp the nettle and bring down the appeal time as much as possible.
However, I cannot accept the idea that the amendments are unrealistic. We must hold fast to a vision of what children are and who they are as people. I do not believe that we can sell them cheap because of
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in order to give the Minister an opportunityor, perhaps, a further opportunityto reply to it, I am prepared to move this amendment if that is what is required. It is a small thing; but very much my own. I beg to move.
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