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Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, am I right in understanding that the noble Baroness is saying that there are no circumstances in which accommodation centres of any size should be sited in rural areas?

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, has given me the opportunity to say that I believe that all communities throughout the country would benefit from having accommodation centres trialled in and around them, where they are suitable for the people who will be in those centres. That may well include rural areas, if there are smaller centres around a nucleus providing the services, as envisaged by the Refugee Council. However, the only guarantee we have from the Government is that the model for their pilots is not flexible, but is flawed. The centres will not be suitable for the people who live in them. I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 17 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason 17A, at end insert "but do propose Amendment No. 17B in lieu thereof".—(Baroness Anelay of St Johns.)

6.15 p.m.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, there is serious concern about the consequences for children and families of their being placed in isolated rural areas. There is serious concern about their mental and emotional wellbeing in those centres. The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, and my noble friend Lord Chan have expressed concern about child protection and the emotional wellbeing of children in accommodation centres. Can the Minister go further in assuring the House that the screening and assessment of families will be adequate? Specifically, can he say that where local authority social services departments are involved, their work will be fully funded and not capped? He may be aware of the local resentment bred by such under-funding of locally commissioned services.

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Some of the children arriving in the centres will be coming not with their mother or father, but with a guardian who may be a virtual stranger to them. We do not want a repeat of the Victoria Climbie case, in which a stranger was given charge of a child. We know the consequences of that. We need to be very careful that children are properly assessed and their families are properly examined.

We need a complete assurance that the evaluation of the pilots will be robust. I am grateful to the Minister for emphasising how thorough and transparent the evaluations will be. We know that the Government are keen to learn as much as possible from these experiments. I should be grateful if the Minister would offer some assurance that the evaluation will include a report by a child mental health professional—a child psychiatrist, a child psychologist or a child psychotherapist—on emotional wellbeing in the centres. Dr Matthew Hodes, senior lecturer in child and adolescent psychiatry at Imperial College and a specialist in ethnic minority children, would be most willing to discuss the commissioning of such a project. The availability of robust evidence will be invaluable when we consider the future of accommodation centres.

I thank the Minister and his colleagues for their assiduity in providing information in response to my concerns throughout the course of the Bill.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, from this side of the House, I support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. We seem to be getting different information. For example, last week I read that one Minister at the Home Office said that the closure of Sangatte depended on setting up accommodation centres in this country. I hope the Minister will confirm that that is not so. I do not want France to interfere with or dictate what we should do in this country.

The difference is simply a matter of looking at the model that has been recommended by the Refugee Council. We say this because we were rather interested when the debate started yesterday in the Commons and the Government announced that one of the centres would not be proceeded with. I suspect, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said, that this is on the practical grounds of difficulties with planning applications and so on.

It is important to have a smaller accommodation centre, but that was qualified in that it is likely to be solely for men. This causes us considerable concern because we are not in a position to compare like with like. The Refugee Council model is interesting because it states that facilities should be provided in the community. There is a difference therefore between facilities that are provided within a large accommodation centre and facilities that are provided by the community for the people in a smaller accommodation centre. A comparison would ultimately give some indication of which model is likely to be successful and of how we should proceed in future.

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We are, after all, talking about a pilot project. There is nothing fundamentally wrong in looking at a small accommodation centre based on a model which looks to the community for its support—thereby saving government resources—and ultimately being in a position to evaluate it.

The Conservative amendment is even more modest than the one that was won on Third Reading. It seeks to insert "shall have regard to" in place of "only when the Secretary of State is satisfied".

I hope that the Minister can assure the House that the centres will be located so that those in them can travel easily by public transport which is within their means. I also hope that the Government will ensure that such centres will be in places where appointments with legal representatives holding franchises in immigration law at the appropriate specialist level are possible, and that services such as those provided by opticians, dentists, local advice centres, citizens' advice bureaux and places of worships are available. Why should the Government provide them when they are all available within the community? That would probably provide an ideal way of comparing the two models.

We have rehearsed these arguments at various stages throughout the Bill. I hope that even at this late stage the Minister will find it possible to take into account the modest Conservative amendment and that we will proceed with a smaller centre on the basis of the Refugee Council model.

Lord Judd: My Lords, the case put by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, was very constructive. As I understand him, he is looking to the Minister to provide reassurances when he replies to the debate that will put our minds at rest. I join him in that.

I have great respect for the noble Baroness for having returned to this issue. It is important that she should. She has, not for the first time in our deliberations, put her case with moderation and real humanity. We all respect that.

When my noble friend comes to meet the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and which are of concern other noble Lords, he really must remember that we are talking about individual men, women and children and that, in the context of asylum seekers and others, we are talking about people who may have been through the most awful traumas. To take any risk of adding to their psychological difficulties and social problems which have arisen as a result of the experiences that they have had by the processes we have introduced is unthinkable. When so many people with so much experience and expertise in this area are saying that part of what the Government are still proposing is almost certainly going to cause problems and damage, I find it difficult to understand why the Government insist on continuing with that part of their proposals.

The Government are saying that they regard it as an experiment, but we should not be experimenting with people who, in many instances, have been through enough stress, pressure and trauma already. From that

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standpoint, I hope that my noble friend will take very seriously the points that have been made and provide rather more convincing arguments in his response than he did in his introduction.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, it is very good news that the noble Lord is supporting my noble friend because it is important that she has tabled the amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, reminded us that we are, after all, only talking about a limited experiment. I forget how he worded it, but that is the gist of what he said. It is extraordinary that so much of the discussion on the Bill has been about accommodation centres—and yet, at any given time, we are talking about only some 3,000 asylum seekers out of some 80,000 whose cases are being dealt with.

I wonder—perhaps I am being a dreadful cynic—whether the Government expected and wanted the response of the press and the public, which is that most people now think that the majority of asylum seekers will be housed in accommodation centres. They will not be. It will only be one in 25 at any given moment. The rest will be settled in the community in many different ways.

So I slightly wonder whether this experiment is entirely about what we are told it is about or whether it has got a slightly different agenda to give the public confidence. I have said that before and I feel even more so that that is the case after reading the report of the debate last night in another place.

That having been said, we must carry out the experiment as well as we can. As has been said, this is about people. The accommodation centres will house people who have been suffering greatly, and they must be right for them, as they must be right for the communities in which they are placed.

My noble friend is giving the Government the opportunity to accept an amendment which will allow for infinite flexibility in this experiment. I do not know whether there will ever be a situation where, say, half of asylum seekers are in accommodation centres—I doubt it very much—but, should they be, it is very important that the system is flexible from the start.

I hope that the Minister and the House will take the amendment seriously. It may not say everything but it gives the flexibility required without harming the other provisions in this part of the Bill.


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