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Despite what the noble Baroness said in answer to my noble friend Lord Corbettespecially in the light of what the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, saidthe recommendation seems to be that we cannot have asylum seekers anywhere but in urban areas. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said that you have to have places of worship, lawyersand no doubt ethnic food
But urban areas are currently taking the bulk of the burden because, as my noble friend said, some 50,000 or 60,000 people are now living in urban areas. A small experiment is proposed by the Governmentfour centres. My noble friend has come back and said, "Okay, not four centres. Maybe fewer. Maybe one or two of 750 and some of 400". But no, that will not do either. The rural areas which are normally pleasant and green, where people love to live, will alienate foreigners. Foreigners are foreigners. Foreigners cannot have our green and pleasant land. They cannot be accommodated in low-density areas with lots of fresh open air. No, they cannot do that. Why? Because if they live like that, their children will be disturbed. So their children have to live in crowded urban areas and they have to go to schools where they will probablyI have said this beforeget beaten up. That is what happens to strangers in small schools.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, the argument that I was using was not between urban and rural areas. I was saying that if accommodation centres are to be set up, there ought to be one project on the Refugee Council model in an urban area where we can compare like with like. The type of service talked about as being provided in the community is the very type of service that the Minister is effectively providing in accommodation centres. Let us look at where the actual benefit occurs.
Lord Desai: My Lords, I have great respect for the noble Lord, who knows so much more about this than I shall ever know. I hate to contradict him. If he reads tomorrow what he said, as I listened the sense was very clearthat the centres cannot be located anywhere except where all the facilities are available. I have only lived in urban areas. I lived in London and now I live in Hastings, for weekends, so I know how strained are urban areas. The argument clearly is that rural areas must bear none of the burden and that, no matter what people say, rural areas will not accommodate any asylum seekersnot even one or two centres.
The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, we are talking about something that does not yet exist. We are talking about somewhere where none of us hope we ever will live. We appreciate the Government's desire to get on with this legislation but we have a right to set certain parameters. That is why I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for the amendment. I hope very much that the Ministerwho is not quite in the league of Job but is almost getting therewill listen carefully.
We are talking about a government proposal to set up accommodation centres as part of a response to an undoubted public demand that we deal more effectively and efficiently with claims for asylum in this country. The process needs to be both faster and fairer to avoid the long days that presently arise in too many cases. People outside will not understand if they get the impression that there is any attempt in your Lordships' House to obstruct these general endeavours.
Listening to the debate, I get the impression that, perhaps with reluctance, there is general support for the idea of accommodation centres except that we do not want them in rural areasthey can only be in urban areas; they must not accommodate more than 250 persons; they must be in clusters; and they must have access to buses and trains. When one adds all those things up, people listening to your Lordships' debates may get the impression that there is not much enthusiasm for accommodation centres in the first place.
As I understand the proposaland as my noble friend the Minister, with his enormous patience, will no doubt remind usand despite what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, the proposition is for a trial. As the right reverend Prelate said, there are no such centres at the moment. We do not know what we are talking about in that sense. As my noble friend the Minister made clear earlier, the Government are
I get the impression that there are noble Lords who, against a background of general support, are only willing to support the idea if their definition of the ideal accommodation centre is the one proceeded with and therefore there cannot be an experiment. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Judd argued against an experiment.
Lord Judd: My Lords, there is a certain amount of ventriloquisation going on in this debate. I argued against including in an experiment a model which, it was widely agreed, had too many dangers to be risked among people who had already experienced so much trauma. I also raised the question of the very concept of experimenting with people who may have been through the most terrible experiences.
Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I have great respect for those organisations who have doubts about the whole proposal but that does not make them right. We can respect their concerns and doubts but they know no more than any of usincluding myselfwhat may be the result of this experiment. We regard this as an experiment but we are here talking about the most efficient, effective and sensitive manner in which we can deal with applicants for asylum, many of whom have had tremendously traumatic experiencesI will not weary the House with the arguments I made earlierbut who may find sanctuary, comfort and support within the walls of accommodation centres that would not otherwise be available to them if they were housed in the wider community while their claims are processed.
I do not know whether that is right or wrong but no one else in this House does eitherwhich is why I hope very much that we will allow the Government to have this experiment, so that we can learn from what goes on and over time develop methods of properly dealing with applications in a way that avoids long delays and the further upsets to peoples' lives caused by processes that go on for years when the answer is no and they have to be deported back to their home countries.
Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, perhaps I may reply briefly to the noble Lords, Lord Corbett and Lord Desai. None of us who knows a little about the immigration businessI should add that I am a former immigration Ministerare against experiments to try to find out how such centres can work better, more efficiently, more quickly, and, above all, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, observed, more humanely, for those concerned. Some of the people about whom we are talking have been through trauma, and have had a terrible time in their own country. When they come to this country, they are looking for decency and justice.
Where does the fear of judicial review lie in this even more modest amendment? It can apply only if there is a real fear among Ministers on the government side that they will make the wrong decisions. Surely they should not attempt to vote on this issue with that thought already on their minds. If they are to take the right decisions, and if they believe this to be a fair trialI agree with the concept of fair trailsthey should support this amendment as being a perfectly fair idea for the Secretary of State to pursue.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Renton, with whom I served in the House of Commons, albeit on opposite sides. In this debate we have heard the words "flexibility" and "experiment". It is quite right for us to recognise that we are dealing with people who have their own opinions, people who have attitude, and people who are beset by children; in other words, people of all kinds. Therefore, it is very important for us to argue for flexibility and experiments.
There is one comment that we have not heard from my noble friend, who is rather curt as regards the issues that arise in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, cited some of the organisations that have written about these concerns. Perhaps I may add some further names to that list: the Immigration Advisory Service;
The Government do not know everything; we do not know everything. The issue of asylum seekers and refugees is highly complex. I believe that my noble friend has a duty to inform this House of what he and others in the Home Office intend to do. This is all very well, but we are considering this amendment at the last moment and the Government have given us their view on the situation that confronts this House. However, all the time we are dealing with people. That is why it is impossible for us to come to any hard-and-fast conclusions tonight. This debate must continue. Every organisation that I cited is against the idea that rural circumstances should prevail as regards accommodation centres. They may be wrong in that respect. But, with the depth of their experience, I believe that they are probably not wrong.
Over the next six months, or in the coming year, the Government have a duty to bring forward their own propositions. This House and another place should be constantly informed. That is not an unreasonable request. At present, the House is informed by way of question and answer; but that is not good enough. We are entitled to have a full report within 12 monthsand, indeed, a further report after another 12 monthsas regards what is happening because, as I said before, we are dealing with people.
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