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The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I shall briefly respond to the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, who, incidentally, does know his way very well around this place. In his soothing tones, the noble Lord told us about the Government's new policies. But I put it to him that the concept of separation was introduced by the Government. None of us would be so concerned this evening about what is a very modest amendment if it were not for this sense of taking asylum seekers away from the community in the interests of speed as regards their applications and placing them, and educating them, somewhere else. I wish to speak later on the question of education, but one must remember the services that are so closely connected with the concept of accommodation centres. I urge all noble Lords to support this significant amendment moved by the noble Baroness.

Lord Skidelsky: My Lords, no one has answered the argument advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, that concentration is the best way of speedily processing applications, which is the object of the whole exercise. I do not wish to dwell on recent history, but, a few years back, the Conservative Party was

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advocating a removals agency, the work of which was to be facilitated by large concentrations of asylum seekers. Now, when the Government have adopted some of the less obnoxious aspects of that proposal, it has taken a completely different view. So, there are some politics involved here. I do not in any way impugn the humanitarian motives of noble Lords who have spoken in favour of the amendment, but that is worth bearing in mind.

No one is proposing that these centres become permanent ways of life. People are not expected to stay there a long time. The object is to process people quickly and then enable those who are allowed into Britain to establish themselves wherever they want. It seems to me that concentration and the economies of scale that result are the most efficient way of getting people through the system quickly so that they can start to lead a normal life and recover from the trauma of the whole experience. Scattering them does not seem to be the best way of achieving that.

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, on that point. With his usual intellectual acuity he has put his finger on the central issue that noble Lords have often wandered away from and ignored.

The central purpose of accommodation centres is to see whether we can fulfil our obligations to provide support to people in ways that do not increase the burden on local communities—as we already know how that operates—and that significantly increase the speed of dealing with their cases in a fair and proper way. As there may be one or two noble Lords who have not enjoyed every moment of our past 14 days or so of discussion, I remind the House that we intend to ensure that the accommodation centres that we propose will have facilities on site to deal with the legal processes. I refer to the initial hearing with legal advice that we shall discuss later and an appeal to the courts through the Immigration Appellate Authority. In other words, all the documentation, the people and the lawyers will come to the accommodation centres. That is why we are optimistic that the speed of processing will significantly increase and that we shall reduce—indeed, I hope eliminate—the paper-chase that has been characteristic of some previous practices in this respect.

Noble Lords are perfectly entitled to argue that they want people to be housed in small centres. However, in our view, those would not comprise accommodation centres in any sensible meaning of the word. We cannot see how they could have the legal facilities on site of the kind that we are talking about. Therefore, if noble Lords want slower processing, they may by all means vote for options that do not pilot an integration of facilities on site. Noble Lords are welcome to do that but I consider that such a step would completely close our minds to intelligent experimentation. There is a linkage between speed and the size of accommodation centres as regards the realistic possibility of having judicial facilities on site.

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There is a related point about speed that is highly relevant to the humanitarian issue. We believe that we shall be able to deal with initial decision-making in two months, or we hope substantially less, and to deal with an appeal to the Immigration Appellate Authority on site substantially faster than has been the tradition to date. Most people who are accepted for asylum following their initial application will be out of an accommodation centre and settled into the community within two months. A small proportion of claims are accepted after appeal to the Immigration Appellate Authority. Those people should be out of an accommodation centre and settled into the community a few months after the legal process has been completed. We believe that what we are proposing will result in faster processing and will get people out of accommodation centres either into the—

Earl Russell: My Lords, does not the word "processing" sound rather more appropriate for cheese than for people?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, that is a good debating point. I believe that I have apologised previously for using the word "processing". I said that it was a slightly insensitive term. However, I am certain that noble Lords understand what I mean by it and that I do not need to repeat that discussion. On a previous occasion I apologised of my own volition. I should have hoped that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, would have recollected that without my repeating it. I seek not to take too much time on such issues.

As I say, size is relevant to speed. Speed is relevant to humanity if one can get people settled into the country more speedily or, if I may be direct, out of the country if they no longer qualify for asylum.

I refer to the flexibility that the amendment seeks. That flexibility already exists in the provisions of Part 2. Those provisions do not describe any particular site or location for accommodation centres. We have said that centres will meet the needs of residents. Clause 26, as it left the Commons, set out a range of facilities that may be provided to residents. There is a power in subsection (3) of that clause to add by order to that list of facilities.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, that the amendment would open up an increased probability of frequent judicial review. He may ask what is wrong with that. The answer to that is: delay, delay, delay. If noble Lords want more delay, they should vote for that measure.

I refer to the advocacy of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, on child protection issues. The director of social services has responsibility for asylum seekers in that area, as he has for any other resident. He has a full responsibility to protect children from abuse or any other form of neglect. The Children Act will apply fully in that regard. We have already said that child protection will comprise one of the duties of the monitor who has been provided under the Bill. Earlier debates indicated that noble Lords are content with the protection afforded through legislation such as the

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Criminal Justice and Courts Services Act 2000. Of course, unaccompanied children will not be housed in accommodation centres.

We shall ensure that children in centres have access to appropriate mental health facilities. We are discussing with the Department of Health how to provide those facilities. We shall ensure that there are arrangements to identify any mental health problems in children and that appropriate liaison and referral processes are in place to do so. We shall evaluate those services as part of the study. We are discussing with the Department of Health funding for social services in that respect. I may not have covered all the points that the noble Earl raised, but it might be more efficient if I deal with any that I have not covered by letter, as I believe that we have discussed them previously on a number of occasions.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, asked about Sangatte. It is not the case that France is running our asylum policy. The Bill as a whole is crucial to addressing concerns with our system that have been expressed in this House during our many days of debate. I refer to concerns that all share, including the French, with regard to draw factors, slowness and whether we attract more people to us and to northern Europe as a consequence.

I turn to the central question. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, did not refer to it with his usual tact. He basically said that we should not experiment. I could not disagree more. Of course we should experiment because what we have at present is not good enough. It is not good enough for children; it is not good enough for families and asylum seekers; and it is not good enough for the country in terms of the slowness and paper-chase of the system. We already know what accommodation centres look like that do not have integral facilities. In continental Europe there are plenty of examples of—to put it tactfully—clusters of several hundred asylum seekers put together in a building with little support or services on site. We studied those and we did not consider that they were satisfactory. That is why our model is vastly different. We seek to provide the support that people need, to fulfil our obligations and to deal with their cases expeditiously. We do not need—

Lord Judd: My Lords, I take seriously what my noble friend is saying. But does he not agree that if he is asking us to accept the case for experiments, it is not acceptable to include in those experiments people who are at risk and who have been through—I repeat—possibly extraordinary trauma and to include arrangements that so many people with insight and experience say are dangerous?

7 p.m.

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I was about to come to those issues.

We also know of another model. The model does not involve several hundred—perhaps 200 or 300—people living in accommodation, of which there are plenty of examples in continental Europe; it involves

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20 or 30 people living together in clusters of units and obtaining their services in local communities. We know what that model is like because 50,000 people in Britain who are asylum seekers are currently receiving services of that type. It is not very good. That is why we cannot be so complacent as to believe that the present system will do and that we should not look at something else.

There is not time to go into detail about what is wrong with the dispersal system; we have discussed those issues on many occasions in this House. There are considerable problems for families. They feel isolated and at times experience harassment. They suddenly move to an area in which they know no one and they have to find a school place and obtain support services. That is bewildering and such people feel lost. They find it extremely difficult to cope with that dispersal. They may be in that dispersal area for only six months while their case is considered, after which they move on.

Under the current system, a family comes into an induction centre, is put into emergency accommodation, is moved to a dispersal area 200 miles away where they may be for six months and, if they get a "yes", they choose to move somewhere else. We argue that that is a nonsense for the family. It is not good. The argument that we should not experiment I find amazing. I find it amazing at times that it comes from some of the organisations that I believe are genuinely arguing for their candidates.

We must experiment to try to make the system better. I sometimes wonder whether some of those advocating that we should continue what we are doing and not try any such proposals base that on a belief that when anyone has claimed asylum, they should never be removed. It would be lovely if we were in a world in which that was possible, but it is fantasy-land.

I am in danger of losing my ill-earned reputation for being quiet and tolerant.

In conclusion, the amendment would effectively damage the objectives. It would open us up to delay and judicial review. We have signalled our willingness to experiment with a variety of different forms so far—I repeated those commitments from the Dispatch Box—


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