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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, will my noble friend give way?

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I shall finish in a few seconds. There are very strong reasons why this is so. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 20 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 20A.—(Lord Filkin.)

The Deputy Speaker (Lord Ampthill): My Lords, before I call the amendment, I must make a correction to the numbers announced at the Division earlier this evening. The number voting Content should have been 173 instead of 171.


The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 20 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 20A, leave out "not".

The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, I am grateful to the Ministers, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, for their patience. I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, for a number of conversations that we have had in the past few weeks. I realise that we are at a late stage, but I also realise the extent—almost unprecedented in this Parliament—of the opposition to the proposal from the Government Back Benches in another place and the number of abstentions there.

The more this question has been probed, the more disturbed many of us have become by the implications of the clause. It is a moral issue of how we treat children. They belong with other children. They should not live and be educated on their own. It is also a practical issue of how we educate them in familiar contexts. We have to start with the models that we have. I remain unconvinced by what the Minister has said. I realise that we need to get on, but I shall answer one or two of his points.

I am pleased about the flexibility being offered, but I do not think it is enough. The status quo is not good enough, but the existing burdens can be met through the current system. The Minister raised a question about dispersal. That raises the question of the location of the school. The Minister said that the curriculum can be tailored. Why not use existing special needs provision? He said that teachers were keen on centres of excellence. Why extend the already

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pressed teaching profession with another layer? He spoke of the interests of the children, but what he said reflected the educational side of the equation, not the issues of accommodation and living and being isolated from other children.

Opposition to the proposal comes from a considerable body of opinion from contrasting sources. They are not all groups of people known for resisting change. All these bodies have written to the Home Secretary. I have the documentation here. I shall not bore your Lordships by quoting them, but I shall allude to them. Opponents include all the teaching unions and the Children's Consortium, which covers Save the Children, the Children's Society, Barnardo's and the National Children's Bureau, whose pupil inclusion unit has produced research questioning such a move. The Local Government Association has written of experience in Tower Hamlets and Newham, stressing the mutual benefits of other children being educated alongside asylum seekers. Bill Morris has written from the TGWU's Asylum Coalition. Church leaders have also been involved. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York wrote to the Home Secretary. It is sede vacante at the moment at Canterbury, but I do not need to guess what line the most reverend—but not yet right honourable—Primate the Archbishop of Wales would take.

Then there is the guidance officially endorsed by the DfES. I shall quote two paragraphs from Educating Asylum Seeking and Refugee Children, issued this year. It says:


    "Rapid enrolment and regular attendance at school is highly desirable for asylum seeking and refugee children. Children should be offered a school place as soon as possible after arrival in the authority".

The joint DfES and NUT guidance, Relearning to Learn, says:


    "Providing a separate curriculum would only accentuate the 'difference' of refugee children and prevent them from benefiting from working with other pupils. Teachers will recognise that the relearning process—and especially the acquisition of English—will be most rapid if new pupils engage and work with other children in the class. Experience and research with other pupils for whom English is an additional language bears this out".

How can the Government proceed in the face of such opposition, not only from outside groups, but from documentation endorsed by the DfES hitherto? In brief, this is not joined-up thinking, joined-up education or joined-up strategy. I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 20 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 20A, leave out "not".—(The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth.)

8.45 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I have changed my mind twice on the issue. I know a bit about this, because I have been the chairman of a local education committee. I have also read last night's

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debate in the other place. It is the greatest possible pity that the House of Commons did not have this clause first. Last night, one after another, Members of Parliament from constituencies with large numbers of asylum seekers—not refugees—pointed out the problems that the Minister has referred to this evening. They are genuine problems for schools.

That was my first thought when I read the clause. I said in Committee that I thought the Government had a big problem by having big accommodation centres and having to educate the children separately, because people would want them to be in normal schools. Last time we had the debate, many people, including a number of Cross-Benchers, made extremely passionate speeches, as did the right reverend Prelate, about the importance of children being educated together. I agreed with them. I also thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, from the Department for Education and Skills, who normally does terribly well, gave a rather weak reply. I understand that she was asked to do it at the last minute. It was a Home Office matter. I had a lot of sympathy for her, but I found her reply so weak that I voted against the Government. I had changed my mind. Since reading the House of Commons debate, I have gone back to supporting the Government in this matter.

I should say to the right reverend Prelate, in regard to the meeting in which the noble Lord was cheered to the echo when he said what he said, that the reason for the people there supporting separate education is that they were confusing refugees—people who had been granted asylum—and asylum seekers. Indeed the quote made by the right reverend Prelate referred to both refugees and asylum seekers.

The position is completely different. Children who are asylum seekers are in a transitional state and do not know whether or not they will stay. Whether or not one believes that accommodation centres are right, these children are in a transitional state and do not know whether or not they will stay. They may or may not know a little English and so on. I listened very carefully to the Minister and he put the right case on this issue.

I suggest to noble Lords that they should speak only of asylum seekers and not at all about people for whom decisions have already been made. That is a completely different question. There is every reason then for people to be educated together. The local authorities which have been making the case for the education of these children have a different agenda; they will be able to control where the asylum centre is located by doing so.

I beg noble Lords to speak only of asylum seekers, who are in a completely different situation. I am sorry that I have changed my mind twice. I have a conscience about it and I want to confess.

Lord Moser: My Lords, I support the views expressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. I find the clause very disturbing. I speak both from the point of view of my involvement in education and as a successful asylum seeker 66 years ago.

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I am conscious that we are talking about a small number of people, but that does not reassure me because they are very important. Even for 10 people it is important that we get it right. I am conscious that we are talking about a transitional group, including people who may not stay, but we should treat them on the supposition that they may stay and get it right from the beginning. If they then do not stay, so be it.

I am not reassured by the constant reference to this being an experiment. If it were not so late in the day I would give the Minister, with the greatest respect, a lecture on what is an experiment. He does not need a lecture from me, but this is not an experiment in any sense that a scientist, social scientist or statistician would accept. An experiment means that you have alternative ways of proceeding; that you have rigorous ways of allocating different victims, or whatever, to those alternative options; and that you have rigorous ways of judging which has succeeded. This is not an experiment. The Government have decided what to do, roughly speaking, and they will then say whether or not it was a success. That is a political view, but this is not an experiment.

Lord Filkin: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. We have put on record a number of times that the "trial"—if that is a word the noble Lord prefers—will be very thoroughly evaluated, and that evaluation will be put into the public domain. There is an alternative comparison of the outcome for children and others in accommodation centres in the sense that there is a control group, if you want to look at it, of those children of some 50,000 asylum seekers who are in dispersed accommodation. We are well placed to make a comparison to see which is better. We shall do so and we shall put the results into the public domain.


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