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I find the arguments in favour of this trial unconvincing. I shall be very brief because the right reverend Prelate has made most of the points. First, the fact that these children have come from traumatic, stressful and interrupted school systems and experiencesas, indeed, I did in 1936makes it even more the case that they should get into a normal school environment as quickly as possible.
Secondly, the fact that they know little Englishas I did not either when I camemakes an even stronger case for getting them into a school. One learns English not by having a good English master in front of one but by mixing with children. You learn English very, very quickly that way, so, for me, that argument counts for nothing.
As to the argument in a Home Office paper that such children will be liable to bullying and racismso was I in Nazi GermanyI find it rather sad and pathetic. Children on the whole are very tolerant, flexible,
The argument that there will be focused teaching by expert teachers in the accommodation centres does not convince me one iota. What is important is not that the children have good teachers but that they are together with many other kinds of children in the classroomtaught by, it is to be hoped, good teachers. So, again, integration into a normal environment is crucial.
As to the argument that schools are under great pressure, which has not been advanced by the Minister today but is much evident in the documents, the teaching professionthe heads and the teacher unionsif I may say so without disrespect, is far ahead in its thinking of Members of the House of Commons in this debate. It has shown in a number of statements that its members are willing, prepared and eager to accept asylum seeker children. If the children are there for only two weeks or two months and then go on, they will have had a good experience and met many English children, and the English children will have learnt from them.
Perhaps I may support what I say with a personal recollection. I do not wish to make too great a comparison between the experiences of Nazi refugees and what is happening now, but there are some relevant experiences and I shall talk about one of them. The fact that within weekscertainly monthsI became a very happy boy in English life here owed everything to the fact that I was immediately in an ordinary school environment. It was not that the teaching was particularly brilliant but that I spent my day with children of my own age, being naughty with them, being nice with them, getting to know different attitudes and so on. Some of them were quite tough on me but most of them were nice. It was those early weeks and months that made me feel that this is a wonderful country and made me begin to be a committed person and, finally, a citizen.
Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, is there not a dangerparticularly as far as the big institutions are concernedthat the children will become institutionalised quite quickly, maybe in one month, maybe two? I cannot think that they will avoid that fate in anything like the sort of period that we are talking about.
Lord Moser: My Lords, that is for argument. I must sit down because others want to speak. That is a good argument. I must finish. I urge the Government, if it is not too late, to think again purely from one angle
Lord Judd: My Lords, in thanking the right reverend Prelate for the opportunity to return to this subject, I take up that last point. What worries me sometimes in our deliberations is that we get into an either/or situation. The point about English is that it is not either/or. I come from a family of teachers and most people who have been involved in education will say that one of the best ways of developing language is to be among others and contemporaries with whom one uses language casually as well as formally.
Some specific assistance is also extremely helpful and important. It is not either/or; it is seeing the right combination. I wish that we looked more at getting the balance right in our deliberations.
I do not make the point facetiously that for many of your Lordships and myself a period of three, four, five or six months is just another three, four, five or six months in what has sometimes been called the waiting room. For a child of school age, three, four, five or six months can be crucial in their development. The point that the noble Lord, Lord Moser, made so well is terribly important. It is not just what goes on in the classroom. Part of education is socialsports, recreation and being together. That is why it is so important that children who have been through the most awful experiences should be able to share that social aspect.
It is also very important in our considerations to be a little more tough in our analysis of the allocation of resources. It is very tempting to say that it is more economical to have specialist assistance available in one placethe accommodation centre. Let us pause for moment and consider how many different years would be taught together in an accommodation centre. Will there be the same quality for each year and stage of education that would be available outside? If there were to be the same quality, what would it really cost? Would that be more economical than putting in specialist assistance to help local schools or whatever to fulfil the task that we are asking of them? We have not heard a rigorous economic analysis of the proposition put before us.
I know that some of your Lordships do not like the phrase but we talk a lot about the determination to make a success of our multi-cultural society. We have to think about the message that we are giving to our
We should be asking, "What can we do to protect those children? We do not want them further damaged. Come onlet us make a home for them. Let us make them feel at home. Let them join in and see how we manage". Then, as a sensitive, imaginative government, we should look at making sure that the available resources are used intelligently, flexibly and imaginatively to help the process.
What I have found objectionableI spoke very strongly even by my own standards, if that does not sound too arrogant, at a previous stageis that the language in the Bill is so negative as to be beyond belief: that they shall not be part of the local community. We really must do better. The real argument is flexibility. My noble friend the Minister conceded in his introduction that there is room for some flexibility. The issue is that the flexibility has not gone nearly far enough.
I suspect that I have been irritating my noble friend the Ministerwho is a friend beyond measureand that he will not like my saying that he is a sensitive man who understands the arguments being deployed and is doing his best to field the Government's line. That is always a very difficult position. I say that as one who has been a junior Minister in government.
We need more specific indication of how imaginative flexibility will be there and how part of that will be not only a determination to protect these youngsters from any further damage, to enable them to make the best of even the few weeks or months, but also how we are going to turn what could be a negative situation into a positive situation in terms of our own multi-cultural society.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I should like to begin by thanking the Minister for the number of occasions when we have engaged in discussions on this matter. Indeed, he even interrupted his summer holidays in order to discuss the issues involved. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, for her courtesy in seeing us. But, as I shall explain, the differences still remain between us.
We should bear in mind the admission made by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, that, despite the provision that the Government have in mind, we have to accept that a substantial number of children of asylum
We must also bear in mind the fact that during last night's debate on the matter in the other place 42 Labour MPs voted against the Government's intention on this matter. Interestingly, those 42 MPs represent areas such as Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, and Londonpeople who have substantial, long experience of asylum seeking children. They are the type of MPs who receive letters and much pressure in this respect, yet they were keen enough to say that the Government are wrong.
It became very clear in the House of Commons that the Government were not prepared seriously to entertain the Liberal Democrat suggestion that LEAs should be the providers of education, complete with the option to educate children in mainstream schools if they chose so to do. The Government sought to criticise our suggestion on technical grounds rather than engage with the debate. When pressed to do so, their arguments did not convince us. Effectively, there was nothing new that the Government could offer, despite all the intentions to ensure that LEAs should be at the centre of the process.
My colleagues questioned the Minister in the other place and asked whether she was seriously suggesting that segregation was the best preparation for integration. The Minister replied that it was not segregation for the children because they would be taught with other asylum seeking children. Perhaps I may draw the Minister's attention to a number of formal investigations carried out by the Government's own body, the Commission for Racial Equality, as regards the transporting of children elsewhere for educational purposes in which such measures were found to be literally against the spirit of the race relations legislation. Is the Minister genuinely convinced that this ultimately helps those who settle in this country in terms of their integration in the community?
Ideally, the Liberal Democrats would have preferred the choice of whether or not a child was educated in accommodation centre, with the LEA providing the education, or being the arbiter of who provides it. But, again, this was criticised by the Government on the grounds that it made LEAs the arbiter. I thought that they were the best people, because they have knowledge regarding the appropriate provision for individuals in a particular area.
Despite our pleading with Ministers and our communications with the Home Secretary, we have been unable to convince the Government of the seriousness of the case for the LEA to make such provision. In the light of all these concerns, we are bound to support the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth in his amendment.
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