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Lord Elton: My Lords, on the Wednesday evening that this amendment was first moved by the right reverend Prelate I was attending a dinner meeting. I

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did so with a clear conscience because, at first sight, I thought it highly unlikely that the amendment would be carried into the Bill. In my state of mind at the time, it seemed to me that it should not be included in the legislation. It is a sad coincidence that the amendment has appeared again on this Wednesday night when I was due at exactly the same dinner party. In the interim, I have read the Report stage debate in the Official Report and my mind is now a great deal more open.

I, too, have had experience of education not only as a recipient but also as a teacher—though in the secondary and primary sectors, not in higher education. Like other noble Lords, I believe that children are the prime concern in this issue. While not wishing to be in any way patronising or superior, I have to say that I believe the debate has become a little simplistic. It appears to assume that every school into which the child of a potential member of our society from abroad is received will be small, well-endowed, happy, and free—it seems—from bullying, and that every teaching facility set up in an asylum centre will be large, under funded, strict, and unfriendly. Life is not like that. Two of the years that I spent teaching took place in a comprehensive school with 1,500 children on a slum-clearance estate in Nottingham where bullying was endemic and where I once had a knife drawn on me. That was many years ago, well before that sort of thing came to be thought of as common.

Recently I attended a fantastic conference set up by a Member of the other place—Diane Abbott. She is one of the black representatives of inner-city London. The aim of the conference was to consider what is happening to black children in London schools. I was one of 11 white faces there of about 1,000 people. What is happening to black children in inner London schools is horrifying. Some children report that they feel safer in a gang on the streets than they do in school. What, one parent asked, is it that turns the little cherubs we loved in our arms into gun gangsters?

Something is very wrong with education in many inner London schools. I do not say that people are not doing a brilliant job in some of those schools and that some of them are not very good. But, please let us not think that all we have to do to a young person, or perhaps a very young person, without a word of English in order to make them feel safe, happy and at home is to put them into one of those schools. Like the noble Lord, Lord Judd, I agree that it is not an either/or case.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. The word that he has not used, but that I think is crucial here—I wonder whether he agrees with me—is "flexibility" as regards the Government not saying that the provision shall be in

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accommodation centres and society not saying that it shall be in schools but rather considering what is the best arrangement in a particular situation.

Lord Elton: My Lords, I was about to refer to subsection (1)(f) of Clause 26. The clause states:


    "The Secretary of State may arrange . . . to be provided to a resident of an accommodation centre . . . education and training".

I refer to the word "may". It seems to me that the proper course is to have a base in the accommodation centre where children can be prepared—whatever length of time that may take—to enter whatever school is suitable within the district. If no suitable school is available but only schools where they would be either terrorised or neglected, they should stay in the accommodation centre until they reach their home, whether that be in this country or another. If there is a good school nearby, they may need very little preparation before entering it.

If I was a traumatised child arriving in this country accompanied by my parents—we should remember that many of these children are unaccompanied—and as soon as I began to settle I was taken away from my parents, as was mentioned on Report, having already been frightened out of my wits by what had happened to me, I should not find that comforting at all. I should be terrified. If I was a teacher working under great pressure with a class that I had the greatest difficulty keeping in order, and to it was added two children with no word of the language that I spoke and I had no special needs assistance, I should think that that was highly damaging to the school.

Both those circumstances have to be taken into account before a decision is made with regard to such children. I ask the Minister to give an undertaking with regard to the provision in subsection (1)(f) of Clause 26. What confidence can be reposed in the expectation that good education facilities will be provided in the accommodation centres? If he can give me reassurance on that point, I shall vote with the Government; if he cannot, I shall vote against the Government.

Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lords, I abstained—I was not alone on these Benches in so doing—on these amendments at the previous stage. They were then numbered 34 and 35. Although I do not totally embrace the stance taken by my noble friend Lord Judd or that of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, their interventions have been enormously valuable as they have led to meetings with my noble friend the Minister. As I understand the position, those meetings have resulted in a much better exposition by the Government of the intended relationship between what are now Clauses 31 and 32.

As my noble friend Lord Judd said, we were shocked by the provision in subsection (2) of Clause 31, which states:


    "A child who is a resident of an accommodation centre may not be admitted to a maintained school".

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However, I believe that there is some substantial measure of flexibility in the clause that enables pragmatic solutions to be found. Therefore, I believe that the Government are moving sufficiently to be supported in this regard.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I have two questions for the Minister and point out that my pendulum is still swinging. If children are fluent in English, could they go to a mainstream school? If children have special disabled needs, could they go to a school that caters for those needs? Surely there should be, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, flexibility if the child's interests are to be paramount.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I supported the right reverend Prelate on the previous occasion and the time before that, and I shall do so again as firmly as I can.

After the latest concessions, which were dressed up a little by the noble Lord, Lord Lea, I half expected the Government to rethink their policy. Almost all of their supporters in schools and the teaching unions have made it clear that there should be one education system in this country. Many Labour Back-Benchers said the same yesterday but we have not heard any real concessions.

I accept that the occasional use yesterday and today of the word "segregation" is unfortunate but it shows the extent of exasperation among many parliamentarians—as well as voters—who cannot believe that their own government can be carrying out that policy. I heard the Minister today refer to the burden on the present system and a Minister in another place indirectly referred to the destruction of classes under the present system. I am surprised that such arguments are being made at this very late stage without much back-up.

On the moral imperative, the right reverend Prelate said it all. I want to add a few more thoughts on the practical implications. I do not believe that separate education will work. I mentioned special needs last time. My noble friend Lady Masham would like to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, that special needs will be met in schools. I am grateful to her for the letter that she wrote to me about that.

It would be impossible to meet all of the curricula requirements even for those larger groups of asylum seekers in accommodation centres. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, mentioned the Liberal compromise that was offered; that is, that LEAs should decide how best to manage education in each centre. However, the Minister rejected that. I can only hope that he will reflect in the next few days still further. When those children eventually arrive in accommodation, the LEAs will be given a much fuller role.

I turn to the Conservative position. I am dismayed to see the Conservative Benches empty. We heard from the Conservatives quite positively on this issue at earlier stages. The Conservatives have drawn back from the issues of education on the grounds that they are so closely linked with the time factor. I believe that

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they argued quite reasonably that if the Government can meet their targets of processing in a few weeks—none of the rest of us thinks that they can—there will not be any time for mainstream education. In a sense, the previous vote covered the present vote.

The Conservatives are talking about more rapid dispersal—I heard the right honourable Oliver Letwin do so yesterday—perhaps through reception centres close to the port of entry or smaller centres. Mr Letwin used the phrase, "one stop shop centres". Unfortunately, those approaches are not part of the Government's thinking. It would be nice to hear from the Conservative Front Bench whether that approach represents the Conservative view; we have not heard it. I am sorry that the Government have not moved further towards the concept of smaller centres; that was being taken up with the Refugee Council.

I listened last week to asylum-seeking children for the first time. I was very moved by what they had to say. A boy from Afghanistan said:


    "For all of us freedom from fear, the hope to rebuild our lives and be normal is most precious even if it is for a very short time . . . the main point is that we do not want to be treated differently from the rest of the society".

My noble friend Lord Moser made that point most powerfully. All of those children said that they did not want to spend time only with other asylum-seeking children, who would be from similar—troubled—backgrounds. They saw school as a way of escaping unhappy memories and beginning to rebuild a normal life. They viewed the Government's proposals as a way of putting up new barriers rather than building bridges.

I conclude with a brief statement from a representative of Save the Children. She said:


    "We have a duty to these young people—a duty to treat them with the same care, compassion, dignity and respect that we would want for our own children. Whether or not they remain in this country ... we should be able to ... say that during their time here we did everything we could for them; that we provided them with the services, the support, the care and the opportunities that every other child in this country has. If we cannot do that",

she said,


    "we have failed them—failed some of the most vulnerable children in our society".


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