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The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. I tend towards his point. How are we to know what the needs of these children are? I sense that very little is known about how we can thoroughly assess their needs.
To return to my earlier point. We seem to have come very late in the day to a discussion of education, the health side of things and how social services will be involved. What has been said is welcome, but will the Minister say a little more about how the needs of children will be assessed so that they are not missed?
Lord Elton: My Lords, to supplement what the noble Earl has said, will the Minister link his remarks to the policy in Clause 32(3) whereby the Secretary of State gives guidance as to what is to be done when an accommodation centre certifies that a child needs to go to another school? I apologise for not giving notice of that question.
I turn briefly to the role of the LEA, which is germane to that question. First, the LEAs will have a role. We shall endeavour to encourage the local education authorities to put themselves forward as bidders to provide education in the centres. We know that a number of LEAs are keen to do so, either individually or in a consortium. We believe that there are great merits in that for all kinds of reasons, as the House will understand. It will be open to LEAs to do that as part of a wider LEA or local government consortium.
The Bill provides absolute clarity as regards the power of local authorities to provide such services in accommodation centres. But even in a situation where the education on site is not provided directly by the LEA, we want to encourage links between the accommodation centre and the LEA. Even at a basic level this can involve the exchange of guidance, best practice or facilitation of visits to a school.
As to Clause 32(3), if an assessment is made that a child's needs are better met outside the accommodation centre, the LEA has a responsibility to ensure educational provision outside the accommodation centrewhich is as it should be.
Lord Elton: My Lords, I am trying to be helpful. The point is that that duty is influenced by the relevant guidance issued by the Secretary of State. I am asking the Minister to give some indication as to how the
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I signalled some of the general principles at the beginning of this debate. I gave the instance of a child with high fluency in English, who was exceptionally gifted and who had special educational needs. Let us say, for example, that the child was at the point of taking the international baccalaureate in the country from which he or she had come. It would be almost self-evident in such cases that the interests of the child could be better met outside the accommodation centre. I am not ducking the question, but I cannot say much more than that at this stage. We should consider it crucial to deliver clear and strong advice to that effect to LEAs and accommodation centres as part of the pilot.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked about the assessment of children's needs. He also suggested that we had been slightly tardy in these matters. I do not believe so. A White Paper setting out these provisions was published in February. A considerable amount of work has been undertaken between the Home Office, the Department of Health and the DfES. My noble friend Lady Ashton has been with me throughout these debates, partly because she is passionately interested in the development of good education in accommodation centres and partly because she believes that it is a right policy. So there is not a wafer between the Home Office and the DfES on the issue. Both departments think it to be right and in the interest of children.
Finally, my noble friend Lord Judd asked whether I am just fielding the Government's line. No, I am not. I am a Minister, but I actually believe that what we are doing is right, sensible and sane. That is why I am speaking so clearly and strongly. I should be horrified if the House, despite the provision having been twice affirmed by the House of Commons, shut the door on what I consider to be intelligent public policy development and experimentation. That would strike me as the height of irrationality.
The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, today is the 58th anniversary of the death of William Temple, the wartime Archbishop of Canterbury and a valued former Member of this House. His name figures for minor commemoration in the Church calendar; we remembered him this morning in my chapel; and I shall quote briefly from the end of a book that he wrote in 1942 entitled, Christianity and Social Order. I shall be brief tonight: I realise that I have kept up all you Labour Peers. Do not worry, we shall have a vote, just let me conclude. Poor things!
I shall briefly address one or two points made in the debate. I am grateful to all those who have contributed to it, however they vote. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, perhaps I am not the person to absolve her, but I am sure that she will be absolved. But the constituencies of the Members of Parliament voting against the Government last night contain many asylum-seeking children. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, implied that point and was perhaps less polite than I should be in noting that 42 Labour MPs voted against the Government.
In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, yes, simplistic is one way of interpreting the character of the debate. I do not believe that schools are perfect, but the existing system is where to start. On the question of flexibility, again I make the pointbut I shall not speak Danish this timein my book, "may not" is "must not". I am glad that flexibility has appeared, but we have had to beat it out of the Government and it is simply not enough. Legislating for flexibility can be a slippery business. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, for his wise words: we should start with the norm and be flexible thereafter.
In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, I absolutely respect those who abstain. Perhaps those on the Conservative Benches will therefore be patient when bishops suspend judgment on certain matters. I turn to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin. (I am really turning the knife tonight; I am enjoying this. I hope that those on the Liberal Democrat Benches will buy me a gin afterwards!) I take the Minister's point about throwing money at schools, but the Government are throwing money at useless accommodation centresor rather accommodation centres in a useless project. We bishops may have our heads in the air, but we jolly well have our feet on the ground. The signal that we are picking up from sensible, serious people involved in education is that the project is not good.
As for not being willing to allow even a trial, I can answer only that, frankly, we mistrust its negativity. If such a small number of children are involved, why go to such lengths to provide for them as a norm? Adapt the status quo.
We have heard some assurances tonight and it has been a good debate. But the clause is ill-founded because it is a Home Office policy into which educational provision has been made to fit. The clause is impractical, because our education system is already fully stretched. How is a new kind of teacher to be recruited for a 51-week year? It is a question of the allocation of resources, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said. It is rather late in the day to get those, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said. The clause is not only ill-founded and impractical; it is unnecessary. Proper use can be made of special-needs provision by adapting it.
Finally, the clause is wrong. This is not the way to treat children. Nothing I have heard tonight has persuaded me that "segregation" is an inaccurate description of what this measure is about. Segregation is not in the best interests of children. Having kept all your Lordships up so late, I must seek the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.