HC Deb 10 June 2002 vol 386 cc579-81
2. Mr. Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh, North and Leith)

If he will consult Scottish Ministers on the provision of services within accommodation centres for asylum seekers which may be located in Scotland. [57045]

The Minister for Citizenship and Immigration (Beverley Hughes)

As my hon. Friend knows, the operation of accommodation centres is a reserved matter. However, my officials are working closely with the Scottish Executive. My hon. Friend will also know that clause 34(1) of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill requires us to consult Scottish Ministers prior to establishing an accommodation centre in Scotland.

Mr. Lazarowicz

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her new post in Government and thank her for her answer, which is helpful. As she pointed out, the proposals going through Parliament specifically provide for consultation with the Scottish Executive on the provision of accommodation centres, but there is no requirement for consultation with the Scottish Executive on education. Given that asylum matters are reserved to this Parliament but that education is a devolved matter, does my hon. Friend accept that it may be more consistent to make specific provision for consultation with the Scottish Executive on education, not just on the provision of centres?

Beverley Hughes

The Scottish Executive have agreed that education in accommodation centres is part of a specific regime for asylum seekers and that it is therefore properly a reserved matter, but we recognise that to achieve our objectives—good quality education on-site, and consistent education for children in accommodation centres, wherever they are in the United Kingdom—we need to work with the grain of the practicalities and structure of education in Scotland. That is why officials have been working closely with colleagues in Scotland, especially on education matters. Those discussions will continue. Although there will not be a specific requirement to consult on education, we accept that in the provision of accommodation centres we need to consult specifically on education provision as we go forward.

John Barrett (Edinburgh, West)

I, too, congratulate the Minister on her new post. Does she agree that, as well as consulting Scottish Parliament Ministers, it is important that the Home Office has discussions with the local authority, the wider community and organisations with experience in the sector, such as the Refugee Council, before any final decisions are made on locations in Scotland?

Beverley Hughes

I thank the hon. Gentleman and also my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, North and Leith (Mr. Lazarowicz) for their welcome.

If a planning notification in relation to the proposal is eventually made, we will want the widest consultation possible. We have already made that clear. We will be taking the advice of the planning authority about how that should best be done, but wherever planning notifications are laid, we intend to consult local people as well as the local authority and others.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Given that the Minister wants to work with the grain, as she put it, of Scottish education, is there any pressure on Scottish education to act in the same way as the Home Secretary would wish to act in England?

Beverley Hughes

As I have already made clear, we want to ensure that children who are in accommodation centres, wherever those centres may be, have the same standard of education as children elsewhere, and that there is a consistent standard in accommodation centres across the UK. We will work with whoever is providing those services in accommodation centres in Scotland or elsewhere to ensure that that happens.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking)

May I congratulate the Minister on her new post and wish her well? I recall that we had some happy times together on the Home Affairs Committee.

As the Minister discusses with Scottish Ministers key issues such as educating children in or outside accommodation centres, the size and location of such centres, and the need for a statutory duty to provide legal help on-site, does she think that those Ministers will agree with the Government's proposals, or with the dozens of her own Back-Bench colleagues and all the respected non-governmental organisations, who oppose her totally on many of these matters?

Beverley Hughes

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his words of welcome. He is widening the issue, and as he knows, in the next two days some of the matters that he raises will be debated more fully during the remaining stages of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill.

We welcome the fact that the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have in no way objected to the principle of accommodation centres. It is clear that a range of views exists on size, location and so on. A full debate took place in Committee, and in the past week I have studied Hansard and read all the points of view that were expressed in Committee. They make riveting reading, and those debates will continue tomorrow. As we move forward and establish accommodation centres, we want to ensure that we can trial a number of variables, and the Home Secretary has already given a commitment to do that in respect of size. If such variables prove to be the way forward, we want to ensure that we can learn from the trials about the best way to implement them.