§ Lord Ennals rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they will take to assist the Refugee Council in its present financial difficulties.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I first declare an interest, though not a pecuniary one. I have been involved with the Refugee Council since its inception and was involved with its two predecessor organisations for over 30 years.
§ The British Refugee Council is a service organisation to help refugees who come to this country for safe haven and to enable and assist them to become part of our society. It is an admirable organisation, with a very fine record of service. I am proud that my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis is its current chairman. If the British Refugee Council did not exist, the Government would either have to create something similar or do the work themselves.
§ Tonight I want to mention the problems that have been created by a very serious cut in public funding for the Refugee Council. The council is an umbrella body whose members include the principal charities supporting refugees both in this country and overseas. In the overseas field it brings together such organisations as Oxfam, Christian Aid, Cafod, Help the Aged and Save the Children Fund. Here in Britain it provides essential services to people who come to our country to escape from persecution, human rights abuses and violent conflict. In the past year its advice and referral team dealt with as many as 9,446 cases of people recently arrived in Britain from some of the worst trouble-spots in the world. It has provided supportive accommodation for around 500 particularly vulnerable asylum seekers. It has helped more than 70 refugee communities to develop their own services in areas where they live. It has helped the development of services for refugees throughout the country.
§ I believe that a significant new piece of work in recent times for the Refugee Council has been the establishment of hostels for accommodating Bosnians 1234 who have come to Britain having been released from the infamous detention camps in the former Yugoslavia. It is an efficient, professional and caring organisation which performs well the task for which it was designed.
§ However, our concern is over the massive cut in the resources available for the council's training and employment centre. At the beginning of April this year the Refugee Council was told that the support from the South Thames Training and Enterprise Council (its local TEC) for the current financial year would be about £500,000 less than the support it received in 1992–93. That is a massive sum. It represents a cut of some 46 per cent.
§ The situation is made worse by the fact that the Refugee Council is able to use the support from the TEC to claim matching moneys from the European Social Fund. The loss of £500,000 from the TEC will lead to a further loss of around £400,000 from the European Social Fund. So it is a devastating blow to come at one time, and indeed after the financial year has started.
§ Quite apart from the inevitable redundancies, the result will be that something like 150 refugees will not receive the employment training which they need and which the Refugee Council had planned to provide for them this year. The people most likely to be denied training opportunities are those whose need for training is greatest. The more training that people need, the more expensive is their training likely to be and the more likely they are to suffer under these circumstances. We must remember that we are talking about refugees who have come from extremely distressing circumstances and are trying to come to terms with life in Britain. At a time when events in Yugoslavia and Somalia have focused public attention on the needs of refugees, there is surely something wrong when Britain's major charity for helping refugees is treated in that way. I believe that it must be of concern to the Government.
§ To make matters worse the Refugee Council was given notice of the cuts several days after the start of the year to which they referred. TECs rightly expect that the training providers with whom they contract will manage training programmes efficiently and effectively. But to impose a 46 per cent. cut retrospectively makes nonsense of attempts at sensible planning and indeed makes nonsense of the discussions that the TEC has had with the Refugee Council on its planned development. Although the TEC has subsequently offered some extra money to fund the transition, it is a small sum and the funds do little to lessen the severity of the cuts.
§ The cuts appear to be the result not, I believe, of some political decision directed against the support available to refugees. They are the result of an ineffective funding system and sheer muddle. If there were any serious political commitment to the training of refugees, we should never have been made dependent upon a system which is so unsuited to the Refugee Council's needs. Even if the problem had arisen, I should have thought that there would have 1235 been ministerial action to get around the bureaucratic difficulties. I wish that that was the case but it has not been so, as I shall prove.
§ When the TEC system was first proposed several years ago, the Refugee Council expressed concern that refugee training —a national responsibility because refugees are to be found in many parts of the United Kingdom—would be left to the mercy of local TECs, which might work to their own different agendas. Indeed, in October 1991 when Jim Lester MP and members of the Refugee Council staff met with Robert Jackson, who was then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Employment, the Minister acknowledged the special nature of the employment and training needs of refugees and the difficulties of addressing them in local terms. At that meeting in 1991 the Refugee Council was told of plans to designate one TEC as a lead TEC for refugees, thereby in some way protecting the funds allocated for the training of refugees.
§ We were assured that, although the council need have a contract with only a single TEC, it would be considered a London-wide provider of training to refugees. Nothing was said to the Refugee Council to suggest that the situation was different from that described by the Minister until early April this year when the bombshell of a 46 per cent. cut arrived. It appears that the South Thames TEC's sudden decision to divert money away from the council has been based on local factors concerning training needs in the South Thames TEC area. It has nothing at all to do with the training of refugees. We have not been treated as a London-wide provider and the assurances given by Mr. Robert Jackson have not been honoured.
§ As soon as we were told of that body-blow to our refugee training programme, Jim Lester MP and representatives of the council met in April this year with Patrick McLoughlin, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. The Minister refused to accept that any assurances had been given by his predecessor. Instead, Mr. McLoughlin maintained that the contract with the Refugee Council should be based on the local labour market as narrowly seen by the South Thames TEC. That cannot be right. It makes no sense at all and the Minister must agree when he considers it. I believe that it was patently unreasonable.
So Jim Lester wrote to the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, who will reply to the debate. By then he had taken over Patrick McLoughlin's responsibilities. I have to say that the response was even more negative. Positive suggestions of how problems might be resolved were ignored and the Minister even refused a meeting offered by the Refugee Council. I have before me his letter, in the last sentence of which he writes:
it would not be appropriate for me to intervene".
I find that quite extraordinary. If in this year, when refugees are almost at the head of the world's agenda, the Minister feels that it is not appropriate for him, as a Minister, to intervene, then I do not know under what circumstances Ministers should intervene.
§ I believe that the Refugee Council has been badly treated by both the South Thames TEC and Ministers who have shrugged off the commitments of their 1236 predecessors and refused to face the responsibilities of their office. More importantly, refugees have been badly treated. The Refugee Council was established to look after people in very special need because of the world situation. Help has been denied to people who have come to this country in the most difficult of circumstances and who, with a little help, could make their contribution to our economy. To deny them training is not good enough. Our country should be ashamed to put them in that situation.
§ The Refugee Council must perhaps accept that the damage has been done for 1993–94; courses have been cancelled; people have been declared redundant; refugees who were entitled to training and needed it will not receive it. But I urge the Minister, in this debate and afterwards, to consider whether he can make amends in 1994–95. In my view it is not good enough for Ministers to shrug off responsibility for what is a national response to an international crisis. I plead with the Minister to give a helpful and considered reply.
§ 7.11 p.m.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ennals. I too must declare an interest. The noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, will face a three-pronged attack —if that is the right word—not only from the chairman of the Refugee Council and from the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, who is chairman of one of the committees, but also from myself. I declare that I am chairman of the Middle East Committee of the Refugee Council.
I shall be extremely brief. The noble Lord, Lord Ennals, set out the case extremely well and no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, will add to it. My position is simply to say "Hear, hear". I believe that the Refugee Council has been extremely badly treated.
The job that I seek to do with the council, in a rather amateur way, is to help to co-ordinate the activities of the various agencies and act as an information exchange in matters relating to the Middle East. A couple of years ago I had the privilege of travelling to Iran to survey the refugee camps of people from Iraq in both the north and south of that country. It may have been of some interest and help to your Lordships' House and indeed to the Government to have a first-hand account of what was happening in that troubled area where few people were allowed to enter, at that time. The Government got fairly good value out of it.
The truth is that the Government set up a system which failed. The TECs were central to the strategy which the Government understood and, it seemed, underwrote, at least morally. And the TECs led the Refugee Council into a cul-de-sac from which there is apparently no return. I do not blame the South Thames TEC. It clearly has problems of its own, as do all the TECs. I know that my noble friend Lady Seear had problems in the funding of training from the TECs concerning the various trusts with which she is associated. But the idea that the Government can totally wash their hands of the problem is unsatisfactory.
1237 In his letter of 7th June the noble Viscount, Lord Ullswater, said,Whilst I understand the Council's disappointment"—It is not disappointment; it is devastation—at not receiving the funding they would like, I must emphasise that I cannot become directly involved in the contract negotiations between Training and Enterprise Councils and training and enterprise providers".We understand that. But that is not the problem; it is only the mechanics of it. The problem is that the Refugee Council has been seriously undermined in its activities by the withdrawal of funding by the TECs and the consequential removal of funding from the European Community. Because the Government said that that was the way to do it, they have the responsibility for putting matters right.
It is no good the noble Viscount saying that he cannot become directly involved. He is directly involved. The Government are directly involved. The Home Office is directly involved. It is no good playing inter-departmental games. People's lives and livelihoods are at risk, not only in this country but also overseas because of our work in co-ordinating activities of information exchange between the various organisations working in that field.
I hope that I have made my position clear. The Government have a huge responsibility to assist the Refugee Council out of the mess in which it has been placed through being let down by the system the Government devised.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, as chairman of the Refugee Council I specifically asked my colleagues to permit me to participate in this debate. I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Ennals for speaking so eloquently this evening and for raising the issues which are central to our considerations. I thank my colleague in the Refugee Council, the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, also.
At the outset I want to say that the Refugee Council has a number of politicians of all parties involved in its activities. I am glad that that is so, and long may it remain so. I thank them all for the efforts that they made on behalf of the council to try and find a way out of this impossible situation. I hope that the Minister will concede that it has arisen through no fault whatever of the Refugee Council.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Employment (Viscount Ullswater)
My Lords, that is not right.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, I believe the noble Viscount said that that is not right. He will no doubt explain how the Refugee Council is culpable. Nowhere in the correspondence we have had with Ministers, and in particular with the noble Viscount, has it been suggested that the Refugee Council is culpable for the situation which has so regrettably arisen.
I had not wished this debate to result in my casting blame upon the Minister. That is not my purpose, although one has to set the framework for the debate. I am sure also that it was not the purpose of my noble friend Lord Ennals, nor of the noble Lord, Lord 1238 Tordoff. I am particularly sad that the Minister made that brief sedentary interruption. It may be helpful to me if he were to enlarge upon it at this stage as an intervention. I can then perhaps deal with the situation. It was not a helpful interruption. I shall give way to the noble Viscount willingly if he is prepared to give further and better particulars now of the so-called culpability of the Refugee Council in the terrible situation that has arisen. I can then deal with it.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, it would perhaps be proper for me to answer the concerns of the noble Lord. But as this is a relatively short debate on an Unstarred Question, it may be more helpful to the House if I give just a single answer.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, that is not a helpful intervention. Surely, when we are dealing with a situation which is not a party political issue but which involves the well-being of people who are the most vulnerable in society—refugees—and the affairs of an organisation which is committed and dedicated to helping them, the Minister should recognise that, when he has asserted something which has never been asserted before in the correspondence in which he and his predecessor engaged—namely, that the Refugee Council is in some way culpable—it would be helpful for him to enlarge on it. I can hardly deal with the matter after he makes his speech. I can perhaps intervene when he gives way, but that is an unsatisfactory way of dealing with the matter. I ask him to reconsider what he said. If he has further and better particulars of culpability on the part of the Refugee Council, let him say what they are.
The Minister declines to reply. Perhaps that shows the paucity of his case. I think, if I may say so, that he would have done the House and himself a rather better service if he had responded to what was a perfectly reasonable intervention.
It is a desperately cruel irony that we should be having to debate this issue tonight. Just think about the background —perhaps the noble Viscount is not familiar with it. I suspect that that is the case. According to the Home Office, we have had a flood of refugees into this country. Whether or not the Home Office is right about that, we have a substantial problem which has increased over recent years. The Minister must understand that the problem that has fallen on the shoulders of the Refugee Council has been one of considerable weight.
My noble friend alluded to the burden of responsibility falling on the advice and referral team of the Refugee Council. It deals with nearly 10,000 cases of extremely vulnerable people who have arrived only recently from some of the worst areas of the world where they have been afflicted with violent conflict, persecution and abuses of human rights. What the Refugee Council seeks to do—it does so many things that I shall not try to encompass them: my noble friend alluded to them—is to help in training and to ensure that refugees can play a valuable role in society. It seeks to help people who have enormous talents available to them. Many of them are well trained people who merely need linguistic training. That is one of the main purposes of the training and 1239 employment centre run by the Refugee Council. I would hope that the Minister would recognise the value of that work. I would hope that he would recognise that that work has provided real hope for many thousands of people over the years, and most particularly over recent months and years. I would hope that he would also agree that this work is of the greatest possible significance not least to our own society in making use of the talents of these people.
As the Minister has asserted that somehow or other the fault of all this lies on the shoulders of the Refugee Council, I had better tell him something about the refugee training that is undertaken. It is estimated that around 85,000 adult refugees live in the capital alone. Unemployment rates in refugee communities are between 65 and 95 per cent., which suggests between 55,000 and 85,000 refugees in London alone. Can that be anything other than an appalling waste of human talent? What these people want is to be helped—and they need help—in rebuilding their lives.
Employment is a crucial factor in enabling them to settle successfully. We need to try to make them become more self-reliant, to enable them to take more control of their lives once again, to restore to them a sense of dignity, of self-value and of a position in society which many were denied in the countries from which they have fled. Employment allows refugees to make a useful contribution to this society and to our economy. Many of these people arrive at the doors of the Refugee Council having held positions of great responsibility previously in their own countries. Many of them are senior civil servants, university lecturers, diplomats, people who have been successful entrepreneurs in developing their businesses. That is the kind of resource that we cannot neglect.
There are three areas in which we must direct more effort. Language is one of the key factors. It is a key factor in obtaining employment, yet the evidence suggests that the availability of language classes is very inadequate indeed. A survey by the language and literacy unit of Southwark College two years ago found nearly 4,000 people on waiting lists for classes in 51 institutions. The majority on waiting lists were refugees and asylum seekers. Several institutions had given up keeping waiting lists because of the level of demand, so the true number waiting for classes is even higher. Most of those people are under 25. There is a risk that we may lose their talents and injure their motivation.
A second area of concern is the validation of the qualifications which many refugees bring from their own countries. Too often experienced people cannot find jobs because their past qualifications are simply not recognised here. The Department of Employment has been making some progress in this area but it is all too slow.
Thirdly, it is not necessary to emphasise the importance of appropriate employment training and advice. A Home Office research group found:There is evidence that participation in training schemes had a measurable impact on chances of gaining employment".Training programmes which are aimed at helping refugees to adapt their skills and to develop the new 1240 ones that they will require in our labour market are therefore vital—vital to help refugees to settle successfully here and vital to help them make their contribution to our economy. That is the real reason why the work of the Refugee Council's training and employment centre has been critically important. Thousands of refugees have been given training over the years—training in office skills, in computer application and in many professional fields. It has been combined with English training to help them overcome language barriers to employment. That, in a nutshell, indicates how important this aspect of the work of the Refugee Council is.
I turn to the Minister's letter of 28th June. I regard this letter as something which is needing of improvement on the part of the Minister. It is a brush off. It does not give any positive response to the problems that were posed to him by his own colleague, Jim Lester. I have to say in parenthesis that I too was a Minister some years ago. I cannot recall a single instance where I refused to see a colleague in the House of Commons coming from any party. I cannot imagine writing a letter like that indicating that a meeting is purposeless. It is never purposeless because you might learn from it. The Minister, regretfully, has never been in the House of Commons, and perhaps that is a disadvantage. Sometimes being in the House of Commons causes you to recognise the importance of dealing with Members of Parliament who also have responsibility to their constituencies, to the organisations to which they belong and so on. It is quite wrong, with the greatest respect in the world, for the Minister not to have seen his colleague on this occasion. Yes, he had seen Mr. Patrick McLoughlin, but he was requesting another meeting; and it was not given.
In that letter the Minister urged the Refugee Council to make early contact with the London training and enterprise councils to open discussions about funding for next year—very helpful indeed. We were told that by his colleague previously. The Minister must not think that the Refugee Council did not act on that advice, but so far funding has been unavailable. The Minister then questioned the suggestion that Mr. Robert Jackson, a predecessor of his, had given an undertaking or an assurance to the Refugee Council previously about the way in which these matters were to be dealt with. My noble friend Lord Ennals gave chapter and verse about that.
The Minister said in his letter that his understanding of Robert Jackson's suggestion was that he said that South Thames TEC might be willing to act as an administration centre for the co-ordination of training places offered by the Refugee Council but not as a lead TEC for training for refugees. I challenge the Minister to provide the House tonight with the minute of the meeting which took place between Mr. Robert Jackson, Mr. Jim Lester, Mr. Alf Dubs and perhaps others, because I have to tell him that that recollection—if it be recollection at all; the Minister was not responsible for it because he was not there—is completely inconsistent with the evidence that the Refugee Council has. That is a serious charge and the Minister must recognise that. It is denied categorically 1241 that Mr. Jackson in fact made that suggestion. It is asserted categorically that he said precisely what my noble friend has imputed to him.
The Minister owes it to the House to give chapter and verse if he denies that assertion. This is a very important matter because the word of a Minister is at stake—not the word of this Minister but of Mr. Robert Jackson. The Minister said in the letter that there are several other organisations around the London area, including the South Thames TEC area, which are also providing training for refugees.
I claim that the Refugee Council is the only major specialised agency in the field to which I have alluded. I do not believe that there are any other organisations that would contest that assertion. So it is not as the Minister has suggested in his letter. Does not the Minister agree that the Refugee Council has been badly treated and that this chain of events has led to damage being caused to those to whom the Refugee Council seeks to minister? Does he not accept that there were commitments entered into which have now been ignored? Is it not scandalous that refugees will have to bear the burden of this irresponsibility?
The question is how the damage can be repaired now and amends made in 1994–95 for what has happened. As the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, said so accurately and eloquently, Ministers have a responsibility here. Even if they deny my case, they have a responsibility here. This Minister has a clear responsibility. I urge him to be far more positive in his response than he was in the unfortunate letter that he wrote on 28th June. How is he going to help?
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, has raised this important subject for debate and a number of detailed points have been raised. I should like to respond to them later on. First, I am sure that it will he helpful if I remind noble Lords of our general policy towards refugees. The United Kingdom is a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees. As such we undertake to treat refugees, lawfully in this country, in the same way as our own nationals. For example, refugees are entitled to a range of statutory benefits and services just like anyone else. I am referring of course to important needs that are fulfilled by income support payments, housing benefits, access to housing, schools and healthcare as well as the important range of employment and training schemes, which is really the nub of this particular debate.
As far as my department is concerned, we provide a wide range of assistance in two main areas. First, as regards training, my department recognises the considerable difficulties faced by refugees and asylum seekers, which is why a particular effort is made to help them. In making this effort, it is extremely important that a body with appropriate expertise and experience should plan relevant vocational training for refugees as well as other groups. It is for TECs to decide with whom they contract and, of course, they must use the taxpayers' money which they receive from the Secretary of State for Employment in the most cost-effective way. That means careful judgment 1242 about whom they should contract with and how their obligations to trainees can best be fulfilled. In those circumstances, there can be no obligation to support specific providers. But organisations which can supply training of good quality to fit special training needs are in a good position to be considered by TECs.
I believe that I should confront early on the situation which the noble Lords, Lord Ennals and Lord Clinton-Davis, brought up about the meeting with Mr. Jackson in October 1991, which I believe is the date that was used. I believe that there was a genuine misunderstanding over what Mr. Jackson offered. His suggestion was for the establishment of South Thames TEC as an administration centre to co-ordinate Refugee Council training places. Full-blown lead TEC arrangements are not appropriate to this situation. I believe that that view was reinforced to the Refugee Council via the Refugee Employment, Training and Education Forum in January of this year. That means that South Thames TEC was not obliged to take on the role of an administration centre. In fact, South Thames TEC spoke to the other London TECs to see whether some form of co-ordinated approach could be adopted, but that did not find favour with other London TECs.
The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked me to provide evidence of the mistakes that I believe the Refugee Council has made. I do not want to make them in a spirit of definite culpability, but I would like to indicate where I believe that they could have approached matters in a different way. As long ago as 20th August 1992 I understand that a meeting with the South Thames Training and Enterprise Council advised the Refugee Council that it would be in its best interests to approach other Training and Enterprise Councils in London with a view to spreading its contracts more widely.
That advice was repeated at a further meeting on 6th October when representatives of the Refugee Council met my honourable friend, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Patrick McLoughlin. They said that they had not chosen to pursue that course at that stage. However, I am glad to say that a letter received today in my department indicates that that advice has now been accepted.
The South Thames TEC invited tenders for its 1993–94 adult training provision from both potential, new and existing providers, including the Refugee Council. The tender process was discussed at a TEC training provider conference on 26th and 28th January this year. Invitations to tender were sent out on 12th February. The deadline for the receipt of tenders was 1st March. That was a very clear statement of what was expected.
However, the Refugee Council had not put in its tender by that date. That does not suggest to me that the South Thames TEC contract was particularly important to the Refugee Council if it failed to meet the deadline for the receipt of tenders. The TEC then, of course, informed the Refugee Council on 4th March that no tender had been received. The Refugee Council finally put in a tender although the deadline had passed. The TEC agreed to include the Refugee Council's bid in the tendering process. So I believe 1243 that there is an indication, over a fairly long period of time, of concern being expressed by South Thames TEC—the advice that it gave the Refugee Council to look elsewhere in the previous August and the failure of the Refugee Council to submit its tender by the closing date. Those are the areas of concern that I wanted to point out to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. Perhaps I may refer to them as "making mistakes"—
§ Lord Ennals
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. Clearly, there have been some real misunderstandings and perhaps misinterpretations. As my final words to him were, "All right, we are looking at the next financial year, not this one", I ask that there should be urgent meetings between the officers of the Refugee Council and his own officials so that any misunderstandings can be removed because the challenge is a serious one.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, as I have said, the letter which my department received today has been extremely helpful. It looks as if the advice that has been submitted to the Refugee Council has now been accepted.
I appreciate that a reduced contract is a disappointment to the Refugee Council, but it is not easy to see how it can have such a great effect on the work of the council as a whole because prudent management would normally result in the separation of funding streams for funding activities. Although I can appreciate that the reduced TEC offer will have an impact on the employment training division, it surely should not have such an effect on the Refugee Council's core activities which are largely funded by the Home Office's £1 million contribution.
The Refugee Council is far from being the only organisation to provide training for refugees. Training and enterprise councils across London are making provision for refugee groups in their local areas. The West London TEC, for instance, jointly with Hounslow Borough Council and the European Social Fund has established a refugee employment service to meet the needs of refugees in the Hounslow area, which covers Heathrow Airport.
In one of the three points that he stressed, the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, emphasised the importance of language training. I can tell him that the South London TEC set up the South London Refugee Project in April 1992 to provide a language training scheme with a work-related emphasis. The scheme is funded under the Home Office's ethnic minority grant.
I could refer to more examples, but I wanted to quote just a few of the imaginative ways in which the TECs in London are funding training and support for refugees. If the Refugee Council can offer similar flexibility in its training and early integration of refugees into mainstream provision, and if it is willing to market its services more widely, I can see no reason why it should not be successful in competing for TEC business and in maximising its income.
Therefore, I must advise the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, that I do not believe that TECs have failed in their duties to provide assistance to refugees. They 1244 have been both imaginative and innovative. I hope that the Refugee Council will look to spread its net wider with different TECs in order to gain more of the business.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, I am much obliged to the Minister for giving way. He has said that the Refugee Council misunderstood the assertion or assurance, as I put it, that was given by Mr. Robert Jackson and has given its own version of what occurred. Is the Minister able to produce the notes of the minute that was taken at the time? I have to tell him that the very clear recollection of Mr. Jim Lester and of Mr. Alf Dubs is inconsistent with his version. Indeed, it is not only a recollection because it was acted upon in the way in which my noble friend Lord Ennals indicated at the very outset of this discussion.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, I find it difficult to give evidence of what was discussed at that meeting. The evidence that I have is the recollection that I have been able to give to the House, which is that the South Thames TEC should act not as a lead TEC in the concept of a lead TEC but as a co-ordinating TEC.
§ Lord Tordoff
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Viscount, but surely there must be a departmental minute of some sort for a meeting of that importance. It should not depend on the recollection of the Minister or his officials. Indeed, we are talking about a Minister whom I remember the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, referring to as being regarded as "the Pol Pot of higher education" in academia. I do not wish to cast aspersions on the honourable gentleman, but one would like to see what the minute actually states or to hear a quotation from it.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, from this vantage point I am afraid that I would have to inquire whether such a minute exists. If one does, we shall have to communicate it to the noble Lord.
The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, also referred to employment training and careers advice and assistance as an important part of what is on offer to refugees. I hope that the noble Lord will realise that the Refugee Council receives an ethnic minority grant from the Home Office of over £80,000 a year for three years. No fewer than 10 posts have been funded to provide careers advice and guidance across London. That is in addition to the TEC funding for the amount of training that is provided. What I am trying to say is that the Government recognise the effectiveness of the Refugee Council and are putting funding into the areas about which the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, is concerned.
I understand the anxieties of the Refugee Council, but I must stress that the Department of Employment's programme funding for adult training is allocated to training and enterprise councils each year by my department as part of the annual contracting process. It is then the responsibility of each TEC to determine, and then to contract for, the training that is appropriate to the needs of its area, including provision for those with special needs.
The Refugee Council has a membership of over 100 voluntary organisations and community groups 1245 concerned with refugee issues which carry out a host of activities, such as co-ordinating and representing the views of its member organisations, spreading information about refugee issues and providing community development programmes. The Refugee Council represents the interests of refugees throughout the country—not just in London or in one particular area but across the land. The Government support this important work of the Refugee Council to the tune of £ 1 million, which is the amount of Home Office grant aid that will he received in 1993–94, as well as making a contribution to its overseas work through the ODA.
My department has played its part in assisting and advising the Refugee Council. Noble Lords have heard how the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Mr. McLoughlin, met the director of the Refugee Council and how I subsequently gave advice in several letters. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, accused me of not agreeing to a meeting with Mr. Lester—
§ Viscount Ullswater
That was at a time when meetings were taking place between the representatives of the Refugee Council and my officials in an attempt further to clarify the situation for the Refugee Council and to suggest possible ways forward.
Time is now pressing. I have not mentioned the work of the Refugee Council which is funded by the Employment Service or the other good work that is being carried out. The Employment Service has contracted with the British Refugee Council at Brixton and is currently running Restart specialist courses as well as job review workshops and Jobsearch workshops particularly for refugees. Indeed, 164 refugees were aided through Restart last year. This year already 23 refugees have been helped; 118 have benefited from job review workshops; and 77 have taken advantage of Jobsearch.
The Government have funded the Refugee Council to cover our concerns to ensure that refugees' anxieties are properly regarded. Noble Lords have heard how a number of other sources of funding are available to the Refugee Council for its many important roles. I believe, and agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, that the Refugee Council would find it helpful to open early discussions with other TECs with a view to marketing its services more widely. My department has already suggested that approach. I understand that it is now being taken up.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, for raising the debate. I hope that I have indicated what I believe the future should be.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may return to two points. The first is the astonishing fact that emerged that there was no minute of the meeting with Mr. Robert Jackson. So the Minister is in no position to refute what is the clear 1246 recollection, and evidence available to the Refugee Council, that his version of what occurred, to which he of course cannot speak directly, is inaccurate. Does not that make a substantial difference?
The second point I make is that the Minister has not alluded to the loss of the matching European Community funding from the social fund which the Refugee Council has suffered alongside the other loss. Does he not think also that it was strange that no prior indication was given by the TEC in question that that money was to cease as at 28th or 29th March? No notice was given until that date had passed.
§ Viscount Ullswater
My Lords, with the leave of the House, the Refugee Council is in a privileged position with its funding from the European social fund. Of course I understand that the lack of a contract with the South Thames TEC had the effect of withdrawing cover from the European social fund. Its lack of money is increased by being unable to claim on the European social fund. I have to return to the fact that I believe that adequate notice was given to the Refugee Council with its contract with South Thames TEC, as far back as August 1992 to indicate that it needed to look carefully at its current relationship with that TEC and to spread the net even wider.