§ 4.25 p.m.
§ House again in Committee on Clause 14.
§ Baroness Anelay of St Johns
moved Amendment No. 98:Page 9, line 8 at end insert—() An accommodation centre shall not provide accommodation for more than 200 persons.The noble Baroness said: The amendment's purpose is to put on the face of the Bill the requirement that accommodation centres should not house more than 200 asylum seekers at any one time. I was distressed to 589 hear the Minister say openly and blatantly, when speaking to Amendment No. 97, that the number proposed is 750. I had hoped that we had moved some way from that figure but it seems that the Government are set on it.
On Second Reading my noble friend Lady Carnegy was right to say that the Government are aiming their policy at a moving target—never more so than in the clauses that establish accommodation centres. The Government say that they hope to trial when the centres are built in three years. Although we welcome the concept of accommodation centres, they could be established in a better way. Our objections relate to the centres' size, location and facilities. Amendment No. 98 deals with the first of those. Size is key to fairer, safer and more rapid processing of claims.
The Immigration Nationality Directorate website states that the Government intend to establish four accommodation centres providing 3,000 places. When speaking to the previous amendment, the Minister said that if the Opposition wants smaller centres, facilities will have to be reconsidered and we cannot have it all ways. There is a mixed message on size. Size does matter and I hope that the Minister will say how much consideration the Government have given to smaller centres as a solution.
In Committee in another place, the then Minister, Angela Eagle, stated that the Government were examining the use of smaller centres to see whether they would work any better. What is the result of that further thinking? It does not seem to have gone far.
As the number of claims is 80,000 a year and rising the four centres will not be able to process many applications. The Refugee Council has expressed its concern at the proposed size of the centres. It says that the Government's current proposals would make the centres too large to be effective. The council states that undoubtedly there will be pressures and tensions in a centre that holds as many as 750 or anything like that. Smaller centres in urban areas are less likely to be regarded as skewing local life. The smaller the centre, the less institutional it should feel and more likely it is that managers will be able to create an open regime with a reasonably relaxed atmosphere.
That is vital for single men but also for parents with children. If centres are a sensible size, it is more likely that local authorities will be able to provide all the necessary services, which will make it easier for successful applicants to be integrated into the local community.
The Churches Commission for Racial Justice notes:While accommodation centres worked well in relation to those needing temporary protection following the Kosovo crisis, the Refugee Council's experience in running such centres suggests that they should not exceed 100 beds. The current proposals envisage groups of 750—often alienated—young men living in one isolated place for extended periods without the right to work … Small community-based accommodation would be vastly preferable to large isolated accommodation centres".The Immigration Advisory Service believes that the experience of reception centres in other European countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands is that 590 they are more effective if they contain no more than 200 to 300 people. Is the Minister aware that when the chief executive of IAS visited a centre at Dordrecht in the Netherlands on Friday, 28th June, this year, the Dutch officials informed him that, in their experience, putting a large number of people in an accommodation centre was likely to make unmanageable the personal contacts between residents and staff? Can the Minister confirm a similar finding by the IND's immigration research and statistics service officers who visited Belgium, Denmark and Sweden? Can he explain why the Government have not followed that advice?
The smaller the number in each centre, surely the more likely it is that the centre will be efficient, humane, decent and safe. Local residents would find smaller centres easier to cope with and understand. It would be better for everyone. I beg to move.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
If I may say so, that was an extremely well-argued, coherent and persuasive case. We on these Benches are also in favour of smaller centres. My honourable friend Mr Hughes thought 250 a reasonable number. We shall not split hairs over the difference between 200 and 250. We are prepared to support the amendment.
What matters is the ability to create a sense of community within a group of people. I have seen in the larger Oxford and Cambridge colleges how people stick in small groups and shut themselves off from the rest. They are frightened of making new acquaintances. The ideal size is somewhere around 220, which just about splits the difference between us.
On the other hand, I take the point made by the Minister about the need to provide interpretation facilities and that being a countervailing pressure. It is possible by skilful selection of people going into centres to square that circle. I would be prepared to cooperate in attempts to do so. Meanwhile, I look for a very much better atmosphere, a very much happier set of people and very much less disturbance than we had in some of the larger places. If one has large numbers of people with nothing to do, as the Minister and the noble Baroness said, one is setting up a prescription for trouble.
We hope that the Government will look with sympathy on the amendment. If the Government want to argue about small differences in numbers or small variations for particular circumstances, we should be less ready to listen to such arguments. Meanwhile, we thank the noble Baroness for a well put case and wish the amendment well. We support it.
§ Lord Monson
The amendment is excellent so far as it goes. But does it go far enough? If the amendment were passed into law there would surely be nothing to prevent the Government erecting two or more asylum centres, each containing 200 people, no more than 50 yards apart.
§ Lord Chan
I support the amendment on limiting the size of an accommodation centre in order to meet the 591 health needs of asylum seekers. A study of health needs of asylum seekers and refugees by Drs Burnett and Peel in the British Medical Journal in March last year found that 16 per cent of them had significant health problems.
Health problems identified were physical and psychological. Diseases found among asylum seekers and refugees depend on the country of origin. For example, when I was asked to screen Vietnamese refugees in the mid-1980s one in five was a carrier of the hepatitis B virus and 1 per cent had active tuberculosis. The study reported by Drs Burnett and Peel last year and carried out in Blackburn among 1,085 immigrants found 11 cases of tuberculosis—that is 1 per cent. The purpose of screening for tuberculosis among refugees is to treat the disease effectively. The more people in contact with an infected person, the more difficult the treatment programme is to implement.
Asylum seekers from tropical countries, in particular in Africa, are likely to be infected with malaria, a disease normally not managed by a primary care doctor in Britain.
That brings me to my question to the Minister. What arrangements will there be for the health needs of asylum seekers in accommodation centres? Local GPs and their teams could cope with about 200 but a special service, such as used in prisons, may be needed if more people are put in accommodation centres.
Psychological problems among asylum seekers are usually complex. They may have come from countries where they were subjected to threats, assault, rape and torture. The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture is particularly concerned about screening survivors of torture and assisting them with psychological support. Accommodation in a large centre will make that more difficult to achieve. I support a centre of no more than 200.
§ Lord Hylton
I support the principle of much smaller centres than the Government appear to envisage. We have to anticipate that a large proportion of young males in those centres may easily become bored and aggressive, in particular towards other ethnic groups or unaccompanied women and children who will be very vulnerable. Secondly, it would be much easier to fit smaller centres into urban areas where the full range of services is already available.
§ Lord Corbett of Castle Vale
I wonder how any noble Lord can come to any reasonably based conclusion that this or that size of centre is ideal. As the Government have explained, they are contemplating a trial for these centres, having hit on the number of about 750. It is extremely unlikely that in the early years of these centres that maximum number will be maintained for anything like 52 weeks of the year. The Government have also made clear that they are listening to a suggestion from the Refugee Council—there may be others—to undertake these matters in a different way. For example, the distinguished Mr Nick Hardwick has suggested that such arrangements could be made around a cluster of 592 hotels or hostels so that all the important services required during the assessment of asylum applications can be provided. That is my first point: it is a trial.
The figure of 200, or 250 as mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, is no more than a guess. As a guess, it is no better than the Government's guess of 750. I do not argue that that is a better number for more economical provision of services although that is not unimportant in the spending of public money. None of us wants to be reckless with that. The figure of 200 or 250 is put forward; the Government's preference is 750.
We all share the ambition that the centres should be as decent and humane as possible, providing a calm and supportive atmosphere in which those making asylum applications can be looked after and feel that they are safe, their applications being considered speedily within the necessary process. However, I should like to argue that there is also some strength in having clusters of people. In passing, I should observe that this may be one of the lessons from Sangatte, although I accept that that is a totally different kettle of fish in every other sense; indeed, I believe that it was designed for about 800 but accommodates around 1,200 or 1,300 people. There is some strength in the suggestion that people and families from the same country with the same background should be accommodated together. In that way they will be able to understand each other's origins and give each other support. There will also be powerful arguments during our debate on the education aspects of the Bill in terms of the treatment of very small children.
This consideration also applies to mothers and fathers who come to this country with dependent children. Perhaps Members of the Committee could bear in mind for a moment the backgrounds of many of these asylum seekers. They are not used to either the kind of life that we live in western developed countries, or the range of our way of life. Many of these asylum seekers come from countries such as Iraq, and Iran; and, in the past, they came from Ethiopia and the Sudan. Their countries have little or no development, and there are none of the facilities that we take for granted; for example, our huge urban centres. Furthermore, there is nothing even in the most remotest of the rural areas within these islands that compares with remote rural areas in, say, Afghanistan. There is some strength in the argument for having clusters of people from the same areas with the same backgrounds.
I turn to the services being provided either by the Government, as regards those who are paid to assess the asylum applications, or by the NGOs and other organisations providing advice to asylum seekers. There is a strong argument for those people having detailed in-country knowledge of more than a single sheet of newspaper. I believe that this matter was mentioned yesterday in Committee. We heard of people's experiences regarding civil servants, who are, no doubt, performing an honourable job; but, none the less, getting it wrong because they have no intimate knowledge of the countries from which these applicants have come and are dealing with such 593 applications on the strength of the papers available. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned this problem. Therefore, in-country knowledge is also an important consideration.
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, referred to large numbers of people with nothing to do. I absolutely agree with him. However, we are not talking about a prison life in the sense that many of us object to; for example, too few prison officers and not enough educational opportunities for many in our prisons, which can lead to exceptionally dangerous situations. No, that is not the case here. Alongside all the processes through which asylum seekers pass in order to have their claims properly processed—and, if needs be, the lodging of appeals—the idea of these centres is that facilities will be available for applicants to learn language skills, and so on, as well as familiarising themselves with their new surroundings, so as to prepare them for the future should their applications be successful. Therefore, it is part of the beginning of a process through which these people can begin to acclimatise themselves to the country where they wish to live. Again, in that sense, there is strength in having sufficient numbers of asylum seekers in such centres so as to make viable the provision of those services.
At the end of the day, I do not believe that it is basically an issue of size. It is true to say that the only institution that has attached a great deal of importance to size over the past two centuries is the British Army. The platoon size was based on the number of our Lord's disciples. This is a serious point. The whole of the Army's structure was built upon that foundation. So there is an exceptionally important point in this debate about the number of people who can sensibly be managed in one unit. I do not draw that analogy too far, but I mention it because it is not the size of the establishment; it is the way in which it is managed. It depends upon the skills, the expertise and the training of those who are managing, as well as of the staff who are providing the services that are on offer to those who have been taken into such centres while their asylum applications are being processed.
It is out of this world for anyone to imagine that these accommodation centres will be some kind of huge shed like the one at Sangatte, where people are simply tipped in and have to find a hole in whatever porta-cabin or tent is available. That is not the case. Such accommodation can be managed in discrete units. However, I believe that it would be sensible to group such people in, if you like, "country families", according to their place of origin. Indeed, within the overall accommodation there could be, say, little villages containing groups of people from similar backgrounds. Such an arrangement would make them feel more comfortable and would also make the process of dealing with their applications that much easier.
I am not at all convinced that plucking an alternative number out of the air for such centres is sensible. I make a plea to Members of the Committee that they should respect the Government's judgment and accept this proposition on the basis that it is a trial. 594 However, if experience shows that it does not work, I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to reassure noble Lords that the Government will be first in the queue to say, "We've got this wrong, and want to try it in a different way".
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
The noble Lord has made a very strong argument for the large-number proposition; indeed, there is no questioning that fact. However, before any of this can happen, local communities will have to accept that they will have a centre, or more than one centre, in their midst. The Government have a preference for introducing such units in the countryside.
The noble Lord said that there was no issue as regards size. When the public considers the matter, when planning permission is sought, and when local councils discuss the matter and consult upon it, I believe that the size of such centres will become a very great issue. Asylum seekers will not always stay in the accommodation; indeed, they will be coming and going. They will represent a large influx of people into the community. Therefore, it is unrealistic for the noble Lord to speak in that way because none of these developments can take place unless the local community accepts the position and planning permission is gained.
Although I accept that we need not necessarily have a specific number, the general principle that it should be small seems to be important. I was interested in the point made by the noble Lord on the Cross-Benches regarding the health of asylum seekers. That aspect of the matter had not occurred to me, but it is probably quite an important consideration. From the point of view of the people in these centres, there is no questioning the fact that a smaller number of people would be better. I agree with the suggestion that it is desirable for all of them to come from the same area, because they would be more likely to flourish in those circumstances. But if any noble Lord thinks that it is cosier to be in an asylum centre containing 700 people as opposed to one with 200 people, he is misled.
§ The Earl of Sandwich
I have grave reservations about the whole concept of accommodation centres. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, put the case for the Refugee Council very well, but perhaps not strongly enough. The council would prefer an improved method of dispersal. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, talking about "clusters" and group nationalities, which are both very enticing ideas. However, I submit to the noble Lord that the latter are not really compatible with the concept of enormous accommodation centres. I prefer to talk in terms of reception centres.
I hope that the one of the pilots, as indicated by the Home Secretary, will be a very much smaller centre. Perhaps the Minister could confirm that the Refugee Council has already held discussions with the Home Secretary in this respect. I also remember what the Minister said earlier in our debates about languages. Does he agree that smaller centres are more compatible with language training?
§ 5 p.m.
§ Baroness Uddin
I had not intended to make a contribution to the debate because the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, more than adequately put forward all of our views on the issue. However, my noble friend Lord Corbett made a number of comments that have led me to consider many more questions than would otherwise have been the case. I ask the Committee's indulgence to speak for a couple of minutes.
On a number of issues—education, health, housing, community building and so on—the Government always argue that "small is better". They ask for more precise, more comprehensive services to be provided. The proposal for centres housing around 750 people is somewhat contradictory. I should be interested to hear an explanation from the Minister as to how the idea has arisen that 750 is better than any other number. I do not accept the premise put forward by my noble friend Lord Corbett that the number should be based on military principles. Military principles are essentially about brotherhood. Asylum seekers will represent all kinds of regions, nationalities, languages, countries, cultures, and so on. They would not conform to that kind of brotherhood, so the analogy does not apply.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, is right about the issue of language training. More importantly, we are assuming that, for example, 750 Iraqis will all apply at the same time and will be housed in one centre. I understand from the briefing provided by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate that large numbers of applications come from Europeans. So Iraqis or Iranians might be somewhat isolated in the centres.
It cannot for a moment be suggested that a centre will be a utopia for learning English—one of the ambitions is that those housed at a centre will have access to training courses. I am deeply troubled—indeed, I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, commented on this point—about the fact that women and children will be housed at a place where large numbers of single men will be able to roam free, walk free, sleep free or whatever. There are deep concerns about child welfare and child protection. I should be interested to know how it is intended to ensure that all these people are checked by the police. They will, of course, be living under a large number of checks of all kinds, but how will that happen? So there are concerns about size. More importantly, we need to be assured about the rationale behind the proposed size of the centres. I look forward to the Minister's response.
§ Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville
I cannot improve on the arguments advanced by my noble friend Lady Anelay and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and I shall not try.
The noble Lord, Lord Corbett, made reasonable points in his intervention. But to be fair to my noble friend and to the noble Earl, they did adduce case histories in support of the figures for which they were arguing. The late Professor Parkinson, in his term, 596 once did valuable work on the ideal size of human groups, and the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, made an allusion to that in terms of the size of military units. The noble Lord's point about putting nationalities together argues for smaller centres rather than larger ones in order to confer the maximum flexibility.
My main point is that, if the Minister is minded to resist the amendment, he owes it to the Committee to produce quantitative justification, not just in terms of economics but in terms of social return, for the figures that are the Government's preferred numbers.
Finally, as a rural resident, after a quarter of a century, like the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, as an inner-city MP, I wholly support the views of my noble friend Lady Carnegy about avoiding a scale in the centres which dominates local communities.
§ The Countess of Mar
I remind the Committee of my membership of the Immigration Appeal Tribunal. I support the noble Baroness's amendment wholeheartedly. I come from not very far from Throckmorton, in Worcestershire, and I know the locality very well. I am hugely concerned that there will simply not be the infrastructure there to support accommodation for 750 asylum seekers. We already know that the local residents are extremely upset about the idea. They were upset enough when the foot and mouth funeral pyres were put there. This seems to be another punishment for them.
That aside, a great number of studies have indicated that crowding people together under stressful conditions creates problems. From my own experience of working with asylum seekers, I can confirm that they are under a huge amount of stress. They are in a strange country. They do not know what will happen to them or what the procedures are. They have not been informed in advance of what they should do or what they should expect. Each nationality has different dietary needs, and that is true even within nationalities.
Putting people together in smaller groups rather than in larger numbers would work much better. It would probably be better if they were also accommodated on the edge of urban conurbations where they would find people of their own ethnic origins who have already settled in this country and who could be brought in to help and advise them and to show them the way. Putting them in the middle of Worcestershire, for example, where we have a very small ethnic population, would not work. As my noble friend has said, the hospital facilities in Worcestershire are already over-stretched. I know that from my own personal experience. I assume that that would be the case in other rural communities.
We must look at the whole package. If we are going to put people of different nationalities and different ethnic origins together, we must make sure that they will not strike sparks off each other and create greater problems than they may possibly have encountered in their own countries. I support the amendment.
§ Lord Greaves
Like other Members of the Committee, I congratulate the noble Baroness, 597 Lady Anelay of St Johns, on putting forward the amendment. It allows us to have an important and basic debate—the first of several on the nature of the proposed accommodation centres.
The various amendments that we shall discuss deal with issues of size, location and function. It is difficult to separate them neatly into those categories. It might have been better had they been grouped together so that we could discuss all these issues at once.
Size and location are closely linked. As I understand it, the reason why the proposed sites are in rural areas relates simply to their proposed size. Sites for accommodation centres of about 750 are much easier to find in the countryside—disused airfields, for example—than they are to find in the middle of Manchester or Leeds. That is a simple fact of life. So the two matters are closely and intimately related.
The noble Lord, Lord Corbett, made a cogent case in favour of the concept of reception or accommodation centres. There is indeed a very good case to be made out for such centres for some people who apply for asylum, for the reasons put forward by the noble Lord; namely, that they offer an opportunity to provide the kind of services and support to asylum seekers which are all too often lacking in the present system of dispersal into the community. Whether it is possible to provide those services on a dispersed basis is a matter of argument. I believe that it would be possible if it were done better. Nevertheless, the basic argument for accommodation centres must be that it will be possible to concentrate services, resources and support for people who are often under great stress and do not know what is going to happen to them. They have reached a traumatic stage in their lives which many of us would find it difficult to understand.
My noble friend Lord Russell talked about a sense of community. I shall focus on the ethos of the centre, how it works, how the people there relate to the centre and how they live there. The noble Lord, Lord Corbett, is wrong. He suggested that we had no evidence and no reason to choose between 200 and 750, or any other figures. That is not a sustainable argument. There is a great deal of research about the nature and management of institutions of different sizes and of all kinds. Apart from that, we all know from experience that institutions of around 200 people are different in kind from institutions of 700 people, which in turn are different in kind from institutions of 5,000 or 10,000 people. That is a fact of life. We know what the size of different institutions means and we can make competent and legitimate decisions about them on that basis. That does not mean that there should not be further research into the subject.
The noble Lord said that it was not a matter of size, but a matter of the way in which the centres were managed. That is true up to a point. But we are looking for institutions that are humane, that treat people decently, that are pleasant places to live in and that provide the supportive environment that such people need. It is easier to manage an institution of 200 people than an institution of 750. It may be possible to manage an institution of 750 or even 5,000 in such a 598 humane and practically sensible way, but it is more difficult. Better managers and better systems are needed. Many of us are not confident that the Home Office and the people it employs are always as competent and humane in managing things as we would all like. I am not saying that in some cases they do not.
As a member of Sub-Committee F, I have recently had the privilege, along with other noble Lords, of visiting two contrasting institutions. The Red Cross centre at Sangatte, near Calais is an open institution where people can walk in and out. It is a refuge, not a detention centre. The centre at Harmondsworth is a detention centre that holds people pending their removal from this country. If I were to spend a week in either, I would prefer to spend it in Harmondsworth, for all the fences, barbed wire and goodness knows what other security around it, than at Sangatte, which is a dreadful place. To some extent that supports the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, in his view about management.
There is no doubt that institutions differ. Institutions such as detention centres, which on the face of it are undesirable places in the sense that in an ideal world we would not have them, can be run humanely if the resources and the right management are put in. Our view was that a good job was being done at Harmondsworth in very difficult circumstances. Nevertheless, we are not legislating for the best; we are legislating for ordinary people in the real world and for what would be most sensible.
The Minister says that these are trials. We know the likely sites of three of the accommodation centres. We understand that the Government are still looking for a fourth. They will all house around 750 people. If these are genuine trials, why are we trialling four examples of one model instead of four different models? That is fundamental to the case against what the Government are doing. If they were planning one type of trial in an urban locality, a different sort of unit in a rural locality, one big unit and perhaps something else, many of us would still be unhappy about some of the proposals to be trialled but at least we would accept that there was some sense in trialling a range of options.
The Minister says that it is open to the Government to have smaller units once the first four are under way. It is the first time I have heard that from the Government. Perhaps the Minister is prepared to explain what he means and tell us what progress is being made with the idea of trialling a centre of 200 in an urban area.
It is an interesting question why we are having accommodation centres for some asylum seekers and a system of dispersal for the other 90 per cent, or whatever it will be, in the next few years—people who will be in the community, supported by NASS in the present way. Some of the ideas being explored by Nick Hardwick should be followed up. In an urban area that already has a community of asylum seekers, an accommodation centre could also act as a centre for services for asylum seekers living out in the 599 community. That is the core and cluster model that various social services and health authorities use for mental health patients. Some people live in the centre because it is more appropriate to them while others living out in the community can use the centre to access legal advice, adjudication and other services specifically designed for the needs of asylum seekers, such as health services, which are difficult for them outside. Has anyone here tried to find a dentist recently? Have you tried to find an NHS dentist recently? Have you tried to find an NHS dentist if you are an asylum seeker recently? It is not easy.
I hope that the Government will take seriously the idea of providing services for asylum seekers generally within a centre in which some of them might live, on the core and cluster basis. If the Government are genuine about trialling different options, they might like to consider that.
My final point is not directly related to size, except in the sense that bigger institutions may cause a problem in the community. Some accommodation centres will cause great difficulty locally simply because they are, in the best sense of the word, alien institutions in the area. I do not use the word "alien" in any pejorative sense. A demand will arise to stop people from the centre going into local pubs, wandering across local fields or hanging around in villages. The same might happen in urban areas if the centre is too big. There will be demands for stricter curfews than are proposed, not just night-time curfews. There will be demands for people to be kept inside the centre—where they belong, as some will see it—and not allowed to wander around the countryside in a way that local people worry about, even without making a nuisance of themselves.
As with people dispersed in the community, there will also be a tendency for people living in asylum seeker accommodation centres to find a way of disappearing towards the end of their presence there if they believe that their application is likely to be turned down in order to avoid being picked up the morning after their final appeal is refused. It is clear that some people will do that, because that is what some people do at the moment. They move out of their NASS accommodation at the appropriate time so that they cannot be found when the removal squads employed by the Home Office turn up to find them. Subsequently they live in the community as illegal immigrants, with the unknown number—perhaps hundreds of thousands—of other illegal immigrants. That will happen, and it will increase the pressure for greater security.
What guarantee does the Bill give that the accommodation centres will not be turned effectively into detention centres that do not allow people to leave? Where is that guarantee? The Government can say that that is not their intention, but where in the legislation is a guarantee that accommodation centres will not eventually or overnight become detention centres?
§ The Lord Bishop of Oxford
I am sorry to inject a slightly discordant note into the happy unanimity that 600 200, 250 or 220 is automatically better than 750. When we started this debate I had great sympathy for the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. Subsequently, I have listened to the speeches with increasing scepticism. When I try to measure my own experience of schools, universities and military establishments, it seems to me by no means a foregone conclusion that 200 or 250 is better than the sort of size proposed by the Government.
All the arguments about people wandering round fields or filling up the pubs could equally be used against a barracks or against students at universities and schools. There are very good schools, such as Eton, that have well over 1,000 pupils. There are also good universities with large numbers of students. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, and I both belong to a college which I believe now has 14,000 or 15,000 students. I am worried about this because I think that size could be a distraction from rather more crucial issues—such as appropriate resources for these accommodation centres, if we are to have them, and good management. The factors that make a good comprehensive school good are appropriate resources and good management I still have an open mind on the issue, and I shall listen with interest to the Minister's reply.
§ Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws
In some ways I sympathise with the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. Some large institutions are incredibly effective. As we know, however, the bigger the institution—and let us speak about prisons for a start—the more difficult it is to cater sensitively and responsively to those accommodated there. That is true also of universities and schools. This is about the extent to which one is able to respond to the numbers; the greater the number, the more difficult it is to respond appropriately.
I raise the issue—as I did at Second Reading— because, like others, I am concerned about the position of women and children. I am worried about safeguarding women from domestic violence and from random sexual and non-sexual violence within accommodation centres. I also have concerns about the protection of children.
Recently, at the Government's instigation, the Home Office began consultation with lawyers and women's groups on gender guidelines for initial decision making. We are very pleased that this is now taking place. The purpose of the consultation is to facilitate separate claims from women. We are worried that accommodation centres will throw up barriers to that process. How will a separate claim be encouraged or facilitated without rendering the woman a target for male relatives who may object to her claim, particularly if it based on domestic or sexual violence? How will confidentiality be maintained for women reporting sexual abuse in their country of origin but fearing rejection by male relatives, partners or a community that may be rather unwilling for that to be publicly expressed?
601 We raise the issue because it would be much easier to deal sensitively with these problems if the facilities had fewer people. As we know, prisons with fewer inmates are better. Big schools can work, but they work better with smaller classes. We need to resource the facilities and enable them to work in a sensitive way. Institutions, unless they are resource rich, usually work better with smaller numbers. Unless they are resource rich, large universities, particularly the new ones, find it more difficult to function well with huge numbers of students. My question for the Minister is just how resource rich will the accommodation centres be? We suspect that they will not be rich at all.
Will there be separate family-only units? I see the Minister nodding, and I am reassured. However, I think that we all want reassurance on that point. Will there be the opportunity for self-catering? That may not seem a terribly important point, but the facility to cook for one's family and make one's own family arrangements is very important to people from some other countries. The opportunity to access one's own food supply also can be very important in facilitating family security.
Will there be monitoring of the mental and physical health consequences of living in the centres? How will we address the protection issues affecting women and children? How will we ensure that they are able to access the right type of healthcare and legal advice? I simply want the Minister's assurance that we can address these issues when the numbers are as great as 700. We have usually discovered that, in such institutions, the smaller the number, the more effective it is.
§ Earl Russell
I should like, if I may, to respond very briefly to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford about the college to which we both belong. It is constructed, if I may say so, on a principle somewhat akin to that of the European Union. That is a real unit, and I speak as a good European. However, at the different sites of our college, there is very much more a principle of what has been described as "cluster". Not one of these sites is anything like the size that the right reverend Prelate quoted. At its collective size, it is all right. However, I think it works very much better because it is divided into those smaller units.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Filkin
I genuinely thank all who have contributed to this important debate, which—as I think the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, signaled—is the first of an interconnected set of debates. I hope that the Committee will bear with me if I spend a few minutes setting out the broader context before replying in detail to the many points that have been raised.
We spoke at Second Reading about the reality of the challenge facing Britain, both government and society, in this regard. The Committee does not need reminding that we have seen a threefold increase in the number of asylum claimants since 1996, producing an enormous challenge at a fairly obvious level. Yet, at 602 the end of the processes of initial assessment and/or legal claims, about 10 per cent are accepted and found to be refugees under the 1951 convention. A further 15 or 16 per cent are granted exceptional leave to remain in Britain because it is not realistic to return them to their countries. These are the figures for 2001. In 2001, 74 per cent were found not to have a valid claim for refuge under the 1951 convention.
§ Earl Russell
I presume that the Minister is quoting only figures for initial decision. What are the figures when the appeal results are taken into consideration?
§ Lord Filkin
No; I am quoting the figures for cases brought to a conclusion in 2001. It is the totality.
§ Lord Avebury
Surely the Minister cannot be quoting figures for 2001. Most of the appeals lodged in 2001 would not have been heard by the end of the calendar year; they would still be pending.
§ Lord Filkin
I was talking about cases brought to a conclusion in 2001. By saying this initially, I am signalling that, as we acknowledged at Second Reading, we have to find a better way of discovering as quickly as we can those with a genuine case for refuge in this society. All Committee Members want to give genuine refuge. At the same time, however, we want to identify those who, for understandable reasons, are essentially economic migrants. That is the challenge that we face and the context within which the discussion about accommodation centres is relevant.
Why should we have accommodation centres? The Government propose to set up trials of accommodation centres to determine whether they constitute a better way to provide support for people who have lodged an asylum claim and who state that they are destitute. They are saying that they wish to be supported by the state while their asylum claim is considered. As soon as their asylum claim is accepted, they should be integrated into society. They have no further place in accommodation centres. The question that society faces concerns what is the best way to provide the support that those people undoubtedly need while at the same time seeking to accelerate the process of considering asylum claims in a way that is fair and meets people's legal rights. That is the central challenge that accommodation centres seek to address. We seek to determine whether they could be a better way to address the problem than the system we have had hitherto; namely, dispersal. We seek to determine whether they will provide speedier consideration of claims, better contact between relevant persons, less of a burden on pressed local services and whether they will work better than the system of dispersal.
At this stage no one on the Government Benches is being absolutely dogmatic and saying that it is axiomatic that all of those benefits must self-evidently be produced. We are saying that we want to provide the centres and then to evaluate how they work to see whether they fulfil our hopes and intentions. We want to assess whether accommodation centres provide a 603 more supportive environment for asylum seekers. That will be one of the criteria that we shall consider in the evaluation.
As regards the four centres with a capacity of 750 places in each, producing approximately 3,000 places for which we have funding in the trial period, we have indicated—the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, was right to mention this—that we shall consider whether one of the sites could be smaller during the trial phase. The Refugee Council has indicated that it wishes to hold discussions on that matter. The Home Secretary has said that he would be pleased for officials to hold such discussions. I believe that they will start next week. If they result in a positive outcome which is acceptable to the Government, we shall not for one second wish to be doctrinal or dogmatic in that regard and shall wish to move forward in terms of considering whether yet a further variant may be possible.
However, setting on the face of the Bill a limit on the numbers who could reside in accommodation centres, as has been suggested, would lock in the pilots and any development of centres in the future. We consider that that would be completely wrong in principle. If that proposal were accepted and we discovered that a variety of sizes of centre worked better in different circumstances, the Bill would state that any centre with more than 200 places would be out of the question. However, I am certain that the amendment is a probing one rather than wishing to place a precise provision on the face of the Bill.
There is a need to think seriously about alternative ways of providing support which may differ slightly, or perhaps significantly, from the dispersal arrangements. We must remember that many of the people who make claims for asylum, whether or not they are eventually found to have a valid claim under the 1951 convention, will frequently have travelled long distances, be in a state of some turmoil and will have great hopes of establishing themselves in Britain. However, they will not necessarily feel comfortable or secure. Many of them will have arrived in the UK without shelter or security or the means to feed themselves or their families. They may also feel afraid. They may be traumatised and some will have health needs. They look to the Government to deal with their claim for asylum fairly and efficiently and to provide them with the support that they have asked for. If they do not want support, their asylum claim can still be considered but they do not need to follow either the dispersal route or that of accommodation centres. Many of these people will have considerable needs. Because we are a civilised society we have to consider how best we can meet those needs while assessing claims efficiently and considering the impact on local services.
I turn to the central issue. There is no mysticism as regards the figure of 750; one would be foolish to claim that there was. However, there clearly is an issue as regards the size of a centre and the scale of facilities that can be provided approximate to it and within it. That is the nub of the issue. While people are waiting to have their claim for asylum determined, the Government believe that they should be provided with 604 as much support as possible at the site where they are living. We are not talking simply of providing accommodation but rather of an integrated package of support and services which we believe are in their interests and in the interests of efficient processing. For example, asylum seekers will have self-catering facilities. There is good evidence that self-catering facilities preserve traditional family structures and traditional family roles and allow people to choose the cuisine and form of cooking that they prefer. An on-site shop will be provided with prices set at normal supermarket rates. However, clearly, people will be free to shop elsewhere if they prefer. Family accommodation will be in self-contained units with sleeping, residential and cooking facilities.
We shall discuss children's education later but it is relevant to mention it now. It will mirror that provided in schools and will be based on the national curriculum. However, it will be tailored to the needs of the children in the centres. Some differences in their education as opposed to that of children who are not seeking asylum will be evident given the former's particular needs both in terms of potential trauma and the difficulties of learning a new language. On-site provision will allow more targeted support to be given. It will include education for under-15s and some provision for 16 to 18 year-olds.
§ Lord Judd
I have listened with great interest to my noble friend's comments and appreciate his genuine commitment to the well-being of the people who will live in the centres. However, does he not accept that in the realm of education there is one specific issue that needs to be addressed? If we accept that a significant number of the children will ultimately remain in this country, is it not the case that participation in nursery education in the general community is one of the best investments imaginable in terms of successful subsequent integration? Therefore, would it not be unfortunate for children who will remain in this country to be given separate education at the nursery stage which might make subsequent integration more difficult rather than easier?
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Uddin
I refer to self-catering facilities and to the availability of food. Do the Government have a sum in mind per child or per adult per day to buy food as opposed to eating food that may be available at the accommodation centre?
§ Lord Filkin
I shall seek to respond to those points before I complete my remarks.
I return to my remarks on our proposals in terms of the facilities at accommodation centres. We have concluded that we should provide healthcare at least at the primary level within accommodation centres; that is, facilities similar to those at a GP's surgery. Dental care will also be provided. However, we shall not dogmatically draw the line at primary care. Given the circumstances of many of the people in accommodation centres there may be a case for 605 providing some secondary mental healthcare and support facilities. If we find that that is the case, we will provide it because it seems to us right to do so.
There will also be purposeful activity. In centres, children will be at school but we also think that adult education should be provided—or at least offered, because one cannot compel people to take it up. One would expect English language, IT, some other skills training, and, possibly, basic literacy and numeracy, to be provided. There will also be sporting facilities on site, including football pitches and other facilities, the details of which are yet to be finalised.
Volunteering will be encouraged by accommodation centre residents within their own community and, I hope, in the wider community within which they sit; it is right and proper that people are given those opportunities if possible.
There will be facilities for religious observation. There will be Muslim prayer facilities, a Christian chapel, a multi-faith room and a member of staff who is designated with a particular responsibility for religious observation.
Transportation facilities will be available when people need to move to particular functions. However, in view of what I said about adjudication, one hopes that many of the transportation needs will be met within the centre itself because people will be able to walk to the facilities.
Interpretation facilities will be provided in centres. Again, the issue of size is relevant: it will be simpler to provide a range of good interpretation facilities in a decently sized centre rather than in a smaller centre. There will be access to legal advice, although we will discuss that later.
We mentioned in relation to an earlier amendment that there would be adjudicators and appeal hearing rooms. Most of the case-work would be done on site. We think that that is right. The tone of our discussion on that amendment suggested that the Committee also thought that that was right. That is for the very good reasons that were advanced by Opposition Members at Second Reading and at earlier stages of the Bill's scrutiny. As well as caseworkers, people will be able to have briefing, advice and information that is more targeted to their needs.
The challenge, therefore, is clear. If we think, as we do, that those facilities are right and proper and could potentially provide better support, better services and more rapid processing than we have previously been able to achieve, they could provide better services, support and accommodation than exists anywhere else in Europe. We therefore think that it is right to trial such centres with those services and to establish whether or not our hopes prove to be true. That is why, as Members of the Committee may be able to sense, I am resistant to putting a figure such as 200 in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, implied that economic or social reasons lay behind the Government's consideration of the figure of around 750. I am not 606 being arithmetic in referring to that figure; one is talking about a figure that is substantially larger than 200.
It is pretty obvious, in terms of the economics involved, that one could not provide that range of facilities in a centre of about 200 people. It is not remotely conceivable that one could do so. One would have to provide such services, if one wanted them, from within the local community and from local services. That is what we have, to some extent, already tried through the dispersal arrangements. In some places in Britain, there are already 200 asylum claimants, and many more are living in the sort of concentrations that we are discussing in relation to the four pilots. They get their support services from the local community. Those arrangements are not disastrous, but they are not without their problems either. We therefore have a benchmark for comparison. That is what is going on in Glasgow, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds and many other major urban centres. The challenge is whether we can do better than that in terms of support and the speed of processing. That is why we are strongly committed to making the pilot work and to evaluating it objectively to establish whether it does work.
It would help if at some stage we gave Members of the Committee an indication of the sort of accommodation centres that we are considering. Perhaps we should do so informally, because there is no formal process for doing so. I should be happy to share plans with any Member of the Committee who is interested. I came to this debate thinking that an accommodation centre meant a big building. Clearly, one is talking about not even a large Oxford or Cambridge college but a range of buildings that form, in effect, a village complex. Some of those buildings would be family units and others would be for single men—there would be physical separation—and administration centres, let alone the adjudication centres that we have already discussed. If it would be of interest, I will share with Members of the Committee details that give a better feel of what those places might look like, although one can never get a total picture from architects' plans.
The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked about Home Office research. The short answer is that there was an attempt by Home Office officials to get alongside the experience regarding accommodation centres in other European countries but it was more of a quick fact-finding exercise than research. We were trying to see what they had done in terms of evaluation. Very little had been done, which was a pity. Having said that, the exercise was not without its uses and we learnt something. We found that there were many different sizes of such centres and many different functions were covered by the term "accommodation centre". However, there was nothing that afforded us a scientific evaluation. I have already discussed the central issue: whether one is able to provide better support by having more support services on site rather than leaving that to the happenstance of what can or cannot be provided by the community.
607 I have mentioned that we are already considering the Refugee Council proposal. I am reminded that we are due to meet next week on Monday the 15th. I have signalled that we are pleased to look positively at those proposals to establish whether they can be made to work. The individual houses—we have already discussed them in terms of what will take place in accommodation centres—have the potential to create a sense of a smaller community within the larger community of the accommodation centre.
The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, rightly reminded us that all of these proposals are subject to planning permission; I agree with her. Planning permission has to be obtained before any such facilities can be built.
The noble Lord, Lord Chan, discussed healthcare screening. In a sense, he is right. There could well be some specialist health needs. That is why we believe that effectively having a GP premises on site, which would allow specialisms to develop—it would be supported, no doubt, by relevant local hospitals—involves a better healthcare service than that under which people are scattered across the community. However, that is to he proven through evaluation rather than assertion.
The key point is to emphasise the range of services that will be provided. 1 was deeply grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford for injecting a questioning tone. This is not simply a question of size; it is also a question of resources and management and of how the whole constellation of facilities can be brought together to provide better support while at the same time producing more rapid but fair processing of claims for asylum.
We have made it clear that we intend to provide at least trial accommodation centres in non-urban areas; we have discussed that. A question-mark remains about the Refugee Council arrangement. As we shall discuss later, that is partly because 45,000 people are already accommodated in urban areas through NASS support. We are concerned in this regard with accommodating 3,000 people in the rest of Britain in rural areas. We want to establish whether a different model from that which we have already undertaken works better.
We want viable communities to develop within the centres and we very much want viable communities to develop between the centres and the surrounding area. I understand why and respect the fact that people are currently upset about this change to their life through the planning applications. That is normal; it is human nature.
But I also hope—I do not hope; I am confident—that if planning permission were granted for some or all of the centres, and if they were built and managed well, the decency and support that we have seen offered by people in many urban areas to asylum claimants and refugees in their midst would be offered to those people by local communities in rural areas. I am confident that that is what we shall see when people have a chance to experience what we are trying 608 to achieve. Of course, none of that prejudges whether planning permission will be granted for the centres. That is a separate matter.
There are a number of other points which I should seek to answer. My noble friend Lady Kennedy raised the question of women being at risk from violence. She is right. The issue of both relative violence and wider sexual violence is important. I believe it is an open question as to whether women who are exposed to such threats will be more or less at risk in an accommodation centre. My own view is that it is more likely that they would be protected if they had other people around them than if they were scattered around dispersed units and lost in the local community. But that is to be proven, and my noble friend is right to challenge the Government to demonstrate that women will be properly supported, cared for and protected from abuse in that way.
My noble friend Lord Judd raised the issue of nursery education. He is absolutely right. Good nursery education is extremely important. The point is that, as a result of faster processing in accommodation centres, as soon as people are granted refugee status or exceptional leave to remain, they will move out into the community. So they should, and it is the responsibility of central and local government to support them in their integration. Therefore, I believe that children will move into nursery education more rapidly than would otherwise be the case.
The other point that I should mark is that the process of moving to an accommodation centre from an induction centre and, eventually, into settlement in the community could be quicker—in process terms rather than in time—than under the current arrangement. If a person is to be dispersed, under the current process he will go initially to an induction centre. He will then often be placed in emergency accommodation while dispersed accommodation is found. Then, if he is accepted as a refugee, he will find a permanent home. Therefore, three moves are involved after time has been spent in an induction centre. That is not ideal or desirable. The intention is that a person should move straight from an induction centre to an accommodation centre; he should have his claim determined rapidly; and, if it is successful, within two months or less he should be in the community and resettled in a permanent home and, it is hoped, welcomed by the wider society.
For the reasons that I have given, we believe that this trial should proceed and that it should not be constrained on the face of the Bill. Nevertheless, we have a responsibility to evaluate it openly and fairly in the way that we have been challenged to do by this debate.
§ Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall
In relation to the services and, in particular, the skills that will he required to manage the centres, perhaps I may ask the Minister whether the Government feel confident that the level of skill required for the management, 609 operation and provision of the services is available and whether people can be recruited successfully to run the centres in the way that he envisages them running.
§ Lord Filkin
The gung-ho answer would be: of course. But the sensible answer is: we must test that through a procurement process. With an open mind as to how they might be supplied, we must test whether, through a proper process of procurement, adequate skills are available. However, I do not start from a position of questioning why that should not be possible. In such a centre one would need to harness a wide range of different skills from a wide range of disciplines, such as education, healthcare, housing management and so on. But that is the challenge that we must meet, and we see no reason in principle why it should not be met.
§ Baroness Uddin
Before my noble friend sits down, will he kindly ensure that, if at present he is unable to respond to the question that I asked, he will write to me with the answer?
§ Lord Filkin
I have been reminded of having overlooked my noble friend's question. We have yet to determine the precise amount of cash support that will be made available to families in accommodation centres. However, it will be substantially more than pocket money and in the region of full NASS subsistence support. We need to work through exactly what the allowance will be, taking account of what is provided at nil cost in accommodation centres and what must be purchased by families in order to cater and care for their own needs, particularly their feeding and cooking needs.
§ Lord Dholakia
I am grateful to the Minister. Perhaps I may put a question to him which I believe he failed to answer in his response. It was a question posed by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, about the impact on community relations in rural areas, in particular, of the influx of a large number of people who are not normally resident there. Has any research been undertaken about the effect that such an influx would have? If no research exists, perhaps I may refer the Minister to a report and study undertaken by the Commission for Racial Equality about such an impact on the West Country. The title of the report demonstrates precisely the conclusion that the commission reached. It is, Send Them Back to Birmingham.
§ Lord Filkin
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for reminding me, and I regret that I did not respond immediately to the noble Countess, Lady Mar. I shall certainly take note of that book and draw it to the attention of officials in the department to see whether it assists us in our thinking.
Apart from what we learn from the CRE report, the issue of the impact on community relations is, in a sense, difficult to grip. But we should not pretend that there has not already been an impact on community 610 relations over the past 10 years. By that I mean that at least 750 people have been moved into existing communities in Britain in geographical areas similar to those which we are discussing. Large concentrations of NASS accommodation and support have been provided in some of our major cities in ways that have often challenged local communities, and, in many cases, those communities have risen to the challenge.
It is not possible to prove the case one way or the other. When decisions are finally taken after whatever fair process, a commitment is required from all parties to make the situation work. I believe that that commitment will involve government, local authorities, the police force, health authorities, social services, civic society and the Churches. Collectively people need to say, "This is a challenge faced by all society. We must seek to make these things work rather than try to prove that they cannot work". I am confident that that is how civic society will respond.
§ Lord Greaves
I asked a question, which I intended should be serious, on a matter which I believe the Government must face. First, in the future what will stop the centres being turned into detention centres due to local political pressure?
Secondly, the Minister referred to some statistics for, I believe, 2001 concerning the number of people who, in different ways, were allowed to stay in this country. Those statistics differ considerably from those put forward by expert organisations in the field. I believe that this is an opportunity to get to the bottom of those statistics, which, at the least, are opaque and somewhat obscure.
For example, I have here a booklet produced a couple of weeks ago called Refugee Week. The booklet, which states on the back that it is partly funded by the Home Office, says that the Refugee Council estimates that at least 51 per cent of asylum seekers were successful in 2001. I believe that "successful" is defined as being allowed to stay at some stage in the process. A briefing from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants states:The figure for 2001 shows that 26 per cent were granted exceptional leave or refugee status. Once allowed appeals are taken into account, the figure is expected to show around 50 per cent of applicants are eventually granted protective status".A briefing from the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux, which claims to obtain its information from the House of Commons Hansard of 9th May 2002 and Home Office news release 127/2002 of 14th May, states:The Home Office does not issue any statistics on the overall success rate of asylum claims, i.e. taking account of successful appeals and other legal challenges".That is the nub of the problem. No one knows the final figures. Statistics are issued for initial decisions and various stages of appeals, but not comprehensive statistics. Those involved with asylum seekers know 611 that some people are mysteriously granted leave to remain between stages. Such people do not appear to be counted in any of the statistics. The briefing continues:When the (anecdotally common) concession of appeals by the Home Office … and successful applications for judicial review in the courts are taken into account, the overall success rate will eventually be in excess of 50 per cent".The figures provided by expert organisations in the field are considerably greater than those provided by the Government. It seems to me that the Government now have an opportunity, while the Bill passes through this place, to state the full figures which they believe are the facts. Those figures can then be challenged by such organisations and anyone else so that we can get to the bottom of the issue once and for all.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Filkin
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for his intervention. He first asked what guarantee there is in the Bill that accommodation centres will not be detention centres. We have no intention of operating them as such. We have ensured under Clause 27 that conditions are reasonable and do not amount to de facto detention. Accommodation centres are clearly distinct from immigration removal centres, which are regulated under Part VIII of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. The JCHR clearly also draws the attention of the Government to the obligation under the ECHR that no de facto detention is possible through accommodation centres. We are fully aware of that and are clearly committed to accommodation centres not becoming detention centres by a process of allusion or transition.
As regards statistics, perhaps the most straightforward way to deal with the point is for me to make a statement on our next day in Committee and/or to provide a submission to the Library, which will be accessible to all Members. I do not pretend that that will answer every question about asylum volumes. However, we shall try to give a fair picture in a short and succinct form of some of the key data.
§ Earl Russell
1 warmly thank the Minister for the care, thoughtfulness and concern he gave to the questions raised. It was a truly impressive performance. I was pleased to hear his comments on family units and on self-catering. However, the significance of the concession on self-catering, which is potentially considerable, would be somewhat weakened by the difficulty of buying tropical produce in rural Worcestershire. That raises the question of where the centres should be located.
Like my noble friend Lord Greaves, I was somewhat distressed by the appearance, which was most clear in the exchange between the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, of the Minister assuming that the vast majority of asylum seekers do not have genuine claims and will not be successful. The quotation from the Home Office news release, referred to by my noble friend Lord Greaves, which states that the Home Office keeps no figures taking account of appeal results, is fairly conclusive.
612 I am grateful to the Minister for his undertaking to give further information. In order that he should understand where we on this side of the Committee are coming from as regards the proportion of refugees who are genuine—I do not intend to raise that question now but it must be debated before the Bill is passed—perhaps I may ask him to read before we return to the issue two publications by Alastair McKenzie of Asylum Aid, entitled, No Reason at All, and Still no Reason at All. The quotation is taken from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bridge of Harwich, who stated that reasons which are unintelligible amount to no reason at all. When the Minister has read those two publications he may understand a little better why we on these Benches believe that it is far from clear that the majority of asylum seekers do not have a genuine claim. We approach the whole question with that assumption.
The most discouraging aspect of the debate on accommodation centres—indeed, removal centres as they are described at some point—is the assumption that they are for people who will not remain here. That deeply saddens us.
§ Baroness Anelay of St Johns
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this important debate which sets the scene for our discussions on what asylum seekers can expect to be their lives, first in the centres which the Government are trialling but certainly, if those trials are successful, in accommodation centres which will be applied more generally in years to come. It is right that noble Lords pay such care and attention to the details of the debate.
I shall turn last but not least to the two noble Lords who disagreed with me: the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, and the Minister. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford for keeping an open mind on this matter. I appreciate the way in which he approached the debate and his concern that in talking about numbers we should not be distracted from the important questions of resources and management. Indeed, those two issues have underpinned the whole way in which I intended to approach the debate.
I note that, like the Refugee Council, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, considers my amendment second best. I appreciate that others would prefer to see no accommodation centres. However, we on these Benches have made clear that as a matter of principle and practice we believe that they could be a way forward if the trials prove successful.
I shall not refer in detail to the contributions of each and every noble Lord. That has been covered well by the Minister. Indeed, some points made were so important in detail that it would be unwise For me to try to summarise them briefly at this stage. However, some vital points were made as regards the needs of those who will be in the centres. I took careful note of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Chan. In a matter as important as TB screening, one has to take account of health needs which may not be commonly seen by local GPs or hospitals. Sensitive expertise is needed in dealing with health screening. I listened carefully to the comments made by the noble 613 Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, because of her wide experience both within and outwith this Chamber in learning about the needs of families, mothers and children, who could well be at risk in such environments.
The Minister tried to respond well to the attacks made on government policy. However, I refer him to the statement made by my noble friend Lord Brooke, who encapsulated the whole problem. He challenged the Government to come up with quantitative evidence with regard to the economic and social advantages of the model the Government are determined to have in this trial. Despite all the helpful information given by the Government, they have shown that they do not have that quantitative evidence to go ahead with the experiment at a size of 750. I have been reminded by the Refugee Council in response to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, that its concern about the size of centres is based on experience of running reception centres for asylum seekers in recent years. Such experience shows that smaller, community-based centres are much more likely to be successful. I have to reflect upon the experience of those who have already done, as opposed to those of us in politics who are trying to create for the future.
The whole point of a trial is that we must get it right. We are talking of the future of human beings—not of trying to tick a box stating that we are successful in a management scheme—and of people who have been harassed from shore to shore, who come here with hope for a future. We must get the plans right for them and right for this country. They deserve nothing less.
I listened carefully to what the Minister said. This matter is too important for me to plough ahead and test the opinion of the Chamber tonight. I am grateful to the Minister for telling us that next week he is to meet with the Refugee Council with the thought of looking at different models. My disappointment is that I do not want to see those models waiting until 2003–04. I want to see them in position now alongside these larger centres.
So, yes, the Minister has given us much food for thought, but I am greedy on behalf of people whom we want to see in this country. Although I shall in a moment beg leave to withdraw the amendment, I am sure that on another occasion on Report I shall bring the matter back in order to take it further.
I ought at this stage to say to Members of the Committee that the amendment ranged more widely than I had anticipated or intended. Noble Lords have very properly in the course of the debate covered the issues that I intended to raise by my next amendment. Amendment No. 99 deals with the matter of facilities which might be provided. Therefore, I think that it would be proper for me not to move that amendment when it is called so that we can continue on to Amendment No. 100. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 99 not moved.]614
§ Baroness Anelay of St Johns
moved Amendment No. 100:Page 9, line 8, at end insert—() Prior to providing an accommodation centre, the Secretary of State shall consult with the relevant local authorities, health authorities and police authorities.The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 100 is slightly different. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, earlier took me to task and asked why we had not grouped these amendments together. There was a method in my—not quite, I hope—madness. On this occasion I am looking at the planning process. The noble Countess, Lady Mar, raised a nugget of this in our last debate.
Amendment No. 100 is a probing amendment. It asks the Minister to clarify the rules that will govern the siting of the new accommodation centres, in particular, the guidelines for the construction of new centres in rural areas where public services are already overstretched.
I note that in a Written Answer in another place the Minister, Beverley Hughes, stated:We expect the first trial accommodation to open during 2003".—[Official Report, Commons, 8/7/02; col. WA 736.]Will the passage of the Planning Reform Bill, which is widely expected in your Lordships' House next Session, have any impact upon the rules to be followed? One assumes that the Government must have a good idea of the impact of that Bill because it has become clear from reports in the press and debates in the Chamber that the Government intend to leap straight from the Green Paper—recently debated in this Chamber—into legislation.
Therefore, this is a matter where policy, one assumes, is fairly well advanced. It is not just a matter of concern as to which sites will be chosen but what kind of buildings will be erected on the site. The Minister has adduced some evidence as to wanting some flexibility about how those sites might be planned. I welcome his offer of giving noble Lords some sight of the Government's ideas on the matter.
At the moment the Government propose to use Crown land. One supposes that it is easy for them to get at. Can the Minister explain the ramifications of the processes of planning circular 18/84 which allows both fast and slower track processes for the local authority? The Minister in another place stated:We are considering using the slower track rather than fast. We want as much support and engagement for the matter as we can muster among local authorities and those involved in areas where accommodation centres are being sought".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee E, 7/5/02; col. 77.]That reassurance is undermined by the Government's publicly stated intent to appeal if their first applications for centres are turned down. That makes it look as though they are determined to go ahead with the sites already identified, whatever local views may be.
I have been invited to visit one of the potential sites in Bicester this summer. My honourable friend Mr Baldry has arranged the visit so that I can meet some of the local people and the organisations to learn their views.
615 Last week I received a letter from the Bicester Action Group. It acts on behalf of the people of Bicester and the surrounding villages, including Piddington, Arncott, Ambroseden and Blackthorn, which are the four villages most affected. Is the Minister aware that it expresses its dismay at the Government's proposals for an accommodation centre at the MoD site in Bicester? It says that it is difficult to see how a new mini-township of 750 people plus staff could possibly be unobtrusive. It points out that the population of the two closest villages— Piddington and Arncott—is less than the total which the accommodation centre is likely to accommodate.
Those villages have only three shops and two public houses between them. Piddington does not have a shop or a Post Office and only one bus to Oxford each day. Bicester does not have the facilities for its local inhabitants. It has no cinema or recreational opportunities. It cannot offer proper facilities for the needs of a large number of residents in the accommodation centre. The Bicester Action Group states that it is at a loss to understand why the Government have chosen to ignore the advice of the relevant refugee support groups, which are highly critical of these large centres in rural areas. So am I. I beg to move.
§ 6.15 p.m.
I support my noble friend on the amendment. This is the first time that I have spoken on the Bill. Therefore, perhaps I should disclose that many years ago while I was a Home Office Minister I was, for four-and-a-half years, responsible for immigration and asylum.
There were scarcely any asylum seekers then, but we had thousands of immigrants who were entitled to come here from the Commonwealth. Their numbers and the problems they created were so great—housing, accommodation, the education of their children and one thing and another—that we had to do something about the situation. So we persuaded Parliament to pass the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962. That reduced the problems; it did not solve them.
Now we have a similar problem on a similar scale. I feel sorry for the Government in having to deal with it. I think that we are right to give the Government all the support they need in dealing effectively with the problem.
Having used those general words I turn to Amendment No. 101, which has just been moved by my noble friend. I support it. But of course it overlaps with Amendment No. 126, which is grouped with it, and which is to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin.
§ Earl Russell
If the noble Lord will forgive me, we are on Amendment No. 100. Amendment No. 101 comes next.
I apologise to Members of the Committee. I thought that I heard that it was not going to be moved.
Having heard that, perhaps I may speak to Amendment No. 100, which I very much 616 wished to speak to. The preliminary remarks that I have made apply just as much, perhaps even more, to Amendment No. 100. Perhaps I may say how grateful I am to the noble Earl, Lord Russell.
Amendment No. 100 states that,the Secretary of State shall consult with the relevant local authorities.I hope that that will include local parish councils. They represent the residents of the area where these accommodation centres will exist. If they are not consulted there will be a feeling that local democracy is not working. That is an important factor to bear in mind. Therefore, that is all that I need say for the moment.
§ Earl Russell
I am no believer in gilding of lilies and I am mindful of the Committee's time, so I shall say only that we, on these Benches, support the amendment.
§ Lord Hylton
I also support the amendment. Consultation on the setting up of the accommodation centres must clearly be an important part of the whole process in order for them to work satisfactorily.
However, I would go beyond that. When we discussed Amendment No. 98, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, said that a successful application would mean that the person or family would immediately move out of the centre to somewhere else. I want the Government to consult on where that "somewhere else" will be. In the case of rural accommodation centres, it will almost certainly be an urban area, so the move may be over a considerable distance. That will require forethought. I hope that the Government will accept at least the spirit of the amendment.
§ Lord Chan
I, too, support the amendment. It is important that the relevant authorities are consulted. Perhaps I may cite the experience of Liverpool, as I live just south of the river there. We regularly see asylum seekers. There has not been proper consultation, especially about asylum seekers accommodated by private landlords. As a result, unnecessary trauma and rejection of asylum seekers by local people has been caused.
The other important issue is that of children and families. I am especially concerned for the welfare of children because of the harm that can be done to the psyche of a child if it is rejected and abused in public by people who mistake it as unwelcome. Whatever we do, we must remember that the welfare of children is paramount. That will happen only if the relevant authorities are consulted.
I presume that not only the authorities but the voluntary sector would be included in that consultation. In my experience with Vietnamese refugees, the most important source of goodwill was the voluntary sector—the Churches, Rotary Clubs, and other friends and neighbours. As a result, people were willing to have other people living next door to them in the community. That is an important way to ensure that people are not left in ghettos. Even though 617 they are being assessed, it is important in the present situation that they realise they can live at peace with those around them and that local people can treat them as friendly people to whom they can some day look up and with whom they can live.
§ Lord Avebury
I should like to pursue the question of the voluntary sector raised by the noble Lord, Lord Chan, and to highlight one aspect of it: the provision of religious facilities for people in accommodation centres. There is only one sentence in the documents about such provision. In reply to the previous debate, the Minister said that there would be a chapel, a Muslim prayer room and a space for multi-faith religious observance. I suggest that Minister consults about that with the leaders of the various faiths.
In the past, failure to consult in the case of private prisons led to disaster. I speak in particular of Dovegate and Rye Hill prisons where, because there was no consultation with the religious authorities, the space provided was grossly inadequate. It was nothing like as good as previously afforded to religious minorities. In the case of accommodation centres, it will be even more important to cater for such variability in the population. At one time there may be a large influx of people from a place such as Kosovo where people are primarily Muslim; at another, they may come from a country such as Sierra Leone, a mixture of Christian and Muslim; or from China, where a large proportion are Buddhist. Accommodation centres must attain a maximum degree of flexibility. I am not sure that that is reflected in the Government's thinking. The Minister kindly offered to display the architectural plans, which, I understood him to say, have already been finalised without any of the consultation for which we are asking.
I appeal to the Minister to reconsider and not only to consult the authorities mentioned in the amendment but to think carefully about how religious facilities are to be provided in those centres. We must ensure that they provide the maximum flexibility to cater for the population concerned.
§ The Countess of Mar
The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked that local authorities, health authorities and police authorities be consulted. The suppliers of public utilities such as water and drainage, telecommunications, electricity and public transport should also be consulted. To consider Throckmorton again, the lanes to it from the main thoroughfares are narrow. The roads would have to be altered. Unemployment in not rife in Worcestershire; we are well provided for with employment. Where will the staff of the centre come from? Where will they be accommodated? What sort of transport will be provided for them to reach the establishment. All those issues need to be considered.
The noble Baroness mentioned public libraries and cinemas. People need places of entertainment. People from Throckmorton, for example, would have to go to Pershore, Evesham or Worcester, all of which are 618 some distance from the village. How will those facilities be provided for them? They cannot be thrown together in a year, or even in 18 months, they must be planned for over a long period. Health services, in particular, must be planned for over a long period. Especially if we are considering a number of 750 rather than 200, I ask the Minister to reconsider the timescale.
§ Lord Carlisle of Bucklow
As I understand it, my noble friend's amendment applies to the establishment of the centres and requires consultation before the provision of the centre is begun. Can the Minister confirm that any application for such a centre will require normal planning permission? If so, will it not be necessary for him to consult the local authority in advance and will not all the matters that my noble friend mentioned and the many others mentioned during the debate be relevant to the planning inquiry that will follow that application?
§ Baroness Uddin
I, too, support the principle behind the amendment, especially in relation to the local authority, police authorities and those concerned with the welfare and protection of children. They must not just be consulted on planning permission. Whether people are contained in an accommodation centre or in a family unit, times will inevitably arise when services will be required from outside. Local authorities, health authorities and police authorities, alongside others, will need to ensure that protocols and procedures are in place to incorporate services for women and children. I also concur entirely with what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said about consulting religious and faith leaders. Given that it is a pilot scheme, it will stand us in good stead if we get it right.
My noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws spoke about services for, in particular, women and children caught up in domestic violence. It is important that police procedures be amended to include services for women. Can the Minister assure us that women who require women-only provision, such as women GPs or women-only leisure facilities, will also be considered in this context? Local authorities already make women-only provision, and health authorities make women-only provision for female patients and female customers or service users. It is important that such things are taken on board in the provision of services at accommodation centres.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
I have not had the opportunity to participate in our debate this afternoon until now. My noble friend the Minister wants the proposed accommodation centres to work. It is as simple as that. It follows from that that there will be proper consultation with everybody who is affected by the proposition.
With great respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, I do not think that she has defined adequately the people whom my noble friend the Minister and his colleagues will consult. There are many more people whom he will be inclined to consult 619 about the importance of the situation of the accommodation centres. If planning permission is required, everybody mentioned in the amendment will be entitled to be heard. That being the case, it is important that we should not divide on the issue tonight. My noble friend should have the opportunity to consider whom he will consult and whether it is necessary for this proposition—or something like it—to be included in the Bill. At present, I am far from satisfied that it is; I will have to be convinced about that.
It is accepted that the widest possible consultation will be undertaken. I have not heard anything that confutes that proposition.
§ Lord Judd
Does my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis agree that wide consultation is not just a matter of bringing in the relevant experts and authorities? There is the whole matter of community dynamics. If a centre is not to be a threat to a local community, there must be responsible and positive attitudes towards the centre in the community. The amount of time that the department puts into preparing the ground is central, in a positive sense, to the success of the operation.
My noble friend the Minister has continually emphasised the fact that he wants the centres to be models of humane policy. I believe him. However, if that is to he the case, there must be a positive social dynamic, and there must be full consultation. If he can assure us that that will be a firm part of government policy, the amendment will be unnecessary.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
I cannot remember an occasion on which I failed to agree with my noble friend Lord Judd. I share his view. However, the point that he made cannot be adequately recorded in the Bill.
§ Lord Greaves
At the risk of incurring the wrath of my noble friend Lord Russell, I shall make two or three additional points that have not yet been made. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, has just said some of the things that I was going to say but said them rather more eloquently than I would have done.
The Minister said that he had some plans that he would like to show us. Like other noble Lords, I would he glad to see them. If there is a plan for the site at Throckmorton, for example, and the other sites, planning for the sites must be at a rather more advanced stage than application for an outline planning decision on principle as to whether it would be sensible to have an accommodation centre at a particular site. Sensible developers often apply for outline permission before they go to the trouble of drawing up expensive detailed plans. Can the Minister clarify the position for us?
In February, I believe, the Home Secretary promised full consultation on all the sites with a range of different bodies, including local communities. What consultation with local communities has taken place so far? Some of the sites have been public knowledge for a considerable time. What consultation with local 620 communities is proposed? By local communities, I mean parish councils and local residents, not just local authorities. Will the Minister tell us about that?
The Minister rightly said that 44,000 people had been dispersed to NASS accommodation in the community. Over half of those people live in the three regions of the North of England. I have no complaints about that. Because the Minister happens to have sent some of them to the little textiles town—as it once was—of Nelson, my life has been enriched by my getting to know some extraordinary people, discovering their history and helping some of them to settle in this country. That is fine. If the Minister wants to send more to Nelson, many of us would be delighted. However, Nelson is a town of 28,000 people. If the Minister suddenly decided to send 50,000 people—all the dispersed people—to Nelson, I would complain. That is the difference: it is a matter of scale.
The Minister asked whether it was a bad thing to send 3,000 people to the rest of Britain. He is not sending 3,000 to the rest of Britain; he is sending 750 to four specific places. That is why the planning application and the consultation are so important.
I have read the Hansard reports of the debates in another place. Several Members of Parliament—mainly Conservatives—expressed some concerns. Members of the Government accused them, in no uncertain terms, of Nimbyism. Nimbyism is often not a generous or attractive thing, but the fact that someone lives in a particular place does not mean that they do not know about that place and cannot put forward perfectly good arguments about the effect that things will have on it. The people who are called Nimbys, just because they happen to live in a particular place, are not necessarily wrong. They are not necessarily right either. They have the same right to put forward their views and arguments as everybody else, and they have more motivation to do so because they live there. The instant and rather shallow accusation of Nimbyism is often a cover for not being able to answer the arguments. I am not suggesting that the Minister has done that today—clearly he has not—and that is to his credit.
Finally, in such developments the law of unintended consequences must be considered. Two examples of the problems caused in the area were given to us when we visited Sangatte and met the mayors of Sangatte and other local villages. Some members of the group laughed at them and thought, "Here are parish politicians, local peasants, introducing irrelevancies". Some of us who have a history of grass-roots political activity thought that what we were being told was really quite exciting.
First, we were told about local bus services. From the rural areas there was not a good bus service into Calais and other centres. Fifty residents of the Sangatte centre suddenly turned up at a bus stop and boarded a local bus. People who used the bus service to take their children to school or to go shopping suddenly found that they could not do so because it was full of young men from Iran, Afghanistan and so 621 forth. That is innocuous in itself but needs to be taken into account when putting a big institution in the countryside.
Secondly, we were told that many people there who come from Afghanistan or Kurdistan were used to countryside in which they had what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and I know as "the right to roam". That was mentioned in the Countryside and Rights of Way Act. It is open pastoral country and people walk anywhere without complaint from anyone. Therefore, when those people wanted to walk from the Sangatte centre into Calais or to the rail terminal, they merely walked across the fields as though they were at home. It has therefore been necessary for them to undergo an education process; that in the enclosed farmland of the Calais area it is not done and people stick to footpaths.
I then wondered what recreational facilities people will have in the areas we are considering. Jokingly, I thought that the Home Office should perhaps fund the local county council to have a rights of way improvement programme in the areas surrounding the accommodation centres because walking in the countryside will be about all they can do. I then thought that perhaps that was not such a daft idea because if people want to walk from A to B, footpaths and roads must be provided, as the noble Countess, Lady Mar, pointed out.
Those small changes will make all the difference in ensuring, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, that if the accommodation centres are built, they fit into the local communities. They will bear on whether the centres cause all kinds of difficulties and problems which people have not considered or planned for in advance because they seem trivial.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
When the planning application goes forward, all these points will arise. I believe that the Government will not have an easy time obtaining planning permission.
§ The Lord Bishop of Hereford
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, talked about consultation on the provision of spiritual care for those who live in the accommodation centres. It is an important matter. I speak not from personal experience but from that of episcopal colleagues. For example, at Yarl's Wood a slightly different kind of accommodation has been provided. The Church of England worked extremely hard to provide good chaplaincy care. However, we are talking about a wide range of spiritual care for people from all over the world.
In my previous post, I had responsibility for West Dorset where there were three penal institutions: a young offenders' institution; a local prison; and a high security prison on Portland. Most of the prisoners had been picked up for drug trafficking offences at ports and airports. They came from all over the world. It was a cosmopolitan population. My conversations with the chaplains there centred on how extremely difficult it was to make adequate provision for the spiritual care of members of the Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu 622 faiths. Those who cared for them came only infrequently and sometimes had to travel long distances.
The proper care of those who will live in accommodation centres is highly relevant. It is yet another reason why we should not place large groupings of such people in rural areas where that provision will be difficult.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Filkin
The amendment is designed to ensure that accommodation centres can be established only where the Secretary of State is satisfied that consultation has taken place with the relevant local authorities, health authorities and police authorities.
I want to reassure the Committee that we understand the need to engage with relevant bodies in assessing the suitability of the location of accommodation centres and the adequacy of the facilities on site. We are committed to making the accommodation centres work. The Home Office recognises that it does not have a monopoly on expertise. We need the input of others. We want to work closely with others; to harness their experience so that the accommodation centres cater for the needs of residents; to minimise any adverse impact on local services; and to provide the necessary assurances to the local community.
We are meeting local authorities in the areas where we have decided to submit planning notifications; that is, in Bicester, Newton and Throckmorton. We will do so in respect of any other sites where planning notifications will be made. We have arranged regular meetings with the Department of Health to take forward healthcare issues. It is using its knowledge and experience and has involved the primary care trusts in the areas concerned.
With the police, security is obviously of major importance. Asylum seekers in the centres need to feel safe and members of the local community also want reassurance. Let me stress that there is no evidence that asylum seekers are more prone to committing crimes, but of course I understand the concerns that any community will have when a new establishment is created nearby. Again, we are meeting police forces in the relevant areas and that will be part of a continuing dialogue.
I do not want to pre-empt discussions on later amendments, but our creation of a monitor for accommodation centres makes clear that we expect the monitor to consult appropriate bodies. That reflects the fact that we will be working closely with bodies such as the police and we want the monitor to be looking at how we have done that.
We are intending to provide a wide range of services and facilities on site, including education, healthcare, purposeful activities and access to legal advice. The aim has been to minimise the impact on local services and aid the creation of self-contained communities within the centres. But, clearly, where further facilities are necessary—and secondary healthcare which cannot be provided on site is a good example—we 623 want to ensure that, through discussions with the relevant bodies, we take full account of these in deciding on the site's location.
Let me also stress that we are committed to full consultation on the proposed accommodation centre sites. Exhibitions took place in the Bicester area on 10th and 11th June and more than 300 people attended. Exhibitions in respect of the RAF Newton site were held in the Nottingham area on 18th and 19th June and more than 800 people attended. Beverley Hughes has also visited Bicester and Newton and met local representatives and we will do the same in the other places in due course. We have not yet Finalised proposals for the Throckmorton area.
In reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, we have not used the fast-track process, known as "special urgency procedures", following representations from local people. We want to engage fully with local people. Clearly, if there were to be an adverse planning consideration by the local authority, it would be open to the Government to lodge an appeal if they thought that appropriate.
Furthermore, planning notification for Throckmorton is still in preparation, although we have submitted it for Bicester and Newton. We understand that two notifications are being considered by the planning authorities this week. If planning is refused, we will consider the basis of the rejection and reflect on it. After proper consideration, we may decide to appeal. If we appeal, we will send the papers to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the DPM will decide what to do in that respect under his planning responsibilities. In such a circumstance, it is likely that a public inquiry will be arranged. The planning inspectorate within the ODPM will appoint an inspector and manage the public inquiry process and the inspector will then make a recommendation to the DPM. There will be no attempt to override normal processes. The opening date of 2003 is entirely conditional upon the planning process. We do not yet know the position in respect of notifications. As to a planning reform Bill, planning applications for trial centres will be made under existing legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Renton, asked whether parish councils are being consulted. They are, as part of the planning process. Officials have visited the accommodation centre locations at Bicester and Newton.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised the important issue of religious observance. The Bill provides for the Secretary of State to arrange facilities under Clause 26(1)(h). They will include appropriate washing facilities, quiet association rooms and small prayer rooms—and there will be a manager of religious affairs at each site.
§ Lord Avebury
I asked whether the Minister thought that it would be appropriate to consult the leaders of the relevant faiths—an action lacking in the past.
§ Lord Filkin
It is a good day for interventions. If the noble Lord had waited 15 seconds, I would have come to that point. Drawing on experience of prisons and 624 detention centres, a religious advisory group has been established to develop policy and offer advice. It is chaired by the director of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate and comprises eight members from various faiths—including the chaplain general of the Prison Service. As ever, we are open to further advice and views. We want to work with local religious leaders and organisations on detailed implementation, if it comes to that, at any of the specific sites. Some have already made clear their wish to be involved.
The noble Countess, Lady Mar, raised a number of points about planning and infrastructure. As the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, indicated, the notification will deal with each of the points raised as part of the planning process. The notification of the Throckmorton site has not yet been submitted, precisely because work on detailed points is still being done.
The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, asked about women-only provision. If strictly necessary for planning permission, such a provision will certainly be considered. If women-only provision is part of a wider question, we will consider how best to address it.
The noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Greaves, asked about the status of plans. No architectural plans have been finalised but the Home Office has through its advisers, produced a generic model as a starting point—to give some understanding of how things might be done, for discussion with potential contractors and others.
I strongly agree with the stress placed by the right reverend Prelate on spiritual care. If he feels that we ought to bear in mind further representations, we will receive them with gratitude.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, asked about the educational process—for example, UK norms in respect of walking through fields. We have anticipated that we will need to do some orientation on UK cultural and social norms as part of the initial purposeful activities for adults.
The debate ranged over the consultation that is right and necessary as part of a planning application. I have signalled how we will respond. It would be proper to have wider and continuing consultations in respect of any site or location if it looked as though an accommodation centre were to be built there. That is different from the planning process and involves further consultation with service providers and local communities about the construction period, developing facilities and involving the local community. The Government want those forms of wider consultation and involvement over and above and beyond the planning process. In light of that information, I hope that the noble Baroness is reassured.
§ Baroness Anelay of St Johns
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. The amendment's purpose was to obtain clarification of the rules that will govern the choice of locations. My noble friend Lord Carlisle hit the nail on the head. If proper planning processes are followed, all the right people 625 should be consulted. Until today, our concern was that the planning procedures had not been put on the record. I am grateful to my noble friend for the opportunity to follow that through.
I thank also the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for questioning the Minister over the impression that decisions have already been made. We gained that impression after debates in another place and from conversations with outside organisations. The Minister said that the architectural information will take the form of a generic model rather than a signed, sealed and delivered final plan. That statement will reassure people living near a proposed accommodation centre.
This pump-priming debate was designed to identify which organisations ought to be on the Government's list for consultation. My noble friend Lord Renton reminded the Committee of the importance of parish councils as the starting point for local democracy. The noble Lord, Lord Chan, reminded us of the importance of consulting voluntary organisations. I was intrigued by the reference to his experience of welcoming refugees from Vietnam. In the 1970s, I worked for a while as a volunteer with the Ockenden Venture and had experience of providing the right kind of facilities in welcoming people from different communities to this country.
I am grateful to the Minister for putting on the record more clearly than before the steps that the Government are taking to stage exhibitions for the guidance of people who are likely to find themselves living near accommodation centres, so that they can ask questions and find out precisely what will be in store. We will hold the Minister to his commitments and may return at Report stage to questions about planning. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 14, as amended, agreed to.
§ Baroness Anelay of St Johns
moved Amendment No. 101:After Clause 14, insert the following new clause—
§ "ESTABLISHMENT OF VISITING COMMITTEES AND INSPECTION ARRANGEMENTS
- (1) The Secretary of State shall establish a committee (in this Part referred to as a "visiting committee") in respect of each accommodation centre established under this Part.
- (2) The functions of visiting committees shall be prescribed in regulations made by the Secretary of State.
- (3) Regulations made under subsection (2) shall include provision as to the following—
- (a) the making of visits by members of a visiting committee to an accommodation centre,
- (b) the hearing by members of a visiting committee of complaints made by persons accommodated at an accommodation centre,
- (c) the making of reports by a visiting committee to the Secretary of State, and
- (d) the right of each member of a visiting committee at any time to enter an accommodation centre and to have free access to every part of it and to every person accommodated or otherwise present on the premises.
- (4) Regulations made under subsection (2) shall include further provision in respect of the membership of visiting committees, and in particular shall include provision as to the following—
- (a) the minimum number of members of a visiting committee,
- (b) the appointment of members of a visiting committee, and
- (c) the appointment to each visiting committee of persons holding a particular qualification or occupying a particular position.
- (5) An accommodation centre may also be inspected (and a report on the inspection made to the Secretary of State) by HM Inspectorate of Prisons and the Social Services Inspectorate whenever either thinks it appropriate.
- (6) The Secretary of State shall lay before each House of Parliament an annual summary of the reports submitted to him in respect of accommodation centres by virtue of the provisions of this section.
- (7) The Secretary of State may by order prescribe that other persons and bodies may have such functions in respect of the visiting and inspection of accommodation centres as may be specified in the order.
§ The noble Baroness said: With this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 137, 127 to 131, 133 and 134 in my name and to Amendments Nos. 126, 135 and 132 in the name of the noble Lord the Minister.
§ I welcome the latter amendments, which reflect the Government's commitment at Second Reading to respond to the proposals made by my honourable friend Mr. Malins at Report stage in another place. I am glad that my honourable friend—who is the Member of Parliament for the constituency in which I live—was so persuasive that the Government have brought forward their own amendments.
§ The establishment of visiting committees—or advisory groups, as the government amendments describe them—is, I hope, an uncontroversial issue. Before I entered your Lordships' House I served as a magistrate and visited prisons occasionally, so have first-hand experience of the work done by visiting committees. I was always impressed by the high quality of their work. They have no axe to grind and talk to inmates, hear grievances and make positive suggestions. Visiting committees are an important safety valve.
§ I have tabled amendments to the government amendments as the basis for questions. I am intrigued by the creation of two structures to do the job of a visiting committee. It seems that there will be both an advisory committee and a person or job share person who will monitor accommodation centres. That may be a great improvement on my amendments but I need to scrutinise the Government's proposals. What is the differentiation between the advisory committee and monitor as regards their duties, powers and accountability to the Secretary of State and Parliament? It seems as the advisory committees will have no teeth. When they report to the Secretary of State, will they produce recommendations? What will the Secretary of State do with them? Will they be published? Will we be able to see them? What will be their status if they are published?
§ As to the monitor, what influence will he or she have in making sure that wrongs, if they exist, are put right? In particular, what role will the monitor have in regard 627 to resolving any contractual difficulties that may arise as a result of disputes over the proper provision of contracted-out services?
Subsection (2) of the new clause proposed in Amendment No. 126 states that the Secretary of State "may" by regulations confer functions on advisory groups and make provision about their constitution and proceedings. I ask the usual question: why not "shall". If "shall provide" is not in the Bill, it looks as though the Secretary of State simply will not put into effect his plans for these advisory groups.
Subsection (6) states that the Secretary of State may defray the expenses of members of the group or make facilities available to them. If the Secretary of State did not do that it would be a nonsense because no work would take place.
What is likely to be the membership of the advisory group? Will the members be representative of professional or cultural groups? What is the Government's intention on this matter? How will they go about appointing them? It is vital that people from a variety of backgrounds with a variety of experience are encouraged to become members of these advisory groups and to apply to become the monitor. The Government will not attract such people unless they can clearly see that it is a responsible, accountable and worthwhile job. Will the Minister tell the Committee how he would persuade a likely applicant that that is the case? I beg to move.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Dholakia
We on this side of the House support not only the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, but a number of the suggestions in the government amendments. From my own involvement as a magistrate at one time and a member of a board of visitors, like the noble Baroness I can see that this pattern fits in with the concern that has often been expressed concerning the need for appropriate visiting committees, advisory committees or advisory groups to assist in the task faced by such accommodation centres.
Perhaps I may ask one or two questions. First, will the situation envisaged in the government amendment run somewhat parallel to the situation in prisons in the sense that the monitor's function will follow very closely that of the prisons ombudsman? I am not quite sure whether the explanation that has been offered here reflects precisely that situation.
My second point concerns the membership of the advisory group or the visiting group. There is a need to involve voluntary agencies and someone from the local area in the membership of such groups. We have heard many arguments, some of which have put forward practical suggestions, but if local people are involved in the accommodation centres through their membership of these groups it will certainly help. The involvement—we spoke earlier of consultation—of religious groups in these bodies would also be beneficial.
The suggestion for visiting committees was initially made by Sir David Ramsbotham in one of his reports after he had inspected a detention centre. We are on 628 the right track here. All that we need to do is to tidy up the differences between what is suggested in the noble Baroness's amendment and what the Government have in mind. If we bring them together I am sure that we shall have an active, participating committee, which will be to the benefit of not only the Government and the accommodation centre managers but of all those involved in the process.
§ Lord Judd
These amendments are extremely important. As I argued earlier, we want a positive attitude in the community towards these cent res. What the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said is very significant. It is important that active organisations with social commitment within the community should have access to these places as a natural part of their activity. It would be good to have ministerial assurance that that will be possible.
I cannot help being slightly amused by the debate. I feel that if our positions were reversed—God forbid—and we were sitting on the Opposition side of the House and the Opposition were sitting on this side, there would be a reversal of roles in terms of the arguments being advanced. I can imagine that we would be saying, very toughly, "No. If we are going to have supervision it must have muscle. It must be regulatory. It cannot be only advisory because that would be a tool of the administration. We want to make sure that there is real, independent judgment".
This is an important point. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will take it seriously and deal with it. We do not want to feel that this is only a fan club for the administration, albeit by another name. We want to feel that it is a body which is doing a real job on behalf of the community.
§ Baroness Knight of Collingtree
Perhaps I may ask two questions in regard to the amendment. First, what kind of persons will the visitors be? Will they be volunteers, as so many prison visitors are? There are not many people outside this House who will do a job without expenses, particularly young people with responsibilities. What kind of people have we in mind who will take on the job of being visitors?
My second question concerns timing. I have seen nothing about how many times visitors will call in. It is important to know whether it will be once a year, once every six months, or whatever. All noble Lords who have had constituencies can envisage a situation where some person who is appointed as a visitor turns out to be a real busybody. We propose giving them the right to go in at any time, with free access to every part of and every person in the centre. If there are no regular meetings, who will say whether it is right and proper for a single visitor to appear at any time and demand to see X or Y? I can envisage the severe difficulties that that would cause for the staff.
I apologise to the Committee that, due to an arrangement that I cannot alter, I am unable to remain in the Chamber. I shall read in Hansard the Minister's replies to the questions I have raised.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, I wish to explain why I believe that Amendment No. 101 is preferable to 629 government Amendment No. 132. First, the hearing of complaints, which Amendment No. 101 specifies, is a highly important function. It is not laid down as one of the functions of the Government's proposed monitor.
Secondly, free access at any time is also an important component of effective checking and monitoring. The fire which destroyed the Yarl's Wood centre broke out at night-time. One is therefore led to believe that disturbances and problems are likely to be at their worst at night.
Perhaps I may illustrate the possible working of Amendment No. 101 from my experience in Northern Ireland. NIACRO, of which I have the honour to be president, organised the recruitment and the training—which will be very important for visitors—of lay visitors for so-called training schools in which young offenders are kept for quite long periods. The impact of these trained lay visitors has been favourable and positive, particularly because they have been able to listen to inmates' complaints.
§ Lord Corbett of Castle Vale
I sympathise with the amendment principally on the grounds set out by my noble friend Lord Judd. If accommodation centres are to function properly it is important that they are not seen as detention centres or prisons by another name. They have to work as part of the local community. I am well aware of many criticisms regarding the proposal for accommodation at Throckmorton. If and when the centres are established, I hope that they will reach out to the local community. In areas with few leisure and other facilities it may be possible to welcome people from the local community into the centres. I hope that church groups and nursery and other schools would want to build links, going into the centres, with those in the centres taking part in the local community. I was impressed by earlier remarks about encouraging residents in that regard.
Does the Minister feel able to accept the principle underlying the establishment of visiting committees? I assume that it will be one visiting committee per accommodation centre in order to encourage and foster local links along the lines of boards of visitors in prisons of which I have some experience. I have a great deal of pride with regard to one board of visitors but I shall not weary the Committee with that.
The establishment of a visiting committee is not in opposition to the appointment of a single monitor for the accommodation centres. The two can run side by side. The monitor may welcome the grass roots eyes-and-ears work of such visiting committees. That work may supplement the monitor's work. He or she may travel throughout the country, initially to four centres, but over time perhaps to many more. I hope that the Minister will not dismiss the proposal out of hand but will consider whether the two bodies can run side by side.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
The noble Lord talks a great deal of sense from experience. Some time ago I, too, was involved in a visiting committee. One became an advocate for the establishment within the locality. 630 The one I represented was a borstal; it was a long time ago. It was a fairly small organisation. It was important that it was accepted within the community. But the members of the visiting committee, or whatever it is called, must be local people. One or two members may come from a distance; I do not know. But if we are to believe that the proposal will work, the Minister must give us that assurance. The main purpose of a visiting committee is to advocate the institution to the community. It also assists with complaints, and so on, but that can be done in other ways. I hope that the Minister will take on board the crucial fact that the members must be local.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Avebury
I am a little concerned that Amendment No. 126 is extremely vague about what the advisory groups will do and the manner in which they are to be appointed or dismissed. I had some involvement in a controversy—the Minister may remember it—relating to the board of visitors at Haslar where the Secretary of State at the time, having taken it into his head that certain members of the board of visitors were not doing their job properly, dismissed them. I am concerned that there is no provision in Amendment No. 126 for proper appeals to be allowed in cases where the Secretary of State decides that such action is the right course to pursue.
I presume that the Minister wants the advisory group to be fully independent and to act in an analogous way to the board of visitors in a prison. The advisory group should be totally independent of the Government and should report fearlessly on any matters which come to its notice with regard to the proper operation of the accommodation centre. Therefore, safeguards against the arbitrary dismissal of members of the advisory group should be written into the statute.
If the advisory group is analogous to the board of visitors, the monitor is analogous to the chief inspector. In that regard, perhaps I may ask the Minister why the monitor does not have the right or duty to make reports on particular accommodation centres. He or she is only to report once a year to the Secretary of State on all the matters which come within his purview. It would be wise to provide him at least with the power to inspect individual accommodation centres, with or without notice, and to make reports on that accommodation centre to the Secretary of State. I hope that the Minister can say that the Government are sufficiently flexible to take these matters into consideration.
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who have contributed to the discussion. I believe that we have made progress. I hope that some of the responses I give in Committee will put minds at rest on the intention behind the Government's amendment.
We said in another place that we were considering carefully the merits of something along the lines of a visiting committee for accommodation centres. I argue that government Amendment No. 126 reflects the 631 outcome of our deliberations. Visiting committees are, after all, an established feature of removal centres. I want to emphasise again that accommodation centres are very different in concept to removal centres. In particular, residents will not be detained. They will be free to come and go subject to certain residence and reporting requirements.
Having said that, we recognise the need to be open and transparent and to ensure that those concerned about the treatment of asylum seekers in accommodation centres receive assurance and reassurance. There is a commonality within this Chamber that that is our aim.
We shall set up accommodation centre advisory groups, one for each accommodation centre. Before I get into more of the detail, perhaps I may say a word on the name. We felt it important to differentiate between accommodation centres and removal centres, partly clue to the different nature of the centres but, on a more practical level, to avoid any potential confusion for those who may wish to become a member of such a group. But beyond that, we have based the functions of the advisory groups very much on the model for visiting committees. Members of the groups will visit the centre, hear any complaints made by residents of the centre, and have the opportunity to report to the Secretary of State on their findings.
We are ensuring also that the manager of the centre must permit a member of the advisory group to visit the centre at any time on request and to visit any resident of the centre at any time on request, provided that the resident consents.
Government Amendment No. 135 is consequential on the above and includes reference to advisory groups in Clause 33. This will mean that the regulations made in respect of the advisory groups will be subject to the negative resolution procedure, reflecting a similar level of scrutiny to regulations made in respect of visiting committees for removal centres under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.
The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, made plain that her amendments were tabled very much to probe the Government's intentions by saying that it would be very odd to make it a duty to have regulations conferring functions on an advisory group, and making provision about consultation and proceedings of advisory groups.
In Section 152 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which relates to visiting committees for removal centres, a similar form of words is used whereby the function of a visiting committee may be prescribed by removal centre rules. We see no need for Amendment No. 127. Amendment No. 128 would require regulations to make provision for advisory groups to make recommendations to the Secretary of State, in addition to submitting a report to him. Again, we do not see that as necessary. I am sure that any reports will contain recommendations where the advisory group believes that this is both necessary and appropriate.
Amendment No. 129 would require regulations to make provision for advisory groups to report to the monitor of accommodation centres, as well as the 632 Secretary of State. It is not clear from the amendment whether separate reports are envisaged. Again, we do not see the need for this requirement. In any event, the monitor will be under a duty to consult such bodies, as he considers appropriate. Where he sees the need to consult advisory groups—I am confident that the monitor will—the groups will no doubt be able to make any of their findings known to him. I should also be happy for the Secretary of State to make any reports made by advisory groups available to the monitor where it was felt that it would be appropriate.
Amendment No. 130 would make it a duty on the Secretary of State to defray expenses of members of an advisory group and make facilities available to them. This seems a rather onerous proposition. The Secretary of State will want to reimburse fully the members of advisory groups for reasonable expenses incurred, and to make the facility available to them. There is no indication that existing arrangements in respect of payment of expenses for visiting committees have run into difficulties. There is no statutory obligation in that case.
Amendment No. 131 would make it a requirement for the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament an annual summary of reports and recommendations received from advisory groups. We see no need for a statutory requirement for this to be done. Naturally, the Secretary of State will want to pay close attention to reports from the advisory group. He may also want to consider whether a summary of all, or some parts, of the report should be published, or brought to the attention of Parliament. Again, I should stress that the report from the independent monitor will, in any event, be laid before Parliament.
The Government's amendment, Amendment No. 132, requires the Secretary of State to appoint a person as a monitor of accommodation centres. We believe that the creation of a monitor demonstrates the clear commitment on the Government's part to ensure that centres are run efficiently and that asylum seekers are treated well with their needs being met. This will also provide a valuable contribution to the overall evaluation of the accommodation centres during the trial period.
We have considered most carefully the question of inspection arrangements, a point valuably raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. We want to do all we can to ensure that there is confidence in the system. By introducing both advisory groups and, now, a monitor, we are providing the necessary reassurances to those who have expressed concern about the way that asylum seekers will be treated and about the overall operation of the centres. In particular, we have provided for the monitor to consider the quality and effectiveness of the accommodation and the facilities provided. Clearly, the accommodation provision will be of great importance to those required to reside there. As we have made plain, we want t o get that right.
We have also made clear our desire for asylum seekers to be occupied at the centres through a 'wide range of facilities, such as basic skills training, sporting activities and IT skills and development. Again, this is 633 vital if the centres are to work in the way we envisage. The monitor will look at these activities to assess the quality and range of provision and the overall effect on the residents.
We also think it right for the monitor to consider the nature and enforcement of conditions of residence. By virtue of Clause 27, the conditions will be set out in regulations, which will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. Anyone required to leave an accommodation centre as a result of breach of conditions will have a right of appeal to the asylum support adjudicator. But, naturally, the conditions and how they are enforced will have an important bearing on the whole nature of the centres. We are well aware of the concerns expressed in another place about the effect of breaches of conditions, and the withdrawal of support. I believe that the monitor's role in that regard will help provide another level of reassurance about how we are enforcing conditions of residence, and how we seek to ensure a common-sense approach that takes account both of the importance of asylum seekers complying with their obligations and the need not to over-react to minor instances of breach. For example, the monitor will be able to consider whether guidance has been followed consistently across different accommodation centres.
The monitor will need to have access to a wide range of people to gain the full picture of how the accommodation centres are run, what their purpose is, and the treatment of residents. So we have made provision for the monitor to consult the Secretary of State, and any other person the monitor may feel is appropriate. In this other category, I should envisage in particular the involvement of local authorities, the police, and especially refugee organisations.
The monitor will provide an annual report to the Secretary of State that will be laid before Parliament. Again, this demonstrates the Government's commitment to openness. It is not just a case of the need for a once-a-year report. We all want to improve and develop as we go on, building on examples of good practice—and challenging any examples of bad practice—that are encountered.
Finally, we have made provision for more than one person to act jointly as monitor. We believe that this is a sensible provision, given the fact that we are trialling the accommodation centres and that there will be a limited number in the trial phase. If they are successful—clearly the monitor's reports will help us establish whether or not that is the case—we shall want to create more. At that stage, we shall need to review whether the necessary work could be carried out by just one monitor.
In the light of those arrangements, I argue that the Opposition's amendments are unnecessary. I refer to Amendment No. 101, which has attracted a degree of sympathy during this discussion, and Amendments Nos. 133 and 134. Just as we would expect the monitor to consult such bodies as the police and refugee organisations, we would expect consultation to take 634 place with advisory groups. However, it is right to allow the monitor to make the final judgment as to whom he considers appropriate.
A number of additional points were raised regarding membership of an advisory group; for example, who might be members and how people could become members. I shall try to answer those points. I was asked how someone could become a member. The Secretary of State will be responsible for appointing members. We are likely to build on existing arrangements for visiting committees. We certainly intend to ensure that information about how one can join an advisory group will be made easily accessible. It will certainly be posted on the IND website.
I was also asked whether members of an advisory group would be paid. I believe I made it clear that travelling expenses will be covered. Again, that is very much in keeping with current visiting committee arrangements. The number of members on an advisory group was also queried. We have not yet sought to specify a minimum or a maximum number because we want further to consider the matter. We shall listen to what noble Lords have to say in that respect so as to ensure that the groups can be effective in discharging their functions.
§ Lord Avebury
Can the Minister say what arrangements the Secretary of State intends to make for ensuring that the members of visiting committees are adequately representative of the ethnic minorities who will be housed in the accommodation centres?
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising that point. It is important for such a consideration to be put on the record. We do not have preconceptions as to who might be a member of an advisory group. We believe that there will be a wide range of interested persons. We expect representations from Church and charitable organisations to come forward with a particular interest. We want to encourage people with compassion, understanding, an open-minded approach, and, obviously, a sense of justice and fair play.
Given the nature of the work involved, we also envisage making security and status checks on all candidates—and, also, to the extent permissible, on their spouse or partner. We envisage applicants completing a form in which they will need to specify any conviction. So we want people of good standing in the community.
The question was raised as to whether people from the local population might want to join advisory groups. We would want to encourage that as it may well be in the best interests of the development of the groups. I hope that I have covered the range of questions on this matter.
The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked whether the monitors would have a role in resolving contractual disputes. We do not see a role for the monitor in those situations. Our view is that the contract will be between the Secretary of State and the provider of services. But the monitor will bring 635 concerns that have been expressed about the operation of contracts and arrangements to the Secretary of State, and they may well be reflected in any annual report that is made.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
I am sorry to stop the noble Lord when he is getting on so well, but I am thinking about what would happen in the case of a centre in Scotland. Is it anticipated that the Secretary of State referred to in Amendment No. 132 will be the Secretary of State for Scotland, appointing a monitor for the Scottish centres; or will the Home Secretary monitor all the centres through appointments made by him? I do not know whether the point has been considered. It is clearly important. This is not a simple devolution issue; it is a reserved matter and the centres are being placed in Scotland as part of a system. It will certainly need to be thought about if that has not happened already.
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
I should perhaps have anticipated that the noble Baroness would raise the Scottish question. My understanding is that it is a reserved matter, so I believe that it will fall to the Secretary of State. However, if I am wrong, I shall endeavour to correct that statement.
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
The Home Secretary.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, raised the question of whether the monitor's function was close to that of the prisons ombudsman. The monitor will be required to monitor the operation of accommodation centres. It is not our intention that the monitor should deal with complaints. The advisory group will want to do that.
I was asked whether the monitors would have teeth. Yes, it is our intention that they will have teeth. I am sure that Parliament will want to hold us properly to account on that. It is only right that that is carried through.
I hope that I have answered all the points raised. The debate has been most helpful. It will help us to focus on what will need to be the content of the regulations. We have listened carefully to what has been said in the debate and we shall reflect on all the important points raised. I very much welcome the support that we have received across the Dispatch Box from the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. I believe that we have come a long way in meeting many of the concerns expressed in another place and by Members of the Committee this evening.
§ Baroness Anelay of St Johns
I think the Minister is slightly ahead of himself on this occasion. I have not quite withdrawn my amendment yet; he must give me a chance.
I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who have taken part in the debate on this rather large group of amendments covering an important issue. I am 636 grateful to those noble Lords who expressed some sympathy with what is perhaps the slight superiority of my Amendment No. 101 because of the extra authority that it would give to what I would term the visiting committees and the Government refer to as the advisory group and the monitor.
I was particularly struck by the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, that we must be careful not to let the accommodation centres be detention centres by another name. It is important that people appointed to the advisory groups reach out into the community and that the community takes part in the life of the accommodation centre so that there is integration.
The noble Lord, Lord Corbett, made a point about discussions with outside groups which was referred to only briefly by the Minister. I shall have to examine the remarks carefully in Hansard. The point is that we are seeing the setting up of an organisation for just four trial places, but it will need to be flexible enough and have sufficient authority to be able to act properly in respect of all other areas.
My noble friend Lady Carnegy was, as ever, right to raise the Scottish question. I shall want to examine the Minister's response carefully and take advice on the matter.
At this stage, it is right that I consult the Immigration Advisory Service and the Refugee Council as to whether they think that the very full answer given by the Minister has addressed all their concerns, or whether there are any remaining matters that we may need to bring back. This is the first occasion that we have had the opportunity of hearing such a full explanation of how the Government intend the new advisory groups and the monitor to act.
Now I can please the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Filkin
I beg to move that the House do now resume. In doing so, I suggest that the Committee stage of the Bill should begin again not before 8.36 p.m.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.