§ 3.7 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Report be now received. In moving the Motion, it may be for the convenience of the House if I say that the usual channels have agreed that the Bill will be recommitted to deal with Parts 3, 5 and 8, in view of the government amendments. The major government amendments in question have been tabled and will be printed on tomorrow's Marshalled List; the Motion is on tomorrow's Order Paper. I will move it at the start of business tomorrow, and I shall then say a few more words about the precise procedure.
§ Moved, That the Report be now received.—(Lord Filkin.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Report received.
§ Clause 1 [Naturalisation: knowledge of language and society]:
§ [Amendment No. 1 not moved.]
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 2, line 19, at end insert—
(1B) Before making any regulation pursuant to section 41(1)(ba) or (bb), the Secretary of State shall consult—
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should be most grateful if the Minister would allow me to deal with Amendments Nos. 2 and 4 separately, because they are entirely unrelated. I can deal with them quickly but more intelligently if they are degrouped.
§ The point of Amendment No. 2, which reflects an amendment that was moved in both the Commons and this place in Committee, is to make consultation an essential part of the process leading to the tests that, under the Bill, are to be taken by those seeking citizenship. There is no argument on these Benches with the notion of the new tests—advanced, as they are, in a constructive spirit and designed to improve the chances of those becoming citizens of finding their place in our society quickly and effectively. But the point made in June in the Committee of this House and in the Commons was that there must be consultation about the curriculum for the new tests.
The amendments moved in the Commons and the Lords were defective. If I may say so while causing no offence to my colleagues in the Commons, nor my noble friends here, who moved the amendments, they were defective in two regards. First, they specified three organisations that were to be consulted and no others. It was reasonably remarked by several of your Lordships that it was unsatisfactory simply to consult three organisations—however illustrious; I may say that I am president of the Citizenship Foundation, which was one of the three. I fully accept that. As your Lordships will see, the amendment merely requires the Secretary of State to consult,
persons appearing to him to have a special interest in the matters dealt with by the regulation concerned".
That was the first objection, and I accept it.
§ The second, even more forceful, objection by the Government was that the amendment would not have secured consultation because it required the agreement of the three named consultees to the matters in respect of which there was consultation. That was a proper point to be made by the Government. My amendment does not include that impediment and accepts that the Secretary of State shall consult and then deal with the results of the consultation as he or she thinks fit.
§ So why make the amendment at all? The answer is simple. The Government are doing the right thing in their consultation process. I am sure that the House 265 has full confidence in Professor Sir Bernard Crick and his team and the work they are doing. I have no doubt that they will come up with something that is constructive and creative and will aid and abet the process of citizenship. However, it is wrong for us to make assumptions about the nature and capacity of future governments and future Home Secretaries.
§ We would not be doing our job if we did not insert a requirement for consultation which would bolt and bar the door to the prospect in the future of an illiberal government and a weak Home Secretary feeling inclined to respond to violent public reaction to this or that event by rushing immediately, without any need for consultation, to change the curriculum for those who seek citizenship. A statutory command to consult would in such circumstances act as a breakwater. I hope that the Minister recollects that when he last dealt with the amendment he said that he thought it "inconceivable" that there would not be consultation. The amendment would make sure that it was inconceivable. I beg to move.
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, makes the case in his usual persuasive way. In a sense, he has anticipated part of what I shall say. The noble Lord paid great tribute to the Government for the way in which we have consulted extensively with NGOs, particularly on the White Paper. As he knows, we have received a fantastic volume of correspondence, most of which favours our proposals. The views of the organisations that responded to the White Paper will, of course, be taken into account as detailed proposals are developed. However, I wonder what further level of consultation required by the Bill could usefully be added.
It will come as no surprise to the noble Lord that we have sympathy with his view and with what he is trying to achieve. Having listened to his argument, I must say that any future government who did not wish to consult would simply remove any obligation on them to do so. All we can do is try to conduct ourselves in the best way possible in the circumstances and do what we can to ensure that consultation is woven into the approach of government for the future. We have tried to ensure that there is effective consultation on the detail of the proposals by appointing an independent advisory group. The noble Lord acknowledged that, and I am grateful to him for paying tribute to Professor Sir Bernard Crick, who, I am sure, would not mind my saying that he will guard his independence fiercely and in a forthright way and will ensure that relevant, properly interested bodies are fully consulted.
Noble Lords may wish to know that, in the proposed programme of work for the advisory group, there is a request that it should advise on how to monitor and report on the implementation of the arrangements relating to the test in its early years. It may be that, in the future, a less enlightened government would seek to overturn the group's good work, although that would indeed be the act of a foolish administration. They might wish to impose something less satisfactory, but I am not convinced 266 that the noble Lord's amendment, however well spirited and well intentioned, would guard against that.
To commit the Secretary of State to consult,persons appearing to him to have a special interest in the matters",would be a bridge too far. After all, anyone who wanted to apply for naturalisation could describe himself or herself as having a special interest. Where would the consultation begin and end? I fear that, admirable though the noble Lord's intentions may be—they always are—he could be saddling us with a cumbersome and, arguably, unnecessarily bureaucratic burden. We have already undertaken, through the advisory group, to consult bodies that appear to us to have a special interest in the matters. If there are bodies that feel that they have been excluded from the process or have somehow been missed, we will be happy, as always, to receive representations from them. That is as far as we could go. The amendment is extremely well intentioned, but accepting it would not greatly advance our position.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lords, I hope that the House will be as dissatisfied with the Minister's response as I am. The burden of the point that I sought to make was not that what is being done now is inadequate; plainly, it is adequate. I was talking of future circumstances. It is no good the Minister saying that a future illiberal government with a weak Home Secretary would simply change the statute so that they did not have to consult. They could not do it.
It is equally wide of the mark to complain that the amendment would create a bureaucratic monster and that every person being naturalised could expect to be consulted. The amendment refers clearly to,persons appearing to him"—the Secretary of State—to have a special interest in the matters".That is not a new formula. If the Minister examines the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, he will see that both have compulsory consultation provisions. The amendment would not open the door to any more consultation than the Secretary of State thought reasonable in the circumstances.
I am sorry that the Government do not see my point; it is important. However, at this juncture, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Avebury moved Amendment No. 3:
After Clause 2, insert the following new clause—
NATURALISATION BY DESCENT
A person who—
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I return to a matter raised in Committee about children born overseas to British mothers and foreign fathers prior to the British Nationality Act 1981. I need not speak for long; the arguments have been rehearsed. We had two useful meetings with the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, during the summer. I thank him for the way in which he consulted the Opposition Front Benches on all the matters raised in Committee and for the detailed and careful consideration he agreed to give to the matters we raised.
§ This is a matter of principle, which touches on gender discrimination. After the 1981 Act, we had a situation in which all the children born overseas to British fathers could become British citizens, but those born overseas to British mothers could do so only if the mother made an application during the minority of the child. If, for any reason, the mother was unaware of that limitation or had no opportunity to take advantage of the process before the child became an adult, that child forfeited for ever the chance of becoming a British citizen. As the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, knows, there are some few hundreds of people all over the world who are in this position, not all of whom may wish to take advantage of the new clause if your Lordships see fit to pass it; but many of them do. The noble Lord is aware of the circumstances of a few cases that have been drawn to his attention.
§ The chairman of the organisation which has been set up to act on behalf of these people—CAMPAIGNS—is living here by a thread at the moment. He received a letter from the Home Office dated 24th September telling him that he can appeal under the Human Rights Act against the decision not to allow him to remain, and threatening him that if he did not so appeal the Home Office would consider taking out a deportation order against him. That was a most unfortunate thing for it to have done when the matter was about to be raised in your Lordships' House. I hope that no action will have been taken in the meanwhile to disturb his quiet enjoyment of his life in this country. It is really quite monstrous that the chair of the organisation set up to lobby on behalf of these people is himself threatened with being thrown out of the United Kingdom.
§ He is not the only one. I drew another case to the attention of the Minister when I went to see him. That case concerns a constituent of Dr Ian Gibson, MP, who was married to an American. Her husband turned out to be an abuser and a drunkard, and she separated from him and came back to Britain. But her son, who was never registered as a British citizen, remained with his father and subsequently moved to live on his own. This lady has now had an operation. She wanted her son to come over and look after her during the period of her illness, and he did so. But now he has been told that the period of his visit has expired and he has not been granted an extension. When Dr Gibson heard 268 from his constituent, her son was being told to leave because he was not eligible for an extension of his stay, even though his mother was still ill.
§ There are many other cases of a similar kind. The Minister is aware of the case of Mr Kenny Richey, who is on death row in Ohio. He is likely to have benefited from being a British citizen because we would then have been able to intervene with the authorities to prevent his execution. But, as he is not eligible for British citizenship, we cannot do anything under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and Optional Protocols.
§ We could perhaps make representations on his behalf ex gratia, and I hope that we will do so in view of his long connections with this country. He was born in the United States but spent the whole of his childhood in Scotland until he reached his 18th birthday. So, to all intents and purposes, he is as British as any of us in the Chamber.
§ This is an opportunity for removing from the statute book an unnecessary violation of human rights in regard to gender discrimination, as we do in all other fields of legislation. I hope that now that the Minister has had time to consider the representations that we made to him on two successive occasions during the summer, as well as those we made in Committee and the letter that I wrote, at his invitation, setting out the case in some detail, he will have enough information to be able to accept the proposed new clause. I beg to move.
§ Lord Kingsland
My Lords, I rise, briefly, to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I thought that the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, expressed in Committee, in favour of the position set out in the Bill were uncharacteristically weak. It is clear from what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has said that the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Bassam—that, under the amendment, people with exiguous links to the United Kingdom would be able to become British nationals—would apply equally to those who derive their nationality from their fathers, a category which continues to enjoy rights of British nationality. This seems to be wholly unjustifiable sex discrimination.
As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, pointed out, if the amendment is agreed to it would give a limited number of people—all of whom have British mothers—the right to register as British nationals. Moreover, as the noble Lord also said, the present situation does sometimes give rise to really serious cases of individual hardship.
I urge the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, to reflect again on this matter and to support the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. It is not a matter which cuts across the broad thrust of government policy under the Bill. It is a matter where the noble Lord can quite fairly be open-minded and wholly objective.
§ Lord Filkin
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for his courtesy.
269 As has been said, under the British Nationality Act 1948 a female citizen of the United Kingdom could not pass on her citizenship. The British Nationality Act 1981 now allows women to transmit on equal terms but, for a number of reasons, this change was not made retrospective. The amendment we are now considering would confer an entitlement to registration as a British citizen on any person who was born before 1st January 1983 and would have been a citizen of the United Kingdom by descent but for the inability at that time of female citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies to pass on their citizenship.
The entitlement would not as I understand it be confined to those who would have become British citizens—rather than, for example, British overseas citizens—on commencement of the 1981 Act. It may therefore be seeking to give them an advantage that, even without the sexual discrimination in the old law, they would not otherwise have had. If that is the noble Lord's intention, we would have difficulty in supporting the amendment in its present wording.
When the Bill was in Committee on this issue, my noble friend Lord Bassam explained the Government's view that those seeking citizenship as adults should be required to demonstrate connections with this country over and above those based on parentage—in other words, that they would satisfy the requirements under the 1981 Act relating to naturalisation. We accept that many of those who stand to benefit from the noble Lord's amendment would have considerable difficulty in satisfying the naturalisation requirements given that absence from the immigration rules of any specific provision which would allow them to be admitted from the United Kingdom.
In the light of what has been said, we shall reflect further on the issue and submit our own proposals for consideration on Third Reading. I am grateful for the persistence of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, without wishing to encourage him to repeat the practice. Although this is not the place for case work, I shall look into the specific cases to which he referred. I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, we have had a very good start to our proceedings today. I am sorry that my noble friend did not receive an equally favourable reply to his excellent amendment. I am happy to withdraw the amendment. I look forward to receiving further news of the Government's plans, I hope in good time for us to consider them and take advice on them before discussing them on the Floor of the House. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule 1 [Citizenship Ceremony, Oath and Pledge]:
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury moved Amendment No. 4:
§ Page 84, leave out line 33.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the proposed amendment is as innocuous as it looks. It seeks the removal of one word—the word "Pledge"—from the proposed new Schedule 5, where the citizenship oath and pledge is set out.270
§ Like many noble Lords, in the few years that I have been here I have conducted a rather ineffectual campaign for clear and citizen-friendly legislation. If ever there was a need for the greatest clarity, it is in the words that we are considering in this amendment. This is the oath and pledge to be taken by every person wishing to become a citizen. They are very often people with a less than perfect command of the subtleties of English. It is an oath and pledge of solemn intent, and effect and is given new significance and importance by the ceremony which the Bill seeks to introduce and which the House seems unanimously to support. Yet at the heart of these few but significant words is a distinction as between an "oath" and a "pledge" which will do nothing but confuse those who have to take it.
§ I have tried this out on a number of my colleagues, both in my firm and in this House and by reference to dictionaries. I have asked them what is the difference between these two words. I have received no answer. The nearest to an answer is that an oath is more significant than a pledge because it has consequences if broken which a pledge does not.
If there is indeed a difference between the old part of the statement which is an oath and the new part which is a pledge, there should not be. The pledge is no less important than the oath. The words are:
I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfil my duties and obligations as a British citizen".
§ Therefore, if there is any distinction between the meaning of the two words, my case is that there should not be. If there is no distinction, let us abandon the word "pledge" so that the poor people who read this do not have to try to get their heads round the difference between the two parts of this highly significant ceremony. The White Paper appears to anticipate that there will be a single oath. I beg to move.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
My Lords, I hope that I shall not engage the wrath of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, too much in having to reject the thrust of his amendment.
The amendment would bring together two distinct parts and fuse them into one. Although it is true that the citizenship oath and pledge are distinct on the face of the Bill, in practice, as I am sure the noble Lord would have gone on to argue, they will be spoken seamlessly. The noble Lord desires an amalgamated oath and pledge and, in practice, that is what we shall have.
The oath and pledge proposed in the Bill were the result of careful consideration and full consultation with both the public through the White Paper and other government departments. It was decided to retain the current oath of allegiance and to add to it a new pledge of loyalty to the UK and its values. All British citizens, whether by birth or naturalisation, owe a common law duty of allegiance to the sovereign. We wish to add to that duty a pledge for those 271 acquiring British citizenship which will serve to underscore—to underline, to stress the importance of—upholding human rights and freedoms, democratic values and, importantly, the rule of law. The separation of the oath and the pledge retains constitutional coherence in that the oath retains the existing subject state language and the pledge introduces citizen state language. We wish to retain this distinction by having a separate oath and pledge.
We have made efforts to ensure that the oath and pledge taken on the acquisition of the different types of British citizenship are as consistent as possible. To amalgamate the oath and pledge only when made in the United Kingdom would result in the illogical position that there would remain a separate oath and pledge in the British Overseas Territories.
For those reasons, interesting though the noble Lord's amendment is, we must ultimately conclude that it does not fit the purpose for which we are attempting to progress policy as currently stated.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, will he tell the House just what is the difference between an oath and a pledge?
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
My Lords, as I believe I made plain earlier, one addresses the issue of allegiance; the other is about the debate around the United Kingdom and its system of values. If the noble Lord examines the oath and the pledge, he will see that there is some difference. But in acknowledging his point that the two are clearly part of the same thing, as I said earlier, we expect that these will follow one from the other seamlessly.
§ The Lord Bishop of Guildford
My Lords, to help the Minister, there is a difference between an oath and a pledge. An oath is made to Almighty God, not to the Crown: it concerns the Crown and has a condition at the end, "according to law". I am not sure that that would be entirely appropriate for the pledge.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
I will, my Lords. I disagree roundly with the noble Bishop—I have not given the right preface to his dignity; I should say "the right reverend Prelate". I do not see why Almighty God should not be as relevant to what is in the pledge as to what is in the oath—especially since what is in the oath is to the Queen in Parliament, so no real distinction can be made there.
The reason I did not table a number of consequential amendments, including the one referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, is that I wanted first to test the Government's reaction to the amendment.
The noble Lord is absolutely correct in his anticipation of my feelings. I sincerely and powerfully feel that this House so often lets itself down—or rather, lets the citizens down. We already have six 272 types of nationality and three types of citizenship. If we cannot get our heads round a single statement for people from overseas who do not have a command of the language to make, we are merely playing games with ourselves and them. Nevertheless, I must beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 4 [Deprivation of citizenship]:
§ The Chairman of Committees (Lord Tordoff)
My Lords, I must inform the House that if Amendment No. 5 is agreed to, I shall not be able to call Amendment No. 6 because of pre-emption.
§ Lord Dholakia moved Amendment No. 5:
§ Page 3, line 6, leave out subsection (2).
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, first, I thank the Minister. We have had a number of discussions on this matter during the Summer Recess. I am grateful to him, although I think that there is still a difference of opinion between the method proposed in this clause as against the views that we hold on these Benches.
§ The existing Section 40 of the British Nationality Act 1981 permits deprivation of citizenship for a limited class of people who have British citizenship by birth or by naturalisation. The power to deprive a person of citizenship has been used once in 54 years. The proposed new Section 40(2) to be inserted into the 1981 Act by this clause, provides a sweeping new power to deprive a person of British nationality not just where that nationality was acquired by grant in response to an application but also where it was acquired automatically by birth in the UK or by descent.
§ The Bill does not permit deprivation of citizenship where this would leave a person stateless. Thus, even without the amendment, the power can be used only against those who hold dual nationality. So in reality a person who is a British citizen cannot be deprived of his citizenship; a person of another nationality who is lawfully settled in this country cannot be deprived of his nationality; but a person holding dual nationality would fall within the provision of this clause.
§ In Committee, the Government's best argument for a bad clause was that by removing the distinction between naturalised/registered citizens and citizens by birth they were removing a discrimination between those born British and those naturalised as British.
The noble Lord, Lord Filkin, said:
The present law discriminates against those who have acquired citizenship by registration or naturalisation. As such, it tends to devalue these processes by marking out people who became citizens in either of these ways as, potentially, second-class citizens".—[Official Report, 8/7/02; col. 502.]
On 25th April, the Constitution Committee of this House queried why,
this innovative power is justified".
The then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, responded that it was intended to remove the distinctions between those who became citizens by birth and by naturalisation—an extreme example of "equality" by levelling down—but he did not explain
why that was necessary. He also suggested that the removal of nationality may "prevent or deter" individuals from carrying out anti-British activity in the future; it would seem more likely to encourage it, as the person would have no reason to feel any loyalty towards Britain in the future. If the activities in which the person was involved indeed caused significant harm, it is inconceivable that there would be no appropriate criminal charge. The same point was made in the letter by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, to the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution. Similar treatment is of course achieved by a levelling down and taking powers to deprive British-born people of their nationality.
§ It is correct that the proposal to leave out the new Section 40(2) will get rid of existing powers to remove a person's British citizenship. However, as I pointed out, this power has been used only once in 54 years. The argument that the clause is there to assist in the war against terrorism is unconvincing. The UK's international obligations would be better met by prosecuting for terrorist offences, or extraditing people to face prosecution, than by removing a person's British citizenship as a preliminary to exporting the problem by sending the person to another country, perhaps to one less willing or less able to bring a prosecution.
§ Since 1973, the Government have had no need for this power. In the past year, since 11th September 2001, the Government have enacted the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, which provides mechanisms for dealing with people alleged to have committed terrorist offences. At that time, the Home Secretary confirmed in relation to detention without trial that where it is possible to conduct a trial here, it would be done. That must also be the case for British nationals, regardless of how they obtained their citizenship. If the Secretary of State is satisfied that they have done anything seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the UK, it is highly unlikely that this would not also be a crime, for which they would be prosecuted rather than being deprived of their citizenship.
§ Exporting potential terrorists elsewhere without first charging them with an offence and establishing their guilt only adds to the danger and instability in the world. In a briefing from the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association, it said that it fears that this power is being extended in the name of the fight against international terrorism and may be aimed at the small number of British-born Muslim militants who joined the Al'Qaeda movement. The new Section 40 could have retrospective application. On day two of its coming into effect, the Secretary of State could decide to deprive British-born nationals of their status by reason of something that they may have done prior to the Act's commencement. Perhaps the Minister could enlighten us on whether that is the intention. If so, it is an unnecessary provision of retrospective legislation, as people could be dealt with under other provisions, for example, the Foreign Enlistment Act 1870.274
§ Even in the United States of America, the few individuals who are alleged to have fought for Al'Qaeda do not face the loss of their American citizenship. Only last week, John Walker Lindh was sentenced to 20 years' imprisonment, but he retained his American citizenship. Clause 4 does not recognise our responsibility in the international community to prosecute for terrorist offences. Instead, the intention is to strip people of British nationality and subsequently to expel them, passing the problem to someone else.
§ Those are our arguments. I hope that the Minister will be able to enlighten us as regards the issues that I identified. I beg to move.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, in the Library late last night I read with some surprise in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child a provision that a child has a right to a name. I was surprised to find that that was necessary. I was fairly plainly told by a specialist researcher in the Whips' Office that that proved that I knew nothing about the condition of refugees in refugee camps in Equatorial Guinea. I took the point and accepted the instruction.
However, I do think that one's citizenship and one's name are equally part of one's identity. To be deprived of one may well create the same sort of shock as being deprived of the other. That is the shock that I felt when I first saw this provision. But I also think that the Government need to think a little further than they have done about what they are doing when they deprive people of citizenship. There has not been a sustained consideration of the meaning of citizenship, so far as I know, since 1603–08, at the time of the Union of the Crowns of England and Scotland, when the question arose as to how far that union created a common citizenship.
It may surprise the Government that they are not the inventors of the notion that there is a link between rights and responsibilities, although it has not always been interpreted in precisely the way the Government now interpret it. On that occasion, it was interpreted in the same way by the King, the judges and the best parliamentary lawyers. They thought that the responsibility that closed up the whole arch of government was people's allegiance to their sovereign, which arose from their citizenship. In return for that allegiance, they had a right to protection from their sovereign. That link between allegiance and protection was absolutely fundamental to political thinking.
If one deprives someone of their citizenship, one deprives them of that which is the ground of their allegiance. That seems to be a rather dangerous thing to do. Equally, if one deprives people of that protection, one deprives them of the reasons for their allegiance. I know that the law retains the power to punish foreign nationals for crimes committed in this country, but such obedience as follows from that rests only on fear rather than on a sense of moral obligation. That sense of moral obligation results from citizenship. It is taking that away from people that seems extremely dangerous.
275 This is a week in which Al'Qaeda has once and perhaps twice reminded us that it has not gone out of business. To tell people in that situation that they no longer have a moral obligation to obey their Government does not seem very clever.
§ Lord Goodhart
My Lords, the Bill rightly excludes from the ambit of its power cases where it would render a British citizen stateless. However, the mere possession of a second nationality is not an adequate protection. There are, after all, people who were born in the United Kingdom, who are United Kingdom citizens by birth, but who hold a dual nationality, perhaps because their parents, at the time of their birth, were foreign citizens who had settled here in the UK but had not yet acquired British nationality. Those people may never even have set foot in the country of their second nationality, they may not speak its language, nor have any practical connections with it. Surely it would be wrong to make it possible to deprive those people of the citizenship of the United Kingdom and the rights of abode and entry that go with it.
The Bill extends the existing powers relating to UK nationals by naturalisation to United Kingdom citizens by birth. In its memorandum to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, the Home Office justified that by saying that it ended discrimination in the removal of citizenship between those who are citizens by naturalisation and those who are citizens by birth. In fact, it simply creates a new form of discrimination between British citizens by birth who hold no other citizenship and British citizens by birth who happen to hold the nationality of a second country as well, maybe by birth, maybe by subsequent acquisition. That discrimination is no more justified than the discrimination that it replaces.
The Joint Committee's report makes clear that there has been wide criticism of the subjective nature of the Home Secretary's decision. It is a matter of his opinion. We are dealing with an exceptional and draconian power. Surely the burden should be on the Home Secretary to show that there are reasonable grounds for his decision. As it is, he needs only to satisfy what is known as the Wednesbury test to show that his decision cannot be said to be so unreasonable that no Home Secretary properly acting could have taken it. That is far too high a test. I would go beyond saying that the Home Secretary should be required to show reasonable grounds. If the power exists, it is such a severe and exceptional one that any decision to remove should not be for the Home Secretary, but should be taken by a court on the application of the Home Secretary. The Home Secretary cannot sentence people in this country to prison. He cannot extradite anybody who is lawfully in the United Kingdom. Those are decisions for the courts. Any removal of citizenship—if it is justified at all—should be a matter for decision by the courts.
Removal of citizenship does not have important immediate effects in itself. However, it makes it possible subsequently to remove or exclude the former 276 citizen from the United Kingdom. One has to ask why, if at all, that is necessary. We can try people in the courts of the United Kingdom if they have committed an offence. If there is no evidence of an offence committed here, what is the justification for the removal of citizenship or for subsequent deportation?
As my noble friend Lord Dholakia has said, this power has been exercised once in the past 54 years. The power appears originally to have been introduced in 1914 as a response to the outbreak of the First World War—a time of anti-German hysteria that seems to have led to legislation to make it possible to deprive naturalised Britons of German origin of their citizenship. That is not a happy origin for this power.
We now have strengthened anti-terrorist laws that have made it easier to prosecute people in this country for terrorist offences committed here or sometimes abroad. There is no reason to believe that removal of citizenship for reasons other than fraud in obtaining it is a necessary power. It is equivalent to a penalty for a serious criminal offence. As I have said, if it is to be done at all, it should be done not by the fiat of the Home Secretary, but by a proper judicial process.
§ Lord Kingsland
My Lords, our Amendment No. 7 is also in this group, which relates to Clause 4, entitled, "Deprivation of citizenship". Clause 4(2) says:The Secretary of State may by order deprive a person of a citizenship status if the Secretary of State is satisfied that the person has done anything seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of—Subsection (4) qualifies that by adding that citizenship cannot be so deprived if it would render the citizen stateless.
- (a) the United Kingdom, or
- (b) a British overseas territory".
Our amendment would add to that qualification,or if the seriously prejudicial conduct in question constitutes an offence under the Terrorism Act 2000 (c.11), the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 (c.24) or general criminal law".We have tabled the amendment because, under the clause, the Secretary of State can override any single stipulation of criminal law in the land by this massive discretionary power, which depends solely on his subjective judgment. What counts is whether the Secretary of State is satisfied. The provisions for appeal against the Secretary of State's decision are, moreover, extremely circumscribed.
What is the Government's case for claiming this remarkable and unprecedented power to deprive a person born in this country of his or her citizenship, in the circumstances set out in Clause 4? In Standing Committee in another place the then Minister, Miss Angela Eagle referred to,the serious nature of the things that new Section 40A suggests would have to be proved against a person before they were deprived".I take nothing away from Miss Eagle's sincerity in making that case, but there is nothing about proof in Clause 4; the judgment of the Secretary of State is a subjective judgment. The Secretary of State is not required to obey any of the disciplines of the criminal law of the land.
277 Miss Eagle Continued:They are not small acts or issues of no consequence, but involve serious issues prejudicial to the vital interests of this country. They are not things that one can do by accident one weekend.…what we have in new section 40A is a power to deprive people of their nationality, in certain circumstances, if they have behaved in ways that amount to treason, problems for national security or interfering with the vital interest of this country. They are not trivial courses of conduct".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee E, 30/4/02; col. 60.]It is reasonable for your Lordships to conclude that if a person has committed treason, or an offence under the Terrorism Act 2000, the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 or perhaps the Official Secrets Act, their behaviour is also capable of falling within the provisions of the new section. Why should such a person not be prosecuted in the normal way in our criminal courts instead? Why on earth should the Secretary of State be given this discretion to pick somebody out of the normal judicial process and deal with him by his own subjective judgment.
Again in another place, Miss Eagle referred to war criminals as a category of person whom we would wish to deprive of citizenship—if they had it—using these new powers. Does that mean that the Government will, in future, consider deprivation of citizenship under Clause 4 as an alternative to prosecuting war criminals by due process?
The noble Lord, Lord Filkin, made an intriguing comment in Committee on 8th July. He said:We do not consider that deprivation of citizenship should in future be applied as a penalty for acts of a general criminal nature".—[Official Report, 8/7/02; col. 503.]What then do the Government envisage as a response to acts of the most serious criminal nature against the state, such as those that I have already outlined?
Later in that debate I asked the noble Lord to outline the circumstances in which he foresaw the discretion of the Secretary of State being exercised. He replied:One circumstance would be where a British citizen, either by himself or in concert with others, had taken actions against the interests of the British state and its citizens in ways that were clear and blatant while not resident in the United Kingdom. In that situation, I cannot see that the British criminal law could be used against them if their acts were committed abroad, even if their acts were against the interests of the British state from abroad".—[Official Report, 8/7/02; col. 511.]Surely, however, the Government are at perfect liberty in such a case to apply for the extradition of that person with a view to prosecuting him or her in our own courts in the United Kingdom.
I hope that the Minister will at least be able to reassure noble Lords—indeed, to undertake—that the proposals in this clause will not be used so as to evade the obligation to prosecute terrorists and others who commit serious crimes against the United Kingdom under any of our criminal laws.
I conclude with this point. Clause 4 must be against the rules of comity in international law. If we identify someone as a person proposing to commit a serious terrorist offence, for example, surely the obligation is on us to deal with that person. If we simply deport him, we shall be handing on—in my submission, 278 irresponsibly—this terrorist problem to another state which may not have the same capability of dealing with it as we do. It cannot be a proper response to the terrorist threat to refuse to deal with it ourselves if the act involved occurs in our jurisdiction or in another jurisdiction from which we can gain extradition. That would be irresponsible of us.
I therefore hope that, during the Summer Recess, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, has had time to reflect on this vital matter, so that he can—as I am sure he is about to—tell us that the Government have thought again about this clause and met the criticisms from both the Liberal Benches and our own.
§ 4 p.m.
§ Lord Rees-Mogg
My Lords, I support the arguments which have been used in favour of Amendment No. 5. There also seems to me to be one very powerful but secondary argument—the issue of whether a person's access to a second citizenship is a random and arbitrary one. Dual citizenship depends on the various legislation of every other country in the world. Some people have it purely by accident. Some people, such as myself, do not have it equally by accident.
I happen to be in a position which gives me a certain understanding of the arbitrariness of this. Were I six years younger, or had my parents not been married at the time that I was born, I should be a dual citizen of the United States. Owing to my age and the fact that they were married, I am not entitled to American citizenship. So people who will be excluded from the effect of this clause will be excluded on an entirely arbitrary and random basis. There is no common rule running through it which says that there is a relationship between their connection with this country and whether they may or may not have a second citizenship.
That is the minor matter. Although it is a pretty important argument and one with which I entirely agree, it is not as important as the quite extraordinary subsection (2) which we have in front of us. It states:The Secretary of State may by order".It is giving power to the Secretary of State to create a new crime. Although the crime is punishable by only one penalty, the removal of citizenship, it is nevertheless a crime and something that the law will punish.
I cannot recall an occasion since the 17th century in which Secretaries of State have been given this power with so little limitation. It is exercisable without evidence of the crime being produced. There is no requirement that there should be evidence of this crime, whatever the crime may be. It is not tried. It is not taken before the courts although there would undoubtedly be an appeal beyond the appeal provided for in another clause.
How is the crime defined? It is,anything seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of…the United Kingdom".279 What precision is there in the words "anything seriously prejudicial"? How would any judge be able to interpret "anything"? It is the widest word that could possibly be used. I might blow my nose and the Secretary of State might regard that as seriously prejudicial to the interests of the United Kingdom, particularly if I had a cold and it was about to spread among this body. That would indeed be seriously prejudicial to the interests of the United Kingdom. "Seriously" is a qualifying word on which it is impossible to put any precise meaning.
"Prejudicial" merely means that the Secretary of State thinks that it is not in the interests of the United Kingdom. There are some who think that Euroscepticism, which is rife in this House and in Parliament generally, is prejudicial to the interests of the United Kingdom because we ought to join the single European currency. Are all Eurosceptics with another citizenship to have their United Kingdom citizenship removed? On the face of it, the idea is absurd. An absurdity of this degree is also a manifest and intolerable injustice.
I hope that this amendment will be pressed to a Division if the Government continue to be obstinate. I am not myself prepared to support any Secretary of State having power given to him to create a crime on an arbitrary basis.
§ Lord Filkin
My Lords, this country has a long tradition, shared with others such as France, Spain and the United States, of providing in its law for deprivation of citizenship as a sanction against acts of treason and subversion. Ever since the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act 1914 our law has made provision for citizenship conferred by administrative grant to be withdrawn where the person concerned is found subsequently to have harmed, or posed a threat to, vital state interests.
In the current legislation, such actions are expressed in terms of disloyalty or disaffection towards the Crown, or as unlawful trade or communication with an enemy in time of war. The terminology may now seem a little dated, and the European Convention on Nationality sets out a better and more modern formulation.
The Government believe that this power should be retained. In our view, deprivation is a sanction which should be available as part of a potential raft of measures that can be taken against those who act in a way that is seriously prejudicial to our vital interests. We are not content to leave this entirely to the criminal law.
I wish to emphasise, however, that we regard deprivation of citizenship as a very serious step to be contemplated only in the most flagrant cases of deception or disloyalty. It would be reserved, as it has been in the past, for serious cases in which the individual's actions were totally incompatible with the holding of British nationality. An analysis of its use in this country throughout the period since the Second World War shows that it has been similarly regarded 280 by both Conservative and Labour governments. Except in one respect, to which I shall return, this is not a new measure. Moreover, the powers themselves are not new—they have been in statute for some time—and, although they have been used sparingly, they have been used.
I wish to emphasise also that this action would be taken only where, as has been said, a person is a dual national and would not, therefore, be made stateless as a result of the deprivation.
The purpose—which I think is apparent to the House, in the strange times in which we find ourselves—is, first, to express public abhorrence at such treasonable conduct and to demonstrate that the disloyalty shown is incompatible with being regarded as a member of the British family. Examples might be where British citizens engage in espionage against the United Kingdom or fight for an enemy against British or allied forces.
Secondly, the purpose is to afford a higher level of protection to the public. Deprivation has, of necessity, to have practical consequences for the person concerned, such that he is made aware of the abhorrence with which his conduct is regarded and is prevented or deterred from engaging in similar conduct in the future.
Thus, removal of British citizenship will result in the inability of the person concerned to hold a British passport. Deprivation may also pave the way for removal from the UK. That is not an inevitable consequence but it is something which may flow from the removal of British citizenship and with it the right of abode in the United Kingdom. Therefore, as is clear, there are two potential sanctions that can flow from the deprivation of citizenship: loss of passport and deportation from the United Kingdom. Loss of British citizenship means that the person concerned becomes subject to immigration control and requires leave from the Secretary of State to remain in the United Kingdom.
We do not accept the argument that we should always keep the people concerned within our shores. In order to deprive a person of their British citizenship for seriously prejudicial conduct they must have another nationality. We see no reason why we should allow such persons to operate within the freedom provided by the United Kingdom when they have another citizenship or nationality to call upon. I shall come later to the points raised in debate. We are, of course, still subject to all our international obligations under the ECHR and 1951 United Nations Convention and we would respect those in reaching any decision about removal as distinct from deprivation.
We acknowledge that for most, if not all, actions that would give rise to liability to deprivation of citizenship, there is provision in the criminal law for the application of a particular sanction. However, this country has a tradition of providing in its law for deprivation of citizenship as an additional sanction against acts of treason and subversion, and has had that power for almost a century. We see no good 281 reason for removing it. I also point out that it is not within the remit of the Secretary of State to bring criminal prosecutions for terrorist offences. We wish to retain the power of the Secretary of State to deprive regardless of what decision the Director of Public Prosecutions makes about the merits of a criminal prosecution. In some cases there will be a determination as to criminal liability before a decision to deprive is made. For example, under similar provisions in the British Nationality Act 1948 Klaus Fuchs and Nicholas Prager were both deprived of their citizenship after they had been convicted of offences under the Official Secrets Act.
On the other hand, we do not believe that liability to deprivation should arise only following a conviction. For example, there may be situations where the evidence of seriously prejudicial conduct would not be admissible in criminal proceedings. The protection of "vital interests" which the deprivation provisions would allow would extend wider than that afforded by the criminal law.
I turn now to some of the important points raised in the debate. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, argued that it was a sweeping new power. I hope that I have explained that it is not so except in the respect that it now puts all citizens on an equal basis. We believe that that is right. We believe that it is consistent with our approach to citizenship—an approach which I had hoped the House broadly supported—namely, that it is an extremely important privilege and it is one that should be respected without discrimination as to the route by which people had received citizenship. In other words, receiving citizenship through naturalisation should not ever be seen as a second-class status compared with natural born status.
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, in his thoughtful and traditional way almost argued that there was doubt as to whether we should ever deprive someone of citizenship. He did not go quite that far but that was the thrust of his case. That is a perfectly legitimate argument that one can make. Unfortunately, as he will understand, it is not one that the Government agree with or share, but it is clearly an argument that is open to be made by Members of this House.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, the Minister just now described citizenship as a privilege. For those born here it is a right and the link with responsibilities is with the Crown's responsibilities to discharge its responsibility to protect them.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Filkin
My Lords, I shall discuss the responsibility of the Crown to act appropriately shortly when I refer to the exercise by the Secretary of State of his present powers and his future powers.
The power we are discussing has not been used only once in 54 years. The last occasion it was used was in 1973 and 10 deprivation orders have been made since 1948. However, I do not want to bandy detailed statistics with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. The noble Lord also asked quite rightly about 282 retrospection. That is not the effect of new Section 40. The new powers to deprive British nationals by birth would not apply to acts done before commencement.
I turn to the questions and challenges posed by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. I refer to the issue of dual or single nationality. The argument as I hear it is that because one cannot enforce by extradition the deprivation of citizenship against everyone because only some have a single nationality, one should not exercise it at all. I understand the argument but I do not concur with it because the fact that we cannot necessarily convict everyone of every offence that has been committed does not mean that we are not right to take action against those whom we can so act against, and so we should do.
The arbitrary nature of the Home Secretary's power has also been referred to. Again, it is right that these issues are tested and challenged. The powers are not new; they have been on the statute since 1980. It is entirely appropriate that the Secretary of State should be able to act on his view that a particular set of circumstances amounts to conduct seriously prejudicial to vital interests.
In matters relating to national security the Court of Appeal, endorsed by the House of Lords, has judged that the Secretary of State is undoubtedly in the best position to judge what national security requires. But clearly that would be abhorrent if there was not a right of challenge against it. There is a right of challenge against it to ensure that a Secretary of State is not able to act arbitrarily. First, the Secretary of State is compelled by new Section 40(5)(b)—a new-provision—to give written reasons for the intended deprivation order which we think is in itself meritorious. Secondly, a person against whom it was proposed to make a deprivation order would be free on appeal to raise any issue bearing on either the legality or the merits of the decision. I rarely like to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, but I think that the scope of challenge is wide rather than narrow, as he suggested.
The Secretary of State would therefore be prevented from making a deprivation order until such time as the appeal had been finally determined or, if there was no appeal, until such time as the deadline for bringing an appeal had passed.
I shall not go into the detail of extraterritoriality, which is a complex issue. It is certainly clear that in some cases we could not extradite for an act of treason committed abroad as there is no extradition agreement with some countries. Therefore, we would not be able to bring those people home and make them feel the weight of the criminal law. The law on extraterritoriality is itself complex. It is not in our view-totally clear that in all cases an extraterritorial act of treason could be prosecuted in this country even were we in a position to be able to extradite.
However, the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, raised a particularly important point about whether the Government would use such a power to avoid prosecutions under the Acts he mentioned. I am happy to give a categorical assurance that if we, or rather—I 283 must qualify that—the Director of Public Prosecutions thinks there is evidence, the state would hope that prosecutions would proceed in all such circumstances.
For those reasons I say in conclusion that it is not a new power. It seeks to treat all British citizens equally. It will be used with considerable circumspection, as has been the case in the past. There is a very extensive right of challenge. But we do not believe in these times that it would be healthy to give a signal to British citizens of whatever type that under no circumstances in practice would there be this sanction which has been with us for nearly a century.
§ Lord Dholakia
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for what he has said. However, he has still not satisfied this side of the House. I am grateful to noble Lords, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Rees-Mogg and Lord Kingsland, for their support. There are some important issues. I know of no country—unless the Minister does—that deprives one of its citizens of his citizenship. We intend therefore, to have one more bite at this cherry at Third Reading. We shall certainly come back to this issue. If we are not satisfied with discussions between now and then, I tell the Minister now that we shall certainly seek the opinion of the House at that stage. However, in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment Nos. 6 and 7 not moved.]
§ Lord Filkin moved Amendment No. 8:
Page 4, leave out line 1 and insert—
(c) otherwise in the public interest.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, on a happier note, or a less troublesome note, I am pleased to signal that in Committee the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew—who is not in his place today, which is a shame—made an eloquent speech about his worry about the use of the phrase, "of a political kind". In short, I made the response that Minister's do in those circumstances. However, the Government have used the summer to look at it in more detail.
§ The Government believe that it is possible to find alternative wording which I believe achieves what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, was seeking. Unless your Lordships particularly want me to do so, I shall not go into the technical detail of why we put our amendment rather than simply accepting that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew. In practice, we believe that it does effect exactly his wish, without a number of disadvantages. I thank the noble and learned Lord for his contribution to the Bill in that respect, as in others. I beg to move.284
§ Baroness Anelay of St Johns
My Lords, I rise to say that I had a conversation with my noble friend a short while ago. He expressed his gratitude that the Government had reflected during the summer and returned with this amendment, which he fully supports, as do I.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Filkin moved Amendment No. 9:
Page 4, line 35, at end insert—
( ) In exercising a power under section 40 of the British Nationality Act 1981 (c. 61) after the commencement of subsection (1) above the Secretary of State may have regard to anything which—
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, ever since the British Nationality and Status of Aliens Act 1914, our law has made provision for citizenship conferred by administrative grant to be withdrawn where the person concerned is found subsequently to have harmed, or posed a threat to, vital interests, as we recently discussed.
§ In the Bill, such actions are expressed in terms of disloyalty or disaffection towards the Crown, or as unlawful trade or communication with an enemy in time of war. We have proposed that those grounds should be replaced by those set out in Clause 4(1).
§ The amendment would simply make it clear that in deciding whether there were grounds for deprivation of citizenship under the new Section 40 of the British Nationality Act 1981, the Secretary of State would be entitled to have regard to events occurring before commencement of that section if those events would have justified deprivation under existing Section 40 of the 1981 Act.
§ Therefore, for example, an act by a naturalised citizen which amounted to disloyalty or disaffection towards Her Majesty for the purposes of existing Section 40(3)(a) of the 1981 Act might, if it had not been by then discovered and acted upon, justify the making of a deprivation order under Section 40(2) of the Act.
§ I emphasise that the amendment is not seeking to give retrospective effect to any of the new powers in Clause 4 of the Act. Rather, that it will preserve the ability to deprive a naturalised or registered citizen in reliance on the conduct that occurred prior to the commencement of the section, provided that the act that gives rise to the current liability would, if done after commencement, justify deprivation under the new provisions. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.285
Lord Filkin moved Amendment No. 10:
After Clause 11, insert the following new clause—
"BRITISH CITIZENSHIP: REGISTRATION OF CERTAIN PERSONS WITHOUT OTHER CITIZENSHIP
(1) The following shall be inserted after section 4A of the British Nationality Act 1981 (c. 61) (registration as British citizen)—
"4B ACQUISITION BY REGISTRATION: CERTAIN PERSONS WITHOUT OTHER CITIZENSHIP
(1) This section applies to a person who has the status of—
(2) A person to whom this section applies shall be entitled to be registered as a British citizen if—
(2) In section 14(1) of that Act (meaning of British citizen "by descent"), in paragraph (d) for "section 5" there shall be substituted "section 4B or 5".
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary gave an undertaking in another place to reconsider the position of British overseas citizens who have no other nationality. As matters stand, those citizens have no right of abode, either in this country or elsewhere.
§ The Home Secretary stated the Government's view that we have a moral obligation to them of long standing and that the present unsatisfactory situation represented unfinished business. We have since concluded that a similar obligation is owed to British subjects and to British protected persons without other nationalities.
§ British overseas citizenship and the statuses of British subjects and British protected persons derive, in the main, from a personal or ancestral connection with a former British colony, or with a foreign place which was at one time under British jurisdiction. Generally speaking, the holders of those statuses failed to qualify for citizenship of a new state at the time of independence and therefore remained British.
§ The precise number of people in those categories has been difficult to pin down. In 1980, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office suggested in evidence to the Home Affairs Committee that about 1.5 million people would become British overseas citizens under the 1981 Act, of whom approximately 1.3 million people would have another—usually Malaysian—citizenship.
§ We estimate that there are now about 35,000 British overseas citizens and about 10,000 British subjects and British protected persons who have no other citizenship. However, a wide margin of error must be allowed for those figures. They are based largely on personal contact with our overseas Commissions in the course of applications for passports and other 286 consular services. Undoubtedly, there will be other people who have not availed themselves of those services.
§ The amendments which we now propose will provide British overseas citizens, British subjects and British protected persons having no other nationality, with an entitlement to acquire, on application, and subject to some further requirements—which I shall presently explain—British citizenship.
§ In doing so, they would also acquire automatically a right of abode here. In other words, they would no longer be subject to United Kingdom immigration controls, but could come and go at will subject to the usual requirements for proof of right of entry on arrival. They would additionally, as EU citizens under the Treaty of Rome, acquire the right of free movement under the treaty.
§ The requirements for acquisition of British citizenship under the new clause are as follows. First, the applicant must be a British overseas citizen, a British subject or a British protected person. Secondly, the applicant must have no other nationality or citizenship on the date of application. Thirdly, the applicant should not previously have given up an alternative nationality or citizenship, whether through action or inaction on his part.
§ The latter requirement would exclude those who had lost another nationality through failure to take the steps prescribed by the law of that country for its retention beyond a certain date, as well as those who had lost another nationality as a result of some positive act on their part—such as the making of a declaration of renunciation. Such countries are tolerant of dual nationality in minors but require that on attaining the age of majority, the person must not only renounce their citizenship but also make a declaration of intention as to future residence, and/or take an oath of allegiance.
§ Therefore, we do not consider it appropriate to extend an entitlement to British citizenship to those who, by their actions or inaction, have given up another nationality, and one assumes the right to reside permanently in the country of that nationality.
§ The Secretary of State must be satisfied that the applicant has no other nationality or citizenship and has not given up another nationality or citizenship. Our experience in implementing the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1990 suggests that there is endless scope for argument about that. Therefore, the intention is that in most cases the applicant will be required to produce a statement from both the authorities of the country of his birth and those of the countries in which his parents were born, if different, confirming the lack of an alternative nationality or citizenship, and the reasons for any historical loss of such citizenship.
§ The amendment proposes that those registered as British citizens, under the new provision would be British citizens "by descent" for the purposes of the British Nationality Act 1981. As such, they would be subject to the restrictions imposed by that Act on the ability of British citizens "by descent" to transmit their 287 citizenship to a further generation born outside the United Kingdom. That would be consistent with their present position whereby British overseas citizenship and the status of British subject and the British protected person are usually non-transmissible.
§ Any children born in the United Kingdom following their parents' registration as British citizens would, of course, acquire British citizenship automatically.
§ For those reasons, the Government hope that your Lordships welcome this further movement prompted, in part, by representations that were made to us. I invite the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Avebury, if they are so minded, to withdraw their amendment. I beg to move.
Lord Dholakia moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 10, Amendment No. 11:
Line 19, leave out "or inaction
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. We are delighted with Amendment No. 10. There is concern about one part of its wording; namely, line 19, and we propose to leave out "or inaction".
§ We welcome the fact that the aim is to ensure that persons who have no other nationality but that of British overseas citizens, British protected persons or British subjects, are not prevented from registering as British citizens simply because they failed to take a step that would have procured another nationality for them.
In July the Minister, Beverley Hughes, gave a commitment to Fiona Mactaggart MP to allow British overseas citizens with no other nationality to register as British citizens. The Minister stated that she was doing that,
to address the situation which left those people concerned with no right of abode in any country". [Official Report, Commons, 4/7/02; col. 527W]
§ We have support for the amendment from the Immigration Law Practice Association, which has urged us to ensure that the Minister takes into account the fact that the clause should be implemented immediately on commencement of the Bill. It would be useful if the Government could confirm that people who hold any kind of British nationality should be treated with sympathy should they need to apply for settlement in the UK before enactment.
§ There is, however, concern that the reference to "inaction" may result in a group of people being left with no right of abode in any country, the very mischief the new clause is designed to avoid. Perhaps I may give an example. Kenyan law does not normally allow dual nationality. Section 12 of the Kenyan constitution provides that people who hold Kenyan and another-country citizenship will lose the Kenyan citizenship if they do not renounce the other citizenship between the ages of 21 and 23. The practice of the British authorities was not to consider special quota voucher applications from such people until those people reached 23, when they would qualify for vouchers if they had not renounced their British status 288 because their Kenyan nationality had automatically been lost. The vouchers allowed people to come to the UK and subsequently to seek British citizenship through naturalisation. The voucher scheme was abolished on 5th March this year.
§ Those affected were born in Kenya to a British father after independence on 12th December 1963 but before January 1983 when the British Nationality Act 1981 came into force. They were able to inherit their father's citizenship, renamed British overseas citizenship by the 1981 Act. After 1981, no British overseas citizen could pass on his or her nationality in this way.
§ Some young people may have done nothing before reaching the age of 23 because they did not realise that anything needed to be done. Others may have done nothing because they were intending to apply for vouchers when their personal circumstances made it appropriate to do so. They will be left as British overseas citizens, with no right of abode in any country, and no possibility of getting a voucher to come to Britain and subsequently naturalise as British. I hope that the Minister will take that factor into account when considering why we believe the word "inaction" ought to be deleted from the clause. I beg to move.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Lord Filkin
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for his questions. Given that some of the issues are intensely technical, I shall, with his leave and without signalling positively, write to him.
As regards inaction, if the thrust of his objection is a concern that the exclusion of those who have lost another nationality through inaction cover, for example, all British overseas citizens in Kenya, our view is no. Most of the British overseas citizens in Kenya are not and never have been citizens of Kenya. Accordingly, the possibility of the loss of Kenyan citizenship, whether through action or inaction, does not arise in their case.
However, a British national who has acquired Kenyan citizenship, whether automatically or by registration or naturalisation, will be subject to the restrictions on dual nationality contained in the legislation of that country. Those include the provision that the person must, on attaining the age of 21, renounce any non-Kenyan citizenship and make a declaration of intention regarding future residence and take an oath of allegiance.
Therefore, inaction will apply only to those born after Kenyan independence in 1963. All citizens of the United Kingdom and colonies born before then will now be either British overseas citizens or Kenyan. They cannot be both and they will have needed to exercise a positive choice.
The people who come into the inaction category are those who at birth, post-independence, were citizens of the United Kingdom or colonies by descent from the parent and also Kenyan because a parent was born in Kenya. Those people must exercise a choice at the age of 23 because Kenya does not allow adults to hold dual 289 nationality. If a minor who holds both BOC and Kenyan nationality does nothing to consolidate his Kenyan nationality by the age of 22, he then loses it. "Consolidating" is making a declaration of intent to reside in Kenya and reaffirming allegiance to Kenya.
I hope that that is helpful, if not necessarily completely satisfactory, but I would affirm the point I made earlier that I will write to the noble Lord. That leaves open the possibility of discussions, without wishing to signal that we are necessarily moving on the issue. We would be pleased to go into further detail, if that would help.
§ Lord Dholakia
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister and I look forward to his response on the number of detailed points that have been made. If need be, perhaps I may have a bilateral discussion with him on the matter. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment No. 11, as an amendment to Amendment No. 10, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Amendment No. 10 agreed to.
§ Clause 14 [Establishment of centres]:
§ Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 12:
Page 9, line 16, at end insert
( ) An accommodation centre shall be established only when the Secretary of State is satisfied that the proposed location is suitable to the needs of the persons to be accommodated therein".
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 12, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 13. We turn to Part 2 of the Bill and to a series of amendments regarding the structure and running of accommodation centres. Amendment No. 12 raises the question of where an accommodation centre should be sited. We believe that it is the key to improving the Government's current proposals.
§ I did not move the amendment in Committee because Members had spoken to it during our debates on the size of accommodation centres. Today, however, I have learnt from that experience and therefore I have grouped the amendments to facilitate, I hope, a more concise and rounded debate.
§ We on these Benches support the concept of building accommodation centres. After all, the proposal strongly echoes that which we put forward before the previous general election. But of course our welcome is for the concept and not always for the details of the way in which the Government propose that the centres should operate.
§ The Government's plans for three—there should be four but one seems to have disappeared—large accommodation centres in rural areas, where the processing of claims will take far too long, will have no chance of solving the problem of clearing up the huge backlog of claims. It would, on the Government's current proposals, take more than 43 years for the new accommodation centres to clear even just that backlog.290
§ We are now told that as a result of objections from the local communities to the siting, establishment of the accommodation centres is drifting towards 2004. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that local councils have rejected the plans and that the proposals are being put out to public inquiry. I understand that that may not conclude until just prior to next year's local elections. When the centres are established, their whole success will depend upon their ability to meet the diverse cultural, social and language needs of the people to be accommodated in them. We believed that those needs will best be met by putting the accommodation centres close to the communities, which already provide for the needs of those from similar cultures and communities.
§ However, the Government have decided not to do that. They want to put the large accommodation centres, each housing about 750 people, in rural areas. We believe that that is wholly inappropriate for all concerned. Indeed, at a conference earlier this year, the Home Secretary acknowledged to the chief executive of the Immigration Advisory Service that placing such centres away from urban areas was likely to lead to isolation and potential institutionalisation, with consequent possible psychiatric difficulties for those who were placed there. Yet still that is what the Home Secretary has decided to do.
§ Last month, I visited the proposed site of the accommodation centre at Bicester. That visit convinced me that it is not appropriate to build the large accommodation centre proposed there. It cannot go to meet the needs of those applying for asylum. Indeed, it has far more the feel of a site for a detention centre than an accommodation centre.
§ I am grateful to the Minister for enabling, during the summer Recess, plans to be circulated to, I hope, all noble Lords who took part in the debate. They show an outline plan of how the centre might be built and where the buildings might be located. I have to say that "Cell Block H" has little on this one; it does not fill me with great encouragement.
§ The site itself is so isolated from community life that it will close down any opportunities for the Government to reconsider which services they should provide within the accommodation centre. I am delighted to see so many right reverend Prelates sitting on the Bishops' Benches this afternoon. If, later today, the Government were persuaded by the noble Lords led by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth that education should be provided off site in mainstream schools, the very location of the new centres currently planned would close down that option.
§ Yesterday a briefing meeting was held in the Moses Room by a consortium of those who have great concerns about education. I listened most carefully to the views expressed, some of which I do not agree with. However, throughout the meeting, I was struck by the sincerity, the conviction, and the generosity of spirit that was evident. I took very seriously what was said. Indeed, after listening to those comments, I felt even more strongly that Amendment No. 12 was needed.291
§ The purpose of Amendment No. 13 is to put on the face of the Bill the requirement that accommodation centres should not house more than 250 asylum seekers at any one time. I have been reasonable in the extreme. On this occasion, on Report, I have given the Secretary of State the opportunity to increase that number by affirmative order if he is able to demonstrate to Parliament the need to do so.
§ Many of the expert organisations that have provided briefing on the Bill, such as the Refugee Council, have expressed concern at the proposed size of the centres. They say that the Government's proposals would make them too large to be effective. The Immigration Advisory Service says that it believes that the experience of reception centres in other European countries, such as Denmark and the Netherlands, is that they are more effective if they contain no more than about 200 to 300 people.
§ There will undoubtedly be pressures and tensions in a centre that holds as many as 750 people, or anything like that number. I have in mind the pressures that built up at Yarl's Wood. In Committee, we discussed the problems that arose at that centre. The Government said that they would report back to the House the progress of the report covering the noting that took place. Perhaps the Minister will take this opportunity to say what has happened to that report and bring us up to date.
§ The smaller the number of people in each centre, the more likely it is that such centres would be efficient, humane, decent, and safe. Local residents would also find the smaller centres easier to cope with and understand. Can the Government confirm that NASS has put out a tender for emergency accommodation using pre-fabricated buildings similar to barges? Can the Minister say whether the Government have properly considered this type of solution for smaller versions of accommodation centres?
§ The Minister said in Committee that he would be speaking to the Refugee Council about this matter over the summer months. I have heard one or two little leaked bits of reports on the website over the past few weeks. Can the Minister tell us today the results of that consultation? Further, what will be the size and location of accommodation centres to be established in addition to the three already planned? Will they be completed by the time that the original three large ones should be open?
§ We need proof today that the Government will make a real trial of accommodation centres, rather than presenting us with a fait accompli. I believe that putting Amendment No. 12 on the face of the Bill would give us that proof. After all, it would not undermine the Government's plans for faster and fairer processing of claims; it would simply reinforce them. Therefore, I cannot see any reason why the Government should object to this amendment. I beg to move.292
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, we on these Benches are happy to support both amendments. They are good and useful amendments. I have but one reservation; namely, that I wish Amendment No. 12 had not included the words,the Secretary of State is satisfied".The Secretary of State is sometimes very easily satisfied, and sometimes satisfied only with very great difficulty. I fear that this case might belong to the first category.
I remember listening in Committee to the noble Countess, Lady Mar, who is not in the Chamber at present. However, I am sure that she will confirm what she said. She observed that the roads in the neighbourhood of Throckmorton are simply incapable of carrying the traffic that a large centre would generate. That is a very material point. Those noble Lords who have found themselves in a hurry on a narrow country road will have some picture in their minds of what sort of confusion may arise. I also understand that the centre is close to a very large rubbish tip. I hope that my noble friend Lord Greaves will say something more in that respect.
If I know anything about children, they wander about and find things to play with. They pick them up and, if they are young, they put them in their mouths. What might happen to children who wander around a rubbish tip and put things in their mouths is a question that I consider with considerable apprehension. There is also the question of catering, which the Minister made a great deal of in Committee and upon which he made some very welcome remarks. He is clearly envisaging self-catering for asylum seekers, which should mean that they are able to buy food comparable to that available in their own countries. In this sort of situation, and especially as one gets into a greater state of unease, one develops a hankering for familiar food. I do not know what are the chances of buying tropical food in the neighbourhood of Bicester or Pershore; I doubt whether they are considerable—
§ Earl Russell
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, has reservations on this point, which I am sure he will state and to which I shall listen with interest.
The situation gives rise to a question that will emerge during discussions on later amendments; namely, how far asylum seekers in these centres are envisaged as being able to come and go during the day. As we all know—and, indeed, as most of us in this Chamber have said many times—bus services in particularly remote areas leave a great deal to be desired. If there is a flood of, say, 100 people trying to board one local bus, a number of whom will be going to collect benefits, many will not be able to do so. Again, such a situation could give rise to resentment.
We need to know that all those questions would have been considered in relation to the particular centre concerned before a decision was made to build 293 the centre in that location. There are many more such questions and I could continue for quite some time, but Report is the wrong stage of a Bill to do so. However, turning to Amendment No. 13, we welcome the suggested limit at such centres of 250 people, proposed by my honourable friend Mr Hughes in another place.
We believe that the group dynamics of any collection of people are heavily influenced by its size. Incidentally, that is one reason why this House functions very much more harmoniously than is sometimes the case in another place. The other place has grown beyond the group dynamics in which real friendship across the community is possible. This House has not done so; and we gain very considerably as a result. With a size of 250, it is possible for people to know each other and to make friends across communities—not, as happens in much larger gatherings, to huddle together in tiny little groups of their own sort of people, which tends to have a divisive effect within centres.
Fights between, say, Kurds and Algerians in refugee centres have by no means been unknown. Such situations would be much less likely to arise in a smaller centre. The group dynamics of a small centre will be very much happier than those of a large centre. The point is difficult to quantify. The figure of 250 people is not sacred: but the avoidance of massive units is important. The Government make arguments of economy of scale. I remember the latter being made in favour of the first comprehensive schools. At that time comprehensives were built to accommodate 2,000 pupils. Such schools have not been the most successful of our comprehensives. It is a mistake that Whitehall is capable of making too often. I hope that it will not make it this time.
§ Lord Judd
My Lords, I hope that my noble friend will take very seriously the feeling behind the amendment. First, in terms of the numbers at present being considered, it seems to me that there is a danger of inadvertently creating a hell-hole of a social ghetto. I say that as someone who, for much of his life, has had the privilege of working professionally with humanitarian agencies. I have seen at first hand what can happen when large numbers of insecure people are herded together. I have seen the psychological complications that can follow. I hope therefore that the issue of numbers will be taken seriously by my noble friend. It is terribly important that he explains to the House why the experience of other countries, to which the noble Baroness referred, has been rejected in favour of larger centres.
The other point I want to raise relates to what the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said about the social dynamics. People in the centres are people; we must remember that. The implications of living among 749 other people in an institutionalised environment of institutionalised uncertainty are fairly horrific. The more that can be done to humanise such an unfortunate experience—most of us accept that, even if necessary, it is an unfortunate experience—the better.
294 I am sure the noble Earl, Lord Russell, would agree that it is not simply a case of ensuring that people in the centres are able to move freely in the community outside and in the real world; the ease of access for people from outside to the centres is also important in establishing relationships and in trying to humanise a little more the position of those who find themselves there. For all those reasons, I hope that my noble friend will not simply reject the amendment out of hand.
I was also present at last night's meeting; it was a telling experience. Those who attended were not just, dare I say, bleeding-heart liberals; they were people involved every day in practical work among those who are in social difficulties and in positions of social deprivation. They speak with the experience of practical engagement. Many of them give their lives—almost literally. When people speak, I wish it could be remembered that such people are giving their lives to work of that kind. Their voices need to be heard. From that standpoint, I hope that my noble friend will treat the points that have been made extremely seriously.
§ Lord Carlisle of Bucklow
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Anelay and ask the Minister whether he will be good enough to spell out clearly and in detail the current position with regard to the siting and building of the early attendance centres intended by the Government. In Committee, the Government confirmed that the building and siting of attendance centres would be subject to the normal planning laws. How many applications for the building of attendance centres have been submitted by the Government: three or four? More particularly, in those applications presumably some indication was given of the size of the centres and of the number of people they would house. Can the Minister tell us the intended number for each attendance centre?
Secondly, is it correct that all three applications—in England, at least—have been rejected by the local planning authorities? If that is the case, what were the main grounds for their rejection? Was one of the grounds, as has been suggested, that all the applications related to rural areas and that the size of the centres—we are talking about attendance centres for 750 people—was likely to smother the surrounding small rural villages?
What effect has that now had on the Government's overall programme for building attendance centres? Presumably the Government intend to appeal the refusal of the planning authorities. Have those appeals yet been made and have inspectors yet been appointed? When do the Government hope that the appeals will take place, and when do they expect to hear the result of the appeals? What effect has the refusal of all three applications had on the Government's timetable in this whole area?
If it is intended that those three applications should relate merely to the first of many attendance centres that will be required, should not the fact that the Government have so far been faced with a blanket refusal on each occasion make them question whether 295 they are asking to build the centres in the right areas and of the right size? Or perhaps they should question the basis of the policy that they have been following.
I believe that we need to know the answer to those questions. It seems to me that the powerful arguments made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, about the advantages of smaller centres over those proposed by the Government are borne out by the apparent unwillingness of those living in the community to accept attendance centres of the size being suggested.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, I am a former chairman of the Refugee Council. Like many noble Lords, I am deeply perturbed by the situation which some people—my friends—are prepared to embrace. Quite rightly, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to the possibility of people going in and out of the detention centres, and the noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, asked a number of highly relevant questions.
But I am concerned about people who cannot get out and who must stay inside all the time. Are they expected always to behave as we would like them to do? They will be very frustrated. I am concerned that as many as 750 people should be herded together in the way the Government contend. I do not really care whether or not planning appeals are successful because I do not believe that the Government should have picked upon such an idea. I am deeply concerned that a government which I support have even touched the idea.
It is not long since my grandparents were refugees. They had many difficulties with which to contend but they never had to contend with such a proposal. I believe that the idea is wholly wrong not only from the point of view of people who regard themselves as Socialists, Liberals or liberal Conservatives; in my view, it is wholly wrong that people should be exposed to this type of difficulty.
Asylum seekers are not criminals. Some may even be regarded as future citizens of this country. Some have done their best to get here, to rescue themselves and their children. Some may have behaved ignobly, but whatever their reasons I do not believe that anyone should presuppose that they are guilty and that they should be treated like serfs. What is worse is that they are confined to a situation in which they are exposed to rural circumstances only, which makes it virtually impossible for them to receive the kind of advice, concern and treatment to which they are entitled.
If a Division is called on this point, regretfully I shall have to vote against the Government because I believe that the point of view that is being expressed by them is wholly wrong.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Baroness Howe of Idlicote
My Lords, it is difficult to follow that moving speech by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis. It was passionate and from the heart. I support the amendment, especially as it applies to children and their education. One of the most 296 important principles that any democracy should have at the very top of its agenda is attention to the needs of the most vulnerable and dependent in society—children.
This amendment firmly underlines that principle by seeking to incorporate on the face of the Bill that the needs of asylum seekers should dictate where the proposed accommodation centres be located. Many noble Lords have already mentioned the "No school apartheid" meeting yesterday. That briefing could not have failed to impress on anyone present the deep concern about the Government's plans to segregate asylum seekers in accommodation centres, some of which are very large and often in remote areas, even for those with children.
Whether it was teachers, parents or asylum seekers themselves who spoke yesterday, the point was made again and again that becoming part of a local school community is beneficial not only to the children concerned, who by definition are often traumatised, and to their parents, but also to the children who already attend the school who learn about other countries, the lives of people living in other countries and their suffering. As one youngster put it, she was the one who had profited because she had gained knowledge from someone who had recently joined the school so that she was able to write a play about the experiences. There was also a robust denial from everyone in the room of the media assertion that local schools were being swamped by an influx of asylum-seeking children.
No one denies that the substantially increasing numbers of asylum seekers coming into this country is causing problems, nor that those who attempt to come to the UK illegally should not be swiftly returned. Equally, this country has always had, and indeed needed, immigrants, asylum seekers or whatever one calls them. We also have considerable cause to be grateful for the skills, hard work and varied talents that they have brought with them.
Above all, a nation and a government that set considerable store by their commitment to human rights, and not least stress in the Adoption and Children Bill currently before your Lordships' House, that the overarching principle to be followed will be the child's welfare, should surely be more than willing to welcome, as well as accept, Amendment No. 12 so ably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay.
§ The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth
My Lords, it is a pleasure to support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and to support many of the speeches made by other Members of the House. Yesterday's meeting was a revealing occasion and helped many of us to take a view on some of the details of the discussion before the House. If we need to have accommodation centres, their size is vital. The small size promoted by the amendment will provide flexibility as to where they are placed, which will have ramifications elsewhere in our discussions this evening. I agree with everything that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has said about the dynamics of size.
297 I detect a certain slippage. It should be noted that we are now talking about accommodation centres and not detention centres. I was slightly amused by the expression "the satisfaction of the Secretary of State". Perhaps I may revert to 16th century prose, which I know will delight the noble Earl: there appears to be a movable feast. I support the amendment and hope that the Minister will give it an accepting hearing.
§ Lord Renton of Mount Harry
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate used the word "slippage" and noted that such centres are now called accommodation centres. "Accommodation" is perhaps a compromise word. It is important to remember that there is a presumption of liberty for immigration detainees. That is enshrined in earlier immigration Acts. Therefore, it is vital that, in considering the location and size of new accommodation centres, we consider how easy it will be for the residents therein to come and go.
My locus for speaking in this debate is that some 10 years ago I was Minister responsible for immigration at the Home Office. In that time I visited three centres. I am not sure whether we called them "accommodation centres" or "detention centres".
§ Lord Renton of Mount Harry
My Lords, my noble friend reminds me. One was a large centre close to Heathrow, the second was a smaller centre at Ham Common, just outside Richmond and the third was a ship in an east coast harbour. My officials in the immigration and nationality department were rather alarmed when I said that I intended to visit the ship. I believe that they thought I might receive a rather hostile reception. When I walked up the gangplank I was absolutely delighted to be greeted by a loud cheer. However, those on board were watching a Test match and Pakistan had just taken another English wicket! I learned that of the three centres—I am a nautical man—the happiest place was the ship. It was the smallest and there was always something going on. By comparison the large centre close to Heathrow was by far the most inhumane, to use the word that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, used. Therefore, in approaching this problem it is essential that we realise that in the future rich countries like ourselves, France and Germany, will be judged by how we managed to deal with this growing problem of asylum seekers and by how much humanity we showed.
Of great importance to me is that there is fear in relation to this issue. One has seen that recently between Dover and Calais. But our solutions are simply not to pander to that fear. I believe therefore, as other noble Lords have said, immigration detainees or immigration applicants for asylum should not be isolated in rural areas. That would be totally counterproductive. It would ensure that they do not learn anything about the country into which some of them will eventually be granted indefinite leave to remain.
298 What we want is an atmosphere under which some asylum seekers, who are here for weeks or months, will have opportunities to learn about the habits, the ways and the slang of the country in which they may be spending the rest of their lives. Ideally they will have an opportunity to visit cafes, supermarkets, bars and the local football ground in order to get a feeling of what Britain is like.
On that basis the suggestion of my noble friend Lady Anelay is along the right lines. I support her amendments. I might question the figure of 250. I think that perhaps that is a little small but it is very much a step in the right direction.
My last point is to pick up where I started—on a ship. I hope that the Government will consider very carefully the question of using what is called, I think rather tactfully, "moored coastal accommodation". Its great advantage as the Immigration Advisory-Service, among others, has said to me, is that its size can be accommodated to the harbour where the boat is to be moored; for example, one obviously can have a larger boat in Felixstowe than in Oban. The construction therein—whether large rooms, small rooms and big or small gangways—can be exactly suited to the required circumstances.
Furthermore—I have to say this—floating coastal accommodation is very cheap to build. One figure mentioned is that the cost of it could well be as low as £5 per head per day. I suspect that that is a great deal less than the grand and large accommodation centres currently proposed by the Government. They are so grand and so large that in my judgment they will never get built. I believe that the cost of them will be too great and they will get permanently postponed. As an alternative I seriously suggest looking at something simpler, more flexible and cheaper to build. In that context, moored coastal accommodation would do very well.
§ Lord Corbett of Castle Vale
My Lords, I believe that it would be useful if the House reminded itself of the purpose of the Bill. There are great demands outside these walls that the Government—any government, but it happens to be this one this day—deals effectively and efficiently with demand for asylum. There is no question about that. There are great dangers for any government in not doing that.
There are newspapers, notably the Daily Mail, that lose no opportunity to stir up animosity and suspicion against those claiming asylum quite properly under the 1951 convention. We are all proud, are we not, to say that this country has a great tradition of giving asylum to those who are in fear of their lives and have to flee their homes and countries. That is true. But, at the same time, as the Second Chamber of Parliament we also have a responsibility to ensure that the arrangements deal effectively, efficiently and fairly with claims for asylum.
Your Lordships will remember that I have been battering the Government Front Bench about the lack of proper arrangements within the European Union to deal with asylum applications in the first safe country 299 to which those seeking asylum arrive. That is another matter. I am glad to see that some progress at last has been made in that area.
I return to my starting point: we are debating this issue because the public are not satisfied that the present systems dealing with asylum applications are adequate for the job and the pressures placed on them. That is why accommodation centres are suggested. What are they about?
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, if we are to be fair to the Daily Mail—and I think we should be—I do not believe it has any a priori commitment to defending arrangements which it knows will not work. I do not see why it should not listen to our debate just as well as anyone else does.
§ Lord Corbett of Castle Vale
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl. He has more hope about those who own and edit the Daily Mail than I have. It loses no opportunity to fan up concerns, which even border on the hatred of those who give up their homes and lives to come here and seek sanctuary under that 1951 convention. So I shall not give them that, although the noble Earl might. He is probably more generous of spirit than I am in that regard.
I was saying that the whole purpose of these accommodation centres is to keep people in one place so that their claim for asylum can be dealt with as expeditiously as possible. There are lessons to be learned from this and perhaps my noble friend the Minister will be able to tell us about the matter. There are experiences from Oakington. I say from memory that about 78 of the Immigration Advisory Service's staff are at the Oakington centre every day of the week, and every week, to help those who are there to understand how to make their claims. They assist them in making their claims and take them right through the process. Also they give them advice on the back of their professionalism and experience as to the merit of their claim for asylum.
At Oakington legal advice is provided on site. It is easily accessible and in languages which those claiming asylum speak. There are some lessons to be learned there. I do not believe that anyone in your Lordships' House would disagree with that. The essential point about trying more effectively and efficiently to deal with asylum applications is having relevant professional legal advice easily available to those making asylum claims.
That must be the overriding argument for accommodation centres. They are not to lock people in. The Government have made clear in these proposals that they are not detention centres; they are accommodation centres. Quite properly, there are residential requirements imposed on those using them because if there are a whole range of services, including legal advice, one would want to make sure that the people are on site for the provision of that legal advice.
300 I turn to the question of size. It is perverse. One can take a view. No one knows the ideal size. I have to say that to your Lordships. I do not think that anyone will quarrel with me about that. One can take a view that 750 is too many or 250 is about the right size. I do not know the answer. Neither do the Government. What they say in the proposal is, "Let's try this on a trial basis". I have to say to the noble Baroness on the Front Bench opposite: if these centres are set up with a maximum capacity of 750 people, I doubt that there will be many days of the year when 750 are in them. That is not the intention. The intention is that the people will be there for a matter of weeks. We can argue whether it is 10, 12 or 14 weeks.
Again, I say to your Lordships that one of the purposes of the Bill is to make this whole asylum system much more efficient. That means not throwing fairness out of the window; it means cutting down on the time that it takes to deal with asylum applications. That must be in everyone's interest. I do not think that anyone can argue about that. Nothing is to be gained by asylum applicants or anyone else by spinning out that process.
§ The Earl of Listowel
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. I read with care our previous debate on this matter. As I understood it, the Government accepted that it is likely to take more than two months for asylum applications to be processed and that appeals may then take four months. They did not expect that to change in the near future. But I know that the noble Lord has great experience in this area and I look forward to his clarifying that point.
§ Lord Corbett of Castle Vale
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for making that point. I will say now to the Minister that my support for the principle of the accommodation centres is founded on the belief that the system must be more efficient in the time taken to deal with applications. We must get better at that. One way to do so is through accommodation centres, where advice is available—provided either by non-governmental authorities or by the Legal Services Commission, through local qualified solicitors—that can speed up the process.
I do not want fairness thrown out of the window in dealing with applications and I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us a little more about the time-scale envisaged. Let me put it this way to your Lordships: there are those who accuse the Government of being target-mad—setting a target for everything in sight. Even if that is not the case, it may be appropriate to set firmer targets for the Immigration Advisory Service on time taken to deal with asylum applications.
On size, I have already said that it is unlikely that the centres will be crammed—that, whatever their capacity, whether 250 or 750, they will be full every day of the year. The Government have fairly stated—it is important to recognise this—that their intention is to set them up on a trial basis. It must be acknowledged that if the range of facilities envisaged by the Government—education for children, healthcare, purposeful activities, facilities for religious observance 301 and so on—are to be provided, a certain scale is involved. So to the extent that the issue of size is a matter of trial against the services to be provided on-site, I am prepared to let that trial proceed—from the opposite perspective to that of the noble Baroness.
Turning to my last point, I should immediately apologise to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and confess that I brought old habits from the other end of the Corridor when I interrupted him from a sedentary position, but I want to make a serious point about the provision of foodstuffs.
It is obviously envisaged that shops will be provided on accommodation centre sites. I do not say this facetiously, but with regard to the proposed Throckmorton site, for example, plenty of shopkeepers in the great city of Birmingham are used to providing the foodstuff needs of ethnic communities. I can tell the noble Earl and the rest of your Lordships that I dare say that even now, down the Alum Rock Road, where shopkeepers have been doing that for years, there will be those thinking, "I wonder when the centre at Throckmorton will open because I want to put in for a licence to run the shop." I do not say that in any facetious manner, because I believe—as, I am sure, does the noble Lord, for the reasons that he gave and others—that it is important that the foodstuffs to which asylum seekers have been used are provided on-site in their accommodation centres. I do not doubt for a minute that, if only for vulgar commercial reasons, they will be.
I do not want to touch on the point about education, because separate amendments have been tabled on that, but I repeat to your Lordships that we should not lose sight of the purpose of the accommodation centres and the responsibility on all of us in Parliament to respond to concern about the need to deal more efficiently and effectively with asylum applicants.
§ Lord Greaves
My Lords, to respond to the noble Lord, the argument is not about accommodation centres; it is about the practicalities of the particular accommodation centres proposed by the Government. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, talked about bleeding heart Liberals. I can bleed my heart with the best of them if I want to, and I confess to being a Liberal. But on issues such as this, I try to be hard-headed and consider the practicalities of particular proposals.
With that in mind, a couple of weeks ago, I went to look at Throckmorton—the county councillor there is Liz Tucker, an old political colleague of mine—and, in doing so, I tried to put aside my preconceptions on the matter and everything that I had heard and consider it as if I were determining a planning application to see what was the likely impact on the ground. I must say that it would be difficult to find a less suitable proposal—to use the words of Amendment No. 12, a proposal that is lesssuitable to the needs of the persons to be accommodated therein.I was really quite shocked by what I found. Throckmorton itself is really a small hamlet of 120 people with no facilities. It is surrounded by a ring of 302 villages: Bishampton, Pinvin, Wyre Piddle—names that noble Lords may think amusing; but the people there are not terribly amused at the prospect of those small villages surrounding an accommodation centre for 750 people from a completely different part of the world who do not know where they are, who do not know the area and who have nothing to do outside the accommodation centre other than wander up and down the country lanes. Those villages are, so far as I could see, mainly commuter villages in which, during the day, few people can be seen around.
The proposed centre is three miles from Pershore, which is a small market town of about 3,000 people. I asked some people in Pershore, "Isn't it fair that you should take a fair share of the burden, if there is a burden of looking after asylum seekers while they are here?" They said yes, because the sort of people that I talk to are reasonable people, especially if they are Liberals. But they said, "What is the appropriate size?" I said that if the proposal were for 10, 20 or even 30 people to come to the area, I would come to defend it, just as I have defended the needs of asylum seekers in the part of Lancashire in which I live, where we have had dispersal. But 750—including a substantial number of young, single men, who no doubt would walk into the town because it is the most interesting place, insofar as anywhere is interesting to young men in such an area?
I asked, "What is it like? Do you have problems here?" They said, "The main problem here is that there is nothing much for our local young men to do. On Friday and Saturday nights, there is bother on the streets". One has only to put two and two together—or one group of young men from the asylum centre and one group of local young men together—to see that people are concerned that there would be bother.
But my main concern when considering the proposed site is the interests of those who would be living there. As my noble friend Lord Russell said, there is a huge tip there. It is the biggest that I have ever seen—no doubt there are bigger—that is not filling up a huge hole in the ground. Instead, it is building a new hill—because that is what we have to do nowadays in terms of landfill. I stood on the corner of the tip nearest to the proposed site, which is half a field away. Half a field the other way, the machinery was still landscaping the site on which the carcasses of thousands of cattle were buried during the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. That will all be flattened out and landscaped, and, no doubt, it will be looked after nicely. On the other side, half a field away, is the proposed site of the accommodation centre. My noble friend explained the difficulties that there will be. There is an open tip, with open access to it, and there is no doubt that that will cause huge danger. Why on Earth are we saying to people who have come halfway across the world to seek asylum that they will be accommodated next to a huge refuse tip? That is the wrong message in every way.
On the other side of the centre—next to it—there was what appeared to be a radar research outfit in the old hangar buildings on the old airfield. It has big signs on it saying that the site is covered by the Official 303 Secrets Act and suggesting that anyone who gets in or tries to get in will be shot or whatever it is that they do to them. No doubt, some asylum seekers will be used to that sort of thing and might be able to cope, but I do not know that the children will be able to read the notices about the Official Secrets Act. Having seen that site—but not the other two—I came away convinced that the Government's chances of getting planning permission, if the system works properly, are nil. For that reason alone, we ought to consider proposals for smaller sites in more sensible areas.
In Committee, the Minister said the urban areas of this country had taken more than their fair share of the burden and that it was time for the rest of the country to take its share. I do not disagree with that. However, we are not talking about the rest of the country taking its share, we are talking about three rural areas with small communities taking a huge share. That is not right.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, I had wanted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, but I am glad that I did not, as we have just heard a very interesting speech. However, I shall say to the noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, that I accept everything that he said. He is right to say that the Government have an enormous problem and that there is no decrease in the number of people coming here to seek asylum. In fact, the trend is going the other way, and the Government have an urgent duty to find ways of dealing with that situation, while reassuring the public that they can do so, as the noble Lord said.
At the moment, the plan for trial accommodation centres is being treated by the Government as a way of reassuring the public. That has been happening over the summer. It is helpful to the public to know that the plan exists, and the details of the centres are constantly under discussion, as now. However, there is little mention of the fact that, of the 80,000 applicants for asylum who come in each year plus their dependents, only 5,000 will be dealt with in accommodation centres. That is less than 6 per cent and is a small part of the whole operation. It is none the less important for that that the matter must not be got out of proportion. I may be wrong—my suspicious mind often takes over—but I suspect that the plan is talked about because it is easy to understand and because it is comforting to know that it exists.
My noble friend asked the Minister to tell us the current situation on planning permission for the centres. Can he also tell me whether the plan to have one in Scotland still exists or has been abandoned, as someone told me yesterday? I would be interested to know, as would the people of Scotland.
We must get the system right. It is a small operation at the moment, but it may be replicated on an enormous scale if it is a success. It will be expensive, but, if it is a success, it may be the right way. We hope that fewer asylum seekers will come and that the system will play a big part in meeting their needs. 304 However, we must get it right, and the job must be well done. The amendments tabled by my noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns are concerned with doing that.
At the meeting last night, to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth referred and which other noble Lords attended, there was an epic happening. The right reverend Prelate stood up and spoke three sentences, whereupon he was cheered by 86 people—I counted them. That does not happen often to a right reverend Prelate, so I am sure that he enjoyed it.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, at that meeting, as has been said, people who know how such things work and who have worked with such people appeared deeply worried. They simply could not understand how the Home Secretary in a Labour government—a new Labour government—could propose such a policy. They were not representatives of political parties; they were professional people from all sides of the spectrum. It was hugely impressive, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, will agree with me. I was moved, and I thought that the meeting was significant.
The meeting was about schools, but there was also a massive thumbs-down for large accommodation centres. There was no question about that among those 86 people. On the other hand, the public at large feels rather comforted by the idea, and that is the problem with which we must deal. I shall support my noble friend's amendment, if there is a Division; the 86 people at the meeting would have supported it. I do not know who else will support the amendment, but I hope that other noble Lords will.
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, I shall add a sceptical note to the general unanimity surrounding the amendment. I heard what my noble friend, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, said. The first thing that we want is that the people in the centres should not stay there long. We must create centres that can minimise the time that people spend in them.
The facilities for processing applications should be the best, and that raises the question of economy of size. If we have people in accommodation designed for groups of 250, the number of translators and immigration officers that we need will treble. We need the same number of such people in a centre, whether there are 250 or 750 people in it. We might need one or two more, but not three times as many.
People talk as if 750 were a fantastically large number. Citizens of this country would consider a council estate of 750 residents to be a small one. I have great respect for the people who are agitating, and I do not want to be a heartless beast. We want to be nice to asylum seekers, and, if it were left to me, I would admit everybody, without any bar. That is another story. Many people listening to our debate might think that no one had ever lived on a council estate of 750 people.
305 That number—750—is also just about the right size for a five-form secondary school. Sometimes, schools can be too small. If there are 250 people, half of whom are schoolchildren, and those 120 young people are distributed between six or seven forms and, perhaps, between one or two schools, their chances of getting beaten up in the playground are higher than if there were more of them. People can find solidarity in numbers. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, is shaking her head; she does not believe that. I was brought up in a crowded household, so I do not think that that is a bad thing.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, I was shaking my head—I apologise for doing so from a sedentary position—simply because most people who are familiar with pre-school and primary education will agree that 250 is already a substantial-sized school. A much larger one is indeed likely to have extensive bullying.
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, I had the experience in Islington of having to amalgamate schools which were too small. I feel that if there are only one or two children of asylum seekers in a school rather than 10, they are likely to get beaten up.
There are arguments on either side about economies of size. It is not obvious to me that the arguments are all one way. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, who is not in his place, referred to group dynamics and how our group dynamics are much better than those in another place. But, on paper, our size has always been larger than the other place. We have always numbered around 750—the magic number. The House of Lords has 750 Members.
I hope that people do not suddenly decide that small is beautiful all the time and therefore we must go with a policy of small is beautiful. It is paradoxical that if you go to a small rural community, it is bad to have such a policy there. In such an area they want economies of size; they want to have the asylum centres located in large, over-crowded urban areas. That is fine because those lovely rural people are too precious to suffer any inconvenience.
Perhaps we should have the 250-size centres in rural areas—or maybe even only 100-size centres—but we have to make certain that, wherever we locate them, we do not antagonise citizens living ordinary lives and incite dislike of asylum seekers. We must expedite the processing of applications so that their stay in these centres is as short as possible. We should keep that consideration in mind.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, the noble Lords, Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Corbett, have both appealed from the Government Benches for legal advice from the earliest possible stage—the Minister knows that I am also concerned about that—so that we get the best possible quality of first decision and avoid multiple appeals and judicial reviews. I hope that he will explain to the House how he sees legal advice working in these accommodation centres. Will there be resident 306 advisers or will the people in the centres be given proper travel expenses; to enable them to get to qualified legal advice?
I support the amendments. I consider both to be necessary. A limit of 250 people will be far more manageable and give far better protection to unaccompanied women and children. We all know that the centre at Sangatte in France was far too large and almost totally unmanageable. Proposed subsection (2B) in Amendment No. 13 will give flexibility to the Secretary of State to adjust the maximum number in the light of experience.
§ The Earl of Listowel
My Lords, I support the amendment. I declare a family interest. In the 1930s my father was involved in helping children from the Spanish Civil War and children from Germany to settle in this country.
My principal concern about the Government's proposals is the concentration of very unhappy people in narrow, isolated environments and its consequences for the children. I support the amendment because it reduces the number. Even at that number, I am still very concerned about what is proposed, but it will be less harmful for the children. I attended the meeting last night. A very important theme of the meeting—and again at lunch today with child refugees—is that these children have been traumatised. They have lost their culture, their homes, their language. They arrive and are put into centres with many other people who have also been traumatised, who have also lost their homes, their lives, their language. Can it be healthy for that to continue for six months?
I know that there are other priorities—many noble Lords have referred to the need to process claims more quickly and so on—but, looked at from the point of view of the children, I am afraid that I cannot see any way that a size as great as 750 would be in their best interests, even if there were all kinds of services there to support them. That seems unfeasible in remote and isolated areas, especially if one is talking about teachers moving there, even for a short time, to support them.
I understand that there is no expectation of a great acceleration in the processing of claims in the near future. If that is the case, we must bear in mind that quite a few of these children will be in these centres for up to six months. I strongly support the amendment.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord Dubs
My Lords, I wonder whether I am one of the few Members of the House who has been involved in setting up centres for refugees. I did so some years ago when I was head of the Refugee Council at the time when my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis was chairman of that organisation. The occasion for setting up the centres—we called them "reception centres"—was when, under a Home Office scheme, the Government took 4,000 Bosnians from the Serb concentration camps and we had to find accommodation for them very quickly.
307 I am bound to say that local opposition did exist. There was some surprising local opposition, even to the setting up of very small reception centres, because some local councils did not like them. I do not want to be party political, but Wandsworth Council did not come out of it very well. On the other hand, in some parts of the country there was local support. I remember that we set up a centre in Newcastle, where the local community was incredibly supportive and that gave the Bosnians a very good start in that area.
I fear that there is likely to be some local opposition, which may be disguised as opposition to the size but is actually based upon prejudice against having people from other countries, who are seeking safety here, living in their midst. So let us not be too naive and say that all opposition is simply based upon objective criteria of size or other reasons.
Having said that, we need to be careful about size. I am supportive of the idea of accommodation centres because it is important to provide facilities for people who have arrived here, who have nowhere to go and who need to be stabilised in their lives after the trauma of their experiences. We should not forget that some of them will have had appalling experiences on their way to safety. These are people fleeing from persecution, from fear of torture and imprisonment, perhaps even from fear of death.
It is right that we should provide them with a stable context in which they can begin to rebuild their lives while decisions are made as to their entitlement to stay in this country—that is, whether they qualify under the 1951 Geneva Convention. Accommodation centres per se are useful—and, indeed, for some, essential—bases when people arrive here. They provide advantages in that people can be supported in such centres.
I worry about the size. I am not saying that any one size is good, but I would urge upon the Government flexibility. Let us not be dogmatic and say, "There will be three large centres"; and then, "There will be more large centres in the country because that is all we can do". Let us be flexible and say, "Let us try some smaller ones".
I remember that the Refugee Council tried to set up a reception centre in Hammersmith. We found a building with accommodation for about 120 people. Of course, in those days the Home Office would not provide money for it and we simply could not get the resources together to set it up. But we went through all the details of how it should be done—the support, the accommodation, the schools and so on. The Bosnian scheme was Home Office backed, so we had more support for that. Even so the difficulties were enormous.
So, from my experience, I urge flexibility upon the Home Office. I urge it not to be stuck with one particular model. Let us be flexible. Above all, let us seek local support. It made such a difference to those of us working with refugees, but, more importantly, to the refugees themselves. In Newcastle, there was enthusiastic support from doctors, social workers, 308 local councils and schools. All were keen to help because they felt that it was their duty and responsibility. It makes such a difference to people to be in a sympathetic environment rather than to have the sense that they are surrounded by those who are not keen on their being there or do not want them. Let us opt for local support, flexibility and centres that are not so large.
We should also remember that support in the camp—that is a slip of the tongue; I mean the accommodation centre—is important. In addition, refugee community organisations will want to give support to people from their own communities and will need access. Support from their own communities in terms of language, culture, religion and so on is both valuable and stabilising. Legal advice given by the Immigration Advisory Service, the Refugee Legal Centre and other organisations is important. If the centres are inaccessible, that kind of advice cannot so easily be forthcoming.
I appeal to my noble friend—whom I know to be sensitive to these issues and to have an understanding of them—to show flexibility and understanding for the difficulties that may arise if we simply set up large centres in remote areas where support is not forthcoming and where a sympathetic local environment will not exist.
§ Lord Dholakia
My Lords, perhaps I may ask the Minister three or four questions. I remind the House that the debate is not about whether we need accommodation centres; it is about the size and location of the centres.
First, during the debate on 9th July the Minister said that the proposed opening date for the first pilot centre is autumn 2003. Is that still realistic given the present situation?
Secondly, as I understand it, these are all pilot schemes based in rural areas. The Refugee Council suggested smaller pilot centres based within the community. Is it not possible, even at this late stage, to examine the possibility of setting up such centres so that proper comparisons can be made about the effectiveness of how the centres will operate; namely, whether it is right and proper to locate them in local community areas or, as the Minister suggests, in rural areas?
Thirdly, has the Minister seen the report, Parallel Universe, published today by the Refugee Council and the Transport and General Workers' Union, effectively advocating community-based centres? It is not simply a matter of economy in terms of larger centres; it has to do with the large amount of support that people can receive within their own communities. If we look at the successes of many of the refugee organisations in this country and the refugees who have settled here, we see that support is more likely to be forthcoming from their own people than from statutory and voluntary bodies.
Finally, in relation to large centres, has the Minister taken the trouble to examine the outcome of centres in Europe, where the results are better with smaller 309 centres, better services and more integration into the community? I hope that the Minister will give consideration to my remarks.
§ Lord Filkin
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this important debate, building on the considerable discussions that we had on the issues raised in Committee. I am grateful for the comments from both Opposition Front Benches. If I am not stretching them too far, the concern relates not to the principle of accommodation centres but to their execution and how the practice meets good principles.
I begin by reminding noble Lords of the present situation. As the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, said, approximately 80,000 applications for asylum are made each year. That includes both individuals and families. Of those, some 37,000 people applied in the past year for accommodation support from the state. There are currently some 50,000 households accommodated in NASS-supported accommodation in the United Kingdom. That is the current situation. Historically, a high proportion of asylum seekers have been concentrated in London and the South East for reasons that the House will know. The dispersal policy was an attempt to try to ensure that while their cases were being considered people were not all concentrated simply in London and the South East.
Without going into great detail, the consequence of dispersal has been that a number of areas have played a very full part in providing support to asylum seekers, but those have been predominantly inner-city areas. That has not been without its problems. So the origin of the policy of moving towards experiment—a pilot on accommodation centres—was the recognition that we start with a significant problem and that the current situation is not perfect.
The Government have developed four essential principles that they are seeking to fulfil through the pilot on accommodation centres. First, we are trying to ensure that we provide a proper and appropriate level of support to people who have applied to the state for support while their application is considered.
Secondly, we are seeking significantly to improve the speed of consideration of asylum cases. I totally agree with all noble Lords who have spoken about the importance of trying to accelerate the proper processing and the fair consideration of asylum claims. It is in the interest neither of asylum seekers nor of the Government that this is tardy, bureaucratic or a paper chase.
The third principle is to see whether we can spread the responsibility of coping with the numbers seeking asylum fairly around the country rather than simply concentrating the responsibility in inner-city areas.
The fourth principle is to improve contact management. By "contact management" I mean, for example, not allowing people to disappear or to claim multiple benefits as has happened in some cases and to stamp out any forms of abuse.
310 Therefore, we want to trial a system which addresses head-on the costs and social consequences arising from the presence of asylum seekers associated with the existing dispersal arrangements. No one is saying that the existing arrangements are dreadful, but anyone with common sense who has looked at the reality of the situation knows that there are some significant problems, both for those communities that are coping with large numbers of newcomers—who are often welcomed but not always—and, secondly, for the asylum seekers themselves moving into strange areas or into schools where they do not necessarily know people but are given accommodation, and who are often in isolation. So we do not start from a perfect position. It would be dishonest to claim that we do.
Those are the four principles that underpin the Government's view of how we should take accommodation centres forward to see whether they can contribute to better meeting those four objectives, which I hope the House broadly supports as a matter of common sense and decency. We want the accommodation centres to offer a supportive environment, and hope that the residents will, therefore, receive healthcare and education, be able to take part in purposeful activities, have access to legal advice and interpretation, and be able to observe their religion.
I go further. The way in which we have currently developed the principle of accommodation centres, albeit on a large scale, seems to me to provide a high level of support and facilities. If there are examples of them being bettered anywhere else in continental Europe, in terms of the facilities and the range of support provided, I should be pleased to see them. We shall argue later about location, but given the principle and the scale of support to be provided in the proposed centres, I believe that they have every chance of being substantially better than is happening in many dispersal areas. It seems a right and proper goal in itself that we should seek to go further in terms of support rather than backwards.
I turn to the debate on integration. I emphasise that we are talking about people who have applied to us for asylum and whose cases have not yet been considered. I shall not go into the detailed figures—that always causes a slight spat. But I think it is accepted that the vast majority of people are not accepted as refugees under the 1951 convention when the full appeal process has been heard. We are talking about people prior to the final determination of their case. When they have been granted asylum or the right to remain in Britain, they ought to be integrated into society. The issue is how to handle them properly, fairly and efficiently, and give them the support they have asked for prior to that decision being made, which we hope will be done quickly.
I shall talk about the numbers. The concern, as you would guess, about the Government's putting on the face of the Bill something as arithmetically precise as 250, even though there might be an escape clause that could or could not be challengeable, is that it gives us no flexibility as regards what we are seeking to do, which is to see how in practice we can fulfil the 311 objectives of providing better support, faster processing, better contact management and less burden on local areas or local services. The Government have listened to the debates in Committee and to the representations made by people in this House to me and other Ministers over the summer. I shall try to illustrate that in the hope that it will signal that we are being neither doctrinal nor dogmatic but that we think the four principles advanced are right and proper. We talked to NGOs and the Refugee Council at official level in July. The principles have been welcomed by us, and, I hope, by them.
The first option we are considering is an accommodation centre that focuses on a series of hostels with a maximum total size of 600 residents and where each individual hostel might have about 50 or 100 people. We are keen to explore and debate further with the Refugee Council the pros and cons of such an option. The second option involves one complex dealing with around 250 people. This option would involve limiting the number of languages spoken in the centre and concentrating on one, two or three key languages rather than having the full range. Such an option might, for example, be restricted to single males, given that that group constitutes by far the largest category of applicants for refugee status. Indeed, that was one of the proposals put to us from the Opposition Benches, and we are pleased to explore the option and to take it forward.
Thirdly, we were urged to look at not ruling out a family-only accommodation centre; nor would we do so. We are happy to consider that and to think about how it might be developed either in the first phase of pilots or in subsequent ones. The issue seems therefore about how best we provide the support that people request, while their asylum claim is being considered, in ways that meet those principles.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for giving way. Obviously what he is saying is, in many ways, encouraging, especially the idea of establishing groups of small hostels and other pilot schemes for small centres. Will the resources for that be made available, given that small centres could involve additional costs beyond those of large accommodation centres?
§ Lord Filkin
My Lords, the Home Office must make a judgment about cost and the quality of service provided. I shall not go into the detail now, but we are looking at those issues. One factor is that if we reduce the number of languages spoken, we reduce some of the costs. For example, a specialised residence, such as a centre without children, by definition would not have in-house educational facilities. We would want to hold firm to the aspect discussed in some detail in Committee, that is to say, the benefit of trying to do as much of the initial decision-making and the first appeal stage in the centre or as close to it as possible. Effectively, that would bring the decision-making to 312 the centre rather than having a person-chase or a paper-chase around the country, with all the problems that we know that causes. That seems to be a right principle; it does not automatically mean that the court must be located physically in every centre, but it needs to be proximate to allow some of the speed of processing, which is fundamental.
I shall expand on that issue, if I may. Seventy per cent of all new asylum applications are being dealt with within two months. That is an increase on the 60 per cent we were achieving when I last spoke, and I hope that the rate will continue to rise. If we have accommodation centres operating as I described, we must achieve that and, one hopes, go further. Also, as I shall discuss later, we want to make the appeal process as rapid as possible, consistent with doing the job fairly. I hope that this signals that by no means are we dogmatic in our approach. However, we do think it right that the Government of the country should experiment as regards how better we can provide support requested and meet the principles set out. That is what we are doing.
I shall respond to some queries. This may take a while, so I trust the House will bear with me. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, made important points about the traffic impact. That is a proper consideration for the planning inquiry process. In principle, our position is that we would not have made applications if we did not think they were consistent with traffic management. However, those will not ultimately be our decisions; they will be for others to make. I agree with his point about shops. Appropriate food must be available to buy in the on-site shop for people from the ethnic groups, and we intend to ensure that that happens. Local shops may also provide an appropriate range of food. One would hope so, as competition in principle is a good thing.
Discussion took place with the Refugee Council at official level in July. My honourable friend Beverley Hughes wrote to the Refugee Council a couple of days ago to request further discussions at both ministerial and official level on the options I talked about.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, I hope that I have indicated that we do take these issues seriously. I do not think that we start from the position that a small centre or a big one is automatically right or wrong, but it is important that some of the principles are met, especially the speed of processing.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlisle, asked what was the position on current applications. If I have it right, two planning applications have been submitted. I suspect that it will be no great surprise to him that the local authorities in those areas have rejected them on initial application. The Home Secretary has appealed in both cases, and there will be public inquiries on both. The first will take place on 10th December, and the second on 8th April. A planning application for a further site may be submitted before long.
313 In response to the question by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, about Scotland, the matter is still under consideration and a final decision has not been made.
§ Lord Carlisle of Bucklow
My Lords, are the two applications for centres of substantial size in rural areas?
§ Lord Filkin
Yes, my Lords. From recollection, both applications were for centres of approximately 750 people, with a full range of on-site facilities. I have not referred in full to those facilities, but they were referred to in Committee. They include healthcare, activities, a nursery, a school—the whole works.
On the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, I cannot but stress that it is not our intention to segregate asylum seekers, nor do I believe that that will be the effect of what we are doing. We are giving them the support they want initially for what I hope will be a relatively short period.
There are two points arising from that. On the time, clearly most people who are granted asylum will be out of an accommodation centre within two months, because most people who are granted asylum have it granted on initial hearing. We are dealing with 70 per cent of all cases within two months. It therefore follows that most people who get asylum will be out relatively rapidly, which is one of the benefits. However, assuming that they are there for two or three months, I agree with the point made by, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, that, potentially, that period could provide us with a very good opportunity to support and give guidance to people about living in Britain, language training and acclimatisation before they move on to permanent residence in Britain, if their application is approved.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, spoke about Pershore, which I know well. My father lived there. I do not think that I should go into the detail of the site. That will be part of the planning application, if one is submitted. I have heard the noble Lord's points.
The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, is absolutely right, as so often. We are talking about 3,000 places on this pilot. That is 3,000 out of 50,000 currently receiving NASS support. That is a minute proportion. It is a very small experiment. We might better be criticised for it being too small an experiment rather than too large a one.
We should talk later rather than now about the quality of initial decisions. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, raised issues about children. I have enjoyed discussions with the children's organisation. Some of the children will have been traumatised. We strongly believe that the support and facilities that we will provide to them in accommodation centres when they come into this country will be at least as good as, and I hope substantially better than, the support they will be receiving in some dispersal situations. They will be there for only a short period if their case is approved. I am glad to acknowledge that the Bishop of 314 Birmingham elect and others have recognised that the proposal potentially offers a more rather than a less supportive environment.
I am in danger of boring the House, so I shall seek to conclude. I have explained why we think that more than just carrying on the current dispersal system is necessary. It would be irresponsible of a government to continue with the current situation and not try to improve support processing and avoid some of the pressures on local communities or the difficulties of support that people are feeling. That is what the trial is about. It is a trial for 3,000. It will not run to the time that we had originally envisaged, because the planning process will delay it, so it will not happen immediately. The test is whether we meet those four goals.
I shall be pleased to bring the issue back on Third Reading, when I should like to put on record much more strongly the process of evaluation of those centres. I should like to document before the House how we will monitor—against what criteria and through what process—and by what means this House will be given the opportunity of ongoing investigation of the accommodation centres as they are piloted. Ultimately, the House and the Government have to see whether the centres will do the job better than the status quo. It would be right and proper for the House to be given the opportunity to do that.
I shall seek to put that on the record on Third Reading. We may even be in a position to write more fully to noble Lords beforehand so that they can see how the House will have an opportunity to engage in scrutinising the process of evaluation.
In conclusion, the status quo is not perfect. Please do not fetter the Government's hand on sensible experimentation in trying to deal with this major problem.
§ Baroness Anelay of St Johns
My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in the debate. I thank those who have opposed me as well as those who have supported me. The noble Lord, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale, pointed out clearly the responsibility of this House to the public, who are worried and want to put pressure on the Government to make the system work. They will continue that pressure. He was right. We have that duty. This debate is the way in which we carry out that duty, with our own measured way, our deep concern and the tremendous experience around the House.
The noble Lord, Lord Corbett, proved my point for me. The system that the Government are proposing will not work. It will not deliver what the public wish—a resolution to the problem of those who come to seek asylum in this country and find that the process that they have to go through is lengthy and difficult for them. It is difficult for the country, too, to see that occurrence.
As always, the Minister was courteous and thoughtful in his response, but I must remind the House of the moving speech of the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis—I beg his pardon; he is also right honourable. He expressed his deep concern and 315 referred to the fact that his grandparents were refugees who came here to become future citizens. He encapsulated what lies behind the whole debate. People who come here as asylum seekers hope to become our future citizens. The way we treat them in accommodation centres is their first contact with this country. The way in which those accommodation centres are set up must give them an experience that helps them to value the fact that they are here when they become citizens.
I have been accused by some of trying to impose inflexibility on the Government. I assure the Government that Amendment No. 12 would do nothing of the sort. It is reasonable in the extreme. Indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, thought that I was being too reasonable in the power that it would give the Secretary of State for change. I am simply saying that the Government must have an open mind. They must consider different types of accommodation centre. I am the one giving them the flexibility on the face of the Bill, yet the Minister has again said that there will be 3,000 places in four accommodation centres.
§ Lord Filkin
My Lords, I would be less than honest if I did not indicate that the pilot has been sized of that order. We are looking for a pilot of about 3,000 places. What I have said about our minds being open on alternative sizes of accommodation centre leaves open the question of the number of such pilots that we will take forward. I hope that that is the reverse of inflexibility.
§ Baroness Anelay of St Johns
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. The difficulty that we face is that the Government have decided that the trial will comprise four centres of 750, although as yet we do not know where the fourth site will be. We have had no guarantee today that smaller accommodation centres in different sites near urban areas will be trialled from now. The plans would have to be in train seriously in the Government's mind now and the budget would have to be allocated, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, pointed out.
At the moment there is no incentive on the face of the Bill to provide the Government with the opportunity to trial different types of accommodation centre, which we believe could more properly meet the needs of those living in them and those resident near them.
Because of the time that the debate has taken, I should not dare to try to repeat some of the wonderful speeches that have been made. Noble Lords have made clear throughout that their concern is to be humane. We have to exercise humanity alongside effective decision-making. If we lose humanity in this, we lose everything. I believe that I have a duty to test the opinion of the House.
§ 6.18 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 12) shall be agreed to?316
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 171; Not-Contents, 107.317
|Division No. 1|
|Aberdare, L.||Howe of Idlicote, B.|
|Addington, L.||Hunt of Wirral, L.|
|Alderdice, L.||Hylton, L.|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Jacobs, L.|
|Alton of Liverpool, L.||James of Holland Park, B.|
|Anelay of St Johns, B.||Jellicoe, E.|
|Arran, E.||Jenkin of Roding, L.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Joffe, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Kennedy of The Shaws, B.|
|Baker of Dorking, L.||Kimball, L.|
|Barker, B.||Kingsland, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Knight of Collingtree, B.|
|Bhatia, L.||Lane of Horsell, L.|
|Blaker, L.||Lester of Herne Hill, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Linklater of Butterstone, B.|
|Bowness, L.||Listowel, E.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Liverpool, E.|
|Bradshaw, L.||Livsey of Talgarth, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Lucas, L.|
|Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L.||MacGregor of Pulham Market, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.|
|Burnham, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Byford, B.||Maclennan of Rogart, L.|
|Carlile of Berriew, L.||McNally, L.|
|Carlisle of Bucklow, L.||Maddock, B.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Mar, C.|
|Chan, L.||Mar and Kellie, E.|
|Clement-Jones, L.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||May of Oxford, L.|
|Coe, L.||Mayhew of Twysden, L.|
|Colwyn, L.||Methuen, L.|
|Cope of Berkeley, L. [Teller]||Michie of Gallanach, B.|
|Craig of Radley, L.||Monro of Langholm, L.|
|Dahrendorf, L.||Monson, L.|
|Darcy de Knayth, B.||Moser, L.|
|Dean of Harptree, L.||Moynihan, L.|
|Denham, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Dholakia, L.||Newby, L.|
|Dixon-Smith, L.||Noakes, B.|
|Dundee, E.||Northbrook, L.|
|Eccles of Moulton, B.||Northesk, E.|
|Elis-Thomas, L.||Northover, B.|
|Elles, B.||Norton of Louth, L.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||O'Cathain, B.|
|Elton, L.||Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, L.|
|Ezra, L.||Oppenheim-Barnes, B.|
|Falkland, V.||Palmer, L.|
|Fearn, L.||Park of Monmouth, B.|
|Ferrers, E.||Patten, L.|
|Flather, B.||Peel, E.|
|Fookes, B.||Perry of Walton, L.|
|Geddes, L.||Phillips of Sudbury, L.|
|Glentoran, L.||Pilkington of Oxenford, L.|
|Goodhart, L.||Platt of Writtle, B.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Portsmouth, Bp.|
|Greaves, L.||Pym, L.|
|Greengross, B.||Rawlings, B.|
|Hamwee, B.||Razzall, L.|
|Harris of Peckham, L.||Reay, L.|
|Harris of Richmond, B. [Teller]||Redesdale, L.|
|Hayhoe, L.||Rees-Mogg, L.|
|Hereford, Bp.||Rennard, L.|
|Higgins, L.||Renton, L.|
|Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.||Renton of Mount Harry, L.|
|Holme of Cheltenham, L.||Roberts of Conwy, L.|
|Home, E.||Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.|
|Hooson, L.||Roper, L.|
|Howe of Aberavon, L.||Russell, E.|
|St. John of Bletso, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|St John of Fawsley, L.||Taverne, L.|
|Sandwich, E.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Scott of Needham Market, B.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Seccombe, B.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Selsdon, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Sharman, L.||Tugendhat, L.|
|Sharp of Guildford, B.||Waddington, L.|
|Sharples, B.||Wade of Chorlton, L.|
|Shaw of Northstead, L.||Walker of Worcester, L.|
|Shutt of Greetland, L.||Walmsley, B.|
|Skelmersdale, L.||Walpole, L.|
|Slim, V.||Watson of Richmond, L.|
|Smith of Clifton, L.||Weatherill, L.|
|Stern, B.||Wigoder, L.|
|Stewartby, L.||Wilcox, B.|
|Stodart of Leaston, L.||Williams of Crosby, B.|
|Strange, B.||Wolfson, L.|
|Acton, L||Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.|
|Ahmed, L.||Hollis of Heigham, B.|
|Alli, L.||Howells of St. Davids, B.|
|Amos, B.||Howie of Troon, L.|
|Andrews, B.||Hoyle, L.|
|Ashton of Upholland, B.||Hughes of Woodside, L.|
|Bassam of Brighton, L.||Hunt of Kings Heath, L.|
|Berkeley, L.||Jay of Paddington, B.|
|Bernstein of Craigweil, L.||Jones, L.|
|Billingham, B.||Kilclooney, L.|
|Blackstone, B.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Blease, L.||Laird, L.|
|Borrie, L.||Lea of Crondall, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Levy, L.|
|Bragg, L.||Lipsey, L.|
|Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.||Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.|
|Brookman, L||Macdonald of Tradeston, L.|
|Campbell-Savours, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller]|
|Chandos, V.||MacKenzie of Culkein, L.|
|Christopher, L.||Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.|
|Clarke of Hampstead, L.||Marsh, L.|
|Cohen of Pimlico, B.||Mason of Barnsley, L.|
|Corbett of Castle Vale, L.||Massey of Darwen, B.|
|Crawley, B.||Merlyn-Rees, L.|
|Davies of Coity, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Davies of Oldham, L.||Mitchell, L.|
|Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.||Morris of Aberavon, L.|
|Desai, L.||Morris of Manchester, L.|
|Dixon, L.||Nicol, B.|
|Donoughue, L.||Parekh, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Patel of Blackburn, L.|
|Dubs, L.||Pendry, L.|
|Durham, Bp.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Elder, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Erroll, E.||Radice, L.|
|Evans of Parkside, L.||Ramsay of Cartvale, B.|
|Evans of Temple Guiting, L.||Rea, L.|
|Falconer of Thoroton, L.||Sawyer, L.|
|Farrington of Ribbleton, B.||Scotland of Asthal, B.|
|Faulkner of Worcester, L.||Sheldon, L.|
|Filkin, L.||Simon, V.|
|Fyfe of Fairfield, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Gale, B.||Symons of Vernham Dean, B.|
|Golding, B.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Goldsmith, L.||Temple-Morris, L.|
|Goudie, B.||Tomlinson, L.|
|Gould of Potternewton, B.||Turnberg, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Walker of Doncaster, L.|
|Grenfell, L.||Warner, L.|
|Grocott, L. [Teller]||Whitty, L.|
|Harris of Haringey, L.||Wilkins, B.|
|Harrison, L.||Williamson of Horton, L.|
|Haskel, L.||Woolmer of Leeds, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ [Amendment No. 13 not moved.]
§ Clause 15 [Support for destitute asylum-seeker]:
§ [Amendment No. 14 not moved.]
§ Lord Dholakia moved Amendment No. 15:
§ Page 9, line 28, after "centre" insert "for a maximum period of four months, save in exceptional circumstances"
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall be brief. There are essentially two arguments in relation to the time limits that we are proposing. First, we seek to force the Government to make good their commitment to speed up the processing time. The Minister said that applications will, on average, take two months. However, those working in the various agencies have assured me that it currently takes much longer than two months to process applications.
§ Secondly, the centres are not a normal social setting. A lengthy stay in a centre is a poor preparation for settlement for those who will remain in the United Kingdom following a successful outcome to their application.
§ On Report in the other place, we tabled amendments to impose a strict time limit of six months for all asylum seekers. In that debate, the Home Secretary picked up a Liberal Democrat suggestion that, if the Government were minded to accept a six-month limit, to provide flexibility in special circumstances, provision should be made for a further stay of a maximum of 12 weeks.
§ Various issues have arisen which have led us to continue to press for an amendment to set a maximum time limit. The Bill currently does not specify a time limit, and references to "current" intentions provide little reassurance. Moreover, what is now Clause 23 deals only with families, and only with families with children under 18, rather than 17.
In introducing the then new Clause 23, the Government referred only to the "normal social setting" argument. The noble Lord, Lord Filkin, said:
We have listened to the concerns expressed by organisations such as Save the Children and the Refugee Council about the length of time children may spend in accommodation centres. We recognise that a few months may seem much longer in the lives of younger children. We can also see the need to consider whether what one might call a more normal social setting outside an accommodation centre would be appropriate for children at a particular stage having regard to their development needs".—[Official Report, 10/07/02; col. 748.]
§ On Report in the other place, however, the processing time argument featured—
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but we are finding it extremely difficult to hear what he is saying. I am sure 319 that what he is saying is important; could he please speak up, into the microphone, and speak a little more slowly?
§ Lord Dholakia
My Lords, I apologise; I have just noticed that there is no microphone in front of me.
We have sought a realistic time scale. If the time scale is too short, some applications may be processed with inadequate time to do them justice. We have looked carefully at examples: at a number of induction centres and the time factor, and we are convinced by our proposal of a maximum stay of four months. In exceptional circumstances a further period of no more than two months is probably appropriate. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Anelay of St Johns
My Lords, I hesitate to pre-empt the noble Lord, but since the amendment also appears in my name perhaps I should make the position clear. Noble Lords will have realised that some noise was made when Peers were leaving following the Division. When the Deputy Speaker was reading out the amendments they may not have noticed that I purposely did not move the previous amendment, which I had tabled in Committee, and which would set the time limit at a much lower level. That was because I have been considering time limits with care over the last few weeks of the Recess and holding meetings with outside organisations.
On further reflection, I decided that it would be appropriate to be more flexible to the Government and to set them a realistic upper time limit. I agree wholeheartedly with the amendment ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. It is an essential part of the jigsaw puzzle. We need it in the Bill, because if the puzzle is completed we will have the answer to the fair and effective humane processing of asylum claims in this country.
§ Lord Borrie
My Lords, I shared the difficulty of a number of noble Lords in hearing what the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, was saying. It may be in part because he was not near a microphone, but it was in part because the excitement and hubbub of the Vote was still prevalent as he began to speak, which made it difficult. He kept his remarks fairly short, but I found one of the things he said difficult to follow. He indicated that whereas the time limit he suggests would be reasonable for most cases, it might be too short in some instances.
I asked myself: why have a time limit at all? I do not know about the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, but perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, was talking about a time limit to force the Government to take action within a certain period. But if one thinks of the interests of the person in the accommodation centre, the idea that he should leave it willy-nilly even though he may be in the midst of an application for judicial review or whatever—however few such cases may be—is astonishing.
320 What is the value to such individuals if they are forced out of the accommodation centre at some arbitrary time limit? There does not seem to be any gain for them, and certainly none to the trialling of the system, which proposes that the accommodation centres should provide helpful support. It seems odd that even if the asylum seeker wants to remain there for a longer period, the time limit puts a stop on it. Either I have not grasped what the noble Lord and noble Baroness are seeking or they are seeking to do something arbitrary and without any value.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, perhaps I can help the noble Lord. As he will be aware from earlier discussions, save in exceptional cases the Minister and the Government are officially committed to a policy of keeping people in accommodation centres for no longer than six months, but that period is not written into the Bill. The Government have said that if it is necessary to maintain a person in an accommodation centre for more than six months they will consider meeting the educational needs of the children in an outside establishment.
So the Government have a time limit in mind, but it is not written into the Bill. The reason for the four-month limit proposed by my noble friend can be simply explained. When the White Paper Fairer, Faster and Firmer was published, the Government said that they would aim to decide first applications within two months and appeals within a further four months. The four-month period is determined by the Government's argument that the accommodation centres will speed up the process.
I find it difficult to understand how, before the accommodation centres were ever thought of and with all the difficulties faced by asylum seekers—they are moved around the country from one place to another and their legal advisers have to catch up with them—far in the distant past, when the White Paper was published, the Government envisaged bringing down the processing of an application through all its stages to conclusion from whatever the average was at the time to a maximum period of six months.
We are saying that surely the point of accommodation centres is to make the process speedier as well as fairer, and therefore we do not need to keep people in them for the proposed six-month period. A four-month time limit in the Bill will give the Government some incentive to make the process both faster and fairer, as they say.
§ Lord Corbett of Castle Vale
My Lords, I am in total sympathy with the amendment. As I argued on the previous amendment, we all want to see a faster process consistent with fairness. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, demonstrated, the problem is that two and four do not make four; two and four make six. The Minister has told your Lordships that the intention is to deal with the initial decision within two months. If that decision results in granting asylum, those applicants then have the status of refugees and move into the wider community.
321 The amendment proposes that if on initial consideration an asylum application is rejected, the appeal process begins. The Government say that they hope to complete that within a further four months. However, halfway through that process the relevant asylum seekers may be hoofed out. I cannot see the sense of that. What favour that does to asylum seekers I have no idea.
We shall shortly discuss amendments concerned with education. Let us suppose for a minute that your Lordships' House decides that it does not want education facilities offered in accommodation centres but insists that they are provided in mainstream schools. Children may therefore settle into mainstream schools but after two months the relevant asylum application may be rejected. Appeals are made. Two months further down the road—halfway along the path to the appeal being resolved—those children may be yanked out of those schools if their parents are hoofed out of their accommodation centres. Who does that help? I say again to your Lordships that I sympathise and agree absolutely with the ambition behind the measure but in reality it will do asylum seekers nothing but harm.
§ Baroness Anelay of St Johns
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down—as we are on Report I shall be brief—is he aware that at Oakington the initial decision takes just seven to 10 days? Appeals are then listed within four weeks thereafter, well within the four month period we are discussing.
§ Lord Corbett of Castle Vale
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for those comments. However, it is no good saying—as the amendment does—"in exceptional circumstances" as that will make a mockery of exceptional circumstances. However, if at accommodation centre A it is still unhappily taking four months to get through the appeal process, it cannot be the intention of the proposers of the amendment to say that in every single case that that timetable is not improved upon—in other words, the asylum seeker is still halfway through the appeal process—the Minister will pray in aid exceptional circumstances. That would make a mockery of exceptional circumstances. We want the process dealt with expeditiously. The noble Baroness's point is well made and well taken. Such timetables are achievable at Oakington due to the quality and the quantity of the on-site legal services provided.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Carlisle of Bucklow
My Lords, is not the answer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, that if no date or period of time is put on the face of the Bill there is no incentive to speed up the asylum process? The Government have clearly said that they intend to speed up the asylum process. They have said that they believe they can make it faster than it is at the moment. One would hope that they would be able to complete the asylum process within four months. Surely by having a date on the Bill one provides an incentive to ensure that that happens. If 322 one has no date, the answer to the noble Lord is that there is no incentive and therefore the speeding up does not occur.
§ Lord Judd
My Lords, I am sure that there should be every incentive for expeditious handling of asylum cases. I imagine that that would have widespread support throughout the House. I do, however, believe that this amendment is misguided. I encourage those who put it forward to consider withdrawing it and reconsidering their position.
I do not want to become a sort of humanitarian bore in this debate but I have sai—as I said at previous stages of our deliberations—that we are dealing with people. We must keep the pre-eminence and importance of the individual in mind all the time. I believe that this could become a disturbing and artificial intervention in the handling of individual cases. Surely, in the midst of all the other anxieties that people are facing, what is essential is that they should not be faced with uncertainty about their accommodation and their personal relations. That could be a disaster if it arose at a tricky point in the whole proceedings.
My noble friend Lord Dubs argued on the previous amendment that the Government should look for a flexible approach. I believe that flexibility is needed here. The objective of speed and expeditious handling of the applications is right but to introduce an artificial constraint of this kind into the accommodation centres is not the way to achieve that.
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, I listened with great care to this debate and to the previous one. I declare an interest as a member of the Immigration Appeal Tribunal. I have been such a member for 17 years and have seen many changes in that time.
I am worried that we are developing a two-tier system here. The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, made it clear that if people are in accommodation centres for six months, we are talking about 6,000 people a year and if people are in accommodation centres for four months, we are talking about 9,000 people a year. Yet there are 80,000 people applying for asylum every year. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has just mentioned Oakington's record. That record is excellent. However, I refer to the situation where a few people's hearings may be fast-tracked but the rest of them block up. Every single week when I sit on immigration tribunals we have to send cases back for rehearing at adjudicator level because no Home Office presenting officer was present and the relevant person was not fairly cross-examined.
I am considering cost-effectiveness. Rather than having a few people specially dealt with, would it not be better to provide better qualified Home Office presenting officers, for example, so that cases can be dealt with quickly, effectively and efficiently, as the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, said? I am worried about fast-tracking a few asylum seekers. That matter 323 concerns me. Although I would be happy to support the amendment I am worried about the whole scenario.
§ Lord Filkin
My Lords, I start by saying that the Government share the goal but not the mechanism. Clearly it would be absolutely excellent if we could deal with the initial decision and all the stages of appeal that an asylum applicant may choose to go through within four months. However, on our calculation, although that may be possible in some cases, it is clearly impossible and unrealistic in others. I shall not go into the detail—I believe that we did so in Committee—of the intervals that apply between different stages but clearly the House knows that an applicant has—as he or she should do—an initial hearing when a decision is made. Then they have a right of appeal to the Immigration Appellate Authority. Then they have a right if they wish to petition to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal to consider their case. If there is a hearing, clearly that takes time. Even if leave is not granted, the process takes time. Then, of course, as the House well knows, applicants and their advisers at times seek to use vigorously judicial review and bring challenges under ECHR.
Although I very much hope that we increase our processing speed so that most cases are dealt with within four months, it is completely unrealistic to think that we can do that unless—which I am sure is not the case—we are either arguing that people should not have those appeal rights or we are arguing that the Government should just grant people asylum if the process is taking almost four months as that is the only way of avoiding the shambles of having to move them on. As I say, although the goal is utterly commendable, we do not think that it is realistic as a general principle on the face of the Bill.
As my noble friend Lord Corbett said, we previously spoke of two months, not four months, being a realistic target for processing families with children, albeit with the safeguard of a little more time if necessary.
Secondly, we must recognise that no one knows what future events we shall face as a country in handling asylum. It is possible that we shall get peaks of demand, as has happened in the past. If the Government were faced with the massive responsibility of processing a substantial increase in asylum claims as a result of some tragedy or problem elsewhere in the world, and were fettered by having a measure like this on the face of the Bill, they would be considerably impeded in their ability to deal sensibly with such a position.
As has been said already, we do not consider that it would be in the applicants' own interests because they would have to be moved—whatever their state of process and whatever their wishes. That does not appear to be fair, decent or good management.
The second point was the argument about incentive. Speaking as a former manager, I recognise the importance of incentives, but I am not certain that we 324 need any more incentives to move forward with this business than we have already. Perhaps I may remind your Lordships' House that it is currently costing the country £1 billion per year and more in asylum support costs. That is money we have to pay, but there are plenty of other uses for it. Clearly, the faster we can deal with applications properly, the more that that bill will reduce for any given number of applicants. Keeping people on support for a long time while decision-making is slow is neither humane to them, nor economical to the Government. Therefore, I do not believe that the incentive is needed.
I say in a spirit of open-mindedness that we have already given clear commitments that in regulations, when we are considering the situation of families with children, we shall put in place a system where at six months their case will be reviewed. If it is still considered appropriate for them to be in an accommodation centre at nine months, and the case has not been determined, that family will have the right, if they so wish, to leave the centre.
I do not want to develop policy from the Dispatch Box. However, I should like to take that principle away, recognise what we have already said in a letter to Simon Hughes, and confirm that we would use the affirmative resolution procedures. Your Lordships' House would have the power to ensure that was not just done in the Home Office but that there was a right of scrutiny and challenge by the House itself. In addition, I should like to consider whether, and in what circumstances, we might be able to apply that principle to give some commitments concerning faster processing and review.
I am not implying for one second that we are going to say that four months is possible and everybody should go. However, I would like to think about whether there are certain circumstances in which we could signal that we would be pleased to lay down some criteria and put the process before the House. We would be pleased to bring forward further thinking on that at Third Reading.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may ask him to clarify the welcome remarks that he has just made. Will he consider the concern on the Opposition Benches about the length of time that the processing of asylum seekers has taken, often amounting to months and months? The concern of the House is therefore that there should be some kind of limit in the Bill not wholly dependent upon future regulations, the length of which are completely unknown.
§ Lord Filkin
My Lords, I understand the anxiety. It is an anxiety that the Government share in terms of the time that the asylum process and decision-making have taken—a product of the enormous increase in applications that we have experienced during the past five, six, or seven years. However, I do not believe that it would be right to put this on the face of the Bill. We shall have a genuine look at what we can commit to putting into secondary legislation, along the lines of what I have already talked about in terms of families with children.
325 I am seeking not to give a copper-bottomed guarantee that we shall do X or Y in detail, but to look at a mechanism which gives the Government the power to make changes and which additionally gives the House the power to challenge any proposal by the Government in that respect. That seems to be a fair division of power: to the executive to do its job and to the House to scrutinise what is proposed.
§ Lord Dholakia
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his assurances that the matter will return to us. My understanding is that he will put forward a proposal before Third Reading in order that we can examine it. If it does not meet our expectations, at least we shall have an opportunity to take up the matter at that stage. In the mean time, I accept his proposal. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ [Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.]
§ 7 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth moved Amendment No. 16:
Page 9, line 32, at end insert ", and
(c) there is a place available in an appropriate maintained school for any dependant of school age
§ The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to these amendments which are identical to those moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, at Committee stage on 10th July. Their effect is to reverse the Government's proposals to prevent children in accommodation centres from attending local schools. The later amendments seek to delete Clauses 34 and 35 of the Bill, which remove the duty on local education authorities to provide education for children in accommodation centres. Amendment No. 16 stipulates that families with children of school age should be placed in accommodation centres only if no places are available in local schools, thereby overcoming concerns about overcrowding schools.
§ In Committee stage on these amendments, many noble Lords expressed their concerns about the Government's desire to keep children seeking asylum out of schools. The notion of segregated education has also caused no little disquiet among some of my colleagues on these Benches, which will not be a surprise in view of the contributions of the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Hereford and Derby.
§ Rather than rehearse what has already been said in your Lordships' House on the matter, I should like to move the debate on by drawing attention to how it has developed in the period since—among both those who have questions about that part of the legislation in principle and those who have questions about its practice and process, or both, of course.326
First, I should like to speak about the reaction of some of my colleagues who backed up a statement that I issued yesterday. We released a statement explaining the cause of our concern and urging the Government to rethink their position. I should like to read part of that statement, with your Lordships' indulgence. I quote:
As clergy we firmly believe in the human dignity and worth of every person who seeks refuge in this country. We are deeply concerned, therefore, by Government plans to prohibit children in the new accommodation centres from going to school.
This is an unnecessary and pernicious measure. It serves no purpose other than to stigmatise and marginalise already vulnerable children. It will benefit neither refugee children—who will miss the opportunity to learn, play and develop in an everyday school environment—nor other pupils—who will be denied the chance to learn about other traditions and countries, about diversity and tolerance.
Asylum seekers should attract compassion and kindness, rather than rejection and intolerance. They give us an opportunity to show human goodness at its best, but all too often society instead chooses to show its most cynical and uncaring face. It is up to the Government to take a lead, to tell us that we should want for refugee children what we would want for our own children—only the very best. We fear that instead the Government is sending a message that discrimination and segregation are acceptable.
We view refugee children as children above all else, and all children need and deserve the best care and the best services that we can offer them. There is no question of some being more deserving than others. Therefore, there is no excuse for some being denied services that are available to others".
§ By issuing that statement we have made clear our view from these Benches that it is unjustifiable to treat a particularly vulnerable group of children as if their rights and their needs are inferior to those of other children. On the contrary, children seeking asylum are often fleeing unimaginable horrors and have particularly acute needs.
§ Some have experienced first-hand the brutality of war. Some have been abused and tortured. Others have seen their loved ones killed or have no idea of what has become of their mother, father, brothers and sisters. I learnt that this morning at a meeting organised by Save the Children. They are seeking not only refuge but also understanding, compassion and hope. These children are not villains; they are hopeless and helpless. Inclusion and integration will be the key to their rehabilitation.
I want now to turn to three points that are being made by the Government in their support for this part of the Bill. First, the Government have sought to deflect criticism of their plans for segregated education by claiming that children seeking asylum will be better off by being educated in accommodation centres. That argument contradicts the DfES's own guidance which states:
Rapid enrolment and regular attendance at school is highly desirable for asylum-seeking and refugee children".
It also contradicts joint DfES and NUT guidance to schools published earlier this year, which explain the educational benefits of teaching refugee children in mainstream classes. It states:
Teachers will recognise that the relearning process—and especially the acquisition of English—will be most rapid if new pupils engage and work with other children in the class. Experience and research with other pupils, for whom English is an additional language, bears this out. The host children are central to the solution".
§ Some of the asylum seekers I met today describe the projected accommodation centre facilities as "asylum schools"—their own soundbite. And they dread the thought of the isolation and mutual celebration of personal misery which such places are likely to engender because the education facilities will be exclusively for people in the same predicament.
§ It seems to me that the Home Office is basing its policy on crude and sweeping assumptions about the ability of particular groups of children to cope in some settings. And I gather it has done so without much consultation with teachers' groups or others involved in the children's lobby. If it is beneficial for such children to be taught separately, why are the Government not also proposing that other groups of children whose first language is not English, or who have special particular needs, be taught separately?
§ Furthermore, we need to note the strong opposition of all the major children's charities—Save the Children, the Children Society, the NSPCC and Barnardo's—and the teaching unions—the NUT, the NASUWT and the ATL—as well as the ecumenical body, the Church's Commission on Racial Justice. They argue forcefully that children seeking asylum are better off in mainstream schools where they are able to enjoy in full the social and mental dimensions of the school experience, which are so vital to their well-being.
§ Given the scale of the opposition from experts and professionals, the onus is on the Government to provide evidence or authoritative endorsement for their claim that children are better off by being educated in accommodation centres, regardless of whether they are in those centres for two, four, six, eight or 12 months.
§ Secondly, we have been told by the Home Office that education provided in accommodation centres will equal the quality and nature of that in schools. I regard that as an improbable claim. Already the Government have made inconsistent statements about the role of the LEA and the status of the national curriculum and they have admitted that child protection and anti-bullying policies will not have the statutory force that they have in mainstream schools.
§ When we discover more about the precise nature of the education that will be provided, it seems to me likely that there will be innumerable differences between it and the education that will be available in a mainstream school. Consider, for instance, the number of children in an accommodation centre—according to the Government, about 120—which means that there will be about seven children in each 328 year group. At secondary level, it will be highly expensive to ensure that each year group receives specialist teaching in each subject area laid down in the national curriculum. In practice, it is likely that only a limited number of subjects will be taught, that teachers will double up and teach subjects in which they are not specialists, and that children will be taught in groups which span a wide age range.
§ I have before me another set of figures put forward by the New Policy Unit. It has calculated how many teachers the new accommodation centres can afford if they spend the same per pupil as in mainstream schools. It calculates that at primary level, two to three teachers, using a figure of £2,600 per pupil, could be afforded to cover six year groups, including special needs and all language support.
§ At secondary level, four teachers, using a figure of £3,700 per pupil, could be afforded, covering seven year groups, all national curriculum subjects, language support and special needs. Those calculations assume that all the money would be spent on teachers and take no account of the books, equipment and other resources that would be required.
So many questions are unanswered. For instance, which public exams will children in accommodation centres be able or required to take? What types of support staff will there be in accommodation centres; for instance, educational psychologists and youth workers? What vocational courses will be available to young people? The NUT recently stated:
Education within the confines of an accommodation centre cannot equal the range of provision within a school or education authority. There is no single school in the UK which could replicate the range of provision available in an LEA, let alone for it to be credible that it would be possible to provide such range in an accommodation centre".
§ Thirdly, another Home Office argument claims that it is inappropriate to integrate those who may not remain in this country. It goes to the heart of how the UK views and treats children whose asylum claims are undecided. I simply do not believe that there is ever a situation in which integration and non-discrimination are not in the best interests of the child. While two or three months may seem a short period for an adult, it is a long and significant period in the life of a child. The positive and normative experiences of learning and social interaction in a mainstream environment will remain with and help children, whatever the next move. The benefits of mainstream schooling, however short-term, far outweigh concerns about possible disruption to both school and child, should he or she leave.
§ Elsewhere, the Government are a consistent and committed advocate of social inclusion and non-discrimination. Both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have in recent weeks declared that the same opportunity should be available to every child in the UK, whatever his or her circumstances. DfES policy since 1997 has been defined by efforts to promote inclusive education and to draw all pupils, whatever their needs and ability, into mainstream schools. I find it difficult, to say the least, to see how keeping some children out of mainstream schools squares with this. 329 Indeed, efforts to promote inclusion and integration will be seriously undermined by the ramifications of a segregated education system. For example, at St Luke's school in Portsmouth there are a number of children of asylum seekers. They enrich the school and it is in that context and environment where they belong.
§ In conclusion, the nub of the issue is simply this. We should want the best for every child in our country: the best care; the best opportunities; the best services; the best education regardless of their immigration status or of their length of stay here. In other words, we should treat all children as children above all else. The Government are to be congratulated on seeing children as part of the whole process. We need to find a solution to a problem, but to see it as a possibility. That is why I regard the route they are taking as misguided.
In a recent article, Rebecca Hickman of Save the Children stated:
When it comes to children seeking asylum, the Home Office has always struggled to discern the child in the asylum seeker".
We are talking about children who are not small adults but people in their own right. If the Government pursue their misguided policy on segregated education, that sad statement is borne out. Instead, the Government should demonstrate that they, too, believe that children seeking asylum are children first and foremost by allowing them to attend mainstream schools.
§ I return to the point I made at the beginning of my remarks. I am aware that there are those who are critical of this part of the Bill on the question of principle: children should not be segregated in this way for whatever length of time. Then there are those who criticise this legislation on practice. Is it really right and proper to set up another tier of education in an already over-stretched and often rather confused profession, or both? I hope that the House can unite around these amendments in a cross-party way. I beg to move.
§ The Earl of Sandwich
My Lords:Refugee children are part of our society from the day they arrive in this country".I quote this statement from the Children's Consortium, partly because I recognise that, to some, it may be a challenging assertion. But it is a fundamental principle behind this amendment. I join the right reverend Prelate in urging the Government to reconsider their policy on education in these centres.
The Bill as a whole is, understandably, designed to deter migrants within the category of asylum seekers and to protect our own citizens. But this clause separates out all young asylum seekers once they have entered the country. They are all, or nearly all, bona fide applicants in these accommodation centres and about half of them will in any case remain here.
The Government's main objections to this amendment last time were about length of stay and content. They have repeated them today. In an ideal world, they say, the children will remain only a matter of weeks. Yet, without going into the details again, we 330 know that the average initial decision takes about seven months at present. Enough has been said about targets, but the present reality is that the Government's argument is wishful thinking. We are talking about months, not weeks and the children will need to be in school.
Separate education cannot be right. No group of children should suffer on the grounds of their immigration status or anything else. In any case, as the right reverend Prelate said, the full range of education is inaccessible in an accommodation centre. How can the Government ensure that the national curriculum is taught in all its aspects, even in the larger centres, when there are only a handful of children in each year group? Nor can child protection and other legislation have the statutory force that they would have in mainstream schools.
There are undoubtedly problems of integration, as there are in any school, not least because of language ability. But the evidence is that far from disrupting schools children of asylum seekers are well received and bring benefits to mainstream schools. Recent interviews conducted by Save the Children with over 700 asylum-seeking children in Glasgow show that school is the highlight of their lives. Schools and teachers were most frequently cited by them as,the best thing about the UK".Mainstream education is the ideal starting-point to enable refugee children, all of whom will have experienced dislocation, if not trauma, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and many others, to start afresh. It would also have a lasting impact on their future integration into the community.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 34 and 35. It looks as if the Government are in some difficulty as regards their provisions for children with special educational needs. I am advised that these clauses are highly restrictive. Children with severe disabilities will be covered by statements from LEAs providing them with places in special schools. But how do the Government intend to assess the special educational needs of children in accommodation centres when the LEAs have no duty to make an assessment?
Clause 34 specifically prevents local authorities allowing other SEN children to attend mainstream schools. It is hard to see how the education provider in accommodation centres can possibly provide the necessary support within these centres without offending against the principles that we all understand—the efficient education of other children and the efficient use of resources, as listed under subsection (7)(b) and (c) of the clause.
I return to my original point; namely, that children seeking asylum belong to our society and cannot be excluded from it. While their cases are considered, they must be given the opportunities that our own children enjoy and which international law demands.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, before we go any further, I should like the House to contemplate the confusion that has arisen as a result of the earlier 331 discussion about the size of accommodation centres. The noble Lord, Lord Filkin, gave us to understand that these large centres represent only half of what is planned. One has become a little sceptical about whether or not they will happen. However, in response to the Liberal Democrat amendment, the noble Lord very encouragingly told us that there would be all sorts of smaller centres.
At last night's meeting with those very well-informed people, all the points just outlined by the right reverend Prelate and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, were made. They are all true; indeed, I agree with every one of them. But the discussion thus far is assuming that we are talking about dispersed families in small centres—that is, anywhere where there is a local school. However, the big centres about which we are talking are quite different. The one that I understood was to be established in Scotland but whose future is now in doubt would be miles from any school. I was just trying to imagine what would happen to the children. Nursery school children, small children and primary school children would have to be bussed to school, but they would not all be able to attend just one school because many of the local schools would be quite small.
I am sure that the Minister who is to reply to the debate will very likely make those points. But, rather strangely, this Bill does not allow children from accommodation centres to attend local schools. That is what is wrong. As a result, it has evoked a debate in the Church, among noble Lords, and among all the people whom we met last night regarding the rights and wrongs of segregated education. I do not believe that it is about that; it is about what is the right thing for educating children in these centres of whatever kind.
It seems to me that the Government's great mistake is to have forbidden these children to attend state schools under the provisions of the Bill. They will find themselves in a jam if they create small centres and the Bill forbids attendance in mainstream schools. So they must reconsider that provision. The part of this group of amendments that addresses the point must be pursued.
The people whose request for asylum is refused are very often dealt with very quickly. I am not sure how long the process takes. Although we are not supposed to discuss the figures too much because it causes anxiety, I believe that over three-quarters of people are refused. As I said, the decision is made very quickly. If a non-English-speaking child of, say, seven arrives at an accommodation centre and subsequently attends a local school, he will begin to make friends and start to talk in English—by Jove, children learn quickly in school. He would enjoy the experience hugely; but, no sooner had he made friends, he would have to return home. Is that kind? I am not sure.
I have doubts about this provision, partly on the grounds that I believe the Bill has got the whole process muddled up. If we are talking about smaller centres, the Government should not be forbidding children to attend local schools. However, if they are 332 talking about big centres, are they right to suppose that it would be better for these children just to learn English with the help of some good teachers? I do not know why we are talking in terms of the whole national curriculum for a period of just a few weeks. That seems ridiculous.
The policy that the Government are enunciating here confirms to me that the whole issue has a presentational element to it. They want to comfort people who think that the school might be swamped and they want to suggest something that can be done neatly in big centres. However, that does not add up. I suggest to the Minister that she should certainly consider whether or not to continue with the clauses that the right reverend Prelate seeks to remove from the Bill. I am not so sure about the first amendment. Perhaps the Minister could confirm whether she is just talking about big centres, or all centres. If the noble Baroness changes her policy, does she accept that local schools must be available? A number of questions have been raised and I shall listen very carefully to the reply to them.
§ Lord Corbett of Castle Vale
My Lords, it is right that your Lordships' House should focus upon children. The right reverend Prelate was absolutely right: we are not talking about the appendages of adults; we are talking about children in their own right. Having said that, I have some difficulty with these amendments and briefly I want to explain to your Lordships why.
I did not attend the meeting in the Moses Room yesterday because, quite frankly, I could not see its relevance to this debate and this Bill. The meeting was all about refugee children. These clauses in the Bill are not about refugee children; they are about the children of asylum seekers. I am not nit-picking here; it is an extremely important distinction. In the Bill we are dealing—
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord to read the UNHCR handbook, where he will find that all the people whom we call "asylum seekers" are described as "refugees".
§ Lord Corbett of Castle Vale
My Lords, I have not read the handbook. I take the noble Earl's point, but I have some difficulties with the piece of paper that I and, I do not doubt, the rest of your Lordships have received from the High Commissioner on this matter because, in my view, the language does not entirely fit.
However, I am making a point which I consider to be important. In the context of processing asylum applications as speedily as possible, we are dealing here with the children of those who make the applications. I made this point to your Lordships previously. The Minister reminded the House that it is intended that the first assessment of those claims will be made within eight weeks. For a number of children of those parents in most parts of the country, six or seven of those weeks could fall during the period when schools are shut for the summer holiday. That is a practicality of the issue—the mainstream schools could be locked up 333 for six or seven weeks for the summer holidays. I am not sure whom that is supposed to help but, in my view, it will certainly not help those children.
We know that broadly between 35 and 40 per cent of those making asylum applications are admitted following the first assessment. According to what the Minister has told your Lordships, such a decision will be reached within eight weeks. I am then led to wonder—the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, referred to this—what favour we do the children whose parents succeed on the first assessment of their applications by taking them into mainstream schools and then taking them out again because they are to be resettled elsewhere. I ask that question simply because I believe it to be a practical one.
I want to ask some other questions. The latest reports that I have seen say that at present most applications for asylum come from people who have left Afghanistan, the Sudan and Somalia. There may have been one other country, but that is the kind of region concerned. I want to ask how likely it is that the children of those families will ever have been to a formal school in their own country. I believe it to be very unlikely.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, quoted from a joint survey by Glasgow City Council and Save the Children. One of the most important findings was that 95 per cent of the children of asylum seekers involved in the survey spoke English. I find that astonishing, but that is what it said. I believe it to be a very rare group of asylum seekers that would have that level of knowledge of the English language, but there it is in the survey. And, while I do not for a moment take away from what the survey said, in a sense it is no surprise because all the children said that they wanted to be at school.
That, again, raises a question mark for me. The survey did not—and, of course, should not because the issue was not researched in that way—refer to mainstream schools; it referred to schools which the children were attending. Of course it did. I do not believe it is fair to pray this in aid and say that, on the basis of the survey, in the circumstances that I describe it is wrong to do what the Government propose to do and for the children of asylum seekers in accommodation centres to go to school in that sense. I do not believe for a moment that the survey can be held to dispose of that argument.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, will my noble friend give way? Some, if not a majority, of the schools to which he referred are open for children in the summer. The children can attend for two months or so. It is true that they do not receive formal lessons, but they have the advantage of being with other children. Does my noble friend agree?
§ Lord Corbett of Castle Vale
My Lords, my noble friend is right. I have experience of that in the city of Birmingham. But—I do not know and should like to find out—I wonder how often that applies to schools 334 in rural areas. I believe it is less common in those areas. That is the point that I am making. I may be wrong but I suspect that I am not.
There are two other assumptions behind the amendments and I have great doubts about what they seek to achieve. First, against the time-scales that I have already mentioned, there is an assumption that the children of asylum seekers will be able to integrate readily into what, for most of them, will be thoroughly strange surroundings. That will particularly be the case against the background, for many, of the most traumatic experience of being trafficked halfway across this planet in order to reach the United Kingdom so that their parents can claim asylum. In the first weeks of arrival in a totally different culture which is alien to their experiences, I question whether they will find it easy to integrate. I believe there must be at least some argument that they will fare better—certainly in the initial weeks—by being among children from their own backgrounds while they adjust to the different, strange and foreign surroundings. Their new environment will be all those things to children from remote countries. I believe that that is a factor in this issue.
The second point that I want to make is tied up with the first. There is an assumption that somehow in the accommodation centres we offer security, safety and sanctuary to parents. But then we say, "Well, the children won't be able to enjoy that for the length of time that adults can because we are going to take them away and put them into mainstream schools". We shall leave aside the question of how near the mainstream schools might be. They will certainly not be around the corner from the sites that the Government have in mind for the accommodation centres. I wonder about a family that, again, has been trafficked halfway across the world. It arrives at an accommodation centre and is then split up. It is no good saying to a tiny child who has been dragged halfway across the world in those circumstances, "It's all right. You're coming back tonight". That runs the risk of introducing even more problems than those with which they must already cope.
I turn to my final point. I hope that your Lordships will not mind my reminding the House of when we last debated the issue. On that occasion I mentioned to the then Minister that I hoped very much that, if the Government were successful in their ambition to establish accommodation centres and to provide education within those centres for children, there would be real and live links between the schools in those centres and the schools in the surrounding areas.
I am happy to say that I have a letter from the Minister of State at the Home Office, Beverley Hughes, who has assured me that,there is much to be gained from fostering links".She continues:Officials in the Home Office and the Department for Education and Skills have already begun discussions with local authorities in the areas where we have submitted planning notifications or where we will shortly be doing so. We will specify in the contract that we want links to be developed with the local schools",335 and so on.
That is extremely important because the centres will not be segregated in the sense that they will be behind high wire fences. At least there is the intention that there will be exchanges between the education provision in the centres and the local schools. I acknowledge that that does not dispose of the arguments, but there are some countervailing arguments that, in my view, are just as powerful on behalf of the child as the arguments put forward by those who support the amendment and say that it is in the best interests of the children to put them straight into mainstream schools.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, the noble Lord said that the reason that he did not attend the meeting last night, at which he could have debated these matters as there was no one putting forward the Government's point of view, was that it was not about asylum but about refugees. I imagine that my invitation is the same as his. It says:The Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill would force traumatised children and families claiming asylum into isolated 'Accommodation Centres'".I believe that the noble Lord must have missed that point.
§ Lord Corbett of Castle Vale
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I believe that we have the same leaflet, but I am mixed up about which meeting it was. It was another meeting. I e-mailed—I hesitate to say who, although it may have been Save the Children—to make that particular point and asked why the expression "refugee children" was being used when referring to children of asylum seekers. I apologise to the organisers of the meeting.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, as this matter has become so dominant I shall take a few minutes to put it right. The word "refugee" in the UN convention and in the UNHCR handbook applies to anyone from the moment he or she makes his or her claim for asylum. That was the law and it was upheld by the Appellate Committee of this House in a judgment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, in 1993. The position changed with a single remark made obiter by Lord Justice Simon Brown in the case of Ex parte B in 1996. Only since then has the distinction between refugees and asylum seekers come into British law. People were using language in a form that was only six years out of date.
I also believe that the noble Lord is a little pessimistic about the chances of asylum seeker children in mainstream schools. He forgets the extraordinary adaptability of children when they want to be adaptable. When I had been in the United States for three weeks one of my graduate students rang up. My son picked up the phone and the graduate student later asked me, "Who was the American boy who answered the call?"
336 I have mentioned before a Kosovar family known to me. Their daughter, who was 12 when she arrived, has now been in a mainstream school for one year and speaks English rather better than I do. She is developing an intriguing combination of the intellect of David Starkey and the manners of the Queen and she devours the publications of the National Portrait Gallery with the greatest assiduity. I believe that there are many more such cases than the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, is aware of.
In reply to many of my amendments the Minister said that he would reflect on the matter during the summer. We too were capable of reflection during the summer. On 10th July at col. 7041 gave warning of the possibility that we may do so. I thank the Minister and his officials for the courtesy with which they have helped us in a good many meetings, but the reasons are not known to the House so I need to describe them to a certain extent.
When the Bill was in the Commons my honourable friend Mr Hughes, with the agreement of the whole party, was concerned, as we remain, to shorten the time that people spend in accommodation centres. He accepted an offer from the Home Secretary to trade off a guarantee of not longer than six months in accommodation centres for acceptance of this educational proposal. In Committee it was my task to probe that undertaking. The Minister gave replies that I could best describe as sincere but not robust. We understand the reasons for that. The general feeling in the width of colloquy on our Benches afterwards was, "Do not shoot the Minister, he is doing his best". I know something about the posts from Tirana, for example. They are not unique on this subject.
Our anxieties began with some questions asked by my noble friend Lord Greaves, especially in a concluding intervention in the Minister's speech. The words "separate but equal" are rightly of ill omen on this subject, but speaking as one who regards Cambridge as the other place on both sides of the Atlantic, I say that the situation, although improbable, is not impossible.
My noble friend's question showed that, although qualified teachers were to be employed, not all the teaching was to be done by them. Some of it would be carried out by assistants and some by parents. There was to be no responsibility for the LEA, which may have monitored common standards. The job was to be given to contractors who, it is clear, would be under instructions to save money. So there is no mechanism by which common standards can be obtained.
Here we engage the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. I understand, and the Minister will remind us, that this country has made a reservation to that convention relating to the children in this country who are not British nationals, but the UN committee that is monitoring our compliance with the convention at the moment has ruled that that reservation is contrary to the convention itself. We have to look at Article 2.2 of the convention and take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis 337 of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child's parents. If we do not have a mechanism for monitoring a common standard of teaching we cannot ensure that that is done. That has caused my honourable friend Mr Hughes a good deal of anxiety and that concern runs right across the party.
Another matter that has altered the position since we discussed it in July is the sudden withdrawal of the right to work. There is no guaranteed right to support outside accommodation centres. If a person is in a position where he or she does not have a right to support or the right to work, early discharge from an accommodation centre begins to appear a rather less attractive prize. The argument against segregation in education correspondingly carries more weight. That weight has been helped inside the Government as well. A human rights report of the Foreign Office of 2002 states:School segregation is a particularly severe form of racial discrimination against the Roma in some Central and Eastern European countries and for children of asylum seekers in the UK, and has been highlighted…by the EU".When I consider the policy of my own Government compared with East European treatment of the Roma, I am ashamed.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, no one has so far asked the vitally important question: what is best for the child? I cannot believe that the situation envisaged by the Government addresses that point. I was enormously pleased to hear the views of the right reverend Prelate and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, on this vitally important point. I am not sure that the amendments they have tabled are entirely right, but the underlying principle is enormously important. There is nothing in the Bill which is more important than the rights of the child.
My noble friend Lord Corbett has assumed that the amendment places an obligation to send a child to the appropriate school. I do not think that he is right about that. There is no obligation. But it is certainly a principle which can be embraced by parents if they so choose. For the most part, the young people will benefit by being among people of the same age.
I went to the meeting last night which has been referred to. I should like to quote some of the things which were said which are highly relevant to this debate. Brigid Jackson-Dooley of a primary school in Newham said:As children we get one chance at it. We get one chance at being a five-year old, a six-year old, a seven, an eight, a nine-year old. As an adult we get many more opportunities".She is absolutely right. These young people avail themselves of the opportunity to their advantage. But if it is not to their advantage they are not forced to go there. Marian Rosen of another primary school in Newham said:You can come into my playground and you'll find it very difficult to pick out who the asylum seeker children are".That is the whole point. They benefit enormously from being among their own. That is what the Government provisions seek to deny.
338 Someone said that the teachers have not been listened to. But is there anyone here or outside who is supportive of the Government's position? I may be wrong, but I challenge my noble friend to indicate who thinks the Government are right about this issue.
I return to what I said before: what is best for the child? No one in this House regards them as the enemies of the state. They are innocents; they are young people who have come here, mostly with their parents. They should not feel trapped. At the moment too many of them do.
My noble friend Lord Corbett raised an important point. He asked: what does one do in the summer when the schools are closed? I think more schools should be open. In the area where I live many schools are open for the children to come and play. They learn from playing with each other. I note my noble friend, who is also a personal friend, nods his head in approbation of that. We do not think enough about the children of the asylum seekers. There is nothing more comforting for them than to be able, if they wish, to go to school, to be among people of the same age, to play with them and to be part of them.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Chan
My Lords, perhaps I may briefly share with your Lordships what seven young refugee children said to some of us this morning; it confirms what has been said. These seven young people came from Kosovo, Afghanistan, Kenya and Nigeria. They said that they had three advantages from being educated in local schools. First, it helped them to forget the trauma they had undergone before they arrived here. Secondly, being able to get up in the morning and go to school gave them a sense of normal childhood rather than being stigmatised as refugees and separated from other children. Thirdly, they said that even if they were to remain in this country for a short period they would always be thankful for what they had learned in our schools.
Finally, when I asked them about their aspirations, more than half said that they wanted to go back to their home countries and remain our friends.
§ Lord Bhatia
My Lords, I moved the amendment in Committee and continue to hope sincerely that the Government will respond to the powerful arguments they have heard over recent months, and are hearing again today, by reversing their proposals for segregated education. Nearly 60 years after the introduction of the Education Act 1944, it would be deeply regrettable if a Labour Government decided that school-based education should not be universally available and that a child's immigration status should determine whether or not they could attend mainstream school.
I should like to touch on a couple of areas that I raised during the debate in Committee. First, there has been some debate about whether it is acceptable to keep a child off mainstream school for two weeks, two months, six months or nine months. There is only one straightforward answer to this question: each day that 339 a child is not in a mainstream school is a day lost. Splitting hairs over two or six months is absolutely beside the point. It not only harms a child's development not to be in school, but it is also utterly wrong in principle.
That view is endorsed by the DfES, which, in last year's education Green Paper, stated:Every passing day when a child is not able to fulfil their potential is another day lost, not only to that child but to the whole community".The Government's supposed "concession" that after six months the education of children in accommodation centres would be reviewed is, therefore, no concession at all, and does not affect the principle arguments against this policy.
Secondly, the Home Office asserts that asylum seekers are exacerbating the predicament of overburdened local schools. It has painted an inaccurate picture of schools whose problems are caused by an influx of asylum-seeking children. We need only to listen to the fierce condemnation of the Government's plans by the major teaching unions to realise that this picture is misleading and perhaps opportunistic. If children have particular needs, the answer is not to set them apart but to find effective and non-discriminatory ways of meeting those needs.
The inclusion of refugee children in mainstream schools can present a substantial challenge to individual schools, teachers and LEAs. The inclusion of other groups of homeless children and children whose first language is not English can bring similar challenges. The answer is not to segregate groups of children who are viewed as problematic but to ensure that adequate and appropriate resources are available to support schools and teachers to build on and share the good practice that has already been developed. The alternative is a downward spiral of marginalisation.
In short, refugee asylum children are not the only children who present challenges to schools, but they are the only group for whom the Government believe the solution to be segregation.
Schools that have a significant minority of children seeking asylum view them not as a burden but as an asset. Earlier today, teachers, parents and children came to Parliament to lobby noble Lords to reject the Government's plans for segregated education. They demonstrated powerfully the solidarity that they feel with refugee children. They made it clear that it is not them—those who actually teach and learn with refugee children—who wish them out of their schools.
The head teacher of one school stresses how the whole school benefits from the presence of children seeking asylum. As was cited earlier, the head teacher challenges others to go to playgrounds and to try to pick out the refugee children from the others playing there, stating that other pupils,learn a great deal from them and develop knowledge, respect and acceptance which improves their own understanding of the world around them and their educational opportunities, and prepares them to be good citizens of a multi-cultural society".340 So there is also much educational opportunity to be gained from those refugee and asylum children for the children of this country.
Thirdly, barring some children from our schools clearly violates their rights. We listened to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, speak about Article 2B of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which sets out a child's right to be educated,on the basis of equal opportunity",and states that,different forms of secondary education",should be,available and accessible to every child".Article 2 makes clear that the rights within it must apply to all children without discrimination. Article 3 states:in all actions concerning children…the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration".I strongly dispute any assertion that the best interests of the child are guiding this policy.
In its report on the Bill, the Joint Committee on Human Rights stated:We understand the disquiet which has been expressed at the prospect of removing the children of destitute asylum-seekers residing in accommodation centres from mainstream schools, and educating them separately in accommodation centres. It gives rise to troubling echoes of historical educational regimes in some other countries where children were educated separately on the basis of race or colour, under the now discredited pretence that the separate provision was equal. Separate education on the basis of ethnicity or national origin breeds and entrenches social and educational inequality, and inhibits or even deters integration".Finally, the seriousness of the proposal is reflected in the breadth and vehemence of the opposition to it. All the major children's charities have come together with leading refugee organisations and teaching unions to denounce the plans. Professionals and organisations that work with children day in, day out have rejected every one of the Government's defences of the policy. The opposition includes Save the Children, the Transport and General Workers' Union and the National Union of Teachers. I submit to the Home Office that when organisations with such a range and wealth of experience and expertise tell the Government that they have got it wrong, they would be well advised to listen rather than to plough on regardless.
It will be hugely regrettable if those unnecessary elements of the Bill are allowed to stand. They will undermine any claim that the Government may make to the promoting the values of respect, tolerance, diversity and non-discrimination in the United Kingdom. We need to pause to consider whether we should sit here and talk about technicalities of the law—important though that is—or whether we should think about vulnerable children whose parents for all kinds of right reasons have brought them to this country. Those children are already asylum seekers and/or refugees. They have managed to escape brutality—and, perhaps, torture and death. They came here because their parents thought that they would be safe in a democratic country such as Britain, where law and fairness were two sides of the same coin.
341 We are in real danger of creating legislation that defies some international protocols to which we have signed up and being unfair to a group of unfortunate people who have come here to seek protection and fairness. How could we arbitrarily not only insist that children who accompany their parents have to be placed in isolated accommodation centres—which will, whether we like it or not, be seen as prisons or detention centres—but also impose the condition that children are not fit to go to the school to which everyone else goes but will be segregated and put into a separate school?
Human rights advocates have clearly stated their disapproval of that provision. The Joint Human Rights Committee also does not like it. Seven major children's agencies that work closely with children in this country and elsewhere have all said clearly that they do not support the setting up of special schools in accommodation centres. Trade unions have also attacked that provision. Last but not least, the National Union of Teachers has said that it will cost up to £60 million to set up such special facilities, which are currently available in mainstream schools. It says that the plan is ethically unacceptable and an economic nonsense—that a crisis has been created where no problem existed. The question of where those children are educated could have been solved by the application of common sense rather than by a morally objectionable solution.
I strongly beseech your Lordships and the Minister to read the report of the Asylum Coalition, to which reference may well already have been made. It is entitled Asylum City and has been produced by an independent firm of consultants. The introduction is written by no less a person than Bill Morris, general secretary of the TGWU who, I understand, is close to the Labour Party and the Government. He states:How a country treats those who turn to it in times of need says much about its history, its values and its people. The history, values and people of this nation reveal that we have traditionally treated refugees with dignity and kindness and stood by our international obligations.Yet, our government now appears ready to turn its back on this tradition. Britain now stands on the threshold of setting up a parallel universe, one created to ensure that asylum seekers remain separated from our society".Bill Morris has also written to me personally, stating:However, it is the issue of education provision that causes us most concern. The Government claims that provision in accommodation centres will be equivalent to that provided in mainstream schools. Nevertheless, given the wide range in ages of the children concerned, with educational needs ranging from nursery right through to secondary, it is difficult to envisage how government can make good on this commitment. Classes will either have to be very small, or more likely, as Asylum City states, 5–10 year olds will be 'taught in a single class, which is neither educationally nor developmentally appropriate'. A similar situation could also occur with secondary school-aged children with the result that 'such an arrangement would not be sufficient to provide provision equivalent to mainstream education, as stated by the government'.Segregated education provision cannot be justified on any grounds. It is discriminatory and benefits neither those children who are forcibly set apart, nor those who remain in mainstream schools. Moreover, it is unnecessary, with neither teachers nor communities calling for this measure.342In excluding refugee children from local schools, the Government will take a step backwards in its progress towards a more inclusive Britain, and we share the United Nations' fears that this policy will worsen the position of some of the most vulnerable children in our society".In the end, everything comes down to law and fairness. The clause seems to ignore the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and is manifestly unfair to the children. Surely, your Lordships, including the Ministers, cannot allow such things to happen. There is a danger that there will be a lose-lose situation for everyone. We must give children the education that they deserve and the fairness that they demand. Above all, we must not tinker with the rights of vulnerable children.
§ 8 p.m.
§ Lord Judd
My Lords, the hour is late, noble Lords will be waiting for their dinner. However, the people about whom we are talking are waiting to know their fate.
There might have been a case for flexibility. Unfortunately, the terms of the Bill preclude such flexibility. The Bill states:For the purposes of section 13 of the Education Act (1996)…a resident of an accommodation centre shall not be treated as part of the population of a local education authority's area".It also says:A child who is a resident of an accommodation centre may not be admitted to a maintained school or a maintained nursery".That hardly sets a context for flexibility.
My noble friend the Minister must deal seriously this evening with the issue to which the noble Earl, Lord Russell, referred. Who will do the teaching in the accommodation centres? What guarantees will we have about the quality of what is to be provided? Will we find that the job is subcontracted to a bidder who will provide a minimal service and little commitment to quality of content?
It worries me that we are forgetting the turmoil and trauma that the children are in. If we are to lock them into schools in the very premises in which there is an atmosphere of anxiety, uncertainty and, often, desperation, it will hardly be an opportunity for creative education. It is essential that such vulnerable children, who have been through God knows what, as has been said, should have an opportunity to be educated somewhere where creativity, imagination and positive values can operate.
What are we saying to the youngsters in our society? Are we suggesting that we should deprive them of the opportunity of welcoming into their midst youngsters who are facing so many difficulties and of demonstrating the spontaneous compassion and concern that I do not doubt will often be there? Our children will build their sense of value in the way in which they mix with the children who find themselves in the predicament of being in an accommodation centre.
I could say more, but I shall conclude now. I am sorry if my final observation is rather emotional. I must say to my noble friends on the Front Bench that, 343 as someone who has been a member of the Labour Party for 51 years, I never believed, in my whole time in the Labour movement, that, in a Bill being put forward by a Labour government, I would read the following words:For the purposes of section 13 of the Education Act (1996)…a resident of an accommodation centre shall not be treated as part of the population of a local education authority's area… A child who is a resident of an accommodation centre may not be admitted to a maintained school or a maintained nursery".What has the movement of which I have been proud to be a member been about? It has been about inclusiveness, not exclusiveness. It has been about compassion and concern. It has been about our primary commitment to the well-being of the children in our midst. We are talking about children, and we are talking about the principle of inclusivity. The relevant subsections in the Bill are a disgrace. I shall support the amendment tonight.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, I sponsored the meeting last night that has been referred to in so many speeches this evening. I was immensely impressed by the meeting. There were teachers, parents, children and people who had themselves been refugees. They spoke with one voice about the amendment. Noble Lords have heard already how the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth got a standing ovation.
I am afraid that the people at the meeting had too many expectations of us. They seemed to think that we could throw the whole Bill out. They seemed to think that we could get rid of the present Home Secretary. There were one or two other things that they wanted us to do, and I had to point out that they were not really on the agenda for today. However, on the subject that we are discussing in the context of the amendment, they were absolutely wholehearted. They spoke with immense authority and told us that accepting the amendment would be for the good of the children in the camps and the children in the schools. They said that it would be to the benefit of the parents of both sets of children and of the teachers in our country. I beg the House to accept the amendment.
§ Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws
My Lords, I would not like my noble friends Lord Clinton-Davis and Lord Judd to think that they stood alone in saying that the clause is a disgrace. It is a source of shame to us that we should take a Bill that includes such discrimination through the House.
Many have spoken in great detail about the subsections and the way in which they contravene human rights. We should not do this to the children of asylum seekers. It means that the children in our schools will lose out in learning lessons of tolerance and in the transmission of the values that we think matter. The words of my noble friend Lord Judd should be listened to by everyone in the House, but particularly by those on these Benches.
§ Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville
My Lords, I shall be brief. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Corbett 344 of Castle Vale, for revealing that he was not present at the meeting last night; I had imagined that I was the only person in your Lordships' House who had not been there. Some of us on these Benches must balance the claims of Bournemouth against the claims of your Lordships' House. I have, however, been given a comprehensive picture of what transpired at the meeting by the speeches of several noble Lords. I have also seen the Save the Children briefing.
I shall not rehearse the arguments of the educationists who spoke about the desirability of having asylum children in mainstream schooling or about the adaptability of such children. My three sons spent three years in schools and playgroups in two countries outside this one. The eldest boy was four, when he went abroad, and the youngest was a year old. At five, my eldest grandson has just enthusiastically entered a school in the closed society of the Forest of Dean, where the teacher explained to my daughter-in-law that not only had all the children been together in playgroups and nursery school, but they had all known each other since birth. My grandson is, therefore, a total outsider.
I have been conscious—in a spirit of which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, would approve—of the flexibility in which the Government's plans for these children have evolved since the Secretary of State said in February that God forbid anyone should be in an accommodation centre for six months.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, raised some suspicions about the quality of the teaching. I can only say, having followed the text of these debates, that the Government's position has steadily evolved in a constructive manner in that regard.
I have re-read the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, in Committee, and I follow its logic. He reminded us in the final paragraph that there are 62,000 asylum children in London alone. I have never been one to question the motivation of others, but against the universality of adverse educational opinion I am left wondering whether the Government embarked on this project to make the placing of accommodation centres in rural areas more acceptable to the indigenous population of those rural areas. Given the primacy of the children's needs, I hope that my suspicions are misplaced.
§ Baroness Anelay of St Johns
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Carnegy hit the nail on the head when she said that the Government are in a muddle over this policy. It stems from the fact that they have chosen as a model of policy "one size fits all" or "one policy fits all sizes". Children are not like that.
I was also concerned to learn about the muddle between departments. This had not come to my notice before today. The Refugee Children's Consortium kindly gave me a copy of the extract from the Foreign Office's annual human rights report in 2002. It would be helpful if the Minister, either tonight or at a later stage, could explain why there appears to be a difference of opinion between the FCO and the Home Office on the segregation of the children of asylum 345 seekers from mainstream schooling. It would be most helpful to hear from the Minister with responsibilities in the Department for Education and Skills whether there is a difference of view.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth argued his case forcefully, as he always does. I shall listen carefully to the Minister. The Government have some deep thinking to do on this series of amendments. It would be helpful to the House to discover whether we can resolve the issue today or whether the Government will take it back and give it deeper thought.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
My Lords, at the risk of being flippant—no pressure then. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Filkin for giving me the opportunity to respond to the education part of your Lordships' deliberations today. I recognise that in the course of what I want to say I need to address many concerns. I need to acknowledge what we can agree on and explain what we are trying to achieve, in what context, based on what evidence. I need to outline the opportunities our plans present and to offer the guarantees your Lordships seek. But, more than anything, from listening to the debate, I need to address the rage your Lordships rightly feel when dealing with what I would classify in part as misunderstandings about the system.
I shall deal with those misunderstandings in detail, but perhaps I may briefly outline some of them. Clause 35 of the Bill enables a child, at the request of those running education, to be educated outside of an accommodation centre. We anticipate that a child with severe special educational needs, who needs a special school education, would be automatically given the right, under a local education authority assessment, to go to a special school. The right could apply to a gifted and talented child for whom provision would best be made elsewhere. It could apply also to a child with an exceptional command of English. The clause allows for that.
The other misunderstanding concerns teachers. We would not allow children in this country to be taught other than by qualified teachers or other teachers allowed to teach in any school. The system must mirror the education outside. I shall deal with the other misunderstandings as we progress, but I wanted to outline those at the start.
I should welcome any opportunity your Lordships may seek—either individually or together—to address before Third Reading any concerns that I fail to deal with adequately today. Had I or my noble friend Lord Filkin had the privilege of being invited to the meeting last evening, we would happily have spoken to the group of 86 people. The group clearly had the advantage of the eloquence of the right reverend Prelate, but it might have benefited also from the opportunity—I certainly would have benefited from it—of my addressing the group.
Perhaps I may turn now to the report referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia. I have enormous respect for the noble Lord and I have had the good fortune 346 through Project Fullemploy to watch his work over many years. However, I am concerned that when we see reports we should have the opportunity to correct some of the misunderstandings, if I may so describe them, within them. I also—I say this from the heart—have concerns about any document that chooses for its front cover the fingers of a child going through a wire fence to indicate—emotively in my view—what we are trying to do. That is something that is so far from the concept I have in mind as to be unimaginable.
As for Mr Bill Morris—who is not only a member of the Labour Party but one of my dearest friends—I shall, with delight, be talking to him in the next few days about his misunderstandings of what we are seeking to do.
I have had the privilege of meeting with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and I hope that I can repeat today some of the matters that he raised with me and which I hope I was able to address, at least in part.
In the Second Reading debate, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, who is not in his place, asked us to look at what is happening through the eyes of a child. It is of course the best and only place to start. I agree with every noble Lord who has said that the needs of our children are paramount. We are all agreed that the children who come to us, often in the most difficult of circumstances, need our help and care. Those who stay will be a huge resource to our country, economically, socially and culturally. They are to be cherished. They are not a burden.
We are all united in our worry for them—worry for what they have experienced; for the families lost and torn apart; for the loss of their friends and toys; for the loss of the sights and smells and familiarity of their surroundings; and sometimes for the loss of their childhood. We are all agreed that we must do everything we can to help and support them. Nowhere is that more focused than in education.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, referred to the issues of trauma and the concerns about children who may be traumatised being together. There are many schools of thought, but it is very clear that if appropriate and adequate support is provided we can help children to support each other. In education we are all agreed that we want our children to succeed—all our children—and to create successful schools everywhere, supporting our teachers, our staff, our children, our parents and our families.
One of the biggest political challenges we will face in the future arises from the fact that some parts of our planet are on the move. Some 168 million people now live in a country other than the one in which they were born. They form only 2.8 per cent of the world's population, but the figure is rising. When you put that back into our education system, it means that we should prepare the children and their families who arrive here for our education system.
When I look at the issue of ethnic minority attainment in this country, time and again I hear stories of families who simply do not know the expectations of our education system. Families who believe that when a child moves from year eight to year 347 nine it is because they have passed an exam, not because they have got a year older. That says a great deal about what work we have to do in the department to support and help our children. It highlights the fact that we have to prepare our families as well as our children so that they can support their children too.
We must recognise the needs of every child. We must provide the support for new children, who may need specialist advice. Trauma counselling has been mentioned. Language support is another need. Children may be gifted and talented and may need additional support from our education service.
We must make sure, too, that we have a stable education system, schools that are constantly striving to improve and develop standards for all the children in their care, teachers and staff who are able to offer the best to the children in their schools; and we must provide stability for all the children, for the teachers, and for the families.
I believe that the diversity of our country is perhaps our greatest asset. We have a lot more to do in education to support children from ethnic minority communities. Ofsted has recently produced reports on the best primary and secondary schools. They tell us of the characteristics of those schools which are most successful in raising the attainment of all children. There are no hidden formulae. They are about leadership and high expectations for every child. They are about children who say: the teachers look me in the eye; they have made the curriculum relevant.
For some of our schools there are truly great challenges simply in terms of language. In Haringey, 190 languages are spoken; in one school, 45 are spoken. All these challenges are in the context of being responsible for the national languages strategy. All these assets can be to the benefit of all children.
In meeting the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, yesterday, I met also a teacher from a school in London that has a very high reputation. The teacher talked about her work with children from different backgrounds, many from refugee families. She talked about trauma counselling and about the work to celebrate the diversity of these children's families, and much more. It is a school that does well and is one from which we can learn. But it is a school that says that it does not know on Monday quite who will be in the classroom. Many schools that do not have the expertise and experience of that particular school talk of the difficulty, not merely for the school but for the transient children, children who do not know where they will be next week.
This is not about overcrowding; it is about what happens in some of our schools when children are there for a short time and then leave and new children arrive who have different language needs and different requirements and are without that kind of support.
In March 2002, Ofsted published the findings of a study into the effects of pupil mobility. I quote:The practical business of dealing with a new intake of pupils, interviewing parents and pupils, updating records, organising induction and providing equipment and material is time-consuming. Dealing with a steady trickle of newcomers from 348 insecure and disadvantaged backgrounds is especially demanding. Some children arriving at school are emotionally unsettled and need exceptional levels of support. Amongst other things, they have been separated from friends or from families. Some have very little experience of schooling".There is no doubt that there are schools that cope well and children who cope well; and there are schools and children who do not—not least because some schools do not have the resources to do so. I do not necessarily mean funding; I mean people and resources—translation services, assessments and so on. We know that the new arrivals can be bewildered. They can certainly be bullied and unhappy, and their families can be unsure of how to support them in a strange education system.
The aspiration for accommodation centres has been well set out by my noble friend. I shall not go into areas that are for him to discuss with the House. I want to talk about the opportunity that we might have in piloting the provision of education for the children who may be staying in the centres. I am not talking about an education that will be inferior. I am not talking about anything less than the best that we can offer such children.
My first point is that the children who will be with us in the accommodation centres are those waiting to know whether they will be staying in this country or leaving it. Their lives are in transition. Our job is to support them through that transition and to provide them with education. For those who are to stay, we are all united in the belief that they should be put into the school system and the housing in which they will be living, and be allowed to put down the roots that they need as quickly as possible.
We want children to get the best experience that they can from the education that we shall provide in the accommodation centres and to be prepared for the move to a school that will be local to where they will live. I see it as the way in which I prepared my children to enter school when they were four, as no doubt other noble Lords did. It was not about arriving on one day; it was a process over weeks of learning about the school and what it was like to be at school, in the same way as schools help to prepare children for secondary education and beyond.
So what can be done in the accommodation centres? What are the guarantees? First, we shall be able to learn quickly about the educational attainment of the children and plan for their education for the future—we can help them to catch up if need be; we can support those who are gifted and talented; we can provide language sessions to support their English.
Secondly, as noble Lords who have studied this matter have pointed out, we can offer education throughout the year. Those who arrive in July will not need to wait until September to start accessing education. Education will be provided for them.
Thirdly, we shall be able to concentrate support on those who need time and space to deal with the trauma that they may have experienced. Their families—this is important for reasons that I have stated—will be able to learn about the education system and learn how to support them. We have always said that we want them 349 to make links to schools and that students on particular courses will be able to access, for example, further education colleges if that is appropriate. Those who are post-16 will be dealt with by the Learning and Skills Council. We will deliver the national curriculum in a way that reflects the fact that children will be arriving at different times and tailor courses to their needs, particularly in the development of English language skills.
I want those who teach in the accommodation centres to bring their expertise, to enhance it and to take it back. I want Ofsted—
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. I am not clear from what she has said so far quite what it is that those of us who support the amendment have not understood. I wonder whether she can confirm that all the teachers' unions and, I believe, the education officers who have been consulted by the Government are of the view that the children of asylum seekers would do better in mainstream schools. The Minister has told us many of the strengths of her education system. Could not those strengths be extended to children in the accommodation centres, not least at a time when it is recognised that they would benefit greatly from many of the strengths of the system that the Minister has so eloquently described?
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
My Lords, the issue for us is about children in transition. We are not talking about children given leave to stay here remaining in accommodation centres. As I see it, some of the misunderstandings have been based on the assumption that this is a segregated system for children for a long period of time. This is about the children who do not yet know whether they will be granted leave to remain in this country. As soon as they do know—
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, I am not aware that anyone who has taken part in the debate has stated the belief that they will be there for a long time. The noble Baroness listened to the debate on the previous amendment, which made clear our view that it should be otherwise.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, but having listened to the way in which this was described, it certainly came across to me that people have a misunderstanding of exactly whom we are describing. However, I accept the noble Earl's point and I shall not pursue it. I am suggesting that we are looking at a system that will support those children who are in transition and enable those who are allowed to stay in this country to enter mainstream education better equipped to deal with it.
I shall be brief; I am aware of the hour. We want to make sure that those teachers who come into the centres to work with us will be qualified teachers; and that they will use and enhance the skills that they have already obtained and be able to return and use them in 350 other schools. We want to make sure that the schools in the accommodation centres reflect the system at large.
Ofsted will be inspecting the schools. They will be required to meet Ofsted's concerns and to be seen by Ofsted. We also want to make sure that local education authorities play a role. We are considering this carefully and discussing what it might be. For example, local education authorities may individually or in consortium take up the contract to provide education. We would not for one moment rule that out. That might address some of the concerns expressed by the noble Lords. I say again to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that we would expect local education authorities to assess special educational needs. They will assist the accommodation centres and decide whether a child needs to attend a special school.
It is important to point out that Clause 35 enables children to be educated outside the centre if that is felt to be the most appropriate provision for them. Noble Lords raised issues of behaviour and other policies. These are schools. The model in my mind is of a village school; it is not in any way a "camp", a word that was used several times in your Lordships' House this evening.
I want this to be a sound grounding for the future. It is not about segregation; it is about exploring and piloting. How do we best help, nurture and cherish the children who come to our country before we have decided whether they can stay here? It is about recognising that our society needs to find ways to support these children more effectively than we do now. It is about making sure that our education system supports all our children to the best of its ability. It is about making sure that children who stay arrive in a school with the best possible start. Your Lordships' House should support that.
The pilots will be evaluated, and noble Lords will watch very carefully. It would be serious if we failed to achieve what I described.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, does any teachers' body or other organisation—I asked this question in my speech—support the Government's position on this?
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
My Lords, as yet I have had no debate on the matter with the teachers' unions, because at the time that the noble Lord refers to, the policy was not as well developed as it is now. We have addressed many of the concerns raised by noble Lords in Committee, which I sat through and to which I listened. We have looked very carefully at those matters. I would be happy to write to the noble Lord and to return to the issue at Third Reading when we have the opportunity to do so.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that children have one chance. We must get better at supporting children who come into our country, many of whom will stay but some of whom will not. What can we best do? I leave your Lordships' House with 351 this question: is it not appropriate that we pilot new approaches on the basis of providing children with a high-quality education that may help to support them and bring them more effectively into our mainstream education system?
§ The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, for her contribution and to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, who spoke this morning on the BBC's "Today" programme. I thank them for their graciousness and thoroughness. This is a difficult issue, and the more I hear, the more I realise what a muddle we are in. Clause 34(2) states:A child who is a resident of an accommodation centre may not be admitted to a maintained school or a maintained nursery".I am not by nature someone who goes out of his way to be awkward, an assertion that I am sure my two colleagues on the Front Bench will support. I am a very peaceful, loving person, but I really do find that all this rhetoric about misunderstanding increases the amount of fog. I know that the Government are in a hurry to get a Bill through, and it seems that the policy has been made and the educational package then created to fit into it. In my own discipline of theology, that constitutes good systematic theology, but it is not very good historical or pastoral theology, because that is when theology actually meets context and people. I am sure that there are parallels in history and sociology also. A mainstream school is where young children belong, whatever their race. That is where they will learn English.
I have been travelling to Denmark every summer since I was a boy. I do not speak Danish fluently, but I can make the noises of that throat disease-type language quite convincingly. A right reverend Prelate in Danish is Deres Hojaervaerdighed—I will help the Hansard staff to get their pens around that. We learn English best by starting with it. There has been much talk tonight about special schools. I can only say to the Government that we want to hear more. My name has been on this amendment for 10 days, yet nobody asked me to come to talk to them, and I would be glad to talk to people about the matter. However, a considerable burden of communication and detail must get across to many people before the Bill as it stands will be owned by the people of this country, let alone the Members of this House.
There are many small points that I could reply to, but the hour is late. I shall end with a quotation from the Foreign Office's Annual Human Rights Report 2002. It states:School segregation is a particularly severe form of racial discrimination".With the greatest of respect, and with the greatest thanks to the Ministers for their patience with an awkward Prelate, I ask reluctantly if the opinion of the House can be tested.
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 16) shall be agreed to?352
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 83; Not-Contents, 82.353
|Division No. 2|
|Addington, L.||Maclennan of Rogart, L.|
|Alderdice, L.||McNally, L.|
|Alton of Liverpool, L.||Maddock, B.|
|Avebury, L.||Mar, C.|
|Barker, B.||Mar and Kellie, E.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Bhatia, L.||Mayhew of Twysden, L.|
|Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, L.||Methuen, L.|
|Burnham, L.||Michie of Gallanach, B.|
|Carlile of Berriew, L.||Moynihan, L.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Newby, L.|
|Chan, L.||Northbrook, L.|
|Clement-Jones, L.||Northover, B.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, L.|
|Craig of Radley, L.||Parekh, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Phillips of Sudbury, L.|
|Dahrendorf, L.||Portsmouth, Bp.|
|Darcy de Knayth, B.||Redesdale, L.|
|Dholakia, L.||Rees-Mogg, L.|
|Durham, Bp.||Rennard, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Renton, L.|
|Fearn, L.||Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.|
|Finlay of Llandaff, B.||Rogan, L.|
|Goodhart, L.||Roper, L.|
|Greaves, L.||Russell, E.|
|Greengross, B.||Sandwich, E.|
|Hamwee, B.||Scott of Needham Market, B.|
|Harris of Richmond, B. [Teller]||Selsdon, L.|
|Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.||Sharman, L.|
|Holme of Cheltenham, L.||Sharp of Guildford, B.|
|Hooson, L.||Shutt of Greetland, L.|
|Hylton, L.||Smith of Clifton, L.|
|Jacobs, L.||Stodart of Leaston, L.|
|Joffe, L.||Taverne, L.|
|Judd, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Kennedy of The Shaws, B.||Wallace of Saltaire, L.|
|Lawson of Blaby, L.||Walmsley, B.|
|Lester of Herne Hill, L.||Watson of Richmond, L.|
|Linklater of Butterstone, B.||Weatherill, L.|
|Listowel, E.||Williams of Crosby, B.|
|Livsey of Talgarth, L.||Winchester, Bp. [Teller]|
|Acton, L.||Evans of Temple Guiting, L.|
|Alli, L.||Falconer of Thoroton, L.|
|Amos, B.||Farrington of Ribbleton, B.|
|Andrews, B.||Faulkner of Worcester, L.|
|Ashton of Upholland, B.||Filkin, L.|
|Bassam of Brighton, L.||Fyfe of Fairfield, L.|
|Berkeley, L.||Gale, B.|
|Billingham, B.||Golding, B.|
|Blackstone, B.||Goldsmith, L.|
|Borrie, L.||Goudie, B.|
|Bragg, L.||Gould of Potternewton, B.|
|Brennan, L.||Graham of Edmonton, L.|
|Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.||Grenfell, L.|
|Brookman, L.||Grocott, L. [Teller]|
|Brooks of Tremorfa, L.||Harris of Haringey, L.|
|Campbell-Savours, L.||Harrison, L.|
|Carter, L.||Hayman, B.|
|Clarke of Hampstead, L.||Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.|
|Cohen of Pimlico, B.||Hollis of Heigham, B.|
|Corbett of Castle Vale, L.||Hoyle, L.|
|Crawley, B.||Hughes of Woodside, L.|
|Davies of Coity, L.||Hunt of Chesterton, L.|
|Davies of Oldham, L.||Hunt of Kings Heath, L.|
|Dixon, L.||Jay of Paddington, B.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Jones, L.|
|Dubs, L.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Elder, L.||Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.|
|Evans of Parkside, L.||Macdonald of Tradeston, L.|
|McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller]||Sainsbury of Turville, L.|
|MacKenzie of Culkein, L.||Sawyer, L.|
|Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.||Scotland of Asthal, B.|
|Merlyn-Rees, L.||Simon, V.|
|Mitchell, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Monson, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Nicol, B.||Temple-Morris, L.|
|Park of Monmouth, B.||Tomlinson, L.|
|Patel, L.||Turnberg, L.|
|Patel of Blackburn, L.||Walker of Doncaster, L.|
|Pendry, L.||Whitty, L|
|Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.||Wilkins, B.|
|Ramsay of Cartvale, B.||Woolmer of Leeds, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 8.47 p.m.
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
My Lords, I beg to move that consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving the Motion I suggest that the Report stage begin again not before 9.47 p.m.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.