Clause 126 — Power to search for evidence
Orders of the Day — Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill — [2nd Allotted Day]
Mr Tony Baldry (Banbury, Conservative)
I suspect that there is no Member of Parliament who does not want to see a just and tolerant society. One of the tragedies of the Report and Third Reading stages of this Bill is that we have had such a short time that we have tended to emphasise our differences instead of finding common ground. I suspect that considerable common ground could be found on these matters. My first ever speech, as a 19-year-old student to a Conservative party conference, was in support of the then Conservative Government's decision to allow east African Asians into the United Kingdom in 1972. I suspect that the differences between the sides are not great, but I am concerned about the size and location of accommodation centres. Little attention has been paid during the debate to those who have raised concerns.
For example, Oxfam has written to every hon. Member about the Bill. It has stated:
"Oxfam is particularly concerned about the proposals to set up Accommodation Centres. We believe centres with 750 beds will inevitably be highly institutionalised, and result in damaging 'warehousing'—with knock-on rises in boredom, stress and even violence among what is likely to be predominantly a young male population . . . It also appears that a number of sites under consideration for the location of Accommodation Centres will be too isolated."
The Refugee Council has said:
"The size of the centres is a major concern . . . the capacity of such centres should not exceed 100 bed spaces."
It also believes that
"the locations the Government is currently considering are remote from urban centres and away from the kind of support infrastructure that asylum seekers and their families would need."
Many other organisations have made similar comments.
All I ask of the Home Secretary is that Ministers approach this trial with open minds. Indeed, I hope that all of us will evaluate the experiment fairly and properly. The trial will include only three accommodation centres in its initial phase. For reasons that we rehearsed yesterday, they will all be in Conservative-held constituencies in relatively rural areas.
The centres are an experiment that involves us all, so I shall simply repeat what I said yesterday. If, after the due process of the planning system and the public inquiry that I hope will be held—at which the Government will be judge and jury in their own cause—it is decided that there will be an accommodation centre in my area, I hope that hon. Members of all parties will visit my constituency. My hon. Friend Mr. Luff shares that hope in connection with his constituency. It is important that all hon. Members should be involved in evaluating the experiment.
The last thing that I want people to say when my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire, my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Clarke and I tell the House about accommodation centres as we experience them through our constituency surgeries is that we are being nimbyist. I suspect that we are the three least nimbyist hon. Members in the House.
The House has a collective responsibility in this matter, and I hope that other hon. Members will be willing to share in that responsibility.