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Lords Amendment

– in the House of Lords at 8:28 pm on 6th November 2002.

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Votes in this debate

20 Page 9, line 16, at end insert ", and

(c) there is a place available in an appropriate maintained school for any dependant of school age" The Commons disagreed to this amendment for the following reason—

20A Because the power to provide accommodation in an accommodation centre should not be restricted in the manner proposed.

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 20 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 20A.

The issue of providing education for children in accommodation centres has understandably prompted passionate and strong debate because of concern about the needs of children. For reasons that I shall try to explain, the Lords amendment strikes at the heart of what accommodation centres need to provide. It would therefore make them unworkable and frustrate our ability to conduct the kind of experiment that we previously discussed. However, we have not been deaf to arguments raised during previous stages of the Bill. In the drafting of the clauses, we have sought to address two causes of concern.

It has always been our policy that those whose education needs cannot be met in an accommodation centre can attend a school. We have now made this provision much clearer, stating that it applies where the special circumstances of the child call for provision that can only, or best, be provided by the authority.

Secondly, we have made clear that the provision that a child who is a resident of an accommodation centre may not be admitted to a maintained school or a maintained nursery— which caused anxiety at the last stage—is now explicitly subject to the flexible provision allowing children to attend a school where their special circumstances call for it. So the policy is not inflexible and is focused on the individual educational needs of the child. Examples of those who might come within the provision are those with complex special educational needs or very talented or gifted children. It might also encompass children with a high level of fluency in English or who have been studying for international exams and have reached a stage that needs to be continued at a school. Provision will depend on the individual circumstances of each case and will be addressed as such. These flexible provisions make it explicit that the child's interests and needs are properly considered and can be properly responded to.

I shall now discuss some of the more general arguments about education in accommodation centres. I affirm that the status quo for asylum seekers' children is not good. We debated the matter during the previous stage, so I apologise for touching on it now, but it is highly relevant to these discussions. Children and their parents may travel a long distance and arrive in the United Kingdom with little or no command of English. They are moved into a school where English is predominant. They have little or no support in adapting to that environment. Children learn fast, as we pointed out in other debates. Nevertheless, for the first few months it is a difficult and challenging environment for children who may be traumatised. They will have little understanding of the culture, a poor command, if any, of English, and they may be moving into a hostile environment. There is evidence from previous debates of the possibility of bullying. They may be entering a school halfway through the school year, or, even worse, at the end of the school year with the result that they will get no education at all for two or three months during the summer.

There are concerns in dispersal about the safety of the environment for the whole family, which I will not go into. As we discussed previously, the challenges faced by schools when a child may attend for only a few months are considerable. The rather crude term for that is "churning". Considerable burdens are placed on schools when there is a constant turnover of children who stay for only a short period before moving on. One may say, "So what? The school must learn to cope with that". But we believe that such a turnover affects other children in the school, because it affects the stability and ability of teachers to cope with their general needs.

These are strong arguments for our position that children should be educated in an accommodation centre while their families' asylum claims are considered. I repeat that we are talking only about children being educated in centres during the limited period before a decision is made on their case. If they are accepted for asylum after the initial interview, which is when most acceptances occur, they will leave the accommodation centre within a couple of months at most. Some may be granted asylum only after they have made an appeal to the IAA, but that proportion is much smaller. If they were accepted, they would be moved out and resettled permanently in the country as quickly as they wish.

Rather than feeling any iota of embarrassment about the education of asylum seekers' children in accommodation centres, I feel the reverse. We are right to pilot this experiment, because there are problems with the existing situation. It is already getting late, so I will be brief in building on the other reasons why, apart from the disadvantages of dispersal for families recently arrived in the country, accommodation centres potentially provide better services for asylum seekers' children by comparison to schools. Schools are not tailored to cope with asylum seekers' children; they are trying to meet the educational needs of all children. First, the curriculum can be tailored to the needs of asylum seekers' children. That is extremely important. The centres do not have a curriculum focused on teaching seven or eight year-old English children who are fluent in English and have had several years of schooling. It can be focused on the needs and skill levels of groups that have much less educational experience, much less English fluency, and for whom some aspects could be better rebalanced slightly.

In accommodation centres it would be possible to provide much more intensive language training for children, for two or three months, which would benefit them regardless of whether their parents' asylum application for permanent residence in the United Kingdom is successful. Because parents will be at the same location, the potential for parental involvement in their children's education in accommodation centres is significant. We want to build on that potential, because parents' active participation in their children's education is in the interests of children and parents.

In an accommodation centre, children can adapt to a structured education routine in a more protected environment without suddenly being thrown into a primary school in, for example, Newcastle or Glasgow, where they would have no support and no people of a similar background or language. That would be a harsh, exposed learning experience. Accommodation centres provide the potential for a much more structured adaptation to schooling and to Britain, albeit for a limited period, which is all that is needed. An accommodation centre is clearly a safe environment. There is plenty of evidence from the Save the Children report on Glasgow to illustrate some parental anxieties about their children's safety, particularly during their early months in a new environment. An accommodation centre also allows a concentration of expertise. We would expect that some teachers would be very keen to teach in accommodation centres. They would start to build centres of excellence in teaching children with foreign languages how to adapt to education and the British culture and way of life, which would render them better fit for resettlement, if it is decided that that should happen.

It is justifiable to make an illustrative comparison of what happens to children at present. They enter an induction centre, where they stay for one week or 10 days while their essential climatisation takes place and their needs are assessed. They are then moved to emergency accommodation. They may stay there for a month or two, until NASS dispersed accommodation is found for them. They then move to NASS dispersed accommodation, which could be several hundred miles away. While they are there, they must begin the challenge of finding a place in a school. There is no guarantee of a school place given through NASS emergency accommodation. They have to go through the difficult process of negotiating for a school that has a vacancy and will take them in. The child then moves into that school, where they stay, while living in dispersed accommodation, until their asylum claim is accepted or rejected. The status quo is extremely unsatisfactory for the educational needs of the child, given the frequency of those moves.

In comparison, under the accommodation centre model that we want to pilot, the children will move straight from an induction centre into an accommodation centre that will provide them with accommodation, refuge, support and a place in an educational environment much more geared to their needs.

The final argument for accommodation centres being strongly in the interests of children is that they are likely to lead to faster decisions. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, quoted earlier his experience of going to Oakington. He said that the people there were pleased with Oakington, despite the slightly anomalous situation, because it led them to a fast decision. If I understood him correctly, the reason was that they appreciated the speed and certainty. They knew they would get an answer.

Children in an accommodation centre will move to an answer on whether their parents are going to stay in a centre much more quickly. That is fundamental to our argument on the necessity of the centres.

To summarise, accommodation centres with education on site are central to our end-to-end managed system, from induction to accommodation centres to resettlement or removal. They were signalled clearly in the White Paper and the proposal has been through the House of Commons twice. The amendment about to be moved is an insistence on the Lords having its way over the Commons. That cannot be right, above all because we are confident that accommodation centres providing education and support for children will deliver excellent education and excellent support.

Noble Lords are right to say that we cannot be certain of that, but we think it fundamentally right that we pilot and test it in practice and evaluate it. There are in principle some very strong reasons—

Photo of Lord Clinton-Davis Lord Clinton-Davis Labour

My Lords, will my noble friend give way?

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, I shall finish in a few seconds. There are very strong reasons why this is so. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 20 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 20A.—(Lord Filkin.)

Photo of Lord Ampthill Lord Ampthill Crossbench

My Lords, before I call the amendment, I must make a correction to the numbers announced at the Division earlier this evening. The number voting Content should have been 173 instead of 171.

Photo of The Bishop of Portsmouth The Bishop of Portsmouth Bishop

rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 20 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 20A, leave out "not".

Photo of The Bishop of Portsmouth The Bishop of Portsmouth Bishop

My Lords, I am grateful to the Ministers, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, for their patience. I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, for a number of conversations that we have had in the past few weeks. I realise that we are at a late stage, but I also realise the extent—almost unprecedented in this Parliament—of the opposition to the proposal from the Government Back Benches in another place and the number of abstentions there.

The more this question has been probed, the more disturbed many of us have become by the implications of the clause. It is a moral issue of how we treat children. They belong with other children. They should not live and be educated on their own. It is also a practical issue of how we educate them in familiar contexts. We have to start with the models that we have. I remain unconvinced by what the Minister has said. I realise that we need to get on, but I shall answer one or two of his points.

I am pleased about the flexibility being offered, but I do not think it is enough. The status quo is not good enough, but the existing burdens can be met through the current system. The Minister raised a question about dispersal. That raises the question of the location of the school. The Minister said that the curriculum can be tailored. Why not use existing special needs provision? He said that teachers were keen on centres of excellence. Why extend the already pressed teaching profession with another layer? He spoke of the interests of the children, but what he said reflected the educational side of the equation, not the issues of accommodation and living and being isolated from other children.

Opposition to the proposal comes from a considerable body of opinion from contrasting sources. They are not all groups of people known for resisting change. All these bodies have written to the Home Secretary. I have the documentation here. I shall not bore your Lordships by quoting them, but I shall allude to them. Opponents include all the teaching unions and the Children's Consortium, which covers Save the Children, the Children's Society, Barnardo's and the National Children's Bureau, whose pupil inclusion unit has produced research questioning such a move. The Local Government Association has written of experience in Tower Hamlets and Newham, stressing the mutual benefits of other children being educated alongside asylum seekers. Bill Morris has written from the TGWU's Asylum Coalition. Church leaders have also been involved. The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow and the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York wrote to the Home Secretary. It is sede vacante at the moment at Canterbury, but I do not need to guess what line the most reverend—but not yet right honourable—Primate the Archbishop of Wales would take.

Then there is the guidance officially endorsed by the DfES. I shall quote two paragraphs from Educating Asylum Seeking and Refugee Children, issued this year. It says:

"Rapid enrolment and regular attendance at school is highly desirable for asylum seeking and refugee children. Children should be offered a school place as soon as possible after arrival in the authority".

The joint DfES and NUT guidance, Relearning to Learn, says:

"Providing a separate curriculum would only accentuate the 'difference' of refugee children and prevent them from benefiting from working with other pupils. 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".

How can the Government proceed in the face of such opposition, not only from outside groups, but from documentation endorsed by the DfES hitherto? In brief, this is not joined-up thinking, joined-up education or joined-up strategy. I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 20 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 20A, leave out "not".—(The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth.)

Photo of Baroness Carnegy of Lour Baroness Carnegy of Lour Conservative 8:45 pm, 6th November 2002

My Lords, I have changed my mind twice on the issue. I know a bit about this, because I have been the chairman of a local education committee. I have also read last night's debate in the other place. It is the greatest possible pity that the House of Commons did not have this clause first. Last night, one after another, Members of Parliament from constituencies with large numbers of asylum seekers—not refugees—pointed out the problems that the Minister has referred to this evening. They are genuine problems for schools.

That was my first thought when I read the clause. I said in Committee that I thought the Government had a big problem by having big accommodation centres and having to educate the children separately, because people would want them to be in normal schools. Last time we had the debate, many people, including a number of Cross-Benchers, made extremely passionate speeches, as did the right reverend Prelate, about the importance of children being educated together. I agreed with them. I also thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, from the Department for Education and Skills, who normally does terribly well, gave a rather weak reply. I understand that she was asked to do it at the last minute. It was a Home Office matter. I had a lot of sympathy for her, but I found her reply so weak that I voted against the Government. I had changed my mind. Since reading the House of Commons debate, I have gone back to supporting the Government in this matter.

I should say to the right reverend Prelate, in regard to the meeting in which the noble Lord was cheered to the echo when he said what he said, that the reason for the people there supporting separate education is that they were confusing refugees—people who had been granted asylum—and asylum seekers. Indeed the quote made by the right reverend Prelate referred to both refugees and asylum seekers.

The position is completely different. Children who are asylum seekers are in a transitional state and do not know whether or not they will stay. Whether or not one believes that accommodation centres are right, these children are in a transitional state and do not know whether or not they will stay. They may or may not know a little English and so on. I listened very carefully to the Minister and he put the right case on this issue.

I suggest to noble Lords that they should speak only of asylum seekers and not at all about people for whom decisions have already been made. That is a completely different question. There is every reason then for people to be educated together. The local authorities which have been making the case for the education of these children have a different agenda; they will be able to control where the asylum centre is located by doing so.

I beg noble Lords to speak only of asylum seekers, who are in a completely different situation. I am sorry that I have changed my mind twice. I have a conscience about it and I want to confess.

Photo of Lord Moser Lord Moser Crossbench

My Lords, I support the views expressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. I find the clause very disturbing. I speak both from the point of view of my involvement in education and as a successful asylum seeker 66 years ago.

I am conscious that we are talking about a small number of people, but that does not reassure me because they are very important. Even for 10 people it is important that we get it right. I am conscious that we are talking about a transitional group, including people who may not stay, but we should treat them on the supposition that they may stay and get it right from the beginning. If they then do not stay, so be it.

I am not reassured by the constant reference to this being an experiment. If it were not so late in the day I would give the Minister, with the greatest respect, a lecture on what is an experiment. He does not need a lecture from me, but this is not an experiment in any sense that a scientist, social scientist or statistician would accept. An experiment means that you have alternative ways of proceeding; that you have rigorous ways of allocating different victims, or whatever, to those alternative options; and that you have rigorous ways of judging which has succeeded. This is not an experiment. The Government have decided what to do, roughly speaking, and they will then say whether or not it was a success. That is a political view, but this is not an experiment.

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. We have put on record a number of times that the "trial"—if that is a word the noble Lord prefers—will be very thoroughly evaluated, and that evaluation will be put into the public domain. There is an alternative comparison of the outcome for children and others in accommodation centres in the sense that there is a control group, if you want to look at it, of those children of some 50,000 asylum seekers who are in dispersed accommodation. We are well placed to make a comparison to see which is better. We shall do so and we shall put the results into the public domain.

Photo of Lord Moser Lord Moser Crossbench

My Lords, the temptation to give my lecture gets ever stronger, but I shall resist it. I still do not regard this as a genuine experiment, but I must move on.

I find the arguments in favour of this trial unconvincing. I shall be very brief because the right reverend Prelate has made most of the points. First, the fact that these children have come from traumatic, stressful and interrupted school systems and experiences—as, indeed, I did in 1936—makes it even more the case that they should get into a normal school environment as quickly as possible.

Secondly, the fact that they know little English—as I did not either when I came—makes an even stronger case for getting them into a school. One learns English not by having a good English master in front of one but by mixing with children. You learn English very, very quickly that way, so, for me, that argument counts for nothing.

As to the argument in a Home Office paper that such children will be liable to bullying and racism—so was I in Nazi Germany—I find it rather sad and pathetic. Children on the whole are very tolerant, flexible, helpful and friendly. Of course there will be some bullying, but it will soon be over. That is not at all a strong argument.

The argument that there will be focused teaching by expert teachers in the accommodation centres does not convince me one iota. What is important is not that the children have good teachers but that they are together with many other kinds of children in the classroom—taught by, it is to be hoped, good teachers. So, again, integration into a normal environment is crucial.

As to the argument that schools are under great pressure, which has not been advanced by the Minister today but is much evident in the documents, the teaching profession—the heads and the teacher unions—if I may say so without disrespect, is far ahead in its thinking of Members of the House of Commons in this debate. It has shown in a number of statements that its members are willing, prepared and eager to accept asylum seeker children. If the children are there for only two weeks or two months and then go on, they will have had a good experience and met many English children, and the English children will have learnt from them.

For all these reasons the case for integration, for normal school life for these children—even if they are small in number and here for a very short time—is the main argument.

Perhaps I may support what I say with a personal recollection. I do not wish to make too great a comparison between the experiences of Nazi refugees and what is happening now, but there are some relevant experiences and I shall talk about one of them. The fact that within weeks—certainly months—I became a very happy boy in English life here owed everything to the fact that I was immediately in an ordinary school environment. It was not that the teaching was particularly brilliant but that I spent my day with children of my own age, being naughty with them, being nice with them, getting to know different attitudes and so on. Some of them were quite tough on me but most of them were nice. It was those early weeks and months that made me feel that this is a wonderful country and made me begin to be a committed person and, finally, a citizen.

Photo of Lord Clinton-Davis Lord Clinton-Davis Labour

My Lords, is there not a danger—particularly as far as the big institutions are concerned—that the children will become institutionalised quite quickly, maybe in one month, maybe two? I cannot think that they will avoid that fate in anything like the sort of period that we are talking about.

Photo of Lord Moser Lord Moser Crossbench

My Lords, that is for argument. I must sit down because others want to speak. That is a good argument. I must finish. I urge the Government, if it is not too late, to think again purely from one angle—letting these children, as soon as they come, mix as much as possible with other English children, especially in schools.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he kindly tell us whether he had any command of English when he joined the English school? That is quite relevant to the children today.

Photo of Lord Moser Lord Moser Crossbench

My Lords, a little less than now. I did have some command of the language but, on the whole, not much. That was much helped by having to speak the language because I was with other kids.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 9:00 pm, 6th November 2002

My Lords, in thanking the right reverend Prelate for the opportunity to return to this subject, I take up that last point. What worries me sometimes in our deliberations is that we get into an either/or situation. The point about English is that it is not either/or. I come from a family of teachers and most people who have been involved in education will say that one of the best ways of developing language is to be among others and contemporaries with whom one uses language casually as well as formally.

Some specific assistance is also extremely helpful and important. It is not either/or; it is seeing the right combination. I wish that we looked more at getting the balance right in our deliberations.

I do not make the point facetiously that for many of your Lordships and myself a period of three, four, five or six months is just another three, four, five or six months in what has sometimes been called the waiting room. For a child of school age, three, four, five or six months can be crucial in their development. The point that the noble Lord, Lord Moser, made so well is terribly important. It is not just what goes on in the classroom. Part of education is social—sports, recreation and being together. That is why it is so important that children who have been through the most awful experiences should be able to share that social aspect.

It is also very important in our considerations to be a little more tough in our analysis of the allocation of resources. It is very tempting to say that it is more economical to have specialist assistance available in one place—the accommodation centre. Let us pause for moment and consider how many different years would be taught together in an accommodation centre. Will there be the same quality for each year and stage of education that would be available outside? If there were to be the same quality, what would it really cost? Would that be more economical than putting in specialist assistance to help local schools or whatever to fulfil the task that we are asking of them? We have not heard a rigorous economic analysis of the proposition put before us.

I know that some of your Lordships do not like the phrase but we talk a lot about the determination to make a success of our multi-cultural society. We have to think about the message that we are giving to our own youngsters in what we say about not enabling the youngsters in accommodation centres to intermingle with them. I have been accused of being a romantic but I am not ashamed. I always regard that as a compliment. A little romanticism in politics is terribly important. I am not sure where the human species would have got without it. The kind of society in which I would like to be living is where the teachers, head teacher and local authority get together and say, "Hey, look at this place. What can we do to help? What can we do to make a place for these youngsters in this terrible situation—even if their parents are a load of charlatans pretending to be asylum seekers when they are not?" And your Lordships know my position on that argument.

We should be asking, "What can we do to protect those children? We do not want them further damaged. Come on—let us make a home for them. Let us make them feel at home. Let them join in and see how we manage". Then, as a sensitive, imaginative government, we should look at making sure that the available resources are used intelligently, flexibly and imaginatively to help the process.

What I have found objectionable—I spoke very strongly even by my own standards, if that does not sound too arrogant, at a previous stage—is that the language in the Bill is so negative as to be beyond belief: that they shall not be part of the local community. We really must do better. The real argument is flexibility. My noble friend the Minister conceded in his introduction that there is room for some flexibility. The issue is that the flexibility has not gone nearly far enough.

I suspect that I have been irritating my noble friend the Minister—who is a friend beyond measure—and that he will not like my saying that he is a sensitive man who understands the arguments being deployed and is doing his best to field the Government's line. That is always a very difficult position. I say that as one who has been a junior Minister in government.

We need more specific indication of how imaginative flexibility will be there and how part of that will be not only a determination to protect these youngsters from any further damage, to enable them to make the best of even the few weeks or months, but also how we are going to turn what could be a negative situation into a positive situation in terms of our own multi-cultural society.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

My Lords, I should like to begin by thanking the Minister for the number of occasions when we have engaged in discussions on this matter. Indeed, he even interrupted his summer holidays in order to discuss the issues involved. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, for her courtesy in seeing us. But, as I shall explain, the differences still remain between us.

We should bear in mind the admission made by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, that, despite the provision that the Government have in mind, we have to accept that a substantial number of children of asylum seekers in this country will still be educated within mainstream schools because they will not be living in the accommodation centres.

We must also bear in mind the fact that during last night's debate on the matter in the other place 42 Labour MPs voted against the Government's intention on this matter. Interestingly, those 42 MPs represent areas such as Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, and London—people who have substantial, long experience of asylum seeking children. They are the type of MPs who receive letters and much pressure in this respect, yet they were keen enough to say that the Government are wrong.

It became very clear in the House of Commons that the Government were not prepared seriously to entertain the Liberal Democrat suggestion that LEAs should be the providers of education, complete with the option to educate children in mainstream schools if they chose so to do. The Government sought to criticise our suggestion on technical grounds rather than engage with the debate. When pressed to do so, their arguments did not convince us. Effectively, there was nothing new that the Government could offer, despite all the intentions to ensure that LEAs should be at the centre of the process.

My colleagues questioned the Minister in the other place and asked whether she was seriously suggesting that segregation was the best preparation for integration. The Minister replied that it was not segregation for the children because they would be taught with other asylum seeking children. Perhaps I may draw the Minister's attention to a number of formal investigations carried out by the Government's own body, the Commission for Racial Equality, as regards the transporting of children elsewhere for educational purposes in which such measures were found to be literally against the spirit of the race relations legislation. Is the Minister genuinely convinced that this ultimately helps those who settle in this country in terms of their integration in the community?

Ideally, the Liberal Democrats would have preferred the choice of whether or not a child was educated in accommodation centre, with the LEA providing the education, or being the arbiter of who provides it. But, again, this was criticised by the Government on the grounds that it made LEAs the arbiter. I thought that they were the best people, because they have knowledge regarding the appropriate provision for individuals in a particular area.

Despite our pleading with Ministers and our communications with the Home Secretary, we have been unable to convince the Government of the seriousness of the case for the LEA to make such provision. In the light of all these concerns, we are bound to support the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth in his amendment.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, on the Wednesday evening that this amendment was first moved by the right reverend Prelate I was attending a dinner meeting. I did so with a clear conscience because, at first sight, I thought it highly unlikely that the amendment would be carried into the Bill. In my state of mind at the time, it seemed to me that it should not be included in the legislation. It is a sad coincidence that the amendment has appeared again on this Wednesday night when I was due at exactly the same dinner party. In the interim, I have read the Report stage debate in the Official Report and my mind is now a great deal more open.

I, too, have had experience of education not only as a recipient but also as a teacher—though in the secondary and primary sectors, not in higher education. Like other noble Lords, I believe that children are the prime concern in this issue. While not wishing to be in any way patronising or superior, I have to say that I believe the debate has become a little simplistic. It appears to assume that every school into which the child of a potential member of our society from abroad is received will be small, well-endowed, happy, and free—it seems—from bullying, and that every teaching facility set up in an asylum centre will be large, under funded, strict, and unfriendly. Life is not like that. Two of the years that I spent teaching took place in a comprehensive school with 1,500 children on a slum-clearance estate in Nottingham where bullying was endemic and where I once had a knife drawn on me. That was many years ago, well before that sort of thing came to be thought of as common.

Recently I attended a fantastic conference set up by a Member of the other placeDiane Abbott. She is one of the black representatives of inner-city London. The aim of the conference was to consider what is happening to black children in London schools. I was one of 11 white faces there of about 1,000 people. What is happening to black children in inner London schools is horrifying. Some children report that they feel safer in a gang on the streets than they do in school. What, one parent asked, is it that turns the little cherubs we loved in our arms into gun gangsters?

Something is very wrong with education in many inner London schools. I do not say that people are not doing a brilliant job in some of those schools and that some of them are not very good. But, please let us not think that all we have to do to a young person, or perhaps a very young person, without a word of English in order to make them feel safe, happy and at home is to put them into one of those schools. Like the noble Lord, Lord Judd, I agree that it is not an either/or case.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 9:15 pm, 6th November 2002

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. The word that he has not used, but that I think is crucial here—I wonder whether he agrees with me—is "flexibility" as regards the Government not saying that the provision shall be in accommodation centres and society not saying that it shall be in schools but rather considering what is the best arrangement in a particular situation.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, I was about to refer to subsection (1)(f) of Clause 26. The clause states:

"The Secretary of State may arrange . . . to be provided to a resident of an accommodation centre . . . education and training".

I refer to the word "may". It seems to me that the proper course is to have a base in the accommodation centre where children can be prepared—whatever length of time that may take—to enter whatever school is suitable within the district. If no suitable school is available but only schools where they would be either terrorised or neglected, they should stay in the accommodation centre until they reach their home, whether that be in this country or another. If there is a good school nearby, they may need very little preparation before entering it.

If I was a traumatised child arriving in this country accompanied by my parents—we should remember that many of these children are unaccompanied—and as soon as I began to settle I was taken away from my parents, as was mentioned on Report, having already been frightened out of my wits by what had happened to me, I should not find that comforting at all. I should be terrified. If I was a teacher working under great pressure with a class that I had the greatest difficulty keeping in order, and to it was added two children with no word of the language that I spoke and I had no special needs assistance, I should think that that was highly damaging to the school.

Both those circumstances have to be taken into account before a decision is made with regard to such children. I ask the Minister to give an undertaking with regard to the provision in subsection (1)(f) of Clause 26. What confidence can be reposed in the expectation that good education facilities will be provided in the accommodation centres? If he can give me reassurance on that point, I shall vote with the Government; if he cannot, I shall vote against the Government.

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour

My Lords, I abstained—I was not alone on these Benches in so doing—on these amendments at the previous stage. They were then numbered 34 and 35. Although I do not totally embrace the stance taken by my noble friend Lord Judd or that of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, their interventions have been enormously valuable as they have led to meetings with my noble friend the Minister. As I understand the position, those meetings have resulted in a much better exposition by the Government of the intended relationship between what are now Clauses 31 and 32.

As my noble friend Lord Judd said, we were shocked by the provision in subsection (2) of Clause 31, which states:

"A child who is a resident of an accommodation centre may not be admitted to a maintained school".

However, I believe that there is some substantial measure of flexibility in the clause that enables pragmatic solutions to be found. Therefore, I believe that the Government are moving sufficiently to be supported in this regard.

Photo of Baroness Masham of Ilton Baroness Masham of Ilton Crossbench

My Lords, I have two questions for the Minister and point out that my pendulum is still swinging. If children are fluent in English, could they go to a mainstream school? If children have special disabled needs, could they go to a school that caters for those needs? Surely there should be, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, flexibility if the child's interests are to be paramount.

Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench

My Lords, I supported the right reverend Prelate on the previous occasion and the time before that, and I shall do so again as firmly as I can.

After the latest concessions, which were dressed up a little by the noble Lord, Lord Lea, I half expected the Government to rethink their policy. Almost all of their supporters in schools and the teaching unions have made it clear that there should be one education system in this country. Many Labour Back-Benchers said the same yesterday but we have not heard any real concessions.

I accept that the occasional use yesterday and today of the word "segregation" is unfortunate but it shows the extent of exasperation among many parliamentarians—as well as voters—who cannot believe that their own government can be carrying out that policy. I heard the Minister today refer to the burden on the present system and a Minister in another place indirectly referred to the destruction of classes under the present system. I am surprised that such arguments are being made at this very late stage without much back-up.

On the moral imperative, the right reverend Prelate said it all. I want to add a few more thoughts on the practical implications. I do not believe that separate education will work. I mentioned special needs last time. My noble friend Lady Masham would like to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, that special needs will be met in schools. I am grateful to her for the letter that she wrote to me about that.

It would be impossible to meet all of the curricula requirements even for those larger groups of asylum seekers in accommodation centres. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, mentioned the Liberal compromise that was offered; that is, that LEAs should decide how best to manage education in each centre. However, the Minister rejected that. I can only hope that he will reflect in the next few days still further. When those children eventually arrive in accommodation, the LEAs will be given a much fuller role.

I turn to the Conservative position. I am dismayed to see the Conservative Benches empty. We heard from the Conservatives quite positively on this issue at earlier stages. The Conservatives have drawn back from the issues of education on the grounds that they are so closely linked with the time factor. I believe that they argued quite reasonably that if the Government can meet their targets of processing in a few weeks—none of the rest of us thinks that they can—there will not be any time for mainstream education. In a sense, the previous vote covered the present vote.

The Conservatives are talking about more rapid dispersal—I heard the right honourable Oliver Letwin do so yesterday—perhaps through reception centres close to the port of entry or smaller centres. Mr Letwin used the phrase, "one stop shop centres". Unfortunately, those approaches are not part of the Government's thinking. It would be nice to hear from the Conservative Front Bench whether that approach represents the Conservative view; we have not heard it. I am sorry that the Government have not moved further towards the concept of smaller centres; that was being taken up with the Refugee Council.

I listened last week to asylum-seeking children for the first time. I was very moved by what they had to say. A boy from Afghanistan said:

"For all of us freedom from fear, the hope to rebuild our lives and be normal is most precious even if it is for a very short time . . . the main point is that we do not want to be treated differently from the rest of the society".

My noble friend Lord Moser made that point most powerfully. All of those children said that they did not want to spend time only with other asylum-seeking children, who would be from similar—troubled—backgrounds. They saw school as a way of escaping unhappy memories and beginning to rebuild a normal life. They viewed the Government's proposals as a way of putting up new barriers rather than building bridges.

I conclude with a brief statement from a representative of Save the Children. She said:

"We have a duty to these young people—a duty to treat them with the same care, compassion, dignity and respect that we would want for our own children. Whether or not they remain in this country ... we should be able to ... say that during their time here we did everything we could for them; that we provided them with the services, the support, the care and the opportunities that every other child in this country has. If we cannot do that", she said,

"we have failed them—failed some of the most vulnerable children in our society".

Photo of Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen Baroness Gibson of Market Rasen Labour

My Lords, I want to enter the debate briefly. I did not speak on the previous occasion we considered these issues. However, I abstained because I was unhappy with the phrase, already referred to this evening, in Clause 31(1) under the heading of "Education: general":

"a resident of an accommodation centre shall not be treated as part of the population of a local education authority's area".

I found the words "shall not" so inflexible and so rigid that I could not accept them. Therefore, I abstained. I then went to see my noble friends Lady Ashton and Lord Filkin and, as other noble Lords have said, they were extremely courteous. They listened to my difficulties and I believe that they have taken action on them.

I want to return to the term "inflexible". I know that my noble friend Lord Judd, for whom I have tremendous admiration, does not consider that the matter of flexibility has gone far enough. I believe that it has. With the introduction of the new sentence and the cross-references from Clause 31 to 32, there is now enough flexibility for authorities to act for children who are able to enter our education system.

I shall not repeat arguments about there being a certain stage for a child. As my noble friend Lord Judd said, such a child will have experienced traumatic experiences. Some may benefit from going into schools; some may not. I now believe that the Bill provides flexibility for each individual child. That is what we are discussing. We are not talking about a mass of children; we are talking about each child who comes forward. I believe that the Bill now allows each child to be considered in his or her own right, and that is why I shall support the Government this evening.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench

My Lords, this aspect of the Bill arouses tremendous emotion, and rightly so. It is a very crucial personal matter and I still wish to support the right reverend Prelate's amendment. We have been told that a move into temporary accommodation will take some time and will then be followed by another move. It is at that stage that schooling could be looked for.

I return to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, because it is one I wanted to make myself. A week is a long time in a child's life. By that stage, he will want to move around. Children who are taught English in an accommodation centre will be taught it with a whole range of other children because it will be their second language. If they get into a school quickly, quite apart from the all-important role of learning with other children and feeling the atmosphere of the place, they will also be in a far better position to pick up the language. Children pick up languages very quickly from their peers, and the younger they are, the better.

I am surprised at the level of support expressed for this amendment by the professionals. The NUT is strongly on side. I also refer to the Refugee Children's Consortium. I am glad to say that my own ex-organisation—I have just stood down as president of UNICEF UK—is part of that. Those organisations have a wealth of knowledge and understanding of children as they spend a great deal of time with them. I cannot but feel that this is important enough, despite the flexibilities that have been added to the Bill, to divide the House. I hope that the right reverend Prelate will do so.

Photo of Lord Parekh Lord Parekh Labour 9:30 pm, 6th November 2002

My Lords, the hour is late so I shall be brief. A couple of years ago I was privileged to chair a commission that dealt with a number of issues, including asylum seekers and how their children should be educated. We looked at evidence on all sides including a comparative study of what happens in other countries. I want to share with the House one or two thoughts.

The arguments that have been advanced by my noble friend Lord Filkin about why asylum seekers' children should be educated separately are good and I endorse them. At the same time they are one-sided and there are arguments on the other side. I shall give three good reasons why it is important that asylum seekers' children should be educated in mainstream schools.

First, it is good for our children to know something about the world and what it means to be scarred by traumatic experiences. It expands their range of sympathy and gives them some understanding of the state of the world.

Secondly, if asylum seekers' children were allowed to stay, mainstream education would be an invaluable experience for them and might facilitate their integration. If they were refused permission to stay, they would take away with them something of the greatness of our way of life. I cannot imagine a better advertisement for the British way of life than having been educated in our schools.

Thirdly, when children are deeply scarred, it is extremely important for them to have a normal structured way of life, within a structured environment. It is not good for them to live with others who are similarly scarred and who are likely to end up aggravating each other's feelings of alienation.

What should we decide? On the one hand, there are good reasons why it is important that the children should be educated in separate schools where they can provide some support to each other and where there are the advantages of scale. On the other hand, there are arguments that point in the other direction. The answer would appear to be, as was said earlier, flexibility. Children could be educated in either way, provided we allow for enough opportunities for breaking with the system and allowing them to be educated separately.

However, flexibility turns out to be a tricky matter. Flexibility can lead to discretion. The Bill does not lay down clear criteria for deciding who should be educated where. Also such flexibility appears to assume that, all other things being equal, children should be educated separately and only in isolated cases should they be educated in mainstream schools. My research draws the opposite conclusion. Other things being equal, it is good for children to be educated in mainstream schools. Only when we feel that that is not to their advantage, or to the advantage of our children, may some provision need to be made to educate them separately.

My feeling is that there is a great deal to be said for the amendment proposed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth. As all the educational institutions have pointed out, and as my research and my commission's research indicate, it is good for asylum seekers' children to be educated in mainstream schools, but if it were to be shown that in certain cases an exception needed to be made, we may allow for flexibility.

Photo of Lord Bhatia Lord Bhatia Crossbench

My Lords, I make a case for the teaching of English. I will share a couple of personal experiences about the teaching of English to teachers or to adults.

About 40 years ago I was in a small village in Germany. I had come from East Africa for some training. My hosts were going to look after me for six months while I was training. They met me at the station and said: "We have a big problem here about how you will cope with the German language. We take it that you do not speak or understand German." I said: "Yes, you are absolutely right". My hosts told me, "For your information, you are probably speaking to the only English-speaking persons in this village".

There was a dilemma about where to place me. How could I learn German quickly in the best possible way? To this day I remember the solution they found for me. They said: "We do not wish to send you to a quick German-speaking institution where you could pick up the language very quickly. We would recommend, if you agree"—and I agreed with them—"that you go and stay with a family who have three or four young children. You live with them. The parents and the children do not speak English, but you will learn your German very quickly from the children". Within a month I was able to converse reasonably well in the German language.

The point I make is that the teaching of English here is a problem—as far as I can make out from noble Lords who have spoken earlier. I believe that if children in accommodation centres are sent to mainstream schools they will learn English much faster than if they are taught English in a separate school at the accommodation centre. Secondly, there is a double benefit, those children who go to mainstream schools and learn English quickly will be able to pass on that English to their parents who also need that language facility.

I have personal experience as a member of the reception groups which met with the Uganda refugees who arrived here. Some of the people in the groups were also asylum seekers. I recall vividly a conversation that I had with some parents. They said: "We know we have a problem here". There were a couple of areas in the UK where advertisements had been taken out in the papers which stated:

"Please don't send refugees from Uganda to our part of the country".

The parents were saying, "We really do not have much hope for ourselves with the kind of reception that we read in the papers. Our only worry is that our children can be placed in the schools as quickly as possible. That is the main thing that we are concerned about".

I believe that we need to take note of one matter. I have had some interesting conversations, both with the Minister as well as with the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton. I feel that they should not look at the issue from the point of view of whether one is an asylum seeker or whatever. Let us remember that these children have not come here as asylum seekers or refugees. They have been brought here without understanding why they are here. They are children who have accompanied their parents. They do not understand whether they are asylum seekers or otherwise.

Secondly, some children arrive on their own. Here again, they have not taken a decision to come to this country to seek asylum. Parents—and I know this from my experience from Africa and also from the subcontinent—who feel vulnerable to attack within their own countries and are not able to leave that country to seek asylum elsewhere, think first of their children. They send their children—in some cases, at the cost of their lives. They say, "We are not safe here, but we cannot do anything about it. Let's save our children and send them abroad to an asylum-seeking country and perhaps the UK".

We must consider such children not as asylum seekers but as children who do not understand why they are here. All that they want to do is get on with their life. All that they want to do is to go and play and learn with their fellow young people in the country, instead of being locked up in an accommodation centre. That is how such children will see it. It is bad enough that they will be put in an accommodation centre, but they will also be placed in a school where they are separated from all other children.

I beg your Lordships' House to consider the matter carefully. We are dealing with vulnerable children who have no idea why there are here. We must not look upon them as asylum seekers, refugees or anything else except children.

Photo of Lord Clinton-Davis Lord Clinton-Davis Labour

My Lords, I am privileged to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia. He spoke from his personal experiences; there is nothing quite like that.

I participate as a former Member of Parliament for an inner-London area. In that environment, I found that young children who mixed with other young children who talked to them and played with them, and from whom they were separated only by age and ability, were able to learn the language and impart that language to their parents. They benefited enormously from that.

There is a great danger that children will be institutionalised in the bigger accommodation centres, whether they hold 750 people or fewer. That is a real danger. Why should they, innocents that they are, be institutionalised—imprisoned—by what they happen to see and what they witness? As a former Member of Parliament and as somebody who had a lot to do with the issue in my professional life, I think that what the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, said has a great deal of credibility. I ask my noble friend to say why the noble Lord and I are wrong.

Photo of Lord Joffe Lord Joffe Crossbench

My Lords, I shall ask the Minister four brief questions about flexibility. First, who will decide whether exceptional circumstances exist? Secondly, will the views of parents and children be taken into account? Thirdly, will there be any safeguards, such as a right of appeal? Fourthly, does the Minister think, on the basis of the Home Office's immense experience, that a significant number of cases with exceptional circumstances will arise? By significant, I have in mind something more than 25 per cent.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, I am tending to move towards the Government's position on the matter. However, sitting here and thinking about the process over the past few weeks, I feel increasingly angry—I may be wrong to do so—that, although the White Paper was so long ago, it is only towards the very end that we have started to think about how education and health provision would work out in the centres. It typifies our problem with thinking about children. For so many years—until recently—we gave children so little thought in the context of our care system, for instance.

Photo of Baroness Anelay of St Johns Baroness Anelay of St Johns Conservative 9:45 pm, 6th November 2002

My Lords, the debate tonight, like previous debates on the issue, has been led well by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth who exemplified its informed nature. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, was right to charge these Benches with not having allowed a voice in this debate, but he was wrong to chide us in saying that we had no voice. We have taken an uncomfortable position throughout the debate in admitting that this is an excessively intractable problem. But overall what matters beyond anything else is that we take into account the interests of the children.

When I was a magistrate and sat as a chair of the family court, we were trained to consider the interests of the child as paramount, from wherever they came; and that must be the case. But in policy terms there is a problem. My noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour, as so often in these cases, illuminated the debate by confessing that she had changed her mind. If we can do nothing else by listening to a debate fully and carefully, we should have the courage to change our mind. I am grateful to my noble friend for her contribution.

My right honourable friend Oliver Letwin in another place yesterday made the point that he is in two minds over the issue. He said,

"Nobody in the House would claim that it makes sense to argue strenuously about whether a child who has just arrived in the country and may go home six weeks later should have separate or a mainstream education".

He went on, I suspect speaking as a father,

"We are all a bit queasy—indeed, some of us are more than a bit queasy—about the idea of children being educated separately for months or years".—[Official Report, Commons, 5/11/02; col. 165.]

We have heard from the Government how they have made strenuous attempts to reduce the amount of time spent in accommodation centres, for which we are grateful. They have a long way to go yet, but they have made a proper move on the matter.

There is an intractable problem. On the Front Bench we take what appears to be the easy option, but is not, of abstention. But we make it clear to our Back-Benchers who have listened to the debate that we find no fault if they chose to make up their own minds and vote in their own way.

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, it is at this time of night that the Chief Whip normally sidles up to me and whispers in my ear, "Keep it brief; no one's listening to you and you won't change their minds in any event". Despite that, I feel that it is proper to respond to some, if not all, of the issues raised during the debate.

The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, has made some powerful contributions throughout her 13 or 14 days on the Bill. I have not always agreed with them, but I have frequently been forced to go away, think again and return with further argumentation. She put her finger on the matter when she reminded us of what many MPs relate to us from their experience in the Commons: in their constituencies this is not a problem-free status quo, either in terms of the interests of children of asylum seekers, or in terms of schools or other school children in those schools where this degree of turbulence is taking place.

I again listened carefully to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, but he did not address the arguments about the difficulties of the current situation. One can say that we should throw more money at schools and we should try to minimise the problems of turbulence, but we cannot get around the problem of what happens to a child who is moved into a school for a short period and then has to be moved out again for the variety of reasons I gave when I spoke initially.

The current situation is not good, and I make no apology for repeating what I said during the discussion on accommodation centres. The noble Lord, Lord Moser, is right that we should do right from the beginning. I should not be standing here now if I believed that what we are proposing as a trial was not right in principle, for the arguments I have set out. I gave those arguments—I shall not repeat them—in terms of the ability to give specialist support and tailored education for a short period while accelerating the decision-taking. Those families who go into accommodation centres have a number of considerable benefits compared with the experience of families who are moved two or three times around the country into dispersed accommodation.

However, neither I nor the Government are so arrogant to believe that it is axiomatic and beyond proof that we might be wrong on that. We are not saying that we are now going to build 20 or 30 accommodation centres around the country and drive them in over the next two to three years come what may. We are saying that we will move forward cautiously and prudently and I would have expected some acknowledgement of the pragmatism of that position. We are basically saying that we will provide spaces for about 3,000 people; probably four or so accommodation centres. We will see how in practice whether what we believe will be a better system works.

What I find almost irrational about the debate is the unwillingness to allow a trial of that kind to go ahead. It seems to me to beggar common sense when in many areas the current situation is so poor. We are seeking to conduct a small-scale experiment and then to evaluate it openly. I find it difficult to know how one operates in a world of public policy when one is not prepared to try to improve things in a variety of ways. But enough of that.

The noble Lord, Lord Moser, said that the way he was welcomed in Britain was good and the House recognises what an asset he has been to British society since then. Most of us have read of his work and his teaching over many years and have been pleased and proud to have done so. But he was accepted as a refugee when he arrived. We have 80,000 a year coming to us asking for refugee status and the sad fact is that most of those will not qualify under the Geneva Convention to remain here. That means that we must look at how we manage the situation.

Yes, children should be in normal school as soon as possible, but as soon as possible is when we know that they are going to have a permanent place here. That is when the case for integration is strongest.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, was right, as often, to say that substantial numbers will still be educated in dispersed accommodation. According to my arithmetic, if we have, say, 150 children in four centres, we are not talking about many more than 500 children in accommodation centres being educated for the first few years. I do not know how many children we have in NASS accommodation, but we have 50,000 people in NASS accommodation and 20 per cent of them are families. So there is a large number.

That is not an argument one way or the other, but in my view it is certainly an argument for sensible experimentation rather than completely shutting our minds to looking at whether we could make it better for children and better for the speed of decision-making which is in the interest of families and children.

My noble friend Lord Judd rightly argued for flexibility. But flexibility is of two kinds. One is related to what we have said about special needs and recognises the requirement to pay attention to the needs of children. If the needs of children cannot be met within accommodation centres and the facilities that can be provided, they should not and must not be educated in accommodation centres. That I repeat.

The other argument for flexibility is the one we have just debated; that is, having an open mind about whether we can make it better in different ways. It seems to me the height of inflexibility to say that we must dig in on the status quo and refuse to consider any other form of sensible public policy experimentation. I do not understand that.

The noble Lord, Lord Elton, as one of many distinguished former Home Office Ministers who have spoken in our debates, asked whether there would be reasonable provision. The Home Office and the DfES are discussing the amount of funding that needs to be provided to make the education in accommodation centres of good quality. It will be dealt with through the contract process, but the safeguards are that Ofsted will inspect every single education facility in the accommodation centres within their first year of operation. It will repeat inspections if it believes that to be necessary, or serve warnings under its powers. Therefore, there will be a strong Ofsted spotlight on them.

Secondly, the statutory monitor in the Bill has a duty to inspect, including how the education facilities are working. Thirdly, the advisory group from the local community will go into the accommodation centre and it is meant to pick up on the concerns and experiences of people in there, including children. We therefore believe that there are some strong inspection safeguards.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. I tend towards his point. How are we to know what the needs of these children are? I sense that very little is known about how we can thoroughly assess their needs.

To return to my earlier point. We seem to have come very late in the day to a discussion of education, the health side of things and how social services will be involved. What has been said is welcome, but will the Minister say a little more about how the needs of children will be assessed so that they are not missed?

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, to supplement what the noble Earl has said, will the Minister link his remarks to the policy in Clause 32(3) whereby the Secretary of State gives guidance as to what is to be done when an accommodation centre certifies that a child needs to go to another school? I apologise for not giving notice of that question.

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. Perhaps I may address that point first and return to the point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel.

I sought to signal that a whole range of inspection processes gives us confidence that the educational provision and the care in centres will be of a high standard.

I turn briefly to the role of the LEA, which is germane to that question. First, the LEAs will have a role. We shall endeavour to encourage the local education authorities to put themselves forward as bidders to provide education in the centres. We know that a number of LEAs are keen to do so, either individually or in a consortium. We believe that there are great merits in that for all kinds of reasons, as the House will understand. It will be open to LEAs to do that as part of a wider LEA or local government consortium.

The Bill provides absolute clarity as regards the power of local authorities to provide such services in accommodation centres. But even in a situation where the education on site is not provided directly by the LEA, we want to encourage links between the accommodation centre and the LEA. Even at a basic level this can involve the exchange of guidance, best practice or facilitation of visits to a school.

As to Clause 32(3), if an assessment is made that a child's needs are better met outside the accommodation centre, the LEA has a responsibility to ensure educational provision outside the accommodation centre—which is as it should be.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, I am trying to be helpful. The point is that that duty is influenced by the relevant guidance issued by the Secretary of State. I am asking the Minister to give some indication as to how the Secretary of State would use guidance to establish what proportion of pupils or what kinds of pupils would receive this sort of provision.

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, I signalled some of the general principles at the beginning of this debate. I gave the instance of a child with high fluency in English, who was exceptionally gifted and who had special educational needs. Let us say, for example, that the child was at the point of taking the international baccalaureate in the country from which he or she had come. It would be almost self-evident in such cases that the interests of the child could be better met outside the accommodation centre. I am not ducking the question, but I cannot say much more than that at this stage. We should consider it crucial to deliver clear and strong advice to that effect to LEAs and accommodation centres as part of the pilot.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, asked about the assessment of children's needs. He also suggested that we had been slightly tardy in these matters. I do not believe so. A White Paper setting out these provisions was published in February. A considerable amount of work has been undertaken between the Home Office, the Department of Health and the DfES. My noble friend Lady Ashton has been with me throughout these debates, partly because she is passionately interested in the development of good education in accommodation centres and partly because she believes that it is a right policy. So there is not a wafer between the Home Office and the DfES on the issue. Both departments think it to be right and in the interest of children.

Finally, my noble friend Lord Judd asked whether I am just fielding the Government's line. No, I am not. I am a Minister, but I actually believe that what we are doing is right, sensible and sane. That is why I am speaking so clearly and strongly. I should be horrified if the House, despite the provision having been twice affirmed by the House of Commons, shut the door on what I consider to be intelligent public policy development and experimentation. That would strike me as the height of irrationality.

Photo of The Bishop of Portsmouth The Bishop of Portsmouth Bishop 10:00 pm, 6th November 2002

My Lords, today is the 58th anniversary of the death of William Temple, the wartime Archbishop of Canterbury and a valued former Member of this House. His name figures for minor commemoration in the Church calendar; we remembered him this morning in my chapel; and I shall quote briefly from the end of a book that he wrote in 1942 entitled, Christianity and Social Order. I shall be brief tonight: I realise that I have kept up all you Labour Peers. Do not worry, we shall have a vote, just let me conclude. Poor things!

William Temple wrote:

"Every child should have the opportunity of an education till he is of maturity so planned as to allow for his (or her) peculiar aptitudes and make possible their full development".

I simply do not believe that the clause, however well intentioned, will realise that aim; in my view, it will seriously delay it.

I shall briefly address one or two points made in the debate. I am grateful to all those who have contributed to it, however they vote. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, perhaps I am not the person to absolve her, but I am sure that she will be absolved. But the constituencies of the Members of Parliament voting against the Government last night contain many asylum-seeking children. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, implied that point and was perhaps less polite than I should be in noting that 42 Labour MPs voted against the Government.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, yes, simplistic is one way of interpreting the character of the debate. I do not believe that schools are perfect, but the existing system is where to start. On the question of flexibility, again I make the point—but I shall not speak Danish this time—in my book, "may not" is "must not". I am glad that flexibility has appeared, but we have had to beat it out of the Government and it is simply not enough. Legislating for flexibility can be a slippery business. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, for his wise words: we should start with the norm and be flexible thereafter.

In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, I absolutely respect those who abstain. Perhaps those on the Conservative Benches will therefore be patient when bishops suspend judgment on certain matters. I turn to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin. (I am really turning the knife tonight; I am enjoying this. I hope that those on the Liberal Democrat Benches will buy me a gin afterwards!) I take the Minister's point about throwing money at schools, but the Government are throwing money at useless accommodation centres—or rather accommodation centres in a useless project. We bishops may have our heads in the air, but we jolly well have our feet on the ground. The signal that we are picking up from sensible, serious people involved in education is that the project is not good.

As for not being willing to allow even a trial, I can answer only that, frankly, we mistrust its negativity. If such a small number of children are involved, why go to such lengths to provide for them as a norm? Adapt the status quo.

We have heard some assurances tonight and it has been a good debate. But the clause is ill-founded because it is a Home Office policy into which educational provision has been made to fit. The clause is impractical, because our education system is already fully stretched. How is a new kind of teacher to be recruited for a 51-week year? It is a question of the allocation of resources, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said. It is rather late in the day to get those, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said. The clause is not only ill-founded and impractical; it is unnecessary. Proper use can be made of special-needs provision by adapting it.

Finally, the clause is wrong. This is not the way to treat children. Nothing I have heard tonight has persuaded me that "segregation" is an inaccurate description of what this measure is about. Segregation is not in the best interests of children. Having kept all your Lordships up so late, I must seek the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 20B) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 52; Not-Contents, 84.

Division number 2 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Lords Amendment

Aye: 50 Members of the House of Lords

No: 82 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Nos: A-Z by last name


Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

On Question, Motion agreed to.