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Lords Amendment

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

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Photo of The Bishop of Portsmouth The Bishop of Portsmouth Bishop 8:28 pm, 6th November 2002

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.)