Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
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.