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Lords Amendment

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:00 pm on 6th November 2002.

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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.