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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 Dholakia Lord Dholakia Party Chair, Liberal Democrats 9:00 pm, 6th November 2002

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.