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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.
"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.