Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Highgate): I offer what I hope will be comfort to the hon. Gentleman's constituents. He is rightly concerned with their anxiety that the value of their property will plummet if 750 asylum seekers are sited nearby. May I reassure them? London and the south-east, which carries by far the largest number of asylum seekers and refugees in the country, is an area in which property prices have risen to astronomical heights, and they continue to rise. It could well be that the siting of an accommodation centre on the outskirts of Bicester will be followed by a property boom.

Tony Baldry: Such a fatuous comment will be met by my constituents with the reaction that it deserves. I extend to the hon. Lady a genuine invitation to my next constituency surgery so that she can put that point to them. I hope that she will have the courage to do so. It is easy to make cheap points in the House of Commons, but it will be different when she has to look families in the face and tell them that property prices in her constituency are going up, so the house sale for which they had been hoping for months and which has just fallen through is just tough luck. I hope that she will come to my constituency—she will be very welcome.

Glenda Jackson: I am grateful, and I shall of course accept the hon. Gentleman's kind invitation—if he will accept an invitation from me to visit one of my advice surgeries and meet some of my constituents who are unable to find not only somewhere to buy, but somewhere to rent in this city, because property prices continue to rise.

Tony Baldry: Of course I am happy—[Interruption.] Of course I am happy to come to the hon Lady's constituency—indeed, I visited it on several occasions when I was a Minister for housing. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but let me remind the House that we are dealing with a serious matter that should be debated in an orderly manner.

Tony Baldry: The hon. Lady's second point was something of a non sequitur, but as she has mentioned it, I shall ask her and the Minister a question arising from a point that was not made clear during the consultation with

11 Jun 2002 : Column 773

local authorities. About 10 per cent. of asylum seekers have valid claims; therefore, on a six-month basis, about 75 individuals or families from a centre will be found to have a claim to remain in the UK. Is it the Government's intention that the local authority in which the centre is sited will have responsibility to accommodate those people? So far, the Government have given no explanation of such matters to local authorities or local people.

To return to my central point, if there is no loss, there cannot be compensation. Compensation is possible only if there is a demonstrable statutory loss. I see no reason why the Government should resist the amendment, which is on all fours with existing legislation and precedents relating to compensation. It would be extremely perverse if compensation were possible in relation to every other Government activity, but, simply because accommodation centres are an experiment or trial, the Government were unwilling to grant compensation to householders who suffer real, not hypothetical, loss.

The fact that the centres are to be established as a trial or experiment is all the more reason why there should be written into the Bill a statutory system whereby people may be granted compensation. I hope that the Minister will make it clear that the Government acknowledge that where the state intervenes for the benefit of the state but individuals lose as a consequence, it is right in natural justice and equity that those individuals are compensated.

Mr. Dawson: That was the most appalling speech that I have heard in my five years as a Member of Parliament. The hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) asked whether I would go through the Lobby in support of amendment No. 6. I assure him that specially trained and built for speed and strength wild horses could not drag me through the Lobby to support the Tories against the Labour Government. Monkeys, if they sit at typewriters long enough, might eventually come up with a work—

Mr. Luff: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. When an hon. Member has put his name to an amendment, is he not under some obligation to vote in accordance with that fact?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: That is not a matter for the Chair.

6.45 pm

Mr. Dawson: I am happy to answer that point. The hon. Member for Banbury destroyed the argument by the way in which he introduced it into his speech.

Although I have some sympathy with the proposal that accommodation centres should be as small as is feasible, and a great deal of sympathy with the notion that people should remain in them for as short a time as possible, it is vital that the House recognises the position described by my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Glenda Jackson), wherein certain communities are under enormous pressure. There is therefore a great responsibility on every Member of Parliament to acknowledge that asylum seekers and people who want to come to this country should be made welcome. They are people of skill, intelligence and resilience whom we should welcome into our communities.

11 Jun 2002 : Column 774

Rather than stand here and, as has already been done many times this afternoon, spout reasons why accommodation centres should not be established in various parts of the country, I say that they should be established throughout the country. I would welcome an accommodation centre in my constituency, and I think that my constituents would welcome it too.

Mr. Malins: I rise to speak to amendments Nos. 6 and 1. I judge that my hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff), for West Worcestershire (Sir Michael Spicer) and for Banbury (Tony Baldry), who have been in their places for the whole debate, have throughout spoken on behalf of their constituents with great realism, sense, sensitivity and humanity. I am proud to be associated with each of them, with what they have said and with their approach to the problems.

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) made accusations against my hon. Friends' attitudes to the size and location of accommodation centres. How wrong he is to do so. What does he say to the 10 respected organisations—international names; I will not run through them, but he knows who they are—that wrote to the Home Secretary on 3 May outlining concerns identical to those expressed by my hon. Friends? Does he say that those organisations are wrong? With all their experience, they wrote:

Jeremy Corbyn: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Dawson: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Malins: I will give way to the hon. Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn), because I know that he has been desperate to intervene.

Jeremy Corbyn: Is the hon. Gentleman not being a little disingenuous and deliberately confusing the issue of organisations that have legitimate concerns, shared by many of us, about the way in which asylum seekers are treated with the attitude taken by his hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry), which is basically one of total opposition to the presence of any asylum seekers anywhere near any of his constituents?

Mr. Malins: My hon. Friend's attitude is nothing of the sort. He has advanced good, sound arguments. If the hon. Member for Islington, North is saying that he has legitimate concerns about size and location, let us see whether he follows us into the Lobby in a few minutes' time. Despite his comments, I doubt that he will be able to do so.

Mr. Luff: May I make it absolutely clear that my constituents would welcome the opportunity to share with the rest of the country the burden of asylum seekers? The problem is the manner in which the Government propose to do it. The diocese of Worcester, whose bishops are no supporters of the Conservative party, has said that it opposes the Government's proposals because the Churches cannot make their distinctive contribution to

11 Jun 2002 : Column 775

making people welcome because of the concentration of numbers. We could more effectively make smaller groups of asylum seekers welcome in Worcester.

Mr. Malins: My hon. Friend makes his point well. I shall be grateful for an opportunity to divide the House on amendment No. 6, when the time comes. That amendment relates entirely to accommodation centres not holding more than 200 persons.

I need not go through the arguments. One of the tragedies of this place—frankly, it is a disgrace—is that at ten minutes to 7 tonight there will not be a chance for us to get on to vital debates on other matters. That saddens me—[Interruption.] The Home Secretary may say that from a sedentary position, but dozens of Labour and Conservative Back Benchers want to speak on those important issues. Suffice it to say that in Committee I inferred from the words of a number of Labour Back Benchers that they had great sympathy for my proposal that no accommodation centre should hold more than 200 or 250 people. I am looking at the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard).

Next Section

IndexHome Page