Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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Simon Hughes: I am grateful to the Minister. Are the Government taking initiatives to ensure that all the political parties in each of those areas are engaged, not just those in control of the local authorities? Getting early agreement, which is supportive and ensures that there are no adverse comments, is by far the best way to proceed.

Angela Eagle: That is a sensible suggestion. If we can explore that together, it would be useful for us to do so.

I have dealt with the amendment on rural areas, so I shall now deal with the other amendments. We have made it clear that we intend to provide accommodation centres in non-urban areas because of the pressure that has built up on local services in urban areas. That is also why we have developed the idea of providing a wide range of facilities and services on site, which will minimise the impact on local services in the areas around accommodation centres. Cultural and other needs will be met through the provision of facilities for education, health care, purposeful activities, interpretation and religious observance. We want viable communities to be able to develop within the centres. There is no reason to establish centres close to existing areas of dispersal because the needs can be met on site. That is not to suggest that there will be no interaction between the accommodation centres and the local populations. We would certainly want to encourage links between them while minimising the effects on local services.

The amendments that would require consultation with local authorities, health authorities and police authorities and the holding of public inquiries are unnecessary, because by virtue of circular 18/84, which has already been mentioned in our deliberations, Departments are required to submit planning notifications. When the local community objects, the appeal is heard by a planning inspector and is a public

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inquiry. Representations are taken from interested parties, which can include residents associations and members of the public.

We are also discussing the issues with relevant local authorities, and we are holding regular meeting with the Department of Health to sort out the implications for health authorities. We have arranged meetings with the police forces in the areas of the potential sites to take full account of policing issues, and public meetings will be held in those areas where planning notifications are submitted. There is no added value in providing for formal consultation, because that extends delay, confusion and uncertainty. That is the point that the hon. Gentleman was making.

Simon Hughes: Which of the sites provisionally identified would require planning applications? Some may already have planning permission for residential use.

Angela Eagle: I do not have that information in my head, but I shall endeavour to provide it to the hon. Gentleman in due course.

Mr. Malins: Will the Minister also identify today which of the proposed eight sites the Department has been in correspondence with? The relevant local Members of Parliament should be informed.

Angela Eagle: I understand that they were informed ahead of time. I have certainly answered a flurry of parliamentary questions on the subject. It is our intention to work closely with local Members of Parliament, not to spring sudden surprises on elected Members. In response to the question asked by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, all the sites will require an application for planning consent. None of the procedures will be wriggled out of through technicalities.

With those reassurances, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Malins: This has been a helpful debate and I am grateful to the Minister for her responses. She will be aware of our remaining concerns about location, but I can tell from how she speaks to the Committee—and my hon. Friends would agree—that she is a listening Minister. She has not shut her mind to any constructive suggestions. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Simon Hughes: I beg to move amendment No. 167, in page 9, line 6, at end insert

    'provided such premises are publicly owned and that their management and employees are directly employed by the Home Office or relevant local authority.'.

The Chairman: With this we may take the following:

Amendment No. 170, in page 9, line 6, at end insert—

    '(1A) These arrangements must only be made with contractors who can prove that neither they nor any agent or employee has a record of criminal conviction for offences of violence, neglect or abuse of any child or have been held to have failed to repair

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    property under their control, participated in harassment of tenants or licensees or to have acted in breach of the Race Relations Act 1976.'.

Amendment No. 141, in clause 24, page 12, line 18, at end insert

    'and a copy of whose contract of employment has been laid before the House of Commons'.

Amendment No. 181, in page 12, line 18, at end insert—

    '(2) No person shall be a manager of a centre if he or an employee of his is or has been

    (a) convicted of any offence of violence

    (b) convicted of any offences against children

    (c) the subject of an entry in the Child Protection Register

    (d) convicted of any offences involving financial impropriety

    (e) found guilty of any act of race of sex discrimination

    (f) convicted of any offences of harassment.

    (3) The Secretary of State shall make regulations to give effect to subsection (2).'.

Amendment No. 182, in page 12, line 18, at end insert—

    '(2) In making such an agreement with a manager of an accommodation centre, the Secretary of State shall ensure that all relevant documentation and information is available to residents in the locality, their representatives and the public on request.

    (3) ''Relevant documentation and information'' in subsection (2) includes (but is not confined to)

    (a) information about the terms and price of the contract agreed

    (b) information about the monitoring and reporting arrangements agreed

    (c) information about the standards of service agreed

    (d) documentation of all the above.'.

Clause 24 stand part.

Simon Hughes: The key issue in the amendment is that accommodation centres should be publicly owned, and that their management and employees should be employed directly by the Home Office or the relevant local authority. Put boldly, my hon. Friend and I strongly believe that, whatever we think of the Prison Service—the Home Office south of the border and the joint Labour-Liberal Democrat Administration north of the border have accepted that some prisons should be in the private sector—it is wrong at this stage of policy to allow the private sector to run, manage or have employees in these institutions, especially after the unhappy experience of Yarl's Wood.

Many arguments support that position. First, confusion arose in Yarl's Wood about who exactly was responsible and who should have managed the situation when the fire broke out. Further confusion arose about insurance, with some companies saying that they were unable to insure the centre. An insurance difficulty is one reason why Yarl's Wood has not continued even in partial operation. Practical problems were evident, but hugely important policy issues arise, too.

For this most delicate of operations—I choose my words advisedly—direct public accountability is vital. I mean direct accountability, not contracted out, hived off or at arm's length. In my experience, once a service begins to be privatised, it is never as easy to have public accountability. That applies to local government and public authorities.

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One example is my local authority. When under outgoing Labour control, it privatised the housing benefit service to CSL, a company that other hon. Members will know through their authorities. Like other elected Members, I was told that I had to deal with the CSL management. However, that meant that there was no public accountability, so I refused. I said that I would deal with the director of finance. The local authority appointed him, and he must take responsibility for the level of complaints and be accountable to the Member of Parliament. It is not for some private company based outside the borough to be responsible.

On this issue and at this time, it is very important that the service is a public service—managed in the public sector and kept in the public sector. That would ensure that the public had confidence in it. Not only my party believes that: I am sure that many colleagues agree, certainly on the Labour Benches. The Churches have made it clear that they share that view, and I believe that it is the overriding view of people in Bedfordshire in the light of the experience at Yarl's Wood. It is a strongly held view, and I give notice that unless the Minister is willing to give adequate assurances, we intend to force a vote.

Amendment No. 170 suggests an alternative, but it is a far less satisfactory option. However, if the Minister moved so far as to accept it, that would be progress. The amendment states:

    ''These arrangements must only be made with contractors who can prove that neither they nor any agent or employee has a record of criminal conviction for offences of violence, neglect or abuse of any child or have been held to have failed to repair property under their control, participated in harassment of tenants or licencees or to have acted in breach of the Race Relations Act 1976.''

The amendment would ensure that contractors, and their agents and employees, were reputable and had no history in their organisation of anything that smacked of inappropriate racial behaviour.

Amendment No. 181 would ensure that the management was equally reputable, and that no one in the management had a relevant conviction involving children, violence, financial impropriety, race or sex discrimination, or harassment. It would also ensure that regulations were made appropriately.

Finally, amendment No. 141, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Woking, and the Liberal Democrats' amendment No. 182, concern the same issue. Our amendment would ensure that all relevant documentation and information was available to

    ''residents . . . representatives and the public on request.''

One problem, about which the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) was concerned, was that not all the information relating to the Yarl's Wood incident was made available.

There are also important issues about reporting, about the review and about standards of service. If the public's concerns and fears, whether justified or unjustified, are to be allayed, they need to know that there is proper management. The sequential amendments to which I have referred are designed to show whether the Government can put that in place in any event. Whether there was a public sector or private sector manager, we would want conditions to be built

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in. The Government might say that they will do that by regulation, which would be fine, but we must have guarantees.

Whoever takes responsibility for large numbers of people who have come here from countries far less affluent than ours to seek our help and support after experiencing trauma and difficulty, it is very important that they are given the best possible support. I hope that we still have sufficient confidence in our public services to believe that that should be a public service function. If that is not a public service function, I do not know what is.

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