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Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: Yes, my Lords, I hear the wise words of the right reverend Prelate. Of course, Zimbabwe is not the only country in the world in which such remarks can be made. As an international community, we must do whatever we can to try to
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, following on from what the Minister has just said, does she agree that the success of this election-monitoring process depends on the local trained monitors for 4,000 polling stations? Is there anything that this Government can do to support the Churches and civil society which are in the process of training these very important people?
Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl for having raised that question. We are giving, and have given, aid to NGOs for the precise purpose of training people to try to carry out fair and just democratic elections.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we greatly welcome the report of the Audit Commission on the dispersal arrangements. The field work for the report was undertaken between October 1999 and March 2000, and draws its conclusions from the effectiveness of dispersal operations under the voluntary arrangements. Therefore, it does not properly reflect the changing nature of the asylum service and the ways in which we are driving new arrangements forward. It makes a useful contribution to the continuing
Lord Greaves: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. The new arrangements came into force on 3rd April. Can the noble Lord tell us why the Government have used only private sector operators since then at both national and local level in England, some of which--such as, Clearsprings (Management) Limited, Adelphi Hotels Limited and Cross Construction of Brierfield in Lancashire--appear to be less than suitable for the purpose? Is it not the case that the new arrangements are proving to be bad for the asylum seekers, bad for the local communities in which they are being settled, and bad for taxpayers who are being asked to fund what appears to be a considerable amount of profiteering by the private sector?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot agree with the noble Lord's conclusions. We believe that the scheme currently in operation is proving to be extremely effective. It is providing valuable accommodation. Not all of the accommodation is in the private sector. The arrangements that have been made are effective and are providing a satisfactory level and quality of accommodation. The National Asylum Support Service fully investigates any complaints made and works very closely on them.
Much attention has been paid to Landmark in Liverpool and its activities. The two tower blocks of self-contained flats were previously used by Liverpool City Council--a well-known Liberal Democrat council--prior to the Government making available useful access to them under the new national scheme.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, does the Minister recall that during the proceedings on the 1999 Act many Members of your Lordships' House raised two specific concerns about the dispersal policy? The first was precisely that hard-to-let properties on sink estates might well be used by councils which might be keen to try to maximise revenue from asylum seekers. Secondly, can the noble Lord give some assurances to the House about the position of unaccompanied minors? Many people are worried that they are being dispersed rather than being placed into a suitable environment. After all, they are children and should have access to people of a similar cultural and linguistic background.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we must obviously try to seek a balance in terms of the quality of accommodation. I do, indeed, recall our important debates on the matter during the passage of the legislation. We are giving most careful consideration to all the accommodation that is being used. We take great care in that respect. Inspections are made, and the services of the local authority involved are made use of, as well as those of the Health and Safety Executive.
As regards the noble Lord's second point, I can confirm that the treatment and care of minors is one of those matters to which we pay the highest regard. We gave assurances during the passage of the legislation and we shall continue to give such assurances. However, if the noble Lord has knowledge of cases and instances where he feels that the service is falling short of those very high standards, I should be most grateful to learn of them.
Viscount Astor: My Lords, is not the Audit Commission report a shocking indictment of Labour's record on asylum and, indeed, a personal embarrassment to the Home Secretary who claimed that his policy of forced dispersal was an answer to all the problems? Only half the original target has been met in terms of accommodation. Are not local authorities being asked to pick up the tab for this asylum folly? As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, the present shambles is unfair to everyone. It is unfair to local authorities, to taxpayers and to genuine refugees.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am intrigued by the noble Viscount's observations which verged on a political rant. However, he made serious points. We believe that our dispersal system is working well. It certainly works far better than the voluntary dispersal arrangements which we established with consortia prior to the introduction of the national scheme. We also believe that we are on track with policy. The number of asylum seekers is coming down. The number of applications being considered is increasing in terms of the volume of decisions taken--last month one of the highest-ever figures was recorded in that regard. We now believe that we have a firm grip on the policy. I greatly regret the way in which noble Lords opposite who are members of the Conservative Party have sought to use this issue in a totally shabby way, having left our Government with an absolute shambles of a system. We are now putting a sound system in place which is fair and proper. We are exercising that policy justly and fairly and in the interests of the British public.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order paper. In so doing, as the order of consideration of clauses is somewhat unusual, I ought to say a few words about it. The reason for taking the clauses out of their numerical order in the Bill is because the Bill is largely a rewrite, with amendments, of large parts of the Gas Act and the Electricity Act. We believe that it is for the convenience of the House to be able to