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Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the situation in Northern Ireland is diametrically opposed to that which obtains in England; namely, it has de facto religious education with a very small integrated school element? Here, by and large, we have a large integrated school element and relatively few faith schools. Does she agree that the experience of Northern Ireland, as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, suggests that we should be very wary about the development of faith schools in this country?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I ask noble Lords to be cautious in suggesting that somehow faith schools are a cause of other things. We should be careful about heaping on to the heads of schools responsibility for other aspects of segregation. Many socio-economic factors lead to tensions in our community. We need to be clear that faith schools should play an important role in their communities in terms of working in partnership with schools of faith and of none. That is something that we would be keen to see and to promote.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, as the noble Baroness will know from being a school governor, school governors play an important and vital role in all schools. We would expect them to be mindful of the ethos of the school and of the way in which we expect those schools to participate in their local communities. It is a longstanding tradition for schools of all kinds to be part of their community. We expect school governors to ensure that their school participates in the community with schools of other faiths, that the teaching of citizenship is fully carried out within the school and that the ethos of tolerance is part of how every school develops.
Earl Russell: My Lords, as one who arrived at Eton having never knowingly met a Conservative, does the Minister agree that segregation of any kind makes the life of schoolchildren harder than it need be?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Earl puts his question extremely well. It is important to be clear about what we mean by segregation and to understand that children need to grow up with traditions, understanding and tolerance. But they do so from a background of history, tradition and culture. For many children, that includes a religious background. Therefore, we need to ensure that they meet as equals; that all our children are educated and are able to be educated without fear in the school system; and that we have respect for the diversity of education in this country.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Rooker): My Lords, this Government are committed to delivering an effective asylum system and we have made significant progress towards achieving this since coming to office. In the past financial year the Immigration and Nationality Directorate (IND) at the Home Office made 132,840 initial decisions on asylum applications and there were 8,930 removals. The backlog of undecided asylum applications stood at 43,000 at the end of September this year.
Measures to increase the effectiveness of the system were announced by the Home Secretary in another place on 29th October. Further details will have to await the publication of the White Paper, which we expect to be in late January.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, perhaps I may say to the noble Lord that we do not necessarily associate asylum seekers with terrorism in a global fashion, as implied in the question. The process needs to be speeded-up. Our target is to achieve 60 per cent of initial decisions in two months. At present, we are achieving about 50 per cent, so we are not too far off. We come closer each month to reaching our target.
The removals programme is a large one. To remove 30,000 people a year would mean removing 2,500 per month. We expect to reach 2,500 per month by the spring of next year. To do that sensitively and carefully without causing disturbance in communities requires enormous planning. That is taking place at present. It also requires an extension of the detention estate. We need to be able to detain prior to removal to make that effective.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I welcome the Government's latest press release, which talks about new categories of work permits to boost the UK economy. Does the Minister consider that skilled asylum seekers already in this country could benefit from this radical reform of the existing approach to migration?
Lord Rooker: My Lords, we are not planning that. One of the reasons for that is because the belief that asylum seekers with English language can work here is such a pull factor for the people traffickers.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I refer to a debate we had in your Lordships' House one month ago. Will the Minister give some thought to the introduction of an American-style green card system and the opportunity, therefore, for at least some of those who come to this country for economic reasons to stay here for licit and legal purposes? Can he tell the House what monitoring of the dispersal system is taking place and how many of those dispersed to other parts of the country return to London within the first six months or so of dispersal?
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I shall first answer the latter part of the noble Lord's question. Once we have dispersed some 30,000 people in about 18 months under the National Asylum Support Service, some pressure will be taken off the South East, and Kent in particular. Once the initial decisions are given or people enter the appeal process and come off supportthey may be given exceptional leave to remainwe do not track people. We shall not know how many have returned to the South East. However, there is anecdotal evidence, which I have picked up in the East Midlands, in particular, that many people do not necessarily return.
As regards the first part of the noble Lord's question, the White Paper will set out proposals for managed migration; that is, through more than one scheme. People will have an opportunity to come to this country to work. In some cases that may lead to settlement, and in other cases that will be for temporary purposes. The objective will be partly metit will not be fully met. Those who wish to come to the country to work, as opposed to using the asylum system to seek to do that, will have an open and transparent means of doing so. We shall thereby remove the pull factor from the people traffickers.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House who pays for the cost of travel; that is, of getting 2,500 people out of this country to wherever they are going? I do not imagine such people have the money to do that. Do the Government pay or someone else, such as the carriers?
Lord Rooker: My Lords, the cost of removing people from the country is funded by my department. At present the figure is about 200 per week, some 800 per month. We are some way short of reaching the target. Such removal is done in many ways. Sometimes we charter aircraft because it is the cheapest way.
Lord Greaves: My Lords, last week I met a lady from the Congo who came to this country eight years ago to apply for asylum. She, her husband and her children, two of whom were born in this country and have no other home to go to, have still not had an initial decision. The Home Office wrote to her last February stating that still she would have to wait. At the same time I met several other people who have been here for several years. Would it not be sensible for the Government to clear the backlog of people who have been here several years by giving them an amnesty and leave to stay in this country? To remove them in such circumstances would be utterly inhumane.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I do not necessarily agree with the last point raised by the noble Lord. I regret that former constituents of mine, who have been in this country longer than the lady in the example given by the noble Lord, have not had a satisfactory decision. I agree that such cases are difficult and complex, given the phenomenal increase in the past few years. It is clear that we are targeting those on whom it is easier to make a decision. The easiest ones to remove will be those who have been here for a short time. That is self-evident. If the noble Lord writes to me with details of the case he mentions, I shall have it looked at. We regret the present situation, which is due to the lack of investment in the past. We have doubled the number of staff in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate to speed up decisions. The system was chaotic and had been so for several years. That is why people such as those in the example given by the noble Lord have fallen through the net.
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