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Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: In relation to the services and, in particular, the skills that will be required to manage the centres, perhaps I may ask the Minister whether the Government feel confident that the level of skill required for the management,
Lord Filkin: The gung-ho answer would be: of course. But the sensible answer is: we must test that through a procurement process. With an open mind as to how they might be supplied, we must test whether, through a proper process of procurement, adequate skills are available. However, I do not start from a position of questioning why that should not be possible. In such a centre one would need to harness a wide range of different skills from a wide range of disciplines, such as education, healthcare, housing management and so on. But that is the challenge that we must meet, and we see no reason in principle why it should not be met.
Lord Filkin: I have been reminded of having overlooked my noble friend's question. We have yet to determine the precise amount of cash support that will be made available to families in accommodation centres. However, it will be substantially more than pocket money and in the region of full NASS subsistence support. We need to work through exactly what the allowance will be, taking account of what is provided at nil cost in accommodation centres and what must be purchased by families in order to cater and care for their own needs, particularly their feeding and cooking needs.
Lord Dholakia: I am grateful to the Minister. Perhaps I may put a question to him which I believe he failed to answer in his response. It was a question posed by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, about the impact on community relations in rural areas, in particular, of the influx of a large number of people who are not normally resident there. Has any research been undertaken about the effect that such an influx would have? If no research exists, perhaps I may refer the Minister to a report and study undertaken by the Commission for Racial Equality about such an impact on the West Country. The title of the report demonstrates precisely the conclusion that the commission reached. It is, Send Them Back to Birmingham.
Lord Filkin: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, for reminding me, and I regret that I did not respond immediately to the noble Countess, Lady Mar. I shall certainly take note of that book and draw it to the attention of officials in the department to see whether it assists us in our thinking.
Apart from what we learn from the CRE report, the issue of the impact on community relations is, in a sense, difficult to grip. But we should not pretend that there has not already been an impact on community
It is not possible to prove the case one way or the other. When decisions are finally taken after whatever fair process, a commitment is required from all parties to make the situation work. I believe that that commitment will involve government, local authorities, the police force, health authorities, social services, civic society and the Churches. Collectively people need to say, "This is a challenge faced by all society. We must seek to make these things work rather than try to prove that they cannot work". I am confident that that is how civic society will respond.
Lord Greaves: I asked a question, which I intended should be serious, on a matter which I believe the Government must face. First, in the future what will stop the centres being turned into detention centres due to local political pressure?
Secondly, the Minister referred to some statistics for, I believe, 2001 concerning the number of people who, in different ways, were allowed to stay in this country. Those statistics differ considerably from those put forward by expert organisations in the field. I believe that this is an opportunity to get to the bottom of those statistics, which, at the least, are opaque and somewhat obscure.
For example, I have here a booklet produced a couple of weeks ago called Refugee Week. The booklet, which states on the back that it is partly funded by the Home Office, says that the Refugee Council estimates that at least 51 per cent of asylum seekers were successful in 2001. I believe that "successful" is defined as being allowed to stay at some stage in the process. A briefing from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants states:
The figures provided by expert organisations in the field are considerably greater than those provided by the Government. It seems to me that the Government now have an opportunity, while the Bill passes through this place, to state the full figures which they believe are the facts. Those figures can then be challenged by such organisations and anyone else so that we can get to the bottom of the issue once and for all.
Lord Filkin: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, for his intervention. He first asked what guarantee there is in the Bill that accommodation centres will not be detention centres. We have no intention of operating them as such. We have ensured under Clause 27 that conditions are reasonable and do not amount to de facto detention. Accommodation centres are clearly distinct from immigration removal centres, which are regulated under Part VIII of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. The JCHR clearly also draws the attention of the Government to the obligation under the ECHR that no de facto detention is possible through accommodation centres. We are fully aware of that and are clearly committed to accommodation centres not becoming detention centres by a process of allusion or transition.
As regards statistics, perhaps the most straightforward way to deal with the point is for me to make a statement on our next day in Committee and/or to provide a submission to the Library, which will be accessible to all Members. I do not pretend that that will answer every question about asylum volumes. However, we shall try to give a fair picture in a short and succinct form of some of the key data.
Earl Russell: I warmly thank the Minister for the care, thoughtfulness and concern he gave to the questions raised. It was a truly impressive performance. I was pleased to hear his comments on family units and on self-catering. However, the significance of the concession on self-catering, which is potentially considerable, would be somewhat weakened by the difficulty of buying tropical produce in rural Worcestershire. That raises the question of where the centres should be located.
Like my noble friend Lord Greaves, I was somewhat distressed by the appearance, which was most clear in the exchange between the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, of the Minister assuming that the vast majority of asylum seekers do not have genuine claims and will not be successful. The quotation from the Home Office news release, referred to by my noble friend Lord Greaves, which states that the Home Office keeps no figures taking account of appeal results, is fairly conclusive.
I am grateful to the Minister for his undertaking to give further information. In order that he should understand where we on this side of the Committee are coming from as regards the proportion of refugees who are genuineI do not intend to raise that question now but it must be debated before the Bill is passedperhaps I may ask him to read before we return to the issue two publications by Alastair McKenzie of Asylum Aid, entitled, No Reason at All, and Still no Reason at All. The quotation is taken from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bridge of Harwich, who stated that reasons which are unintelligible amount to no reason at all. When the Minister has read those two publications he may understand a little better why we on these Benches believe that it is far from clear that the majority of asylum seekers do not have a genuine claim. We approach the whole question with that assumption.
The most discouraging aspect of the debate on accommodation centresindeed, removal centres as they are described at some pointis the assumption that they are for people who will not remain here. That deeply saddens us.
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