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Lord Renton: With great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, who has taken a great deal of trouble to put his case, I do not see how the Government can accept the amendment. It seems to conflict with Clause 16(1)(a), which states:
Lord Filkin: The noble Lord is right. The amendment would prevent our supporting dependent children under the age of 18 in accommodation centres. In effect, it is a repeat of the previous debate. Having spoken rapidly and at, I thought, excessive length, I shall only weary the Committee if I repeat the points I made. In short, they are faster decision-making, the potential for high-quality education and support, and a proper evaluation which will be open for all to see.
I shall not add further to that reply except to refer to why we believe that placing families with children in accommodation centres is in the best interests of the child. If the family is successful in its application, it is likely to happen faster and the family will then be able, at an earlier stage, to integrate into British society. If the family is not successful and is due to be removed, it will not be in the interests of the child for him to be integrated, only then to be removed. There is no reason to suppose that a place in an accommodation centre would breach the rights of the child. On the contrary, it would fully meet his needs at that stage.
As regards the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, the definition of "dependants" is still under consideration. We intend to have a wider pragmatic definition of "dependant" and may well steer a leaner path to ensure flexibility to react to experience and changing circumstances.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, asked about the definition of "a prescribed class". Clause 33(1) provides that "prescribed" means prescribed by the Secretary of State by order or regulations. That is one of those delicious circular definitions for these purposes.
Lord Filkin: Certainly in the common-sense understanding of the word, but I would need to reflect on whether that is the meaning we will want to give it in the regulations. The expectation was that we would be looking at children as dependants rather than older people. But we will reflect on the point.
Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: I shall be brief. I wholly agree with the Minister that a debate on this issue would simply be a re-run of the debate on Amendment No. 107A. On the other hand, the debate in the Commons on the same amendment lasted 70 minutes. Until the Minister spoke, four Labour MPs representing London constituencies took part. I took the trouble to read the whole of that 70-minute debate comprising the views of Labour MPs. It reinforces powerfully the view of my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew, in the debate on Amendment No. 107A, that flexibility is immensely desirable. If trialing can include some of the points made in the debate in the Commons, so much the better.
The Lord Bishop of Hereford: We are in the sphere of speculation and conjecture, and I do not want to weary the Committee by prolonging the debate. However, some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, about what life might be like in an accommodation centre need to be taken seriously. There is the strange paradox that it would deny families the kind of privacy in which they are entitled to expect to live. Accommodation centres will be unnatural communities, probably intimidatory from time to time. At the same time, Article 15 on the rights of the child and freedom of association is breached. Confining families in accommodation centres, even with the theoretical possibility of going out and about, will not enable the children to experience any kind of normal life.
It may be that the alternative is even worse. I know of many scandalous cases of immoral and irresponsible private landlords making life extremely unpleasant for asylum-seeking families. If that were the case and nothing could be done about it, life in accommodation centres would be less bad. It would certainly not be good. The best solution would be the better running of the dispersal system with better support for those dispersed into the community.
Will the Minister reassure the Committee that real efforts are being made to support families who are dispersed so that they are not intimidated and that in the creation of communities in accommodation
Lord Filkin: What the right reverend Prelate says about children having association while in accommodation centres is right. We will seek to foster that in their development. Seeking to make dispersal work better will be an objective of government policy, come what may, because on any conjecture of how quickly we move forward on accommodation centres, dispersal will be with us for some years. Therefore, the right reverend Prelate is right to mark it and we are signalling that we must seek to improve.
Lord Joffe: I support the amendment, which is different from Amendment No. 107A. That amendment dealt solely with the education of children in accommodation centres. This amendment proposes that children should never be placed in accommodation centres.
I want to raise only one point in addition to those mentioned by my noble friend Lord Bhatia. There is much concern among children's charities about the child protection framework in accommodation centres. The information that has emerged through responses to questions in the other place raises serious concerns about the inferior level of protection that will be afforded children in accommodation centres and, indeed, whether the Government have properly thought through this aspect of their policy.
It is disturbing that in an answer to a question raised in the other place on 10th June, the Government stated that accommodation centres will not have a statutory duty to have a policy on child protection but that such matters will be left to individual contractual arrangements. The Government have also stated that accommodation centres will not be required to register under the Care Standards Act 2000, even though they meet the criteria for a requirement to register as set out in that Act. I would be grateful if the Minister could advise us on whether all the relevant provisions of the Children Act 1989 will apply to children in accommodation centres.
Children seeking asylum are particularly vulnerable. It is unjustifiable to place them in an institutional setting that has inferior child protection and welfare frameworks compared with those that must be in place by law for other children.
Lord Filkin: For the record, although the Committee may weary of hearing this, we do not accept the suggestion that life for families in accommodation centres will be poor. The centres will not be camps; they will be more akin to self-contained villages with all the facilities needed to enable people and their children to lead decent lives without fear.
The categorical answer to the noble Lord's specific question whether the provisions of the Children Act 1989 will apply to children in accommodation centres is yes. Section 47 of the Act places a duty on local
Lord Bhatia: I am grateful to the Minister for his views on the amendment. All Members of both Houses of Parliament must think first about the needs of children and secondly about the asylum process. Children are vulnerable. In many cases they will be isolated. Often they will be bewildered and confused. The best solution would be not to place such children in accommodation centres. Perhaps an element of flexibility should be introduced whereby families with young children seeking asylum should be allowed to live in the community from the start. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.