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Mr. Blunkett: I will give way to all three of my hon. Friends, provided they are quick. It is important to get this right. If we can get the process and the accommodation right, we can overcome people's fears.
Mr. Dalyell: Is the Home Secretary bothered to think that people might be disadvantaged by the shortage of interpreters in certain languages? If he is, which languages is he bothered about? I do not want to lead him down a line that he does not want to take, but it is an important matter.
Mr. Blunkett: Yes, I am bothered. That is why being able to pull together those with a particular language requirement and provide the necessary interpreting skills on site is the most common-sense approach. At lunchtime, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants said that it did not like what I had said, but that it was perfectly prepared to accept that, for example, a medical centre that offered interpreting services might have to be established to serve an area. The disagreement between the council and me appears to be that it does not want such a facility
Mr. Lammy: I am grateful for much that my right hon. Friend has said, because my Tottenham constituency bears much of the brunt of the existing problems: with more than 5,000 homeless families and as many as 20,000 asylum-seeker refugees, there is great pressure on local services such as schools and GP surgeries. Is my right hon. Friend suggesting that children in accommodation centres will receive an education that is not only equivalent to the education that they might receive in schools, but rather better, because they will have specialist teachers who understand the needs of refugee and asylum-seeking children? That is a specialist area, as we in Tottenham see daily.
Mr. Blunkett: Yes, it is. My hon. Friend knows a great deal about the subject because of his constituency experience. I am grateful for his support and help for our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Skills. Contrary to the story that appeared in one of our national newspapers this morning, which was put about by someone trying to create mischief, she has welcomed the proposals and worked with us on the preparation, and she will be wholly involved because we have asked her Department to be responsible for implementation. I hope that that lays to rest the myth that has been peddled for the past 48 hours.
Ms Abbott: On the question of schools and education, with all due respect for my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy), I have represented the constituency of Hackney, North and Stoke Newington for 14 years, for almost all of which time many of the schools in my area, including my son's, have had to deal with large numbers of transient pupils and pupils speaking a wide range of languages. Of course that is challenging for both the teachers and the children, but surely the answer is to devise ways of providing those schools with the resources and support that they need. I do not buy the doctrine of separate but equal; we know what that is about. It cannot be right to segregate the children of asylum seekers.
Mr. Blunkett: I regret the language of separate but equal, but I also regret the language that my hon. Friend used on Radio 4 at lunchtime. I did not use deliberately emotive language. I am not withdrawing the language that I used because it was part of a very balanced interview which people can tap into by accessing the "Today" programme on the BBC website. I simply wished to indicate that there is a major problem for some schools and some GP practices in limited parts of the country. It is nothing to do with our country's intake of people seeking asylum or wishing to immigrate; we are not swamped in our country, but some schools face real difficulties, as do some GP practices.
All I would say to my hon. Friend is that I know a great deal about Hackney's education provision because I was the Secretary of State for Education and Employment for four difficult years. I know what happens in Hackney and that additional resources are required in some schools. I also know about the distribution of resources in London boroughs like Hackney compared with other parts of
I propose to concentrate on providing resources for language skills, education and health care as a temporary measure until people reach the point at which they are either granted asylum or have been refused it. When asylum is granted, it is our job to integrate and support people and welcome their children into the local school. The difficulty sometimes with families whose removal has been attempted is that their youngsters have become part of a school, making it virtually impossible in some circumstances to operate the managed system to which we should all sign up unless we believe in completely open borders, which would be an interesting free enterprise experimenteventually the system would give and people would not want to come here any more as it would no longer be attractive, which would be crackers and a crazy piece of politics.
Accepting as a given the need for a managed system and to return people, we must undertake those tasks as humanely and carefully as possible. Accommodation centres mayjust mayfacilitate that, as they do in some of the most liberal countries in the world such as Sweden and Finland. There is therefore nothing draconian about the measure at all.
Simon Hughes: I hope that the Home Secretary is aware that although the issue is sensitive, on the substance of the argument I understand his position and support it. Speaking from personal experience and more generally, if accommodation centres are intended to be used for a limited time, about which the Home Secretary was very clear, there is a benefit in being able to deal with all needs together, provided that he is introducing a trialled species of optionsagain, I have received confirmation that he iswith dispersal still being used for the majority of asylum seekers.
Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that for the foreseeable future he is willing to consider various options, and that an accommodation centre choice is one reasonable alternative, but that the majority of families will be dispersed and their children integrated into the local schools?
Mr. Blunkett: That is the case, practically and inevitably. It is also right that for the foreseeable future we will need to implement an improved and acceptable dispersal system within the community. That means that the GP practice that I mentioned and the schools that face the challenge need our help in the immediate future. I am not ducking or moving away from that reality.
Mr. Blunkett: Unless my hon. Friend is burning inside, I should like to make some progress, or no one will be able to get in. I want hon. Members to be able to make speeches rather than interventions.
Part 1 deals with the issue, which I hope is not as contentious as people have tried to make it, of those who obtain refugee status and then seek naturalisation and want to be integrated into our community. It gives effect to all the measures that I announced on 7 February relating to the acquisition of the English language, the ability to understand our systems of governance and our social processes, a revised and modernised oath and a ceremony in which people will be welcomed into our country for naturalisation.
Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. I welcome what he said about inclusivity of citizenship, but there is one aspect of citizenship that is not dealt with in the Billthe position of British overseas citizens who were able to come to this country under the quota voucher scheme. Will he take action to ensure that British overseas citizens who have no other citizenship will be able to enter and stay in the country of their nationality?
Mr. Blunkett: I know and respect my hon. Friend's interest in the matter and the way in which she has campaigned on it for as long as I can remember. It is important that we get it right. In recognition of the fact that the old special quota scheme had ceased to be used for the purpose for which it was originally designed, we abolished it. I will examine the possibility of an alternative arrangement for British overseas citizens who have no other nationality but who, under the existing complex historical circumstances, cannot enter the country. It would be right for us to do that, as we have a moral obligation to them going back a long way, and it is unfinished business.
That relates to the point that I was making. The people to whom my hon. Friend referred have a deep commitment to this country and a heritage linked with it. Those who seek naturalisation and who want to be part of our community will welcome the measures that I am announcing in part 1.