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Asylum Seekers

Volume 768: debated on Thursday 28 January 2016

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the requirements placed on asylum seekers in order to access food, shelter and other resources, such as the requirement for asylum seekers in Cardiff to wear coloured wristbands in order to access food.

My Lords, Clearsprings Ready Homes has announced the immediate end of the use of wristbands to access food. The Home Office has asked for an assurance from all accommodation providers that there are no further policies or practices that allow asylum seekers to be identified as such in public.

My Lords, a Government may decide to outsource the provision of temporary accommodation for asylum seekers, but it is the Government who approve who should secure these contracts and government Ministers who have a responsibility for ensuring that the contracts are appropriately delivered. Why have government Ministers failed to carry out their responsibilities? First, it was only after national newspapers exposed what was going on with red doors in Middlesbrough and wristbands to access food in Cardiff that action was taken. Secondly, the Government, as the Minister has now said, are only now busily trying to find out what is happening with the delivery of other similar contracts they have approved. Government Ministers can outsource the provision of accommodation and food for asylum seekers, but they cannot outsource their own direct responsibility and accountability for how those contracts are delivered and their failure to monitor them properly. Do the Government agree?

I agree that we have an obligation to ensure that the most vulnerable people who come into this country seeking asylum are placed in positions where they are cared for and safe. It might be of interest to the noble Lord to know the circumstances surrounding this. The asylum seekers were in initial accommodation in Cardiff. In that accommodation were people whose asylum claims and financial needs had been assessed and who then receive a financial contribution for food, and there were people who had just arrived who get full board and three meals a day. The wristbands were used to identify those people who were eligible for the three meals a day. I am not asking the House to accept that that is the way it should be—the practice has stopped—but that was the explanation for it. Certainly, our position is that the safety and security of asylum seekers—and the dignity and humanity with which we treat them—should be paramount. They are inspected by the Home Office on a routine basis—indeed, they have been inspected by the National Audit Office as well—and we look forward to the reports coming back.

My Lords, Azure cards, red front doors, wristbands and now refusing to take any unaccompanied asylum-seeking children from Europe: when will the Government stop giving the impression that asylum seekers are a problem to be palmed off on other countries at all costs and start treating them as vulnerable people in desperate need of our help, including sanctuary in this country?

We can all be proud of this country’s record in offering asylum to people in need. The EU, which has a relocation scheme—it said that it would get 160,000 people out of the region into and around Europe—has so far managed to relocate 331 people under that scheme. The Prime Minister said in September that we would have 1,000 people from the region here by Christmas. We had more than 1,000 here by Christmas. The Prime Minister announced today that there will be a further review, with UNHCR, to identify unaccompanied children from conflict regions and how they can be helped further. We announced today a further £10 million to help unaccompanied children who are in Europe already. In addition, we are the second largest donor in providing aid to Syria. All that package together shows that we are living up to the high expectations and strong traditions that this country has in dealing with people in need.

Will the Minister, who is characteristically sensitive and careful in his use of language when referring to vulnerable people coming to this country, have a quiet word with the Prime Minister about his language when yesterday he described these people as “a bunch of migrants”?

My Lords, sometimes the other place is not quite the same civilised debating forum as we are on most occasions. However, while people choose phrases in the heat of the moment—I have done it myself—more important are the actions behind the words. Announcing today that we will take in more people from conflict areas and announcing another £10 million to keep pledges to help people from Syria are actions that speak louder than words.

Can the Minister tell the House when the Home Office inspections were undertaken? If the Home Office had been inspecting regularly, surely it would have noticed the red doors and the wristbands. It is either a fault in the conditions of the contract or it is a failure of inspection.

The system of inspections means that a third of all accommodation is inspected by the Home Office each year. It is inspected every 28 days by the contractor and, because we are working in partnership with local authorities, they are also required to inspect. In this case, there had not been complaints to trigger action until the point when it became an issue, and then of course action was taken swiftly, and rightly so.

My Lords, will my noble friend tell the House about the Government’s plans to ensure that the children are well cared for once they arrive in this country?

We have an obligation to children under the Children Act, which means that they are cared for. One of the issues I find of concern as regards unaccompanied asylum-seeking children is that currently only some six of our 440 local authorities are part of the voluntary scheme. It would be very good if more local authorities came forward to ensure that the burden is spread beyond places such as Middlesbrough and Kent more widely across the UK, which would be to the benefit of asylum seekers and would help social cohesion.