Managed to get called during Business Questions – which is a quaint way of bringing constituency issues to the fore and asking the Leader of the House (Labour MP Jack Straw) for a debate. The debate I asked for was on the rate of grant from the government for statutory support for asylum seekers.
In Haringey we happily provide support for a very high level of asylum seekers. But if you take even just one element of Government funding support – the rates for looking after unaccompanied asylum seeker children – the grant doesn’t come anywhere near the actual cost. And even worse – not only does the Government funding not cover the costs, but the costs racked up by the Government’s failure to make asylum decisions quickly – because much of the cost in that maintenance is due during the period whilst the Home Office (that oh so fit for purpose establishment) takes years to process the legality or otherwise of the asylum seeker.
It is completely unfair and unsustainable on those areas where asylum seekers naturally congregate.Jack Straw’s answer – he would pass on my remarks to the Home Office and a slagging off for the LibDems in general. That really raised the tone!
In fact I have just written to Jack Straw over his outburst last week on knives. My Lib Dem colleague, Mark Hunter, raised the issue of lengthening sentences for carrying a knife in a public place and Jack just ranted about Lib Dems opposing longer sentences for knife crime. This is misleading Parliament in the first degree (i.e. untrue! and you can check in Hansard from report stage of Bill in Commons). Not only is this assertion factually incorrect but also completely unwarranted. In response to the recent surge in knife crime, a Liberal Democrat sponsored amendment was laid down in the Violent Crime Reduction Bill (on which I lead for my party) that would increase the sentence for carrying of a knife in a public place to seven years. This amendment was not voted on as a Conservative amendment, take before it ,which would have increased the sentence to five years was defeated by the Government. So the truth is – Labour voted against increasing the penalty for carrying a knife in a public place.
The Bill is coming back to the Commons for Lords Amendments next Monday and Labour will be tabling an amendment to make the sentence four years (which is better than the current tariff), and although it doesn’t extend it far enough in my view it is a step in the right direction. I will go into this further when I write up my blog after the debate next Monday.