House more refugees, says Straw

29 Jun 00
Home Secretary Jack Straw has criticised local authorities for ignoring requests for accommodation to house asylum seekers as part of the national dispersal scheme.

30 June 2000

Straw, addressing the Local Government Association (LGA) annual conference in Bournemouth, said the most serious problem facing the National Asylum Support Service (Nass) was the reluctance of councils to make housing available for refugees. The government has signed just one contract with a local authority to provide accommodation since Nass was launched in April.

'So far we have been disappointed by the response from some local authorities to our request for offers,' Straw said. 'I am assured that the LGA remains committed to co-operating with us on the whole issue, so I hope actions will follow words.

'The full roll-out of the new asylum support scheme and a reduction in the overall numbers of asylum seekers can only be achieved if councils come forward with accommodation.'

The distribution of asylum seekers throughout the country was designed to ease the pressure on authorities in London and the Southeast which, until now, have had to look after most of those seeking refuge.

Nass has so far dealt with 2,827 applications, of which 1,876 have been dispersed.

The home secretary went on to highlight local authorities' responsibilities for upholding law and order and chided councils for not making greater use of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (Asbos), introduced in April 1999.

Using his speech to launch new guidelines for councils on the practical applications of Asbos, Straw said that 80 orders had been obtained and called on authorities to exploit their potential more fully.

'This is a solid start, yet with the notable exception of some local authorities in England, the number of Asbos has been rising only gradually,' he told delegates. 'Experience in many areas shows clearly that a readiness to use them does pay dividends.'

Adopting a more conciliatory tone, Straw also sought to reassure local government about the impact of the Human Rights Act that comes into force in October. He said councils should mount robust defences when legal challenges were brought against them.

'Don't run for cover every time someone finds a point about the convention to throw at you. Lawyers do not always agree,' he said. 'Just because someone can show that a convention right is involved, that doesn't mean a violation is taking place. Most rights have limitations.'


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