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Let us consider someone who relies on rights under Community treaties. I have dealt with immigration and asylum casework for a good number of years, but when someone comes to see me at an advice surgery, I am often far from clear about the precise implications of Community treaties. Local authority staff who have to make decisions about whether to supply or continue support will need such knowledge. Perhaps I am getting all this wrong and there are simple answers, but I am bothered about new schedule 1 because of those concerns, although I understand the principle behind it.
I am also far from clear about how new schedule 1 relates to other parts of the Bill. How can those who are subject to decisions made under that schedule challenge those decisions? Suppose that someone is refused on the basis that they are a citizen of another EEA state and they are not relying on a right by virtue of Community treaties, but they claim that the decision is based on wrong information. Alternatively, a failed asylum seeker who had not co-operated with removal directions might challenge that by saying that they or their representative never received such directions. That is not unknown.
How will it be possible to challenge the decision? I cannot see how that will be done, unless it is through the mechanism of judicial review of the local authority decision. What happens to the person in the meantime if they try to go through that process? That is a complex matter, and it is difficult to comprehend quickly. I hope that we can achieve clarity with regard to those concerns about the new schedule.
I shall say a few words about amendment No. 84, which I tabled with other hon. Members and which relates to the removal of the support-only option from the present National Asylum Support Service arrangements. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) has gone through the arguments about the number of people who currently receive support only, and the reasons for that. My hon. Friend the Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck) and the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) raised the issue in Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), who was then the Minister, provided some clarification. She said that the clause was intended as an enabling power that would create the potential to move away from cash-only support. She went on to say clearly that that was not the Government's immediate intention, and that it would not make sense to implement it until the Government had managed to regionalise NASS and put more effective mechanisms in place. She added that she could foresee a time when, if the reporting system was
A clear view emerged in the Committee that the proposal was long-termthat it would take effect only in the distant future when accommodation centres were up and running, accommodation was provided generally for all asylum seekers and there was no longer a need for cash-only support. I have always felt reassured by the then Minister's comments.
However, I found myself having to think again about the matter. Some hon. Members may have seen a document from Downing street that found its way into the press not long ago. It referred to ending cash-only support and commented that, among other things, that would create a risk of begging and destitution in London. It also included a comment about implementation in the autumn when NASS accommodation was ready. That worried me.
The document from Downing street may be totally inaccurateI would much prefer the reassurances that were given in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Wallaseybut amendment No. 84 introduces a safeguard. Let us assume that there will come a time when clear evidence can be provided by the Home Office that accommodation centres are working, NASS accommodation is available and cash-only support is no longer needed. If we reach that point, it should be possible for positive resolutions to be put before both Houses, which would allow us to debate and agree on the evidence. Everyone would then be much more comfortable with the provision.
Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam): Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern not just about the numbers of places available in accommodation centres, but about the quality of those places? People often take cash support because NASS accommodation has been unsuitable. It would not be acceptable to withdraw cash-only support just because we have 80,000 units of accommodation and 80,000 asylum seekers, if those 80,000 units are not in the right places and of the right quality.
Mr. Gerrard: I take the hon. Gentleman's point. People would opt for cash-only support for a variety of reasons. I am merely making the straightforward point that, instead of a statutory instrument, both Houses should consider positive resolutions. We might all then feel much more comfortable about a future proposal to end cash-only support. That is the purpose of amendment No. 84, which I hope will gain support in the House.
Mr. Malins: I wonder what the Government's reaction would be if a Member were to table a new clause saying that any asylum application must be decided within two days of its being made, and that any appeal must be lodged within 24 hours and decided within a further 24 hours. I imagine that their reaction would be, "Don't be silly: people need time to prepare," and that there would be a nodding of heads all around the House. If that is the Government's attitude, God bless them for giving us what the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) described as a complex new schedule and telling us that we have far less time than we would have under my fictitious new clause on asylum cases, and only a matter
I want to speak briefly about new clause 4, which I tabled with several hon. Friends. For accommodation provided under section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, it defines what will be regarded as adequate. I shall not read through my new clause, but its purpose is to ensure that the accommodation provided meets the basic standards that we all expect of accommodation in this country. Furthermore, it ensures that certain landlords are not able to exploit asylum seekers to make profit at the public's expense by renting out properties that cannot be rented out to the general public. A reasonable, decent standard of accommodation is important.
The new clause cannot be thought objectionable, and I hope that the Government are prepared to accept it. They need to focus on the issue of the standard of accommodation. It is not many weeks since the controversy about the absence of sprinklers at Yarl's Wood, and there is a continuing problem with companies running removal centres and trying to negotiate insurance cover with various underwriters. All existing centres that do not have proper safety attributes, as suggested in my new clause, should be looked at carefully with a view to closure. I put the new clause out as a feeler, but, behind it, there is a strong point in relation to the adequacy of accommodation.
The money would be well spent because it would reduce the need for the adjournment of appeals or subsequent appeals to the tribunal resulting from the fact that, through no fault of appellants or their lawyers, witnesses could not attend. It would not cost much to pay expenses to witnesses who may be destitute, and it could save money in the long term. I hope the Government will consider that suggestion carefully, as points of principle and efficiency are involved. The amendment would enable the Government to have a better and more efficient system.
It is important for lawyers to take proof of evidence from witnesses, but I am told that that cannot always be claimed as a disbursement from the Legal Services Commission, or is not financially viable. That is especially so in Scotland where the Legal Services Commission does not operate and attendance of a person under the supervision of a solicitor is paid for at the rate of only £21 an hour.
These small amendments are not dramatic. They would not alter the Bill in any great way, but they would ease some of the mechanisms, and at little cost to the public purse. They would probably make for more efficiency. That is the view of Conservative Members and, the Government might like to know, of several respected non-governmental organisations. I hope that Ministers will have listened carefully to my arguments on the important new clause defining the adequacy of accommodation and on the two relatively non-controversial amendments. I hope that they will take them on board.