Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying rather wide of the clause.

10.15 am

Simon Hughes: I hoped that I was within the limits, but I have made the point and need not go any further.

It will be crucial, when the choices as to where people go are made not by the individual but by the system, to attempt, even on a trial basis, to group appropriate people in appropriate places. The point is self-evident, but it will probably make the difference between a successful and an unsuccessful system. In addition to the length of time and size of the place, the third issue that will determine whether the measure works—I wish it well and we support the concept—is that of grouping people in the right place with the right categories of other people, so that they spend their time profitably in accommodation centres in the most compatible environment.

Mr. Malins: Surely the hon. Gentleman does not mean the majority of solicitors—he must mean the minority. He should declare the fact that he is a qualified barrister. Barristers normally protect solicitors, but that is a matter for another debate. We have had a full argument on the issue of time. I hope that in the intervening period the Under-Secretary will consider with her colleagues whether there is a possibility of coming back on Report with a time limit, even if it is couched in terms of exceptional circumstances. I share the feelings of the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey that these matters will be returned to. They are very

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important to many people and we hope that they will get a full airing in the other place.

Angela Eagle: I could hear the harrumphing around the Room when the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said something nasty about the Law Society. We always bear such things in mind, but if solicitors are giving legal advice and getting public money to do so they must be quality-marked in order to gain access to that money. If the hon. Gentleman has in mind complaints concerning particular firms that he wishes to draw to our attention, we will certainly consider the matter.

All the people placed in accommodation centres will be grouped in a sensible way. It is not our intention that the trials should fail—we will try to give them the best hope of success. There might be an underlying view that life for asylum seekers in accommodation centres will be much worse than under dispersal arrangements—hence the proposals for time limits to get people out quickly and the idea that they should not stay. However, if we get this right, asylum seekers might want to stay in accommodation centres to facilitate their asylum claims. We hope that the environment will be much more supportive, with many facilities on site, and that the communities that develop will be supportive rather than isolating, as happened with some dispersal accommodation. All that remains to be seen.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 15 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 16

Asylum-seeker: definition

Mr. Malins: I beg to move amendment No. 130, in page 9, line 39, leave out paragraph (c).

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to consider the following amendments: No. 131, in page 10, line 4, after '18', insert—

    'for whom he is the parent or guardian'.

No. 172, in page 10, line 5, at end insert—


    (c) it is not practicable for him to return to any other country.'.

Mr. Malins: I will be very brief on the amendments, which are drafting points.

Amendment No. 130 is designed to delete clause 16(1)(c), which states that a person is an asylum seeker if he is 18, a claim has been made and the Secretary of State has recorded it. The point is simple. In my view, the claim for asylum is made when it is made, not when it is recorded or filed away by the Home Office. Given the propensity of the Home Office not to act immediately on the making of an asylum claim it seems that a person is an asylum seeker if he is an 18-year-old and has made an asylum claim at a designated place. To say that he is not an asylum seeker until the Secretary of State has recorded the claim is to give the Secretary of State ages and ages to file the claim. After all, in most other matters in life, one becomes a claimant when one makes the claim;

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one does not have to wait until the claim has been recorded. It is a drafting point, and I hope that the Minister will deal with it by accepting the amendment.

Amendment No. 131 was suggested to me by a most respected NGO, the Immigration Advisory Service. It is an anti-trafficking and anti-child abuse proposal that is designed to ensure that minors not under social services supervision are kept only in the company and care of people who are genuinely responsible for their best interests.

My amendments are minor, and I hope that the Government will take them on board.

Simon Hughes: It is obvious that I support amendment No. 130. I hope that the Minister will accept it. She has said before that papers can get stuck in the post, and it is nonsense that an application should have to wait until it is recorded. There are rules for determining when a claim is made, and they need to be made even more specific.

I am sympathetic to amendment No. 131. The hon. Member for Woking is well motivated, and I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say.

Amendment No. 172 has its origin in the Immigration Law Practitioners Association. Sometimes, when asylum applications are been determined negatively, some categories of people—the Minister hinted at them earlier—are not able to leave the United Kingdom immediately. Perhaps things have changed in their country, and it is understandable that they cannot go back there. It is important to ensure that such people receive support; they should not suddenly be left destitute when, through no fault of theirs, they are unable to return or to be sent back where they come from—or even somewhere else.

I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department will respond positively. I am happy to work with her on the drafting if a different form of words is needed. I hope that the Government will accept the point.

Mrs. Gillan: I support amendments Nos. 130 and 131, not least because the latter is anti-trafficking and anti-child abuse. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will comment on that additional safeguard.

It seems to me that there has been a bit of sloppiness in the drafting of clause 16. Even if the Parliamentary Secretary is unable to accept amendment No. 130, I hope that she will consider inserting the word ''or'' after paragraph (b), and then adding, under paragraph (c), that the Secretary of State has recorded ''a'' claim; it would be an and/or provision which could also act as a vehicle for tidying up the drafting. One would hope that if the hon. Lady is unable to accept these perfectly reasonable amendments, she will come forward at a later stage with amendments to tidy up the drafting.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Ms Rosie Winterton): Perhaps it would help if I set out some background to the clause, which defines an asylum seeker for the purposes of deciding who may be placed in an accommodation centre. Such a person must be at least 18 years old and have made a

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claim under the refugee convention or article 3 of the European convention on human rights. That claim must have been recorded by the Secretary of State but not yet determined. A person whose household contains a dependent child under 18 will, unless that person is granted leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom, continue to be treated as an asylum seeker while he and the child remain in the UK. He will continue to be eligible to reside in an accommodation centre.

I hope that I can reassure hon. Members, given the points that they made. Amendments Nos. 130 and 131 affect the definition of an asylum seeker for the purposes of support in accommodation centres. Provisions on the recording of the claim have been included because we want to ensure more administrative certainty, to avoid confusion and disagreement about whether a claim has been made. They differ from previous provisions on the subject, because they state that the claim would be recorded

    ''at a place designated by the Secretary of State''.

The hon. Member for Woking asked about the relevant issue being whether the claim had been made or recorded. The recording is purely administrative, and there should be no delay in it. For example, there have been difficulties with postal applications, for which the recording has been subject to some dispute. One reason for the provisions is to clarify that. Confusion needs to be removed, as the recording is relevant to eligibility for support under part 2 of the Bill. It is important to have administrative certainty on when someone receives support in an accommodation centre. We must be clear that a claim has been recorded, so that eligibility for support is clear.

Mr. Malins: Yes, but what examples can the hon. Lady give of asylum applications having been made and there then being huge gaps before they are recorded or filed? My understanding is that there have been dozens or hundreds during the past year or two. What safeguard has the applicant to cope with that?

Ms Winterton: The main difficulty with applications that have been made, or that asylum seekers have said have been made, then being recorded has occurred in postal applications. Approximately 500 postal applications are made each month. Our aim, especially with regard to people supported in accommodation centres, is to ensure that all new applicants are screened when they make their application. That means that the recording—it can be a manual recording or an entry on a database—would be done extremely quickly. There should be no delay between the application being made and its being recorded. Because of the insertion that it must be made at a designated place, it should be done there and then. It would be done person-to-person, face-to-face. That means that we can be clear that a claim has been recorded, and the person will then be eligible for support.

10.30 am

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