Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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Angela Eagle: The amendments cover the whole range of provision in accommodation centres. I hope that Opposition Members will work from the premise that we have taken powers to provide what we need to fund. The list in subsection (1) includes provisions that the Home Office will be funding, and needs to take statutory powers to fund. It does not include those provisions for which a statutory power to fund already exists in other legislation. That is the explanation for the non-appearance of legal services in that list. There is no doubt whatever that legal services will be freely available in accommodation centres as required. In the trials, we would certainly want to develop co-located services or access to services, so that visitors would come to the accommodation centre to provide services, rather than individuals leaving the centres to get legal services.

We do not need to include legal services in the list, because the vast bulk of them are funded not by the Home Office, but by the Legal Services Commission, which already has the power to do so. There is no intention that commission funding should not apply to accommodation centres, as it already applies to other measures. That explains why legal services are not in the list.

Mr. Malins: Does the Home Office fund the Immigration Advisory Service?

5.15 pm

Angela Eagle: Yes, but there are moves to shift the funding of such organisations away from the Home Office to the Lord Chancellor's Department to ensure that there is no perceived conflict of interest in the Home Office running a system and funding legal advice to the people in it.

Mr. Malins: Like Oakington.

Angela Eagle: Well, there are people who believe that Home Office funding for such things is odd, and raises issues of independence and potential conflicts of interest.

Under section 81 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, the Home Office grants funds to the Refugee Legal Centre and the Immigration Advisory Service. Clause 87 provides an equivalent power as regards those with a right of appeal under part 5, subject to geographical constraints. It would certainly be open to accommodation centre residents who are appellants to access advice, and we intend to provide it. Legal advice is not in the list simply because it will be funded not by the Home Office but by the Legal Services Commission, which comes under the Lord Chancellor's Department. The list deals with those

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services over which we will have to take explicit new powers in primary legislation if we are to fund them; it is not an exhaustive list of what we intend to provide in accommodation centres.

Mr. Malins: Is the Minister saying that legal services are not in the list because the Home Office will not provide the funding? If so, what does she say to the point that the Home Office funds the Immigration Advisory Service, which is present at Oakington? Will it not be present and funded at accommodation centres?

Angela Eagle: Clause 25 refers to what will be done at accommodation centres, not to the rest of the system, which is regulated by the 1999 Act. I have just mentioned the provision in the Act that gives the Home Office the right to fund the Refugee Legal Service and any other services at Oakington.

Clause 25 refers to a new creation—accommodation centres. We intend that such centres will have legal advice providers and that the Legal Services Commission will provide and pay for that advice. Legal advice was omitted from the list because it will be funded by the commission, not the Home Office—that is the innocent explanation. The list deals with the new powers that we want to take to fund new provisions, and accommodation centres will be new. The Government do not intend to leave people in such centres, which may be in semi-rural areas, starved of access to legal advice—that is simply not on our radar.

Simon Hughes: I completely understand the Minister's argument, but the drafting is still flawed in two respects. The clause states:

    ''The Secretary of State may arrange for the following to be provided to a resident''.

It therefore facilitates the provision of the service, but also indirectly gives residents an entitlement. If arranging and providing services that are not Home Office obligations is to be a Government obligation, there must presumably be a statutory provision somewhere, even if that affects another Department. I understand that.

My question, in passing, because I am ignorant about such things, is why are three sections in italics, but not the rest?

Angela Eagle: On the italics point, I have absolutely no idea. On the other question, there are general powers that allow us to provide services as and when they are useful to everyone concerned. That brings me to another of the hon. Gentleman's worries—interpreters. We do not specifically allow for the funding of interpreters in any part of the system, but we have sufficient statutory cover to do that, and we believe that it assists the process for all concerned, although it is not referred to in the Bill. Just because something is not listed in the Bill does not mean that it is not provided. Interpretation services are a prime example of that.

The answer to the question from the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey about italics is that sections in italics need money resolutions. I now want to deal with this large group of amendments as

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quickly as possible to facilitate the Committee's progress.

Amendment No. 142 would place a duty on us to provide all the facilities listed in clause 25 to residents of accommodation centres, but there is no equivalent duty to provide such services to those who are in dispersal accommodation and in accommodation under the 1999 Act. That would be slightly odd. We are committed to supporting destitute asylum seekers and to providing an appropriate range of services to residents of accommodation centres. We have powers to provide basic living needs and a small cash allowance, education for children on site, primary health care, purposeful activities for adults, including English language training, facilities for religious observance, interpretation facilities, assistance with the initial journey to the centre, travel to appeal hearings and asylum interviews and access to legal advice. All those things will be provided, but as Opposition Members will see, not all of them is included in the list.

Government amendment No. 107 is necessary to make it clear that the Secretary of State may fund transport to asylum interviews at which the person's presence has been requested by the immigration and nationality department. Without the amendment, clause 25(1)(c) may have only enabled the Secretary of State to fund travel to appeal hearings or other proceedings mentioned specifically in the 1999 Act. The amendment will allow us to fund other necessary trips that are not related to formal hearings. I hope that hon. Members will see that that is a beneficial change.

Amendment No. 184 is unnecessary because the powers in clause 25 are sufficiently wide to enable us to provide the items that it suggests, and more. We intend to offer asylum seekers access to training in English language and IT skills, because they are transferable skills, which will be useful here or back in the asylum seeker's country of origin, if their claim fails. It is right that asylum seekers should use their time in the United Kingdom productively. However, we do not want to be constrained by that list. As this is a trial, it may become obvious that we could also do other things, and the powers in clause 25 will allow us wider discretion than the amendment would. We shall work with the Department for Education and Skills and the Learning and Skills Council on offering training in English to speakers of other languages and other training provision in accommodation centres. As we are fairly close, at least in spirit, on that issue, I hope that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey will not press that amendment.

I hope that Government amendment No. 108 will alleviate the problems that the hon. Member for Woking has with the provision, which caused him to table amendment No. 144. The hon. Gentleman referred to psychiatric health issues. Amendment No. 108 widens the scope of the provision from purely medical facilities to health facilities. The Oxford English Dictionary defines medical as pertaining to the science or practice of medicine in general or

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pertaining to medicine as opposed to surgery. That was not quite what we had in mind, whereas health is defined much more widely and could include psychiatric difficulties. In view of that, we consider that ''facilities relating to health'' will better reflect the health care that we want to be able to provide in accommodation centres. With that assurance, I hope that amendment No. 144 will not be pressed.

I dealt with the hon. Gentleman's views on legal advice. The other issue that he raised was whether we should use ''shall'' rather than ''may.'' We are using ''may'', not because we want to wriggle out of providing the items in the list as provisions in accommodation centres, but because we are conducting a trial and may want to add other things. ''Shall'' is too limiting at the trial stage, but we have no intention of wriggling out of the list and providing an accommodation centre with beds and no other facilities. That would make no sense.

As for amendment No. 145, the hon. Member for Woking wants to create an explicit power to provide interpretation. The Home Office routinely provides interpretation, even though it is not explicitly mentioned in statue that we have that direct power to do so. Clearly, the provision of interpretation enables us to conduct our day-to-day business more effectively, including the functions under the immigration legislation. We considered whether we needed to take an express power to provide interpreters, but concluded that it was unnecessary. Its absence from the list does not mean that we do not intend to provide it.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey tabled amendment No. 183, wanting to provide leisure facilities. I hope that he will consider Government amendment No. 109, which enables us to provide leisure and recreational facilities in so far as they are necessary to provide proper occupation and maintain good order. That is a wide enabling power, which allows us to provide wider services than the explicit ones mentioned in his amendment. I hope that he agrees that there is no particular difference between our provisions and will not press his amendment to a Division.

With regard to amendments Nos. 185 and 180 and the 10 per cent. of income support that the hon. Gentleman proposes, we have not decided exactly how large to make the cash allowance. We are thinking about a range of £5 to £14, but no final decisions have been made. That is a similar range to the one that the 10 per cent. of income support would provide. I would not want to be committed to a percentage of income support, but the hon. Gentleman may be reassured by the range that I have given. Government amendment No. 115 corrects a misprint, and we do not need to be detained by it.

Given all those reassurances, I hope that the hon. Member for Woking will withdraw the amendment and that hon. Members will support the Government amendments.

 
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