Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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Simon Hughes: Responding to the Minister, I shall work backwards up the list. In relation to the pocket money amendments, I think that she accepts the

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principle, but she neglected to deal with whether the responsibility should be central or delegated. I shall return to that matter in a moment, before the hon. Member for Woking speaks. As she seems to accept the principle of the 10 per cent. income support level, it would be helpful if the Government would come to a firm decision on that before the next stage of the Bill.

I am not convinced that Government amendment No. 109 exactly covers the leisure and play proposal, but my amendment was only a probing amendment. The amendment seems simply to allow the Government to decide nearer the time what might be appropriate, but is a bit opaque and difficult to read in advance, so it does have a weakness.

The substantive points made under the group of amendments related to the contents of the list and the ''may'' and ''shall'' debate. With regard to the contents of the list, the Government's arguments remain problematic in several respects. First, the reason why accommodation centres have a list at all—even if trialled—when people in dispersal do not, is because those who go into accommodation centres will be made to do so. They will not have a choice about that. It is my understanding that the state, having told those people where they must go, must make proposals through Parliament about the facilities for those people. That being the case, whatever we collectively agree is necessary should be in the list. The Minister is right to say that that is different from the set of 17, six or five criteria on the list for dispersal. By definition, and with the best will in the world, it may be impossible to tack all the criteria on to dispersal, given all the places to which people are dispersed. The logic is different.

5.30 pm

I should mention that we were grateful for the explanation of why the criteria are listed in and out of italics. I have seen that format in other Bills. I must have been given an explanation before and subliminally remembered it, but had actually forgotten it. If all the criteria listed are meant to be provided by the Government, there is no harm—indeed, there is benefit—in their being listed.

In parenthesis, I accept the Minister's response about what education and training should be provided. The knowledge that English language and IT will be provided, and that other things may be, seems a good starting point. I do not want to dispute that with her.

I shall move on to the question of ''shall'' or ''may'' in relation to legal services. I understand the Minister's point about facilities being available for the Government to fund and provide legal services. I do not predict how the hon. Member for Woking will respond, but I think that it will seem to him as well as me that anyone who wants to know about interpretation, legal advice and assistance should be able to find them in the legislation in the same list as all the other criteria. Also, they must be guaranteed to the same level.

I understand that a different Department may be primarily responsible, as legal services are the responsibility of the Lord Chancellor's Department,

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not of the Home Office. However, I ask the Minister to reflect on my point. The inclusion of those criteria is important for us, as it would guarantee the certainty of legal representation and the asylum claim being properly considered. That is the big issue on which all the others depend.

Mr. Gerrard: Would the hon. Gentleman like to think about the level at which decisions might be taken on whether provision should be made in a specific centre? Are we to expect that to be done at the top of the Legal Services Commission, or on a more regional basis? I would feel more reassured if I knew that it would be done centrally.

Simon Hughes: That is a good point. I will not repeat it, but I endorse it. There must be common standards for the small number of places trialled around the country. We would all want that to be assured, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman's point is picked up.

Although the Minister dealt with other arguments, she did not tackle the fact that we all know the difference between saying that the Secretary of State ''may'' or ''shall'' do something. If one says ''may'' and the service is not provided, there is no legal remedy. If one says ''shall'', there is a legal remedy. The Government should say that they will provide basic requirements for anyone in the country, especially those whose asylum cases are being processed. The wording should therefore use ''shall'', and there should be consequential legal remedy if those requirements are not provided.

That might change the nature of the list, but the list should reflect what is needed. I hope that Ministers think about that, but my colleagues and I, the hon. Member for Woking and his colleagues, and some Back Benchers from the Labour party and other parties may want to push the Government further on it, either today or downstairs sometime. I hope that we can make progress. As in all things, the quicker we reach agreement, the fewer debates we shall need to have on the same subject on later stages of the Bill.

Mr. Malins: I must say that I am disappointed by the Minister's response. I am not alone: to judge from their faces, several of her colleagues are disappointed as well, but perhaps I misjudge them.

To return to the question that I put to the Minister, we were talking about legal advice and the fact that the Government were shortly to announce that they proposed to make a planning application in relation to the land at Bicester. I asked the Minister specifically whether she or any of her colleagues could enlighten us about that, and whether she or they had any knowledge of such an announcement about such a site. I asked whether she could respond. She has not responded.

The Minister will understand that if an announcement is made during the next week or two, while the Bill is in Committee or in the other place, many of us would regard it as an affront to the parliamentary system. The Government should not proceed without full consultation while the debate is still in full flow. We shall have to wait and see. Perhaps the Minister is silent because there is nothing—repeat,

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nothing—she can tell us because she simply does not know. That is the fairest explanation. I cannot think that, knowing something, she would remain firmly seated and fail to tell us. She has remained so seated—until now. I give way to the hon. Lady.

Angela Eagle: The hon. Gentleman knows full well that I made a statement a while ago that an announcement would be made shortly about a move to proceed to make planning applications in some of the areas mentioned in the list. There will be no move to build accommodation centres ahead of Royal Assent to the Bill, and he knows very well why that is the case. We expect to make an announcement on moves to proceed toward making planning applications; it is only the beginning of the process.

Mr. Malins: I have never heard anything like that in my life—the Minister will not tell us. That is an insult to us all, because we are debating the location of accommodation centres, we debated their size earlier, and more debates are to come in the other place, and on Report and Third Reading. If our understanding that the Government are going to make an application in respect of some of those sites is correct, it suggests that they have made up their mind. I specifically asked, as an example, if the site at Bicester, which is very rural, would be among them and thus relevant to the clause, but the Minister clearly does not know. If she did know, she would say so. I leave it at that.

I said that I was disappointed about that, but I am disappointed also that the Minister is not willing to include in the Bill the sensible provision that independent legal advice and representation should be provided and funded by the Legal Services Commission or the Secretary of State. All hon. Members should make a visit to the Oakington centre, because it is well run: there are 54 case workers from the Refugee Legal Centre on site, and another 54 from the Immigration Advisory Service. One goes as an asylum applicant to Oakington, and what happens next? As I understand it, one is immediately—within a day—advised by competent legal advisers. A high and consistent standard of advice is a good thing, which rather suggests that the RLC and the IAS should be present at all such centres, because that would result in a consistently high quality of advice. Advice pursuant to the Legal Services Commission might not be as consistent; that point was made earlier.

Oakington works well at least in part because advice is given on the spot. The Minister's reasoning for not including that provision in the Bill worries us, as legal advice is often much more important than many of the other facilities that are provided under the Bill. Indeed, it is almost the most important service, and the Minister's reason for not including it in the Bill worries us, especially as she insists on keeping in the Bill the provision that it ''may'' be provided rather than that it ''shall'' be provided. I feel strongly that such advice should be available.

As I understand it, the Government, through the Home Office, fund the Immigration Advisory Service. As for the Minister's concern about the fact that the

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Government pay those who provide the advice so that there is some sensitivity and difficulty about independence and conflict of interest, that is complete nonsense; it has not been raised in years. The IAS, like other bodies, operates entirely independently, so the Minister's point is spurious. As for the Legal Services Commission, I understand that it does not have to provide legal services; it will be up to the whim of the local regional manager, so there is no guarantee of legal services from that source.

Why will the Minister not have the provision in the Bill? I believe that many Committee members share my view. We are disappointed that a wide range of sensible amendments is being batted back to us by the Government without being taken on board or even taken away for serious consideration. Although the Minister was very unkind about non-governmental organisations a day or two ago, they are united in their view that the provision on independent legal advice and representation should be in the Bill.

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