Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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Mr. Gwyn Prosser (Dover): Is not the legal support at Oakington present there without any legal force and without statutory need? We have an induction centre in Dover that receives an enormous amount of support without anything appearing in any Bill.

Mr. Malins: There are many places where legal advice is present without its being in a Bill. Talking of the induction centre at Dover, following the announcement that it was up and running I rang the Home Office and asked whether I could visit it. The answer was that it did not quite exist as a place; it was a function. I asked whether I could visit it anyway, given that the Government said that it was up and running, only to be told that it could not be visited because it was not a place. The hon. Gentleman will know much more about his constituency than I do, but that is what I was told.

Mr. Prosser: If the hon. Gentleman comes to Dover as soon as possible, I shall take him round the induction centre and the accommodation centre that supports it.Mr. Malins: The hon. Gentleman, who has a fine reputation for his work in the field, has offered me an invitation that I take up gladly. I hope that we shall enjoy a good and successful visit as soon as possible. [Interruption.] I hear next Tuesday being suggested; I cannot think of a better day to do it.

Mike Gapes (Ilford, South): Take the whole Committee with you.

Mr. Malins: What a useful thing to do. I do not want to stray from the debate, but I say in all seriousness that we would do our jobs a lot better if we spent a bit less time jaw-jawing in Committee and more time on site seeing what is going on in the real world. According to my Whip, I have said enough. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 107, in page 12, line 25, at end insert

    'or in connection with a claim for asylum'.

No. 108, in page 12, leave out line 30 and insert—

    '() facilities relating to health;'.

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No. 109, in page 12, line 31, at end insert—

    '( ) anything which the Secretary of State thinks ought to be provided for the purpose of providing a resident with proper occupation and for the purpose of maintaining good order;'.—[Angela Eagle.]

Amendment proposed: No. 143, in page 12, line 33, at end insert—

    '(j) independent legal advice and representation, funded by the Legal Services Commission or by the Secretary of State.'.—[Mr. Malins.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 11.

Division No. 5]

AYES
Barker. Mr. Gregory Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl Hughes, Simon
Malins, Mr. Humfrey Watkinson, Angela

NOES
Buck, Ms Karen Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit Eagle, Angela Gapes, Mike Gerrard, Mr. Neil Lammy, Mr. David
Lazarowicz, Mr. Mark McGuire, Mrs. Anne Prosser, Mr. Gwyn Rooney, Mr. Terry Winterton, Ms Rosie

Question accordingly negatived.

5.45 pm

Mr. Malins: I beg to move amendment No. 146, in page 12, line 41, at end add—

    '(4) The Secretary of State shall ensure the presence at accommodation centres of adjudicators to enable appeals to adjudicators to be heard at accommodation centres.'.

I shall speak briefly to the amendment, which deals with a matter of great importance to which we hope to return in due course. When I went to Oakington to discuss the process there with the powers that be, I learned that the initial decision was made in a day or so and was then communicated to the applicant. I learned that there was no adjudicator on site to hear an appeal. I thought then and think now that if one is trying to create a one-stop shop—a premises on which the whole process can take place efficiently, speedily and humanely—it is essential to have every relevant person on site.

To give a parallel from the field of criminal justice, often when an appeal is made against a magistrates court's decision, the court of appeal for the magistrates court—namely, the Crown Court—is in the same complex. That means that the appeal can be listed and heard at a much faster rate than would otherwise be possible.

What happens at Oakington and what lessons should we draw from it? Those who run Oakington told me that once the initial decision is made, a certain percentage are granted asylum straight away. However, those who are refused asylum will appeal. Within eight days of their arrival at Oakington a decision has to be made about them. Those in charge of Oakington think that a small percentage of people are at risk of absconding. Some of them are sent to what we shall call detention centres and are held in custody while their appeals are pending, but the vast majority are dispersed round the country pending the hearing of their appeals. I am sorry to say that a great percentage of that group go to ground and are never traced again. That is the reality.

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Picture the scene for those who do not abscond. They leave Oakington and can go anywhere, to a number of dispersal areas. They are at the whim of their legal advice, which may or may not still be located at Oakington, although it probably is not. They might start taking legal advice in the area to which they go, but that might be 50 or 100 miles from the adjudicator's court that is to hear the appeal.

Those who run Oakington say that to make their system efficient and sensible, it would be in the interests of everybody concerned to have the adjudicator hear the appeal on site. The applicant makes his application for asylum and it is granted—terrific. He is given refugee status and goes into the community. If the applicant is refused, however, he appeals. The legal adviser on site then says, ''I am here to help you with the appeal.'' The appeal will be heard by the adjudicator and is listed for the following month. There is a directions hearing before the adjudicator, probably within a few days of the initial refusal. The adjudicator is literally around the corner, and the legal adviser is with the applicant at the accommodation centre. No force is involved, no one is locked in an accommodation centre, but everything is there.

The adjudicator could ask whether the appeal was ready for hearing, and the applicant's lawyer might say, ''No. We need to take more evidence.'' The adjudicator could say, ''Very well. We'll have a short adjournment to allow that to happen.'' He might be inclined to grant a reasonable period—no adjudicator can act unreasonably. The point is that if the adjudicator is on site, the speed that the Minister seeks is possible. Equally, if the adjudicator is tens or hundreds of miles away—the precise distance matters not—the link between the applicant and the appeal system is severed by distance, post and perhaps the difficulties of getting local legal advice in the adjudicator's area. How much more sensible it would be to have the adjudicator on site. How much more it would be in the interests of the applicant to have a proper one-stop shop.

Opposition Members believe that for the last two, three, four or even five years, the Government have been in charge of a system that simply has not worked, a system that is neither efficient nor sensible. We want to insert into the clause a requirement that the adjudicator—the appeal court from the initial determination—be on site to hear the appeal in specially designated courts with his or her own staff.

Mr. Lazarowicz: Unless the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that, in the appeal to the adjudicator, the asylum seeker be restricted in his or her choice of legal advice and representation to what is provided on site, the consequence of his proposal would be that scores of solicitors and other legal advisers would commute to accommodation centres to appear before the adjudicator. How would that lead to efficiency? Would additional costs to the public purse not outweigh any advantage of requiring adjudicators to be on site?

Mr. Malins: Advisers will surely commute long distances to the centres if, as the Government propose, the centres are in rural areas miles from anywhere. If

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the Government listened to us, however, the centres would be much nearer to urban areas. In any case, the reality is that the legal advice given by the bodies at Oakington, for example, is of very high calibre. Their people are experts in the field and entirely independent. However, no one in an accommodation centre will be obliged to use such advice, because there will be freedom of movement.

If the centres were placed near towns and other urban areas—places that, to be blunt, the applicant would find much more congenial in terms of services provided—we would not have the problem to which the hon. Gentleman has alluded. The problem begins when the appeal of an appellant who is resident in a remote accommodation centre is heard miles away, perhaps as much as 100 miles away—who knows how far it might be? If the requirement that we suggest were not included in the Bill, the travelling to that venue that would be involved for the appellant would make the provision a nonsense.

Our proposal is a good idea. I do not know why the Minister is against it. Opposition Members feel strongly about this issue, and I look forward to hearing the Minister's response.

Angela Eagle: Asylum appeals adjudicators and hearing centres are the responsibility of the Lord Chancellor, but he has agreed in principle to co-locate adjudicator hearing centres with accommodation centres where that is sensible. It is important to ensure a good geographic spread of hearing centres that are accessible to all those who are appealing, because we are working with the dispersal system as well as the trials of accommodation centres. The Home Office will work with the Lord Chancellor's Department to achieve that. At least initially, we are likely to use existing centres, but ultimately we agree that co-location is desirable.

There may be one caveat: if a suitable hearing centre is within reasonable travelling time of an accommodation centre, it may not be sensible to move it completely to the accommodation centre. However, we are certainly interested in the efficiencies that can be gained by using the Oakington process in so far as it is relevant to non-detainees. We are also considering caseworker interviews being carried out in the centre at an earlier stage of the process and a range of similar measures.

We do not want an absolute requirement in the Bill that all hearings be co-located with the centre, but we are interested in considering what we can do to strip down the process and make it more efficient by having services visiting the accommodation centre, rather than individuals moving out to access services. The Bill does, however, create a power to pay travel expenses, at least in the interim, for individuals who may have to travel out. That is partly about trialling the system.

I can assure the hon. Member for Woking that we are extremely interested in the efficiencies that can be gained by the kind of approach that he outlined. The Lord Chancellor has agreed in principle that co-location of adjudicator hearing centres would be

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sensible if we were to proceed with more accommodation centres. I hope that, with the exposure of that thinking, the hon. Gentleman will not press the amendment.

 
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