Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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Simon Hughes: I am certainly reassured by the Minister. We shall take advice on the implications of what she said, but I hope that she is right and that further reassurances are not required. There are legal remedies outwith the Act that can be exercised.

Mr. Malins: In view of what the Minister said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Ms Winterton: I beg to move amendment No. 110, in page 13, line 29, leave out 'or 95' and insert ', 95 or 98'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 124.

Ms Winterton: Amendment No. 110 ensures that clause 26(8) refers to all the powers under which asylum support may be provided, and corrects a small omission in the Bill. Subsection (8) already refers to support provided under clauses 15 and 24 and section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. For completeness, this minor amendment makes it explicit that clause 26(8) also applies to section 98 of the 1999 Act. Amendment 124 does the equivalent to clause 39.

Section 98 of the 1999 Act is used to provide temporary support and emergency accommodation while NASS is considering whether someone is destitute and entitled to asylum support under section 95 of the 1999 Act. Amendment No. 110 is necessary to clarify that, when deciding whether to provide support or assistance under section 98 of the 1999 Act, the Secretary of State may take into account the fact that the person or his dependant has breached a condition of support under the clause. If someone has been supported in an accommodation centre and has either breached a condition of support and has been required to leave the centre or has left of his own volition but subsequently re-presents himself for support, the Secretary of State may take account of his previous behaviour in deciding whether to reinstate support. The amendment and the clause are intended to prevent abuse of the asylum support system because asylum seekers might seek to thwart dispersal to an accommodation centre by leaving the centre and re-presenting themselves at emergency accommodation, perhaps in London, in the hope that they might be permitted to stay there or will be allocated to NASS accommodation, which they might perceive to be preferable.

6.30 pm

As many hon. Members will know, moving people out of emergency accommodation in London was a particular problem in the early days of the National Asylum Support Service. Clause 26(8), as amended, will enable the Secretary of State to say, ''You have been offered support in an accommodation centre. You have decided to leave that centre. You have breached residence conditions or you have absconded. Therefore I have no obligation to provide you with support in another place.''

That principle is backed up by clause 39. Government amendment No. 124 does for clause 39(2) what Government amendment No. 110 does for clause 26. Clause 39 will give the Secretary of State

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discretion on the legislation—part VI of the 1999 Act or the Bill—under which he chooses to support an applicant, which will reinforce the policy of support. Government amendment No. 124 makes it clear that the Secretary of State may refuse to provide support under section 98 of the 1999 Act on the basis that support is already being provided or offered under clause 15, clause 22 or section 95 of the 1999 Act.

The Government amendments also provide for the reverse case. The Secretary of State may refuse to provide support under clause 15, clause 22 or section 95 of the 1999 Act if support is being offered under section 98. Government amendment No. 124 means that if an applicant is offered temporary support in an accommodation centre under clause 22 while the Secretary of State considers whether they are entitled to support under section 15 or section 95, they would have to take that support. They could not insist on receiving temporary support under section 98 emergency accommodation.

As with Government amendment No. 110, the situation that is most likely to arise would be a person deciding to leave an accommodation centre of their own volition and re-presenting themselves for section 98 emergency accommodation in London because they perceive that that is preferable. Amendment No. 124 enables the Secretary of State to refuse to support them in those circumstances. I hope that that explains the relatively minor Government amendments.

Simon Hughes: I have just a couple of short observations and a question for the Minister.

First, I take my share of responsibility for not flagging this issue up at the beginning of the process. The Minister's perfectly proper retelling of the advice that Ministers have received about the details of the Bill reminds me that, when we consider legislation such as this, it is important that we see a draft Bill and use Special Standing Committee procedure to allow us to take advice on the more technical matters on which, to be honest, we are not expert. I hope that we do that for the rest of this Session and in the next Session. [Interruption.] Everyone looks at their pager to be told that a vote is coming up in 15 minutes or that the vote is off. A pager vibration with nothing worth reading creates unfulfilled expectations.

There should be a system that provides ministerial and civil service increments or reductions in salary depending on the number of amendments introduced by the Government during the passage of Bills.

Mike Gapes: Does that apply to the Opposition as well?

Simon Hughes: Absolutely not, but it should apply to Government. Bills are the Government's babies, and if they cannot produce them in a slightly more planned manner, there is something wrong with the conception process at the heart of Government. I shall stop the analogy there.

There is a real issue, and we have not done too badly so far, although the big blast is to come. Ministers will appreciate that it is helpful to have explanatory notes and notes on clauses when Government amendments or new clauses are tabled

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late. Can we have them for next week's amendments? It would make life much easier, and it saves Ministers and us time. It also prevents people from tabling amendments that would not be necessary if the full import of the Bill were understood.

Somebody could be allocated to an accommodation centre because in the initial interview they said that they did not have anywhere to stay, but later someone could come up with an offer for them to stay with family friends or a person nearby, thereby releasing an accommodation centre place. I wonder whether it would be possible under the provisions for people to say, ''Thank you very much. I'd like to stay with my cousin who I've discovered is only 50 miles down the road.'' Can they do that without prejudicing their other interests while they are having their applications considered?

Ms Winterton: Yes. The accommodation is for people considered to be destitute, so the situation would change.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 124, in page 13, line 29, leave out 'or 95' and insert ', 95 or 98'—[Ms Winterton.]

Simon Hughes: I beg to move amendment No. 189, in page 13, line 32, at end insert—

    '(8A) A resident shall not be deemed to have breached a condition imposed under this section unless a written warning has been issued in relation to a previous relevant and separate incident.'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 150, in page 13, line 34, at end add—

    '(10) A person who is given notice under subsections (4) (5) or (6) may appeal against that decision.'.

Simon Hughes: The lead amendment is ours, and the other is a joint Liberal Democrat and Conservative amendment.

On the day that England selected its world cup squad—we hope that it does better than it has done in recent years, and wins—the lead amendment provides football-type procedures, which are based on good practice, to deal with people who breach their conditions. Football has yellow and red cards, which is not accidental. It is thought that first warnings should not result in a person being taken off the pitch unless the most serious of offences has taken place. We would like a yellow and red card system for breaches of conditions. In the league of amendments, No. 189 has two or three stars, but certainly not five stars. However, it has more than one star, which the previous amendments would have been given. We want such a system so that a resident

    ''shall not be deemed to have breached a condition imposed under this section unless a written warning has been issued in relation to a previous relevant and separate incident.''

We could have a three-phase operation: a verbal warning, a written warning and a recorded breach.

However reasonable people might be, less serious offences should not trigger what is technically a breach. Amendment No. 150 would require that a person who is given a notice stating that they have breached conditions under subsections (4), (5) or (6)

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has the right to appeal. There should be a provision for appeal because there may have been misunderstandings, or facts may have been incorrectly communicated.

Mr. Malins: My amendment merely flags up the issue of appeal. I look forward to the Minister's response.

Angela Eagle: We heard an interesting football analogy from the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. However, a referee can use a red card straight away depending on the seriousness of the offence. He does not always have to issue written warning to the Vinny Joneses of this world. We intend something similar here. There may be an argument for written warnings for more minor offences, but we want to retain the right to punish somebody for breach, if it is sufficiently serious, whether it is a first offence or not. I am thinking of violence towards other inmates or other such behaviour.

With that caveat, we accept that the enforcement of the house rules and discipline in accommodation centres must be reasonable, and it will be. All asylum seekers must be clear that if they breach their conditions of residence, their support could be withdrawn, if it was reasonable to do so. The reasonableness revolves around the seriousness of the breach. We intend to make the house rules clear to an asylum seeker arriving in an accommodation centre and to explain the consequences of a breach openly at the beginning, so that nobody can claim that they did not know what the rules were before they breached them, but we do not want excessive reactions to more minor breaches. I hope that we can agree that red cards should be available immediately in the case of a serious breach.

Amendment No. 150 is unnecessary, although I understand the Opposition's concern to ensure that asylum seekers have a right of appeal against any decision to withdraw support by being required to leave a centre. Clause 41, which inserts a new section 103 into the 1999 Act, gives a right of appeal to the asylum support adjudicator against any decision to stop providing support under clause 15 or section 95 of the 1999 Act, or both. There are exceptions. If a person ceases to be an asylum seeker or the dependant of an asylum seeker, support may be withdrawn without a right of appeal, but for behavioural breaches that right is contained in clause 41.

I hope that, with that reassurance, the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

 
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