Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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Mr. Allan: I am grateful for the Minister's polite and comprehensive response. It was sufficiently comprehensive to include reference to amendment No. 261, which I failed to discuss, as too many of my amendments are numbered in the 200s and I got confused. The Minister touched on the point that we were trying to raise about the transitional arrangements, which the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North mentioned earlier. Those arrangements continue to concern us, and I welcome the Minister's comment that they are a priority for successful claimants.

The Government are clearly giving serious consideration to resettlement. The support provided at that point is key to whether an individual integrates successfully. We discussed the citizenship test earlier. It is critical to provide support at the crucial point when individuals know that they will spend a significant part of the rest of their lives, if not the rest of their entire life, in the United Kingdom. I am grateful to the Minister for being a mind reader and responding on that point.

The clause was clarified as we hoped, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 37 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 38

Conditions of support

Mr. Allan: I beg to move amendment No. 216, in page 20, leave out lines 26 to 36.

The amendment would remove specific reference to the reporting arrangements and the conditions imposed on the individual receiving support. The intention is to test the Government's thinking on the restrictions under the Immigration Act 1971 that can be imposed on individuals when they are admitted temporarily, or on their release from detention on arrival, and to establish which thresholds the Government are considering. The reporting arrangements can include an individual's place of residence, their employment and their requirement to report.

Some breaches of those requirements will be serious, some will merit the consequential loss of support and others may be minor and technical. The amendment seeks to establish the Government's approach and the extent to which the regime will be absolute or reasonable; we hope that it will be the latter. Clearly, there will be technical breaches. For example, an individual may fail to report because of illness or for another good reason that may be explained later. We want to test the proposition that

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support will not be withdrawn unreasonably because of minor and technical breaches of conditions. Similarly, there will be a range of cases in which individuals will be subject to restrictions pending deportation. Individuals who are doing all they can to resist deportation may not report, and some may have complied but may have technically breached the restrictions.

We want to establish the link between support and restrictions in order to determine whether the Government are trying to introduce a reasonable regime that responds properly to individuals' circumstances, or are trying to withdraw support on technical grounds when withdrawal is not merited.

Mr. Malins: If an asylum seeker is to lose support because of a breach of a condition of residence, employment or reporting, I want the Minister's assurance that the criteria will be applied sensibly. I can draw a parallel with the court system. People often breach their bail conditions in a minor way and the court has the discretion to deal with the matter leniently. A serious breach would result in a much more difficult situation for the person who had broken the bail conditions. Can the Minister assure me that the Government will adopt a sensible approach, and that minor breaches will not be punished in the way envisaged?

Angela Eagle: I hope that I can give the hon. Gentlemen the assurances that they seek. It is not intended that the reporting conditions will be onerous or that they will be put into effect in an unreasonable manner. However, we want a better, more tightly managed process, and the clause provides the levers that we need for a rights and responsibilities reporting regime. Asylum seekers will be told from the beginning what is expected of them. They will be fully informed at the induction centres about the process, their part in it and their responsibilities.

Asylum seekers who report as instructed will have nothing to fear from our proposal to link the provision of support to compliance with the requirement to report, and their travel costs will be paid if they have to travel to a particular place in order to do so. If they fail to report as directed without reasonable cause, their support may be terminated. That is when the reasonableness test and the proportionate nature of the response applies. If someone has not reported for good reason—for example, if they or someone in their family has been ill—it would be ludicrous to visit extreme consequences upon them. That is not what the clause provides, as reasonableness issues are taken into account.

A more managed system, with regular reporting, will enable us to be in regular touch with those who seek asylum. The clause will clearly be more relevant to those who are not in accommodation centres. We want to keep asylum seekers informed, and we will expect from them a level of engagement with the process that has not been required to date.

Mr. Allan: The Minister encouragingly says that a reasonableness test will be applied when an individual has been told that their support will be withdraw because they have breached the conditions. Who will

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apply the reasonableness test? In real-life circumstances, an asylum seeker who has breached a condition and is told that their support will be withdrawn is likely to visit a legal adviser, such as the Refugee Legal Centre. If they want to challenge the decision, to whom will they be able to go?

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Angela Eagle: After the induction at the beginning of the process, asylum seekers will be in no doubt about how the system works and what is expected of them. It will be important to make those points clear at the beginning to everyone who goes through the process. If they behave in a certain way or do not co-operate in a minor way, that will be considered by people in the reporting centre, who will decide whether there should be any consequences. They will be either immigration or casework officers.

If individuals believe that an incident has been taken out of proportion, they will be able to query that, which will ensure that they are given a fair hearing. They will need to contact the reporting centre, and NASS will make any final decision to end the support, which is what happens now. I imagine that support will be ended only in the most drastic circumstances when people are completely failing to comply with conditions of support. We hope that the clause will create a more married system, so that it will be a requirement on individuals and in their interests to keep in regular touch with NASS.

Individuals will have a right of appeal to the asylum support adjudicator if they disagree with a final decision. I hope that the system will work supportively, as we intend the contact to support the asylum seeker as well as the system itself. It will enable face-to-face contact, an update on what is happening with the claim and a range of activities to take place as a matter of course, which is not the case at the moment.

Mr. Allan: That is helpful clarification, particularly on the question of challenges. I hope that they will not be needed, but an individual may want to challenge a decision because they feel that the reporting officer had a problem with them as an individual. There must always be a route for challenge when an individual's livelihood is seriously threatened. A total withdrawal of support would be significant to the individual, so I am pleased that there is some route to the asylum support adjudicator for a challenge.

Angela Eagle: I should also point out that support would be removed only if a serious breach had occurred and evidence showed that individuals were not complying with what was expected of them in an asylum claim. We must get the problem in perspective. The hon. Gentleman is using the most drastic example, and it is not appropriate for Government money to be spent processing an asylum claim if the individual is not remotely interested in making progress with it.

Mr. Allan: Again, that is a helpful clarification from the Minister, which I accept entirely. We wanted clarification of the regime, and she has helpfully described for the record what sounds like a sensible system.

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I should like to raise a couple of other issues on this clause separately from the amendment, which I shall not press. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Allan: Another important question concerns the extent to which there will be any link between a breach of the conditions that requires some loss of support and the asylum claim. This is a fundamental question that will be of interest to individuals. The White Paper stated clearly that breaches of conditions for receiving support may affect the credibility of an asylum seeker. I can foresee circumstances in which that would be appropriate if the individual behaved in a way that undermined their credibility, and it would be fair and appropriate for that to be reported to those who decide the asylum claim.

However, I can foresee other circumstances in which the interpretation of excusable technical breaches, which NASS has decided are not a serious problem, is not appropriately communicated to the asylum decision makers. They may see those technical breaches described on a piece of paper, believe that an applicant's credibility has been undermined, and take an adverse decision. That would clearly have a significant impact on individual asylum seekers.

How does the Minister envisage these arrangements tying in with asylum decision-making arrangements? Can she give an assurance that individuals who have not seriously breached their conditions will not have their credibility inappropriately undermined?

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