Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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Angela Eagle: I am afraid that I shall have to disappoint the hon. Gentleman again: the Government are happy with the word ''may'' as opposed to ''must''. Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have recognised the importance of administrative issues in making progress with the asylum process most effectively. That does not mean that we shall ignore the individual needs of those who are in the system, but it is important to be able to take administrative and other considerations into account. Personal circumstances ''may'' be relevant in some cases, but it should not be a case of ''must''.

As the White Paper said, one way in which we are thinking of allocating places in trial accommodation centres is by port of entry, induction centre or language background. It could be argued that that would be for administrative ease. However, if the amendments were accepted and we always had to take all personal circumstances into account, we could be prevented from allocating people to the centres in the most effective way, both administratively and practically.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary would not do anything crass. That is why the word ''may'' is used instead of ''must''. Otherwise, we might be presented with a range of personal circumstances that we had to take into account, but that we could not cater for. In such decisions, there must always be a balance between practicality and the needs and desires of individuals. Somehow we have to marry those up in a way that provides a coherent system and, we hope, faster and more efficient outcomes. Those are important challenges as it is, and using the word ''must'' might make them more difficult.

Mr. Allan: Naturally, I trust the current Home Secretary—with whom I share a city—not to do anything crass, but Opposition Members are always mindful of potential future Home Secretaries.

Angela Eagle: It might be Simon Hughes.

Mr. Allan: I rest my case. [Laughter.]

I hoped that the Minister would accept the need to tighten the legislation with regard to possible future Home Secretaries, but at this stage I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 39, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 40 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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Clause 41


appeal against refusal to support

Mr. Allan: I beg to move amendment No. 221, in page 22, line 15, after 'appellant', insert

    'or witness expenses incurred by a witness'.

The clause deals with the appeal that an individual may make against the refusal to support. Under previous clauses, we have discussed the importance of support, and the Government have rightly provided for an appeal system. We seek to enable the asylum support adjudicator, who considers the appeal against the final refusal of housing and support, to pay witness expenses, as is the custom in other courts and tribunals. That may be the Government's intention anyway, but it is not stated in the Bill, and we felt that it would be helpful to tease that out.

As we move towards the greater use of accommodation centres, one can imagine circumstances in which support might be withdrawn from individuals because of incidents that had occurred in them. In those circumstances, people would naturally wish to call witnesses to the incident. Given that those witnesses may be other asylum seekers who also have very limited means, not paying their expenses could prevent people from putting their case effectively. We hope that the Government intend in any event to pay witness expenses but we thought that it was helpful to state that intention clearly in the Bill.

Ms Winterton: I am happy to tell the Committee that the amendment is unnecessary—that has cheered up the hon. Gentleman. Section 96(1)(c) of the 1999 Act already allows us to meet the expenses of witnesses who attend an asylum appeal in respect of a supported asylum seeker. Section 103(9) of that Act, which is reproduced in the new section 103B inserted by clause 41, allows us to meet the expenses of a witness attending an asylum support hearing and section 96(2) allows for forms of support other than those specified in section 96(1) to be provided where the circumstances are exceptional. NASS caseworkers who are responsible for administering such payments have instructions to that effect. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Allan: I am grateful to the Minister for such a positive response, and I accept her advice. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Allan: I beg to move amendment No. 222, in page 22, line 16, at end add—


    (1) The Secretary of State may make a grant to a voluntary organisation which provides—

    (i) advice or assistance to persons who have a right of appeal under this Part;

    (ii) other services for the welfare of those persons.

    (2) A grant under this section may be subject to terms or conditions (which may include conditions as to repayment).'.

I am not sure whether we will get such a positive response to this amendment—something tells me that

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the Minister may be less forthcoming on it, but I stand to be corrected. We are trying to tease out the other aspect of the tribunal hearing. Having looked at the issue of witnesses to which she responded positively, we now consider the possibility of assistance being given to an individual attending a hearing. Bodies such as the Immigration Advisory Service, the Refugee Legal Centre and others provide advice to individuals going through the process of making an asylum claim; those bodies are not very generously funded and there are limitations to their ability to represent individuals. It would again be helpful to state in the Bill that it is appropriate for the tribunal making the decision to be able to fund organisations offering advice and assistance to individuals going to an appeal at that level—as we have established, it is a significant level in terms of gaining access to support, because means of subsistence is in some ways almost as significant as the asylum claim.

I hope that the Government intend in any case to ensure that that assistance and advice are available but it would be beneficial to relate that explicitly to appeals on support issues. There should be an explicit reference to the ability to gain support from one of the organisations in the field.

Ms Winterton: I understand the hon. Gentleman's concerns, but I will not be able to make him as happy as I did last time. The Government are not convinced that asylum seekers appealing against refusal or early termination of their support need access to legal advice or assistance in representation. Generally speaking, the reason for early termination of support is based on fact: the asylum seeker has left accommodation or has breached a condition on which support was granted. There is some crossover with our earlier debate on breach of conditions. All asylum seekers are informed of the conditions on which support is offered and an additional briefing during the induction centre process will reinforce that message. If asylum seekers choose to ignore that information they will have to take the consequences of doing so. It would not make sense for the Home Office to grant fund the provision of welfare services to those asylum seekers whose support has been terminated early and who are appealing against that decision. Asylum seekers can go to one of the voluntary organisations that deal with these matters for advice, but we are not talking about giving legal aid in these circumstances.

I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. I hope that he understands the reasons why we cannot agree to the amendment.

12.30 pm

Mr. Allan: One out of two was not bad. I am disappointed that there is not more clarity about the level of support. I want to press the Minister on the ability of the Immigration Advisory Service and the Refugee Legal Centre to support asylum seekers through these complex procedures. Members of Parliament, especially those who represent London constituencies, know that those who work in the voluntary sector are very stretched, as we deal with the spillover from their case loads in our surgeries, as is appropriate to our duties.

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I will not press the amendment, but I register my hope that the Government will continue to review funding for the voluntary sector organisations that give advice to asylum seekers to enable them to keep up with the growing demand for their services. That demand could be made even higher by the additional requirements in the Bill. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 41 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 42

Voluntary departure from United Kingdom

Angela Eagle: I beg to move amendment No. 250, in page 22, line 41, leave out subsection (5) and insert—

    '(5) The following provisions of the Immigration Act 1971 (c.77) shall cease to have effect—

    (a) section 29 (contributions to expenses of persons returning abroad), and

    (b) section 31(d) (expenses).'.

Clause 42 replaces section 29 of the Immigration Act 1971, which enables assistance to be given to voluntary leavers, who in many cases will be failed asylum seekers. The clause broadens that assistance; it includes travel expenses, immediate arrival and reception costs, costs for settlement in a new place of residence and new items such as explore-and-prepare visits for people who wish to return to a country that may have failed but is getting on its feet again.

The amendment is technical, and consequential on our replacing section 29 of the Immigration Act 1971 with clause 42. It provides that section 29 and the reference to it in that Act shall cease to have effect. It does not affect the substance of the clause and I hope that the Committee will accept it.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 42, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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