Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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Angela Eagle: We are already planning for a substantial increase in the number of bail hearings, and I gave the hon. Gentleman the figure. That will come as a result of the fact that we have expanded the detention or removals estate—whichever description he wants me to use. We are already planning for a thousand hearings a month before adjudicators. The trouble with automatic bail hearings is their inflexibility and the sheer numbers of hearings that

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would be imposed on a system that would already be experiencing increases. We considered those practical issues in great detail and decided, reluctantly or otherwise, that we could not run the system with automatic bail hearings for all detainees. That was our judgment, and we thought that it was more transparent to repeal the procedures in part III of the 1999 Act rather than leave them hanging around on the statute book, never being put into effect. Those are practical decisions that Ministers must sometimes make.

I was not trying to say that habeas corpus and judicial review are a substitute for bail. As the hon. Gentleman will know from my figures, there are many bail hearings already, and we do not record the ones made to immigration officers. They are not counted but they still happen.

Mr. Malins: I thank the Minister and applaud her honesty, but I am dismayed by her response. Since when have we sacrificed a principle because of administrative difficulty? We have heard moving contributions from the hon. Members for Edinburgh, North and Leith and for Walthamstow, both of whom agree that there is no need to repeal part III of the 1999 Act. Indeed, there is a strong need to implement it. How can the words of the Home Secretary in 1999, which I quoted earlier, not be valid today? The Minister was frank and said that the implementation would result in a logistical nightmare, but I repeat my question: since when have we decided that something is absolutely right but that we will resile from it because it is difficult? That is no way to proceed.

Labour Members know that my amendment is right and that not to support it would go against their consciences. They are experienced Members of Parliament and know that it cannot be right for a Minister to say, in terms, ''You may be right on the principle—I'm not even going to talk about the principle—but the fact is it's very difficult.'' If we move into that sort of world, where are we going?

This is one of the most serious moments of this Committee. The Home Secretary's words of February 1999 were important. It has been pointed out that many people outside Parliament believe that there is a strong need to implement part III. How can we send a message to the Government that they must do that and not hide behind the shield of administrative difficulty? If something is right, it does not become less right because it is difficult. I therefore urge everyone present to support the amendment, which is the only proper way to proceed.

Angela Eagle: We have not sacrificed a principle because of administrative difficulties. There are already chances to apply for bail, many of which are taken up by people in detention. We have decided not to put into effect automatic bail hearings for all detainees on the eighth day, to be heard in court by the 10th day, or on the 36th day, to be heard in court by the 38th day, because that would mean an increase of 2,100 appeal hearings for the IAA, which currently manages 6,000. That would have major implications for the speed at which we can administer the asylum system.

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The hon. Gentleman cannot tell us that we should be able to hear asylum cases from beginning to end in five weeks and then insist that we have automatic bail hearings at the same time. It simply is not credible. We are not sacrificing any principle. Bail is still available, but I have given the Committee the reasons why we have decided not to put part III into effect. When it was put on to the statute book there were 900 places for detention. We are now moving towards 4,000 places, and the implications of automatic bail hearings in terms of cost effectiveness and speed are too much for the present system. Those who wish to apply for bail can still do so, and in large numbers.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 9.

Division No. 6]

AYES
Allan, Mr. Richard Barker. Mr. Gregory Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Malins, Mr. Humfrey Watkinson, Angela

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

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 48 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 49

Reporting restriction: travel expenses

Mr. Malins: I beg to move amendment No. 232, in page 27, line 2, leave out 'may' and insert 'shall'.

This relates to travel expenses. For the system of reporting to work properly, the person travelling to report should be provided with costs: it should not be discretionary. I want to probe the Government on that point.

Ms Winterton: I accept the hon. Gentleman's concerns, but I hope to reassure him. As he said, the amendment would require the Secretary of State to meet the travelling costs of those required to report to a police or immigration officer. I confirm that we already meet the travel expenses of supported asylum seekers to enable them to attend their appeal hearing, and that includes the travel expenses of dependants. We also meet the expenses of those attending bail hearings in connection with a family member who is detained under immigration powers.

The clause proposes that the reasonable costs of those required to report ''may'' be met. Final decisions have not yet been taken, but it is currently proposed not to meet travel costs if the reporting is less than three miles from the person's home. I can reassure hon. Members that exceptions will be made for the elderly, the physically infirm and heavily pregnant women.

Some people required to report will be able to fund the cost of travel themselves, but requiring the Secretary of State to meet the travel costs of all

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those required to report would add considerably to costs. The immigration service is examining several options to deal with the problem of reporting centres that are a considerable distance from some people's homes. We referred in an earlier debate to using mobile reporting centres, creating more static centres and converting some IS offices to multifunctionality. We shall also continue to use the police where necessary.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that we cannot fund the costs of all who attend to report, but we are prepared to consider specific cases.

Mr. Malins: I am grateful for the Minister's response, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 49 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 50

Induction

Mr. Malins: I beg to move amendment No. 229, in page 27, line 16, leave out

    'without regard to his personal circumstances'.

The Chairman: With this we may take the following amendments:

No. 230, in page 27, line 18, leave out '14' and insert '7'.

No. 267, in page 27, line 19, leave out 'believes' and insert 'is satisfied that'.

No. 231, in page 27, line 21, after 'location', insert—

    ', which programme will include full access to legal advice and representation'.

No. 269, in page 27, line 27, leave out 'but disregarding section 16(1)(a)'.

No. 268, in page 27, line 32, after 'process', insert—

    'and will include access to appropriate legal advice and representation at each stage of the programme'.

Mr. Malins: We now come to induction. It is important that people's medical problems are taken into account. The clause fetters the Secretary of State's discretion to make allowance for a person with medical or other unforeseeable problems, which could make a residence restriction inappropriate at a particular time, or at any time. In its present form, the clause does not allow the Home Secretary to have regard to personal circumstances. That is why I tabled amendment No. 229.

6.30 pm

Amendment No. 230 raises an important issue of principle about how long asylum seekers will stay in an induction centre, which the Bill states should not be longer than 14 days. We all know that the first few days of an asylum seeker's application are the most important, which is why amendment No. 231 proposes that full legal advice should be available at the induction centre. If a person is to stay for at a centre for many days, it is important that all services are brought into play straight away. Good, quick legal

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and medical assistance will usually save a lot of time in the long run and create a fairer situation.

I was interested to learn that asylum seekers may spend up to 14 days in an induction centre. I tabled a parliamentary question about that issue last Thursday, to which the Minister replied:

    ''Eventually all asylum seekers will pass through induction centres. Those seeking National Asylum Support Service accommodation will remain in the induction centre for approximately seven days; whereas those seeking NASS financial support only or no NASS support at all, will remain in the centre for approximately one day—this may, in some cases, involve an overnight stay.

    It is envisaged those asylum seekers who are to be housed in accommodation centres in the future, will remain in the induction centre for around two days''.—[Official Report, 9 May 2002; Vol. 385, c. 325W.]

There we have it. An asylum seeker may spend various periods of time at an induction centre: one day, two days or seven days.

I also asked a question about the induction centre at Dover and received the answer:

    ''Applicants are housed on a full-board basis. Migrant Helpline and the National Asylum Support Service provide support services daily leading to dispersal within seven days of arrival.''—[Official Report, 9 May 2002; Vol. 385, c. 334W.]

Two parliamentary answers both say that seven days is the expected period for an asylum seeker to spend at a centre. That is why my amendment proposes that 14 days should be replaced by seven days. It is an important issue. If a person is to spend only a brief period at an induction centre, we should let that be publicly known, because there would be less need for essential services on site. The longer that a person spends at a centre, the more vital it is that those services are provided.

Amendment No. 231 would make legal advice and representation available at the induction centres, and that becomes all the more compelling if a person stays there for a longer period, by which I mean anything over a few days. The Minister will understand why the amendments would impose a maximum of seven days at an induction centre and, in addition, would require that legal advice is available. I anticipate that the hon. Lady will say that many people may stay at a centre for up to 14 days. In that case, legal advice and assistance on site will be extremely important.

 
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