Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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Mr. Allan: Amendment No. 268 is similar to one of the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Woking, and seeks to secure access to proper legal advice for asylum seekers. We believe that that would be of public benefit. Plenty of research evidence shows that claims by asylum seekers who have access at an early stage to proper legal advice from reputable agencies progress more swiftly and efficiently than people who go off into the system half-cocked and perhaps receive less appropriate advice later on.

A key target of the 1999 legislation was to ensure that advice services were the best possible. We want people in induction centres, where those services could be made available and controlled, to be introduced to the right legal advice so that their claims can be processed more effectively and efficiently.

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Amendment No. 269 would exclude unaccompanied children from induction centres, but would not exclude the dependant children in a family, who may well be in an induction centre as a group. We want to clarify the appropriateness of the induction regime for unaccompanied children. We have concerns about whether it is appropriate, so we want to tease that out by referring back to the definition of an asylum seeker in clause 16 as anyone aged at least 18. We want to remove the exemption so that, in the context of induction centres, asylum seekers are deemed to be only those aged 18 and above. I hope that the Minister can reassure us on those points.

Angela Eagle: I hope that I can reassure hon. Members about the way in which the induction process will work. It is trying to establish a programme for all asylum seekers at the outset of their claim. They will be advised of their rights and responsibilities, and provided with an explanation of what will happen to them during and after consideration of their claim. Providing such information is the foundation of an effective asylum system, and will ensure that everyone knows where they stand and what the next stages are. We hope that the process can then operate more smoothly. Induction is not part of the decision-making process for asylum claims; they will not begin to be decided at induction centres.

On amendment No. 229, it is important that we have the power to require people to reside close to or in an induction centre, so that we can put them through the process that I have described without them having to travel long distances. The powers in clause 50 are reasonable, because of the short stay that induction is likely to involve.

The hon. Member for Woking was right to read out my replies to his parliamentary questions on induction. We do not envisage that large numbers of people will have to stay for 14 days; we are considering a target of people leaving within a week. We expect the stay of people who do not go for any form of NASS support or dispersal to be shorter—a day or two, or possibly an overnight stay. We certainly hope that the rest will go through the process within seven days, but our experience with the induction centre in Dover has shown that, in some circumstances, the stay will extend a little beyond seven days. The seven to 14-day period in the Bill is simply designed to create leeway, so that we do not have to remove people from induction centres who are right at the end of the process if it has lasted slightly longer than seven days. We do not intend people to be left in the centres for 14 days as a matter of policy, and we certainly hope that that will not happen.

Full legal advice has been mentioned under amendments Nos. 231 and 268. Again, induction is not part of the decision-making process and does not involve consideration of the merits of an asylum claim. Induction involves giving asylum seekers information about the overall process and their rights and responsibilities. We do not believe that legal advisers need to be present while such information is being provided, although information about legal advice will form part of the induction programme. Before a

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person leaves, they will be given information about how they can access legal advice in the area where they will be living, if they are to be dispersed, or in an accommodation centre, if they are to go there.

People will be given a date for the interview on the substance of their asylum claim, which will normally be held two to three weeks from the date on which they leave the induction programme. All asylum seekers will, if they wish, have the opportunity to discuss their claim in advance of the interview, but we do not intend such interviews to be held at induction centres. We do not think that there is reason to have legal advice available. I hope that, after those clarifications, the hon. Gentlemen are reassured.

On amendment No. 269, it is not our view that unaccompanied children should be put into adult induction centres. However, we believe that unaccompanied asylum-seeking children should go through an induction process. We will arrange for that to be done separately, not in centres in which there are 200 to 400 people—that is the size we are thinking of—and which consist almost overwhelmingly, although not completely, of single men, as hon. Members know.

Mr. Malins: I am mildly reassured—not entirely, but sufficiently to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Allan: I beg to move amendment No. 270, in page 27, line 36, leave out from 'shall' to 'House' in line 37 and insert—

    'not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution in each'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 272, in clause 51, page 28, line 21, leave out from 'shall' to 'House' in line 22 and insert—

    'not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution in each'.

Mr. Allan: These amendments will be familiar to any veteran of a Standing Committee. They seek to change regulations that can be annulled by negative resolution into ones that require affirmative resolution. It is an important matter of principle for Liberal Democrat Members that regulations that affect the liberty of a person—attendance at induction centres is compulsory—should have proper scrutiny by the House. We believe that that proper scrutiny requires affirmative resolution, which is widely acknowledged to be more comprehensive than negative resolution. I hope that the Minister will look favourably on these modest amendments, which would change the procedure so that we could better scrutinise the Government's regulations.

Angela Eagle: I suppose that the hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to hear a Minister say, in response to such an amendment, that negative resolutions are adequate. Funnily enough, I think that they are. They are appropriate for what the regulations cover. The Bill sets out the powers for imposing restrictions, and the regulations are confined

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to setting out which dependants are to be subject to those powers.

Two factors will determine whether someone is to be treated as a dependant for the purposes of clauses 50 and 51. The first and polite question is whether a person wishes to be treated as a dependant—that is, whether they are seeking to enter or remain in the United Kingdom on the basis of their relationship with the principal applicant seeking asylum. If a family is not seeking to enter or remain on that basis, the person will not be seeking to stay as a dependant, and that will not come within the scope of the power in the clauses. We cannot impose any restrictions unless a person wishes to be treated as a dependant.

The second factor is whether we think that the person qualifies as a dependant. That issue has led us to adapt a regulation-making power, rather than define the term ''dependant'' in the Bill. There are a variety of circumstances in real life that could produce different kinds of dependants. We aim in the regulations to capture that variety, while retaining the core definition of spouse and minor children, which are not at issue.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will decide that negative resolution is employable. If he objects violently to the provisions, he should keep his eye open for them when they appear before the House.

Mr. Allan: I am grateful to the Minister for that tip-off to look out for the regulations. We will consider those issues again as we go through the Bill, and we will decide whether we think more such amendments are required. However, on this occasion, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 50 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 51

Asylum-seeker: residence, ˙ restriction

Mr. Allan: I beg to move amendment No. 271, in page 28, line 14, leave out '50 and insert '16'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 253.

Mr. Allan: The amendment takes us back to the issue of unaccompanied children. I was reassured by the Minister's comments about the induction centre requirements and how unaccompanied children would be dealt with differently. The amendment seeks to align the definition of asylum seeker in the clause with that in clause 16, which, as I have already said, excludes unaccompanied children under 18. The amendment is a way of testing the Government's intentions in imposing restrictions on those who are legally defined as children. It has been a constant and appropriate theme that we continually question the status of children in the system, and I should be interested to know the Minister's intentions. The clause as drafted, in referring to section 50, explicitly includes unaccompanied children in the ability to impose restrictions under the clause.

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6.45 pm

Angela Eagle: I shall refer briefly to the technical nature of the Government amendment, which relates to the definition of a claim for asylum used in the clause. We want the clause to use the same definition of a claim for asylum as that in clause 16, which is a claim under the refugee convention or article 3 of the European convention on human rights. The Bill contains a drafting error and refers not to clause 16 but to ''that section'', which in the context means section 50, as we discussed in other contexts. It is a technical issue.

Although children may in general be required to report, we envisage that they will be required to do so less frequently than adults. It is right that they be subject to reporting powers. It would be inconsistent with our wish to improve contact management for asylum seekers if children, whether accompanied or unaccompanied, were omitted from the category of people with whom we kept in contact.

The contacts will not be onerous, but as I have said throughout the Committee's deliberations, we hope that they will be helpful. Certainly in the context of unaccompanied asylum seeking children, who are especially vulnerable, we intend them to be helpful, and not onerous or worrisome. I hope that with those assurances the hon. Gentleman will consider withdrawing the amendment.

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