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Immigration and Asylum Bill

3.20 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]

Clause 92 [Reception zones]:

The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton) moved Amendment No. 171A:


Page 60, line 1, leave out ("an area") insert ("as reception zones--
(a) areas in England and Wales").

The noble and learned Lord said: Government Amendments Nos. 171C, 171D and 172A--in which I am surprised Members of this House do not appear to be interested--and Amendment No. 172 in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, address the same point; namely, the

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recommendation of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee that the power to make regulations under Clause 92(8) as to the management of property that is subject to a direction should only be exercised following consultation with local authorities.

We accept the wisdom of the committee's recommendation. We hope never to have to use the power to direct; but if we do, there need to be proper safeguards for the interest of the landlord. Regulations under Clause 92(8) will provide for this. In making regulations generally we always aim to consult those affected in advance; certainly we would wish to do so in this case and I am happy to make this a requirement on the face of the Bill. I invite the Committee to endorse the government amendments rather than Amendment No. 172.

Amendment No. 171BA seeks to require the Home Secretary to consult voluntary organisations before designating a reception zone. We are very conscious of the importance of the voluntary sector in the development of our arrangements for the dispersal of asylum seekers to cluster areas. We are currently discussing with the voluntary sector the way in which it might provide support for asylum seekers through one-stop shops in the regions, and these one-stop shops would provide outreach support in any area that might be designated a reception zone.

The first consideration in deciding whether to designate a reception zone will clearly need to be the availability of suitable housing. But we shall also be taking account of the capacity of an area to absorb asylum seekers successfully, and this will include an assessment of the role that the voluntary sector might be able to play. So we shall indeed be consulting the voluntary sector about our plans should we need to use the power to designate reception zones. It is right and proper that there should be a statutory requirement to consult local authorities before designating a reception zone, since they are directly affected. But I suggest that, given the assurance that we will be taking account of the voluntary sector in our decisions on reception zones, we do not need a formal duty to consult them. I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, not to press the amendment.

Amendments Nos. 171A and 171B pick up a lacuna in the current drafting of Clause 92. Generally, in Great Britain, if we need to use the power to direct a public body to make social housing available, it will be a local authority to whom we issue the direction. But in Northern Ireland such housing is held by the Housing Executive; so the power of direction must be capable of being exercised towards that body. As a result of the changes to Clause 92 it has been necessary to put forward Amendments Nos. 180D and 180E which alter references in Clause 101 from "an authority" to "a body" and thus cover the Housing Executive as well as local authorities. I should add that we have no plans to use the power in respect of the executive. Indeed, current thinking is that we shall not be locating asylum seekers in the Province other than those who arrive there

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of their own accord. However, to have powers capable of uniform exercise across the United Kingdom we need these provisions. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I apologise to the Minister. I did not catch some of his earlier sentences because noble Lords were moving around the Chamber. Did he say--as I believe he did--that Amendment No. 172 was in accordance with the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee and is therefore acceptable to the Government?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: It was the surprising lack of interest in these amendments which deafened the noble Lord to my remarks. I am proposing Amendments Nos. 171C, 171D and 172A to deal with the point made by the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. I do so in preference to Amendment No. 172, which would require us to consult the authorities affected by direction each and every time we made a direction. That would be too time consuming and make it difficult for the power of direction--it is a power of last resort for use only where an authority declines to co-operate--to operate effectively. We are therefore trying to deal with it in our amendments rather than in the way proposed by the noble Lord.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I shall study what the Minister said. My first reaction is that Amendments Nos. 171C and 171D do not take up the point of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. In paragraph 23 of its report it specifically suggests:


    "The House may wish to consider whether the Bill should be amended to place a statutory obligation on the Secretary of State to consult local authorities before making regulations under clause 92(8), as is already the case with orders under Clause 92(1)".

As I understand it--though I may be wrong--the Government's amendments adjust the provisions for consultation on Clause 92(1) but do not insert a duty to consult on the regulations as to how the reception areas are to be managed. Consultation on how they are to be managed and the regulations in that regard, as the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee suggested, is also important, as well as consultation before designating zones.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: Before the Minister replies, so that we can deal with this whole matter together, perhaps I may say that I am satisfied that his amendment meets the point in Amendment No. 171BA. In fact, I believe our amendments were tabled almost at the same time. I would not have tabled mine had I known what the Government's amendment contained. However, I share the anxiety of the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, that what is proposed does not meet the point about the regulations made under the clause.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: The relevant amendment is Amendment No. 172A. It says,


    "Before designating a reception zone in Great Britain, the Secretary of State must consult such local authorities, local authority associations and other persons as he thinks appropriate".

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That is in contradistinction to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, which states that, before designating a reception zone, the consultation must be with the local authority concerned. So there is a difference between the two.

We sought to address the concerns of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. We sought to do so in a slightly less prescriptive way than is proposed in Amendment No. 172 with a view to ensuring that we do not have to consult the local authority each and every time we make a direction. That would be too time-consuming and would make it difficult to use the power of direction effectively. That is the difference between us. I hope that makes it clear.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I am grateful for that further explanation which we shall obviously study carefully.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 171B:


Page 60, line 2, leave out ("as a reception zone") and insert--
("(b) areas in Scotland consisting of the areas of one or more local authorities;
(c) Northern Ireland.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 171BA not moved.]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendments Nos. 171C and 171D:


Page 60, line 3, leave out subsection (2).
Page 60, line 9, leave out ("within a reception zone").

The noble and learned Lord said: With the leave of the Committee I shall move Amendments Nos. 171C and 171D en bloc. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 172 not moved.]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 172A:


Page 60, line 41, at end insert--
("( ) Before designating a reception zone in Great Britain, the Secretary of State must consult such local authorities, local authority associations and other persons as he thinks appropriate.
( ) Before designating Northern Ireland as a reception zone, the Secretary of State must consult the Executive and such other persons as he thinks appropriate.
( ) Before making regulations under subsection (8) which extend only to Northern Ireland, the Secretary of State must consult the Executive and such other persons as he thinks appropriate.
( ) Before making any other regulations under subsection (8), the Secretary of State must consult--
(a) such local authorities, local authority associations and other persons as he thinks appropriate; and
(b) if the regulations extend to Northern Ireland, the Executive.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 92, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 93 agreed to.

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Schedule 9 [Asylum Support Adjudicators]:


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