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Viscount Brentford: My Lords, I rise to support the amendment and to make two points. I noticed that in a previous debate on this issue, the noble and learned Lord said:


In the wording of Clause 13, on whom are the directions for his removal to be served? What concerns me is that, whether or not a decision on a claim has been made, if it were to be served on the individual before he had been notified of that decision, it would be emotionally a tough moment for him. I suggest that that would be wrong. Surely it must be right for the notice to be served on him at the same time as the directions? That would seem to me absolutely logical.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I must reply to that last observation because I believe that we are in general agreement. We discussed this matter on Report. The present Section 6 of the 1993 Act prevents what the noble Viscount believed was sensible--the simultaneous service by post of the asylum decision and removal directions. I entirely agree with what the noble Viscount said. That is a sensible and humane way of dealing with the notification, but at present under Section 6 the removal directions cannot be given until the applicant has been notified. He is notified only when he receives the letter. We want to be able to provide the removal directions at the same time as the letter. Most people would believe it sensible for both to arrive in one envelope, and that is what we want.

I understand that there was trouble in people's minds about whether or not something improper might happen in the sequence of decision and notification, or rather, notification and decision. I

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make it clear--as I believe that this is the purpose of the amendments tabled and of the noble Viscount's observations--that where someone has applied for asylum, a deportation order will not be signed, let alone served, unless and until we have concluded that the person concerned is not a refugee.

Similarly, where an illegal entrant has claimed asylum, removal directions will not be set until the application has been considered and we have decided that he should be removed. We will not set removal directions first and ask questions afterwards. It would be irrational, and I do not believe that such a system would survive the scrutiny of the courts. Therefore, what we want--and I believe that this is common to all three of us--is the sensible opportunity to provide both documents in one envelope, so that there is a degree of security from the public point of view and an absence of a feeling of unfairness from the point of view of the individual concerned. I hope that that assurance, which I have given in as clear terms as I possibly can, will satisfy both the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and the noble Viscount.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, in the light of that assurance I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 15 not moved.]

Clause 18 [Supply of information to Secretary of State]:

The Earl of Sandwich moved Amendment No. 16:


Page 12, line 13, after ("means") insert ("for the purposes of subsection (1)(e), the provision of support for asylum-seekers and their dependants under Part VI and for the purposes of subsections (1)(a) to (d) and (f)").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, the amendment should refer to new subsection (1)(e) and not (d) as printed on the Marshalled List, which relates to support providers under Section 93. I apologise to the House for the error in drafting, which I noticed only at the last minute.

The amendment concerns information given to the Secretary of State for immigration purposes by those providing support. The amendment would limit the effect of the new government amendment to this clause which could otherwise override or conflict with their contractual obligations.

Your Lordships will remember that I moved an amendment on Report warning of the possible consequences of the Bill for non-governmental organisations working with asylum seekers, who might be assumed, especially if they were Home Office funded or contracted, to be subject to the same legislation as the Home Office and government institutions. I still believe that there is a grave risk of compromising the work of those organisations.

The new amendment seeks to address the remaining concern of many voluntary agencies about the possible conflict of interest and breach of confidentiality which might arise for support providers under Sections 93 or 97. They argue that the new amendment is necessary following the new government amendment which

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inserts subsection (1)(e) into Clause 18. It is designed to avoid any clash between their charitable duties and their obligations, which are fully understood, under the rest of the clause. If that is not done, what guarantee of confidentiality could they give to their clients, and what relationship of trust would remain if they knew that they might, at any time, be required to disclose information on matters unrelated to their professional work? I beg to move.

Lord Hylton : My Lords, as a person connected with a good many voluntary organisations, I can well understand the point that my noble friend has just made about a potential conflict of duties. It is one which I hope that the Government will take most seriously.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, this amendment relates to the new subsection which we introduced into Clause 18 on Report. The intention of paragraph (e) of subsection (1) of the clause is to ensure that a contractor with whom we have made arrangements to provide support is able to pass on information which he might gain to the Secretary of State. That might be information about the circumstances of the asylum seeker and his need for support. It might cover such matters as whether the composition of the asylum seeker's household, and therefore his need for accommodation of a particular character, had changed. It might highlight other additional needs the asylum seeker had. It might also reveal that the asylum seeker was in fact engaged in employment when he was debarred from doing so. I believe that it is legitimate that the Secretary of State should have access to such information from a contractor.

We should see information passed under the provisions of this subsection as being primarily concerned with the support of asylum seekers, but we would not want to limit it entirely to that context. There will be circumstances, which we hope will be few and far between, where an asylum seeker engages in some sort of unlawful activity. I have already mentioned illegal working, but another example would be facilitating the entry of other persons who were here unlawfully.

It is legitimate that a contractor should be able to pass on such information to the Secretary of State. Contractors are not generally in the business of monitoring an asylum seeker's behaviour; for example, his continued involvement in political activities. There is no power under Clause 18 for contractors to pass such information to the Home Secretary or to any other agency. But we do need to ensure that immigration law is properly observed, and we consider it essential that contractors should assist us in that task.

We do not see this issue as primarily concerning the voluntary sector. It concerns private sector contractors and local authorities with which the Secretary of State contracts. As far as we can see, there would be no requirement for voluntary organisations to, as it were, "spy" on asylum seekers. What

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information they provide to the Secretary of State will be a matter of contract concerning the management of accommodation and such matters. I therefore ask the noble Earl not to press this amendment.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I fully understand the intentions of the clause and the obligations which voluntary organisations have. Nevertheless, there is a risk of a conflict of interest and it remains a grey area. I wanted only to draw attention to it today. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Hylton moved Amendment No. 17:


After Clause 19, insert the following new clause--

SUPPLY OF INFORMATION BY SECRETARY OF STATE TO ASYLUM-SEEKERS

(" .--(1) The Secretary of State has a duty to ensure that information is provided to asylum-seekers detained under the Immigration Acts and whose cases have yet to be determined on the probable length of their detention.
(2) The information in subsection (1) above may be given orally or otherwise, but shall not form the basis for any subsequent legal or other proceedings.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 59 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Sandwich. I begin by reminding your Lordships that at 30th September this year, more than half of the 985 people detained under the Immigration Act were held in prisons and not in detention centres. I have that information from a government Written Answer in another place.

At earlier stages of the Bill, much concern was expressed about the arbitrary nature of detention in cases which have yet to be decided and its uncertain length. The visitors to detention centres are unhappy about this and point out the damaging effect of the uncertainty on the mental health of detainees. I quoted from the only medical study on this subject which confirmed the ill effects.

The UNHCR's London office is also concerned. It points out that under the Bill,


    "no routine bail hearings are foreseen after the 36th day of detention, ignoring the fact that the longer detention lasts, the more pressing is the need for judicial scrutiny".

It states also that bail hearings held in prisons or detention centres will not be open to the public or in generally accessible public places, and therefore will not be perceived as impartial or independent. In my view, Her Majesty's Government would not be right to rely too heavily on bail hearings as an all-purpose remedy in cases of detention.

I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam of Brighton, for undertaking, at col. 1259 of the Official Report of 20th October, to consider the giving to detainees of indications of the likely length of their detention. However, it was disappointing when, in a letter dated 27th October which has been circulated to a number of noble Lords, the noble Lord wrote that such indications would be likely to arouse false expectations. However, he went on to state that detainees are informed monthly of the progress of their

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cases. When the Minister replies, will he please say how this system works; who does the informing; and whether it is always done in a language understood by the detainee? Is the connection between progress of the case and continued detention properly explained?

If there is a system and if it is working well, that seems to make it fairly easy for the Government to accept my first amendment. It merely puts on the face of the Bill the substance, as I understand it, of the present system. I observe that it is also narrowly drawn because it refers only to asylum seekers whose cases have yet to be determined. Subsection (2) provides that information may be given either orally or in writing and shall not become the basis for subsequent proceedings.

The second amendment, Amendment No. 59, which stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Sandwich, is slightly wider in that it could cover all Immigration Act detainees. However, it is less demanding in that it requires the Secretary of State only to publish guidance about the maximum length of detention in individual cases.

Therefore, the Government have a choice set out before them as between the two amendments. This evening I should most like to hear an explanation of the present or proposed arrangements for informing detainees not only why they are being held, but also how long it is expected to continue. Detention may be a necessary evil, but its bad effects should be mitigated as much as possible. Uncertainty is certainly one of those bad effects. I beg to move.

6 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I understand the motivation behind this amendment. However, with respect, I believe that in certain respects it is impractical. If the amendment had been to the effect that if, after a period of time--say, three months--the asylum seeker remained in custody, certain information should be given to him then, and perhaps periodically after that, I should have had much more sympathy with it. However, that may be difficult to do in the initial period, as seems borne out by experience. Perhaps I should have attempted to amend the amendment and I was derelict in my duty in that regard. I wish to make that point to the noble Lord.

Perhaps in any event it is a matter which can be dealt with informally. It is a matter of practice and procedure which does not have to be embodied in the Bill. When my noble friend replies to this debate, perhaps he will give some indication of the practice which I believe, as a matter of natural justice, should be followed in dealing with such a situation.

Such people are not detained as a result of having committed criminal offences. It is quite a different situation for them. However, when it comes to someone who is still waiting--and there are many instances of people waiting a long period of time for information about when their case will finally be dealt with--I believe that some provision ought to be made.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has done the House a service by raising this issue at this stage of the Bill. Perhaps it is a pity that when these matters

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were last discussed I was delayed at the Council of Europe. However, I believe it is important that my noble friend the Minister should take this extremely seriously.


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