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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I rise to express my disquiet about the situation revealed by the Liberal Democrat Benches and by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich. I do not propose to detain the House for any length of time on this issue because I associate myself closely with the arguments that have been raised.
It is incumbent on my noble and learned friend, if he is to reply to the debate, or on my noble friend Lord Bassam, to take these arguments seriously. There is a real risk of a serious breach of human rights arising on this issue. I am concerned about the opportunities for judicial involvement or oversight in this area. Concerns have been expressed about the availability of legal support, whether through legal aid or privately--most likely it is to be legal aid. If that support is to be seriously jeopardised simply because there will not be the opportunity to provide it on a coherent basis, the situation becomes extremely serious.
Perhaps my noble and learned friend will say where the independent judicial oversight of detention is to be provided. Further, how does what is proposed accord with Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights? Those are serious matters. I declare an interest because for several years I was chairman of the Refugee Council. In those days I was involved, with my noble friend Lord Dubs who was executive director, in dealing with those issues on a day-to-day basis. I am deeply concerned. I hope that my noble and learned friend will be able to allay my concerns.
Earl Russell: My Lords, these issues have been before Parliament previously. In the winter of 1627 to 1628 the King released a number of former MPs from detention, subject to restrictions which probed the distinction between dispersal and detention. I believe the object was to prevent their re-election to the other place. Of course, the effect was exactly the opposite. In both Houses the distinctions marking the line between dispersal and detention were very much those spoken of by my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby and the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. The legality of the view taken by the Houses was never tested in court because on that occasion the Government backed off. That is a precedent that I would be happy to see followed.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, quite a number of serious questions have been raised. Perhaps the House will allow me to answer at greater length than normal at this stage because they are questions which have not been fully dealt with on earlier occasions.
I entirely understand what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has explained--that is to say, the object behind the proposal to amend or leave out Clause 4. In this group of amendments we need to bear in mind the proposals in Government Amendment No. 79. The
Perhaps I may look at the wider context. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, indicated, it is notoriously well known that there has been a substantial increase in the number of asylum applications. The average number of applications each month from July to September was nearly 7,000. That is about 60 per cent higher than in 1998. It is not appropriate to have a wide-ranging discussion on the reasons for that. But, plainly, no responsible government can simply shrug their shoulders and do nothing.
The secondary proposition I put forward is simply one of fact. There is no doubt at all that the majority of applicants--about two-thirds--will not qualify either for refugee status or exceptional leave to remain. A number of them will have made claims which are manifestly unfounded. It is not fair to those who have genuine claims, the taxpayer or the rest of the citizens of this country, that unfounded claims are able to clog up the system and exploit delays. I agree that, as noble Lords on the Benches opposite often say, the system is extremely time-consuming and does not actually deliver just outcomes, if that means an efficient and prompt decision.
I stress that the facility at Oakington is based on existing detention powers. I am responding particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. I confirm her impression that it is designed to deal with claims where it appears that a rapid decision can be made. The applicants will be required to stay at the centre for a short period of about seven days while their claim is decided. If their case cannot be decided that quickly, or if at the end of the period there has been a refusal and a decision not to return home immediately, then applicants will be granted temporary admission or, if necessary, moved to the conditions under which ordinary detention occurs.
However, I repeat--I hope I am not being tedious--that applicants will be required to stay at Oakington under existing immigration powers to detain. I believe there has been some misunderstanding here. The Oakington arrangements do not depend on the additional powers of temporary admission proposed in government Amendment No. 79. The wider powers contained in that amendment allow us to impose residence conditions on temporary admission. They will allow us to develop quite different reception arrangements, whether at Oakington or elsewhere.
I turn to Clause 4. It does not contain any power to impose residence conditions on persons granted temporary admission. It is simply to provide a clear power for the Secretary of State to provide accommodation to persons granted temporary admission. Whether or not those who are granted that permission may be required to reside at such accommodation--and if so, subject to what conditions--is the point and purpose of government Amendment No. 79. If I have it right in my own mind,
In a sense, of course, all temporary admission is voluntary. It is an alternative to being detained and it will remain so. If someone seeking admission is not prepared to abide by the proposed conditions of temporary admission, the alternatives are either to return to the country of origin or remain here in detention. But if one accepts conditions of temporary admission, it is not unreasonable to be required to abide by them. Breach of the conditions of temporary admission is now an offence under immigration law and it will continue to be so. That is why we believe the word "voluntary" is not appropriate.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. As regards the specific point of the length of time people may stay at Oakington before being granted leave to enter or moved into detention, and the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davies, before the Bill goes to another place will the Government consider putting a time limit in the Bill?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, perhaps I may come to that in due time. That was a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in his amendment. I believe I paraphrase fairly by saying that he said that if seven days is too short a period, do the Government want to bring forward a period of about two weeks? Perhaps it is more convenient if I deal with that matter a little later. I am conscious of the fact that the House wants a full explanation of all the amendments in this group.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was really suggesting that Clause 4 should be dropped from the Bill altogether. I repeat that that clause makes it plain that the Home Secretary may provide accommodation to persons given temporary admission. That is necessary because of Government Amendment No. 79. If we want that amendment, Clause 4 has to remain.
We discussed Amendment No. 79 briefly at Report stage. The amendment was withdrawn pending consideration by the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. As noble Lords have indicated, there was substantial comment from the committee, and for that I am grateful. We have thought about that in framing the revised amendment. Its purpose is to extend the purposes for which residence conditions may be imposed when those seeking leave to enter or remain are given temporary admission or released from detention on temporary admission while the application is being considered.
There is already power in the Immigration Act 1971 to impose residence restrictions on those given temporary admission. Our advice is that, as currently framed, the restrictions should be those necessary to maintain contact and prevent absconding. We believe that those objectives are important, but they are too narrow. The large influx of asylum seekers to which I
It is a reasonably founded point that it is possibly harsh at first blush to think that one needs these powers to prevent public order problems. The sad truth is that there have been such problems in the past. We wish to be able to protect people by having these powers available. I do not believe that that is unreasonable. In particular we want to avoid pressure on local services. We want to be able to ensure full and rapid consideration of claims.
As I said earlier, it has to be borne in mind that two-thirds of the applications are likely to fail. I put this neutrally: there is every inducement to abscond by those who believe that their applications are likely to fail. I do not believe that any government discharges their duty if they do not contemplate that and take proportionate powers to deal with it.