Previous SectionIndexHome Page

5.30 pm

Simon Hughes: This has been an extremely constructive and conciliatory debate on a controversial subject, and I am grateful to the Home Secretary for that, as he calls the shots by virtue of his office. Let me say to him mischievously that he may have led us into trespassing on the next group of amendments, and indeed the two groups following that, but I understand the reasons: clearly, what he said on the issue of size will determine the views that we take on other matters. I hope that he will offer a similar response when we discuss location, for example.

If I interpret the Home Secretary correctly, he has accepted the Conservative proposal on the siting of the adjudication process, which is welcome, as well as accepting in principle, if not in the absolute detail of the wording, the Liberal Democrat proposal for a six-month provision with a three-month extra opportunity in suitable cases. I understand that that is in relation to families only. I appreciate that that is a priority, and it deals with the issue of children. The Home Secretary and I are more closely associated with each other in our ideas on that than we are with some others of our colleagues in our respective parties.

There remains a big issue in relation to single male asylum seekers. I have experience in my constituency of a centre in which 750 of them were housed for a long time, and I do not think that an indefinite period is an adequate outcome for any centre. I hope that we will discuss that constructively again, and I will be happy to take part in any such discussions. We welcome the Home Secretary's openness to consultation, and we will not press amendments Nos. 164 or 31 to a vote.

Mr. Letwin: I join the hon. Gentleman in thanking the Home Secretary for making significant constructive moves towards achieving consensus. I accept entirely that it will be better to see what the Government can come up with in the House of Lords on the question of adjudicators than to press the motion to a vote. I hope, however, that we will have an opportunity—at 7 o'clock, I think—to vote on amendment No. 2, because I persist in believing that the six-month period, although it might seem rational

11 Jun 2002 : Column 756

to those immured in the current culture, is likely to generate all sorts of problems. I want to insist on the 10-week limit.

It is no part of my intention to suggest that the centres should all be located in areas of deprivation. In fact, there is a strong case for their not being located there, for just the same reason as there is a strong case for their not being located in remote rural areas. In each case there are particular difficulties, for both the inhabitants and the local populace. That is why we should try to use the 80 per cent. or so of the country, by habitation, that is neither very deprived nor very remote and rural.

I persist in believing, with the Refugee Council, Amnesty International and others, that city and suburban sites would be better. What really distresses me is that the Home Secretary is not even talking about trialling that proposition. A small number of trials in this domain will not satisfy the urgent requirement for order in a chaotic system, but if we are to have trials—as opposed to a fully fledged, fully working system—they should at least encompass all possibilities, so that we can revisit the argument two or three years from now on the basis of full information. I hope that the Home Secretary will make a concession on that point in due course, but in the meantime I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 3

Visiting committee

'(1) The Secretary of State must appoint a committee (to be known as the Visiting Committee) for each accommodation centre.

(2) The Secretary of State shall prescribe the functions of the Visiting Committee by making regulations under this Part.

(3) Those regulations must include provision—

(a) as to the making of visits to the centre by members of the Visiting Committee;

(b) for the hearing of complaints made by persons detained by the Visiting Committee to the Secretary of State;

(c) requiring the making of reports by the Visiting Committee to the Secretary of State;

(d) that every member of the Visiting Committee for an accommodation centre may at any time enter the centre and have free access to every part of it and to every person residing there.

(4) Accommodation centres created under this Part may also be inspected by HM Inspectorate of Prisons and Social Services Inspectorate, whenever they think it appropriate.'.—[Mr. Malins.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Malins: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 30, in clause 14, page 9, line 2, at end insert—

'( ) For a period of no less than ten years from the commencement of this Act all such accommodation centres shall be publicly owned and their management and employees directly employed by the Home Office or relevant local authority.'.

No. 3, in clause 26, page 12, line 36, leave out—

'The Secretary of State may'

and insert—

'It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to'.

11 Jun 2002 : Column 757

No. 40, in page 12, line 36, leave out "may" and insert "shall".

No. 166, in page 13, line 6, at end insert—

'( ) independent legal advice and representation'.

No. 167, in page 13, line 7, leave out paragraphs (i) and (j).

No. 4, in page 13, line 11, at end insert—

'(k) such legal representation and advice as is reasonably required by an asylum applicant in connection with an application for asylum or any appeal resulting therefrom'.

No. 168, in page 13, line 11, at end insert—

'(1A) The Secretary of State may arrange for the following to be provided to a resident of an accommodation centre—

(a) anything which the Secretary of State thinks ought to be provided for the purpose of providing a resident with proper occupation and for the purpose of maintaining good order,

(b) anything which the Secretary of State thinks ought to be provided for a person because of his exceptional circumstances.'.

No. 42, in page 13, line 15, leave out paragraph (b).

No. 43, in clause 27, page 13, line 28, at end insert—

'which shall not be more than 15 hours per day'.

No. 133, in page 13, line 34, leave out "any dependant" and insert "a spouse".

No. 136, in page 13, line 35, leave out—

'and any dependant of his'.

No. 137, in page 13, line 39, leave out—

'resident and any dependant of his'

and insert "dependant".

No. 138, in page 13, line 40, leave out—

'resident and any dependant of his'

and insert "dependant".

No. 44, in page 14, line 1, leave out subsection (7).

No. 131, in page 14, line 10, at end insert—

'(10) a resident who is required to leave the centre under subsections (4) or (5) may appeal to an adjudicator under Part 5 of this Act.'.

Mr. Malins: We move on to a group of amendments relating to the operation of, and conditions and facilities—other than education—at, accommodation centres. I feel sure that new clause 3 will find favour on both sides of the House, for two reasons. First, it would not cost the Government any money; and, secondly, although I cannot be sure, I think that it was my idea.

The House will be interested to know that not one of the amendments that we tabled in Committee was accepted by the Government, save for the triumph achieved by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson)—she is in her place—who discovered that a particular clause referred to a seventh subsection of the previous clause, even though it had only six subsections. In that regard, she achieved a notable scalp.

Amendment No. 3 would impose a duty on the Government to provide services at accommodation centres, amendment No. 4 would impose a duty on them to provide legal advice, and amendment No. 133 and

11 Jun 2002 : Column 758

subsequent amendments deal with dependants. I hope that they and new clause 3 will find favour with the Government.

The establishment of visiting committees is surely a non-controversial issue. Over the years, many of us have been struck by the high quality of the various visiting bodies and committees involved with prisons. I discovered as much in my career as a lawyer, and on my more recent travels as a member of the Home Affairs Committee I have seen the excellent work that visiting committees undertake at prisons. They talk to inmates, hear grievances and make positive suggestions; they are an important safety valve.

Of course, such committees operate in the asylum world to equally good effect. Two months ago, I visited Oakington, as several hon. Members have doubtless done. It is a very well run and orderly establishment; indeed, it struck me in many ways as a contented establishment, in terms both of its staff and of those who stay there. One reason for that is the presence of an active visiting committee. I met Penny Lambert, the chairman of the visiting committee, and several of her colleagues. They are very involved with Oakington. They have made several helpful suggestions to the staff about how life there could be improved, and they have heard from residents at Oakington. They have contributed a great deal to making it a better place, simply through their presence and sympathy, and the safety valve that they offer. I know that there is a difference between a detention centre such as Oakington and an accommodation centre, but I see no reason why something that works well for Oakington could not be set up for the accommodation centres.

We are broadly supportive of the accommodation centre concept. We understand from the Bill that the Government propose to put several important facilities and services in the centres, and we think that that is right. In one or two respects, the Government perhaps do not go far enough. In our opinion, the Government should be delighted to accept new clause 3, which sets up a visiting committee for each accommodation centre, because it has no implications for the Treasury. Nobody has to ask the Treasury for money, because our communities contain well motivated, good people with an interest in various institutions—asylum institutions, prisons and the like—who would be only too keen to start up visiting committees. The longer people will stay at the accommodation centres, the more compelling becomes the argument for the visiting committees, although people stay only briefly at Oakington and the visiting committee works well there. I am sure that the Government will not oppose new clause 3.

The hon. Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle) was the Minister in Committee, and I pay personal tribute to her for her kindness throughout our debates and for her dedication and commitment. She is a loss to the Government, although we welcome her replacement, the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes), to the high post that she has achieved. The hon. Lady and I have had happy dealings before on the Home Affairs Committee. I hope that the atmosphere prevalent in Committee will be replicated today, and it is on that basis that I invite the House to support new clause 3.

11 Jun 2002 : Column 759

Amendment No. 3 was discussed in Committee. It relates to the services that the Home Secretary is to provide at accommodation centres. In Committee, many of us were slightly alarmed that the first line of clause 26, as it is now, provides that the Secretary of State

The amendment would change those words to read:

We had a long debate on the issue in Committee. However well intentioned this Home Secretary and Government are, the fact is that the Bill would allow them to choose not to provide the services in question. If the Home Secretary is determined to provide various services, we see no reason why he should not have the duty to do so imposed on him. After all, the facilities, assistance and services provided for in clause 26 will be vital to the well-being of the asylum seekers during their stay. The people who will stay at the accommodation centres may have had terrible journeys and a grim time. They are vulnerable people, and some of them are shattered. Often they need a lot of care and attention when they go to the centres, and many are very young.

I see no reason why the Government should not accept that they have a duty to provide the various services needed at accommodation centres. If the Government insist that the clause should use only the word "may", I believe that that will be because they want to reserve the right not to provide the services if they do not want to. I therefore hope that the amendment will be accepted.

Next Section

IndexHome Page