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Tony Baldry: I will in a moment. If Ministers cannot even liaise with and consult organisations within their own Department, what hope is there for a sensible assessment of the demands on other areas of Government activity?
Tony Baldry: My constituentsand other constituentsfind it deeply patronising that their concerns are described as nimbyist or, as some have described them, racist. They find that deeply offensive, as they are raising serious concerns. More than 10,000 of my constituents have petitioned the House sensibly and rationally to ask for a public inquiry into this matter. Why do they want that at the end of the planning process? They want it so that their concerns can be rationally and sensibly examined by an independent inspector. That is all that they ask for, sensibly and reasonably.
The argument made by the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre would be much stronger if he could find a single organisation concerned with refugees and asylum seekers that supports his argument. But every organisation from Amnesty International to the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux to the British Medical Association to the British Red Cross to the Refugee Council opposes the combination of size and location.
The House needs to discuss other important groups of amendments. Ministers need to pay attention to how to meet the concerns of local residents. In addition to visiting committees, therefore, I hope that they will also consider the establishment of liaison committees and listen carefully to what has been said about the provision of services. When consultation takes place with local authorities, and if there is a public inquiry, can we have full, coherent and candid answers about what demands accommodation centres will place on local providers of local services?
The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Ms Rosie Winterton): I hope that hon. Members will forgive me for trying to be as brief as possible, as I know that there is a desire to move on to other groups of amendments.
With regard to new clause 3, I hope that it will provide reassurance if I say that we have already been thinking about the type of committee envisaged. With regard to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) about a possible liaison committee, we can take into account all sorts of models, and that type of committee is not necessarily ruled out. Clearly, it is important for the public and asylum seekers to have confidence in the policies and the way in which we carry them out. An independent body of the type envisaged by the new clause is one approach. I hope that that will provide reassurance, and that new clause 3 will not be pressed to a vote.
The important thing is public accountability, on which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) is right to focus. We want to ensure that the public and asylum seekers have confidence in the system. We also believe that the private running of an accommodation centreto standards set by the Home Officecan deliver what we want; it can deliver public accountability. Whichever method is adopted, we want appropriate partnerships and liaison to be established with a range of bodies such as local, health and education authorities, charities and non-governmental organisations. They all have a role to play in that ongoing process. The whole point of a trial is to identify what works best. We therefore want the flexibility to do that within the trial period.
We cannot accept the Conservative amendment No. 3, which would place a duty on us to provide all the facilities listed in clause 26 to residents of accommodation centres. That also applies to the similar Liberal Democrat amendments Nos. 40, 167 and 168. If we are to have a genuine trial, we should not have a fixed concept about what might work. We have already said that we are prepared to consider a different configuration of accommodation centres in response to concerns about 750 beds. A smaller centre may affect the types of services that it is practical or necessary for the Home Office to provide. We believe that it is prudent to be prepared for all eventualities. We would not want the Bill to place an obligation on the Home Office to arrange to provide something that it would not always necessarily be sensible for us to provide. I hope that hon. Members accept that that is why we do not want to be constrained by the amendments.
Amendments Nos. 4 and 166, taken with amendments Nos. 3 and 40, would place a duty on us to provide legal advice and representation to accommodation centre residents. As hon. Members said, we had a substantial debate on that in Committee and explained why it is unnecessary to take the power to provide legal advice to accommodation centre residents. Powers already exist in the Access to Justice Act 1999 to provide legal help via the Community Legal Service. They place a requirement on the Legal Services Commission to meet local needs. Powers in clause 93 enable the Home Office to fund organisations that provide advice to asylum appellants.
A duty to provide legal advice and representation to accommodation centre residents is a different matter. Let me re-emphasise that we are committed to providing access to free, independent, quality legal advice to residents of accommodation centres. That advice will be provided and funded by the Legal Services Commission through on-site provision, local supply or a combination of the two. The precise arrangements, however, will depend on the location of each accommodation centre, but all centres will provide facilities for use by solicitors and advice agencies. It would be distinctly odd to place a duty
Mr. Vaz: There is obviously a difference between a power and a duty. Is my hon. Friend saying that she is satisfied that current legislation means that appropriate legal advice will be provided at each centre?
Amendment No. 42 would delete subsection (2)(b) of clause 26, which enables us to make regulations requiring the manager of an accommodation centre to determine the amount of money to be provided to an accommodation centre resident. Hon. Members expressed their fears about that in Committee. I hope that I reassure them when I say that their fears are unfounded. If we contract out the operation of accommodation centres, there will be no question of a private sector manager making arbitrary decisions on the amount of cash paid to asylum seekers. Equally, there will be no question of a civil servant manager or a manager from the not-for-profit sector making arbitrary decisions. Clause 26(2)(b) enables a centre manager only to determine the amount of money in accordance with the regulations. The regulations will provide the safeguard because we will ensure that they do not give the centre manager the discretion to make arbitrary decisions.
We also believe that amendment No. 43 is unnecessary. As we explained in Committee, administrative law requires the Secretary of State and the centre manager to act reasonably. That is implicit and enforceable. They will be able to impose residence conditions only in accordance with regulations subject to the draft affirmative procedure. On the length of time that people are required to be present in the accommodation centre in any 24-hour period, we said in Committee that we envisaged the 12 hours specified in the Opposition amendment tabled then to be at the upper end of the scale.
As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, the atmosphere in the centres is the key. We will provide a range of activities to enable asylum seekers to spend their time in the centres productively. There will be incentives to remain on site as well as requirements to be there. If we get it right, we hope that asylum seekers will recognise that what we are asking of them and what we are offering them is in their best interests.
We also cannot accept amendments Nos. 133, 136 and 137. The whole asylum support regime is structured to enable us to treat asylum seekers and their dependants as a group. That is what the National Asylum Support Service currently does. Again, it would be distinctly odd for us to take a different approach in accommodation centres. I understand that hon. Members might think it unfair to evict the dependants of an asylum seeker from an accommodation centre because of a breach of conditions committed by the principal applicant, or vice versa. However, that is what happens under the Asylum Support Regulations 2000.