|Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill
Mr. Malins: This has been an intriguing debate. It began with my saying that it would be brief, because I wanted to put only a couple of small drafting amendments to the Minister. Lo and behold, as the debate developed, it suddenly became clear that what appeared to my hon. Friends, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey and I to be two major policy issues were being revealed.
We have been told in the clearest possible terms that from now on—or perhaps from next week, or from the date when the Bill comes into force—all asylum applications must be made in person. Furthermore, we have been told that they must be made at
but we do not know where those places are. If I were a Minister—I am not one yet, and the way I am going I might never be one—I would ask the Whip to move that the Committee should suspend for a fortnight so that the proposals could be set out in clauses that could be properly debated by the Committee. However, were I the Whip, I would tell the Minister, ''No, I won't. Let's proceed.'' That is how this place works
There is potentially a much longer discussion to be had about some of the matters that have been raised during the debate by the Parliamentary Secretary. They relate to the proposed centres and the way in which an application is to be made in future. My hon. Friend the Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Barker) asked the Parliamentary Secretary to define what ''local'' meant, to determine how many centres there would be, but the answer was that ''it might mean local'', so we are none the wiser.
Life is full of surprises, and I thank the Parliamentary Secretary for her helpful reply about amendment No. 131. I will not press the amendment
Column Number: 131to a Division, but we shall return to the more substantive part of the clause in due course.
Simon Hughes: I shall not push for a vote either, but we must reflect on the issues arising from the debate. Unless I missed it, I did not hear the Parliamentary Secretary say that there will be no postal applications. Given that there are 6,000 at the moment, I assume that postal applications will continue. If they do, problems in the system mean that the process will need to be changed along the lines set out in the lead amendment so that asylum claims start from the moment the application is made.
The issue is not a big one in my constituency, because Beckett house is close enough to be a local registration centre. However, I do not envisage there being places at which people can see immigration officials and register with the Home Office in every part of the United Kingdom, no matter how small the island or population. That is inconceivable, so keeping postal applications is sensible. The bulk of people apply either at ports of entry, when there is simultaneous application and recording, or in a way that does not have a distance in time between the application and recording. However, we must avoid bureaucracy that means that an asylum seeker who has a perfectly good case is not regarded as having made an application because they have not visited the regional centre. We must protect the way in which applications are made under the convention.
I understand the Parliamentary Secretary's point about clause 21, which gives the cover. I shall look back at the earlier legislation, but the important point is that we agree that there must be facilities for someone who is stuck here and does not have their own resources. If their application has ended but they cannot go home, we must not suddenly say, ''Sorry, but we're not doing anything''. I am sure that there is common intention about that. I will examine the Minister's comments. It may be that they cover the eventualities.
My only concern for the Parliamentary Secretary and her civil servants is that people whose case has ended must clearly and understandably be told that they have the opportunity of another support system and that if they want it, they must apply there and then. It must be unlike housing benefit and council tax benefit applications, in which it is too late for someone to do anything about it if they realise that they have not applied in time. For people without English as a first language and who are unfamiliar with the traditions, there must be a good safeguard to ensure that they know exactly what is needed to keep them supported.
Mr. Malins: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Mr. Malins: I beg to move amendment No. 132, in page 10, line 13, after '1950', add
Column Number: 132This is another sensible amendment that has been suggested to me by the Immigration Advisory Service. It deals with a short but relevant point. There are a small number of article 8 claims based on the right to private life where someone would qualify for exceptional leave to remain if the application were successful. Their need for support is just as great as that of someone whose case is based on article 3 of the 1951 convention. The amendment is as simple as that, and I hope that the Minister will accept it.
Simon Hughes: I support the amendment for the same reason, and I hope that the Government will be positive.
Ms Winterton: I cannot be as positive as hon. Gentlemen would like, but I am able to give some reassurance.
The definition of an asylum claim includes a claim that removing a person would be contrary to our obligations under article 3 of the European convention on human rights. That makes sense, given the overlap in some cases between a fear of persecution under the refugee convention and the prohibition of torture under article 3. When we assess whether someone can be removed to a particular country, there is a clear link between fear of persecution and subjection to inhuman or degrading treatment as a result.
The right to private life is a different matter, as it does not involve fear of persecution or torture. We therefore do not believe that there is any reason why it should be treated as an asylum claim. If it were, that would considerably widen the number of people who would be considered to qualify for support. The question would also arise why we should not regard all claims made under any article of the ECHR as an asylum claim, which would allow support to be offered. I hope that hon. Members accept that that would be unrealistic, especially in view of the potential cost. However, I assure hon. Members that we would consider someone's rights under the ECHR, including the right to private life, when assessing whether they should be removed from the UK. I hope that the hon. Member for Woking understands why we cannot accept the amendment, and that he will withdraw it.
Mr. Malins: I am grateful to the Minister. I am partly, if not wholly, reassured, and I do not wish to press the amendment to a vote. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Simon Hughes: We must get the clause right, as it is the lynchpin—the definition section—on which the rest of the Bill depends. I hope that we will have a chance to reflect on earlier debates, and agree to any necessary amendments.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 16 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
The Chairman: Before we discuss clause 17, I should clarify that we will rise at 11.25 am and suspend the
Column Number: 133Committee until 2.30 pm. I intend to break at 4.30 pm for 30 minutes.
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