|Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill
Angela Eagle: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman should take that up with parliamentary counsel. Let me reiterate: the power to require someone to leave a centre comes from clause 26. We have not yet examined the clause in Committee, but the key reference in it is to ''any dependant''. Therefore, ''someone else'' as mentioned in clause 21 refers to the dependant and to no one else.
Mr. Malins: Why not say so?
Angela Eagle: The language used is a drafting issue. I am merely conveying to the Committee our understanding of what it means. Clearly, it would be absurd for us to have an arbitrary power to expel from accommodation centres people who are unrelated or who are not dependants, because of the behaviour of someone else. The Government have no intention of doing that. We do not have the power to do it now, and the Bill, were it to become an Act, would not give us such a power. I state that as a fact but, clearly, Opposition Members do not believe me.
Mrs. Gillan: Methinks the hon. Lady doth protest too much. She agrees with us that arbitrarily requiring someone to leave because of the behaviour of someone else is ridiculous. She referred to clause 26(4) and (5), which clearly say,
What possible objection can she have to substituting the words ''or a dependant or a member of his family'' in subsection (3). That is not for parliamentary counsel. The hon. Lady is the Minister, so she can instruct parliamentary counsel and she can tell them what to do. She is in charge of the legislation, and she should listen to her own common sense and replace those words.
Angela Eagle: We have had three run-ins about plain English, and I suspect that this is another example. ''Someone else'' refers to dependants in clause 26, so the ''someone else'' referred to in clause 21 can only be the dependants. That is the legal advice we are working from. The position is exactly the same as that which the Opposition have declared is their wish. It is already in the Bill, so there is no need to change it. There is no way under the Bill that ''someone else'' can mean anything other than dependants, to which clause 26(4) and (5) refer.
Simon Hughes: Will the Minister give way?
Angela Eagle: I do not know what good it will do.
Simon Hughes: I cannot work out whether the hon. Lady has not been a Minister long enough or has been a Minister too long. She is not being as robust as usual and as I know she can be.
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If we are going for plain English, the wording must be consistent between one clause and another. The Minister understands the point. We can all do the cross-referencing, but life should not consist of cross-referencing and finding that a phrase on one page means something else two pages later. I am simply asking her to tell her draftspeople to make the wording in clause 21(3) the same as that in clause 26(4) and (5). It is not difficult. It can be done on a word processor and does not even require a parliamentary draftsman.
Angela Eagle: I think that parliamentary draftsmen would be worried about the hon. Gentleman's last point.
I can only reiterate that there is no intention of arbitrarily visiting on someone who is not a dependant the consequences of someone else's behaviour. I shall consider what hon. Members have said, but my strong advice and my understanding is that there is no difference between what is in the Bill and what is in the amendments. I hope that the amendment will be withdrawn.
Mr. Malins: The Minister has dealt with one aspect of the matter, although not satisfactorily, but she failed to answer our other question. Exactly what effect will it have on an asylum applicant's case in legal terms?
Angela Eagle: I suppose that we all got caught up in the problem of ''someone else'' and ''dependants''. I hope that I can reassure hon. Members about the other issues that were raised in the general debate.
We cannot, will not and do not intend automatically to refuse an asylum seeker's claim merely because of their behaviour. Opposition Members are worrying too much about that. We must assess asylum claims, regardless of behaviour, but someone's credibility may be affected by non-compliance. I emphasise ''may be'', and each case must be examined before making a judgment. There is no automatic refusal. Bad people or people who do not comply may be genuine refugees and may be granted refugee status. I shall give some examples.
Behaviour may be taken into account if it is relevant to the claim. It is extremely unlikely that someone who broke a glass—the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey used that example—would be required to leave the centre, and even less likely that that behaviour would be taken into account in their asylum claim. It is almost impossible to imagine that it would. However, if someone failed to live in an accommodation centre and sought employment but it turned out that the employment was set up before the asylum seeker arrived, that may be a relevant consideration to take into account in the asylum claim. That is all that is meant by the wording in the clause. Each case will be taken on its merits; any behaviour consideration must be relevant to the claim, or it cannot be considered. With that reassurance, I hope that the hon. Lady will withdraw the amendment.
Simon Hughes: I am glad that the Minister will consider the small drafting point that we made. We look forward to that being easily dealt with.
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On the more substantive matter, I hear what the Minister says, but that is not what the Bill permits. I understand her point, but a person's behaviour and whether they comply with the requirements for accommodation should be, and in my view must be by law, separate from the merits of the application. When an adjudication is made on an application, all the information is taken into account in the context of the application. There is no need for any wording in the Bill. There should certainly not be a link back, so that in theory a small breach of a condition of residence, such as coming in late or not coming back one evening, which may have an entirely innocent explanation, could be treated as relevant for the purposes of the person's asylum application. There is nothing to stop that in the law as proposed. In law that is wrong, and it should be taken out. I am happy to talk to civil servants and Ministers about why it should be taken out, and we can obtain legal advice about it, but I am sure that it should go. I hope that, on Report, the Government will agree. If they do not, I give notice that, in this House and in the other place, we will seek to have the provision removed.
Mrs. Gillan: I concur with what the hon. Gentleman has just said. It will be interesting to see what happens when the Minister has an opportunity to reflect on the matter away from the Committee and before the Bill returns to the Floor of the House.
I shall not press the amendment to a vote. The Minister knows how Opposition Members feel on this issue. I have a sneaking suspicion that she agrees with us. It is a shame that, for the sake of some rather poor advice, she is sticking to this inaccurate wording. If subsection (3) is to remain in the Bill, I urge her to reconsider it, because it is still open to false interpretation, always assuming that Pepper v. Hart prevails and, therefore, that what she has said will be taken into consideration when the Bill is interpreted. It is an unsatisfactory situation. I am sure that the Minister is capable of asserting her authority over parliamentary draftsmen and repairing the matter in her own way. As it is not something that we shall die in a ditch over, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
Simon Hughes: For the reasons that I gave before, I cannot support the clause. I shall not force a vote now, but I hope that it will come back in a better form on the Floor of the House. If not, we shall oppose it.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 21, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 22 to 24 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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