Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill

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Angela Eagle: We had a run around this course earlier in our proceedings, and I gave two examples, one of which involved the breaking of a cup, which I discussed with the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. Clearly, that incident would not find its way on to the desk of a decision maker and affect the credibility of a claim. However, if someone fleeing persecution were found to be working illegally while the claim was under consideration, and it emerged that the contract for that work had been organised before the individual entered the country, that might well have a significant effect on the credibility of the claim. Clearly, credibility is more likely to be affected if breaches are more serious. I would not expect technical breaches, such as illness, to have any effect.

With those clarifications, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will understand the provisions that we want to introduce on the reporting of conditions in clause 38.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 38 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 39

Choice of form of support

Mr. Allan: I beg to move amendment No. 217, in page 20, line 41, after 'subsection', insert

    'and refused without reasonable excuse'.

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During debates on the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, we discussed how the Secretary of State's support system takes the individual circumstances of asylum seekers into account. Concerns remain about whether the individual can advance reasonable arguments to show why one support arrangement is more suitable than another.

The clause provides only one option. The Secretary of State will make an offer and any individual who refuses it will have no recourse to an alternative—or, rather, the Secretary of State has no duty to take account of that. The amendment is designed to allow an individual to provide reasonable grounds for failing to accept proposed accommodation. In those circumstances, the Secretary of State would have a duty to make a second offer.

We are worried about the family and social circumstances of individuals who have suffered persecution in their home country. They might have specific social requirements that would militate against dispersal. If an individual has been tortured or suffered persecution, those requirements should be advanced at an early stage of the process of applying for support, and the decision takers should take it into account. Some individuals might slip through the net and be offered support that is inappropriate in view of their particular social needs. At that stage, will they be able to advance reasonable grounds for not accepting a decision?

Angela Eagle: Can the hon. Gentleman explain what exactly he means by ''their particular social needs''?

Mr. Allan: I am referring to individuals who have suffered persecution, making isolation a particular hardship for them. If evidence of torture is clear—the Medical Foundation mentioned this previously—such individuals may have a stronger requirement to be housed in a particular community than someone who has not suffered in that way. We discussed the fact that asylum seekers may have a stronger argument against being dispersed to inappropriate surroundings if they can provide clear evidence that they suffered persecution and degrading treatment at home. I hope that they can put that argument under the clause that deals with their choice of housing.

Amendment No. 218 would provide that the Secretary of State must, rather than may, have regard to individual circumstances.

The Chairman: Order. Only amendment No. 217 can be discussed.

Mr. Allan: You are right, Mr. Illsley. Amendment No. 218 is in the next group. I will discuss ''may'' and ''must'' later. An individual should be able to present particular circumstances and be offered different options for support under the asylum support system.

Angela Eagle: I look forward to our debate about ''may'' or ''must''.

The hon. Gentleman believes that all those seeking asylum should have a choice between dispersal and an accommodation centre, or should be able to second-

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guess the Secretary of State's decision about where they will be supported. We must ensure flexibility so that we can make the best use of the different methods of support, while they run in tandem. If accommodation centres succeed and become the norm, there may be no alternative for individuals to choose. We are currently running two systems in parallel, as we are trialling these new centres, but it is important that destitute asylum seekers should not be able to choose particular forms of support. The Committee will agree that it would be nonsense for accommodation centres to run at half capacity because people have chosen dispersal. We are here not to give that choice, but to facilitate quick decisions on asylum claims so that we meet our international commitments to support asylum seekers.

The hon. Gentleman's amendment would make it difficult for us to manage our arrangements effectively and efficiently, especially as they are currently running in parallel. We try to ensure that we make choices for individuals that support them, which is all that the Geneva convention obliges us to do. The amendment would cause administrative havoc, and might result in the system being run at a greater cost than necessary. It also risks creating a gap at the start of the process prior to allocation to a particular place for support, which under the 1999 Act was filled by emergency accommodation while people disputed dispersal. That is an expensive, difficult and highly undesirable way to proceed. The Committee should recognise that we fulfil our commitments under the Geneva convention, which do not involve giving asylum seekers a choice between dispersal or accommodation centres. It is important to avoid that situation, so that we can trial the system effectively.

Mr. Allan: I am glad that the Minister found my amendment so helpful and received it in such a positive spirit. I have not often been accused of attempting to create havoc in a Committee. There is a clear difference between a system in which the final accommodation is dictated from the centre, and to which there is no alternative, and a system in which there is choice. We may come back to that point later in the debate.

Angela Eagle: I forgot to make the point that torture victims are not currently dispersed. As the hon. Gentleman knows, there is an alternative way of dealing with those who have suffered torture.

Mr. Allan: Again, it is helpful to have it on the record that the exemption for victims of torture will continue. I hope that the Minister does not mind us raising that issue, but this legislation restates the case for the ''one option only'' system. The Government are tightening up their intentions on choices, and on whether the Secretary of State's decision on where to place an individual can be challenged.

12.15 pm

Mr. Gregory Barker (Bexhill and Battle): How many victims of torture does the hon. Gentleman anticipate that this would apply to?

Mr. Allan: I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any numbers. The Home Office may be able to do so. The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of

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Torture is a well respected charity in this area that deals with the significant numbers of people who come to the UK each year. We are not talking about thousands, but probably hundreds of people. Those individuals have a difficult time under any system because of the specific nature of their trauma. That trauma often only comes out at a later stage. Under those circumstances it is right to be careful about the type of accommodation to which we send individuals.

People who have been detained and held in a specific set of circumstances will clearly suffer additional trauma if they fear any replication or threat of replication in this country. Clearly, the replication of torture is not on the table, but the type of accommodation may cause additional trauma. The foundation has quite properly raised those issues throughout our proceedings. I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying that those specific routes for exemption still exist. There is perhaps a difference of opinion here over the eventual nature of the asylum scheme, but I will not press the matter. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: No. 124, in page 21, line 5, leave out 'section 95' and insert 'sections 95 and 98'.—[Angela Eagle.]

Mr. Allan: I beg to move amendment No. 218, in page 21, line 7, leave out 'may' and insert 'must'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 219, in page 21, line 7, at end insert—

    '(aa) give priority to meeting the person's particular needs'.

No. 220, in page 21, line 10, leave out paragraph (b).

Mr. Allan: This is where I was a bit previous earlier. These amendments deal with similar issues to those that we have just considered but try to approach them slightly differently by altering the way in which the Secretary of State must make his decisions. We do not challenge the fact that the Secretary of State makes the decision but try to set the criteria by which the decision is made. Amendments to replace ''may'' with ''must'' are a regular feature of Standing Committees, when Oppositions want to impose additional burdens on Secretaries of State and reduce their flexibility, from the Government's point of view, or increase their accountability, from the Opposition's point of view. It depends which side of the Committee one is on. We feel that ''must'' would give us additional reassurance about how a Secretary of State would decide where to place an individual under the asylum support system.

We have also included an additional criterion, which is to give priority to meeting the person's particular needs. Again, we felt that to be a more appropriate phrasing. It is interesting to note that the Government's criteria start with ''administrative or other matters''. We do not seek to remove the Secretary of State's ability to have regard to administrative matters, but we felt that the priorities were slightly wrong and that the needs of the individual were more important. Amendment No. 220 is designed to approach the question of the household needs. We feel that in order for the criteria

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to be applied properly, fairly and successfully, household needs must be taken into account, particularly in respect of any children in the family. The package of amendments that we tabled would provide decision-making criteria that we find more reassuring and that would meet requirements more effectively. The current criteria plainly say that the priority is what works for the administration of the system rather than what works for individuals.

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