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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do adjourn during pleasure until 8.35 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.34 to 8.35 p.m.]

Immigration and Asylum Bill

House again in Committee.

Baroness Williams of Crosby moved Amendment No. 154:

Before Clause 84, insert the following new clause--


(" . In providing, or arranging for the provision of, support for persons under Part VI, it shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to make arrangements with a view to ensuring that those persons have access to legal advice from a representative chosen by the asylum seeker.").

The noble Baroness said: We have already had a very full debate on aspects of support. Therefore, I shall adhere closely to the guidelines set out by the Minister who, very reasonably, suggested that in view of previous detailed and wide debate the Committee should confine itself to a close description of any amendments that follow.

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Amendment No. 154 is essentially a probing amendment. It is likely, as the Minister said just before the break, that asylum seekers and refugees would be dispersed around the country. He pointed out that the major criteria related to the provision of adequate accommodation, the existence of communities with which refugees and asylum seekers could identify and a history of good race relations within the area. It is possible that a number of refugees and asylum seekers will find themselves a long way from London. That is fair enough. However, in many cases the legal advice that they receive is concentrated in London and a small number of other major cities.

The purpose of the amendment is to make sure that those who are involved in the asylum support directorate do their very best to ensure that asylum seekers and refugees are given information about access to legal advice and, where possible, are facilitated in getting it. It may be that some legal advisers will be willing to travel to meet a number of people who seek that advice in a particular area; and that is something which we hope the directorate will take into account. I give one example. In many cases it will be of assistance if the Home Office advertises the fact that, as seems likely, there is a list of registered practitioners, and particularly the two centres that are generally recognised to provide exceptional service.

It would be extremely helpful if in the areas to which refugees were dispersed they could have access to such information on their arrival or, for example, by way of advertisements in ethnic newspapers. That would also be very much in the interests of the Home Office. Where legal advice is available it is likely that the appeal system will work much more efficiently and will not give rise to judicial review and matters of that kind. Therefore, it is in the interests of the Home Office, the immigration directorate and those who are concerned with the welfare of refugees that, as far as possible, this information should be made available.

In one respect the amendment does not represent the views that we put forward, and therefore the wording is defective to that extent. At the end of the amendment the Committee sees:

    "a representative chosen by the asylum seeker".

We believe that the reference should be to:

    "a representative from the registered list selected by the asylum seeker".

We fully accept the Government's strictures as to from where legal advice should come. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: The Committee in considering this amendment is concerned also with Amendments Nos. 170 and 171 in the name of myself and my noble friend.

I have to differ from the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. Amendment No. 170, although identical in wording, appears in a different place in the Bill! That is the only difference between us. Whether it is inserted before Clause 84 or after Clause 88 I am

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content to leave others to decide. But it is important that asylum seekers should have the possibility of legal advice.

The Committee has the great advantage of the Minister giving us legal advice at frequent intervals during these debates. We have learnt to appreciate it even more than before. But we have also appreciated in the course of the debates the incredible complexities--to which, sadly, we add by these debates. None of us is in any doubt about the value of legal advice. That is reinforced in the case of those who are asylum seekers who by definition come from other countries, from traumatic situations, often speaking no English, and so on. I do not need to labour the point.

Amendment No. 171 is closely related to the other two amendments. I am glad to support them.

Lord Hylton: I support the thrust of all three amendments. It occurs to me that the amendments might be too narrowly drawn. They refer to legal advice and not also to legal representation.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, makes the point that many asylum seekers have poor or non-existent English, and will need to be represented before an adjudicator or an appeal tribunal. In addition, they may be totally unfamiliar with our legal systems. For that reason, again, they require representation.

Lord Clinton-Davis: One cannot impose a lawyer upon a client. It is one thing to offer him access to legal advice. It is important that that is done, but I do not think that the provision needs to be included in a statute. Advice may be given. There are various ways of offering that advice. I speak as a solicitor and I do not want to deny the opportunity of work to my colleagues in the profession. But this provision comes very close almost to insisting that someone should be legally represented, either in terms of advice, or, more particularly, in terms of representation. There may be a very good reason why someone does not wish to have legal representation through a professional lawyer. To insist upon that--the amendment comes very close to insistence--would be dangerous.

I do not demur from the idea that someone should be advised if they want advice. But it should not go further than that. It is not necessary to include a provision in an Act of Parliament. The Minister may differ from me.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: The phrase used in the amendment is "have access to". It does not oblige anyone to accept legal advice. It simply says that there should be a duty on the asylum support directorate to make sure that individuals have access--and it is implicit in that--if they wish to use such access. It does not impose any action upon them.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Renton: These amendments refer to the granting of legal advice. In my opinion, the genuine asylum seeker should be given legal advice with legal aid, if legal aid is needed. I have been looking at other clauses of the Bill. I should be grateful if the Minister

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could say to what extent legal aid will be provided to people who turn out to be genuine asylum seekers. It is known that the majority of those who apply turn out not to be genuine. The genuine ones turn out to be the minority. For the bogus ones to be given legal aid, whether gaining advice or legal help in any other way, would seem to me to be wrong. I do not see why the British taxpayer should have to pay for that. But if the asylum seeker is genuine, it is perfectly reasonable that we should have to pay. Perhaps the Minister will be so good as to clarify that matter.

Lord Clinton-Davis: I gave way to the noble Baroness, and then to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, but he has made his own speech, which is fine.

I do not agree with what the noble Lord says. It begs the question of who is a genuine asylum seeker. It may be a matter upon which there is dispute. I hope that I have not misinterpreted the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. Making available access to a lawyer is one thing, but to insist that someone should be legally represented or receive legal advice on matters may be going too far.

I come back to this point. It is not necessary to include the provision in the Bill. It would be helpful if the Minister could indicate whether some satisfactory explanation stating what may be available could be provided for someone who comes to this country. We cannot insist on legal representation either in the form of advice or representation.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: I support the noble Baroness. When we considered the first amendment in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, chided me gently because I mentioned that in this country we had either professional organisations or trade unions to assist us when we wished to be legally represented. He pointed out that there was a very good scheme of visitors who draw to the attention of asylum seekers the existence of legal advice. I took the point. However, with the dispersal policy, it will be more difficult for such advice to be given. Therefore the noble Baroness's point is important.

The system is intended to be speedier. It is of paramount importance to ensure that a determination is not reached too rapidly without proper consideration of the asylum seeker's case. It is important that asylum seekers realise that they can have access to legal advice. I agree that the amendment refers to access. It is up to an individual to decide whether to make use of that access.

With reference to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, one may be a genuine asylum seeker without being an asylum finder. Individuals may well have a good case which at the end of the day is not agreed by the person making the determination or on appeal. But those people may have a genuine case which needs to be heard. Part of the whole point of the system is that cases should be heard and determined. There will be those who have a good case, but at the end of day it will not be accepted. But they should be regarded as genuine asylum seekers.

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