Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendments Nos. 173 and 174:

Page 126, line 40, leave out sub-paragraph (3).
Page 127, line 5, leave out (", with the approval of the Treasury,").

The noble Lord said: With the leave of the Committee, I shall move Amendments Nos. 173 and 174 en bloc. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 9, as amended, agreed to.

3.30 p.m.

Clause 94 [Appeals]:

Lord Alton of Liverpool moved Amendment No. 175:

Page 61, line 10, at end insert--
("( ) If the Secretary of State provides or offers to provide support which the applicant contends is not adequate or suitable for his needs or for the needs of his dependants, if any, or for both, the applicant may appeal to an adjudicator.").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 175 takes us back to the debates which we held in Committee last week on Amendment Nos. 161 and 164, which discussed the wording in the legislation dealing with housing issues, particularly concerning the position of the homeless and whether the word "suitable" or "adequate" should appear in the legislation.

It was the decision of the Committee to stand by the wording as printed in the Bill. That being so, it is even more important, therefore, to provide some opportunity for appellants who feel that they have not been provided with accommodation suitable for them as a family.

I gave illustrations last week of how a family might be placed on a sink estate on the outskirts of a city; how they might be in an area which is particularly hostile to immigrants, asylum seekers or refugees; and of how they might be placed in accommodation which in other circumstances would be difficult to let and not regarded as suitable for our own nationals. In those circumstances, I believe that it would be proper that if applicants feel aggrieved, they should have some opportunity to appeal. Therefore, this amendment provides for a right of appeal against the offer of inadequate or unsuitable support.

Having created a new tribunal and paid for administration by a new set of adjudicators, it seems to me difficult to understand why they have not been given the opportunity to adjudicate also on questions such as I have just described. There will be some opportunity of appeal in the Crown Office list through the hearing of judicial reviews. However, I wonder whether that is the most satisfactory way of dealing with these questions.

I took the opportunity to look at the debate in another place. In the Special Standing Committee on 11th May 1999, when considering Clause 84 dealing with appeals, the Minister of State in another place, Mr Mike O'Brien, said that he estimated that there might be as many as 20,000 such appeals rather than the 2,000 per year at present. He put that forward as one of the reasons why he would be against this sort of amendment.

28 Jul 1999 : Column 1534

Incidentally, he said that he hoped that this could be dealt with by way of a formal internal mechanism rather than a system of appeal.

When the Minister replies, will he state the basis on which he estimates that there could be as many as 20,000 appeals and how that figure has been arrived at? It seems to me to have been plucked from thin air. Will he also say whether it has been possible to come up with the more informal, internal mechanism that was described to the Special Standing Committee? As an estimate has been put on the number of appeals that such an amendment may produce, has any estimate been put on the number of judicial reviews that may be triggered as a result of leaving the legislation as it currently stands?

I believe that there is a very good case for using this particular group of adjudicators, through the asylum support system, to look at such questions, not least because they will be dealing with refusal, which will give them the opportunity to look at asylum seekers in the round. Dealing only with refusals gives them a very narrow remit. If we are to go to the expense of setting up this system anyway, why not extend it to allow them to deal also with this range of questions? I believe, incidentally, that that will also ensure that the quality of the package with which they are dealing will also be improved. It will expose adjudicators to the whole picture.

In those circumstances, instead of having a rather disparate system, which is what we will otherwise be left with, I hope that the Government will accept that this amendment is a genuine attempt to try to improve the arrangements. It is at this stage a probing amendment. I hope that the Minister will be able to give a response to those points. I beg to move.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I support the amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, and should like to raise a few additional points.

Our prime concern is the issue of the adequacy and suitability of accommodation for particular groups of people. I shall say a word about why our concerns arise. Our belief is that adjudicators would be more capable and more experienced in dealing with the kind of cases that may come before them than would probably be the case in the internal review mechanism, on which I understand that the Home Office is likely to rely.

Two examples spring to mind. One concerns people who have been tortured. According to the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, people who have been tortured often suffer from mental illness. This may take the form of sleeplessness, nightmares, attacks of sudden fear and apprehension. The type of accommodation which would be perfectly adequate for the great majority of asylum seekers simply would not be adequate for some members of that group. It seems to us that it is unlikely that an entirely internal procedure, which would not carry within it people with specific understanding and experience of dealing with

28 Jul 1999 : Column 1535

victims of torture, would sufficiently weigh in the balance the particular concerns that arise in such cases. The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture has put forward the example of a woman who, after torture, came to this country. She was blind and largely deaf. She clearly could not easily be accommodated in private accommodation or in accommodation with other people from completely different backgrounds. It also gave the example of a woman who became epileptic in the grand mal phase as a result of the torture that she had undergone.

Therefore, the first group on whose behalf I wish to advance a claim has a very special need for accommodation which is not only adequate but also suitable. The claims put forward by this group would therefore best be served by experienced adjudicators who have dealt with many cases of asylum seekers.

The second group about whom we are particularly concerned comprises people who fall within the category of having suffered from sexual violence and rape. My noble friend will say something more about this. We are all very much aware that in Bosnia, and to some extent in Kosovo, rape became an instrument of warfare. Women, and a few men, who fall into this category are particularly prone to be very frightened at the presence around them of people whom they fear might sexually abuse them. Therefore, they comprise a group with a very special need for either accommodation shared with people who have been through a similar experience or, in certain instances, single accommodation.

We therefore believe that the normal process of simply going through an internal appeal to Home Office officers who have no special experience in these fields, and who do not in any event normally deal with appellants seeking accommodation, is inappropriate. We believe that such people would more appropriately be dealt with by adjudicators who might begin to build up some expertise in the area.

With regard to the issue raised by Mr Michael O'Brien in another place, it seems to us that any increase in the number of appeals will depend on how rapidly appeals are dealt with and what guidelines are set out, rather than on any rush of appeals to judicial review, which in any case would be likely if the cases do not go to an adjudicator.

On those three grounds--the special nature of some asylum seekers (with particular reference to those who are victims of torture or victims of sexual violence and rape); the suitability of those who consider the appeals that are made; and the issue of trying to avoid a flow of appeals to judicial review, which is a slow and lengthy process--we very strongly commend this amendment to the House.

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, I support the amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool. Simplicity is something which is owed to asylum seekers, wherever possible, in this Bill. It is clearly not rational or logical that the Crown Office should be responsible for deciding whether support will be given. The adjudicators should be responsible for the level of support. The noble Baroness,

28 Jul 1999 : Column 1536

Lady Williams of Crosby, has made the point that adjudicators are much more likely to have more effective experience in this field.

A further point is the whole question of suitability of accommodation. We must face the fact that accommodation provided by local authorities varies extremely widely. Any protection possible in that respect must be given.

Lord Dholakia: I also support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. The noble Lord and my noble friend have made the case on specific issues likely to affect asylum seekers, particularly victims of torture and rape victims. I want to bring in the factor of people who suffer mental illness, or cases where the pressure is such that they are affected by mental situations.

We are not discussing asylum seekers who are refused support, but the actual level of support. I do not want to prolong the argument as the case has been ably made by the noble Lord. I am bothered about the extent to which the Minister in the other place talked about 20,000 cases. How did he reach that figure? Is there any basis for coming to that conclusion? More important, if the Minister accepts that the only way to deal with the situation is not to create an appeal mechanism but to establish a formal internal mechanism of review, could we have some assurance that the workings of that review body will be published and that there will be guidelines available?

The last thing one expects is for people to appear before an appeal mechanism without necessarily having a clue about how the decisions are reached and which issues are likely to be taken into consideration. Therefore, I should like some assurance that guidelines of that nature will be available to those who apply for internal mechanism reviews.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page