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The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. A number of working holidaymakers and students overstay and play the system once they are in this country. I do not see, where there are cases of doubt, why a security should not be required from them as much as from a visitor.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, Amendment No. 16 is designed to ensure that the scope of the provisions enabling financial securities to be required is restricted solely to visitors to the UK. I am aware that concern has been expressed by interested parties and that the Bill as drafted does not limit the power to require financial securities solely from those seeking to visit the UK.

During the course of the debate on this clause in another place, it was made clear that our current intentions are to use these powers in respect of visitors; more specifically, only those seeking to undertake family visits--a particular class of visitor which causes problems for applicants and visa officers alike over the assessment of an applicant's intention to leave the UK at the end of his visit. I am happy to have this opportunity to confirm that that remains our current intention. The vast majority of visit applications are straightforward and will not require the application of this provision.

Under the 1971 Act, the Secretary of State is empowered to make rules setting out the practice for regulating entry into and stay in the UK. That is the

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appropriate place for us to set out precisely how this power will be used, in what sorts of cases, and in what way. I can assure your Lordships that in making those rules we shall take full account of responses to the consultation exercise on the design of the pilot scheme which we shall undertake later this month.

The noble Countess, Lady Mar, makes a useful and valuable point. Bearing that in mind, it seems absurd to us to rule out completely the extension of the scheme to other categories of case if it proves popular and is a success. That would deny to other categories of applicant a possible way of showing their bona fides. I am afraid, therefore, that I cannot support the amendment.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I noted what was said by the Minister in the other place--that primarily the power is required in respect of visitors and family visits alone. We shall watch this financial security operation carefully and if need be return to the matter at another stage. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 17:

Page 11, line 15, at end insert--
(“( ) a person with whom the Secretary of State has made a contract or other arrangements under section 90 or 94 or a sub-contractor of such a person;").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment places on the face of the Bill a power that might otherwise be taken under secondary legislation. It will make clear that those who contract with the Secretary of State to provide support for asylum seekers and their families will have the power to pass information to the Secretary of State for the immigration purposes set out in subsection (3). That represents a sensible precaution.

Contractors such as the landlords of accommodation used for asylum seekers will almost certainly have information about the asylum seekers that they are housing that they feel the Secretary of State ought to know about, to reassess an asylum seeker's needs. Contractors may also find themselves in the position of holding information relating to immigration control or to immigration crime. We want them to have the power to pass on that information, so that it can be assessed and processed by the asylum support directorate. In doing so they will, of course, be required to respect the confidentiality of such information in relation to any wider audience.

The House will note that this is a permissive power. We are imposing no obligation in statute on the bodies to seek out such information--merely a power to pass on what they come across in the ordinary course of their work under Part V1 of the scheme. I beg to move.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister's explanation but I know from

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discussions that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and I had with the previous Minister, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, about the scope of voluntary organisations that the Government envisage that support providers will be given an enhanced role in future in the care and support of asylum seekers. What consideration have the Government given to the change in the relationship between voluntary organisations and their clients and the difficulties that the amendment's provisions will create? A voluntary organisation may acquire information about a client that it would not wish to impart to the authorities, but it could be required to do so in future under Clause 16. Does the Minister accept that that will place voluntary organisations in an impossible position? A simpler way would be to stay with the wording of the previous legislation, which specifies police chiefs and others responsible for upholding the law--rather than those responsible for the provision of services.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, the Minister moved the amendment in an extremely charming and emollient way, but I see a number of sinister things below the surface. I hope that the Minister can assure the House that there are no such things.

A person contracted or subcontracted by the Secretary of State to provide support arrangements or accommodation will be authorised by Clause 16 to provide information about asylum seekers and others in his or her care. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised one point that concerns me--the position of charities providing such accommodation or support. Two further matters that trouble me are how far the provision is compatible with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and with the Data Protection Act 1984. We are primarily concerned that the Government are absolutely satisfied that there is no conflict of privacy in Clause 16.

I will take the matter one step further, in line with the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. It is very much in the interests of the Government and of voluntary organisations and charities to establish and maintain a relationship of trust with the people in their care--not least to avoid escape attempts or fights with the staff looking after them. If people feel that they are under an obligation to provide information under Clause 16, that trust will be destroyed from the beginning. We are dealing here with people who have little reason to trust their fellow human beings anyway and who therefore start with considerable suspicion.

It may be that the Minister can give the House more assurance. He said that the provision of such information will be voluntary on the part of a contractor or sub-contractor. It is not clear, however, whether such a voluntary commitment will make any difference to the awarding of a contract. In other words, can we be absolutely certain that refusing to make such a commitment will not damage the right of a contractor or subcontractor to obtain a contract on any other grounds? More important, is the Minister

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willing to say that charitable or religious organisations that might be contractors or sub-contractors to the Secretary of State will not be made to feel in any way morally bound to provide such information? I fear that the losses might be greater than the gains in demanding such a commitment.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I am surprised that this amendment was felt necessary. If somebody rents a room from a landlady and after a while a policeman comes around and asks her about that tenant, the landlady is entirely entitled to say to the police whatever she wishes in answer to their inquiries. The same is true of other officialdom and people who may ask about the tenant. The provision does not require the individuals concerned to give information but only that the information “may be supplied" to the Secretary of State for immigration purposes.

I understand, of course, that the police cannot give to others information that they have acquired in the course of their duties. The same goes for Customs and Excise and others listed in the Bill. They require legal permission to impart information to someone else--in this case, the Secretary of State. The landlady does not require such permission. She can give such information if she wishes. Clause 16 does not require her to do that. The same applies to a charity or any other body that has contracted with the Secretary of State to supply accommodation or another service.

My second thought was that there must be something behind the amendment, otherwise the Government would not have gone to the trouble of adding it to the Bill. Perhaps it gives the Government relief from some privacy restriction that might otherwise apply to a landlady in respect of the affairs of her tenant--for example, under human rights legislation. I am insufficiently knowledgeable about such provisions, new as they are, to know whether the amendment overcomes any such restriction.

The amendment is not necessary in one sense because, as the Minister made clear, the Government could have extended the provision to other persons by order under Clause 16(1)(e), subject to affirmative resolution. However, I am grateful to the Government for putting the provision on the face of the Bill rather than leaving it to an order. That seems a good thing.

By definition, the people who may give such information will have made a contract or other arrangement under Section 90 or 94. Presumably, the Secretary of State could have made it a term of the contract that they should give certain types of information. That might not be easy to do if the information comprises of suspicions that may have arisen in the landlady's mind that the person concerned is not all that he seems or that his story is not accurate for some reason. Therefore, it may be difficult to write that into the contract terms. But the underlying question is: why does a landlady, or anyone else who is contracted in this way, need statutory permission in order to have the ability to give information of this kind?

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