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Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, the principle of Amendment No. 115 is straightforward and simple. It is that the processes which entitle people in this country to the full protection of the laws should not be short-circuited by their inability to survive while that full protection is extended to them. As the right reverend Prelate very eloquently said, hunger and homelessness should not be reasons why people are not entitled to justice.
Most people who seek asylum status in this country are far from well off. Some, when they reach us, are already virtually destitute. That is exactly the reason why, quite properly, the Government have sought to provide some sort of support for them. However critical we may be of the form that support takes, we accept that the Government recognise that those people deserve to be supported.
The strange thing is that that form of support comes to an end before the appeals process is completed. Indeed, one of the most serious forms of appeal, judicial review, is not included within the extension of the support arrangements. People seeking and getting leave for judicial review have already, by definition, a fairly powerful case. As the right reverend Prelate pointed out, in 81 per cent of cases where people seek judicial review, they are eventually satisfactorily shown to have a case which can not only be made out, but is accepted by the court.
I do not want to detain the House, but I believe that a fundamental principle is at stake here: the fundamental principle of justice to all, regardless of means, regardless of income and regardless of wealth. On the ground of that principle, I strongly commend to the House the amendment in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark.
Lord Ackner: My Lords, I should like briefly to support the last two speakers. There seems to me to be little point in a having a litany of rights of appeal and rights to have the courts supervising the jurisdiction being provided if one cannot have the wherewithal to live while that process goes on. A right which cannot be exercised is no right at all. I support, for the reasons given, the need for a power to support, even where the appeal may look hopeless. Many appeals look hopeless but in the end turn out to be successful.
I spent a day at an adjudication tribunal a fortnight ago, and I took the opportunity to speak with many of those involved in such cases at the front line. They are some of our finest lawyers and I was enormously impressed by the arguments they put forward on this subject. I wanted to add my voice to those saying that this seems an eminently sensible, humane and right amendment. I hope that it will have some support from Government.
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I too should like to support the amendment in the name of the right reverend Prelate. He has already referred to the work of charities and to the burden that this clause will create. We shall return to that point in a later amendment. I should like to ask the Government about the cost of including this amendment. I suspect that it may not be very great. I wonder also if, in their efforts to look firm--I understand the signals which they have to send to the public all through the process of this Bill--the Government are sacrificing their ability to be fair.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, the subject of Amendment No. 115, which is an important issue, has received much consideration both in Committee in this House and in another place. The Government believe it important that there must be a defined point at which the support provided under Part VI of the Bill
I must emphasise that it has already been stated on a number of occasions in this context that in the interest of the welfare of children, we are committed to support asylum seekers with children under the age of 18 for as long as they remain in the United Kingdom. By the time an asylum seeker's case reaches the stage of judicial review, it will have been thoroughly considered by the Home Office, by an adjudicator, possibly by the Immigration Appeals Tribunal, and will have been found to be without merit by all of these. If the tribunal's decision results in an appeal being heard either in the Court of Appeal or in the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords, support will continue for that period.
We believe that it is only right that those who want to take their case further by pursuing a judicial review should look to the voluntary sector or to their own communities for support. Recognising the role of the voluntary sector in supporting such cases, we propose to make substantial sums available to them for support of what one might term hard cases", at their discretion.
The situations which the amendment seeks to cover are, with respect, exceedingly wide, and offer the less scrupulous economic migrant--for, at this stage of the asylum process, it is realistic to say that that is what they are often found to be--huge scope for creating delays. We know, for example, that the great majority of applications for judicial review never even result in the granting of leave. The scope of what the amendment terms further representations" is huge, and the extent to which creative obstruction can create difficulties for normal removal is considerable. In order to continue the support, all that will be required is an application for leave to apply for judicial review or the making of further representations.
As part of the improvement of the whole immigration process, we are also upgrading arrangements for assisting the return of those no longer entitled to remain in this country. In certain circumstances, that may include assistance with documentation and ticketing. Rather than providing a continued expectation of statutory support, that is the correct approach towards people who claim difficulty in leaving the country.
Where there are genuine problems, the voluntary sector would be able to deploy a hard cases grant to assist such people. The support arrangements that we propose in this part of the Bill are eminently fair and reasonable for anyone with a genuine claim for asylum. I cannot accept the proposition contained in this amendment.
A second point was raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark who asked what could be done by people with no resources. As is clear from the argument which I have advanced, we say that an end must be brought to the support when, in effect, the process comes to an end. It is worth pointing out that there has always been some person who is subject to existing immigration control while having no access to benefits. So far, such people have not been evident in the population of those sleeping rough on the streets. That was a point made by the right reverend Prelate.
Lord Ackner: My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord sits down, the point was made about applications for judicial review. What will happen if the application has been granted? That would cut down very considerably the problem of numbers mentioned by the noble and learned Lord. It means that a judge has taken the view that there is a good arguable case for establishing that someone has acted without jurisdiction or has acted unfairly in the judicial review sense. What harm would there be in enabling support to run from the moment that leave to move has been granted?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, that point was raised in Committee. It has been very carefully considered by the Government. We do not believe that the appropriate way to deal with the comparatively small number of such cases in 1998 is by reviving the right to support, which is the implication of the noble and learned Lord's suggestion; we believe that those cases can be dealt with by the substantial sums that will be given to the voluntary sector to help with the hard cases.
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