Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 159:

Page 64, line 8, leave out (“supported persons") and insert (“asylum-seekers").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 160 to 167, 168, 169, 170, 176 to 180. This group is concerned with the role of local authorities. As we discussed earlier, particularly on the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, some local authorities have considerable amounts of spare housing stock available. We very much hope that they will make some of that available for use by the directorate in accommodating asylum seekers. I am happy to reaffirm that we are in active discussion with local authorities on this point, and we are hopeful of reaching acceptable arrangements with them.

Amendments Nos. 159 and 160 provide the necessary basis for local authorities to enter into contractual arrangements with the Secretary of State. It is possible that some local authorities may be reluctant to come forward with spare and unused housing stock. Clause 97 therefore provides a reserve power for the Secretary of State to issue a direction. The government amendments to Clause 97 are all designed to give proper safeguards to local authorities which might be the object of such a direction. They reflect discussions we have had with local authorities, local authority associations and of course colleagues in other government departments.

Amendment No. 161, together with Amendments Nos. 167 and 170 provide that a direction under Clause 97 must be made by reference to specific criteria. Before setting out these criteria in the order--I hope that noble Lords will approve of this--the

20 Oct 1999 : Column 1215

Secretary of State must consult the bodies mentioned in subsections (9) and (10). This will ensure that the principles underlying the act of issuing a direction are clearly understood. In the case of a direction issued to a Scottish local authority, the confirmation of Scottish Ministers, who will have the best appreciation of local circumstances, that the designation criteria are met is required.

Amendments Nos. 162 and 165 make provision for a direction to require minor works to be done and to allocate responsibility for dealing with costs. The general assumption is that the costs would fall to the Secretary of State. There may be circumstances where that would not occur.

Amendment No. 163 is a technical amendment. Amendment No. 166 provides for a dispute resolution procedure. It provides a resolution by an independent third party. Amendment No. 164 provides that regulations may be made establishing the condition in which a property is to be returned to the local authority at the end of the period of a direction. Amendments Nos. 177 and 178 ensure that the Secretary of State has the power to make payments to local authorities and local authority associations for Part VI services. Amendment No. 178 places the Secretary of State under an explicit duty to make payments for accommodation provided to him as a result of the direction.

I hope that it will never be necessary to use the powers in Clause 97 to direct a local authority. Voluntary arrangements are infinitely preferable. However, we need a back-stop. These general amendments meet the purposes I have described. I beg to move.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, Amendment No. 168 is grouped with the amendments to which the noble and learned Lord has just spoken. Subsection (7) of the clause states:

    “The Secretary of State must make regulations with respect to the general management of any housing accommodation for which a direction under subsection (3) is, for the time being, in force".

My amendment requires the Secretary of State to consult local authorities about subsection (7) in terms of making regulations. Earlier in Clause 97 there are powers for the Secretary of State to consult. We wonder why there is no such power in subsection (7). There may be an obvious explanation. It seems to us that there should be a mechanism whereby the Secretary of State can do this. I shall be interested in the noble and learned Lord's answer.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I wish to speak to Amendment No. 169. We had a useful discussion relating to a similar matter on the provision of services for people who are tortured. My amendment seeks to ensure that information collected by the Legal Aid Board on the number of solicitors' offices and other organisations which have bid for a legal aid contract under the immigration and asylum category can be taken into account in designating the areas in which asylum seekers will be dispersed.

20 Oct 1999 : Column 1216

I say that because past experience has always indicated that specialist advice on complex issues of immigration and asylum is available in fairly limited areas. If asylum seekers are to be put in areas where such advice is not available, they will be at a disadvantage. I know that we have spoken about this matter on similar lines. I hope that the Government will take the amendment into account.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Viscount, Lord Astor. In subsection (9) there is an obligation to consult before the designation of reception zones. But, more fundamentally, subsections (11) and (12) require consultation. I think that the noble Viscount and I are of the same view. We did not think that it was necessary to set out the requirement more fully. We believe that it is fully dealt with by the present scheme of the Bill.

Not for the first time, the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and I are in general agreement about what we want. His point is very well taken. We are discussing with the Legal Aid Board what steps might be taken to ensure that the new contracting arrangements take account of the need for asylum seekers to have access to practitioners skilled in immigration law. He and I are absolutely at one. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, said the same earlier. We thought that the best thing for us to do was to continue our consultations with the Legal Aid Board. I repeat: there are settled communities with access to appropriate advice. I am grateful to both noble Lords for raising these questions. I hope that I have been able to satisfy them respectively on Amendments Nos. 168 and 169.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. I understand the points about subsections (10) and (11). My point was that, when the Secretary of State makes regulations in respect of the general management of the housing accommodation, as opposed to merely the reception zones, he should consult. I take it from the Minister's reply that that would be part of the consultation process. If that is correct, I am happy to accept his explanation.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, before we conclude this group of amendments perhaps I may ask a couple of questions. One concerns Amendments Nos. 162 and 163. Would the “minor work" referred to include, for example, such matters as taking the boards off a house that had been closed down? Would it also include the minor work necessary to make habitable a house that might have been empty for some time?

On a related point, the provision in Amendments Nos. 166 and 167 for disputes to be dealt with by a dispute resolution procedure strikes us as rather odd, as one of the parties to that dispute procedure would presumably be the Home Office. It seems to us, on the basis of most arbitration and conciliation procedures, that the appropriate body to set up a dispute procedure would not be one of those specifically involved in the disputes. We wonder, therefore,

20 Oct 1999 : Column 1217

whether the Government have given any thought to the idea of passing such a dispute procedure under the eyes of a body with experience of such procedures other than the Government; otherwise, there will be an element of interest in the outcome because one has an interest in one side of the dispute procedure. I hope that the noble and learned Lord follows my no doubt convoluted question.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is not convoluted in the slightest. The Secretary of State is entitled to make regulations for the dispute resolution machinery. It would have to be fair and perfectly in accordance with the principles of natural justice. The whole point of this is to avoid--I am about to be disbarred!--legalistic and expensive proceedings.

If there are to be disputes, one wants a simple dispute resolution procedure. Such a procedure is well known. It would involve, for instance, the nomination of an independent mediator, arbitrator or conciliator, who could, for instance, be from a panel maintained by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. There is nothing unusual about this. We are not trying to load the dice. We are simply saying, “If we cannot resolve disputes, here is a simple, easy, non-legalistic and inexpensive way of doing it".

“Minor work" could certainly mean putting property back into good repair, and might well include unboarding.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, I am conscious that your Lordships do not wish the occupant of the Woolsack, or indeed the Chair, to venture into matters of order. But if I may be of some help to the House, I would indicate that it is customary, and in accordance with the procedure of this House on Report, for no interventions to take place--unless it is an intervention in the middle of the replying Minister's speech--after the Minister has sat down. It would be in accordance with the procedure of the House if any interventions by any noble Lords took place before the Minister's reply. I hope that that is not in any way infringing your Lordships' wish about the conduct of order in this House. I hope only that my intervention will be of some help.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page