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Lord Avebury: I am sorry to pile one interruption upon another, but the Minister has not answered my question. At what time will those restrictions be imposed, bearing in mind that the four centres the Government intend to build are not immediately adjacent to a large town? If someone wants to go out for a drink in the evening or wishes to attend a cinema, he must be allowed reasonable time to do so and to return to the centre. If a restriction were imposed that everyone had to be in by midnight, they could not lead a normal social life and comply with that condition.
Lord Filkin: The detail of what one might call house rules on considerate behaviour towards other residents will need to be considered by the Government in regulations and by the centre management with regard to how those are developed. For example, speaking loosely, one could envisage that if there were young children it might be unreasonable to come in at two or three o'clock in the morning and start making a lot of noise, because people have a right to their sleep. On the other hand, people are not being detained in accommodation centres. They are also expected to be able to lead a normal life.
The best analogy I can give relates to the block of flats in which I live. I have a certain amount of freedom in what I can do, but I do not have freedom to play my music system after eleven o'clock at night. One seeks to have house rules that reflect other people's needs. In
Without getting myself into trouble, let me give an example. If someone wanted to go away for a night or two because there was a family funeral at the other end of the country, one could not imagine that that would not be allowed. But if someone repeatedly wanted to be away for two or three nights a week one would expect the centre manager to inquire why that person was going away for two or three nights, particularly if that were without permission, when they were expected to live in the accommodation centre to receive the support from the state for which they asked.
I now place on the record the Government's general position and explain why we do not think that opposition Amendments Nos. 108, 110, 122 and 139A are appropriate. Equally, we think it important that Clauses 21 and 23 stand part of the Bill.
On Amendment No. 108, Clause 15 sets out a category of persons who can be supported within an accommodation centre: that is, asylum seekers and their dependants who are destitute, or likely to become destitute within a period to be prescribed. It also contains a power to make regulations to set out the particular procedure to be followed in providing such accommodation and gives examples of particular provisions which can be included in such regulations. Amendment No. 108 would prevent the Secretary of State being able to specify in regulations the circumstances in which an application may not be considered.
We need this ability to ensure the process works as smoothly and efficiently as possible. A particular example of the type of circumstance which is likely to be included is that an application may not be considered where the appropriate application form has not been completed. If we are to process applications efficiently it is necessary to make these requirements and ensure that those who are seeking support comply with our procedures for the benefit of all concerned. We believe that Amendment No. 108 would lead to potential delays and confusion in the application process.
On Amendment No. 110, Clause 17 contains a definition of destitution. Subsection (6) allows the Secretary of State to make regulations. Paragraph (a) makes clear that the regulations may include provision
We believe that there is nothing sinister in Clause 17(6)(a). The power reflects an existing provision in Schedule 8 to the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. The asylum support regulations made under that Act specify the circumstances which are likely to be equally applicable for accommodation centres. They include, for example, a person who is eligible for interim support from a local authority under the Asylum Support (Interim Provisions) Regulations 1999 and a person who is eligible for social security benefits. Clearly, people eligible for support under other provisions should not be able to benefit from additional support. The asylum support regulations currently also excluded persons who have not made a claim for asylum. Again, we anticipate following a similar approach for accommodation centres. Naturally, we do not want to support non-asylum seekers under asylum support provisions. It is sensible to spell out these categories in secondary legislation so that the position is clear. Amendment No. 110 would prevent that.
Clause 21 is important because it sets out the relationship between provisions in Part 2 of the Bill and paragraph 21 of Schedule 2 to the 1971 Act, paragraph 2(5) of Schedule 3 to the 1971 Act and Section 4 of the 1999 Act.
A person subject to entry control may be examined by immigration officers to determine whether he is admitted to the UK and, if so, on what terms. Persons in that position are liable to detention but may be temporarily admitted as an alternative to being detained pending examination of their claim. Where they are granted temporary admission, they may be subject to residence and reporting requirements; similarly for people released from detention pending deportation.
Clause 21 makes clear that a residence requirement under paragraph 2(5) of Schedule 3 to the 1971 Act may include a requirement to reside at an accommodation centre in the same way as a person may currently be required to reside at a private address or NASS accommodation. Clause 21 also makes clear that where a person is required to leave the accommodation centre following, for example, a breach of conditions, he is treated as having broken the residence restriction imposed under the Immigration Act 1971. This means that he may be liable for detention under current detention policy in the same way as a person breaching a residence restriction imposed at the present time under the Immigration Act 1971. This is an important part of our approach to honouring our obligations and expecting compliance with our procedures as a result.
If support has been stopped under one of those provisions, it is right that we should be able to take account of that if a further application for support is made. We want to make sure that people are aware of the consequences of their actions. If they do not comply, they should not automatically expect to benefit in the same way as those who are fully compliant.
Clause 23(3) also allows the Secretary of State to take into account the fact that support has been withdrawn from a person following a breach of condition at an accommodation centre. Conditions of residence will be set out in regulations made under Clause 27 and will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. I hope that that will be helpful.
The provisions are entirely consistent with those in the Asylum Support Regulations 2000. Regulation 20 deals with the suspension or discontinuation of support. Stopping support is a serious matter. We would assess cases on their merits and consider the precise circumstances of each case before taking that option. However, if our systems are to command the confidence of all those here and of the asylum seekers themselves, we must make clear what we expect of those who seek sanctuary and what may happen if our hospitality is abused. Asylum seekers whose support is withdrawn under the provisions of Clause 23 have the safeguard of a right of appeal to the asylum support adjudicator, as I said.
Amendment No. 122 would fundamentally undermine our policy for accommodation centres. We have made it clear that we intend residents to be subject to reporting and residence requirements. That is a crucial part of providing better contact management. If we cannot require accommodation centre residents to be present in the centre at specified timessuch as overnighthow can we be sure of their whereabouts? It is a sad fact that some asylum seekers abuse our systems. I shall not go on about that. Our study of what happens in Denmark produced evidence that, in some circumstances, people will live elsewhere, if there is no residence requirement.
It may help if I make clear that, in operating residence conditions under Clause 27, the Secretary of State is obliged to be reasonable. That is an explicit and enforceable principle of administrative law. We will not make asylum seekers subject to unreasonable residence conditions. We want the centres to be self-contained communities in which people can live as normally as possible. As I said, we expect that
In short, if people behave reasonablywe have made clear our expectationsand do not abuse our hospitality, they should be able to abide by the residence conditions with minimal fuss and with minimal impact on their daily life. There would also be an understanding that exceptional circumstances would require reasonable consideration.
The Government cannot accept Amendment No. 139A. Taking a power to end the provision of subsistence-only support is wholly consistent with our policy of developing a more managed asylum system and developing ways of keeping better contact with asylum seekers during the asylum process. Given what we have discussed, it is clear that the replacement of the present system of dispersed accommodation with accommodation centres is some time in the future. Indeed, there is no certainty that that will happen; it is equally plausible that we might have a mixed system including some centres and some dispersal. However, if it does happen, we intend to offer support only in those accommodation centres.
Under current arrangements, asylum seekers can stay with friends or relatives and claim support to cover essential living needs. We have no control over where they live, which makes it difficult to maintain contact. As the Committee knows, large numbers of those who take up cash-only support remain in London and the South East. As of December 2001, over 17,000 of the 25,000-plus asylum seekers taking subsistence-only support lived in London. That presents problems and does nothing to help alleviate the pressure on services in the areas that the introduction of the dispersal scheme was designed to help. In deciding whether and when to exercise the power, the Government will take all relevant factors into consideration, including our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.
It is anticipated that any increase in accommodation costs will be offset by savings delivered elsewhere in the asylum system as a result of improved contact. I recognise that we are talking about events that are conjectural and some way into the future. However, the power must be there, should we need to cross that bridge.
Earl Russell: I am grateful to the Minister for the care, courtesy and consideration with which he has handled the amendments. In offering to reflect on them over the summer, he has offered me the central assurance for which I asked.
Some questions remain. I was relieved by what the Minister said about the reasonableness required by Clause 27. I hope that that will meet some of the points raised by my noble friend Lord Avebury. When he spoke on Clause 21, he made clear the element of compulsion in that clause. I happen to know a Kosovar refugee who has settled in London. She would, I think, have come to London in any case because she wanted to be near to be near her sister who lives here. That is not unreasonable. Making it compulsory not to do it would raise questions.
The Minister skilfully and carefully considered the accommodation centres and the withdrawal of support as two separate lines of argument. However, the central point of what I said was that, in such cases, they may need to be taken jointly, not severally. It is the combination of the compulsion to reside with the penaltywe must call it thatof withdrawal of support from someone who breaches it that raises questions in my mind about whether that might amount to a form of detention.
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