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Lord Kingsland: That is the whole point of the amendment. The noble Lord says that it removes "some helpful flexibility" without adding anything. If it adds nothing, that proves the objective that the amendment sought to prove; namely, if "shall" adds nothing to "may", "may" in the Government's mind, in practice, will always be "shall".
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I would argue the opposite case. "May" is a much more flexible word to use in the context of the clause than "shall", which is far more definite.
Lord Kingsland: If "shall", to use the Minister's own words, adds nothing, that suggests that "may" is an illusory discretion.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: We could argue the point for a long time. I do not believe that it is illusory. I believe that the word is there for a good reason. I know that Members of the Committee find this hard to accept, but the flexibility is important. I cannot see that "shall" adds anything to it. If the noble Lord wants to reflect further on the point, I shall reflect further on our position.
Amendment No. 175A would reduce the effectiveness of the current wording by removing the reference to the power being imposed,
If, for example, an asylum seeker has accommodation available to him but that accommodation is not near a place where an induction programme is run, we want to be able to have the person residing, for a short period, not at that accommodation but at a place which is more convenient. Otherwise, individuals may find themselves missing important parts of the briefing because of delays in getting to the place where information is being given out. That is a sensible requirement which will enable the induction process to be run effectively and efficiently.
I should like to make two additional points. First, there will be cases where we would not expect to exercise the power in Clause 59. For example, it is not the intention to have unaccompanied asylum seeking children going through the same programme of induction as is given to others, although they will have an equivalent programme. In addition, there may be individual cases where it would be inappropriate for a person to go through the normal induction programme. We shall of course deal with such cases in an appropriate manner, tailored to the person's particular needsnothing in the clause as drafted would prevent us from doing so.
Secondly, where people had accommodation available to them, they would not be seeking NASS support. The period of time they would spend going through the induction programme would therefore be shortprobably no more than a single night. So the requirement to reside away from their accommodation would not be long-lastinga residence restriction would not last longer than necessary.
That leads me to Amendment No. 175B. This would reduce the maximum period for which a person could be required to stay near a place where an induction programme was being run from 14 days to seven days.
The period of time a person will spend going through the programme will depend on his or her circumstances. As I mentioned, someone who has acceptable accommodation available to him or herfor example, through family or friendsshould be through the process in about a day. For those going to accommodation centres, the process might take two or three days. For those seeking NASS support but not going to an accommodation centre, the process will often last slightly longer because of the need to find suitable accommodation.
We would expect that for people in this last category the process would last no more than about seven days, but there will always be some casesas indeed there have been recently at Doverwhere matters take
The restriction will be in place for only so long as it is required. So where a person has accommodation and the process is completed, we shall not require that person to continue to reside near the induction programme location. As for asylum seekers who have no support available to them and for whom the government are in the process of finding support, there will be no hardship for them to be required to stay in accommodation near the induction programme locationrather, in our view, it will reduce uncertainties and upheavals that they might face.
The noble Lord and I have disagreed about the flexibility required. However, I have given an explanation as to why we believe that the restrictions that we are placing on people in these circumstances are reasonable. I suggest that these amendments are not necessary.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may suggest that he re-examines the drafting. The clause is ambiguous. The requirement could be put much more clearly. I am not sure whether my noble friend has found the solution, but the noble Lord ought to look at it again. It is quite incomprehensible.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am always happy to agree to re-examine wording. Like the noble Baroness, I am happy to see us bring legislative language into an up-to-date format that we can all understand. So we will try to bring some further clarity to the wording.
Lord Judd: Before my noble friend sits down, it would be immensely helpful if he could give a specific assurance that it is the intention of himself and his colleagues that valid compassionate grounds should always be taken into account.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am more than happy to give that assurance. We want to exercise the process in an entirely compassionate way. It will be tailored to individual needs. That is why we need the flexibility to which I have referred.
Lord Kingsland: I shall not press the point that lies behind the amendment again. I simply ask the noble Lord whether, during the summer adjournment, he might reflect on our exchanges. I shall table the amendment again at Report stage and we can debate it further. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 175A and 175B not moved.]
Lord Kingsland moved Amendment No. 176:
The noble Lord said: We remain disturbed at the Government's failure to appreciate the need for early access to legal advice for all asylum seekers, and especially for those who are under a disability, such as unaccompanied minors and persons who have no command of the English language.
It is surely in the interests of the Government, as well as of asylum seekers, to secure decisions as quickly and fairly as possible. Legal advice at the initial stage can help to elicit all the information on which a Home Office caseworker can make a fully informed decision.
Despite the provision of statement of evidence forms in languages other than English, these complicated documents still have to be completed in English. There is a paucity of free interpretation and translation services available to asylum seekers, especially in areas of dispersal.
Whatever the individual circumstances of asylum seekers, they all share the desire to know what their status is likely to be. They all want their claim to be fully articulated. That can be done only with the assistance of qualified, competent and free advice.
There is no commitment to enable those in induction centres to have access to legal advice, even though some will be there for several days. On leaving an induction centre, an asylum seeker will be dispersed and given a date for the interview and a travel warrant to get there. They have little or no chance of arranging for legal advice and representation in the area of dispersal, unless that has been arranged while they stayed in the induction centre. I beg to move.
Lord Greaves: I support Amendment No. 176. All of us who are in any way involved with asylum seekers know how vital it is that they get proper, accurate legal advice as early as possible in the process. A large number of the difficulties that asylum seekers encounter, including their failure to present a full and adequate case at the initial interview and therefore to get a proper decision early in the proceedings, come from their inability in different ways to access competent legal advice that gives them sufficient time to prepare their case and obtain all the necessary documentation. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, has made an important point and we support it.
Amendment No. 177, in the names of my noble friends Lord Russell and Lord Dholakia, says that the provisions of Clause 59 should apply when,
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