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Lord Hylton: I fully agree with both previous speakers about the importance of early legal advice and the crucial importance of interpretation and translation. However, I would not be dogmatic about whether that happens in an induction centre, in an accommodation centre or at the beginning of dispersal. The vital thing is that the applicant gets it. That is in the interests of the quality of first decisions and the avoidance of further appeals and judicial reviews. I very much look forward to the Minister's reply.
Lord Judd: Anything that the Minister can say to underline the Government's determination that people shall have access to legal advice from the beginning in their own interests and those of good procedures and sensible outcomes would be welcome.
Lord Renton: I support Amendment No. 176 for several reasons in addition to those that my noble friend has mentioned. I find the drafting of the whole clause unsatisfactory. Unless legal advice is given about the effect of the cross-references to the 1971 Act, they will create appalling obscurity for asylum seekers. After all, 1971 is 30 years ago.
There is a further problem. At the top of page 33, "programme of induction" is defined as:
Even if those amendments are agreed, I can save the Committee my making another speech later by saying that the whole clause is unsatisfactory from the point of view of drafting and cross-references and because it will place asylum seekers at an appalling disadvantage. There we are. Whatever the decision on the amendments, I hope that the Government will look at the clause again.
Earl Russell: The Committee seems pretty well unanimous in favour of Amendment No. 176. However, it is not the only amendment in the group. I shall follow up what my noble friend Lord Greaves has said on Amendment No. 177.
Children seeking asylum in this country tend to arrive in a state of trauma. One who is known to me had come from Kosovo, where she had seen her grandparents shot by Serbs in her presence. She did not speak for three months after that. I am happy to say that she is now doing fine and is a strong justification for educating asylum seekers in the normal school system, where she is thriving.
Not everybody in that situation recovers as quickly. Very often, the speed with which help is given to people in that situation makes an enormous difference to how effective it is. For a child in particular, to be able to say
I would understate the case if I said that in this case a stitch in time saves nine. It may save 999. The care process is very expensive. Even from a Treasury point of view, one does not want to involve people in it more than necessary.
I also support Amendment No. 177ZA, which says:
We believed then that we had been given adequate undertakings that victims of torture would not be detained. It has not proved to be the case. As far as I can see, the selection of people for detention is entirely random. Victims of torture seem still to be detained in just about the same proportion as everyone else.
These are not merely people who have done nothing wrong. They are not merely people who are not even accused of doing anything wrong. They are people to whom very great wrong has been done. To detain them without cause shown and without charge gives a very literal meaning to words that are normally used metaphorically: compounding a felony.
I hope that the Minister will feel able to give us again the undertaking that we were given in 1996, and that, if so, the Government are able to take control of the administrative process which leads to detention sufficiently thoroughly to be able, as I am sure they wish to do, to make that undertaking good. It will be a difficult struggle. I wish them luck with it.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I should like to start by saying something positive about these amendments. It is this. I can well sense the feeling and mood of the House, and I support and encourage the sympathy that has been expressed for those who come here after very traumatic circumstances and have to undergo a process. I also think that the debate about asylum seekers has usefully moved on. I am hearing a much more positive attitude and approach to asylum seekers, and I think that that is all to the good. However, that does not mean that we do not have to have in place a set of very proper, very rigorous, but, as I said before, occasionally uncomfortable processes of bureaucracy which can occasionally seem insensitive. However, if we are to have a proper programme of managed migration, it is in everyone's interest that those rigorous processes are in place.
These amendments again pick away at and examine the operation of the induction process. I think that we have established that the induction programme is an important element in the new procedures and that it is
Amendments Nos. 176 and 177A deal with access to legal advice. In discussing this issue within the context of Clause 59, we really do need to be clearer about the nature and purpose of the induction programme. I think that this is an iterative process; we are all beginning to learn what that process entails.
The Government's position on legal advice was set out quite clearly in the White Paper. Paragraph 4.36 states:
I think that we need to pause and think about what that means. What we are saying is this. At that very early stage, we are describing a process; we are advising people and helping them to understand when they can make best use of quality legal advice. That is what it is about.
Information about legal advice will form part of the induction programme. So before a person leaves, they will, for example, be given information about how they can obtain access to legal advice in the area in which they will be living. They will also be given a date for when the interview on the substance of their asylum claim will be held. This will normally be 2 or 3 weeks from the date they leave the induction programme. So all asylum seekers will, if they wish, have the opportunity to discuss their claim in advance of the interview.
I think that these arrangements are right and set things in the right order, and that there is no basis for imposing the requirement in this amendment that legal advice be provided at the induction programme stage. The induction programme will explain the virtue, value and necessity of good legal advice. It will not in itself be a part of the process of providing that legal advice.
I turn to Amendment No. 177. Although I fully understand why the amendment has been tabled, I do not think that it is necessary or, in the circumstances, appropriate. The policy intention is that children who are dependants of their asylum-seeking parents will accompany them to an induction centre. That is beneficial to all concerned, and I cannot see any reason to prefer that the children be separated at that stage.
Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children will also receive induction. It is as important for them that they understand what is going on as it is for adults. They
The provision in the Children Act 1989 to which the amendment refers enables a local authority to carry out an assessment of a child's needs where it appears to such an authority that a child within their area is in need. My understanding is that in very few cases would a local authority carry out such an assessment in respect of a child who was here as a dependant. In most cases, no particular needs would exist which would merit an assessment being made.
Consequently, it would clearly be inappropriate for such an assessment to be made a requirement in relation to a dependent child going to an induction centre. Adequate arrangements will exist to cater for children during their short stay at or near an induction programme, and it makes no sense to impose the condition set out in the amendment. The amendment would impose such a condition. It would either place an unacceptable and perhaps even unnecessary burden on local authorities to carry out assessments where there was no justification; or it would prevent dependent children going to induction centres since such assessments may not be carried out.
I should add that a core assessment can take up to 35 days. If the intention of this amendment is to hold up the asylum process for this period, then I think that it is very misguided indeed. No one would gain from such delay in the system. Where there are cases that merit an assessment of a child by a local authority, the Children Act 1989 enables that to be done. So no specific provision is needed in relation to a clause on induction centres.
We contend that very few cases are likely to arise where it would be harmful to a dependent child for it to reside near a programme centre. However, should such a case arise, there is no requirement in the Bill as drafted that a child must reside in such a place. As noted earlier, the clause provides a power that may be exercised, but does not have to be exercised in every case.
I turn finally to Amendment No. 178A, which would prevent a person being moved out of their accommodation near an induction programme site until the Secretary of State had satisfied himself that access to legal advice would be available in the area to which the asylum applicant was to be sent. As I said earlier, applicants who go through the programme will be given information before they leave about how they can obtain access to legal advice in the area where they will be living. If a person is going to an accommodation centre, there will be access to legal advice; it will be there on location. Moreover, if a person is dispersed to part of the NASS estate, he will be able to obtain legal advice. The whereabouts of that advice will be made plain and clear to him.
It will be for applicants who make their own accommodation arrangements to decide how they will access legal advice and support. However, as I explained earlier, they will be given information on legal advice in their area during the course of the induction programme. We shall do everything we can to ensure that that occurs. It is in the interests of the state to provide that legal advice as it will help individuals to help the state reach a proper decision and will ensure that people's rights are fully understood. Those rights are important and we need to protect them.
I am satisfied that applicants will gain sufficient information from the induction programmes to seek legal advice. That is our aim and objective. I referred to the Government's commitment in the White Paper to asylum seekers having that advice. Arrangements will be in place to enable that to happen. Therefore, I can see no reason for adopting the proposed amendment. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
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