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Lord Dholakia: Does the Minister consider that the care assessment is in a child's best interests? Surely it should be carried out irrespective of the length of any delay in the asylum process. For that reason surely it is in the best interests of a child.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The assessment proposed in the amendment would not necessarily be in the best interests of a child, particularly of a child who is with his family in an induction centre. To put such a child through a social services assessment at that stage might be completely unnecessary. There will, of course, need to be flexibility. The system is now somewhat more geared to the needs of the individual and where it is appropriate such an assessment could be made. The power exists for it to be made.

Earl Russell: The Minister made a couple of remarks that worried me a little. First, he described this as part of a process of managed migration. That rather strengthens me in the opinion that I expressed on Monday; namely, that asylum and immigration ought to be seen as two different subjects. They ought to be managed by two different divisions of the Home Office and included in two different Bills. As soon as the thinking of one subject overflows into the other, mistakes occur. It was clear from the report, Deciding to Detain, which I quoted on Monday, that immigration officers live by the creed of A P Herbert's epitaph on an archbishop:

Did their best to bring men in

But I was best without a doubt

At keeping the unworthy out

So when I died the Church was one and that was me".

That is not the spirit in which asylum law should be administered.

The other thing that worried me a little was when the Minister said that it was the duty of the induction centres to give information to asylum seekers about the process of asylum. However, he did not say

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anything at all about receiving information from asylum seekers. But if the process is to be at all useful, it needs to be a two-way process. I should like to know from when the asylum claim starts to run. When does the clock start ticking? Does it start ticking after they have come out of the induction centre, when they have access to legal advice, or does it start ticking the minute they go into the induction centre before they have had any access to legal advice? If it were the second, it would be of some concern to me.

I appreciate the point that the Minister made about the difficulty of getting a social services assessment of a traumatised child. The BMA brief on the Bill is full of such cases. However, that is precisely why it is necessary to have a duty placed on the local authority. It is an argument that I have heard repeated over and over again by those who have taken part in the Grand Committee on the Adoption and Children Bill. It is an argument which has some place here.

It is also important that advice should be in many contexts impartial. Suppose, for example, that advice is given on repatriation. It may not be the intention of the present Government, but I am perfectly able to envisage a future government who might give such advice. It would be vitally important that that advice should be given by someone impartial.

Recently I came across a rather useful and interesting quotation in Sir William Wade's book on administrative law from the committee on Ministers' powers in 1932 which pointed out that a cynical and lazy Minister may much more often be able to give an impartial ruling on a judicial matter than one who is more zealous in his particular duty. The committee stated:

    "An easygoing and cynical Minister rather bored with his office and sceptical of the value of his department, would find it far easier to apply a judicial mind to a purely judicial problem connected with the department's administration than a Minister whose head and heart were in his work. Parliament should be chary of imposing on Ministers the ungrateful task of giving judicial decisions in matters in which their very zeal for the public service can scarcely fail to unbalance their unconscious".

I do not think that I would describe the Home Secretary as an easygoing and cynical Minister. So the Home Secretary equipped with those powers might well apply them in a spirit in which zeal was more obvious than impartiality. Even if he did not do so, he might very well be unjustly accused of having done so. It is a suspicion from which, if I were Home Secretary, I would rather like to protect myself.

These amendments could be in the Home Secretary's personal interest quite as much as they are in the interests of asylum seekers.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I shall respond to a couple of the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. The noble Earl, as ever, entertains the Committee with an historical discourse. I was interested in his description of Ministers. The Home Secretary does an extremely good job in difficult circumstances. I am grateful that the noble Earl does not think that he is a cynic; he certainly is not. The Bill is testament to that. We are trying hard to get it right in everyone's interests

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so that the process is not seen as cynical but one that works for those who are caught up in the asylum process.

I shall not enter into a long debate about asylum being mixed up with managed migration as I do not believe that that would take us much further in considering the amendments. We are trying to ensure that there is no confusion between asylum and managed migration. The asylum process should not be abused. It is in everyone's best interest that it should be used properly.

I am conscious that I did not respond to an issue that the noble Earl raised earlier. I believe that he referred to Amendment No. 177ZA when he said that victims of torture should not be sent to induction centres. However, induction centres are not detention centres. We are not sending people to detention centres. The atmosphere in an induction centre is very different.

Earl Russell: Will the doors in induction centres be locked at night?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I understand that they will not. Induction centres do not resemble detention centres in any way.

The noble Earl asked whether, if there were special circumstances which justified a person not going to an induction centre, the Secretary of State need not send him or her there. I refer to the case of someone who has self-evidently suffered torture and discomfort before arriving in this country to seek asylum. Flexibility is available in the matter. We should celebrate the fact that that flexibility exists.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked when an asylum claim starts. Our understanding is that it starts from the moment at which it is recorded. That happens before the induction centre stage. That is when the clock starts to tick.

I hope that I have responded fairly to the points that the noble Earl raised.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Kingsland: I thank the Minister for his reply. In his response to my amendment, he drew to the attention of Members of the Committee the Government's White Paper, Secure Borders, Safe Haven, which was published in February 2002. In particular he drew to our attention paragraph 4.36 in support of the proposition that he sought to sustain. I remind him of the words that he quoted just a few minutes ago. That paragraph states:

    "While access to legal advice is not a pre-requisite to initial decision making, and should not hold up the decision making process, the Government is committed to ensuring access to quality legal advice at that, and all later stages, for all asylum seekers whether or not they are in an Accommodation Centre".

First, I want to dispose of the statement that,

    "the Government is committed to ensuring access to quality legal advice".

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That commitment does not appear anywhere in the Bill. Earlier in the Bill there is a commitment to provide the facilities for the provision of legal advice. When the relevant amendment was debated, the understanding of Members of the Committee was that legal advice would be financed by the Legal Services Commission. We all know that the Legal Services Commission deals with legal aid in the context of civil matters and that it applies a fairly stiff test before it is disposed to provide legal aid for asylum cases. There is no guarantee in the Bill for quality legal advice. However, it appears that paragraph 4.36 of the White Paper requires that. I hope that between now and Report, the Minister will see that the Bill is amended to that effect.

That is not, however, germane to the amendment. What is germane to the amendment is the fact that paragraph 4.36, in my submission, achieves the opposite to what the Minister said, in response to my opening statement, it would achieve. My understanding of the paragraph, which I have just quoted, is that it contains a clear commitment to provide legal advice at the induction stage. All the later stages—

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I read that paragraph differently. My reading of it is that the legal advice will be there from the point at which an initial decision is made. Legal advice will be necessary at that point, not at the point of induction. The induction process, which, as I described, may be quite short or perhaps up to two weeks, will involve facilitating people's access at a later stage so that the legal advice is there to enable representations to be made at the decision-making stage.

Lord Kingsland: The commitment here is to give legal advice at the initial decision-making stage and at "all later stages". However, the "later stages" in the paragraph are the accommodation or dispersal stages. So far as I am aware, there is no intervening stage between induction and accommodation or dispersal. So how can the Minister's interpretation possibly be correct?

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