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Lord Bassam of Brighton: I think that my understanding is the right one; I am confident that it is. However, we will reflect on the noble Lord's words. I believe that the reference to the accommodation centre is something of a red herring. That is simply a matter of where people are living. The important point is that we ensure that throughout the decision-making stages, there is good legal advice.
I re-emphasise that the induction centre is not part of the decision-making process but that it is part of the asylum process. That needs to be understood. Paragraph 4.36 of the White Paper supports the contention that legal advice is available before a decision is taken. That, surely, is the important point.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: Why is that the case? Some of those people attending the induction processwe should be honest about thismay not have more than a rudimentary understanding of the English language. During the induction process, it may well be the case that they will benefit from having some interpretation facility so that it can be properly explained to them how the decision-making process will work and so that they can get access to good-quality legal advice before decisions are made. The induction programme opens up the system for them so that legal advice is available to them before a decision is made.
The medical foundation knows that a good many people are leaving induction centres and going to London to get legal advice, thereby putting themselves in breach of their legal residence requirement. The Minister probably remembers the days when he used to wait for exam results. It was an anxious period. If one could get the information sooner, one was rather keen to do so. That anxiety is nothing compared with the anxiety about the determination of one's asylum claim. If people can get legal advice sooner by going to Londonresident requirement or notthey will do so. It would be elementary to let them have the facilities on the spot so that they could take advantage of them at once. That would save a great deal of time spent hunting for people who have gone looking for legal advice elsewhere. That would be to the Minister's convenience as well as a kindness to the asylum seeker.
Lord Kingsland: The noble Earl is making a very good point but it is different from the one which I was seeking to make. My point was about the proper construction and language of paragraph 4.36 of the White Paper. It is clear that its language envisages that a decision-making process takes place before the movement either to accommodation centre or dispersal. That is clear from the language of that paragraph. The only stage before the move to the accommodation centre is the induction centre. It must follow then, as night follows day, that the initial decision-making process takes place at the induction centre. If so, there is a clear commitment by the Government to give legal advice at that stage. This is not a question of the Minister reflecting on my words; it is a question of the Minister reflecting on his Government's own White Paper and the commitment that it contains.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: We are going to have to disagree on the construction of the contents of the White Paper. The induction programme, as I said, is not part of the decision-making process. Decisions come later. Whether or not someone is in an
We are sayingthis is where the debate comes to a pointthat we do not believe that legal advice during the induction programme is the right place for such advice; we believe that legal advice should come later. We are trying to use the induction programme so that people can have access to good quality legal advice and can know what sort of legal advice they require and where to get it. I make that point because I believe that it is germane and important.
I can understand the anxiety that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, suggests some asylum seekers may experience. It is an anxious time in their livesthere is no doubt about that. But it may not be the best time for them to seek legal advice. We are trying to be a helpful facilitator. We are trying to ensure that asylum seekers receive good quality advice and not unhelpful advice because some people in the business are less than scrupulous.
I pick up the point about accommodation centres made by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. The wording of paragraph 4.36 does, indeed, include a specific reference to accommodation centres. It appears in the section on accommodation centres. Paragraph 4.36 means that people in accommodation centres, in other NASS accommodation or elsewhere will all have access to legal advice. All those stages occur after a stay in an induction centre. That is the point that I have been making.
Lord Greaves: I thank the Minister for giving way. Does he understand that asylum seekers may want independent advice on some of the information, instructions or whatever they are given in induction centres? They may want independent advice on the information that they are given about the process that they will go through and about the way that they will be treated, and so on. It is not a question of being given advice on their claims but on the way that they are treated.
While I am on my feet, I wonder whether the Minister will give us an assurance that induction centres are not, and will not, be used in any way to persuade an asylum seeker to withdraw his claim and go home. Will he give an assurance that no such inducements or advice will be given once the asylum claim has been made? If that were to happen, it would certainly be a matter on which people would require legal advice.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: In a sense, the noble Lord is being helpful in relation to the point that I am trying to make. Is it not better that the legal advice is not given at the induction stage in the induction centre? If it is given off the premises, then surely the trust that a person going through the process has will be that much greater. There will be a degree of independence to the advice. It will be separate from a process which simply explains and provides information to people.
Lord Judd: Will my noble friend give way? I have been listening to this exchange with great interest. Does he agree that one of the basic realities of political life is that a perception becomes a political reality? In that context, my noble friendI say this with some humilityis perhaps not taking sufficiently seriously the political fact that there is a perception that the induction process will be used as a means of conditioning people and that it will be used as part of a negative-inspired policy instead of a justice-inspired policy. It is in that context that some reassurance is required that people can continue to receive legal advice.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Lord makes an important point. In a sense, it picks up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, that a degree of cynicism may exist. We are trying to produce a clear process that people can understand so that they can move on. For that reason, I should have thought that it would not necessarily be best to place legal advice in the middle of the induction centre programme.
The purpose of that programme is to make clear to people what will happen to them and what the process involves and to avail them of the opportunity at a later stage to obtain legal advice before decisions are made. That is what we set out in the White Paper and that is what we are seeking to achieve.
This has been a long debate and I am not sure that more is to be gained from it. We shall take away and reflect upon all the comments made by Members of the Committee who have been involved in the debate because they need to be reflected upon. I hope that noble Lords will also reflect upon the points that we have been making as part of this argument and discussion.
Lord Avebury: Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may remind him that on Monday I referred to the case of the Ariana Airlines jet which was hijacked and came down at Stansted and from which all the passengers were removed to the Fire Service College in Worcestershire. They were kept there over the weekend and severe pressure was brought upon them to persuade them to return to Afghanistan. It is episodes of that nature that make us anxious that the induction process will not purely impart information to the asylum seekers but will exert indirect, or even direct, pressures on them to withdraw their claims or to vary them for the convenience of the Home Office.
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