Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Kingsland: I am grateful to the noble Lord for his response to my question. I should like to see how this is handled as a matter of fact. I assume there is an intention to introduce this amendment in the version of the Bill which will be before your Lordships on Report.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Yes.

Lord Kingsland: I am grateful to the Minister. In those circumstances I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 178A not moved.]

Clause 59 agreed to.

17 Jul 2002 : Column 1294

Clause 60 [Asylum-seeker: residence, &c. restriction]:

Lord Avebury moved Amendment No. 179:


    Page 33, line 17, leave out subsection (2).

The noble Lord said: Clause 60 deals with persons who apply for asylum while still within their permitted leave to remain in another capacity; for example, a visitor or a student. The Explanatory Notes say that there are very few people in that category and it would be useful if the Minister could be more precise and tell us how many people have applied for asylum when they still had leave to remain in some other capacity. How many people would have been covered by the provisions of Clause 60 if it had been in operation for the whole of 2001 or, even better, for the first half of 2002?

As I understand it, until this clause is passed the Secretary of State has no power to impose residence or reporting restrictions on those persons under paragraph 21 of Schedule 2 to the 1971 Act. Can the Minister tell the Committee what the practice was with those persons? Were they asked to comply voluntarily with the suggestions made by the Secretary of State as to reporting or residence, or were they left alone until their permitted leave to remain expired? Has any record been kept of whether people in that category kept in contact with the IND to pursue their claims? If they had always intended to remain here illegally, they might as well simply have gone to ground at the end of their permitted stay rather than applying for asylum at the end of that stay. So it can be assumed that most of the people concerned had a genuine case and intended to pursue it in the normal way.

What happened when they reached the end of their six months as visitors or as students? Did the power to impose restrictions then kick in? Paragraph 21 refers to a person liable to be detained under Clause 16, which in turn refers to a person who may be required to submit to an examination under Clause 2 which is concerned only with persons arriving at a port of entry. There seem to be no equivalent powers relating to a person already in the country whose leave to remain would have expired but for the fact that they had applied for variation of that leave while it was still current. If the Minister will explain what the procedures are under the current legislation and what difficulties have been experienced in practice, it would help the Committee to understand the necessity for the clause. I can see the logic in applying the same restrictions to all asylum seekers whatever their immigration status before they made their claim. But unless the absence of these powers can be shown to have caused problems, the case has not been made out.

In any case, ILPA says that children should not be subject to reporting restrictions and the penalties which can be awarded for non-compliance with such restrictions—I suppose they are referring to unaccompanied children. There can only be a small number of children admitted in some other capacity who apply for asylum after entry, though one could imagine how it might occur in theory.

17 Jul 2002 : Column 1295

For example, a child may have been sent to boarding school in this country by the leader of the opposition in Ruritania and following a military coup the parents are thrown into prison. However, they manage to get a message to the child in boarding school that he or she is to apply for asylum half-way through the academic year when the child is still within the permitted leave to remain period as a student. No doubt in those circumstances the child would remain voluntarily at the school. The school could make arrangements for the holidays and the social workers would look after the interests of the child if the parents were not able to appoint a guardian. Presumably the IND would then be able to deal with whoever was in loco parentis.

If the child is a member of a family, and the head of the family applies for asylum after entering in some other capacity, then, if the Minister can satisfy us that the restrictions of paragraph 21 should be capable of imposition on the parents, obviously the child should reside at the same address and comply with the same restrictions. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, Clause 60 is concerned with residence and reporting restrictions which may be imposed on an asylum seeker who has leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom at the time of their application, or who is the dependant of such a person. It needs to be explained that this category of asylum seeker is presently a small one in percentage terms.

The noble Lord asked for some figures. There are no hard statistics but the number will be low. There are few country asylum seekers in any event. But, as I speak today, we do not have data. We will carry out some checks and see what figures we can put together. But it is unlikely that we have hard and fast records covering that point. So I cannot satisfy the noble Lord.

The great majority of asylum seekers have no leave when they apply because they have applied on arrival or they are illegal entrants or overstayers. Those relatively few asylum seekers who do have leave are not subject to any reporting or residence restrictions. Clause 60 changes that by extending existing powers in relation to those without leave to asylum seekers with leave and to their dependants. We think it is important for the fairness and efficiency of the new asylum processes that asylum applicants are treated the same, whatever their circumstances before they applied.

Amendment No. 179 would take away the purpose of the clause by omitting subsection (2). That is the subsection which provides that restrictions may be imposed on asylum seekers with extant leave in a similar way that they may be imposed on those without such leave, in accordance with paragraph 21 of Schedule 2 to the 1971 Act. The noble Lord appreciates that point. I am sure that he also appreciates that removing that subsection would take all meaning away from the clause. It is for that reason that we cannot accept it.

I want this to be understood. We want to make plain that Clause 60 should not be seen as a blank cheque to impose restrictions on asylum seekers with extant

17 Jul 2002 : Column 1296

leave. That is not what we seek to achieve. The power it confers, of course, will need to be exercised reasonably in all circumstances. I also want to make clear to the noble Lord that individual circumstances will be taken into account when deciding on appropriate reporting restrictions. So the circumstances of each case will be very carefully weighed up. Such restrictions will not be unnecessarily onerous or imposed without good reason. If, for example, an asylum seeker cannot report on a particular day because of ill health he will be able to contact us to make alternative arrangements.

The noble Lord asked a few pertinent points. He asked whether reporting requirements were voluntary before this legislation. No voluntary reporting requirements were imposed. He also asked whether they kept in contact. No figures as to how many did not keep in contact are available. The noble Lord also asked what problems from absence of powers exist in Clause 60. We are introducing a new asylum process with the emphasis on greater contact for good reason, so that we understand the nature of what we are dealing with through the asylum process and also greatly to the benefit of asylum seekers.

When such a system is put in place it will become more important that all asylum seekers are subject to it. So there is a universality to it. We consider that the power in Clause 60 is important, whatever has happened in past practice.

The noble Lord also made the point that children should not be subject to reporting restrictions. The power to require all asylum seekers, including children, to report is needed. But I can give this clear assurance: it will be sensitively, sensibly and—I think importantly—compassionately applied, and not as a matter of simple routine where the need to maintain contact is less evident; for example—the example that the noble Lord gave—they are at boarding school. It would seem unreasonable and lacking in sensitivity to try to set out a rigorous reporting regime in those circumstances. There will be flexibility. We shall take careful account of the circumstances of the individuals involved. I hope with that that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Avebury: I had hoped for rather more information than the noble Lord has been able to give. Even though the number, he says, is extremely small, he is not aware of what the practice has been, except to say that the voluntary restrictions have not been imposed on someone who applies for asylum with only a limited leave to remain for some other purposes.

Furthermore, he is not able to say what has been the experience of the IND with regard to the reliability of those persons in continuing their applications and maintaining contact with the IND. I am surprised because, if the number is as minute as he told the Committee, surely it would have been easy enough for the Minister to come along and give that information.

Nor has he told me—which is even more important—what has been the practice when someone gets to the end of a limited leave to remain in some

17 Jul 2002 : Column 1297

other capacity; for example, as a student or in any short-term capacity. It might be a visitor with six months leave to remain. He comes to the end of that period. Is there then power under Schedule 2 to impose reporting or residence requirements on him? Or, because he applied within an existing limited leave to remain, is the Secretary of State deprived of ever being able to exercise any restrictions on that person from the time of his application until it is completed?

Curiously, it would appear that the Secretary of State has power to persuade that person to go into an induction centre because the induction centre process is not dependent on Schedule 2 to the 1971 Act. We need to explore that curious anomaly in further detail. Perhaps I may leave these rather complicated questions for a discussion which I hope to have in due course with the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, or with the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, about some other left-over matters from earlier Committee sittings. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 180 not moved.]

Clause 60 agreed to.

Clause 61 [Serious criminal]:


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page