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Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I support the views of the noble Earl, Lord Russell. I do so as a solicitor with more than 50 years' experience. It is important that the solicitor who advises on the matters envisaged by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, should be well versed in difficult areas of the law. It is simply not possible for all solicitors to be vested with the knowledge on this matter that we take for granted. The issues may be difficult, complex and outside the realms of knowledge of the person appointed by the Home Secretary. For that reason, it is highly important that residents have access to the best possible legal advice in the circumstances. I ask my noble friend what advice, if any, he has received from the Law Society and the Bar Council in this regard. It is very important that in a minority of cases of such complexity, those two bodies should be heard. If the noble Earl has not had the opportunity to consult with them, it is not impossible for him to do so before we consider the matter afresh.

The simple argument that I adduce is that some areas of the law have not been covered by those who would normally give advice on immigration matters. The legal issues may be complex and may go beyond the realms of advisers' knowledge.

I am not proposing to vote on this, because I hope that it will be covered by everyday practice, but I ask my noble friend to give the House an assurance in this regard.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I hesitate to follow my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis, with his 50 years of legal experience as a solicitor, because I cannot claim to be a lawyer in any respect. I therefore look at the issue from the point of view of those who use lawyers as distinct from the view of the legal profession.

I am a little puzzled by the Bill. The amendment should at least be considered carefully. The Bill recognises the possibility that legal advice may be appropriate in such a centre. However, as I understand it from the standpoint of the layman, the Secretary of State is potentially a party to the legal process, yet it is the Secretary of State who will decide whether legal advice will be available. If the possibility that legal advice would be appropriate is recognised, it would be much better to say that it is provided and then it takes

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its course rather than saying that it is up to the Secretary of State, when someone may want to appeal against the Secretary of State.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, unless I am mistaken, we are returning to a matter that we discussed at cols. 773-83 in Committee. Winding up that debate, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said:

    "The debate has shown the Chamber at its best".—[Official Report, 10/7/02; col. 782.]

I enjoyed reading what we discussed on that occasion.

As I understood the course of events on the previous occasion, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, defended the Government's position in the context of the Legal Services Commission. I agree that there was an element of dancing on the end of a pin, but it was perfectly possible to follow the argument. The noble Lord remained in the air on the top of his pin. However, in the closing stages of the debate he said that my noble friend Lord Kingsland and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, had both made good points that he would take away and consider.

As nobody can speak after the Minister has uttered on Report, I have taken it that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, was putting a probing amendment to find out the outcome of the re-examination of the issues in question promised by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin. If I have got that wrong, I apologise to the House. It seems to me that some of the things that have been said during the debate have been not even going over old ground, but opening up new ground. I may have misunderstood the purpose of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, in bringing the matter back.

Earl Russell: My Lords, if I may help the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for a moment, the key point in my amendment is that it substitutes "must" for "may".

11.30 p.m.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I support the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Russell. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, said that he was puzzled by the Bill. I am a little puzzled by the attitude of the Government, and in particular by the views of the Minister, on the provision of legal advice, particularly in the early stages of an asylum application before the substantive interview, which forms the basis of the initial decision. Many of us with experience of trying to help and support asylum seekers through the system—many noble Lords and others are far more experienced at that than I am—are concerned that a major problem still lies in the quality of the initial decisions. If that could be improved, the time taken in many cases and the cost of the whole system to the Exchequer could be reduced. That is the background to my comments.

The amendment covers legal advice throughout the process, on the initial decision and on appeal. Legal advice before the substantive interview, which is the basis of the initial decision, is crucial. I say that from personal experience and from what others tell me. People who arrive and apply for asylum are often suffering a high degree of trauma, because of what has

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happened to them in their country, because of the nature of the journey and their efforts to get to this country, or simply because of the whole experience of leaving their country and setting off into the unknown. However, that trauma is often associated with a sense of euphoria—it is often a superficial and false euphoria—about having arrived in this country where they can apply for asylum. They may feel that they have arrived here at last and are safe.

A third factor is fear of the future; they have arrived in a country which they have never visited before and must negotiate a system and a bureaucracy they do not understand. We discussed this issue in Committee when we talked about the induction process and induction centres. I applaud the Government's wish to assist newly arrived asylum seekers to understand the system. However, in those early days, people may find it very difficult to think rationally, to understand what is required and to present a rational case. They may also have difficulties with the language. The combination of factors may not be an insuperable obstacle, but it could be a huge obstacle. Moreover, in many cases, the more "genuine" the asylum seeker, in the parlance, the more difficult they may find the process.

Asylum seekers may also face the problem of knowing which documents they need, and which are the crucial ones in supporting their claim. They may also require practical assistance in trying to retrieve those documents as quickly as possible.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, said:

    "We are committed to ensuring that all asylum seekers have access to legal advice if they want it at all stages of the asylum process. This applies equally to accommodation centre residents. We will ensure that there are sufficient advisers available for accommodation centre residents to receive that advice".—[Official Report, 10/7/02; col. 778.]

It was a very positive and very welcome statement.

I am, however, concerned about other aspects of the issue. This summer, I tabled a Written Question to the Government which was answered on 23rd September. I should add parenthetically that the Hansard for the recall on 24th September does not seem to have been put on the House of Lords website. Perhaps someone can see to that; it seems to be completely missing. The point is tangential to this debate, but it is true as far as I can see.

In my Written Question, I was concerned about whether the minimum period of 10 working days—a fortnight, which the Government said was the minimum they would allow—between people leaving the induction centre and attending their substantive interview would be sufficient for them to obtain both competent legal advice and documents from difficult countries abroad. The answer that I received from the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, caused me great alarm and seems to be at variance with the positive answer that he gave in Committee. In his Answer he said:

    "The briefing"—

at the induction process—

    "makes it clear that an asylum seeker may seek legal representation but that this is not deemed necessary prior to attendance at a substantive interview, and an interview will not be

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    delayed because of a lack of representation. This is consistent with the Government's view that it is not necessary for an asylum seeker to obtain legal representation prior to a substantive asylum interview".—[Official Report, 24/9/02; col. WA 212.]

The literal meaning and the sense behind it are contrary to the words used by the Minister in Committee. We need to understand whether the Government are committed to providing asylum seekers with legal advice and representation before they attend their substantive interview. My view and that of many people involved with asylum seekers is that without such advice the case they put forward at the interview will not be as clear and full as it otherwise might. It will not be as relevant in terms of what is required to satisfy the needs of the system. That leads to more bad decisions and appeals. People obtain legal advice at a later stage and in many cases the appeals are upheld.

The Minister seemed to say different things on those two occasions. In replying, I ask him to clarify whether the Government believe that legal advice is necessary in the period before the substantive interview takes place. If not, will they be honest and say so clearly, so that we can establish the point of difference between us?

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