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Lord Goodhart: My Lords, the amendment seeks to apply to Clause 16 a similar restriction to the one imposed by Clause 56. We objected to Clause 56 and we feel that Clause 16 is subject to the same objections. But, as in substance a decision was taken on the previous occasion, we do not feel that it is practicable for us to press our objections to Amendment No. 5.

I should, however, be grateful if the Minister would answer a couple of questions. First, can he confirm that the information which is to be to be provided means only information as to whether the person in question satisfies the requirements of Clause 16(1) and does not extend to irrelevant information such as the method of that person's arrival in the United Kingdom?

Secondly, can the Minister give an assurance that these provisions are not designed to undermine the standards in the draft directive on minimum standards for asylum seekers, and that the Government will take remedial action if the provisions in the Bill are shown to be below those required by the directive when it is adopted?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we shall be producing well thought-through and careful guidance on these matters to help caseworkers to understand the policy behind the new measures and to implement them in a fair and consistent way. It would be premature of me to say exactly what the contents of the guidance notes will be. However, in response to the noble Lord's points about Clause 16(1) and methods of arrival, and whether we intend to use this clause to

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undermine the probity of the asylum process, I confirm that, of course, we would not be seeking to do that. I am happy to place that on public record.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 18 [Destitution: definition]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 6:

    Page 11, line 34, after "adequate" insert "for the purposes of subsection (1) or (2)"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 20 [Sections 16 to 19: supplementary]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 7:

    Page 12, line 34, leave out "date" and insert "day"

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Filkin moved Amendment No. 8:

    After Clause 24, insert the following new clause—

(1) The Secretary of State may make regulations requiring him to provide accommodation for a person outside an accommodation centre under a provision of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (c. 33) where the person—
(a) has been a resident of an accommodation centre for a continuous period of time specified in the regulations, and
(b) requests the provision of accommodation outside an accommodation centre.
(2) Regulations under subsection (1) must provide that where paragraph (a) of that subsection applies to a person the Secretary of State must give him an opportunity to make a request of the kind referred to in paragraph (b).
(3) Where the Secretary of State provides accommodation outside an accommodation centre in pursuance of regulations under subsection (1) he shall take any necessary steps to ensure that residence in the accommodation provided does not breach a residence restriction within the meaning of section 22.
(4) Section 50 is subject to regulations under this section."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 28 [Facilities]:

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 9:

    Page 15, line 29, at end insert "and must provide a resident of an accommodation centre with access to legal advice from suitably qualified advisors"

The noble Earl said: My Lords, to save the time of the House, I can say that if the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, will move his Amendment No. 9A formally, I shall accept it formally. The reference in the amendment would then be to,

    "legal or appropriate advice from suitably qualified advisors".

I can imagine, for example, situations where the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux might give advice that was appropriate but not legal. Nevertheless, the central thrust of the amendment concerns legal advice.

The Government love to talk about "rights and responsibilities". However, I note that when they talk about the responsibilities of citizens, they do so in a peremptory, indeed military, manner, with absolutely no room for exception or discretion. However, when

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they talk about their own responsibilities, they do so in a much more indefinite manner. Clause 28(3), where the amendment would bite, states:

    "The Secretary of State may arrange for the provision of facilities in an accommodation centre for the use of a person in providing legal advice to a resident of the centre".

Clause 107, which gives the power to make grants to people providing legal advice, is again worded in this permissive way—using the term "may". This creates no duty on the Government. This appears to us to be something of an absence of a level playing field—in a situation where the playing field is already very far from level. On one side are people who must be presumed to be expert in the business; on the other are people who are in a strange country, with a strange language and a strange legal system, who are quite unaware of what they need to prove and what they do not. I have been through the United States immigration system, and even that—with a common language that occasionally divided us rather than uniting us—was, I admit, a bewildering process. What it must be for a Somali, I dread to think.

The provision of competent legal advice is essential not only to the interests of the applicant but also to the interests of the Home Office. The UNHCR comments that:

    "Quality advice minimises the prospect for appeals and fosters confidence among asylum seekers,"

and that, therefore, quality legal advice at the earliest possible stage helps not only to assure applicants that the procedures are fair, but ensures speed and efficiency in the asylum process.

I note that the Government are in the habit of quoting, for the numbers of successful asylum applications, only the initial applications and leaving out the number that are successful on appeal. That is perhaps partly because the difference between the two can be remarkably large.

We need something a little more peremptory than this. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has remarked that if people's human rights are to be made real and effective rather than merely theoretical and illusory, it is essential to provide them with information about their rights and with independent, accessible, free or affordable legal advice from experts in the field. Incidentally, at no stage of the debate have we heard anything about what the Government intend to do to make people aware of their opportunity to obtain legal advice. Before this amendment is finished with, I hope that we shall hear something on that subject.

This is a case where "may" is not good enough. The House has expressed its opinion once today about clauses that state that the Government may do whatever they like. I hope that the Government have heard that. I beg to move.

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Lord Clinton-Davis moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 9, Amendment No. 9A:

    Line 2, after "legal" insert "or appropriate"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I note that the noble Earl has accepted this amendment. I entirely agree with him that the advice given should be independent and objective.

I tabled this amendment because I can envisage circumstances where the advice may be other than legal. That is what I thought my noble friend was alluding to at earlier stages. The advice might be given by a suitably qualified layman. I have therefore provided for an extension of the noble Earl's proposal.

I go along entirely with what the noble Earl has said. The advice that may be sought will probably be legal in consequence; but there are circumstances where a person can best afford the advice of someone who is not legally qualified. That is why I tabled the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, in making this brief point, I declare an interest: my firm gives a great deal of legal aid advice in precisely the circumstances contemplated by this clause.

When the department responded to the 17th report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, it stated that the Government were committed to providing,

    "free, independent, quality legal advice".

The word that concerns me is "quality". The law relating to this area is often extremely difficult. It depends for its effectiveness on the lawyer having a deep and extensive practical knowledge of both the law and the issues. I believe, therefore, that without an amendment of this nature there is a real prospect that those needing legal advice may be presented only with an opportunity of obtaining it from organisations which are simply not up to the task in the circumstances concerned.

6 p.m.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I support the amendment, because it would lead to much better first decisions in asylum cases thereby avoiding the need for many appeals and judicial reviews. Such advice should be given before the initial form is filled in and before the first interview.

Lord Kingsland: My Lords, my name is attached to Amendment No. 9, so I shall speak to it. Clause 28(3) places only an extremely light obligation on the Government in this regard. It states:

    "The Secretary of State may arrange for the provision of facilities in an accommodation centre for the use of a person in providing legal advice to a resident of the centre".

The clause places no obligation on the Government to furnish the legal advice. In previous debates in Committee and on Report, it became clear that the Government would not expect to be involved in the financial arrangements for giving legal advice to anyone resident in an accommodation centre. That would be the sole responsibility of the Legal Services Commission; and someone seeking advice would have

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to meet all the civil law tests laid down by the Legal Services Commission before the latter would provide help.

We have argued from these Benches at all stages of the Bill, that the appropriate legal aid test should be the criminal rather than the civil one; and that legal advice should, in all circumstances, be provided to anyone who requires it.

Surely it is in the Government's interest to support these amendments? They claim that two central principles underline the purposes of the Bill: greater expedition and greater fairness. If an accommodation centre resident receives high-quality legal advice about his status, which is that he has no case or a very weak one, the authorities can proceed, with a clear conscience, to do what the Bill provides should be done in the circumstances.

But if the Government seek to move someone on, even though that person has not received such advice, the Government's position is morally weaker. They will be trying to take advantage of the fact that the individual had not received proper objective advice. The best way to ensure both expedition and fairness is to accede to these amendments.

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