HC Deb 17 July 2001 vol 372 cc144-5
29. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

What assessment she has made of the adequacy of legal representation available to asylum seekers. [2608]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Ms Rosie Winterton)

The Legal Services Commission and the community legal service partnerships continually monitor and assess the adequacy of legal service provision available to asylum seekers, including legal representation. We believe that there is now generally adequate provision throughout England and Wales, but will look to meet any local difficulties that may arise.

Ann Clwyd

I welcome my hon. Friend to her new position, and wish her a long and happy life at the Dispatch Box. However, I have to disagree with what she has just said, because my experience in visiting Cardiff prison recently and talking to asylum seekers suggests that their legal representation is extremely inadequate. I had intended to ask the Department whether, as so many asylum seekers are being dispersed outside the London area, any progress had been made in building up a network of specialists in asylum law throughout the United Kingdom. Certainly asylum seekers in Cardiff prison are inadequately represented.

Ms Winterton

I know that my hon. Friend is extremely concerned about the situation in Cardiff. I read the powerful points that she made in her recent Adjournment debate, and I agree that the Government must ensure that asylum seekers, wherever they are, have proper legal representation. We have taken on board her suggestion that there should be a network of advisers throughout the country. One of the recent improvements that we have made is to ensure that only legal advisers who are specialists in asylum law can give advice to asylum seekers. We have also increased the number of immigration practitioners throughout the UK, looking particularly at areas to which asylum seekers have been dispersed where there may not have been a tradition of such legal advice. There were particular problems in Cardiff prison, and a number of changes have been made following a visit from the Legal Services Commission—but if my hon. Friend believes that problems are still outstanding, she should write to me and I shall look into them myself.

Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

I, too, warmly welcome the Minister to her new post and wish her well.

Bearing in mind the Government's policy of firmer, fairer and faster reception of asylum seekers, is it better that initially and temporarily, they should be held in prisons or reception centres?

Ms Winterton

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind welcome.

Asylum seekers are held in prison only as a last resort. We believe that the changes that we have made will assist in speeding up the process.

Putting people in detention centres as soon as they arrive, as the Conservative party suggests, is unworkable and unaffordable. However, we hope to lessen the number of those who are detained in prisons when other centres open later in the summer.