'(1) The Secretary of State must appoint a committee (to be known as the Visiting Committee) for each accommodation centre.
(2) The Secretary of State shall prescribe the functions of the Visiting Committee by making regulations under this Part.
(3) Those regulations must include provision—
- (a) as to the making of visits to the centre by members of the Visiting Committee;
- (b) for the hearing of complaints made by persons detained by the Visiting Committee to the Secretary of State;
- (c) requiring the making of reports by the Visiting Committee to the Secretary of State;
- (d) that every member of the Visiting Committee for an accommodation centre may at any time enter the centre and have free access to every part of it and to every person residing there.
(4) Accommodation centres created under this Part may also be inspected by HM Inspectorate of Prisons and Social Services Inspectorate, whenever they think it appropriate.'.—[Mr. Malins.]Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 30, in clause 14, page 9, line 2, at end insert—'( ) For a period of no less than ten years from the commencement of this Act all such accommodation centres shall be publicly owned and their management and employees directly employed by the Home Office or relevant local authority.'.
No. 3, in clause 26, page 12, line 36, leave out—'The Secretary of State may'and insert—'It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to'.
757 No. 40, in page 12, line 36, leave out "may" and insert "shall".
No. 166, in page 13, line 6, at end insert—'( ) independent legal advice and representation'.
No. 167, in page 13, line 7, leave out paragraphs (i) and (j).
No. 4, in page 13, line 11, at end insert—'(k) such legal representation and advice as is reasonably required by an asylum applicant in connection with an application for asylum or any appeal resulting therefrom'.
No. 168, in page 13, line 11, at end insert—'(1A) The Secretary of State may arrange for the following to be provided to a resident of an accommodation centre—
- (a) anything which the Secretary of State thinks ought to be provided for the purpose of providing a resident with proper occupation and for the purpose of maintaining good order,
- (b) anything which the Secretary of State thinks ought to be provided for a person because of his exceptional circumstances.'.
No. 42, in page 13, line 15, leave out paragraph (b).
No. 43, in clause 27, page 13, line 28, at end insert—'which shall not be more than 15 hours per day'.
No. 133, in page 13, line 34, leave out "any dependant" and insert "a spouse".
No. 136, in page 13, line 35, leave out—'and any dependant of his'.
No. 137, in page 13, line 39, leave out—'resident and any dependant of his'and insert "dependant".
No. 138, in page 13, line 40, leave out—'resident and any dependant of his'and insert "dependant".
No. 44, in page 14, line 1, leave out subsection (7).
No. 131, in page 14, line 10, at end insert—'(10) a resident who is required to leave the centre under subsections (4) or (5) may appeal to an adjudicator under Part 5 of this Act.'.
§ Mr. Malins
We move on to a group of amendments relating to the operation of, and conditions and facilities—other than education—at, accommodation centres. I feel sure that new clause 3 will find favour on both sides of the House, for two reasons. First, it would not cost the Government any money; and, secondly, although I cannot be sure, I think that it was my idea.
The House will be interested to know that not one of the amendments that we tabled in Committee was accepted by the Government, save for the triumph achieved by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Angela Watkinson) —she is in her place—who discovered that a particular clause referred to a seventh subsection of the previous clause, even though it had only six subsections. In that regard, she achieved a notable scalp.
Amendment No. 3 would impose a duty on the Government to provide services at accommodation centres, amendment No. 4 would impose a duty on them to provide legal advice, and amendment No. 133 and 758 subsequent amendments deal with dependants. I hope that they and new clause 3 will find favour with the Government.
The establishment of visiting committees is surely a non-controversial issue. Over the years, many of us have been struck by the high quality of the various visiting bodies and committees involved with prisons. I discovered as much in my career as a lawyer, and on my more recent travels as a member of the Home Affairs Committee I have seen the excellent work that visiting committees undertake at prisons. They talk to inmates, hear grievances and make positive suggestions; they are an important safety valve.
Of course, such committees operate in the asylum world to equally good effect. Two months ago, I visited Oakington, as several hon. Members have doubtless done. It is a very well run and orderly establishment; indeed, it struck me in many ways as a contented establishment, in terms both of its staff and of those who stay there. One reason for that is the presence of an active visiting committee. I met Penny Lambert, the chairman of the visiting committee, and several of her colleagues. They are very involved with Oakington. They have made several helpful suggestions to the staff about how life there could be improved, and they have heard from residents at Oakington. They have contributed a great deal to making it a better place, simply through their presence and sympathy, and the safety valve that they offer. I know that there is a difference between a detention centre such as Oakington and an accommodation centre, but I see no reason why something that works well for Oakington could not be set up for the accommodation centres.
We are broadly supportive of the accommodation centre concept. We understand from the Bill that the Government propose to put several important facilities and services in the centres, and we think that that is right. In one or two respects, the Government perhaps do not go far enough. In our opinion, the Government should be delighted to accept new clause 3, which sets up a visiting committee for each accommodation centre, because it has no implications for the Treasury. Nobody has to ask the Treasury for money, because our communities contain well motivated, good people with an interest in various institutions—asylum institutions, prisons and the like—who would be only too keen to start up visiting committees. The longer people will stay at the accommodation centres, the more compelling becomes the argument for the visiting committees, although people stay only briefly at Oakington and the visiting committee works well there. I am sure that the Government will not oppose new clause 3.
The hon. Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle) was the Minister in Committee, and I pay personal tribute to her for her kindness throughout our debates and for her dedication and commitment. She is a loss to the Government, although we welcome her replacement, the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Beverley Hughes), to the high post that she has achieved. The hon. Lady and I have had happy dealings before on the Home Affairs Committee. I hope that the atmosphere prevalent in Committee will be replicated today, and it is on that basis that I invite the House to support new clause 3.
759 Amendment No. 3 was discussed in Committee. It relates to the services that the Home Secretary is to provide at accommodation centres. In Committee, many of us were slightly alarmed that the first line of clause 26, as it is now, provides that the Secretary of Statemay arrange for the following to be provided to a resident of an accommodation centre".The amendment would change those words to read:It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to arrangeWe had a long debate on the issue in Committee. However well intentioned this Home Secretary and Government are, the fact is that the Bill would allow them to choose not to provide the services in question. If the Home Secretary is determined to provide various services, we see no reason why he should not have the duty to do so imposed on him. After all, the facilities, assistance and services provided for in clause 26 will be vital to the well-being of the asylum seekers during their stay. The people who will stay at the accommodation centres may have had terrible journeys and a grim time. They ate vulnerable people, and some of them are shattered. Often they need a lot of care and attention when they go to the centres, and many are very young.
I see no reason why the Government should not accept that they have a duty to provide the various services needed at accommodation centres. If the Government insist that the clause should use only the word "may", I believe that that will be because they want to reserve the right not to provide the services if they do not want to. I therefore hope that the amendment will be accepted.
Amendment No. 4 deals with legal advice, another matter debated in Standing Committee. Many of us believe, along with respected non-governmental organisations in the field, that it is essential that top-class legal advice be provided, on the spot and from the very beginning. One reason why Oakington works well is that great numbers of lawyers from various bodies are available there. For example, the Immigration Advisory Service alone has 54 caseworkers on site. When asylum seekers arrive at Oakington, they are provided, within minutes, with the best skilled legal advice possible. They do not have to travel 20 or 30 miles to a nearby town to find a solicitor, because the legal advice that they need is on hand.
So far, the Government have stubbornly refused to include legal services among the facilities that they must provide at accommodation centres. They say, "Of course we will provide legal services there", but why does that requirement not appear in the Bill? Early legal advice is vital, and makes for efficiency.
The Standing Committee was told by the former Minister, the hon. Member for Wallasey, that there wasno doubt whatever that legal services will be freely available in accommodation centres as required.If so, why does the Bill not make that a requirement? The hon. Lady also said:In the trials, we would certainly want to develop co-located services or access to services".—[Official Report, Standing Committee E, 9 May 2002; c. 171.]Those phrases bear consideration. I assume that the rather weak phrasewe would certainly want to develop760 is another way of saying, "We are going to do it." In addition, I have always been confused by the word "co-located". Does it mean "on the site"? I hope so, but if it means "next door", or "down the road", the Government should say so. However, I do not know what the development of co-located services or of access to services will mean in practice.
Moreover, the phrase "access to services" is meaningless if people at accommodation centres are told that the nearest legal services to which they have access are a number of miles away, and that they can make their own way there if they want to. The Government's response on the issue was not very satisfactory.
The Minister who dealt with this matter in Standing Committee did not want the requirement to provide access to legal services to be included in the Bill because, as she told the Committee, the vast majority of legal services are funded not by the Home Office but by the Legal Services Commission, which already has adequate powers. That makes me scratch my head, as I am not sure what it means in practice. I think that she meant that the Legal Services Commission has some money and some powers, and that it is for the commission to decide whether to make legal advice available in the centres. That is not at all satisfactory.
The Minister also referred to another aspect that is very troubling. I only spotted these words again this morning, at an appallingly early hour, when I was looking at today's amendments. The hon. Lady referred to moves to shift funding of NGOs from the Home Office to the Lord Chancellor's Department to ensure that there was no perceived conflict of interest about the Home Office running a system and funding advice to people in it. However, there has been no perceived conflict of interest for many years with the principal organisation providing legal advice and assistance—the Immigration Advisory Service—which has been funded by the Home Office since its inception. I pay tribute to the previous Conservative Government for the level of funding that they provided to the IAS. I also pay sincere tribute to this Government for the level of funding that they have provided to the Immigration Advisory Service. How else could the IAS have its lawyers all around the country in different bases and at Oakington, were it not for Government funding?
During the time that I spent as chairman of the trustees of the Immigration Advisory Service, not once did the then Government ever seek to influence the service in one way or another. Conservative and Labour Governments have always given the IAS the grant and said, "Get on with the job." We have the best system in Europe when it comes to Governments who make immigration and asylum laws and also fund organisations to act against them, without interference. I pay tribute to them for that.
The Government need not trouble themselves about a perceived conflict of interest, but they should trouble themselves about there being a duty on them to provide legal advice on site. I am aided in my argument by all the respective NGOs. The Law Society also believes that asylum seekers should have access to good quality legal advice and representation at all stages of the system. Good quality independent legal advice at the earliest stage saves time and expense. Frontloading the services results in minimising delay and costs.
761 The Law Society has carefully considered the Government's comment that access to legal advice and representation is not included in the list of facilities to be provided at accommodation centres, as such services are largely funded by the Legal Services Commission. However, the Law Society says that access to legal advice and representation is of such fundamental importance to the applicant and for the proper and efficient running of the asylum system that it should be included in the Bill.
If the Government remain concerned about funding issues, legal services could be included in the Bill, in the same way as facilities for health and religious observance are provided for in clause 26(1)(g) and (h)—that is, by referring to facilities relating to or facilities for legal services. That would ensure that the Bill provides for access to legal services while still dealing with the Government's concerns about funding, whether those concerns are real or not. I hope that the Government will think again about this important issue.
This part of the Bill relates to the conditions of residents at accommodation centres. A glance at clause 27 reveals that it remains similar, if not identical, to the one that caused all Opposition Members some concern in Committee. Amendments Nos. 133, 136, 137 and 138 would remove, from time to time, the word "dependant" from clause 27. This is the mischief about which I am complaining. Clause 27(4) states:If a resident of an accommodation centre breaches a condition imposed under this section, the Secretary of State may—(a) require the resident and any dependant of his to leave the centre".It was hard in Committee to make the Government clarify exactly what conditions could be broken that would give rise to the draconian step of requiring a resident to leave the centre, but many of us felt distinctly uneasy at the prospect of not only the offender but everybody linked to that person, such as a spouse or dependant—who may not have behaved remotely badly—being required to leave the centre.
Subsection (5) states that if a dependant of a resident breaches a condition, the Secretary of State may require the resident and any dependant to leave the centre or authorise the manager of the centre to require the resident and any dependant to leave the centre. Therefore, if someone who is dependent on someone else breaks a condition of residence, not only is the dependant chucked out but so is the resident because of the sins or faults of another.
We need reassurance that someone will not be thrown out of an accommodation centre for breaking a minor condition. The only parallel that I can think of is in bail hostels, where minor infringements are often overlooked. I hope that the Minister can reassure us on that point. I should also like some understanding from the Government about our unease at the prospect that people will, in effect, be treated harshly because of the sins of others. This issue needs a sensitive touch—a light touch—and a realistic approach.
I have outlined my amendments in this group. I commend them strongly, with some hope that the Government will accept them. There cannot be a reason for not accepting the appointment of a visiting committee. There are awfully good reasons, at this stage of the Bill's 762 progress, for the Government to accept this proposal and agree that it is their duty to provide various services and to have the provision of legal advice inserted in the Bill.
§ Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)
I shall speak briefly to the amendments in this group that outline some of the Liberal Democrats' remaining concerns about accommodation centres. I am conscious that important groups of amendments remain to be debated, so I will not detain the House for long.
Liberal Democrat Members support new clause 3. We believe that a visiting committee would be a helpful addition for the accountability of the new accommodation centres. In amendment No. 30 we express our view that, for the first 10 years at least, there should be a commitment on the part of the Government that the accommodation centres remain in public ownership. We went through this in Committee, where the then Minister, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle) was open about the fact that the Government were considering a number of options.
In principle, we have general concerns about the use of the private sector for prisons and facilities that deprive an individual of liberty. As the new accommodation centres will receive a great deal of public scrutiny, it is important that there are clear lines of accountability from the centre to Ministers. Obviously, one hopes that nothing will go wrong in any of the centres, but if it does, people will not be satisfied if it is suggested that the fault lay with a particular contracting company. The amendment relates to the establishment of clear lines of accountability and in our view that means retaining the centres in public ownership—at least initially.
§ Annabelle Ewing (Perth)
The hon. Gentleman mentioned, as an aside, that he had concerns about the use of the private sector for prisons and the like. Perhaps he is not aware that his colleagues in the Scots Parliament who sit in coalition with Labour are pursuing a private prison route.
§ Mr. Allan
I certainly am aware of that. In the wonderful federation that is my party, the Scottish party makes its own decisions which reflect its political circumstances. I know that the Minister for Justice has been faced with some difficult decisions as regards prison accommodation in Scotland.
Amendments Nos. 40, 166, 167 and 168 attempt to tease out how the facilities will be provided. We want to consider two forms specifically. The first is what must be provided—like the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) we have included legal advice. We, too, feel strongly that access to good legal advice speeds up the asylum determination process and is not something that the Government, or anyone, should fear—it can facilitate the process and ensure that there are fewer legal errors that could lead to an appeal. The amendment would distinguish between facilities that "shall" or "may" be provided.
Amendment No. 42 relates to our concern about how cash is given to asylum seekers. We understand that the Secretary of State will make regulations governing the handling of cash. It is important for an individual's 763 dignity that they have some cash and some purchasing power—whether the amount is large or small. That is significant even when the basics of life are provided.
We are concerned that currently there is dual provision. The Secretary of State may by regulation determine the amount of cash given to an individual, but the accommodation centre manager may also have that power. The amendment would limit that power to the Secretary of State alone.
Amendment No. 43 would establish the extent to which the powers to require an individual physically to he present at the accommodation centre might be widened to create, in effect, a form of detention. The amendment would limit to 15 the number of hours that an individual was required to be present. We seek an assurance from the Minister that there is no intention that people should remain in the centre for 24 hours, for example—that would clearly move us into the realm of detention.
Amendment No. 44 revisits a subject that we considered in Committee, but about which we are still uncomfortable—the relationship between behaviour in an accommodation centre and the actual asylum claim, which can be a matter of life or death for an individual. W e understand that the Government may require an individual to be present in an accommodation centre as part of the terms of their immigration status—they would be allowed into the country on condition that they resided at tile centre.
Under clause 27, the Government would take powers, in effect, to evict an individual from an accommodation centre because of their behaviour, and such eviction—as we heard from the hon. Member for Woking—would also apply to their dependants. There is a lack of clarity in the provision, in that a condition of immigration law may require a person to remain at the centre, yet their behaviour might lead to their removal. That could give rise to conflict, especially if the individual was pursuing an asylum claim, as they might find that they were in breach of their immigration conditions, thus prejudicing their claim. If an individual has done something wrong, sanctions need to be taken, but if those sanctions force an individual to breach their immigration conditions because they are required to leave the accommodation specified under those conditions, that is a matter for concern.
I shall not speak further at this stage, save to point out that there are some important amendments in a later group.
§ Sir Michael Spicer
As we have already heard, no one likes the Bill's provisions for accommodation centres— neither the Refugee Council, nor the Transport arid General Workers Union. The Government seem to be the only people who are pressing them.
One of the reasons for that dislike is the cavalier way in which the Government are discussing the resources required and the provision of facilities. Amendment No. 3 is much more important than meets the eye because it would put a duty on the Government to be much more specific.
There have been several examples of the Government's cavalier approach to the assessment of facilities at a proposed accommodation unit adjoining my constituency. I recently asked the Secretary of State for Health what 764 assessment he had made of the additional funding required for health services if a centre was built in that part of south Worcestershire. The answer was:As yet, no assessment has been made in respect of any additional health or social care needs."—[Official Report, 24 April 2002; Vol. 384, c. 356W.]Such vagueness about the provision of facilities is serious and it goes right across the board—deep into the Home Office.
Earlier today, the former Under-Secretary at the Home Office, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Angela Eagle), made a dignified apology about misinformation on figures that she had given the House. We are not dealing with size at present but it is obviously relevant to the provision of facilities; it is certainly relevant to information.
On this occasion, I do not blame the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, who was incompletely briefed on the matter. However, I am seriously worried about the poor information from the Home Office on the provision of facilities. That is why it is so important that the Government accept amendment No. 3.
The planning inquiry constitutes a specific reason for the Government to be less muddled about the facts and information they give about the provision of facilities and services in respect of their proposals. I understand that there will be a proper planning system, so if the Government continue to be muddled and misinformed when they provide information to the planning inspectors, it will be serious for two reasons. First, the result could be a judicial review—but that is for the Government to worry about. Secondly, however, the acceptability of the planning system could be undermined.
If people think that the planning arrangements are a fix, with the Government providing false information about the facilities and the local requirements for the fulfilment of the policy, that could have a serious effect on the credibility of the planning procedure. Above all, the process must be fair. I tell my constituents not only that the planning procedure is a good thing but that it will make a fair judgment as to whether the proposals are right.
If the Government continue to give false, bad or muddled information about facilities, the results for the planning procedure could be serious, so I hope that they will consider amendment No. 3 carefully. It imposes a duty on them to provide proper, clear information about facilities.
§ Tony Baldry
I shall be brief. No one could argue with the proposals for visiting committees, but such committees would, in essence, be concerned with the welfare of asylum seekers. As the accommodation centres will be sited in remote, rural areas, will the Government consider setting up liaison committees?
When I was first elected, there was a big United States Air Force base in my constituency where about 750 young men were stationed. Even with 750 disciplined service men, it was necessary to set up an ad hoc liaison committee, organised and operated by the district council, which provided the secretariat. Representatives of the parish council could hold regular meetings with the personnel who ran the base.
It would be extremely helpful if Ministers suggested to local communities that they were prepared to establish similar committees, where representatives of the parishes 765 surrounding the accommodation centres could hold regular meetings with the management of the centres to raise matters of concern to the local community. Local people could then have confidence that their concerns would be addressed in a timely, proper and systematic way. That would ensure that they were not frustrated and that they could express concerns and grievances. [Interruption.] I hope that Ministers will be kind enough to give the House their attention because if they want these experiments to work, they must be aware of the concerns of communities about the siting of accommodation centres.
Such concerns must be addressed, but given that none of the centres will be sited in the constituencies of Labour Members, no Labour Member will be able to express those concerns in the Division Lobby. As no Minister has taken the trouble to visit one of the sites or visit or talk to representatives of local communities, the least that they could do is give the House their attention for the very short period that the Government have deigned to give Members to discuss their concerns this evening.
§ Tony Baldry
I will in a moment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins) raised the issue of resources, and was echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Sir Michael Spicer). I reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire said, and I want to ask a further question. The Bill makes it clear, in many instances, that if people misbehave in accommodation centres they will be expelled. What will happen to them? Where will they go? Moreover, what local police resources will be used in relation to such people? If someone decides not to return to the Bicester accommodation centre, will Thames Valley police be notified? If they are notified, will they be expected to find and apprehend those individuals? If so, what assessment, if any, has the Home Office made—after all, the matter is one for that Department—of the effect on the resources of Thames Valley police?
My information is that, as yet, not only has the Home Office not consulted other Departments or organisations such as the health service or education or social services in Oxfordshire, but there has been little if any consultation with Thames Valley police on the likely impact that the accommodation centre will have on their resources.
§ Tony Baldry
I will in a moment. If Ministers cannot even liaise with and consult organisations within their own Department, what hope is there for a sensible assessment of the demands on other areas of Government activity?
§ Mr. Dawson
I am most grateful. Does the hon. Gentleman realise how tedious it is to hear the nimby 766 argument paraded over and over again? His party is supposed to support accommodation centres. I, with great qualms, support them. I would support the principle of accommodation centres coming to my constituency, and he should do so in relation to his.
§ Tony Baldry
My constituents—and other constituents—find it deeply patronising that their concerns are described as nimbyist or, as some have described them, racist. They find that deeply offensive, as they are raising serious concerns. More than 10,000 of my constituents have petitioned the House sensibly and rationally to ask for a public inquiry into this matter. Why do they want that at the end of the planning process? They want it so that their concerns can be rationally and sensibly examined by an independent inspector. That is all that they ask for, sensibly and reasonably.
The argument made by the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre would be much stronger if he could find a single organisation concerned with refugees and asylum seekers that supports his argument. But every organisation from Amnesty International to the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux to the British Medical Association to the British Red Cross to the Refugee Council opposes the combination of size and location.
§ Tony Baldry
Not again. If the hon. Gentleman cannot get his mind around the policy concerns of such organisations, he is clearly not bothering to read the post that he receives each morning.
The House needs to discuss other important groups of amendments. Ministers need to pay attention to how to meet the concerns of local residents. In addition to visiting committees, therefore, I hope that they will also consider the establishment of liaison committees and listen carefully to what has been said about the provision of services. When consultation takes place with local authorities, and if there is a public inquiry, can we have full, coherent and candid answers about what demands accommodation centres will place on local providers of local services?
§ The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Ms Rosie Winterton)
I hope that hon. Members will forgive me for trying to be as brief as possible, as I know that there is a desire to move on to other groups of amendments.
With regard to new clause 3, I hope that it will provide reassurance if I say that we have already been thinking about the type of committee envisaged. With regard to the remarks made by the hon. Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) about a possible liaison committee, we can take into account all sorts of models, and that type of committee is not necessarily ruled out. Clearly, it is important for the public and asylum seekers to have confidence in the policies and the way in which we carry them out. An independent body of the type envisaged by the new clause is one approach. I hope that that will provide reassurance, and that new clause 3 will not be pressed to a vote.
With regard to amendment No. 30, we do not believe that it is sensible to rule out the option of contracting out the running of accommodation centres. Successful 767 examples of such contracts exist, arid contracting out is a familiar method of running some National Asylum Support Service accommodation and removal centres.
§ Annabelle Ewing
The Minister mentioned that there were examples of successful contracting out. Can she list them?
§ Ms Winterton
I am prepared to write to the hon. Lady with other examples.
The important thing is public accountability, on which the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Allan) is right to focus. We want to ensure that the public and asylum seekers have confidence in the system. We also believe that the private running of an accommodation centre—to standards set by the Home Office—can deliver what we want; it can deliver public accountability. Whichever method is adopted, we want appropriate partnerships and liaison to be established with a range of bodies such as local, health and education authorities, charities and non-governmental organisations. They all have a role to play in that ongoing process. The whole point of a trial is to identify what works best. We therefore want the flexibility to do that within the trial period.
We cannot accept the Conservative amendment No. 3, which would place a duty on us to provide all the facilities listed in clause 26 to residents of accommodation centre,. That also applies to the similar Liberal Democrat amendments Nos. 40, 167 and 168. If we are to have a genuine trial, we should not have a fixed concept about what might work. We have already said that we are prepared to consider a different configuration of accommodation centres in response to concerns about 750 beds. A smaller centre may affect the types of services that it is practical or necessary for the Home Office to provide. We believe that it is prudent to be prepared for all eventualities. We would not want the Bill to place an obligation on the Home Office to arrange to provide something that it would not always necessarily be sensible for us to provide. I hope that hon. Members accept that that is why we do not want to be constrained by the amendments.
Amendments Nos. 4 and 166, taken with amendments Nos. 3 and 40, would place a duty on us to provide leg 11 advice and representation to accommodation centre residents. As hon. Members said, we had a substantial debate on that in Committee and explained why it is unnecessary to take the power to provide legal advice to accommodation centre residents. Powers already exist in the Access to Justice Act 1999 to provide legal help via the Community Legal Service. They place a requirement on the Legal Services Commission to meet local needs. Powers in clause 93 enable the Home Office to fund organisations that provide advice to asylum appellants.
A duty to provide legal advice and representation to accommodation centre residents is a different matter. Let me re-emphasise that we are committed to providing access to free, independent, quality legal advice to residents of accommodation centres. That advice will be provided and funded by the Legal Services Commission through on-site provision, local supply or a combination of the two. The precise arrangements, however, will depend on the location of each accommodation centre, but all centres will provide facilities for use by solicitors and advice agencies. It would be distinctly odd to place a duty 768 on the Secretary of State to provide legal advice to those in accommodation centres when other immigration legislation contains no equivalent duty for the generality of asylum seekers, even those who are detained at Oakington, for example.
§ Ms Winterton
Yes, I am, arid I hope that my comments have reassured hon. Members.
Amendment No. 42 would delete subsection (2)(b) of clause 26, which enables us to make regulations requiring the manager of an accommodation centre to determine the amount of money to be provided to an accommodation centre resident. Hon. Members expressed their fears about that in Committee. I hope that I reassure them when I say that their fears are unfounded. If we contract out the operation of accommodation centres, there will be no question of a private sector manager making arbitrary decisions on the amount of cash paid to asylum seekers. Equally, there will be no question of a civil servant manager or a manager from the not-for-profit sector making arbitrary decisions. Clause 26(2)(b) enables a centre manager only to determine the amount of money in accordance with the regulations. The regulations will provide the safeguard because we will ensure that they do not give the centre manager the discretion to make arbitrary decisions.
We also believe that amendment No. 43 is unnecessary. As we explained in Committee, administrative law requires the Secretary of State and the centre manager to act reasonably. That is implicit and enforceable. They will be able to impose residence conditions only in accordance with regulations subject to the draft affirmative procedure. On the length of time that people are required to be present in the accommodation centre in any 24-hour period, we said in Committee that we envisaged the 12 hours specified in the Opposition amendment tabled then to be at the upper end of the scale.
As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary said, the atmosphere in the centres is the key. We will provide a range of activities to enable asylum seekers to spend their time in the centres productively. There will be incentives to remain on site as well as requirements to be there. If we get it right, we hope that asylum seekers will recognise that what we are asking of them and what we are offering them is in their best interests.
We also cannot accept amendments Nos. 133, 136 and 137. The whole asylum support regime is structured to enable us to treat asylum seekers and their dependants as a group. That is what the National Asylum Support Service currently does. Again, it would be distinctly odd for us to take a different approach in accommodation centres. I understand that hon. Members might think it unfair to evict the dependants of an asylum seeker from an accommodation centre because of a breach of conditions committed by the principal applicant, or vice versa. However, that is what happens under the Asylum Support Regulations 2000.
The consequences of a breach of conditions for the family as a whole will be made clear to asylum seekers at the outset and they will be briefed about their 769 obligations. We do not think it unreasonable that the actions of one member of a family should have consequences for the rest of the group. That is what happens already and it would be odd if the regulations on accommodation centres were different.
§ Mr. Peter Luff (Mid-Worcestershire)
On that point, will the hon. Lady give an assurance that a light touch will be used? It is possible that an asylum seeker will be in a remote rural location far from the accommodation centre and physically unable to return to it because of a lack of public transport, which would be no fault of theirs. Will sympathetic discretion be used such circumstances?
§ Ms Winterton
Of course discretion will be used in all such circumstances. Such decisions would not be taken lightly.
I hope that hon. Members agree that amendment No. 131 is unnecessary. I understand entirely the concern to ensure that asylum seekers have a right of appeal against any decision to withdraw support by requiring someone to leave a centre. We agree with that. As we explained in Committee, a right of appeal already exists by virtue of clause 45, which inserts new section 103 into the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. It gives a right of appeal to the asylum support adjudicator against any decision to stop providing support under clause 15 or section 95 of the 1999 Act, or both.
I am grateful to the Minister for her kind response on visiting committees. That is most encouraging. I shall not seek to press my other amendments to a Division. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.