HC Deb 13 January 2004 vol 416 c667
26. Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD)

What steps he is taking to ensure that adequate legally aided advice and representation is available to asylum seekers. [147121]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. David Lammy)

The Government want to ensure that legal aid is targeted properly on those genuine and complex cases that can demonstrate the need for it by passing the merits test. All asylum seekers meeting that test have access to appropriate advice and representation. The Legal Services Commission constantly monitors supply to ensure as far as possible that, as in all areas of law, sufficient quality suppliers exist to meet the needs of asylum seekers.

Dr. Harris

I thank the Minister for that question—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."]—or rather, I thank him for that answer. He will be aware that I have written to him that Darby's, the last city-centre firm in Oxford, has withdrawn from publicly funded legal aid for asylum seekers. The Legal Services Commission wrote to me that we did make DCA Ministers aware during the consultation process"— on the new arrangements— that firms are threatening to withdraw if the proposals go ahead and if remuneration rates are not reviewed. In his letter to me, however, the Minister merely states that his proposals will improve matters. Does he recognise that they will make matters worse, and that fewer good decisions will be made because of inadequate representation for asylum seekers?

Mr. Lammy

No is the short and simple answer to that question. There were three suppliers in Oxford providing asylum and immigration advice. One of those has withdrawn, but we are presently in a bid round, and three suppliers have expressed an interest. If those three suppliers get the contracts, there will still be three suppliers in Oxford. As Oxford is not a large dispersal area, that provision is adequate.