HL Deb 09 May 1996 vol 572 cc269-316

House again in Committee.

Clause 9 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 122 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 122A: After Clause 9, insert the following new clause— INCOME SUPPORT (".—(1) Section 135 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 shall be amended as follows. (2) At the beginning of subsection (1) there shall be inserted the words "Subject to subsections (2A) and (2B) below,". (3) At the beginning of subsection (2) there shall be inserted the words "Subject to subsections (2A) and (2B) below,". (4) After subsection (2) there shall be inserted— (2A) In relation to a person who submits a claim to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, which is not finally determined, for asylum under the Convention, no amount (or aggregate of such amounts) may be prescribed which is less than the amount (or aggregate of such amounts) which would be applicable to him if he was not such a person, except that, in the case of income support, the amount in respect of himself or, if he is a member of a married or unmarried couple or of a polygamous marriage, the amount in respect of both or all of them may be reduced by no more than 10 per cent. (2B) For the purpose of subsection (2A), "Convention" means the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees done at Geneva on 28th July 1961 and the Protocol to that Convention.".").

The noble Earl said: The Minister will not be surprised to hear me utter the word "vires". Vires are like the Hydra: if you cut off one of the Hydra's heads, it grows 10 more. If one wanted to kill the Hydra one had to break its back. If one wishes to get rid of regulations it is no good revoking them; one has to get rid of the powers under which the regulations are made. That is the purpose of this amendment. The amendment addresses the power to provide a nil applicable amount of income support for asylum seekers.

It is a good principle that appeals are allowed on grounds of important fresh evidence. I will not attempt to reopen the arguments that we had on 30th January but I will attempt to bring forward fresh evidence of what has happened since 30th January; indeed, since the regulations came into force on 5th February.

In dealing with a previous amendment the Minister suggested that one did not find the number of asylum seekers in difficulties that had been suggested. That is not our experience from collecting information since 5th February. I have here a considerable number of cases—I assure the Committee that I will not quote all of them—which have come to light since 5th February. The Refugee Council has come across no fewer than 300 people altogether without anywhere to sleep except the street. In many cases all that it has been able to do is to provide those people with blankets. There is also a considerable number of people who, although they may have had help from local authority social services, have obtained it in a piecemeal way, often in a way that gives rise to a considerable number of legal problems.

To take one particular case—one wonders whether it has been rightly decided—an asylum seeker from Zaïre arrived here in August 1991. He still has not had a decision on his application. He had been working for most of the time since he came here but was made redundant in January 1996, paid two weeks in lieu of notice and claimed benefit on 12th February 1996. It is not clear whether that person had ever before claimed income support as an asylum seeker. If he had done so, he would be entitled to income support under the saving provisions. If not, he is a person who has earned and paid British taxes and national insurance but who has been refused the protection which normally goes with that. I wonder whether that case was correctly decided.

It appears from the case law that when a couple claim benefit and then split up only the one who claims the benefit is able to go on claiming after 5th February 1996. That surprised me. I am sorry that I did not notice that when the regulations were dealt with. It immensely increases the danger faced by those women who turn out to be married, as some do, to violent partners. It has the effect of turning marriage into a prison, which is not what it is supposed to be.

We have another case: applied for asylum on 2nd February, but did not claim benefit until 7th February; refused under the new rules. Again, I cannot help wondering whether that case was decided correctly. That person has been refused help by social services, presumably because the local borough was facing extreme pressure. He is living on a certain amount of food provided by the local Sikh temple. It is not an adequate way of keeping alive.

Another case arrived on 9th February and applied for asylum two days later; was counted to be an in-country applicant, from which the point arose that "on arrival" in the regulations is not defined. I should have thought that that was about as immediate as one could get.

I shall not detain the Committee with many more of these cases. But I wonder whether we are doing anything sensible here, or whether we are creating a great deal of hardship which will lay up problems for us as well as for them in the future, and serving no useful purpose. From a number of those cases the fact that a number of them did not claim at the port, and indeed in some cases say that they were given no hint that it made any difference whether they claimed at the port, it should emerge that the assumption that all asylum seekers are market sensitive to changes in our regulations is, as I have been arguing all day, wide of the mark.

We have gross hardship here. That is already clear. Considering that it is so early for evidence to come in, we should be surprised by the amount that has come in. I beg the Minister to consider it possible that he may be mistaken. I beg to move.

8.15 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

We on these Benches support the amendment which would restore income support, removed by regulation, to asylum seekers. Both Opposition Benches resisted its withdrawal in the debate on 30th January when I prayed against the regulations. Nothing that has happened since has suggested that any of our fears were exaggerated, any of our alarms were unnecessary, or that any of the Government's promises have been fulfilled.

Why did we resist that withdrawal of income support? Why do we seek to reinstate it through the Bill? There are three reasons. First, when the Government removed the right to means-tested benefits from those who applied for asylum after they had entered the country, they did so because they were making a distinction between those who sought asylum at the port of entry and those who sought asylum in-country. It is a distinction which we believed then, and believe now, is bogus. The evidence supports us.

That distinction does not separate the genuine from the fraudulent. If it did, we might have rather more sympathy for it. What the distinction does is merely separate the confident—those who apply at port of entry—from those who are not confident or who are insecure or frightened, who apply once they are safely inside the country. It separates those who can speak and read English who apply at port of entry, from those who do not and cannot. It separates those who already have friends here from those who do not.

The fact, as my noble friend Lord Dubs said earlier this evening, that over 80 per cent. of all those coming to the Refugee Council apply for asylum within one week of being inside the country shows that all the mythology of benefit tourism, people on holiday, people changing their stories in order to live here gratis, courtesy of the British taxpayer, is rubbish. They do what you or I or, I hope, my children would do in a similar situation: first get inside the country, seek help, and then apply immediately to legitimise one's status. That is the sane and sensible thing to do. It is what so many asylum seekers have done.

We know, too, that at least the same proportion, if not a higher proportion, of those who apply once in-country, as opposed to applying at port of entry, subsequently gain refugee status or exceptional leave to remain. They are more likely to be genuine asylum seekers if they apply in-country than if they apply at the port of entry. The statistics show it. Therefore, to have the test of whether one obtains benefit depend upon where one applies, is not a good enough test for the giving or withdrawing of benefit.

So far as I am aware, no other European country draws the distinction—not Scandinavia, not France, not Germany, not Italy—that one's fate depends upon where one applies rather than upon the test of one's need. We are the only European country which refuses all welfare assistance to those who apply one day or two days after they have entered this country and not at the port of entry.

The first argument for trying to reinstate income support was that the distinction that the Government drew—those who apply at the port of entry are genuine; those who apply later are changing their story and are fraudulent, and it is therefore legitimate to drive that wedge between them—was bogus, and remains so. All the subsequent evidence shows it to be so.

The second argument that we advanced—it still remains true—is that much of the problem that we experienced with benefit is due not to asylum seekers' "fault" but to our fault—the fault of all of us around the Chamber and on the Government Benches—which is the delay in processing asylum applications.

At December last, 15 per cent. of all those who applied in 1991 had still not been heard; 15 per cent. of those who applied in 1992 had still not been heard; 15 per cent. of those who applied in 1993 had still not been heard; 25 per cent. of those who applied in 1994; and 25 per cent.—this is more understandable—of those who applied in 1995 had still not been heard. If the Home Office fails to resolve the status of asylum seekers when it should—and it does not—it is unreasonable, unfair, and improper to expect the DSS to sort it out by denying them benefit.

Because asylum seekers are not having their applications heard on time on asylum grounds, we seek to deter them from remaining on financial grounds. Because we do not hear them when we should, we try to avoid having to hear them at all by refusing them the benefit upon which they might live in the meantime and by forcing them into destitution. That is an appalling basis upon which to make public policy.

The third reason for opposing this regulation back in January—all the evidence subsequently confirms that we were right to do so, and all that we have heard this evening shows that we were right to do so—is that as members of a civilised society none of us can allow these families literally to starve. Churches, charities, and, above all, local authorities using their powers under the Children Act are obliged morally to respond to families with children. The Children Act 1989 gives local authorities no choice. The cost of taking a child into care if unaccompanied, or sustaining a family in a bed-sit life, will be horrendous.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, will be able to persuade the Government that it would be right to reimburse local authorities to 100 per cent. of their costs. That would be the right and proper thing to do. We believe that the costs incurred by local authorities are likely to outweigh the savings in benefit hugged in by government, especially given the concession tonight that local authorities will sustain families in the housing that they are in.

For those reasons we support the amendment, because we believe that restoring the benefits cuts effectively would be cost neutral, that it is our responsibility, that we have failed to accelerate the time in which hearings should be determined, and, above all, because we and, I hope, every Member of the Committee recoils from being a member of a society where families with children are left destitute to live on and off the streets.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

I support the amendment and the reinstatement of the means-tested benefits. There is a worrying movement by which a growing number of claimants are being excluded from the basic means-tested benefits which exist to protect people from destitution or to provide essential housing costs. That is not questioning what the Minister said about there being an end of the road when an appeal was turned down. These are asylum seekers.

I believe that we are crossing a line by introducing a regulation to remove the whole safety net from a sizeable group; namely, those asylum seekers. The phrase has been used "people without a proper case". That is arguing in circles. The point is that someone is appealing, hoping to prove that there is a proper case. The steady proportion of those who appeal does prove that they have a proper case.

In autumn last year I led a delegation from all the Churches to see the Home Secretary when the removal of benefits was only an idea. I asked him how someone should expect to live while they were appealing. He said that a person could pursue an appeal from outside the country. In the reality of the situation, that is no right at all.

Those regulations would have serious consequences on the health and welfare of some of the most vulnerable people in the world. I give as an example pregnant women and babies left without financial support, or with inadequate financial support, or who receive financial support from local authorities which is far lower than the payments of income support.

An Afghan refugee arrived in this country on 9th February this year and applied for asylum on 14th February. He had received no advice at the port of entry that there was a requirement to apply there. The family consists of a couple. The woman was pregnant, the baby being due on 14th April. They were placed in a hostel by Ealing Council and were refused assistance by social services. With the intervention of an advice bureau, social services paid a total of £65.25 a week partly in food vouchers. The advice bureau got together pots, pans, blankets and towels. The clients did not have much clothing. Under the urgent cases' provision of income support once the child is born, the family would be entitled to £94.68 a week, which is a substantial difference.

Your Lordships' House has another interest in the matter. During debates on the Social Security Bill 1986, Lady Faithfull, moved an amendment providing that in urgent cases income support should be payable. From the Government Front-Bench, the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, accepted that some of the needs should be met by the social fund but others should be met within the weekly benefits system. As a result of that undertaking, the amendment was withdrawn. Will the Minister tell me what is happening to that undertaking, which was of some importance in your Lordships' House?

How effective is such an Act in achieving what it set out to achieve? After all the publicity about the withdrawal of benefits, the number of applications for asylum increased from 2,900 in February to 3,145 in March. People are not coming to seek asylum because of the benefits that they might receive. I believe that a high proportion are coming out of desperation and our regulations will not change that.

Lord Hylton

I support what has been said by the right reverend Prelate about the practical difficulties of conducting an appeal from a third country against a decision given in the United Kingdom. How on earth are such appellants supposed to obtain adequate advice in order to present their case in the best possible light? How are the problems of interpretation and translation of documents to be overcome? Surely it is completely illusory to expect that in Holland or Denmark, for instance, such experts will be available. The right reverend Prelate made a most important point.

Baroness Rawlings

Having read the amendment with great care, I wonder whether it would not destroy all the previous legislation and, in reality, support the statement made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, before withdrawing Amendment No. 106?

Earl Russell

No. The effect of the amendment is simply to withdraw the power to prescribe the nil applicable amount for refugees. It allows the 10 per cent. deduction which existed under the previous law and restores the position to what it was before 30th January last. That is all it does.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

That answer from the noble Earl to my noble friend Lady Rawlings means, "Yes, it does destroy the legislation we passed at the end of January by secondary legislation". I make no complaint about that. Ironically, it does not destroy it in the way in which the noble Earl intends because it attacks only the income support part of the regulations. It leaves the housing benefit and council tax part as we agreed on 30th January. I am sure that that is more of an oversight on the part of the noble Earl than a deliberate policy.

The regulations which came into force on 5th February were widely debated in this House. I apologise to Members of the Committee if I repeat some of the arguments tonight. If the amendment, which is narrowly drawn to income support although not in cost terms, were accepted, the taxpayer must continue to find more than £100 million a year in order to provide social security benefits for people who come to the UK claiming to be asylum seekers. I return to my argument about the numbers because the huge majority are found not to be asylum seekers.

Perhaps I may say to the right reverend Prelate that I would be more concerned about the validity of his argument if the statistics were not so clearly in favour of the case that most of the people who come here do not succeed either in obtaining refugee status or being given exceptional leave to remain. It may be that the right reverend Prelate, the noble Earl and the noble Baroness will argue that what is fundamentally wrong is the fact that we do not recognise those people as refugees the moment they knock on the door and say, "I am a refugee". Given the attacks which are made on the way in which we deal with asylum seekers, I remain a little puzzled about what would be put in place of our immigration and asylum-seeking procedures.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

The Minister asked what might he put in place. No one on either side of the House is saying that there should be no regulations. Strict regulations have been in place for a very long time. The noble Lord argued about percentages. Last week I had the percentages at my fingertips but tonight I have not. However, I can tell him that what is now a 79 per cent. rejection of applications for exceptional leave to remain and for asylum was of the order of 20 per cent. or less under the same Government with their regulations a few years ago. What has happened is not that fewer legitimate asylum seekers have come but that the regulations have been changed and tightened.

Lord Hylton

Perhaps I may make a point in support of the right reverend Prelate. The fact is that the onus of proof has been shifted since 1987. A far greater burden has been put on the applicant in a climate which has been totally changed by disbelief and the minute questioning of every single assertion in an application.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

The figures are quite simply that in 1995, the Home Office decisions resulted in 5 per cent. being granted refugee status and 16 per cent. being granted exceptional leave to remain. Therefore, 79 per cent. were refused either. That was the outcome after careful consideration.

The problem is not just those statistics. If Members of the Committee had their way, it would seem that the people coming here should receive all our benefits while they stay here, right to the end of their appeal hearings which can sometimes take quite a long time—and I shall return to that. Therefore, they can come here and do that, but at the same time they are clogging up the procedures which we have in place to deal with asylum seekers.

Members of the Committee need to address the serious figures in relation to what is happening in the rest of Europe. Most of our friends in the European Union, have, over the past two or three years, tightened their procedures. In the main European countries, the numbers have shown a very steady and quite dramatic decline over the past four or five years. In our case, it has been the opposite. Our figures have actually shown a considerable increase. No matter how hard we try to deal with applications as quickly as possible—and that is our objective—if we receive even more applications, we will literally be trying to run hard in order to stand still.

For example, the Home Office has increased the number of case workers since 1988 from 100 to 700 and £37 million has gone from my budget to the Home Office and to the Lord Chancellor's Department in order to expand their work. We are making every attempt to speed up the procedures, but every attempt, including that extra expenditure and those extra people, is being confounded by the increases in the numbers of people here and claiming asylum. There were 57.000 last year as opposed to 42,000 the year before. That is a 10-fold increase over the numbers 10 years ago. Over the 10 years to 1994, our share of all European asylum claims trebled.

In a recent report, Amnesty International said that the truth of the matter is that since 1992, immigration controls and asylum procedures, particularly those applied at the border, have been tightened far more in some European countries than in the UK. It added that no doubt that works to make the UK a more attractive destination than some other European countries for would-be asylum seekers.

Baroness Seear

I believe that I am right in saying that until very recently, Germany had practically open immigration, so it is no wonder that it has tightened its rules.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am glad to hear that the noble Baroness does not approve of open immigration policies. But other countries in Europe are exactly the same. When we discussed this matter on 30th January, I told the House that the same downward trend applies in all the major countries in Europe while our trend continues to be an upward trend.

If it were an upward trend because people were genuine, then we should be seeing a quite different figure from the 5 per cent. granted refugee status by the Home Office which we are now seeing. It may be that the Members of the Committee contend that that is far too tight a test and that they wish to weaken the test and let through many more asylum seekers, including many who would not fulfil the tests which comply with our international obligations.

Therefore, in my view the position is perfectly clear. The number of people coming here is increasing. More important, a very large percentage-75 per cent. or 80 per cent.—are found after a very long procedure not to fulfil the qualifications for refugee status or indeed even to fulfil the qualifications for exceptional leave to remain.

The noble Baroness usually uses the word "traumatised" when referring to people coming to this country and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, goes along the same track. They reach the port of entry which they consider to be a safe haven. After all, why have they come here if they do not believe that it is a safe haven? Why have they crossed other countries, including many of our European Union partners, to get here if they do not consider it to be a safe haven? They have gone to a lot of trouble to reach this country. They have arranged their journey carefully and have obtained papers, if they need them, whether they are genuine or false. They have planned their entry and have made up a story, true or false, to satisfy the immigration officers that only a visit is intended. They know what they are doing. If they are genuine asylum seekers, they are coming here because they believe that it is a safe country. If that is their belief, I cannot understand the argument that for some reason or other, they should not apply for asylum at the moment at which they arrive here.

If they do that, we shall consider them for all our benefits including income support, housing benefit and consideration under the homelessness legislation. That is the position for those who come into the country and appeal in-country. If they are genuine asylum seekers, they have the opportunity to apply when they get here.

I have heard the figures before. The noble Baroness says that 80 per cent. apply within a week. That was a very narrow study and looking at all the figures, as we do, Home Office figures show that 60 per cent. of people who apply for asylum after entry have not applied within a month of arrival, and 40 per cent. have not applied within three months of arrival. That underlines the point which I made earlier. Many of them come here and after a time they decide that the way to stay here is by applying for asylum. That is often done while being advised, aided and abetted by people who make quite a lot of money out of that business. That is the simple fact of the matter. The Government cannot turn a blind eye to that situation.

I do not like to contradict the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, but it is interesting to note that over the past few months there has been a decline in the numbers compared with the comparable month of the previous year. There is a variation month by month and we have seen a decline since January over the previous January, February and so on. Indeed, although the figures are only provisional, in April there was quite a dramatic decline in the numbers not only over last April but over the first three months of this year. I suggest that that may indicate that the people who are the links—and there are links—between this country and overseas countries, especially those countries from where the majority of asylum seekers come, are telling people that it is not nearly as easy to come here and when here to claim the benefits; to appeal when refused; to manage to spin out the amount of time which they are allowed in this country; and to be paid income support, housing benefit and so on.

I do not blame people who come from some countries for wanting to come here as economic migrants. It is sensible for them to want to do that. It is perfectly understandable, even if they only receive social security. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, always tells me that it is at a disgustingly low level although I do not believe that her party is making any promises that in the unlikely event of being elected, it will do anything to change the current level. It will then suddenly become an acceptable and proper level, given all the checks and balances which governments have to put in. Those people come here and, frankly, it is a good deal better than the countries from where they have come. I understand that. It would be nice if we could let many more of them in on that basis, but I do not believe that we can.

Earl Russell

I do not believe that the Minister was in the House on Thursday night when the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, asked us not to repeat ourselves. I have tried to take that advice. There are many amendments before us. Perhaps the Minister will also take that advice.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am happy to take that advice but the noble Earl has tabled an amendment which seeks to undo the work which we did on 30th January. Clearly the speech that I made then fell on deaf ears. I am sorry that I am repeating myself, but I do so in the hope of conveying what I believe—and on that occasion the House believed—was the perfectly sensible case which the Government were putting forward on the subject of changing the way in which the benefit system impacted on asylum seekers.

If the noble Earl does not wish to hear my case any more, I hope that he will take to heart his own advice for the rest of the evening and will not repeat himself, because during most of today I have heard nothing but repetition of the arguments put forward on 30th January. Just to show that I do take advice, I recommend to the Committee that the amendment be rejected. If it is not withdrawn, I urge my noble friends to join me in voting against it.

Earl Russell

I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Jenkin of Roding moved Amendment No. 123: After Clause 9, insert the following new clause— REPORT BY THE SECRETARY OF STATE ON THE REIMBURSEMENT OF COSTS OF LOCAL AUTHORITIES (". The Secretary of State shall, following consultation with local authorities, make an annual report to Parliament on his proposals for reimbursing the additional costs placed on local authorities as a result of their duties to refugees and asylum seekers under the Housing Acts 1985 and 1996, the Children Act 1989 and the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990.").

The noble Lord said: I can assure the Committee that I shall heed the advice just given by the noble Earl; indeed, I shall not repeat any of the arguments that I advanced when speaking to Amendment No. 110. The proposed new clause seeks an opportunity for Parliament to be informed and to have a chance to discuss the arrangements for the support of local authorities such as they may turn out to be.

During the earlier debate my noble friend mentioned that that would be achieved by the device of a special report for local government grant. Of course, he would be entitled to say that that would provide the opportunity for Parliament to discuss whether the arrangements were working properly. However, I should like to make two remarks in that respect and then I shall sit down. First, it appears that the argument that they should be specific rather than special grants is being won and that, therefore, they will form part of the entire SSA settlement in normal years. With the enormous interest that always focuses on the aggregate figures and the effect that they are likely to have on the levels of council tax in different authorities, my guess is that Parliament would probably not spend too much time on discussing the rather narrower questions which have engaged the Committee tonight. Therefore, that is one reason for having a separate report; namely, to enable us to scrutinise the issue carefully.

Secondly, it has become apparent—and I do not believe that this is a matter for which anyone can be regarded as blameworthy—that there are considerable uncertainties as to what the effects will be. Mr. Curry informed the noble Earl, myself and my noble friend Lord Goold this morning that it is the view of the Treasury that the whole of the legislation will ultimately reduce local government expenditure because of the impact that it will have on the total numbers coming in and, therefore, on the demand for services. That may well be right. But it may not be right in the early stages, because the first three or four months have shown a significant increase in the expenditure of those authorities which are particularly affected.

However, given the fact that there is uncertainty and that there may well be some quite sharp trends both as regards the number of people applying for asylum and those not entitled to social security payments, housing benefit and so on and who will, therefore, be thrown on the resources of the local authorities, there are likely to be quite substantial variations. I believe it is appropriate that this Chamber should have an opportunity to look at the process.

If it is part of the normal rate support grant settlement, or whatever it is called these days, it will in fact be a matter only for debate in another place; indeed, such matters are not normally debated in this Chamber. If we had a report on the asylum provisions and the asylum effects of the sort suggested in the amendment, we would have an opportunity to discuss the matter. Therefore, for both those reasons—first, the variation and the uncertainty and the likely variability in the figures; and, secondly, the fact that I believe it is something which each place will want to look at as regards the effect of what is obviously controversial legislation—I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be prepared to consider whether such a subject should be put in an annual report to be placed before this Chamber each year so that we can follow its progress. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am fascinated by what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, says about the privileged information that he received from the Minister this morning. If the noble Lord looks back at the figures for asylum applications, I believe that he will find, although I am sorry to say this, that the Treasury is likely to be wrong. That is not to say that legislation does not have an immediate effect but rather that the effect wears off rather quickly. That is the reason why we have an Asylum and Immigration Bill only three years after the last one.

However, whether or not there is a case to be made for a total reduction in public expenditure, the argument put forward by the noble Lord for his amendment and for proper scrutiny of the real costs to local authorities was very well put. Without repeating what was said on my previous amendment, I do not know whether such costs are significant in total in relation to public expenditure; they are probably not. Nevertheless, they are enormously significant for those few local authorities which are immediately affected by the entry into this country of asylum seekers. I strongly support the amendment.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

Taking the strictures of the noble Earl to heart, I shall try not to repeat some of the remarks that I made earlier when we discussed this subject in relation to previous amendments. However, as I indicated, I understand my noble friend's concern that local authorities should have the opportunity to explain to the Government their views on financing any additional expenditure which they expect to incur in discharging their statutory responsibilities towards refugees and asylum seekers and that Parliament should be able to consider and discuss the issue.

I should like to reassure my noble friend—as, indeed, I believe I have already—that those objectives are met by the current statutory and practical arrangements for the local government finance settlement in England and by comparable procedures operated elsewhere.

Each year local authorities have ample opportunity, through service working groups and in other consultative fora, to inform central government of their views about any additional costs they may face and how such expenditure should be financed. Local authorities are then consulted about the Government's proposals for supporting local authorities' expenditure before the final proposals are laid before the House of Commons in the Local Government Finance Report and debated. My noble friend asked me whether such matters could he debated in this Chamber. I am afraid that that is not possible because, as he knows, finance matters are normally the province of the other place. Such a matter is clearly a finance matter and, therefore, would not fall to be debated here.

As I have already said this evening, officials from the Department of the Environment and the Department of Health have been discussing the details of the grant with local authority associations. They are planning a further meeting on 20th May. A draft grant report will be considered then. At that time full details of the grant will also be considered. We would expect to see that report approved by the Summer Recess.

Of course I accept that it is possible that other issues may arise late in the day. However, I believe the procedures are there to deal with them. We have also announced that we will make available a special grant for local authorities to cover a substantial part of their unavoidable additional costs. The provisions under which such a grant is made (Section 88B of the Local Government Finance Act 1988) require that the grant may only be paid following the approval of the report setting out the details of the grant by resolution in another place. Therefore, proper scrutiny will be given in the other place to the matter.

I do not believe that it would be sensible to create an additional bureaucracy by establishing the new statutory procedures which the amendment proposes. That would only duplicate the effect of existing provisions and practices. Without going on and thereby raising the eyebrows of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, by repeating myself, I hope that that reassures my noble friend and that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment, thus enabling us to get on speedily with the rest of the Bill.

Lord Jenkin of Roding

I am most grateful to my noble friend the Minister. Obviously it is most difficult to form a judgment on the matter until we have the details of the Government's proposals, which will be laid before local authorities on 20th of this month. However, there will be further opportunities for us to reconsider the matter at later stages when all the information is available. Therefore, in the circumstances I am sure that the right course for me now is to beg leave to withdraw the amendment. In that way we will be able to get on and complete the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 10 [Entitlement to child benefit]:

[Amendment No. 124 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendment No. 125 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 126 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

On Question, Whether Clause 10 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Henderson of Brompton

As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, was not present to move his amendment to, leave out ("immigrant") and insert ("relevant person")—

Noble Lords

This is the clause stand part debate!

Lord Henderson of Brompton

I was talking about Amendment No. 125. I realise that it was not moved because the noble Earl, Lord Russell, was not present. I wish to refer to "immigrant" and not to "relevant person" during my remarks. This is a clause which I am quite sure we should do without. I have no hesitation in asking the Committee to vote "Not Content" when the Question is put. This clause, together with Clause 9 which we have just debated, and social security regulations which came into effect in February this year, withdraw social security entitlements which would otherwise enable immigrants to live free from destitution.

The question is: do we wish immigrants and their children—not all, but some—to live in destitution and thereby reduce their chances of living long enough in this country to exercise their rights of appeal? I submit that the answer must be, no. I believe that these legislative proposals are coercive and inhumane, and none more so than Clause 10 which we are discussing, which denies child benefit to any child immigrant unless he satisfies prescribed conditions. What those prescribed conditions are we do not know, so what we are being asked to do is to buy a pig in a poke.

The clause is indiscriminate, and I do not believe that legislation should be. I wish as much as anyone to attack welfare tourism and bogus asylum seekers, but not at the expense of genuine asylum seekers who flee from terror at home. There must be some better way than this of attacking bogus applicants without exposing to force majeure—because that is what it amounts to—those who are in genuine need. This is legislative overkill. This proposal to remove Clause 10 has all-party support. I am glad to see the right reverend Prelates are present. I feel confident that the late Lady Faithful!, if she were still with us, would have been the first to advise the Committee against this clause, which particularly affects children. I know that other Conservatives wish to support the proposal to remove this clause. I ask the Committee to vote against the clause and remove it from the Bill.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

My noble friend the Bishop of Ripon is not able to be here today and has asked me whether I would support this amendment. I do so from the heart. I support what the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, has said. It is something we can do without. In the Glidewell Panel report Barnardo's submitted that, the withdrawal of benefit would leave many families with no way of paying for accommodation or for feeding or clothing their children". Barnardo's estimate, based on Home Office statistics, was that this might affect more than 4,000 dependent children. The Children Act obliges local authorities to provide assistance to children in need and to accommodate any child in need because the person caring for that child has been prevented from providing suitable care and accommodation.

The object of saving public money would hardly be achieved if local authorities had to take 4,000 children into care, let alone the effect on the children and families! Child benefit is much less expensive than social services. It is easy to administer; it is cheap to run and it does not distinguish between people. There is no stigma to being on benefit. Those involved in Church community projects say that people with a perfectly legitimate right to be here are now facing detailed questioning and form filling from staff in local benefit offices. That annoys, frustrates and frightens both clients and DSS staff. How does that help race relations? Scores of people are now becoming dependent on Churches and charities for accommodation, food and clothing. It has been described to me as a creeping crisis as resources are used up.

A Government Minister, Ann Widdecombe, from another place stated in a letter to William Powell, MP, The Government do not wish to see NGOs providing support to destitute asylum seekers as this would mean that the incentive to economic migrants would remain". I had not thought of the Church before as an NGO (non-government organisation) but I suppose that is what we are. This seems to me to be a case of the Government not only ordering their officials to pass by on the other side but to stop a Good Samaritan from helping some of the most vulnerable people. I must assure the Committee that this NGO will not obey the Minister.

In the judicial review of 25th March this year, which found that the Government had not acted unlawfully in issuing the regulations, Judges Beldam and Buxton acknowledged that the removal of access to benefits under the regulations, operates, and is intended to operate, as a disincentive to asylum seekers from using the appellate procedure". We heard the Minister make much play on numbers. He appeared to be close to saying that we have to find a quota that is acceptable. While of course there is a genuine concern for proper and fair regulations to be in place, the cause of justice being properly done must be maintained.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham

We on these Benches wish to be associated with the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, that this clause should not stand part of the Bill. Child benefit is different in all sorts of ways from all other benefits in the benefit book. First, one may be eligible for it only after one has already been in the country for six months. Therefore no one can argue that the hope of child benefit is an incitement for people to become benefit tourists. One only obtains it if one has already been here for six months.

Secondly, I argue that child benefit is a matter of right. Something like 29 per cent. of refugees—we believe as many as those who are asylum seekers—are in employment after those first six months. They are paying to, and contributing to, national insurance and taxation—in just the same way as British citizens—from which child benefit is paid. Child benefit as a tax allowance is a recognition of the responsibilities of those without children to those who have children. It should apply within the immigrant community as it applies within the British national community. It is a matter of right.

Thirdly, it is also a matter of poverty. Child benefit was not just a tax allowance; it was also a tax allowance together with family allowance. It is paid to the mother to help support the child. These families and these children we are discussing have lost income support and housing benefit, and they may lose school meals. At least child benefit would give a couple with two children £25 a week. That is all we are talking about, but it may help them escape the worst poverty.

The fourth reason for supporting this amendment concerns public expenditure. Under the Children Act 1989 these families will have to come within the purview of the local authority as regards the Children Act. That Act was designed for children who are damaged by their parents, not for children who risk being damaged because their parents would have to remove themselves from them. Child benefit would enable those families to stay together to prevent the very damage that the Children Act is in place to avoid. If child benefit were withdrawn it would save only £15 million of a budget of £90,000 million in social security. However, payment of benefit might allow many families to stay together.

What is the alternative? We shall see children, as in the Victorian period, wide eyed, with begging bowls on the street, plucking at your sleeve in cafés, plucking at you as you go by, selling their bodies if they are sick and selling their bodies if they are well, in order to survive. We do not have to allow that. We can support child benefit. I hope that Members of the Committee tonight will support the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, in seeking removal of the clause from the Bill.

9 p.m.

Baroness Seear

There is no point in saying more. On these Benches, we strongly oppose this clause.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

As Members of the Committee will know, this clause is intended to bring payment of child benefit for people from abroad into line with conditions of access which now apply, as from 5th February, to recipients of the other non-contributory social security benefits. It provides powers to make regulations. These are currently absent in respect of this category of cases, and but for this the change to child benefit would have been made at the same time as the change to other non-contributory benefits, and agreed to by noble Lords on 30th January. It was our clearly stated intention to exercise those powers to do for child benefit what the House has already approved for other benefits—no more, and no less.

As I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, I wondered why we had not divided on the previous amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

If the Question had been put, I would have divided on it. However, the Question was clearly not posed.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I had thought that the amendment was, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

The amendment was not moved.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

It was not moved, and it was not put to the test on that point. I was chided a little while ago about not getting on very quickly. I am happy to stay here for an hour to discuss this important matter and then parade the arguments. But I do not think that that would be popular, so I do not intend to do so. However, before the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, intervenes to stop me, I intend to be as brief as I can.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I have no desire to detain the Minister, but we had an assurance from the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, earlier in the course of the Bill that the word "immigrant" would not appear in the Bill, and amendments would be moved. That is why these amendments were not moved.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am afraid that we are at cross purposes. I am talking about the substantive amendment, Amendment No. 122A, moved by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. That amendment would have removed what we agreed on 30th January so far as concerns income support. If the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, were really serious about the points he made, that is the amendment that he would have wished to pursue to a Division because that is the kernel. What we are now doing is bringing child benefit into line with the decisions we made on income support—

Earl Russell

Before the Minister reproaches me for not calling a Division, he might remember that this is only Committee stage of the Bill.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I suppose that I should have kept my mouth shut. Normally the Chamber is more than happy to hear me at length, but clearly tonight there is some pressure on the timetable. However, the Committee will be happy to hear that I do not intend to repeat the arguments that I put forward briefly in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and in response to the right reverend Prelate. We believe those arguments to be valid. The Government cannot ignore the increasing numbers of asylum seekers and the large numbers found after our exhaustive procedures not to merit either refugee status or exceptional leave to remain.

Child benefit could not be dealt with in the same way as we dealt with income support, housing benefit and council tax benefit on 30th January. So we are dealing with it in this Bill this evening.

We have not prescribed conditions on face of the Bill because we would like to keep the conditions under which child benefit is paid to those from abroad in line with those applying to the other non-contributory benefits. To have the detailed conditions for access to child benefit set in primary legislation when they are in secondary legislation for other benefits would not be compatible with this aim.

We have laid before the Committee an outline of the regulations likely to be made under the clause. I hope that this will reassure noble Lords that the powers will only be used to mirror in child benefit the provisions already applying to other benefits.

That is the point. We are putting child benefit on all fours with the income support system for asylum seekers.

I listened, as I always do, with great interest and admiration to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, as she expanded on the importance of child benefit to families, the importance of it being paid to the mother, and so on. I agree with her in many regards about child benefit. It is important. That is why we have kept it and uprated it in this Parliament, as we said we would do in our manifesto commitment. Perhaps the noble Baroness might be well advised not to say too much for the next few minutes because I find it ironic that the Labour Party will divide this Chamber, I presume, in order to vote for child benefit for people coming from abroad with only limited leave to be here. Those people will be testing whether they can obtain leave to stay here for a long period as refugees or can be given exceptional leave to remain, with most of them not achieving that status.

Earl Russell

If the noble Lord will forgive me, the decision as to whether the Committee should divide rests neither with the Labour Party nor these Benches, but with the mover of the amendment who is on the Cross-Benches.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I think that we are beginning to nit-pick. However, I come back to the point that I was making, whether or not we have a Division. If we have a Division, it will be interesting to see whether the party opposite goes into the Division Lobby with the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, in favour of paying child benefit to people who have just arrived in this country and who have no settled right to remain here when, at the same time, that party is committed to taking child benefit away from 16, 17 and 18 year-olds.

Baroness Seear

It is not my business—it is the last thing I want to do—to defend the Labour Party. But that is the weakest argument I have heard from the Minister this evening, and we have had some pretty weak arguments.

At its very worst, the Labour Party has never suggested taking child benefit away from anybody except people over 16. That is a very poor line to take.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

That is exactly what I am saying. The Labour Party proposes to take child benefit away from people in this country with a settled right to remain: Englishmen, Scotsmen, Welshmen and Irishmen whose children stay on at school after the age of 16. It will put a tax of £500 to £600 a year on families who encourage and approve of their children staying on. That is what it comes to. Yet tonight, if a Division is called, perhaps they will go into the Lobby in support of child benefit being paid to people who have just arrived in this country.

I see noble Lords opposite are about to go into the Lobby to vote to keep child benefit for people who have just arrived in this country, while at the same time their party proposes to take it away from 16, 17 and 18 year-olds. I find that incomprehensible. The Government's position is perfectly logical and correct and I am convinced that my noble friends will support me.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

I now find myself involved in party politics, much to my surprise. I wish to thank the right reverend Prelate particularly for describing the Church of England as an NGO. I am sure that it is and I shall cherish the expression. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, for giving the Labour Party's view and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, for her speech. As for the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, I merely wish to echo King Lear who said to his ungrateful daughters: Oh reason not the need!". I hope that the Committee will go into the "Not-Content" Lobby when the Question is put.

9.9 p.m.

On Question, Whether Clause 10 shall stand part of the Bill?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 112; Not-Contents, 98.

Division No. 3
Abinger, L. HolmPatrick, L.
Addison, V. Howe, E.
Ailsa, M. Inglewood, L.
Alexander of Weedon, L. Jenkin of Roding, L.
Annaly, L. Kenilworth, L.
Archer of Weston-Super-Mare, L. Kingsland, L.
Astor of Hever, L. Kinnoull, E.
Balfour, E. Lane of Horsell, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Leigh, L.
Berners, B. Long, V.
Biddulph, L. Lucas, L.
Blaker, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Blatch, B. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Blyth, L. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Boardman, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Bowness, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Bridgeman, V. Merrivale, L.
Brigstocke, B. Miller of Hendon, B.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Burnham, L. Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Butterworth, L. Mountevans, L.
Byron, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Carlisle of Bucklow, L. Moyne, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Munster, E.
Carnock, L. Murton of lindisfarne, L.
Chelmsford, V. Northesk, E.
Chesham, L. [Teller.] O'Cathain, B.
Orr-Ewing, L.
Clark of Kempston, L. Oxfuird, V.
Colwyn, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Courtown, E. Peel, E.
Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal] Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Platt of Writtle, B.
Crickhowell, L. Plummer of St Marylebone, L.
Cuckney, L. Portman, V.
Cumberlege, B. Rankeillour, L.
Denton of WakefiekL, B. Rawlings, B.
Dixon-Smith, L. Renton, L.
Dudley, E. Renwick, L.
Eccles of Moulton, B. Rodney, L.
Elles, B. Seccombe, B.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Selsdon, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Shaw of Northstead, L.
Goold, L. Shrewsbury, E.
Goschen, V. Skelmersdale, L.
Greenway, L. Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Griffiths of Fforestfach, L. Stewartby, L.
Hambro, L. Stockton, E.
Hardwicke, E. Strathcarron, L.
Harmsworth, L. Strathclyde, L. [Teller]
Harris of Peckham, L. Swansea, L.
Henley, L. Tebbit, L.
Holderness, L. Teviot, L.
Thomas of Gwydir, L. Westbury, L.
Trumpington, B. Wilcox, B.
Wynford, L.
Vivian, L. Young of Graffham, L.
Acton, L. Kennet,L.
Addington, L. Liverpool, Bp.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Longford, E.
Ashley of Stoke, L. McCarthy, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. McGregor of Durris, L.
Berkeley, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Blackstone, B. McNair.L.
Borrie, L. McNally, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. Mallalieu,B.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Mayhew, L.
Carter, L. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Castle of Blackburn, B. Meston, L.
Chandos, V. Mishcon,L.
Chichester, Bp. Molloy, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos, L. Monkswell, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L. [Teller.]
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Dahrendorf, L. Nicol, B.
Desai, L. Ogmore, L.
Diamond, L. Peston, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Plant of Highfield, L.
Donoughue, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Dubs, L. Rea, L.
Harwell, L. Redesdale, L.
Exeter, Bp. Richard, L.
Falkender, B Rochester, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Falkland, V. Russell, E.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. St John of Bletso, L.
Gallacher, L. Seear, B.
Gladwin of Clee, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.] Serota, B.
Hamwee, B. Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Haskel, L. Strabolgi, L.
Hayman, B. Taverne, L.
Healey, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Thurso, V.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Tope, L.
Hollick, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Hooson, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Howell, L. Whaddon, L.
Howie of Troon, L. White, B.
Hughes, L. Wigoder, L.
Hylton, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Winston, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and Clause 10 agreed to accordingly.

9.19 p.m.

[Amendment No. 127 not moved.]

Clause 11 [Other amendments and repeals]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 127A: Page 7, line 40, after ("Act") insert ("and a related amendment of the Immigration Act 1988").

The noble Baroness said: As my colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, indicated earlier, I shall deal with Amendment No. 127A which, although it would amend Clause 11, is closely related to Amendment No. 133ZA in Schedule 1.

The first of this pair of amendments is a minor enabling amendment which is consequential to the amendment to the Immigration Act 1988 proposed in Amendment No. 133ZA. It will have no effect if Amendment No. 133ZA is rejected; and therefore it seems sensible to explain the intention behind that amendment.

It should be clear that one of the aims behind the non-asylum provisions contained in this Bill is to harmonise our approach towards different kinds of immigration offender. We intend to ensure that complementary and appropriate measures and powers are available to deal with all kinds of offender. The amendment continues that approach. Section 5(1) of the Immigration Act 1988 states that those who have breached the conditions attached to their leave will have only a restricted right of appeal against any decision to deport them. That right of appeal focuses solely on the question of whether there is a power in law to make a deportation order for the reason stated in the notice of decision.

Paragraph 1(2) of Schedule 1 to the Bill extends liability to deportation to those who obtain leave to remain by deception. This amendment would mean that those who have obtained leave to remain by deception would have only a restricted right of appeal against any decision to deport them, just like those who have breached the conditions attached to their leave.

That must be right. I cannot think of any compelling reason why those who obtain leave to remain by deception should be provided with wider rights of appeal than those who have infringed our immigration laws in other ways. I commend both amendments to the Committee.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The Minister and the Committee will know that we have very grave doubts about the decisions taken by this Committee in earlier consideration of the Bill about the phrase "obtaining leave by deception".

We have always said that there are circumstances in which perfectly genuine asylum seekers cannot possibly reach the position of seeking asylum in this country without some form of deception in order to get out of their own country and, on occasion, to get into this country. However, I do not feel that we should have that argument again. It is clear that the amendments are in line with the position taken by the Government on earlier clauses of the Bill. We do not wish to divide the Committee against them.

Earl Russell

Following the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, I too shall not repeat myself. I ask a question only of clarification.

The amendment speaks of deception. Is it speaking of attempting to obtain leave to remain or asylum by deception, or is it speaking of entering through the port as an ordinary entrant and then applying for asylum in the country? Is the second deception within the meaning of this amendment or not? It makes a big difference to the reaction of these Benches as of the other Benches.

Baroness Blatch

In answering the noble Earl, I shall also reply to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. We have never said that there is not often very good reason why somebody should, by deception, leave their own country and even travel en route to this country. It may be the only way that such person can escape from his country of origin.

We are talking about deception at the port of entry into this country; that is to say, deceiving the immigration officials at the port of entry. Some people who come in by deception continue that deception in the country. Those are the people who enter by deception and who would be caught by these amendments.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Does the amendment say that? Does Section 5 of the Immigration Act 1988 say that?

Baroness Blatch

The noble Lord knows that there have been two newly created offences. One is coming in by deception and one is staying by deception. We say that anybody who is an offender under this new Bill shall be treated equally. Therefore, these amendments bring that new offence into line.

Earl Russell

The noble Baroness knows that I think that her position is in contravention of Article 31 of the UN Convention on Refugees. She knows that I am of another opinion. The international court will be the judge between us.

Baroness Blatch

May I ask the noble Earl what is in contravention? If somebody seeks leave to enter this country and remain by deception, how does that fall foul of that particular section of the convention?

Earl Russell

That section specifically states that it shall be lawful to enter for the purpose of claiming asylum and it shall not be an offence to have done so by deception. It says that people may enter and "then" without delay claim asylum.

We have been through this argument many times. It will have to go to court. The Home Office has not done well on court cases. We shall see.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 11, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 12 [Short title, interpretation, commencement and extent]:

[Amendment No. 128 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord McColl of Dulwich)

If Amendment No. 129 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 130 and 130A.

[Amendments Nos. 129 and 130 not moved.]

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 130A: Page 8, line 6, leave out from ("Kingdom") to end of line 7 and insert ("and for whom such leave has not been given").

The noble Earl said: On behalf of my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who is unable to be present for reasons beyond his control, I rise to move this amendment for the purposes of asking a question. I understand that since the word "immigrant" is to be replaced, we will need to redraft the clause. It seems foolish therefore to divide on an amendment to amend it now.

I wish to ask about the words at the end of the clause, 'immigrant' means a person who under the 1971 Act requires leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom (whether or not such leave has been given)".

Why are the words, whether or not such leave has been given",

necessary? What is the objection to people to whom leave has been given? I do not understand this and never have. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

Amendment No. 130A would have the effect of limiting the application of Clauses 8, 9 and 10 to people who require leave to enter or remain in this country and to whom such leave has not been granted. In effect, those clauses would bite only on people who are granted temporary admission from a port or who are in breach of our immigration laws by entering illegally or staying beyond their leave. While we welcome the implicit acceptance that employers should not be permitted to employ such persons and that such persons should not have access to housing and child benefit, the amendment would limit the scope of the relevant clauses too narrowly.

For example, it would be an offence for an employer to employ an illegal entrant or overstayer, but it would not be an offence to employ a person who had been admitted as a visitor on condition that he would not engage in employment. But surely a person who gives such an undertaking and then breaches it is just as culpable. If we cannot use Clause 8 to strengthen the enforcement of employment restrictions, then much of its value will be lost.

Similarly, the amendment would mean that the restrictions on access to council housing and entitlement under the homelessness legislation could not be applied to people who had been admitted, for example as visitors, on the basis that they will maintain and accommodate themselves without recourse to public funds. That, too, is unacceptable, just as it is unacceptable that such people should retain entitlement to child benefit.

I am surprised that the noble Earl should seek to advance an amendment which would enable people with impunity to gain access to employment, housing and benefit in breach of undertakings given on admission.

In response to the noble Earl's question, I am advised that the provision deals with people who are here illegally, without leave.

Earl Russell

We are having a dialogue of the deaf. In the way of justice, none of us should see salvation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 131 to 133 not moved.]

Clause 12 agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Amendments of the 1971 Act]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 133ZA: Page 9, line 19, at end insert— ("( ) In subsection (1) of section 5 of the Immigration Act 1988 (restricted right of appeal against deportation), after paragraph (a) there shall be inserted the following paragraph— (aa) by virtue of section 3(5)(aa) of that Act (leave obtained by deception); or".").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 133A not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 133AA: Page 9, leave out line 26 and insert— (".—(1) After subsection (2) of section 14 of the 1971 Act (appeals against conditions), there shall be inserted the following subsection— (2ZA) A person shall not be entitled to appeal under subsection (1) above against—

  1. (a) a variation of his leave which adds such a condition as is mentioned in section 3(1)(c)(ii) above; or
  2. (b) a refusal to vary his leave by revoking such a condition."
(2) In subsection (2B) of that section, for").

The noble Baroness said: This is a minor technical and transitional amendment which is consequent to the measure in paragraph 1(1) of Schedule 1 to the Bill which will allow a condition requiring a person to maintain and accommodate himself and any dependants without recourse to public funds to be attached to the grant of leave to that person.

This amendment is concerned with those people who already have leave in the United Kingdom which is not subject to the condition referred to above in anything other than an understanding of their entry into the country. If the condition requiring non-recourse to public funds was attached to subsequent grants of leave to such people, they would receive a right of appeal against the variation of the conditions attached to their leave. These appeals would be of little value and would create additional, nugatory work for the already overstretched appellate authorities. The amendment would remove the right of appeal if it was available solely on the ground that a condition requiring non-recourse to public funds had been added to the leave of a person who had been granted leave previously without such a condition.

It is not our intention to impose any new requirements on foreign nationals. It has long been a requirement of the Immigration Rules that certain categories of people such as students, visitors and the dependants of people settled here should be able to maintain and accommodate themselves without recourse to public funds. The Bill provides a power to make this requirement a condition of leave to enter or remain, and for such a condition to be placed, where appropriate, in a person's passport. The Government are not seeking to impose any requirements other than those already contained in the Immigration Rules and there would be nothing to be gained by preserving a right of appeal in such cases.

In conclusion, it is worth emphasising that this is essentially a transitional measure. In future, when leave to enter is granted, a condition requiring maintenance and accommodation without recourse to public funds can be attached formally to the grant of leave. The same condition can be attached to any subsequent variation of that leave, and there will be no question of an appeal right in these circumstances. The amendment simply avoids the prospect of a considerable amount of unproductive work altering the conditions of people who are already here. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 133B not moved.]

9.30 p.m.

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 134: Page 10, line 22, at end insert— ("Powers of detention 6A. In sub-paragraph (1) of paragraph 16 of Schedule 1 of the 1971 Act (detention pending examination), after the words "refuse him leave to enter" there shall be added the words "for a period of seven days".").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 137A, which is consequential upon it. There is a fundamental point of principle here. In this country we do not deprive individuals of their liberty unless there is due process of law. Except for those unfortunate individuals who are detained under Immigration Act provisions I can think of no circumstance in which, on the decision of an official, people can be locked up and denied their liberty without any judicial process. I cannot believe that this point is properly understood; otherwise I do not believe the Government would have persisted with this policy. It is in breach, so far as I know, of every international human rights convention. As a country which has always prided itself on the rights of individuals and a proper sense of justice, how can we allow people to be deprived of their liberty without any judicial safeguards?

Under the Prevention of Terrorism Act individuals can be detained for not longer than seven days without the Home Secretary giving his assent. Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act a person may not be detained for more than 36 hours before being charged, at which point a court has to say that detention may continue, and never more than 96 hours in any case, with a second provision at 72 hours. Yet here we have people against whom there is no criminal charge, people who are in every sense innocent, who can be detained indefinitely under the present provisions. That is surely wrong in principle.

The amendment is very modest indeed. All it says is that when an individual is detained under Immigration Act provisions, after seven days an immigration adjudicator should give his or her agreement for that detention to continue. That is all. It is surely a minimal safeguard against an abuse of power. I am not saying that Home Office officials abuse their powers deliberately, but sometimes mistakes happen. An individual person detained has no proper recourse. It can be argued that he could apply for bail. That is true. But that itself is a very difficult issue because sometimes the sum of money people have to raise to be let out on bail—around £2,000 in the case of many asylum seekers—is so large that it would be the equivalent of about £500,000 for most ordinary people. That is simply untenable. It is impossible to expect asylum seekers to raise such a sum of money. They do not have the resources themselves and they do not have affluent friends. When the amount of money that has to be raised for bail is set so high, we are not really talking about bail at all. It is my contention that this is a process of detention outside the judicial process and without any safeguards.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has issued some guidelines on the detention of asylum seekers. There are three procedural safeguards. The first is that the detained person shall have the right to be informed of the reasons for detention. That is reasonable and it probably happens in most cases. The third is the right to contact the local UNHCR office. I am not sure whether that happens, but it would not be difficult to arrange. It is the second procedural safeguard which is the key. It refers to, the right to challenge the lawfulness of the deprivation of liberty promptly before a competent, independent and impartial authority, where the individual may present his arguments either personally or through a representative".

The amendment seeks to do precisely that and no more. It seeks to provide one hearing before a special adjudicator to decide whether or not the detention should continue.

I have visited Campsfield House which is one of the places where asylum seekers are detained. Being there is a depressing experience, as is talking to the people there—sometimes through an interpreter. Having reached what they thought was a free country, they are utterly bewildered at being detained without any knowledge of what has happened to them and whether they have any chance of being released. It is a deeply depressing experience. I think that it is a blight on this country that we lock up innocent people at Campsfield House and other such centres.

This is a modest amendment. Frankly, if it were earlier in the evening I suspect that the Committee would support it, but perhaps the Committee will not be minded to do that at this hour. I beg to move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord McColl of Dulwich)

I should point out that the first line of the text of the amendment should refer to, paragraph 16 of Schedule 2 of the 1971 Act", and not to "Schedule 1" as is printed on the Marshalled List.

Lord Hylton

It seems to me that the amendments which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has moved and spoken to are better, more comprehensive and more far-reaching than my amendments to which we shall come shortly. For those reasons, I support them.

Baroness Seear

We on these Benches very strongly support these amendments, which stand also in the name of my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill, who is unable to be here tonight. We believe that the provisions breach an absolutely fundamental human right. When we think of the anxiety with which we have discussed the question of the detention of terrorists, it seems appalling that we should be so indifferent to the rights of people who are not even suspected of anything of any seriousness.

Baroness Blatch

I should perhaps start with a technical point. I am sure that Amendment No. 134 seeks to alter paragraph 16(1) of Schedule 2 of the 1971 Act. Although the amendment actually refers to paragraph 16(1) of "Schedule 1" of the 1971 Act, that must be a drafting error because Schedule 1 did not contain 16 paragraphs and was, in any case, repealed by the British Nationality Act 1981. The amendment makes sense only if "Schedule 1" is read as "Schedule 2" to the 1971 Act, as was pointed out by the Deputy Chairman of Committees.

I turn now to the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, about his visit to Campsfield House. I can only say that the noble Lord cannot have availed himself of the stream of information that is given out there routinely on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. There is nobody there who does not know what they are doing there, why they are there and what they can expect to happen next. I can tell the noble Lord that great efforts are systematically made to keep the people there well informed, including in their own language. They are seen regularly by senior members of the Immigration Service as well as routinely on a daily basis by other officials. I believe that it does the officials and the service a discredit simply to say that there are people there who from week to week do not know what is happening to them.

The intention behind this pair of amendments is fundamentally to alter the existing arrangements for the release from detention of passengers who seek to enter the United Kingdom. Currently a passenger who may be required to submit to examination by an immigration officer may be detained on the authority of the immigration officer pending examination or a decision on whether to grant or refuse him leave to enter. Once seven days have elapsed from the date of his arrival in the United Kingdom, it is open to the detained passenger to apply to an adjudicator for release on bail. If accepted, these amendments would turn the current arrangements on their head. Instead of the detained applicant seeking bail from an adjudicator, the immigration officer, after the passage of seven days, would have to seek an adjudicator's authority to maintain detention.

Decisions to detain are not taken lightly and are subject to regular review by the Immigration Service. Requiring an immigration officer to seek the authority of an adjudicator to maintain detention would undermine the integrity of the on-entry control and would create a bureaucratic and inefficient system. Such a system would place extra burdens on the Immigration Service and the already hard-pressed appellate authority without producing any obvious benefits.

The bail system currently in operation for those detained under powers in the 1971 Act clearly sets out the arrangements for seeking and granting bail and the responsibilities of the various parties to the system such as the adjudicator and immigration officer. The change proposed by Amendment No. 137A removes this clarity and replaces it with a void—absolutely nothing. Are we to understand that once an immigration officer has successfully argued in front of an adjudicator that detention should be maintained that is the end of the matter? The detainee's right to seek bail would have been removed, and in a long running on-entry case it is possible to imagine a passenger remaining in detention for a very long time without access to any kind of independent review if this change is accepted.

It seems very strange that a change of this type is being proposed when measures have been included in this Bill to ensure that in future everyone detained under powers in the 1971 Act will have the right to apply for bail. We were conscious that small sub-sets of people had previously been denied the right to apply for bail because of the circumstances or position of their cases. But we have now taken the opportunity in this Bill to ensure that in future anyone detained under powers in the 1971 Act will be able to seek bail. For those reasons—not simply because the amendments are flawed—I hope that the Committee will not accept them.

Lord Dubs

I regret that there is a technical flaw in the amendments, for which I apologise to the Committee. But, having said that, I am sorry that the Minister has taken the attitude that she has. I did not seek to criticise the staff at Campsfield House. I am aware of the trouble to which they have gone to try to inform the people detained there. I went there some time ago. Despite all the trouble to which the staff went to inform those detained there—after all, it is a prison surrounded by barbed wire 12 or 16 feet high—the people were bewildered.

I refer the Minister to the recent report by Judge Tumin, Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons. He specifically criticised the lack of information at Campsfield regarding individual cases and the legal position in general. I did not make that precise criticism. I said that in Campsfield House and the other place where people were detained there were bewildered individuals. The Minister appears to be sceptical. Perhaps she would care to go there, if she has not been recently, to find out for herself.

However, the key point is the liberty of individuals. The Minister has said that these amendments would drive a coach and horses through the procedures. I cannot understand that attitude. One is talking of denying liberty to people against whom there are no criminal charges. As a country are we to continue to do that? Over the past two or three years people to whom I have spoken in various European countries are appalled by this policy. People are appalled that this country, which is supposed to be the bastion of liberty, should say, "Never mind, some official can keep you locked up, and that's it".

The Bill may improve somewhat the scope for bail, but I repeat, if the limit is set at £2,000—it often is—that is meaningless to people who do not have that sort of money. Bail does not mean anything if the amount of money that has to be raised to achieve one's liberty is so large that it is beyond reach. It is meaningless. No matter that there are procedures, and that this is important, the liberty of the individual has surely to count for something. I had a meeting about this matter some years ago with the Immigration Minister when I was at the Refugee Council. I tried to persuade him that the system in Scotland, where the amounts required as a condition for bail are normally set at a low level, could be applied to England and Wales. I was told that that was not possible for some reason.

Let me now run the risk of repeating myself. We are talking about the liberty of individuals who have not committed any offence. All the Minister's arguments against that proposition are secondary. If this country does not believe in the liberty of individuals, what in heaven's name do we believe in?

9.45 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

I wonder whether I may ask the Minister to explain something. She said at one point that the amendment would create a bureaucratic system. I think I listened carefully to what she said. My understanding was that the present proposals of the Bill are that the decisions are all taken by officials. Is not that a bureaucratic system? I understood that the amendment was seeking that there should be recourse to a court if someone's liberty is taken away and—the point has properly been made—no criminal charge is brought.

Baroness Blatch

We are saying that it can be dealt with simply. We have given the right of appeal to all people detained under the Act, which is something that we had hoped might have been welcomed by the right reverend Prelate and others in the Chamber. Secondly, the matter can be dealt with by a senior immigration official. Under the amendment, there would have to be an application to the adjudicator, the case would have to be made, there would have to be consideration of that case, and it would be bureaucratic and cause delay.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

Perhaps I may make my point. Is the Minister saying that the proposal in the Bill is not bureaucratic?

Baroness Blatch

I am certainly saying that. I am saying that it is simpler, it is fair, and it is not bureaucratic. To accept the amendment would add considerably to the bureaucratic procedures, given that an adjudicator rather than a senior immigration official would have to take the decision.

Baroness Seear

Could the Minister name any other circumstance in which someone in this country is deprived of his liberty without going to a court in any shape or form, or being handled by the police? Can she give an example of where a person's liberty is taken from them by an official and not someone in the judicial system?

Baroness Blatch

If the system did not allow people an appeal. Context is important in replying to the noble Baroness and others who have raised these points. First, detention is used extremely sparingly. We are talking about possibly one case per week. Out of 80,000 cases which are awaiting decision or appeal, we are talking at the most of about 700 cases. The great majority of detained asylum seekers have already had their claims refused by the Asylum Directorate. We are not talking about the first stage; we are talking mostly about people who have already had their cases considered substantively and had their claims refused.

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, used the Prevention of Terrorism Act as an analogy. The difference between this and the Prevention of Terrorism Act is that this provision is about people whose right to be here has not been established—that is important—whereas the Prevention of Terrorism Act powers relate in general to people who are entitled to be here. There is a very real difference in that. We have extended the right to seek bail and that should be welcomed. There is a system for releasing people from detention if that is thought appropriate. I believe that that is as far as we should go. To add yet another bureaucratic system is not consistent with what we are trying to do in the Bill.

Earl Russell

I believe that there is a drafting error in the Bill. I have been looking at the repealing schedule. It should have included the Habeas Corpus Act 1679, the Petition of Right Act 1627 and Magna Carta.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

I tried to listen to the Minister most carefully. She said that the provision would greatly increase bureaucracy but she then told us that there was only one case a week. Are we to believe that justice is such a cheap or difficult thing that one case a week is something that this country cannot afford?

Baroness Seear

The Minister has not answered my question. Can she give any other case in which someone can be deprived of his liberty without any kind of judicial process? The fact that that is done by a bureaucratic or an administrator—let us not use the word "bureaucrat", which has unfortunate connotations—is extraordinary and quite contrary to the principles of justice in this country.

Lord Hylton

A small matter may have been overlooked. It is that an adjudicator is a quasi-judicial person appointed by the Lord Chancellor.

Lord Dubs

It is true that some 700 people are detained at any one time. Some are detained for only a few weeks but some are detained for much longer. The net effect is that several thousand people a year are detained under these powers by the processes that have been described.

The Minister said that the present system is simple and fair and that the alternative that I have proposed in the amendment would be more bureaucratic. Those are trivial arguments when set against the rights and liberties of an individual. I do not believe that we can dismiss the concept which is fundamental to what this country is or ought to be about simply by saying, "It's a hit complicated. It's a bit difficult for us".

Over the years I had meetings with Home Office Ministers on this issue and I was given assurances that there was a thorough internal scrutiny of people detained by Home Office officials. I suggest that that internal scrutiny would take at least as long as it would take to go before an adjudicator and establish the point made in the amendment.

The Minister said that the point about the Prevention of Terrorism Act is different because it relates to people whose status in this country is not in doubt. After all our arguments about the Prevention of Terrorism Act, is the Minister really saying that asylum seekers who are accused of nothing, who have no charges against them, are somehow to have less liberty than people who are detained under that Act? Surely that makes a nonsense of our whole system. I am talking about innocent people and I say to the Minister that it would take just a little trouble to protect the liberty of individuals. Will the Minister please think again now?

Baroness Seear

Perhaps I may add that I was appalled to hear the Minister say that only one person a week was detained. Justice is justice, whether it is one person or 1,000 people.

Baroness Blatch

I do not believe that we are talking about something that is unjust. We are talking about people who have not established a right to stay here. Most have had their cases for staying considered and they have not been proven. They are waiting for appeals and a judgment has been made that they ought to be detained because, rightly, someone has considered that there may be a risk of disappearance. We have extended the right to apply for bail, which will be a consideration for all people subject to the 1971 Act. I should correct myself. It is not one asylum seeker per week but 1 per cent. of asylum seekers. However, I am sure that the noble Baroness would still wish to make the same point. All asylum seekers, whether on the fast track or the normal track, are given rights of appeal. Therefore, they are not being denied rights of appeal in relation to their particular case for asylum.

I have already made the point in relation to the Prevention of Terrorism Act that under that Act we are talking about people who have a right to be here. In this case we are talking about people whose right to be here has not been established. Therefore, they are still in the asylum application system and their right to appeal is already established under this Act. I believe that noble Lords are rather labouring their point. I have made the point very carefully that people who are detained are usually detained for very good reasons indeed.

Earl Russell

If I repeat myself, it will be only briefly. Throughout this Bill I have been asking the noble Baroness to explain the priority which she gives to keeping asylum seekers away from this country. It seems to us altogether disproportionate and unintelligible. I do not understand why this country is thought to be in such great danger from a few weak, helpless asylum seekers. Is our fabric really so weak that they can tear it all down? I genuinely do not understand.

Baroness Blatch

In the course of this debate the noble Earl has asked us more than once not to be repetitive. I should like not to be repetitive. But the noble Earl constantly poses questions in a very repetitive manner. I say just once more that there is a fundamental difference between those of us on this side of the House—I exclude from that right reverend Prelates who are at one with Members of the Committee opposite on this issue—and Members of the Committee opposite. There are 84,000 cases awaiting the conclusion of their consideration. The number of those applying is about 40,000 per year. That is more than the number of cases which we can process. Even with an eight-fold increase in staff and a massive increase in the amount of funds made available for that processing, we are not keeping pace with the number of applicants.

The final point that I wish to make, which is the rationale for the Bill, is that the number of people who turn out to be genuine asylum seekers is very small indeed. Those given exceptional leave to remain outnumber those who qualify under the 1951 convention. For those reasons, we wish to have a fair system—a system which is fairer and quicker, so that we can process more efficiently those genuine asylum seekers who we believe are disadvantaged by the present clogging-up of the system.

Lord Dubs

I am very sad to hear what the Minister said—that people are detained for only very good reasons. The only thing that this amendment asks for is that those reasons should be stated to a special adjudicator. Special adjudicators are judicial appointments by the Lord Chancellor in the same way as judges. They are independent of the Home Office. Surely those people could consider whether the reasons are good. If the reasons are good, they will allow the detention to continue. It is a simple proposition.

I am sorry that the Minister is not prepared to agree to what I believe is a significant point of principle. I shall beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but I reserve the right to return to this matter on Report because I believe that the Minister is speaking without the support of the majority of people on her Benches. I have looked at their faces. If people are honest, I do not believe that there is that level of support for what she says. I may well wish to return to this matter on Report.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness O'Cathain moved Amendment No. 135: Page 10, line 25, at end insert— ("Liability for the expenses of the first seventy-two hours of detention 7A. In sub-paragraph (1) of paragraph 19 of Schedule 2 to the 1971 Act (liability for the expenses of detention) for the words "at any time after his arrival" there shall be substituted the words "for the first seventy-two hours after his arrival.").

The noble Baroness said: Amendments Nos. 135 and 136 deal with what I have referred to already in Committee; namely, injustice and unfairness. In this case, they relate to an aspect of the Immigration Act 1971 which airlines and ferry companies have long felt was unjust. Again, I declare an interest as a director of British Airways. The issue that I am addressing is the fact that carriers are expected to bear the detention costs of any passenger stopped and detained by the Immigration Service when he or she arrives in the United Kingdom, irrespective of how long such detention lasts. In other words, there is an issue of indefinite liability. Amendment No. 135 seeks to impose a cut-off point at which carriers cease to pay detention costs and Amendment No. 136 seeks to exempt carriers completely when the circumstances are patently beyond the carrier's control.

As I stated in Committee on 30th April (col. 1616 of Hansard), carriers accept responsibility, albeit a trifle reluctantly, when they make a mistake and transport passengers who have invalid documentation. They are fined. But they happen to spend significant sums of money trying to ensure that mistakes do not occur; but, if they do, they accept the penalty. However, passengers can arrive with completely valid documentation and still be detained. Actual cases that have occurred are, for example, someone clutching a return ticket who arouses suspicion because he or she is carrying very little cash; someone who fails to give a convincing reply when questioned about how long he or she intends to stay; someone who behaves in what could be described as a shifty manner, thereby arousing the suspicion of the immigration officer; or, indeed, someone who simply triggers off what one would call the sixth sense of the immigration official.

As an aside, what I am about to say is not a criticism of the Immigration Service. Indeed, I should like to pay tribute to the immigration staff because they have a horrendously difficult job to do. I have in mind all the responsibilities that legislation puts upon them, with the need to be, in effect, trained sleuths or psychologists, with their unenviable task of dealing with huge numbers of people who are tired after travelling—we all know about the red-eye as a result of overnight flights—and with situations which must tug on their heartstrings, reminiscent in fact of the words on the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour: Your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to break free".

Yet those people are always conscious, as, of course, they have to be, of the responsibility placed upon them by legislation. It is not an easy job; it is not an easy job for anyone, be they trained immigration officials or untrained check-in staff or ferry staff dealing with passengers who wish to travel to the United Kingdom.

If a passenger arrives at a port or an airport in the United Kingdom having disposed of his or her documents between the time of boarding the ferry or the aircraft and arriving in the UK—sadly, this is quite a common occurrence—the carrier is liable to a fine of £2,000. I am not questioning that for the moment because that has been dealt with under a previous amendment. The issue is the fine plus the costs of detention which can last indefinitely. The passenger may be detained for three hours, three days, three weeks, three months or even longer. It is entirely up to the Immigration Service. That is patently an unsatisfactory loophole in the 1971 Act. It provides little incentive for speedy resolution of the case and is to the detriment of the passenger, who is left in a state of insecurity about what is going to happen; and that also applies to the carrier.

I submit that there must be a point where the responsibility for such a situation is transferred from the carrier to the Immigration Service. A cut-off point has never been agreed, but the organisation called the Board of Airline Representatives, which represents some 90 airlines operating into the United Kingdom, believes that three days is a reasonable period for carriers to pay detention costs. That is the reason for the 72-hour limit on liability included in Amendment No. 135. However, there are many circumstances where, I submit, carriers should not be expected to pay any detention costs whatsoever, and where indeed it is quite unjust to expect them to do so. I have previously referred to cases where passengers have all the correct documentation hut are still detained. Most interestingly, in these circumstances the immigration service refuses to tell the carrier why the passenger is detained; in effect stating that it has nothing to do with the carrier. If it has nothing at all to do with the carrier, it seems to me a prima facie case of the detention costs having nothing to do with the carrier either.

Carriers have guidance from UK immigration. I quote from a letter which I have received: It is our normal practice to say to carriers … that it remains a matter for them to decide whether or not to carry passengers who appear to have genuine documents, but who nevertheless arouse the suspicions of check-in staff'.

As I described in Committee on 30th April at col. 1617 of the Official Report, six seconds per passenger does not give much time to check the validity of tickets and passports, to allocate seats, to check in bags and to accommodate the relatively new requirement of asking questions relevant to security—for example, "Did you pack this bag yourself? Has it been left anywhere since you packed it? Is there anything electronic in this bag?", and other questions. The letter from which I have just quoted suggests that in addition to all of that the check-in staff should take into account, unusual levels of nervousness or anxiety on the part of the passenger, or an amount of luggage not commensurate with the proposed length of journey".

There is a classic example of this, of which I was made aware when I went to Frankfurt recently to observe the workings of the check-in staff attempting to comply with UK immigration requirements. There were 40 Indians who came on a shopping trip to Frankfurt. They flew from Bombay to London to Frankfurt. At London they only transitted and so they did not go through the immigration procedures. When they arrived at Frankfurt the German immigration officials let them in and there were no questions asked. One week later, having completed their "shopping trip"—note the word "shopping"—they checked in late at the British Airways desk at Frankfurt to commence their return journey Frankfurt/London/Bombay. Between the 40 of them there were eight pieces of luggage. I repeat that they were supposed to have been on a shopping trip. This did not look right to the eagle-eyed check-in staff. Alerted to a possible problem, they phoned immigration at Heathrow and sent by fax copies of the Indians' passports. In response to the question, "Do we allow these people to travel? they were told, "It is up to you". As the staff at Frankfurt were still concerned, they contacted the British Airways staff at Heathrow. We must remember that this was all carried out within minutes of the scheduled departure time of the aircraft. The British Airways staff at Heathrow, mindful of their obligations to transport passengers who had paid for their tickets—in effect, a contractual obligation—took the decision to agree to their transportation.

Obviously all these shenanigans had alerted the prospective travellers that they were being scrutinised and suddenly they decided not to travel. That was rather strange. The following day the British Airways staff at Frankfurt contacted the local police to inquire what had transpired. They were told that, mysteriously, tickets and passports for all but six of the 40 passengers had been lost. The point of this story is that if the passengers had travelled it seems quite likely that they would have tried to claim asylum as they transitted London and the carrier, having received no guidance from immigration, would have been liable to unlimited detention costs for the UK immigration's 40 Indian guests. Those costs would probably have totalled more than £5,000 per night.

The proposal that carriers should not pay detention costs when passengers are carrying correct documentation is supported by the International Air Transport Association. The international civil aviation organisation is currently considering adding a recommended practice to its code of conduct, based on IATA's suggestions, stating that operators should not be held directly responsible for any costs related to official detention of passengers where admittance is denied for reasons beyond the control of the carrier.

There is no opportunity for a carrier to avoid paying detention costs or to appeal against them. There is no incentive for UK immigration to provide proper guidance on whether or not individual passengers will prove acceptable once they land in the United Kingdom. There is no incentive for UK immigration to process detainees quickly, as it does not have to finance the costs of such detention out of its budgets.

I submit that there are good reasons to support my amendments. I am unaware of many good reasons against them. I beg to move.

Lord Brabazon of Tara

I support the amendments to which I have added my name. There are three reasons why people at present can be prevented from entering the United Kingdom or be expelled from it. The first relates to incorrect documentation, in which case those people are denied entry by the immigration service. I do not necessarily argue with that. The second relates to correct documentation but, because the immigration service is suspicious, it denies entry. The third relates to people who, having entered as businessmen or students, overstay their visit.

The amendment deals with the second situation. People come with perfectly correct documentation but because the UK immigration authorities have reason to be suspicious they are denied entry. In that case the carrier is liable for the costs of detention, however long that may be. I believe that it is perfectly reasonable that the authorities should take a view on this. However, it seems unreasonable that that view should be for longer than a certain length of time. Whether 72 hours is the correct period, or whether a little longer might be correct, I am not certain. But if the immigration authorities take longer than 72 hours, the blame should hardly be put on the carrier.

As my noble friend said, at present the system hardly presents an incentive for officials to process such cases speedily. It is neither in the interests of the passenger nor the carrier that there is no incentive to process these cases reasonably quickly. The carrier gets the bill at the end of the day.

My name is also down to the second of my noble friend's amendments. It deals with the anomaly whereby carriers are required to pay detention costs even when detailed passengers are properly documented on entry or the carrier can prove that valid documents were presented at the point of embarkation.

Airlines and shipping staff are not immigration officials and should not be expected to do their job for them. No airline or shipping company will deliberately seek to incur a fine if it makes a mistake. There are genuine reasons why it should not wish to do so—not least that it can be fined £2,000 each time that it makes a mistake.

A number of airlines have gained what I understand is called approved gate-check status at foreign airports. I believe that that would be the best way to deal with the problem. If the airlines are fulfilling those requirements at the foreign airport, they should not have to be responsible for those individuals who might destroy or lose those documents in the course of their journey. There have been many cases where documents have been deliberately lost. For example, with a ferry company it is particularly easy to throw one's documents overboard. Yet when the ferry arrives, the carrier is liable for the detention costs for that period. It does not seem to be fair, if the airline or shipping company has done everything it can to ensure that documents are in order, yet when the immigrant arrives something has gone wrong and someone has deliberately destroyed or lost the documents. I therefore support the amendments.

10.15 p.m.

Baroness Seear

I strongly support the amendments. The whole policy of putting obligations on the airline companies is quite unacceptable. I can see no reason why airline companies should carry the responsibility for finding out whether or not people are legal immigrants. I realise that that is not the major point of the amendment, but I wished to put it on record.

I also believe that it is totally unsuitable that the future of would-be immigrants should be decided by check-in staff. As the noble Baroness said, they have many other things to do and are in no way trained to make proper judgments as to whether or not people are suitable, genuine immigrants. It seems an appalling way to carry out the Government's policies on immigrants.

Lord Mountevans

I too am happy to support my noble friend Lady O'Cathain, as I did earlier in the Committee stage. I speak for myself and also on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Greenway, who would have been here if he had not suffered a bereavement. He would have put the argument for the shipping companies. We have tended to believe that it is an airline argument, but it is not because shipping is also involved. It is more burdensome on shipping companies because if someone is charged £10 to go from Calais to Dover as opposed to £200 or £300 to fly from Paris to London, the £2,000 penalty is that much more vicious.

Last week I supported my noble friend, tonight I am happy to do so again. I wish to put on record my endorsement of her concept. An open-ended commitment over which the airlines and ferry companies have no control is something which I find morally indefensible. That is my principal reason for supporting the amendment. I simply repeat a point first made by my noble friend Lord Brabazon and also by myself. The penalty on airlines is morally indefensible, and it is much more difficult for shipping companies. At the end of the day their staff should not be the first line of our immigration control.

Baroness Rawlings

I agree with my noble friend Lady O'Cathain that carriers should not be responsible for the fine if the traveller has managed to be accepted by the local immigration officer, even if that person is proved later to have used false documents. However, it would be totally wrong to waive the fine completely as the carriers would then have little incentive to check all their travellers' documents as diligently as they do now. It would make it that much easier for the illegal asylum seekers. We are not discussing the genuine asylum seekers here but the illegal ones. That is surely wrong.

Lord Hylton

Is the noble Baroness aware that we are not discussing fines on this occasion but detention costs?

The Earl of Kinnoull

It seems almost unfair to support the amendment when so many others have already done so. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, made the point that it was unfair that a carrier's check-in staff should make a judgment about people while checking them in. They are not making a judgment, they are only checking the tickets and passports.

Baroness Seear

I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but we were told that the check-in staff could object on the grounds that a person looked nervous or had luggage which seemed excessive. The staff are making judgments about people.

The Earl of Kinnoull

I shall leave my noble friend to reply to that point but I understood that the staff only checked that the passports and visas were in order as well as the tickets.

I support my noble friend's amendment. She made a very powerful plea for my noble friend the Minister to examine this burden on carriers. It is an indefinable contingency liability that has continued for 25 years. It is interesting to note that, in 1971, the onus of the cost was considered fair. I suspect that it was regarded as a mild form of discipline on carriers.

Twenty-five years later the whole situation has changed considerably. There is a boom, an explosive growth, in travel—and particularly in air transport. Heathrow had one-fifth of the passengers in 1971 that it handles today. It may handle even more. With this massive growth in travel comes the growth in the numbers of immigrants wishing to enter this country either by fair means or by foul. It must be an absolute jungle when the criminal, the desperate and the economic elements are mixed, with all the cross-frontier complications that can occur within Europe.

My noble friend covered the ground very thoroughly. It was interesting to note how responsible carriers have been. She mentioned in particular British Airways. They have been very responsible in the training of their staff. In fact, one wonders whether immigration officers, if invited to man some of the check-in desks at the approved check gates, would be as successful as airline staff presently are.

I ask my noble friend, in replying, to say whether Immigration has a firm policy, and resources, to step up the approved gate check policy and whether the current 66 airports will be increased fairly rapidly over the next few years.

Like others, I feel that the present situation leads to what could be described as a dubious form of income which, I imagine, is passed to the Treasury. Does the Treasury therefore have to be consulted if any change occurs under the 1971 Act as a result of my noble friend's amendment?

Natural justice can hardly be served at the present time when a traveller shows correct documents to a carrier and, as my noble friend said, that carrier becomes liable for detention costs, the cost of security escorts and even the danger that passengers may not be accepted and may be flown back to their original destination. I hope my noble friend will look favourably upon this amendment.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

I support these amendments. We have debated this subject not only in relation to this Bill. I remember debating it years ago. Even then, we were very much in favour of life being made a little easier for the airlines. It is right that there should be some sanction against an airline. There was a time when no one looked at any documents. Now, as an Australian passport holder, my visas are checked and required for pretty well every country in the world that I visit. I am therefore accustomed to that time and detail. It must be totally impossible for any check-in staff to know whether the visas in my passport are real, or are very good forgeries. I certainly would not know when looking at someone else's passport. We cannot expect them to have that expertise.

Most worrying statements have been made as to how people get on board having their documents checked and they are all apparently in order. When they arrive, they dispose of them, perhaps down the toilet on the aircraft or overboard from a boat. Therefore no one has any way of checking whether they were real or were forgeries.

That brings me to the point of the approved gate procedure, which sounds excellent. At least it means that someone with a degree of responsibility should be doing the checking there. It is also very important that someone monitors those doing the checking on the approved gate. It could be a marvellous money-spinner for someone. I have heard so many stories from friends who have been to Africa. A patient told me that, when he wanted to fly out, he was told, "You are not on the manifest, I can't see your name". The man said, "Yes, I am. There is my name". The airline man picked up a pencil, drew a line through his name and said, "No, that is not you". After his palm had been crossed with silver he pulled out a rubber and said, "Oh yes I can see that you are on the flight after all". If people are going to do that simply when getting on a plane, there is an opportunity for corrupt documents—forgeries—to be accepted.

A dentist who once worked with me went to Ghana just when the revolution was taking place. He said that no one could forge any documents because there were no exit visas at all and no one knew what to forge. But the day the first exit visas were issued, forgeries were rife. It is a major industry in some countries.

Returning to the amendment before us, 72 hours seems a very fair compromise. It would mean that there is still some sanction against the carrier, yet it would not be so onerous that it would be quite off-putting. I think it is fair to support the amendment.

Lord Dubs

I give my support to these very modest amendments. I am not happy that either airline staff, in the case of this amendment, or local authority housing staff, in the case of an earlier amendment, should be used as a front line of immigration control.

Anything that provides a safeguard for an intending passenger is a good thing. I bear in mind that asylum seekers may have forged documents as the only proper way in which they can escape. It can happen that these provisions prevent a person who is escaping from fear of torture, imprisonment or death from flying to safety.

For that reason, rather more than the well-being of the airlines—although I believe that it is a burden on the airlines which they should not have to that extent—I give my support to these amendments, which I believe are very modest.

Baroness Blatch

I note that both the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, do not consider that there is any case for liability whatsoever. The noble Lord said that he does not believe that the airline should be regarded as part of the process of making sure that people do not travel illegally and arrive illegally in this country. The noble Lord should know that it has been known for whole aeroplanes to be filled with people trying to gain entry into this country. Therefore, there ought to be some liability on the carrier in such a situation. However, noble Lords disagree.

In reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, we do not ask the airlines to act as immigration officers. We ask them to check documentation. That is the particular responsibility of the airlines. We should like to think that the airlines are responsible for checking the documentation of any passenger coming in, irrespective of whether or not somebody may at the end of the day be seeking to enter this country. It is an important function. I give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Dubs

I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. She puts words into my mouth. I said that I was unhappy about airline staff (or housing staff) being used as a front line of immigration control. I stick by that proposition.

I am fully aware that there are difficulties and understand why the carriers' liability Act was introduced. I gave the example of an asylum seeker with forged documents seeking safety. I am concerned that the way in which the carriers' liability now operates can have a damaging effect on the ability of an asylum seeker to find safety, because the documents may not be accepted by the airline.

I was more enthusiastic about the amendment put forward the last time we were in Committee which would have exempted airlines from the fine if the individual could have demonstrated his right to stay here on one basis or another. I believe that that was the more important amendment. It is not the amendment that is before us tonight. I rest my case on that other amendment. There is an argument, but I did not go as far as the Minister said.

Baroness Blatch

I simply take the words that I heard from the noble Lord. We all read Hansard and I have no doubt that, on reflection, we shall return to this debate. These are not straightforward issues. A decision to detain a passenger is not taken lightly. Temporary admission is granted readily if the individual appears likely to comply with its terms. It is not our policy, for both humanitarian and financial reasons, to keep passengers in detention for any longer than required. Cases are kept under constant review at senior levels to ensure that detention does not continue unnecessarily and removal is effected as soon as is practical. Some delays are inevitable; for example, where representations have been made, asylum has been sought or where there are documentation problems. But passengers are not detained where there is no impediment to their removal.

The total annual cost to carriers of detention is not significant in real terms; it is only about £1.8 million. Nor are carriers liable for detention costs in all instances; in a great many cases the cost already falls to the taxpayer. Where someone has an entry certificate, visa or work permit the costs of detention are met out of public funds. Additionally, the legislation already protects carriers from unreasonable costs; the appeals system does undoubtedly have the effect of prolonging detention but the provisions of paragraph 19(4) of Schedule 2 to the Immigration Act 1971 effectively "stop the clock" while an appeal is outstanding.

Carriers do feel strongly about this—I understand that—and a number have begun to take matters into their own hands. Many already limit the amount they pay, in clear defiance of the law. That begs the question: is it right to water down legislation which is already ignored, or should steps be taken to reinforce it? There is a very large debt—some £3.1 million—owed to the Government, which will need to be addressed whatever the outcome of the proposed amendments.

Certainly the proposed amendment seeks to accept cost for only 72 hours of detention. I am sympathetic to the difficulties experienced by carriers where substantial delays have been caused either by administrative action or where the person concerned attempts to exhaust every avenue of appeal. In those circumstances I sympathise with the view that it does not seem fair to expect carriers to continue to carry liability on an "open-ended" basis. The Government are already keen to look closely at this to see how we might effectively reduce this burden by simple administrative means.

The proposed Amendment No. 136 would have the effect of restricting liability for detention costs solely to the narrow band of cases where a passenger is found to be improperly or inadequately documented. That defeats the purpose of paragraph 19 of Schedule 2 to the 1971 Act.

In a number of areas regarding the relationship between the carriers and the Immigration Service the Government see little scope for change. The Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 is one of those. The principle there is too important for us to contemplate any change. But in the wider case of detention costs under the Immigration Act 1971 I have some sympathy with some of the concerns this amendment represents, and that have been spoken to by Members on all Benches.

The present system of collecting costs is not particularly satisfactory. The Government agree that it is not right for carriers to have to cope with an open-ended commitment to meet costs, particularly where the delay is caused by administrative issues, or where a substantial amount of time has passed between entry and detection.

I believe that my noble friend's proposals go too far and I cannot support them. But there is merit in her concerns, and we will look further at the point to see if we could put some limitation on the period of liability for detention costs. If we think that it would be appropriate to amend the 1971 Act in this way we will bring forward an amendment during Report stage. I know that my noble friend is also concerned about the related point about detention costs which arise in the case of detected illegal entrants who are admitted by an immigration officer and then removed some time later.

I will report the concerns which have been raised today to those of my colleagues who are responsible for discussions with the carriers. Those discussions need to cover all the liabilities which the carriers have, including the important issue of outstanding charges awaiting payment.

I accept the principle of the cut-off point, and the issue of a person who both travels and arrives by deception—another point made by my noble friend—is one that I shall discuss further as a defence that can be produced by airlines against the costs. I hope that my noble friend will withdraw the amendments while those discussions continue.

Baroness O' Cathain

I wish to express my gratitude to the seven noble Lords on all sides of the Committee who supported the principle of my amendments. There were a couple of errors in people's interpretation of the amendments but that was not surprising because this is a quite difficult situation and has been confused with the situation dealt with by the amendment moved by me and then withdrawn last Wednesday.

The carriers accept that they are liable if they make a mistake. My noble friend Lord Brabazon raised the issue of the gatecheck status. It would be wonderful if every airport in the world had gatecheck status, but I do not think that is feasible. We cannot dictate to other countries how they should build or run their airports. It is a case of negotiating and seeing how far we can get the status improved. The gatecheck status would not have met my concern about the people coming through with proper documentation then being faced with an immigration official in the UK who has what I call the sixth sense and is suspicious. The gatecheck status would not help in that case. The carriers—the ferry companies and the airlines—are trying to do their best to transport people. That is their job.

I was greatly heartened by what my noble friend the Minister had to say. Of course, as she said, airlines accept their responsibilities and accept the fines. I agreed with that in Committee on 30th April. However, I take mild issue with her assertion that check-in staff are not immigration personnel. The check-in staff I have met and talked to at great length believe that they are unpaid immigration staff. That is what they call themselves. That is their perception on the ground. It is not for me to say that they are or are not, but that is their perception. My noble friend is right that the sums of money, when we consider the whole value of tourism and the amounts of money spent by ferry passengers and air passengers, are not that significant. However, as I said right at the beginning, those sums are unjust and unfair.

I am grateful for my noble friend's assertion that she is very sympathetic regarding delays in detention. I am greatly heartened by the fact that she will look at how the burden could be lessened. My noble friend also stated that the present system of collecting costs is not satisfactory. I can understand that she is not prepared to accept 72 hours just like that. I suspect that this is a matter for negotiation. I am also very grateful to my noble friend for saying that we shall discuss this matter further. I shall read Hansard very carefully tomorrow morning. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 136 to 137A not moved.]

Lord Hylton moved Amendment No. 138: Page 11, line 3, after ("released") insert—

  1. ("(i) into the care or supervision of a voluntary organisation, or
  2. (ii)").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I wish to speak at the same time to Amendments Nos. 139 and 140. These amendments are designed to minimise the practice of detaining asylum seekers, and also in some cases immigrants, in custody. The first objection to this practice is that it is extremely costly. Here I am sure I have Her Majesty's Government on my side. I say that because I think that just about every Minister responsible for immigration since 1988 or thereabouts has assured me personally that detention is used only sparingly and as a last resort. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, more or less repeated that form of words again earlier this evening. I would also add that I accept and see that detention is necessary in certain cases as a preliminary to deportation so that the person does not avoid being expelled from this country. Like the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I have visited Campsfield House near Oxford. I have also visited Harmondsworth detention centre near London airport. Both places strike me as being extremely claustrophobic and unsuitable for detaining people for more than very short terms.

A second reason why the practice is essentially unsatisfactory is that solicitors and barristers experienced in asylum and immigration matters are concentrated principally in and around London. The same applies to interpreters who are often needed to ensure that those trying to enter this country have a fair opportunity to do so. If the time of those experts and advisers is wasted by having to travel to remote places such as H M Prison Haslar, near Gosport in Hampshire, or Maidstone or other distant prisons, that is a bad use of a specialised expertise.

The third reason why detention is unsatisfactory is that it is deeply distressing to people who may have experienced persecution, imprisonment and victimisation in their home countries. Because it is so distressing, it delays the rehabilitation of the person in question and makes more difficult the obtaining of true case histories.

Fourthly, the practice of detention tends to criminalise those who experience it. It reinforces the incorrect perception that exists among some members of the general public that all asylum seekers and immigrants are somehow illegal or not quite within the bounds of the law. I suggest that it is important to have on the face of the Bill certain ways by which detention can if possible be avoided, but certainly minimised.

Amendments Nos. 138 and 140 point to the use of voluntary organisations. We are fortunate in this country to have a vast range of voluntary organisations from the British Refugee Council and its specialised affiliates, via ethnic and community organisations on to housing associations and providers of hostels, not forgetting the importance of the Churches. I urge the Government to make far greater use than has been the case up to now of the voluntary organisations for the purpose of supervising asylum seekers while their applications are being processed and considered. I am confident that the voluntary sector would rise to that challenge and ensure that asylum seekers presented themselves when required to do so.

Amendment No. 140 is a concession to the Government. It enables the Secretary of State to pick and choose and to decide which NGOs he will accept for that important purpose.

Amendment No. 139 seeks to ensure that bail will be an effective alternative to detention. It must be wrong to have a theoretical possibility of bail and then to find that it is set at such a high level that it is beyond the means of those it is intended to help. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, quoted the practice in Scotland. I hope that that will be studied and, if possible, applied in England and Wales. In any case, the means and circumstances of those seeking bail must surely be considered when the amount is being set.

I suggest that the Government have at least two ways of reducing the costly use of detention. I very much hope that they will accept both methods and write them on to the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

10.45 p.m.

Lord Dubs

I warmly support these three amendments which represent a different but very worthy way of dealing with the terrible question of detention.

Earl Russell

I, too, support these amendments to which I have put my name. I give four reasons: it is cheaper; it is more humane; it is more likely to provide people capable of interpreting in the relevant language; and the Home Office will need every bit of detention space that it can get. I also endorse very strongly the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, about the high quality of our voluntary organisations. Whether or not the churches are voluntary organisations, I include them in that remark. I thought that I knew all this before we got to the Bill—I did not know the half of it.

Baroness Blatch

I am happy to endorse what the noble Earl has just said. Having had responsibility within my portfolio for the voluntary sector, I have nothing but the highest regard for voluntary organisations. Anything that I say in response to these amendments is not intended to be critical or disparaging about the voluntary sector. However, it is unclear why, when this Bill contains proposals which will widen access to bail to include all of those who are liable for detention under powers in the Immigration Act 1971, it is thought necessary to introduce a further method of obtaining release from detention. Release on bail operates within a prescribed framework where adjudicators are charged with the responsibility of determining the conditions for release on bail. There is no indication that this system does not operate effectively; the major complaint about the bail system is that groups of people are currently excluded from it because of their immigration status, and this omission is being addressed by various proposals already contained in the Bill.

The system of release into the care or supervision of a voluntary organisation specified for that purpose by the Secretary of State promoted by these amendments is unstructured and apparently without any limits. There are no pre-conditions attached to such release, and there is no indication of how a person released under such an arrangement would have any incentive to comply with any subsequent requirement to appear at the required time and place. The bail system promotes compliance through the use of appropriate financial guarantees. Close supervision by a specified voluntary organisation would undoubtedly incur additional costs, and there is no indication of how such costs would be met. The amendments would also require that in the setting of any recognizance or bail bond regard should be paid to the personal circumstances of the applicant. This amendment appears to be superfluous. Subparagraph (2) of paragraph 22 of Schedule 2 to the 1971 Act already gives adjudicators complete control over the conditions of release on bail, and the power to dispense with sureties if that is appropriate. Currently, when sureties are required they are normally provided by the applicant's friends or relatives, so the applicant's own circumstances and means are to that extent irrelevant.

The amendments add only confusion to a system which generally operates well and which, with the widening of access to bail provided by various measures proposed in the Bill, should operate even better in future. We have praised the quality of our voluntary sector. I also praise the professionalism with which our officials operate in this respect. They use detention very sparingly. Because of its costs there is downward pressure to ensure that no one remains in detention any longer than necessary. If a person is detained, there are usually very good reasons. The notion behind these amendments that such individuals should be allowed out into the voluntary sector unconditionally, without the kinds of control that would be necessary if bail were allowed, is simply unacceptable.

Lord Hylton

I am surprised that the Minister should say that the detention system works well. I have known a number of cases over the years, and I have the impression that people linger in there until the case eventually reaches the Minister's desk. However, I am heartened by what she said about the power to dispense with bail. Perhaps she would be kind enough to write to me to tell me how often that power has been used in practice. I shall of course study what she has said carefully. At this time of night I have no intention of pressing the amendment. I beg leave to withdraw it unless the Minister wants to tell me something else first.

Baroness Blatch

I want just to correct what I said. I said dispense with sureties if that was appropriate.

Lord Hylton

Does the Minister mean other people putting up their money, or what?

Baroness Blatch

If the people approving it believe that bail is appropriate and sureties are not appropriate they can be dispensed with. Sureties are often put up by friends or relatives and so the applicant's particular circumstances are irrelevant.

Lord Hylton

The Minister will be well aware that a high proportion of asylum seekers have no friends or relatives in this country when they arrive. Nevertheless, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 138A: Page 11, line 3, leave out ("by an adjudicator") and insert ("in accordance with this paragraph. ( ) An immigration officer not below the rank of chief immigration officer or an adjudicator may release a person so detained").

The noble Baroness said: Amendments Nos. 138A and 140A are designed to extend the powers already available to immigration officers of the rank of chief immigration officer and above to release on bail those who are detained under powers in the Immigration Act 1971. Consequently, I hope that they will be welcomed, along with the other measures already contained in the Bill which provide a right to apply for bail to all those who are detained. The inclusion of these measures in the Bill was delayed by the need for a trial to establish their effectiveness.

Currently, chief immigration officers are able to release on bail only those who have lodged an appeal which is still outstanding. These amendments would extend their powers to release on bail all of those who can be detained under paragraph 16 of Schedule 2 to the 1971 Act.

We see two potential benefits. First, it should remove some pressure from the appellate authorities who would otherwise have to consider the requests for bail. Secondly, it would provide chief immigration officers with a greater degree of control when making a decision to release than is provided by the temporary admission arrangements.

I commend these amendments to the Committee as the last piece in the jigsaw which ensures that bail rights are as widely available as possible to all of those who are detained under powers in the Immigration Act 1971. I beg to move.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The Minister invited us earlier this evening and now to welcome the bail provisions. I think that she will acknowledge that we did so on Second Reading and we do so again now. It seems a little curious, when my noble friend Lord Dubs has been objecting to bureaucratic procedures and officials locking up people, if we now say that we have no objection to officials releasing people. But there is a real difference. There can be no objection to this further extension of the bail provisions.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 139 and 140 not moved.]

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 140A: Page 11, line 9, at end insert— ("( ) In sub-paragraph (2) of that paragraph—

  1. (a) for the word "adjudicator", in the first place where it occurs, there shall be substituted the words "immigration officer or adjudicator"; and
  2. (b) for the word "adjudicator", in the second place where it occurs, there shall be substituted the words "officer or adjudicator".
( ) In sub-paragraph (3) of that paragraph—
  1. (a) for the word "adjudicator", in the first place where it occurs, there shall be substituted the words "immigration officer or adjudicator"; and
  2. (b) for the word "adjudicator", in the second and third places where it occurs, there shall be substituted the words "officer or adjudicator".").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment 141 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 142 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Repeals]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 143: Page 13, column 3, leave out lines 14 to 16.

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 143 is purely consequential on government Amendment No. 1. The amendment replaces Clause 1 with a new version re-enacting paragraph 5 of Schedule 2 to the 1993 Act. That was in response to what was said by my noble friend Lord Renton. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

House adjourned at five minutes before eleven o'clock.