HL Deb 21 July 1999 vol 604 cc1062-87

(" . In providing, or arranging for the provision of, support for persons under Part VI, it shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to make arrangements with a view to ensuring that those persons have access to legal advice from a representative chosen by the asylum seeker.").

The noble Baroness said: We have already had a very full debate on aspects of support. Therefore, I shall adhere closely to the guidelines set out by the Minister who, very reasonably, suggested that in view of previous detailed and wide debate the Committee should confine itself to a close description of any amendments that follow.

Amendment No. 154 is essentially a probing amendment. It is likely, as the Minister said just before the break, that asylum seekers and refugees would be dispersed around the country. He pointed out that the major criteria related to the provision of adequate accommodation, the existence of communities with which refugees and asylum seekers could identify and a history of good race relations within the area. It is possible that a number of refugees and asylum seekers will find themselves a long way from London. That is fair enough. However, in many cases the legal advice that they receive is concentrated in London and a small number of other major cities.

The purpose of the amendment is to make sure that those who are involved in the asylum support directorate do their very best to ensure that asylum seekers and refugees are given information about access to legal advice and, where possible, are facilitated in getting it. It may be that some legal advisers will be willing to travel to meet a number of people who seek that advice in a particular area; and that is something which we hope the directorate will take into account. I give one example. In many cases it will be of assistance if the Home Office advertises the fact that, as seems likely, there is a list of registered practitioners, and particularly the two centres that are generally recognised to provide exceptional service.

It would be extremely helpful if in the areas to which refugees were dispersed they could have access to such information on their arrival or, for example, by way of advertisements in ethnic newspapers. That would also be very much in the interests of the Home Office. Where legal advice is available it is likely that the appeal system will work much more efficiently and will not give rise to judicial review and matters of that kind. Therefore, it is in the interests of the Home Office, the immigration directorate and those who are concerned with the welfare of refugees that, as far as possible, this information should be made available.

In one respect the amendment does not represent the views that we put forward, and therefore the wording is defective to that extent. At the end of the amendment the Committee sees: a representative chosen by the asylum seeker". We believe that the reference should be to: a representative from the registered list selected by the asylum seeker". We fully accept the Government's strictures as to from where legal advice should come. I beg to move.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

The Committee in considering this amendment is concerned also with Amendments Nos. 170 and 171 in the name of myself and my noble friend.

I have to differ from the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. Amendment No. 170, although identical in wording, appears in a different place in the Bill! That is the only difference between us. Whether it is inserted before Clause 84 or after Clause 88 I am content to leave others to decide. But it is important that asylum seekers should have the possibility of legal advice.

The Committee has the great advantage of the Minister giving us legal advice at frequent intervals during these debates. We have learnt to appreciate it even more than before. But we have also appreciated in the course of the debates the incredible complexities—to which, sadly, we add by these debates. None of us is in any doubt about the value of legal advice. That is reinforced in the case of those who are asylum seekers who by definition come from other countries, from traumatic situations, often speaking no English, and so on. I do not need to labour the point.

Amendment No. 171 is closely related to the other two amendments. I am glad to support them.

Lord Hylton

I support the thrust of all three amendments. It occurs to me that the amendments might be too narrowly drawn. They refer to legal advice and not also to legal representation.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, makes the point that many asylum seekers have poor or non-existent English, and will need to be represented before an adjudicator or an appeal tribunal. In addition, they may be totally unfamiliar with our legal systems. For that reason, again, they require representation.

Lord Clinton-Davis

One cannot impose a lawyer upon a client. It is one thing to offer him access to legal advice. It is important that that is done, but I do not think that the provision needs to be included in a statute. Advice may be given. There are various ways of offering that advice. I speak as a solicitor and I do not want to deny the opportunity of work to my colleagues in the profession. But this provision comes very close almost to insisting that someone should be legally represented, either in terms of advice, or, more particularly, in terms of representation. There may be a very good reason why someone does not wish to have legal representation through a professional lawyer. To insist upon that—the amendment comes very close to insistence—would be dangerous.

I do not demur from the idea that someone should be advised if they want advice. But it should not go further than that. It is not necessary to include a provision in an Act of Parliament. The Minister may differ from me.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

The phrase used in the amendment is "have access to". It does not oblige anyone to accept legal advice. It simply says that there should be a duty on the asylum support directorate to make sure that individuals have access—and it is implicit in that—if they wish to use such access. It does not impose any action upon them.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Renton

These amendments refer to the granting of legal advice. In my opinion, the genuine asylum seeker should be given legal advice with legal aid, if legal aid is needed. I have been looking at other clauses of the Bill. I should be grateful if the Minister could say to what extent legal aid will be provided to people who turn out to be genuine asylum seekers. It is known that the majority of those who apply turn out not to be genuine. The genuine ones turn out to be the minority. For the bogus ones to be given legal aid, whether gaining advice or legal help in any other way, would seem to me to be wrong. I do not see why the British taxpayer should have to pay for that. But if the asylum seeker is genuine, it is perfectly reasonable that we should have to pay. Perhaps the Minister will be so good as to clarify that matter.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I gave way to the noble Baroness, and then to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, but he has made his own speech, which is fine.

I do not agree with what the noble Lord says. It begs the question of who is a genuine asylum seeker. It may be a matter upon which there is dispute. I hope that I have not misinterpreted the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. Making available access to a lawyer is one thing, but to insist that someone should be legally represented or receive legal advice on matters may be going too far.

I come back to this point. It is not necessary to include the provision in the Bill. It would be helpful if the Minister could indicate whether some satisfactory explanation stating what may be available could be provided for someone who comes to this country. We cannot insist on legal representation either in the form of advice or representation.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

I support the noble Baroness. When we considered the first amendment in Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, chided me gently because I mentioned that in this country we had either professional organisations or trade unions to assist us when we wished to be legally represented. He pointed out that there was a very good scheme of visitors who draw to the attention of asylum seekers the existence of legal advice. I took the point. However, with the dispersal policy, it will be more difficult for such advice to be given. Therefore the noble Baroness's point is important.

The system is intended to be speedier. It is of paramount importance to ensure that a determination is not reached too rapidly without proper consideration of the asylum seeker's case. It is important that asylum seekers realise that they can have access to legal advice. I agree that the amendment refers to access. It is up to an individual to decide whether to make use of that access.

With reference to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, one may be a genuine asylum seeker without being an asylum finder. Individuals may well have a good case which at the end of the day is not agreed by the person making the determination or on appeal. But those people may have a genuine case which needs to be heard. Part of the whole point of the system is that cases should be heard and determined. There will be those who have a good case, but at the end of day it will not be accepted. But they should be regarded as genuine asylum seekers.

Earl Russell

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that one cannot compel anyone to have a lawyer. That is why my noble friend's amendment uses the word "access". You can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink. You can give access to a lawyer; you cannot compel the person to use it. It was in that spirit that the amendment was put forward.

Perhaps the most important and clearly necessary of these amendments is Amendment No. 171 which deals with travel costs. The right reverend Prelate has mentioned the problem of dispersal. It is a specialist field of law and those who are expert in it are overwhelmingly concentrated in a few firms in London. Almost all the great legal victories of which one reads are won by those firms of lawyers. I once had to advise a correspondent from Colchester—not an urea that Christopher Hill used to call one of the dark comers of the land—who had fallen into the hands of an incompetent adviser. My correspondent's case was good, but it was not until I put him in touch with Bates Wells and Braithwaite in London that anyone was able to develop the case for him to any satisfactory conclusion. Once I had done that, the case was strong and successful.

Someone on the level of support that would be given to asylum seekers under the Bill might have to come down from Newcastle to consult a lawyer in London. The vouchers may be redeemable in many places, but I do not think that they will be redeemable at rail ticket offices. If Amendment No. 171 is not accepted, I do not see how deserving clients will be put in touch with competent lawyers. If that does not happen, injustice will. I hope that the Minister, who has done so much to help us already—that is much appreciated—will sympathise with the amendments.

Lord Warner

I rise to speak against Amendments Nos. 154 and 170. It seems to me that they are based on a misconceived view. As far as I am aware, in this country we do not give people who may or may not be entitled to social security benefit access to legal advice about their entitlements. The amendments relate to Part VI of the Bill, which deals with support for asylum seekers. They are not about legal advice connected with people's entitlement to stay in this country.

It is a longstanding principle of public administration that the agencies responsible for particular services make explanatory leaflets and materials available to those who might be entitled to their services. That is how the housing benefit system operates in relation to our own citizens, and the same is true for relief from council tax and access to social security benefits. Indeed, for social security benefits, we print the leaflets in different languages so that people have access to them. As far as I recall, before the 1996 Act, asylum seekers did not have access to legal advice about their entitlement to social security benefits. The amendments would be a change of direction that would be out of kilter with the way we run support arrangements for our own citizens.

Earl Russell

If the noble Lord, Lord Warner, reads the report of an Unstarred Question of about three months ago on the take-up of social security benefits, he will see that domestic policy is taking a similar change of direction to that proposed by the amendment. It is not as far out of line as he suggests.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

May I also add the point that one of the responsibilities of the new asylum support directorate will be to deal with benefits and to handle the dispersal of asylum seekers? The point about access to legal aid is directly related to the dispersal policy. Therefore, it is right that the directorate should bear some responsibility.

Lord Hylton

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, will appreciate that the positioning of Amendment No. 154 is precise. It comes before Clause 84, which is the interpretation clause, and before Clause 85, which deals with support. It is a free-standing amendment that deals with legal advice that can determine the whole future of applicants, and whether they are allowed to remain in this country or are deported to another country where they may easily suffer persecution and even death.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

It may be that the wording of the amendment does not achieve what we seek. What I had hoped to achieve through Amendments Nos. 170 and 171, and what I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, has achieved in Amendment No. 154, is access to legal advice on all the issues that arise under the Bill. Money for travelling will be provided under Part VI of the Bill, but the legal advice will not be limited to questions arising under Part VI. The point made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon about dispersal is important.

I point out to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that not all legal wisdom resides in London. I recall a case that went on for a large proportion of my time as a Member of Parliament. A constituent in Chipping Sodbury took local legal advice that unfortunately did not make the best of the case. He went to a big firm of London lawyers to sue the Chipping Sodbury lawyer and ended up suing the London lawyer. When he acted as a litigant in person, he succeeded where the local firm in Chipping Sodbury and the well-known firm of solicitors—I shall not mention the name—had failed. That demonstrates that one cannot anticipate the outcome of legal actions, even if it seems that the legal situation is clear.

I have made the point before that half the lawyers in the country are proved wrong every day in court, because half of them lose although the other half win.

Lord Clinton-Davis

I am proved wrong three or four times a day. Why cannot this matter be dealt with in the more informal way that I have suggested? Is it absolutely necessary to impose a legal obligation in the Act? Could not the Minister accept my suggestion that the issue could be dealt with by way of ministerial advice to those who deal with asylum seekers to the effect that on arrival at a port or elsewhere, they should be given a document that sets out what they may receive?

Lord Cope of Berkeley

I cannot answer that question until I have heard the Minister's reply. Perhaps we should allow that now to happen.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

I strongly support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley. I agree with the comments made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon about the problems that will be posed by dispersal. The more that we spread the load of asylum seekers around the country, the more that people will have to travel to centres of excellence to get legal advice. In my years as a constituency representative in Liverpool, people frequently used firms of solicitors in Manchester who specialised in such issues. Even within a region, there are well known firms that specialise in such matters and people have to travel to see those solicitors.

In Amendment No. 171, the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, picks up the issue of travel expenses. I make the practical point that although I welcome the Minister's earlier comments about dependants, the position of under 25s remains the same. Under Part VI of the Bill, a person under 25 would receive £27.90 a week, of which £10 would be in cash and the rest in vouchers. As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, pointed out, vouchers are hardly likely to be accepted at railway stations so the person would be left with £10 a week for travel. Put another way, that is £1.30 a day. No doubt many of your Lordships use public transport. It has been much in the news in the past few days, not least in the constituency of Eddisbury, where the Secretary of State, Mr John Prescott, used it. Everyone has been trying to wear their public transport credentials on their sleeve and I welcome that. But a bus ride from Pimlico to Westminster—a route which I know many noble Lords take because I see them on the bus from time to time, will cost £1. If only £1.30 a day was allocated to you, you would not have the money to make the simple return journey from one part of London to another, let alone from one part of the country to another.

In practical terms, we need to improve the level of support. That again relates to the arguments about vouchers and the wider issues which we explored in the earlier debates. I shall not trespass into those territories because I, too, am happy to adopt a self-denying ordinance on that. However, there is a specific point to which the Minister ought to reply and the sooner I stop speaking the more quickly he is likely to do it.

9 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

Perhaps I may make one final point. In many ways, Amendment No. 171 supports the Government's policy of limiting the number of legal representatives to which asylum seekers and refugees should have access. That limit is likely to mean that in some parts of the country there will be no one on the registered list. There will be a great temptation for asylum seekers to be approached by some of those we least want to see representing anyone because they give a poor service. But they will be accessible and they will be there.

If the asylum seeker or refugee has no means of travelling to the people on the registered list, or to the refugee legal centre or the IAS, both of which have limited numbers of offices, the temptation to be represented by someone who just comes by, whose name they will not know is not on the list, will be very great. I beg the Minister to bear that in mind when replying to the amendment.

Lord Avebury

At an earlier stage, we discussed the situation in Northern Ireland and the Minister said that special assistance will be given to the RLC and the IAS to establish an office in Belfast. Will he tell the Committee in what other parts of the United Kingdom special assistance will be given to those bodies to establish offices? Will they have offices in Scotland, Newcastle or Eddisbury? I was interested to hear the noble Lord's reference to that constituency, which was once represented by my grandfather. I dare say that anyone living in Eddisbury will have to travel to Manchester. I do not know how much the fare is, but I am sure that it is more than the £1 which the noble Lord mentioned as being the amount a person will receive for one day.

Even if provisions are made for the establishment of RLC and IAS offices in the principal centres of population in the United Kingdom, unless the dispersal policies of the Home Office ensure anyone sent to the provinces will be within easy reach of such an office, a large proportion of their disposable income will be spent on travelling there.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

With respect to the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, I do not believe that any of these amendments is necessary. From the drafting, it appeared that the concern was directed to the fact that the asylum seeker should be entitled to have the legal representative of his choice, m the course of the speeches, that has changed to providing them with legal advice. Legal advice and assistance is already available to asylum seekers in accordance with the provisions of the Legal Aid Act 1988 and will continue to be available under the provisions of the Government's Access to Justice Bill.

In addition, the Home Secretary makes grants under Section 23 of the 1971 Immigration Act to the Immigration Advisory Service and to the Refugee Legal Centre, which are two voluntary organisations which provide free advice, assistance and representation at asylum appeals.

The amendments propose that an asylum seeker should have legal advice from a representative whom he or she has chosen. As the noble and nimble Baroness spotted, that gave rise to problems about unscrupulous immigration advisers, a concern which we all share, so she gave an oral amendment to her amendment—that it should apply to those on the registered list. In that context, at the request of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor—and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, raised the issue with my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn—the Legal Aid Board has published detailed proposals for contracting immigration and asylum work to ensure that asylum seekers have access to good quality legal services. The Government are considering those proposals and will make their response known soon. The proposals are contained in the document Access to Quality Services in the Immigration Category. The proposals will limit the firms able to provide advice and assistance to those holding immigration and asylum contracts with the Legal Aid Board or Legal Services Commission. Contracting will improve the overall quality of advice and assistance provided and guarantee that asylum seekers receive competent advice.

The report also proposes that legal aid funding should be extended to allow contracted firms to provide representation before immigration adjudicators and the Immigration Appeals Tribunal. Therefore, under the existing framework, legal aid and assistance are available. It is a matter for the Legal Aid Board as to how they are provided. In the document to which I have referred, it is consulting on the best way to provide it. The means it suggests would get rid of the unscrupulous immigration advisers and would seek to ensure that the advice is competent and widely available. That deals with the first two amendments.

The third amendment, which was pushed hard by a number of Members of the Committee, relates to travelling expenses. The Government carefully considered that point when at an earlier stage they decided to provide under Clause 94(7) for the reasonable travelling expenses of appellants to asylum support adjudicators. The noble Lord's amendment would extend this to an entitlement to reasonable travelling expenses throughout an asylum seeker's time in the United Kingdom whenever he or his legal representative felt that a meeting was advisable.

We do not believe that such a wide-ranging power is an appropriate use of resources. For one thing, the making of an asylum application does not require legal advice. Asylum seekers can present their cases to the Immigration and Nationality Directorate without the need for any assistance from a legal adviser.

I would draw the attention of the Committee to Clause 86(1)(c), where the power is taken for the asylum support scheme to pay expenses incurred in connection with an asylum claim. The kind of expenses with which noble Lords are concerned—namely, travelling expenses to the legal representative—would fall under this power. The power is there in the appropriate case. It is better that it should be a discretionary power than a power as of right. In these circumstances, I believe that every point has been dealt with. I hope that the noble Lords will feel able to withdraw their amendments.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

Before the noble and learned Lord sits down, I should like to raise two points with him. I have before me the advice of the Legal Aid Board, which is of course described as recommendations to the Lord Chancellor. Before this moment, we had no reason to believe that those recommendations had been accepted—I do not know whether they have been. In the document, the Legal Aid Board points out, as we have done, that good quality advice and assistance should be made available at the earliest possible opportunity, but the board itself goes on to say that, in a number of cases, refugees and asylum seekers do not find it easy to obtain legal help and that it is widely acknowledged that individuals tout their services to new arrivals at main ports of entry.

We are anxious to make sure that the individual asylum seeker or refugee is assisted to gain access to the legal advice which will help him, and not to anyone who happens to be cruising around. In that regard we have the Government's own wishes at heart. We simply suggest that the recommendations of the Legal Advice Board be accepted, and made viable for people who have been dispersed beyond the area where they can easily travel to obtain that legal advice.

Finally, I very much welcome the Minister's comments on the refugee legal centres and the AIS, both of which we greatly respect in this Committee. However, the problem still arises that, at the moment, as far as I know, they have a very limited number of offices where the people who work for them can interview and see asylum seekers. I am sure that that is why the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, raised the issues that he did in speaking to Amendment No. 171.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

The document to which the noble Baroness refers indicates that the Legal Aid Board is addressing the very problems which she raises. We cannot create high-quality immigration services throughout the country, where there are none. The amendments seek to make it a right for an asylum seeker to have the lawyer or legal assistance of his choice. In the course of this debate that has been expressed as the necessity of making legal aid available. It is available; the basis is set out in that document. As I have said, the Government are considering those proposals and will make their response known shortly. I do not believe that much more can be done on the face of the Bill.

I recognise the importance of the point raised on travelling expenses, but would that not be best dealt with by a discretionary power to provide travel expenses where that is considered appropriate by the asylum support group? I am not sure what more one could do.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

That point would be met by the earlier issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, who said that it might be dealt with in another way. We are simply concerned about the possible effects of dispersal on some asylum seekers' ability to obtain legal advice. Therefore, we should wish to see whether the matter could be dealt with in some other way. Perhaps the Minister would like to suggest another way, possibly through regulations or guidelines to the asylum support directorate. We shall obviously be concerned if the Minister feels unable to provide any assurance of any kind about what will happen to someone dispersed some distance away from any reputable legal centre. There are indeed such places—I can think of several—where the only advice available was advice that I should not for one moment recommend anyone to take.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

The effect of the acceptance of the Legal Aid Board's proposals would be that there would then be a definitive list of those people who were respectable and those who were not. That would go quite a long way towards getting rid of the fly-by-nights by whom no one would like advice to be given. With regard to the asylum support scheme to pay expenses incurred in connection with an asylum claim, which would include travel expenses to see a lawyer, I should imagine some guidelines would be set down and that the question of whether they would be provided would be dealt with there.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 84 [Interpretation of Part VI]:

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 154A:

Page 54, line 11, leave out ("over") and insert ("not under").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 155B and 155C. Amendment No. 154A arises from the decision which we have reached, which is the intention in Part VI that the Secretary of State should have power to provide support for destitute asylum seekers aged 18 and over. We reflected on the wording of Clause 84(1), and thought it better to amend it so that it is clear that eligibility begins on the day that an asylum seeker becomes 18, rather than the day after.

Amendments Nos. 155B and 155C provide that asylum-seeking families with children being supported under the Secretary of State's scheme will continue to receive support for as long as they remain in the United Kingdom. As originally drafted, that concession was limited to the legal or biological offspring of either the principal asylum seeker or his spouse. That provision harks back to an example given by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, relating to whether one ought to be too restrictive about dependants. I said that we listened carefully to those thoughts. I believe that I can demonstrate that in these two amendments.

In Clause 84 there is power to extend the definition of "dependant" for the purposes of Part VI. When the Bill was considered in another place, my honourable friend Mr O'Brien gave an undertaking that consideration would be given to amending the Bill so that the definition of "dependant" in Clause 84(1) would also apply to Clause 84(5). We have thought about that and, therefore, with the leave of the Committee, we shall amend Clause 84(5) to bring it in line with Clause 84(1). That is the purpose of the amendments. I hope the Committee will consider that this is an example of listening with care and improving the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Lyell

I wonder whether I may intervene. I have been silent so far on this matter. Has there been a problem with a young asylum seeker as his or her 18th birthday was "over" and "not under" 18? I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, explained the matter very well. Does this clear up a problem that has occurred? Is this part of general syntax or good grammar? I was interested in the way in which the noble Lord phrased his explanation to make it clear that it referred to an asylum seeker's 18th birthday. Has there been a problem with definition or is it a case of the noble Lord expressing matters with his customary clarity?

9.15 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

There is no problem at the moment because Part IV, let alone any other part of the Bill, has not yet become law.

One ought to have clarity in an area where there may be difficulty. We aim, on this occasion at least, to benefit an individual. Amendment No. 154A is not the most important in the group. I believe that Amendments Nos. 154B and 154C are more important.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

It is a great pleasure to thank the Minister for having listened to what my noble friend Lord Russell and I had to say on this matter. We are grateful to him and believe that the amendment clarifies what could have been a slightly grey area in the Bill. We thank the Minister for having taken notice.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Alton of Liverpool moved Amendment No. 155:

Page 55, line 3, at end insert ("and shall in any event be extended—

  1. (i) in the event that either party indicates an intention to apply for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal or Court of Session, or to bring judicial review proceedings in respect of an asylum claim or other aspect of an asylum seeker's immigration status, for a period reasonably long enough to enable him to do so, and
  2. (ii) for so long as any such proceedings, and any further appeal or proceedings arising from them, remain pending, and
  3. (iii) whether or not such proceedings are proposed or taken, for so long as the Secretary of State has under consideration further representations in respect of the claimant's immigration status, and
  4. (iv) whenever and for so long as the Secretary of State does not or is for any reason unable to effect the removal of an asylum seeker or his dependants, or both, following rejection of an asylum claim.").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 155 is grouped with Amendments Nos. 155A in the mime of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby and Amendment No. 157 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley. I strongly support those amendments to which I am sure they will speak in due course.

The purpose of Amendment No. 155 may best be summed up by saying that it prevents the support directorate from cutting off support to an asylum seeker after the Home Office has determined the application or when the appellate process before the IAT has been exhausted. To put it another way, it ensures that support is not prematurely terminated in circumstances in which it would be necessary for the power of the Secretary of State to support asylum seekers to be continued beyond the initial appeal stage. The amendment is also concerned with ensuring that destitution is not used as a weapon against a bona fide asylum seeker.

The amendment falls into four parts. In a moment I shall explain what the four parts seek to do. First, I should like to put on record that the amendment has the support of the Immigration Law Practitioners Association, of the Asylum Rights Campaign and of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture.

The Earl of Dartmouth

Does it have the support of British taxpayers?

Lord Alton of Liverpool

If the noble Earl had been able to contribute to earlier debates, he would have heard me say that I hope that noble Lords will not see all these issues through the prism of the interests of the, taxpayer. Sometimes we should also consider our interests and duties towards asylum seekers and refugees. Those questions have to be balanced one against another.

In the debate on Second Reading I said that less than a quarter of 1 per cent of our entire national social security budget is allocated to all refugees and asylum seekers before we start to deal with anyone who may falsely be claiming expenses.

I believe that we are disproportionate in the terms in which we raise the sort of intervention of the noble Earl. We would do better to concentrate on ensuring that there is justice for people who come from backgrounds of persecution, who may be dependants with children, who may be fleeing appalling regimes and who may have suffered grievously. We have a duty towards them.

The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture says: It is wholly unacceptable that any class of people in this country should be left without food or shelter, or any means of obtaining these". To answer the intervention by the noble Earl, we are not talking about continued support for persons who over-stay and those who have gone to ground. I make that clear. The Minister of State in another place indicated that support may be available through the voluntary sector for some, although not for all, who have reached the end of the process. That is not an adequate or proper solution. It is no answer for the Minister to say, as he said to the Special Standing Committee, that, If individuals want their case to be taken further, they will have to reflect on how they can support themselves. They could look to the voluntary sector or to their own communities for support". That is effectively another punishment that we are heaping upon the heads of people who have already suffered quite grievously. That punishment, once again, is entirely out of proportion to the mischief that it is supposed to address.

I said that I would turn to the four parts of the amendment and shall try to do that briefly. Sub-paragraphs (i) and (ii) in Amendment No. 155 concern further proceedings which either the asylum seeker or the Secretary of State may have the right to bring with the leave of the court. Hunger and homelessness should not be used to block access to justice by asylum seekers who may have good grounds to go to higher courts or to apply for judicial review. The rule of law is nullified if access to justice is denied to the most vulnerable, especially if they are literally starved out of their legal rights by the other party to the legal proceedings in question—in this case, the Government.

As matters stand, there is no power to extend support, even where it is the Secretary of State who seeks to challenge a favourable determination. So an applicant who has satisfied the appellate authorities that he merits recognition as a refugee must choose between the Charybdis and the Scylla—that is, between the country where he fears persecution, or remaining in destitution for however long it takes the Secretary of State to pursue higher court proceedings. That is self-evidently wrong. We should not put people in the position of choosing between that rock and a hard place.

It is no less wrong, and equally a breach of the human rights convention, to impose destitution in an attempt to prevent asylum seekers taking up their legal rights to seek to challenge unfavourable determinations. That aspect of the present proposals is perhaps especially worrying in the light of the 81 per cent success rate in immigration cases where leave to move for judicial review was granted in 1996–97; but the principle will be the same whatever the statistics. It is not just a question of how many were successful. It should not be for the Government to establish a support scheme in such a way as to pre-empt such applications for political reasons, but for the courts to determine their legal merits. So sub-paragraphs (i) and (ii) seek to establish that principle.

Sub-paragraph (iii) concerns the Secretary of State's power to reconsider cases. It is wrong again to fetter the duty and discretion of the Secretary of State to consider an adjudicator's recommendations or further representations following a failed appeal by depriving him of the power to extend support while he does so. There may be changes in family or other circumstances, or non-asylum humanitarian considerations, into which the Secretary of State would wish to make further inquiry, but, as things stand, he may be effectively constrained from taking the necessary time to do so by the fact that the asylum seeker meanwhile has no means of even feeding himself.

Finally, sub-paragraph (iv) concerns the various other circumstances in which unsuccessful asylum appellants may not be immediately removable from the United Kingdom. The asylum seeker may be in an advanced state of pregnancy, for instance, or otherwise unfit to travel; or there may be problems and delays in travel documentation; or the circumstances in the country of origin may be such that removal to that destination is, for the time being, literally impossible or may be dangerous. For example, for the past year or more, UNHCR has advised that failed asylum seekers cannot safely be returned to Angola, with the result that some failed Angolan asylum seekers have been on temporary admission for months, since the dismissal of their appeals, with support where necessary from their local authorities under the National Assistance Act and the Children Act.

What will happen to families such as those unless we put this belt-and-braces provision into the legislation? What will happen to such people in the future if this part of the Bill is passed unamended? They would literally be thrown out of support scheme accommodation in whatever location they might have been dispersed to, with no other means to feed or house themselves. As, persons subject to immigrations control", they would have no access to local authority assistance. What do the Government believe people in that predicament will do? They will beg; they will steal; they will sleep in the streets and do all the other things that we know form part of a begging-bowl culture. In fact, reverting to our earlier debate and the remarks the Minister of State made in relation to people in that position, the truth is that sometimes we force them into that position. Unless we amend the legislation, we will increase the number of people who sometimes intimidate in the way that the Minister of State described earlier.

It would be inhuman and prohibitively expensive to detain individually all those who, through no fault of their own, cannot yet be removed. But unless this amendment is passed, the alternative is the creation of a roaming vagabond class of unknown size and with no incentive to maintain contact with the authorities whatsoever, save that for some a hot meal in a warm cell may actually be a lure to crime and preferable to the position in which they find themselves at that moment.

In another place the Minister of State, Mr O'Brien, said that provision may be made for support through the voluntary sector. I have referred to the evidence that he gave to the House of Commons Special Standing Committee. That is not an adequate response. We shall return later in these proceedings on this part of the Bill to the role of the voluntary sector. But I know that there is deep resentment among many voluntary groups, community groups and Church-based charities which feel that they are being turned into an arm of the state and that they are being co-opted into a role which they have never asked to take on. Often that is done with paltry resources available to them. It is therefore inhumane and a breach of our obligations under the Human Rights Act that such food and shelter should not be approved. In those terms I commend Amendment No. 155 to the Committee. I beg to move.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

I believe it would be for the convenience of the Committee if I were to address all three amendments. They are very close to one another in the sense that all of them argue that support should be maintained until the end of the judicial process of appeal and review. That must be right. I was concerned at one stage that in an earlier draft of the Bill there was a suggestion that support would be removed when the process of appeal had been concluded short of judicial review. That cannot be right since an asylum seeker must have the ability to use the facility of the judicial review which is open to him. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, he should not be forced by economic stringencies and distress to abandon his obvious right to make an appeal through a judicial review if that is open to him.

I add one other point. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has set out in great detail the arguments for this amendment. My own experience of the British citizen is perhaps somewhat different from that of the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, in the sense that it has been the case over and over again that the British people have responded with extraordinary generosity when they have seen real need. Whether because of the hurricanes in Central America, the famine in Somalia or distress in Kosovo, time and time again the voluntary bodies and others have pointed to the astonishing level of response. I do not believe that most British citizens would wish to see those trying to get their rights within our judicial and legal process, of which we have every reason to be extremely proud, prevented from doing so by destitution.

As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has pointed out, destitution would be the situation of those for whom there was no support of any kind from any source and who were not entitled to work in order to keep body and soul together. These amendments must be right if we believe in our own system of justice, the fairness of our courts and the right of everyone—"the poorest he among us", as the Levellers would have said—to receive that justice.

I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, and I would fully accept whichever of these amendments appears to be the best drafted and covers the widest range of possibilities. We would rejoice to see that amendment accepted. But it would be quite wrong to end the support system when the right of an asylum seeker to continue to pursue his rights under our legal system was still open to him. I strongly support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and present my own.

Earl Russell

The noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, asked whether this amendment has the support of the British taxpayer. It certainly has the support of this one. The short answer is that the only way to find out would be to carry this amendment in the Lobbies and send it to another place to find out what it thinks about it. If the noble Earl is ready to co-operate in that endeavour I shall be happy to join him, although probably not tonight.

However, the argument goes a little wider. It is the obligation of any British government—and the duty of any king or queen of England before that—to do justice. That obligation goes back to Magna Carta and to the Coronation Oath. We think that this amendment is part of that obligation; and that obligation is one to which the British taxpayer has consented. It is indeed the very essential reason why he has a government. There is no point in having a government if it does not do justice. But you cannot have selective justice. Justice, if it is to deserve the name at all, must be extended, in the biblical phrase, to, the stranger that is within [our] gates". That has been recognised for a very long time and is the underlying purpose of this amendment.

If something like this amendment is not accepted, there is a real danger of refugees being forced back to their own countries where they have been at risk of persecution. In fact, there is a real danger of constructive refoulement, contrary to Article 33 of the UN convention. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, seems to have a doubt on that point. But if people cannot live where they are, they tend to go somewhere else at whatever risk. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, suggested, it is an alternative that they may live in a disorderly way. The threat to public order has long been recognised by Ministers of the Crown as one of the most important reasons for supporting the destitute, including over the centuries a great many who have come from other countries. Most of us have ancestors who have come here from other countries at some stage in their lives in a state of destitution, often as victims of persecution, and who have enjoyed the hospitality of this country. I think that we should pass on the generosity from which our ancestors benefited.

There is also a real risk of legal trouble if something of this sort is not done. I have spoken before about the potential conflict between the powers of statute and the principles of natural justice. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, indicated that he very much agreed with me that it is better for that not to be explored too thoroughly. I said that there were some things which one does not really want to find out, when dealing with the question of which of these has the superior authority. The noble and learned Lord nodded vigorously. I agree with him.

This Bill, seen from the perspective of the courts, might seem like an attempt to interfere with justice. I do not want the supremacy of statute or natural justice to have to be argued out; but we should not lead Her Majesty's judges into temptation. If this Bill is not amended, I think that Her Majesty's judges will be led into temptation. It is not for me to say whether or not they will resist it, but it is a risk that I do not think we ought to take. We ought not to interfere with the course of justice, as will be done if people are deprived of support while they have perfectly valid outstanding claims to a hearing. That is my central reason for supporting this group of amendments.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

Amendment No. 157 stands in my name and that of my noble friend, as well that of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. It is a different drafting of a similar point to that expressed in Amendment No. 155 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I prefer the drafting of our amendment and, until I have heard the Minister's response, I have no reason to change my mind as regards the detailed differences between the two formulations.

There is a point of principle behind what is proposed, but there is also an extremely practical point as to when the support will stop during the legal process. With due respect to the noble Earl, it is not a point which can be decided solely on the basis of our traditions in this country. Nevertheless, I sympathise with a great deal of what the noble Earl said.

However, the situation has changed in recent years. The world has become smaller and there are more economic migrants. As was said in our earlier debates, many of us would seek to be economic migrants if we did not have the good fortune to live in this or a comparable country. Nevertheless we have to distinguish between economic migrants and the genuine seekers of asylum who deserve it and whom we all wish to assist.

As I say, I have no particular pride as between the two formulations that are proposed. However, a real point of principle and also a highly practical point lies behind both of them.

The Earl of Dartmouth

As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, pointed out, I have not attended the many days of discussion on this Bill. However, I feel flattered that a mere nine-word intervention from me should inspire paragraphs of the words of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and an entire speech from the noble Earl, Lord Russell, to be printed in Hansard. I am a tremendous admirer of the speaking abilities of the noble Earl, Lord Russell. I always enjoy his speeches. Therefore I feel even more flattered that a nine-word intervention from me should inspire an entire speech from him.

However, there is a serious point here. I asked whether the measure had the support of the British taxpayer. I infer from the lengthy address of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the eloquent speech of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that the short answer to that is "no". Although I have attended few of the proceedings during the passage of the Bill through this Chamber I was present when the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, introduced this Bill with his customary eloquence. However, he seemed to me to imply that he rather disagreed with that introduction. I do not have his words in front of me but he mentioned a large number of statistics which appear to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt to an objective person that there are a large number of bogus asylum seekers who have come here in order to live off the British taxpayer. That is what the statistics demonstrate.

Bogus asylum seekers abuse our hospitality and exploit our humanitarian feelings. That goes against the grain of British generosity and fair play which the noble Baroness so rightly mentioned. Many people have participated in debates on this Bill during its passage through the Chamber but it seems to me that the interests of the taxpayer have been under-represented.

I wish to make a point of detail on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I am not picking on him; it is just the way "the cards break". There is a logical fallacy at the heart of what he said. He said that 81 per cent of immigration applications are granted by judicial review after leave to appeal has been granted. One has to make a separate application to get leave to appeal. The leave to appeal is a screening process. One would expect that to be the case. The amendment states, in the event that either party indicates an intention to apply for leave to appeal". Therefore, however weak their case, they can string out the legal process and live off the British taxpayer.

As I heard the Minister introduce the Bill—that seems many months ago—it seemed to me that the Bill's intention was to rebalance the application of the law as between asylum seékers and the taxpayer. The Government's unexpected interest in the welfare of the taxpayer is very welcome. I urge the Government Front Bench to stand firm against these and other self-interested and unobjective amendments.

Lord Hylton

The intervention of the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, has reinforced the point I have tried to make on previous occasions. We are seeking the highest quality of decision at the first instance when a case is tested. If that can be achieved, it will bring with it considerable savings, not only in legal appeals and tribunal costs but also in social security support.

Earl Russell

May I ask the noble Earl to withdraw the word "self-interested"?

The Earl of Dartmouth

Of course; I do not have the noble Earl's felicity of phrase. I shall write to him when I have had a long time to think about it and have come up with a better and more accurate word.

Lord Dholakia

I do not want go down the same road as the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth. There are no ways in which we in this House can gauge the effect on taxpayers of what we do unless we promote a referendum of some kind on these matters. I remind the noble Earl that it was a Conservative government who undertook the obligation of admitting 28,000 Ugandan Asians to this country. They did not ask for a referendum; they did not ask the taxpayer; it was an act of compassion.

The Earl of Dartmouth

I must answer the noble Lord's point. The Ugandan Asians were genuine asylum seekers; we are talking here about bogus asylum seekers. That is the concern of people in this country. If the noble Lord had stood in an election recently he would know that.

Lord Dholakia

We are not talking about bogus asylum seekers; we are talking about genuine asylum seekers who are being persecuted, who need help, and who have come to this country for help. Those are the people we are talking about. The entire Bill is about how to help genuine asylum seekers to this country. My comments applied not only to the Ugandan Asians but also to the Vietnamese refugees, to people from Kosovo, as was mentioned, and to Hong Kong citizens, as my noble friend has just reminded me.

But let us not be diverted by that red herring. The Government indicated in the Commons that consideration would be given to making funds available to organisations which support asylum seekers who are granted leave to seek judicial review. Obviously, that is a welcome sign. However—perhaps the Minister can help me—the Legal Aid Board's recommendation to the Lord Chancellor suggests that legal aid will be available for applications for leave for judicial review, subject to strict merit and means tests. In cases where leave has been granted, legal aid should generally follow the eligible clients as a matter of course. Only those quality approved organisations with a contract will be able to apply for legal aid to seek leave. It is therefore unclear why asylum seekers who have been granted legal aid to apply for leave for judicial review should be denied subsistence support.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, this is an important issue. Let me make a preliminary point. Although one of the amendments refers to "dependent children", all of these amendments would affect only asylum seekers without dependent children. Under the provisions of subsection (5) of Clause 84, those asylum seekers who have dependent children will remain entitled to assistance under Part VI for as long as they remain in this country, even where their claims for asylum have been finally determined. So in this range of amendments, we are talking only about adults without dependants.

There are various gradations in the amendments. The most extreme—I do not put that in any pejorative way— is the one that says that support should be provided until the asylum seeker is removed from this country, irrespective of whether any kind of proceedings are continued and irrespective of whether the asylum seeker deliberately seeks to evade removal. The proposals then go down in gradations, seeking to cover various kinds of legal proceedings.

Perhaps I may briefly set out the policy. Under Clause 84, by the time an asylum seeker ceases to be eligible for support, he will have had his claim for asylum considered, first, by the Home Secretary. Assuming that that claim has been rejected, he will have had the opportunity to appeal to the immigration adjudicator, who is independent of the Home Secretary. If that has proved unsuccessful his case may be taken to the immigration appeals tribunal. And if that is unsuccessful, he may also take it to the Court of Appeal. I should say in parenthesis that some of the amendments refer to support being extended pending a hearing in the Court of Appeal. Support would continue in any event, whether there is an application to the Court of Appeal in respect of an appeal from the immigration appeals tribunal.

We are talking about a situation where an adult asylum seeker with no dependants has potentially had his claim heard by four separate executive bodies or independent tribunals: the Home Secretary; the appeals adjudicator; the immigration appeals tribunal; and the Court of Appeal. That is a fair and extensive judicial process for the consideration of a claim.

There may be a small number of cases where there is scope for further examination of the case by the court. I should add that no more than a quarter of applications for judicial review, which is one route that can be followed instead of the process to which I have referred, actually result in the granting of leave. However, I should make it clear that the Government recognise that there is a role for such a challenge. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, rightly pointed out, some of these challenges do succeed. They most often succeed not on the basis of the merits of the claim, but on the basis that there should be some reconsideration by one or other of the bodies to which I have referred.

We recognise the validity of this limited role for further challenge by making available funds to the voluntary sector to provide further support for hard cases who are still pursuing such applications. Indeed, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, might be a means of indicating which are such cases; for example, cases where leave has been granted, or cases where legal aid has been granted because the Legal Aid Board takes the view that there is merit in the application, although ultimately it must be a matter for the voluntary sector as to where it believes its money should be spent. I should make it clear that the power to give grants to the voluntary sector in what is now Clause 102 was extended in another place to cover support of former asylum seekers precisely to cater for such circumstances.

The concern of the noble Lord and the noble Baroness is to protect former asylum seekers who are seeking further recourse to the courts. The proposal would cover people who are continuing to make representations of any sort, and often without any merit. It would also extend to people whom the Secretary of State has simply not been able to remove for any reason. I remind the Committee that in many cases, sadly, the failure to remove someone reflects that person's lack of co-operation in the removal process.

It is a sad fact that about two-thirds of all applications for asylum are eventually found to be without merit. Some of those are applications by people who believe themselves to have a real claim for protection that ought to meet the criteria of the 1951 convention. Others are made by people who have reached this country in order to benefit from the better life that is available here without having any real expectation that a claim for asylum would be met.

To allow everyone who has made an application for asylum an entitlement to support for as long as they remain in this country—which is what the amendment would in effect do—would encourage such people to prolong their claims for as long as possible and by whatever means or representations they could make. It would encourage them not to co-operate in the removal process. The sums we are making available for the support of meritorious asylum claims is considerable. We do not wish to devote yet further resources to supporting former asylum seekers whose claims have proved to be without merit. In substance, we have made available a long, comprehensive and fair judicial system of dealing with these claims.

With great respect to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, he overstates the case dramatically and unfairly when he suggests that this is a matter where justice would not be done. He also suggests that the judges would be "tempted" to put natural justice before statute. Involuntary movements of my head on a previous occasion should not be taken in any way to indicate assent to any proposition that Parliament is not sovereign. The courts will always strive to ensure that the statutes are construed in accordance with natural justice. But there is no principle in this country that natural justice can overturn statutes. That appears to be what the noble Earl suggested.

The procedure laid down by the Bill, giving substantial rights of appeal and ensuring that there is money for the voluntary sector to deal with the hard case, is a well thought-out process. On the one hand, it makes sure that people can pursue their rights sensibly but, on the other, it does not provide a system where there is encouragement to people to apply again and again for leave to apply for judicial review or to make representation after representation to the Home Secretary to ensure that their support continues.

That is the effect of all the amendments put down by noble Lords. In all of them, the simple act of making an application for leave to apply for judicial review, or further representations to the Home Secretary, prolongs the right to assistance. I do not believe that the balance would be right.

The noble Baroness shakes her head, but that is the effect of the amendment as drafted.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

The noble Baroness is involuntarily shaking her head and the Minister should not read anything into it. I wish to draw his attention to one aspect of Amendment No. 155A. The phrase used is: and such period shall in any event be extended in the event that either party has been granted leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal or Court of Session, or leave to move for judicial review". The amendment restricts itself to those who have received such leave. That is not because they are continually pressing illegitimately a demand for appeal, but because a court has decided that there are sufficient grounds to grant that leave. It would rule out a great many of the cases to which the Minister referred. It would place on all fours a right that the court recognised that the appellant had and that should be sustained by offering the appellant sufficient support to enable him to survive until the court has completed its considerations. That is what I understand by justice being seen to be done.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

In so far as the application to the Court of Appeal arises as an appeal from the Immigration Appeal Tribunal, support will continue in any event. I do not wish to take a drafting point, although I can hardly resist it. The effect of the last three lines of the amendment is that if there are any proceedings pending it would include a further application for leave and then support continues.

Let us ignore that and take the noble Baroness's point that all we are dealing with is a case where leave has been granted for judicial review. The way it should be dealt with is by the voluntary sector providing support in hardship cases. That can be an emblem to them of when they should provide support.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

That is the weakness of the Minister's argument. We all accept that there are hardship cases that fall outside the process of review. Those properly fall to the voluntary sector. I find it difficult, even impossible, to accept that while a court has granted judicial review to an asylum seeker—and in some parts of the Bill judicial review is recognised as being the acceptable route—the Immigration Appeal Tribunal is not open to the asylum seeker though there are parts of the Bill of which that is true. It also covers convention appeals. In those instances it is incumbent on any government to provide adequate support to enable the appellant to be sustained while he completes his legal rights. He cannot misuse them because he is dependent on the court giving him leave to make that further step.

Earl Russell

Before we go any further I should like to clear my name from the suggestion that I was arguing that the principles of natural justice overrode statute. I may have inadvertently misled the House because I took trouble not to repeat myself. It seems that I was mistaken. I think that I dealt with the point on Clause 9. The principle on which I was relying was that stated by the Master of the Rolls in R v. Home Secretary ex parte Fayed. If Parliament wishes to confer a power to act unfairly it must say so in express words. That respects parliamentary sovereignty, and it was and is my position.

The Home Office's record in predicting the results of judicial reviews should not inspire us with confidence on whether that will interfere with the course of justice. One cannot know what the result of a case will be before the case is over. One may often vehemently suspect that there will be a particular result, but favourites do not always win, as all bookies know. It is not possible to tell the result of a case without hearing it. The deprivation of support may prevent a hearing and may therefore deny justice. It is argued that we cannot give such people support because it only encourages them. We have all been careful to moderate our language, but I cannot find that acceptable.

The Lord Bishop of Southwark

The Minister has said several times that the Government intend to grant funds to the voluntary sector for the hard cases that have been discussed. Have the voluntary organisations been consulted on that and have they given their consent to be involved in that way?

The Earl of Dartmouth

I do not know whether I am out of order, but I want to point out that, despite my earlier remarks, I was struck by the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. If leave for appeal has been granted, a large proportion of the argument that I put forward earlier falls away and there is a reasonable case for support, which the Government should at least consider. It will be interesting to hear the Minister respond to that thought.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

The persuasive powers of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, are unrivalled to have secured the agreement of the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth. It is an unholy alliance, if I may say so.

The noble Baroness has moderated her position. She appears to have accepted that it would be right for the voluntary sector to support certain hard cases. Her argument appears to be that when leave to apply for judicial review has been granted, it is not appropriate for the voluntary sector to be involved, but there should be a right to continuing support.

That is one moderately small category of case, although the amendments are wide-ranging. Even in those cases—which will also be hard cases, but the easiest ones for the voluntary sector to identify—there should not be a right to support. The Government should make such support available indirectly through the voluntary sector.

We have consulted the voluntary sector on the right reverend Prelate's request and we are in continuing discussions on the issue.

10 p.m.

Lord Alton of Liverpool

In response to some of the points made by the Minister, I should like to draw his attention to correspondence I have received from two groups I met here, along with other noble Lords. They are from the voluntary sector, and it may well be that the Government are still in discussion with them. I hope that the Government will take note of the kind of comments made by the Brentwood Diocesan Commission for Justice & Peace in a letter to me following last week's meeting. It states: For many years, the voluntary organisations and faith groups have provided a much-needed safety net for asylum seekers, especially the destitute, and particularly since the Immigration and Asylum Act 1996. The work of this sector is recognised and valued by the Home Office to such an extent that it is now proposed, under the new Bill, to co-opt these organisations directly into the administration of official support arrangements for asylum seekers, and to provide funding for the work undertaken. This creates a moral dilemma for the voluntary sector. Care of the destitute, and alleviation of their plight, is the main objective of much of the work of the organisations involved and in particular of faith groups. Now they are being asked to administer a system that is inherently biased against the interests of many asylum seekers, and which will operate under very strict guidelines. Co-opted agencies will not be permitted, for example, to assist asylum seekers who fall outside the proposed support arrangements and for whom the future will be bleak". I will not quote at length from a second letter from the Notre Dame Refugee Centre in London. This letter was sent to the Minister of State and is dated 15th July. The letter states: As the director of just such a group, connected with the French Catholic Church of Notre Dame de France, I wish to express the dilemma we face in regard to the new measures proposed".

The voluntary organisations, the Churches and the charities which came to the House for a meeting last week in the Moses Room expressed concerns about the way this is being carried out. For that reason, I hope that when the Minister reflects on the debate he will weigh those questions carefully.

I welcome what he had to say about exemptions, and I am grateful for that. However, it raises an interesting point about the anomalies in the Bill. I am glad that we are showing compassion to families with dependants, who will continue to receive support. But why is it that someone, simply because he does not have dependants, will not have the same access to the judicial system? Is not that in itself discriminatory, and does that not put yet another anomaly into the system? We should be even-handed in this matter.

I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, for his subsequent intervention in the debate. I hope that he will continue to play an active part in our proceedings and will make further interventions like the second one he made. However, I am always arrested in my tracks when people talk of immigrants and asylum seekers as those who want only to take out of the system. In different terms, the Minister spoke of two-thirds coming here without merit. Those people are economic migrants who want to come here for a better life.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, who has spoken in these terms in other debates, I remember my own family history. That makes me feel that you should do to others as you would wish to be done by others. In my case, my mother came here at the end of the war as an immigrant. Her parents had died of meningitis and she left a large family in the west of Ireland. If it had not been for the generosity she was shown when she arrived here, I do not know what would have happened to her. Was she an economic migrant? Was she someone who would have been one of the two-thirds without merit? I do not know. However, I do know that many people who have arrived here for various reasons have made a significant contribution and have put a thousandfold back into the life of our nation.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, reminded us of our duties since Magna Carta. He also reminded us of our own Judaeo-Christian tradition of treating the alien in the land as you would wish to be treated yourself. It is written in the discourses on the Decalogue, where Jews, Moslems and Christians look to that system of values. We should always treat the alien in the land with justice.

The other side of the coin of justice is the word "mercy". If there is something missing in our debates thus far, I believe that it has been inadequate reference to the word "mercy". People who find themselves in the desperate circumstances described by noble Lords in speaking to these amendments should not only be treated justly but also mercifully. We have had a useful airing of the issues, and we may well wish to return to them at Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 155A not moved.]

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 155B:

Page 55, line 6, leave out ("of his, or of his spouse,").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 155C:

Page 55, line 7, leave out ("dependent on him") and insert ("a dependant of his").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 84, as amended, agreed to.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon moved Amendment No. 156:

After Clause 84, insert the following new clause—