HL Deb 18 October 1999 vol 605 cc751-6

(". The Secretary of State may provide, or arrange for the provision of, facilities for the accommodation of persons—

  1. (a) temporarily admitted to the United Kingdom under paragraph 21 of Schedule 2 to the 1971 Act;
  2. (b) released from detention under that paragraph, or
  3. (c) released on bail from detention under any provision of the Immigration Acts.").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 1, perhaps I can speak also to Amendment No. 289 because the two cannot be dealt with separately.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble and learned Lord so early, but I asked that we might leave Amendment No. 289 until the second day when it would arise in the normal course of the Bill. That provision provides for making this into formal quasi-detention. We cannot avoid discussion on Amendment No. 1 and I am prepared not to oppose it, as will emerge in due course. But the detail of Amendment No. 289, particularly the quasi-detention, I should like to leave until Wednesday.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I am more than happy to do that, but I cannot explain why we are dealing with Amendment No. 1 without referring to Amendment No. 289. Perhaps I may do it that way while accepting that they have been effectively de-coupled before I start.

Amendment No. 289 provides a power to extend by regulation the residence conditions which may be imposed when those seeking leave to enter or remain in this country are given temporary admission, or are released from detention on temporary admission, while their application is considered.

I am sorry that we were not able to give your Lordships earlier notice of these amendments. There was a large influx of asylum seekers over the summer months and the problems that that influx created in some parts of the country led us to the conclusion that existing powers to impose residence conditions on temporary admission are too narrow.

There is already power in the Immigration Act 1971 to impose residence restrictions on those granted temporary admission. Our legal advice is that, as currently framed, the restrictions should be those necessary to maintain contact and prevent absconding. So the only reason we can impose these powers at the moment is to maintain contact and prevent absconding. Such objectives are important but we believe that they are too narrow. The events of the summer suggest that we may need wider powers to impose residence conditions which are necessary not just to maintain contact but possibly also to prevent potential public order problems or to ensure full and rapid consideration of claims.

For example, it was clear that the large number of asylum seekers residing in the Dover area as a result of the summer influx was giving rise to public order problems. Similar problems could arise in the future, whether at Dover or elsewhere. While the Bill provides for a support scheme for asylum seekers which will provide for dispersal to other parts of the country, we believe it will be prudent to take powers in this Bill to enable conditions to be imposed prohibiting residence in specific areas of the country or, if the need arose, in specific types of accommodation.

We may also need to require asylum seekers or others given temporary admission to reside at accommodation provided by the Secretary of State to enable proper and rapid consideration of their claims. We are examining the possibility of establishing a reception facility at which asylum seekers would reside while their claim was examined and a rapid decision taken. The aim would be to deal with the claim in a matter of days rather than weeks. Applicants would reside at the reception centre for a comparatively short period for that purpose. As such residences have a wider purpose, we believe that we need the wider power that Amendment No. 289 provides.

I hope that that explains the background and purposes of these amendments. Amendment No. 1 is essentially consequential to the amendments providing the wider power to impose residence conditions. It establishes a clear statutory basis for the provision of accommodation by the Secretary of State to persons on temporary admission. It is clear that any new power in this area must be flexible. That is why it is necessary to proceed by way of a power to make regulations. The use of the powers will depend on changing events and changing pressures. One of the problems with our current system of control is that we cannot respond quickly or flexibly enough to deal with the pace of events.

The Bill is intended to provide a more modern, flexible system. The amendments will contribute to that overall objective. The regulations will ensure that additional residence requirements are proportionate and relevant to the circumstances which may arise. They will also provide the opportunity for Parliament to scrutinise the types of condition that may be imposed and also the purposes for which they may be imposed. Under the Human Rights Act 1998 any regulations made will have to comply with the convention rights.

At this stage I invite the House only to support Amendment No. 1. For the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, Amendment No. 289 will be dealt with at the other end of Report stage. I beg to move.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I shall not detain the House for more than a moment but I should like to ask a number of questions. First, am I right in thinking that this accommodation will not be secure? It will probably be accommodation in which people can move in and out of. Or is there any distinction between those residencies which will be made secure and those which will not? Secondly, can the Minister say anything about whether there will be a compulsion on people, for example possibly as a condition of bail, to reside in such accommodation? Thirdly, can he say what are likely to be the costs and by whom they will be borne? I take it that there will be some for living in such accommodation. It will be helpful if the Minister can give us some idea as to the costs, who will be expected to meet them and whether they will fall within the support arrangements. It will be helpful to us in looking further at the clause if the Minister can answer those questions.

Lord Avebury

My Lords, I can understand why it should be necessary to prescribe that a person granted temporary admission should reside in a specific location. I take the point the Minister made about the difficulties experienced in Dover during the summer. In circumstances of that kind, the provision in Amendment No. 289 would allow the Secretary of State to direct that persons arriving in large numbers at the port of Dover should be accommodated in the locations prescribed by him somewhere else in the country. I understand the point, but why should that entail prohibiting the person who is directed to that accommodation being absent from it except in accordance with the restrictions imposed?

If large numbers of people arrived from the Czech Republic in Dover and, for reasons of public order, had to reside in accommodation provided by the Secretary of State in Faversham, why should a curfew or some other restriction be imposed on those people to prevent them leaving that accommodation except when the Secretary of State allowed? That seems an extraordinary condition to attach to a temporary admission. We can debate that point more thoroughly when we reach Amendment No. 289 but, as the Minister has spoken to that amendment, it would be useful to have an explanation now.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, asked first whether the accommodation will be secure. It will not. People will be free to come and go, subject to any other conditions that are imposed. As to the relationship between this provision and the compulsion to stay in a particular place as a condition of bail, this is an entirely separate power from that to award bail on conditions. The Secretary of State will bear the cost of the accommodation.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked why there is a need to introduce a power that imposes a curfew. I need proper instructions but I suspect that the answer is that one might deal with a public order problem either by sending people to a different place or saying that they could stay at a place but could only go out at certain times. The note that I have says the idea is that those concerned will be required to reside overnight but will he free to come and go during the day. That is a slightly different answer but one can see what is in mind.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, I apologise for not rising to speak before. I was a bit slow. This is an entirely new way of dealing with asylum seekers and others. It is a proposal for a new form of hostel or reception centre. I am not sure whether or not it is secure but when we debate Amendment No. 289 and the powers to which the Minister referred it will be clear that the Secretary of State certainly has the power to require individuals to remain at the centre permanently and not let them out at all. The answer may be given that, assuming they are fed, what need is there for them to be let out? There is no restriction on the power that I can see but we shall discuss that point when we reach Amendment No. 289.

This seems a major initiative on the Government's part to create a new form of reception centre under the Secretary of State's control directly or indirectly—he can put such centres out to contract if he wishes—for those admitted to or released from detention. It may in part be detention of its own, but in some cases individuals will be released from detention into a centre of this kind.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, I set out the purpose. The correct course may be to wait until we reach Amendment No. 289 before debating the detail.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 4 [Charges]:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 2: Page 4, line 1, leave out ("is").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendments Nos. 2 to 6 deal with charges for after-entry applications for leave to remain and for Home Office travel documents. Government Amendments Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 6 place on the face of the Bill a clear statement that people already in this country who seek asylum or protection under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights shall not be charged for applications. That follows the recommendation of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Select Committee, which the Government accepted, as I indicated to the House on 12th July.

The amendments cover also the dependants of such applications. To ensure that there is no doubt, I should say that although the new clause refers only to a claim for asylum, the cross-reference to Clause 89 makes it clear that applications for protection under Article 3 of the ECHR are also covered. Amendment No. 5, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has the same intent and I anticipate that they will withdraw it.

The new clause set out in Government Amendment No. 28 puts beyond doubt the power to levy fees in connection with a Home Office travel document. I am not sure why I am talking about Amendment No. 28. It is not grouped on the list that I have, so perhaps I shall come to that amendment later.

Lord Cope of Berkeley

My Lords, it will be apparent from Amendment No. 5 that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and I were on the same point. I detect only one difference between the effect of our drafting and that of the Government. The latter seems to suggest that if someone makes a claim for asylum that is not refused for whatever reason, he or she can be charged a fee. The fee is only not payable if asylum is granted or the case is still pending. Will the Government try to collect fees for asylum applications from individuals who have been refused? That seems to be the effect of the Government's amendment, by contrast with the wording that the noble Baroness and I support.

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, generally speaking, the wording of the government amendment is helpful and I thank them for responding to our submissions. We share the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that someone who is waiting for a final decision on their claim can be charged a fee—or that if the claim is decided against them, even though their application was bona fide, they would still be charged a fee. If so, we must ask the Minister to say something about the level of fees. We hope that the government amendment does not mean that. If that is so, we shall withdraw our amendment.

Earl Russell

My Lords, the statement in Amendment No. 6 that the word "dependant" has such meaning as may be prescribed may be a concession to certain remarks I made in Committee about the various irregular types of dependency that exist among asylum-seeking communities. If so, I thank the noble and learned Lord very warmly and welcome it. However, I ask him to reflect, as that provision is administered, on whether prescription or case law is the right way to approach what will be a very varied set of circumstances. With that single reservation, I thank the Minister very warmly.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton

My Lords, as to the difference between the government amendment and that of the noble Lord, Lord Cope, it is not our intention to chase individuals for a fee if they are refused asylum. The intention is for there not to be any difference between the two. As to the statement that "dependant" may have such meaning as may be prescribed, it must be clear what is meant. It is far better for that point to be dealt with by statute rather than case law. With case law, there will not be the same degree of certainty as to who is dependent and who is not.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 3 Page 4, line 2, after ("kind") insert ("is payable").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 4: Page 4, line 4, after ("But") insert ("—

  1. (a) a fee prescribed in connection with such an application is not payable if the basis on which the application is made is that the applicant is—
    1. (i) a person making a claim for asylum which claim either has not been determined or has been granted; or
    2. (ii) a dependant of such a person; and").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 5 not moved.]

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 6: Page 4, line 10, at end insert— ("( ) "Claim for asylum" has the meaning given in subsection (1) of section 89; and subsection (3) of that section applies for the purposes of this section as it applies for the purposes of Part VI. ( ) "Dependant" has such meaning as may be prescribed.").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 7: After Clause 6, insert the following new clause—