HL Deb 07 November 2002 vol 640 cc942-8

4.10 p.m.




[The page and line refer to HL Bill 89 as first printed for the Lords.]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Filkin)

My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons amendment be now considere.

Moved, That the Commons amendments be now considered.—(Lord Filkin.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


17Clause 14, page 9, line 8, at end insert—

( ) An accommodation centre shall be established only when the Secretary of State is satisfied that the proposed location is suitable to the needs of the persons to be accommodated therein.


The Lords do not insist on their amendment to which the Commons have disagreed, but do propose the following amendment in lieu thereof—

17B Page 9, line 8, at the end insert—

( ) In determining the location of premises provided under this section the Secretary of State shall have regard to the needs of the persons to be accommodated therein.


The Commons disagreed with the Lords in the Amendment No. 17B proposed in lieu of Amendment No. 17, but do propose the following amendments to the Clause inserted by Lords Amendment No. 37 (The Monitor of Accommodation Centres) in lieu thereof—

17C Line 8, leave out second "and"

17D Line 9, at end insert— , and

(d) whether, in the case of any accommodation centre, its location prevents a need of its residents from being met."

Lord Filkin

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist in their Amendment No. 17B to which the Commons have disagreed and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 17C and 17D in lieu thereof.

I hope that it will be recognised that, as ever, we have listened to the argumentation in this Chamber. What we now propose is what we think is a proper response to the debate we had yesterday. It is a response which does not open up the dangers of substantial judicial reviews but ensures that some of the objectives that Members were seeking to ensure are provided.

We now propose for the monitor of accommodation centres to have a specific requirement to consider whether in the case of any accommodation centre its location prevents a need of its residents from being met. Therefore, the monitor will be able to consider, for example, whether a need of residents to have interpretation facilities has been prevented by the location of the accommodation center.

The monitor will, of course, be independent and is required to produce an annual report which will be laid before Parliament. He is required to consult the Secretary of State and such other persons as he considers appropriate. We might well imagine therefore that the monitor would consult the local authority, the police and the local Members of Parliament as well as the advisory groups which we have also established.

The point of the amendment is for the monitor to consider whether in the case of any accommodation centre its location prevents a need of its residents from being met. So once the centre is operating the monitor is required to consider the needs of the residents and whether the location prevents a need being met.

The monitor will provide his views in an annual report which will be laid before Parliament. He will report on the quality and effectiveness of accommodation and other facilities, the nature and enforcement of conditions of residence, the treatment of residents and now, by virtue of the amendments proposed by the Commons, whether a centre's location prevents a need of its residents being met. The Government will take account of those views both in their evaluation of the trial and, if appropriate, thereafter.

The monitor is not, as was suggested in another place, an adjudicator or an arbiter of whether a location is suitable—nor would that be appropriate—whether an accommodation centre remains in operation, or whether a particular individual should remain at a centre.

Amendments Nos. 17C and 17D are a further example of how we are happy for accommodation centres to be scrutinised in an open and transparent way which will inform us, lead to improvements and provide us with examples of what is working and what is not. This is a clear indication of our intent to develop a system that works and to use the trial as a basis for far-reaching improvements in the way we support destitute asylum seekers and process asylum claims.

Unlike the amendments agreed by this House yesterday, the amendments proposed by the Commons and supported by the Government do exactly what they are intended to do and I commend them to the House. As the House knows, this forms part of our overall system for improving the management of the asylum system and to offer refuge and support to those who need it while eliminating abuse.

Moved, That the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 17B to which the Commons have disagreed and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 17C and 17D in lieu thereof.—(Lord Filkin.)

Lord Renton of Mount Harry

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may thank him for the explanation of the amendment that has been brought forward. Does he believe that the concern he expressed yesterday about judicial review in relation to the amendment moved from the Front Bench by my noble friend Lady Anelay has disappeared and that because a monitor is in the place of the Secretary of State that diminishes the likelihood of judicial review? Is that why the noble Lord is content with this amendment but was not content with the amendment we passed yesterday?

Lord Filkin

My Lords, in two words, just so. In conclusion I reiterate the Home Secretary's statement today in another place in relation to late claims. We expect people to claim asylum at the port of entry unless they have a good reason for not doing so. I have said so on numerous occasions during our debates. I commend the Motion to the House.

Moved, That the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 17B to which the Commons have disagreed and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 17C and 17D in lieu thereof.—(Lord Filkin.)

4.15 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his careful and courteous explanation. Indeed, his stewardship of the Bill has been one of care and courtesy, for which I am sure all noble Lords will be most grateful.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Baroness Anelay of St Johns

My Lords, I make it clear from the beginning that we welcome this substantial concession from the Government, which recognises that they have listened to the views expressed in your Lordships' House and accepted that the general principle of the position we took throughout the Bill is right. There must be scrutiny of the decision about where accommodation centres will be sited. The location must be suitable for the needs of those who will be living in them for up to six months, possibly longer.

On Report on 10th October, I moved an amendment which would have required the Secretary of State to make an annual report on the measures taken to establish accommodation centres and would have covered issues of location. The Government have tabled a similar amendment today. The point I made was that the clause that the Government introduced in Committee regarding the monitor's powers left a gap in accountability about the suitability of location and the availability of services in the area which will be needed for both the asylum seekers and the local residents. The Minister has referred today to some of those facilities.

The Minister then rejected my proposal on the basis that it would not be appropriate to introduce an annual report. Last Thursday, when the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, was responding to another of my amendments on annual reports, he made the somewhat prophetic statement that,

it sometimes seems that if we are stuck for an amendment we call for an annual report".—[Official Report, 31/10/02; col. 405.]

The Government were stuck in a mess of their own making, but I am glad they are pulling themselves out little by little.

It is right that the Government have recognised in the amendment that an annual report via the monitor to Parliament on these matters is necessary. The Home Office will have to get a move on to appoint a monitor in order to discharge the Government's responsibilities under Clause 33. It is clear in the Bill that an annual report will be made in the first year. Paragraph (4)(a) states that the monitor shall report,

at least once in each calendar year".

The reality is that before any accommodation centre is built, be it in Bicester, Nottingham or wherever, the Home Office will have to consider in advance whether a decision about where it puts an accommodation centre will later be challenged by asylum seekers, local residents or organisations representing asylum seekers on the basis of the monitor reporting that the location prevented the needs of its residents being met.

We now have a suitable safeguard in the Bill with regard to the locating of accommodation centres. We have made it clear throughout that we support the Bill's broad thrust, but that some aspects of it were clearly inadequate or overreaching. We have always been at one with the Government over the importance of ensuring that applications for asylum are processed both fairly and rapidly. It is important for asylum seekers who may be staying here to know where they are and equally important for those who will be removed to know that they will not be remaining here. It is important for the rest of the country to be assured that the system for processing applications is as good as it can be.

We will be keeping our eyes on the future to make sure that if it is not as good as it gets, we shall have something to say about it. I support the Motion moved by the Minister.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for the way he has responded to our concerns about the location and size of accommodation centres. This is the right way to progress because none of us can judge at this stage what is appropriate and what will work—although we have no doubt that some of the arguments that we have put forward will form the basis on which the monitor will effectively judge how the accommodation centres are operating.

There are a number of issues. The amendment that we supported demonstrated clearly that it would have been possible to pay due regard to the issues of concern before the accommodation centres became operative, whereas the monitor will not be able to do so until after they have been established.

The amendment gives us an opportunity to ask the Minister further questions and to seek assurances from him. Will the Minister ensure that the monitor is appointed as soon as possible? Will he allow the monitor to comment on any proposed site and model? What will happen if the monitor submits a report with which the Government do not agree? Would the Government proceed with their plans or would they pay due regard to the views expressed by the monitor? It would assist us if the Minister could address some of our concerns. I wish the individual appointed every success.

Lord Elton

My Lords, as a point of clarification, can the Minister confirm my suspicion that where the print refers to "page 9" it actually means "page 19". I have some difficulty in relating the print to the Bill. If I am confused about this, I apologise—but I am not alone.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I agree with everything that has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and by my noble friend Lord Dholakia. This is an acceptable substitute for our amendment and may even be a slight improvement on it.

The Minister has had many trials of his patience during the Bill. I regret it if an intervention of mine in the debate on accommodation yesterday needlessly added to them. It had been my intention to make a serious point, not a cheap debating point. Clearly I failed to convey that intention and to express myself as felicitously as I would have wished. I am sorry if that was the case. I do not believe that there is any need for explanations at this stage of the Bill unless the Minister wants them, in which case I shall be happy to give them outside the Chamber.

The Minister also said that he regretted my not remembering an occasion earlier in the Bill when he expressed regret at infelicitous use of language. The trouble is, courtesy from the Minister is not a case of man bites dog; it is so common that I doubt whether any one of us can remember all the occasions, or even all the important occasions, on which he has shown it. I hope that he understands it is in that spirit that we regard his handling of the Bill.

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, I still have reservations about the accommodation centres, but today is a day to swallow disappointment and for me to recognise, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, the great courtesy shown by the noble Lord throughout this very long Bill. I thank him sincerely for that.

Lord Filkin

My Lords, one should quit while one is ahead. That is not a resignation speech, I should add.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, graciously teased us about annual reports. This is not a day to quibble, but I do not think that her earlier amendment was exactly the same as ours. That is self-evidently the case because we would have obviously accepted it if it had been.

The essential point about sites under consideration is that it is the job of the Home Secretary, subject to the planning authorities, to decide whether or not a location is suitable. The Home Secretary's purview and consideration will clearly be wider than that of the planning authorities: the Home Secretary will have to think about whether he is acting reasonably in believing that this location is likely to meet the needs of its future residents in all respects. As noble Lords have pointed out, the monitor will subsequently be charged with the statutory duty of seeing whether that works in operation.

I was asked when the monitor will report. The monitor must report after the accommodation centres are up and running, and must report annually. We talked about evaluation. I shall not go into detail, but the research evaluation of accommodation centres is relevant to this issue. I believe that I am on record as saying that the evaluation research would give an interim report within one year after the first accommodation centre was opened. Therefore, both of these points are germane and will help to ensure that there is in the public domain an objective analysis of how these new and important facilities operate.

There is no intent or requirement for the monitor to be consulted about particular locations that the Secretary of State might be considering—it is not the monitor's role—although the Secretary of State must satisfy himself that he is acting reasonably in identifying a site which he believes will meet the needs of residents, if only under Wednesbury principles.

I was asked about the line reference in the amendment. I am told that it refers to line 9 of Lords Amendment No. 37 and that that is the correct reference. I hope that that is helpful.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, asked when the monitor would be appointed. The answer is: as soon as there is a job for him or her to do. I am speculating at this point, but I should have thought that it would be good to have the monitor in post for a reasonable time before the opening of the first centre so that he or she can begin to think about working methods and processes. But one would not want someone in post so early in advance that there was nothing for him or her to do.

Unless I am corrected, I believe that I have covered the questions raised. It therefore remains for me to thank my colleagues on the Front Bench who have worked hard and well with me on this Bill. I appreciate that not all of them are present today.

I should like genuinely to thank the Opposition Front Benches. We do not, as they have noticed, always agree, but the spirit has been decent and proper. I am extremely grateful for the courtesy of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, on this and on previous occasions. He is a hard person in terms of learning how to debate with him in this Chamber, but he is a good master of the process—so one hopes that over another 10 years or so one might master it. I also thank the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for his comments.

Finally, I give my warm thanks to the Bill team and to all other officials in the Home Office who have worked extremely hard and well. I am most appreciative of that. I commend the Commons amendments in lieu to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

4.28 p.m.

Lord Grocott

My Lords, we are now awaiting a message from the other place on the Animal Health Bill. It is anyone's guess as to precisely when it will arrive. I therefore suggest that we adjourn during pleasure until we receive the message. The timing will then appear on the annunciator. As a reminder to noble Lords, and not least to myself, I should say that we shall then need to adjourn for a further half hour in order for it to be processed. After that, we shall see what happens. I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 4.28 to 5.4 p.m.]