Clause 1

Equality Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at on 11 June 2009.

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Public sector duty regarding socio-economic inequalities

Amendment proposed (this day): 2, in clause 1, page 1, line 29, leave out subsection (3) and insert—

‘(3) A Minister of the Crown may by regulations list public authorities to which this section applies.’.—(Mr. Harper.)

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Photo of Ann Winterton Ann Winterton Conservative, Congleton

I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following: amendment 107, in clause 1, page 2, line 17, after ‘England’, insert—

‘(l) the Financial Services Authority;

(m) the Office of Communications;

(n) the Office of Fair Trading;

(o) the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets;

(p) the Security Industry Authority.’.

Amendment 108, in clause 1, page 2, line 17, at end insert—

‘(l) Transport for London;

(m) London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority;

(n) London Development Agency;

(o) Metropolitan Police Authority.’.

An amendment to include members of the GLA family in the socio-economic duty.

Amendment 109, in clause 1, page 2, line 17, at end insert—

‘(l) a fire and rescue authority constituted by a scheme under section 2 of the Fire and Rescue Service Act 2004, or a scheme to which section 4 of that Act applies, for an area in England.’.

An amendment to include Fire Authorities in the socio-economic duty.

Amendment 181, in clause 1, page 2, line 17, at end insert—

‘(3A) This section also applies to those bodies responsible for inspecting or regulating public sector bodies.’.

An amendment to ensure that the socio-economic duty applies to inspectorates of public sector bodies.

Amendment 4, in clause 1, page 2, line 18, leave out subsection (4).

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

It is good to be under your chairpersonship on this Bill, Lady Winterton. I understand that we are going to be less peripatetic than before, which might help logistics. We did wonder  whether we ought to introduce an extra strand in the Bill for wandering MPs: we had have three rooms. We shall proceed more easily now that we are not wandering about so much.

I was still talking—not wishing to sound as if I have been long-winded—about amendment 107. Many people have chosen to have a piece of the amendment 107 pie. I draw the Committee’s attention to a new document that has appeared. Members know well that there is a new single equality duty on public authorities, and that will be supported by specific duties. We have undertaken to consult on how the specific duties should be put together. That document is now available on the Table at the back of the room if Members would like to take a copy.

The hon. Member for Forest of Dean said that sometimes regulators of the kind referred to in amendment 107 did indeed have some strategic input. I accept the point that he made, although they are better characterised as reactive. However, even where they take or influence such decisions, they implement them through the bodies that they regulate, and the duty will not fall upon the bodies that are regulated. There is no lack of sympathy among Ministers with the intention behind amendment 107. It has been argued with great strength, and has garnered support, and we will look again to make sure that we are not wrong, but we think it misses the target at which it is aimed.

I turn to amendment 181, which, again, would extend the duty to all public sector inspectorates, with the purpose of driving it through the public sector more broadly. Again, I sympathise totally, but similar arguments apply. Those inspectorates do not, by and large, take the long-term decisions that we want the duty to hit, and if they do, they implement them through the bodies they inspect. Unless we are prepared to extend the duty to the whole public sector—we have limited it to the groups that we regard as the strategic ones—there is no real point in extending it to the inspectorates.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Conservative, Daventry

Is the Minister saying—this again is genuinely for information—that she considered the possibility of extending the duty to the public sector at large, and having derogations from that where it clearly was not appropriate or necessary? Is that a model that we should have realistically pursued, rather than this slightly odd system of specifying part of it and adding in bits of it that we have forgotten?

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

I do not think we are doing quite the latter. We think that we have got into this part of the clause all the relevant strategic authorities, but we cannot be sure we have, so we kept a residual power to add to it. There has been a deliberate process of looking at those authorities to ensure that the duty bites on the right decisions, rather than thinking that it should be applied more widely and allowing everyone else in later.

As for the inspectorates that inspect the public authorities that are covered by the measure, it would be redundant to put a duty on them. The duty has been placed on the public authorities listed in clause 1(3)(a) to (k). They all have the duty. The inspectorates will have to inspect them to make sure that they carry out their statutory duties, because that is part of the matrix of their inspection. We are having detailed discussions with the Audit  Commission and the other inspectorates to ensure that there are worked-out ways in which that will be done, because it is key that they should be appropriately monitored. Therefore, there is no need, where the measure bites on the public authority itself, to make it bite on the inspectorate that will inspect it. We have already heard the arguments earlier today that, if the duty is not placed on the body, it should not be put on the inspectorate.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

In relation to the health service, I want to probe the Minister. First, what is said by some inspectorates has a strategic impact. What a health service inspectorate says can significantly affect the way in which the body that it is inspecting delivers its service. There is therefore an argument to say that the inspectorate, when giving its rulings, must have regard to the impact that its ruling will have on socio-economic disadvantage, otherwise inadvertently it might say that the body must do more of something, even if that has primary care trusts, for example, choosing not to provide some of the services that we need.

Secondly, what about organisations such as the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence? Its recommendations are hugely strategic and have a huge impact on what the health service delivers as well as equity in the health service. Will the hon. and learned Lady give further thought to whether that should be included in the list?

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

With great respect, the hon. Gentleman is missing the point. No one will stop inspectorates saying—as he has put it—what they want and expect, or going through their usual matrix, added to the ordinary matrix of inspections. On every public authority to which the measure applies will be the duty to ensure that it has been complied with. It is really not that complicated.

Amendment 4 relates to subsections (4) and (5). They are important because, when the long-term vision for an area set out in its sustainable community strategy is being put together, all the parties involved are to give due consideration to the desirability of addressing socio-economic inequalities. The long-term strategic planning in which they are engaged is where the duty should be biting, yet amendment 4 proposes that we remove the provision, which will leave the local authority that needs to be planning strategically with its partner organisations the only one that has the duty at the time. It is vital that, when all the public service partners come together to make strategic decisions about their long-term vision, they all have the duty then, not at another time.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Conservative, Daventry

To be clear, is it the intention that, when a public authority enters into a strategic partnership with another public authority, the duty under clause 1 would bind them in the act of going in, as well as the body that was the successor, which was the outcome of the partnership? I assume that it is.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

Is the hon. Gentleman talking about machinery of government changes binding successor authorities?

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Conservative, Daventry

More or less, yes. It may be that a local authority is conscious that it is not doing very well on poverty and could do better in association with another  authority. One of the factors that might underlie its decision to seek a partnership could be its need to discharge its duty under the clause. If that is the case, can I be clear that the act of it concluding a partnership is itself a clause 1 activity, as well as whatever comes out of the partnership if it is agreed to?

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

As far as I follow that, I think that the answer is yes. Let us look back at subsection (4), which is always a good place to start. It says that the clause also applies to an authority that

“is a partner authority in relation to a...local authority”— it deals with specific partner authorities for local government—and that

“does not fall within subsection (3)”

The measure only applies, however, so far as the authority is involved in preparing or modifying the sustainable community strategy. Going back to the core words makes it clear what the impact is. As for successor authorities post-local government organisation, I doubt that this applies.

We ask that Members do not press amendments 2, 107, 181 and 4. We shall look again to make sure that there is not anything in the points that have been made about the power of the inspectorates.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister

I was about to say something else before the hon. and learned Lady said what she just said. When I pressed her, she said that it was simple and therefore implied that I do not understand. What has happened is that I have failed to get across my point accurately enough. If she is willing to look at the matter again, it will be better if I put my point in writing rather than take up time now because we have had a long debate on the clause. I am grateful that she is willing to hear anything more that we have to say on that subject because I have not put across some of the points. We have not had an answer on NICE as an example of a strategic body that is not listed, which has huge implications for the approach that applies in the health service. She does not need to reply to that now if she is willing to hear further representations.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

I am not remotely convinced that NICE is a body to which one would want the duty to apply. It is not appropriate always to put that up. The Financial Services Authority was another bad example where the duty would conflict with some of the other targets that it has by statute. I do not think for one minute that we have absolutely hit the spot. I did not intend to suggest that the hon. Gentleman was not understanding by saying that it is a straightforward point but it is a straightforward point and I have made it three or four times. If he writes to me, I will read his comments with great care, but I do not doubt that he has in his usual way adequately made his point.

Amendment 108 proposes to extend the scope of the duty in clause 1 to a number of London-specific bodies. The London Development Agency is already covered under paragraph (j) in clause 1(3), because it has been set up under the Regional Development Agencies Act 1998. The LDA is, therefore, already in the clause. We agree that the Metropolitan Police Authority has strategic responsibilities that are relevant to tackling socio-economic duties and is to a sizeable extent analogous to other police authorities. We will definitely look at that.

Transport for London is a bit more complicated because the Greater London Authority Act 1999 puts the relevant strategic responsibility for transport in terms of an integrated policy on to the Mayor. We thought therefore that we had covered it. We will, however, consider the detail and the division of that responsibility. If we think that Transport for London should be brought in, we will come back with such a proposal. The same can be said for the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, which is also the subject of this amendment. We will consider that one alongside the other fire and rescue authorities that amendment 109 suggests should be included. About half of the 46 fire and rescue authorities in England are already covered, as they are local authorities, but about half would not be.

My experience reflects that of the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green. Fire authorities do a good deal of work in deprived areas. They have their tenders out in deprived areas rather than in the fire station; they are doing a lot of work about fire prevention and smoke alarms; and they engage with the public in deprived areas where most fires start. They do a good deal of good work. My own Cleveland fire service, under strategic decisions taken by the authority, is excellent at engaging youngsters who, through its tentacles, it finds are about to go off the rails or are not gainfully occupied. It brings them in to do what is called the life course, which is to train them as mini-fire people for a week. Somebody—usually me—then presents them with a certificate.

It makes a huge impact on a young person who would otherwise be leaning against a wall in some fairly run-down estate to be taught discipline and have a wonderful time on a fire engine with these wonderful he-men who are good role models in a way the police cannot be. That does them enormous good, as it does when one gives them a certificate to say that they have achieved something, often for the first time. I agree therefore that the fire authorities have a strong role in tackling socio-economic underprivileged people and we will look again at that.

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone Shadow Minister (Children, Schools and Families), Liberal Democrat Spokeperson (Children, Schools and Families) 1:15, 11 June 2009

I thank the Minister for taking on board the amendments and having another look at them. To reiterate what she said, I sat on the London fire authority and the Metropolitan Police Authority when I was a member of the GLA. There is far-reaching work that could be done and it is important that that duty is placed on those authorities.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

That is what scrutiny is all about.

May I make one or two general remarks in response to points made in the debate this morning? Both Opposition parties were as one that we should not legislate to send out messages. They seemed to suggest that as a criticism, but it is only they who have conjured up that this is sending out a message. It is not. It is legislating for a purpose. It is vital that public authorities prioritise tackling persistent inequalities, carry on doing it and do it every time that they consider strategic routes forward.  Many parts of the public sector do it—of course they do now—but there is no legal duty to do it. The measure fills that gap and, in the opinion of pretty much everybody who has been asked about it in the course of this Committee, can be guaranteed to drive the agenda forward by imposing the statutory duty. It is integrally linked, as the hon. Members for Henley and for Daventry both said, with the discrimination elements of the Bill in that, of course, poverty and powerlessness make it much harder to battle with discrimination and discrimination itself can undoubtedly generate poverty and powerlessness.

If people are discriminated against, they cannot get a decent job and they will remain poor and powerless. There is a key engagement with the discrimination aspect in clause 1. That, I suspect, is why many organisations, such as the Runnymede Trust, Race on the Agenda and all who work in single-sector areas, have spoken in favour of it. A huge body of people working in the individual strands see the measure as an addition to their work and welcome it.

Socio-economic disadvantage may not be a racy phrase, but it does capture what we want to deal with. The hon. Member for Henley is not in his place, but he talked effectively about the need for outcomes to be a key focus, rather than outputs. We completely agree and that is why the clause is couched in these terms, but in order to get better equality in outputs, one has to look at lack of opportunity. The hon. Member for Forest of Dean talked about lack of opportunity. One also has to look at lack of aspiration. I used to live in a mining village in County Durham and an older miner there, some years ago, told me that people thought, two generations ago now, that when they got a public library in that village, that would empower everyone to go out and find a strong life. Poverty leads to poverty of aspiration, poor education leads to a lack of appreciation of what one can do with a library, so we have to look not only at the opportunities that libraries can give, but at aspiration. There is a complex interplay of factors.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Conservative, Daventry

I promise that I will not rise to speak all the time. I think it is an extremely important clause and I do not wish to dissent at all from what the hon. and learned Lady just said about poverty of aspiration. One word troubles me; I think it was implicit in my earlier remarks, but perhaps she would like to say a word or two about whether it is possible to tie down what is a “strategic” consideration, or a “strategic” decision. The last thing she or I would want is to have lots of litigation saying that this was purely a tactical thing or an administrative issue—the kind of thing we get on the Floor of the House when people are arguing about Ministers’ responsibilities. Is she reasonably satisfied that this is precedented and will either be coherently self-certified by the authority or be something that would, if necessary, stand up in court?

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

I will come to the issue of “strategic” shortly, but you have to listen to the advertisement first. We have done an enormous amount to tackle inequality. We can be proud of our record in reducing inequality. We introduced the national minimum wage, helping about a million low-paid employees. We have lifted 900,000 pensioners and 500,000 children out of poverty and put in place measures to help another  500,000 children escape it. We have increased our spending on early learning and child care to over £5 billion—four times the amount that was being spent in 1997—and we have increased higher education spending by nearly 50 per cent. and created about 300,000 more student places to give more pupils from all backgrounds the chance to benefit from enhanced education.

The argument advanced this morning by the hon. Member for Forest of Dean that the statutory duty to try to end fuel poverty had had no impact is not correct. We made very good progress. We saw four million households lifted out of fuel poverty and that duty drove that agenda over a very considerable time. Of course, gas and oil prices then went rocketing and we had to start again. It is not right to suggest that that more complex picture is evidence that the fuel poverty duty did not work—it did. It is actually potent evidence that this will work as well.

We have made good progress. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development study, which covered the period 1985 to 2005, shows that inequality and poverty, which had both risen in the 15 years to 2000, fell dramatically in the final five years of the study—faster in the UK than in any other OECD country. Despite our efforts, we know that there are still pockets of entrenched poverty in some parts of this country. We do not think that this is the entire solution, but we think that it is part of it.

We think we have struck the right balance with the organisations that the duty will cover. There are essentially five kinds: central Government Departments, regional development agencies, local authorities, police authorities and key health bodies—primary care trusts and strategic health authorities. The hon. Member for Glasgow, East talked about Jobcentre Plus—I think he was talking about executive agencies—which will be covered because the Department for Work and Pensions itself is covered, so its agencies are too. The only other bodies covered will be local public service partners that help local authorities when they draw up their sustainable community strategy. We think that is important.

We were also asked who we consulted, now that I have said who is involved. We spoke to representatives of all the bodies in clause 1(3)(a) to (k) and representatives from the third sector and the private sector. We have a list that I am ready to write out and deliver to all members of the Committee—I could read it out if the Committee wants me to be tiresome. It is clear that we looked at, for instance, the Homes and Communities Agency, the Planning Inspectorate, the child poverty unit, community transport, better regulation, local and regional bodies, the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives, the human rights officials, the TUC, Unison, the Audit Commission, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and the Equality and Diversity Forum. All manner of people were consulted about clause 1.

“What did they say?” was probably a good second question; the contention, I suppose, was that by not consulting we did not hear any views on the clause. There was general agreement across those bodies and the others we consulted—who I will include on the list—that the duty would usefully support the extensive existing work across the country to tackle socio-economic inequality and to ensure a more consistent, concerted  approach across organisations. It will pick up areas that are being missed and improve the co-ordination of work.

The public sector likes the flexible, non-prescriptive approach. Some third sector bodies wanted us to be more prescriptive. We sense that we might have got it right. All the consultees said that the duty should be strongly applied to central Government Departments. That is a clear message, which we have taken to heart. There was agreement that guidance needs to be carefully drafted. Not only did we consult, but we received a positive first response saying, across the piece, that this will help, even if it is not the only answer.

By “strategic decisions” we mean the points where key policy-making decisions are being made—setting overall priorities and targets, allocating funds and commissioning services. These seem to be the key points where those organisations now have to consider what they can do to tackle socio-economic disadvantage. For a Government Department that probably means its three-year funding settlement negotiations with the Treasury. A major policy decision for a local authority would be when it draws up its local area agreement—that is quite likely. For an RDA it would be when it re-evaluates its key programmes, which they do systematically, and sets priorities for the year ahead. It is less about needing extra resources, although some would be required, than about organising resources with this as a high priority. I hope that we have hit the right people at the right point by referring to strategic authorities. We have had a fair amount of discussion on targeting and monitoring. We have resisted the pressure to be very prescriptive, but we have engaged with all the monitoring, inspecting and regulatory organisations to ensure that the duty will be looked at as part of the matrix of things that they look for.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

With regard to guidance and conversations that the Minister has had with those inspectorates, does she think that the monitoring will be by way of a matrix or by way of a narrative of considering the decision-making? I ask because inequalities and outcome are referred to. Will there be measuring of movement of specific indicators or, rather than looking at outcomes, will the concern be more about how organisations go about taking strategic decisions? I do not know what sort of conversations happened.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

I think that they are still ongoing. We are not trying to prescribe particular processes, and different inspectors will probably need a different approach. We are, though, quite satisfied that it will come within the matrix of inspections, so there will be publication of the extent to which objectives required under clause 1 have been attained, however they be measured in each case. What will follow will not be some heavy enforcement mechanism. Inevitably, though, the political people involved in the local authority—or the practitioners—who press for child poverty relief, will see the outcome and will press the authority to do more. That is how we intend it to work.

In summary, we need to do more. Central Government cannot succeed on their own, so we must drive the agenda through all the authorities. The duty will put all the good work that we, and others in the public sector, are doing, on to a statutory footing. It will help us drive  progress and promote better outcomes for people who need the most help, with minimum bureaucracy and maximum flexibility. It is a core function of public services clearly to tackle all inequalities whether they arise from a characteristic, life, age or race, or whether they are due to poverty more generally. This is, overwhelmingly, the right thing to do.

I have indicated which amendments we seek to have withdrawn, and which we will consider but for whose withdrawal we would be obliged. We will return to those.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Given what the Minister said and given that I explained that amendment 2 was a probing amendment, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

An amendment to remove the exemption from the socio-economic duty in relation to people who are immigrants or asylum-seekers.

The amendment seeks to probe the Minister because I have concerns about creating a two-tier system that might make second-class citizens of foreigners who live within our shores—be they immigrants, asylum seekers, foreign students, or husbands and wives of British citizens. That might happen because subsection (7) would allow public authorities to disregard their socio-economic status. The duty would help to address chronic socio-economic inequality among immigrants—particularly asylum seekers—and make strategic bodies comply.

I come from Haringey where there is a large, vibrant population of immigrants and asylum seekers. As a result there are, obviously, a lot of children who need to attend our local schools. This is not only about the needs of asylum seekers, immigrants and their children, but about the impact that that has on schools in the area. I am surprised that the duty does not extend in that way. Surely a body such as Haringey council has a duty to consider socio-economic inequalities and the situation faced by the children of asylum seekers, and that of children already at school in Haringey. I am surprised by the Minister’s thinking and I want to probe how far it could go. This is an all-encompassing exemption, and I am not sure whether there are meant to be variants within it.

Another issue is that of asylum seekers not being able to work while they wait for a decision from the Home Office, which, with the best will in the world, can mean waiting for a long time, even if the National Asylum Support Service gives some support. When the Home Secretary considers legislation concerning people who have come to our shores, surely he or she must look at the situation regarding whether such people can work, whether they are banned from work or, until recently, whether they are given vouchers. The person in authority must make that strategic decision as policy, which I cannot imagine should be exempt from that duty. If the Home Secretary is going to decide or propose such important measures, surely regard should be given to how the person affected will survive that policy.

Photo of Evan Harris Evan Harris Shadow Science Minister 1:30, 11 June 2009

My hon. Friend makes a good point, but even if the Government wanted to preserve their ability to have policies such as the ban on work or the imposition of vouchers for asylum seekers, this measure would not preclude them from doing so as it merely suggests that they should have due regard to the issue. Asylum seekers currently face many hurdles and handicaps due to policies that may or may not be justified, and they should not be overlooked in other areas because of that disadvantage.

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone Shadow Minister (Children, Schools and Families), Liberal Democrat Spokeperson (Children, Schools and Families)

I thank my hon. Friend for clarifying my point. Another issue is whether the Secretary of State for Health could, or should, consider the socio-economic impact on asylum seekers of a refusal to give treatment for HIV/AIDS while they wait for a decision about their status in this country. Although asylum seekers can have emergency treatment, they cannot have non-emergency treatment and that might force them into illegal routes in order to buy antiretroviral drugs. Such things should be considered if we are thinking of these matters in terms of all our people, even those waiting to obtain the rights that people get once they have indefinite leave to remain.

Do the Government seek this exemption because they are fearful of a judicial review on policies such as refusing asylum seekers the right to work or treatment for HIV? In Haringey I see the consequence of such decisions. They are very long term and affect a vulnerable group of people, instilling hardship into their lives. The problem is that due to the way that decisions are taken, that can last for years on end.

Another example would be the Border and Immigration Agency, as this provision would allow it to ignore the negative impact of the charges given to people who are applying for status in this country, or passports, when those people have no means of support other than help from NASS, if they are entitled to it.

I want to invite the Minister to elaborate further on the amendment and on subsection (7), and give us some idea of how the issues that I have raised might be addressed if that subsection is not removed.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Conservative, Daventry

I am sure the hon. Lady has her heart in the right place; I have a lot of sympathy with her argument and think that the Solicitor-General has a case to respond to. However, there are two things that have rather taken down my approbation. First, she let out the revealing phrase “second-class citizens” but it is precisely because those persons are not citizens and are subject to immigration control that the issue might arise.

We might have much wider concerns about the operation of the border and immigration system, but I do not think that the Committee wishes to hear them this afternoon, nor am I seeking to covertly change the law in this area. However, the hon. Lady’s point, which it is right that the Committee should address, is whether persons who are asylum seekers, or whose status is not determined, have human rights. We need to remember throughout the process that although people are in a position where they may be disadvantaged by administrative action, they are not removed from the map. Many of us have considerable concerns—I had a very eloquent letter from a constituent this week—on precisely the issue of the treatment of people before their condition is determined. We should consider that in a different context.

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone Shadow Minister (Children, Schools and Families), Liberal Democrat Spokeperson (Children, Schools and Families)

I would like to change the comment that I made about second-class citizens and second-class human beings.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Conservative, Daventry

I take the hon. Lady’s point. Really, some human rights are indivisible and are not applicable in relation to citizenship. I was going to share with the Committee one of the brisker exchanges I had with a prison director in my constituency regarding the actions of a prison medical officer, who was denying some prescription from a prisoner, whose health, I thought, was at risk. I wrote a rather brisk letter saying that if that went on, they would be in prima facie breach of article 2. The decision was reversed in a week, and so it should have been.

There is a serious point here. Whatever asylum and immigration system we have, we need to be firm and fair at the same time. We cannot just write off people as second-class human beings—to use the excellent phrase that has been deployed—because people have human rights. At any rate, the Committee needs the Minister’s assurance that the clause is not some covert way of smuggling in further unpleasantness over and above the inherent difficulties of the situation at the expense of immigrants and asylum seekers. If we have some assurance on that, we will all feel a little easier on the provision.

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

Subsection (7) is important and must remain in the Bill. I will take a moment to explain it. For a start, let me explain what it will not do. Certain public authorities, as the hon. Members for Hornsey and Wood Green and for Daventry know, have a duty of care towards people who are subject to immigration control. The subsection will not affect that in any way. Nor will it affect those public authorities that go beyond—as I know my local authority does—responsibilities in this regard. Many do, but it is up to them to treat each situation on its merits.

For instance, people who have refugee status usually have full access to services and are allowed to work. We have a clear aim for those who are legally allowed to remain in this country, which is to earn citizenship. We want them to learn English, find employment, integrate into society, contribute to the country and be welcome additions to it. We run integration programmes for refugees to try to ease their way out of socio-economic deprivation. We try to give initial decisions on applications for asylum relatively quickly—we are far quicker now than before. Following appeal, if necessary, we try to aim for within six months.

In the meantime, as the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green knows, the applicants have statutory rights. They are legally entitled to remain in the country and are not here unlawfully, but it is not appropriate to force authorities to give particular attention to the socio-economic disadvantages of that group. No public body will be forced to go beyond their existing responsibilities, but their existing responsibilities are substantial.

The rationale is pretty clear, and I put it as bluntly as necessary. Our position on people who are here unlawfully is that we are keen to deter them from entering and remaining here illegally, and to remove them if they are not entitled to be here. Unless people have shown that they have a right to remain, we leave it to the public authorities, whose responsibility it is to ensure that  people are subject to immigration control and are not pressured by the new duty, and I believe that they seek to deal with people in a compassionate way.

Photo of Tim Boswell Tim Boswell Conservative, Daventry

For the record, will the Solicitor-General confirm that there is absolutely no detriment proposed or likened from the clause to the existing human rights and rights in law that they have?

Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Solicitor General, Attorney General's Office

It is about not adding the new duty on to authorities that already have clear statutory responsibilities for this body of people.

Photo of Lynne Featherstone Lynne Featherstone Shadow Minister (Children, Schools and Families), Liberal Democrat Spokeperson (Children, Schools and Families)

I am heartened by the Minister’s reassurances, but perhaps it is in the execution and the time lag that some of these issues come to my surgery, for instance, where I do see the situations that I described and real hardship. They must fall between the intention and the reality. However, I take what the Minister said and I thank her for it. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Committee divided: Ayes 12, Noes 4.

Division number 1 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 1

Aye: 12 MPs

No: 4 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.