Clause 11 - Accommodation For Asylum-Seekers Etc

Nationality and Borders Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 21st October 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:15 pm, 21st October 2021

I beg to move amendment 98, in clause 11, page 14, line 26, at end insert—

“(3A) In section 16 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Establishment of centres), at end insert—

‘(4) For the purposes of this Part, references to ‘persons’ do not include—

(a) children;

(b) women;

(c) individuals with a disability;

(d) individuals who have been referred to the National Referral Mechanism;

(e) survivors of torture;

(f) individuals who identify as LGBTQ+.;

(g) family members of any persons in the groups listed in paragraphs (a) to (f).

(5) For the purposes of subsection (4), ‘family members’ includes—

(a) dependent children;

(b) partners/spouses;

(c) in relation to children—

(i) their siblings;

(ii) any other individual who is the relevant child’s guardian.’”

This amendment would restrict the use of accommodation centres for accommodating people seeking asylum so that the state groups, and their family members, cannot be accommodated in them.

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Conservative, North Thanet

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment 99, in clause 11, page 14, line 26, at end insert—

“(3A) In section 16 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Establishment of centres), at end insert—

‘(2A) Accommodation provided under this section must—

(a) have a capacity of no more than 100 residents, and

(b) provide any unrelated residents at the centre with an individual room for sleeping.’”

This amendment would prevent accommodation centres from accommodating more than 100 people, and would ensure that residents were not required to share sleeping quarters with residents to whom they are not related.

Amendment 100, in clause 11, page 14, line 30, at end insert—

“(4A) After section 17 of that Act, insert—

‘17A  Right of appeal for support under section 17

(none) If the Secretary of State decides not to provide support to a person under section 17, or not to continue to provide support to him or her under that section, the person may appeal to the First-tier Tribunal.’”

This amendment would ensure there is a right of appeal against a decision by the Secretary of State to refuse or end support provided under section 17 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.

Amendment 104, in clause 11, page 14, line 41, at end insert—

“(22B) Accommodation Centres, whether for supported asylum seekers or failed asylum seekers shall not allow for limitations upon a supported person’s right—

(a) to enter or to leave at any time;

(b) to receive visitors of their choice at any time; or

(c) to use communications equipment such as telephones, computers or video equipment.

(22C) Accommodation Centres shall provide supported persons with access to a complaints procedure and procedures for appealing any decisions that may restrict a supported person’s claim to freedoms not limited by their conditions of bail.

(22D) Persons supported in Accommodation Centres shall be informed of the conditions of their bail in writing, and shall be provided with means of identifying themselves are their place of residence.”

This amendment aims to distinguish Accommodation Centres from places of detention by introducing rights to persons supported at these Centres, and to require persons in Accommodation Centres to be informed of their bail conditions and provided with means of identifying themselves.

Amendment 130, in clause 11, page 15, line 1, leave out from “subsection” to end of line 2 and insert—

“(1) for ‘six months’ substitute ‘90 days’.”

Clause 11(8) currently amends the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 to allow the Secretary of State to increase the maximum length of time someone can be accommodated in an accommodation centre from the existing limit of six months. This amendment would remove that power and instead reduce the maximum stay to ninety days.

Amendment 16, in clause 11, page 15, line 1, leave out subsection (8).

This amendment would prevent asylum seekers from being housed in accommodation centres for longer than nine months.

Amendment 17, in clause 11, page 15, line 2, at end insert—

“(8A) The Secretary of State must lay a report before Parliament each year setting out—

(a) the numbers of asylum seekers in different types of accommodation; and

(b) the steps the Government is taking to maximise the number of asylum seekers in dispersed community accommodation, including provision of financial support to local authorities.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to produce an annual report on the accommodation provided to asylum seekers.

Amendment 101, in clause 11, page 15, line 2, at end insert—

“(8A) In section 25 of that Act (length of stay in accommodation centre), in subsection (1), for ‘six months’ substitute ‘90 days’.”

This amendment would reduce the maximum length of time someone can be accommodated in an accommodation centre to 90 days in most cases.

Amendment 102, in clause 11, page 15, line 4, at end insert—

“(10) In section 38 of that Act (Local authority), after subsection (2) insert—

‘(2A) The Secretary of State may not make arrangements under section 16 for the provision of premises within the boundary of a local authority unless consent has been given by that local authority.’”

This would amend section 38 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 to prevent the Government from opening an accommodation centre within a particular local authority without the prior consent of that local authority.

Amendment 103, in clause 11, page 15, line 4, at end insert—

“(10) Leave out section 36 of that Act (Education: general).”

Section 36 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 prevents most children accommodated in accommodation centres from attending state schools. This amendment would remove that restriction.

Amendment 160, in clause 11, page 15, line 4, at end insert—

“(10) Before this section comes into force, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report on the implications of this section for local authorities, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland Executive, and the report must be approved by a substantive vote in both Houses.

(11) A report under subsection (10) must include the following information—

(a) an assessment of the financial implications for the bodies listed in subsection (10);

(b) an assessment of the functions and powers of those bodies that will be affected by this section;

(c) details of any consultation and engagement with those bodies, and the outcome of such engagement and consultation;

(d) the Secretary of State’s findings, conclusions and proposed actions.”

This amendment would require the Government to report on the implications of clause 11 for local authorities and the devolved administrations, and to obtain Parliamentary approval for such a report, before the clause enters into force.

Clause stand part.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

It is good to see you in the Chair again, Sir Roger. I rise to speak in support of amendment 98 and the other amendments in this group, but against the clause standing part of the Bill.

Clause 11 brings us to the question of how we accommodate asylum seekers, including, of course, the Uyghur, the persecuted Christian and the Syrian I keep referring to. Precisely how they are accommodated can have a profound impact on them. When I had the pleasure to be co-opted on to the Public Accounts Committee for a day back in October 2020 for an evidence session with the permanent secretary of the Home Office, I asked him whether there was a commitment at the Home Office to return to a reliance on community dispersal and a target to end hotel use by a certain date, and to end the use of military barracks as detention centres. He responded:

“There is not a target date, but we are obviously keen to do those things as soon as possible. Both those measures—the use of hotels and the use of other assets owned by the Government, including by the Ministry of Defence—are temporary, to take account of the surge in demand.”

He went on to outline various measures through which that would happen, including faster decisions and fairer distribution models. When he came before the Home Affairs Committee recently, he maintained that that was still the Department’s intention.

It would be reassuring to hear from the Minister today that he and the Secretary of State intend to commit to that model and that goal. Community dispersal is definitely the best system, although I accept that its current operation is far from ideal, as reports from the Home Affairs Committee have made clear. The system gives local authorities immense responsibilities, but few powers and even less by way of resources with which to fulfil those responsibilities. At the same time, significant problems with inappropriate and poor-quality accommodation have been identified.

We need a Bill that addresses those challenges. If this Bill did so, it would undoubtedly expand the capacity in dispersed accommodation. If it did that, the Bill would have our support and I would stop defending councils that did not participate in dispersal. To that end, amendment 17 calls for the Secretary of State to report each year on the types of institution in which asylum seekers are being housed and the steps that are being taken towards realising the goal of maximising the use of dispersal accommodation, including the financial support being offered to councils. Surely the Minister cannot find anything objectionable in that, if maximising the use of dispersal accommodation is genuinely the Government’s goal.

The problem is that the Bill tends to suggest, as does a lot of other evidence, that the Government are not pursuing that goal and are more interested in taking a different route. The Minister has to explain why this clause exists if the Government want to opt for dispersal accommodation as their central goal. The available evidence tells us that large-scale institutional accommodation centres are, by a distance, a disastrous alternative. That is putting it far too nicely when it comes to what happened at Napier Barracks, and yet correspondence from the Home Secretary to the chair of the Home Affairs Committee, and the explanatory memorandum to the special development order that extended Napier’s use, expressly suggests that Napier is supposed to be treated as a model or a pilot for the accommodation centres that feature in the Bill.

That is a truly terrifying path to go down, as the totally inappropriate nature of Napier Barracks is well documented in numerous reports and the High Court judgment, which was described as finding that

“the arrangements and conditions in which asylum seekers were held, posed significant risks that their physical and mental health would be harmed.”

According to the findings, Napier Barracks was overcrowded and felt like a prison. For residents, the environment was reminiscent of previous experiences of detention in places where they were tortured. Dormitory accommodation meant there was no privacy or quiet, and sleep was interrupted repeatedly. Cleaning was poor, and the inadequate shower facilities were frequently broken, unusable, dirty or unsanitary. They were also communal, which was particularly difficult for those with visible scarring from torture.

The all-party parliamentary group on immigration detention has highlighted extensive testimony that backs up the judgment of the High Court. The group has identified problems with poor Home Office identification and safeguarding of vulnerable people, and repeated instances of self-harm and attempted suicide on site —in short,

“profoundly negative impacts…on the mental health of residents, many of whom were already vulnerable.”

That all shows precisely why we should not go down this route, and why this clause should not stand part of the Bill.

Most of the remaining amendments in this group challenge the Minister to outline more about what the Home Office has in mind on how these centres will look and operate. Amendment 98 poses a question to the Minister. Can he tell us who will be placed in these accommodation centres? Will it be women and children? Will it be people with physical disabilities? Will it be individuals who are suspected to be survivors of modern slavery or trafficking? Will it be survivors of torture? Will it be LGBT people?

A Home Office policy document suggests that such groups should not be accommodated at Napier, so I hope it will not be difficult for the Government to agree to such an amendment. However, there is a challenge; as I alluded to earlier, there have been multiple examples of where that policy does not appear to have been appropriately adhered to, and we require reassurance that that will be done properly.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I hope I can provide the hon. Gentleman with some clarification at this early juncture. We have no intention to accommodate children in accommodation centres. More broadly, decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis, as set out in policy, in relation to other individuals. I hope that gives him the assurance he seeks.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

It gives me reassurance that children will not be housed in such accommodation, and I think all hon. Members will welcome that. However, we are again being asked, essentially, to legislate blind. As parliamentarians, we are repeatedly told that all sorts of important information will be set out in guidance and in immigration rules, but before we give the Government the power to go ahead, we must least be told what they intend to put in that guidance and those immigration rules.

All sorts of other questions that I have asked—about people with physical or mental health problems, and survivors of modern slavery and trafficking—have yet to be answered. How soon do the Government want to put these people in such accommodation? I want to hear the answers before the Committee is asked to vote on whether the Bill should contain the protection that we propose.

Amendment 103—it is probably redundant in light of the Minister’s welcome reassurance—enables us to ask how, if there were to be children in accommodation centres, those children would be educated. Section 36 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 means that most children in such centres cannot attend state schools. This amendment would remove that restriction, but I am pleased to hear that that question will not arise.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

The Minister said that it was not the Government’s intention, which does not necessarily mean it will not happen. It was not the Government’s intention to put people in unsafe accommodation, as happened with Napier, or to put people at risk in accommodation in my constituency, where there was an inevitable covid outbreak. Perhaps the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East is generous and I am cynical, but I would like something clearer than an intention from the guidance.

Photo of Stewart McDonald Stewart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence)

Perhaps I am not generous so much as realistic; given my form so far, I suspect I will not be able to win any votes in this place, so I will have to settle for what I can get, which is ministerial assurance. The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. As we know from our debates on nationality law and registration fees, Parliament’s intention in 1981 was for fees to be a certain price, but that intention has gone out the window because the Home Office was given the power to do something different, which it did. The intentions of the current Government and Minister are good, but that does not mean that we should not ask for these things to be in the Bill. Who knows what another Minister or Secretary of State might want to do in five, 10 or 20 years’ time?

Amendment 99 is designed to ask the Minister more about how accommodation centres will look. Can the Minister commit to ensuring that none of these institutions will hold more than 100 people? Can he commit to ensuring that there will not be room sharing between unrelated residents—something that has been repeatedly criticised by the cross-party Home Affairs Committee—or will there be more of the dreadful dormitories that we have seen at Napier?

Amendments 16, 101 and 130 represent an over-the-top and mob-handed way to object to the Government’s proposal to keep people at such centres for longer than the six months currently permitted by law. We probably did not need three different amendments to make this point, but it is an important one. Amendments 101 and 130 would reduce the maximum stay to 30 days. That is consistent with the idea that any type of institutional accommodation centre should be used only for an initial period, not for an extended period. In correspondence with the Home Affairs Committee, the Home Secretary was very clear that the practice at Napier is that steps are taken to move people to dispersal accommodation once they have been at Napier for 60 days. Given the terrible impact that lengthy stays at Napier and Penally have been shown to have on individuals, we should be looking to reduce, not lengthen, the time for which people are placed in such accommodation.

The statutory history behind amendment 100 is complicated. In a nutshell, earlier legislation provides for the accommodation of destitute asylum seekers with support under section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, or in emergency situations with section 98 support. Another power to accommodate asylum seekers under section 17 of the 2002 Act has never been commenced, but clause 11 amends it, and presumably it is going to be brought into force at some point. When section 17 of the 2002 Act was passed, it was intended that refusals of section 17 support would attract a right of appeal under section 53 of the 2002 Act, similar to the right of appeal in relation to section 95 support under the 1999 Act. The simple question for the Minister is this. If and when section 17 support is brought into force, will there be a right of appeal against refusal of that support?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office) 3:30 pm, 21st October 2021

I would like to confirm that that is not relevant, as we are not proposing to accommodate anyone under section 17.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

I am grateful, because that clarifies the issue. Amendment 104 is in the name of our Labour colleagues, but it has our full support. It makes the point that it is essential that accommodation centres are not de facto detention centres or prisons, in the way that Napier has been, with basic liberties and freedoms more theoretical than real. It raises a crucial question about how we can ensure that such places have accountability and oversight.

The Government will be using sections of the 2002 Act that are not yet in force to implement many of their policy goals, but there is still dubiety about precisely which ones. Section 33 of the Act would have created advisory groups for each accommodation centre, with powers to hear complaints from residents and report to the Home Office. Is that section to be commenced? If not, what alternatives do the Government propose to ensure that such centres are subject to appropriate oversight? I will leave it to the shadow Minister to flesh out that point.

Amendments 102 and 160 take us back to how the Home Office engages—or, rather, does not engage—with other tiers of Government. The Minister was perhaps asleep at the wheel earlier, because his answer was short on detail about engagement with local authorities, and in particular, the devolved Administrations. I accept that asylum is reserved, but these institutions touch on all sorts of powers and services that are the remit of devolved Governments and Parliaments or local authorities, including planning policy and the provision of health, social or other welfare services and education services. In particular, consistent with our championing of local government autonomy and the idea that local government should be seen as a partner rather than an assistant of the Home Office, amendment 102 demands that these centres not be built in a local authority’s territory without consent from that local authority.

The way in which local councils were treated in relation to both Napier and Penally was disgraceful. The Home Office did not even consult Folkestone & Hythe District Council and Kent County Council about the extension of planning permission at Napier because, it said, of urgency, and yet as the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee notes, it must have known for at least 12 months that planning permission would have expired. It had 12 months in which to carry out consultation, but that was still the excuse.

As I said at the outset, we pose all these questions with a view to ascertaining what precisely the Government intend and why there are not greater constraints in the Bill, but ultimately we believe that this is not the right direction of travel. We support community dispersal—improving that system, making it work better, and involving more councils. We hope that the Government come back to that view and make that system work instead.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I will speak to the three amendments that are in my name and the names of others, but I will start by speaking to amendment 104.

No one on this Committee can fail to have seen the extremely worrying track record of the Government when it comes to accommodation for asylum seekers. The appalling headlines in connection with Napier Barracks cannot have failed to reach anyone who takes any sort of interest in the news. We are deeply concerned, therefore, that in clause 11 there are provisions for creating asylum accommodation centres. The clause suggests a possible wide-scale replication of the type of accommodation seen at Napier Barracks. That is because clause 11 gives the Government powers to house different groups of asylum seekers in undefined accommodation centres. It seems that these centres will involve congregated living in hostel-type accommodation, which has been shown to be unsuitable to house people in the asylum system for long periods. Such a move away from housing in the community is likely to impede integration prospects and will make access to needed support and services more difficult.

Clause 11 also creates new powers to provide different types of housing—namely, accommodation centres—for those at different stages of their asylum claim, including those with “inadmissible” asylum claims. The rationale given in the explanatory notes to the Bill is that that will

“increase efficiencies within the system and increase compliance”, although again no evidence is given to support that claim.

The term “accommodation centre” is not clearly defined, although the implication is that it will mean that more people seeking asylum will be living in large-scale congregated settings. It is important to state clearly that this represents a wholescale move away from the current dispersal system, whereby people live in homes in the community across the country.

There is therefore a clear indication that the Government are seeking to replicate the kind of inhumane accommodation that we have seen at Napier. As I will set out, this prison-like, isolated and dystopian accommodation provides an extremely poor environment for engaging with asylum claims. There is strong evidence that such accommodation is likely to retraumatise extremely vulnerable people and hinder future integration.

The Government may seek to deny that a punitive approach is part of their agenda, but such a denial would not tally with the actions of the Home Secretary in August, when she visited the notorious reception centre on the Greek island of Samos; campaigners have described it as “prison-like” and “inhumane”. It is shocking that, having visited the Greek reception centres in the summer, the Home Secretary appears to wish to emulate the system whereby more than 7,500 refugees, including 1,700 children, are being detained in refugee camps in unsanitary and inhumane conditions.

However, the evidence that that is indeed the intention seems clear, because in August the Home Secretary also published a prior information notice for the procurement of new accommodation centres, with initial submissions invited by the end of September 2021. The details of the tender are subject to commercial confidentiality and therefore the details are known only to potential contractors who have signed non-disclosure agreements. What is public is that the contract is to be delivered in accordance with part 2 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, and it is stated that it is for housing up to 8,000 people for periods of up to six months. The tender raises serious concerns about how that approach will interact with provisions set out in clause 11, given that contracts will be awarded before the Bill receives Royal Assent. There are also clear concerns about how accountability and standards can be maintained in asylum accommodation when there is no public access to these contracts.

It is also worth stating for the record that since April 2020, the Home Office has been using two large-scale accommodation centres for asylum-seeking men who have arrived in the UK by boat—Napier barracks in Kent, and the Penally camp in Wales, which is now closed. A report by the all-party parliamentary group on immigration detention noted that, although legally speaking, those are not detention centres, they none the less replicate

“many of the features found in detained settings—including visible security measures, shared living quarters, reduced levels of privacy, and isolation from the wider community”.

Our amendment would take away the detention element of those accommodation centres, as we feel that those de facto detention conditions are completely cruel and wholly inappropriate, and will hinder future integration.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

It is not just the detention centres. The Government seem to have learned nothing from Napier. Most recently, they put 500 men in a 73-bed hostel in my constituency.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

That is deeply concerning and shows that the Government have not learned any lessons from Napier.

Before I come to the specifics of the amendment, I will first set out exactly why the Government’s record on Napier barracks, alongside the provisions in clause 11, sets such alarm bells ringing. In doing so, I will demonstrate why the amendment is so necessary.

Organisations from the refugee sector that have worked with people held in Napier have identified and documented the following conditions:

“A pattern of spiralling mental health among people placed at Napier. Many people arrive already struggling with self-harm and/ or suicidal ideation, so this is a profoundly harmful context for them.

Chronic sleep deprivation among residents at Napier.

Conditions that are cold and dirty and afford no opportunity for privacy or social distancing.

An isolated and prison-like setting.

A total lack of mental health support onsite; very minimal healthcare onsite, and problems for residents in accessing healthcare in the community.

A sense among residents, in line with HMIP’s observation, of being trapped on site.

Profound vulnerabilities and histories of trauma among residents at Napier are not always obvious on the surface and can be difficult for individuals to disclose in general. Napier is then a very poor context for disclosure, as the prison-like setting is not conducive to building trust. We are therefore concerned that it is not possible to create a screening mechanism for Napier that would pick up all relevant vulnerabilities.

There is very little communication with residents about their asylum case.

Additionally, it is very difficult for individuals to access adequate legal advice, and they frequently go ahead with asylum interviews without having consulted a legal adviser. Virtually no one placed at Napier is able to access face to face meetings with legal advisers, and this seriously obstructs identification and disclosure of trauma.”

Residents of Napier and Penally who have given evidence to the APPG on immigration detention have described the Napier and Penally sites as feeling “prison-like”. Prison conditions have a traumatising effect on people who are already vulnerable as a result of previous experiences that have forced them to seek protection. Ministers must surely be aware that there are bound to be serious concerns about the potential use of such draconian accommodation centres for asylum-seeking men.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I might be able to help the hon. Gentleman. The accommodation centres that we are proposing are not detention centres. Individuals can leave the centres at any time—they may have obtained accommodation with friends or family, for example.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I welcome the Minister’s comments, but it would have been helpful if that information had been provided beforehand, because we are still in the dark about what the accommodation centres will be like.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

While acknowledging the Minister’s point, Napier and Penally barracks may not have been detention centres, but a number of freedoms and rights were impeded at those sites, and that is why we need to press this point.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. She is absolutely right: even if rights are only restricted, that is not acceptable.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

On a quick point of clarification, I said “500 men in a 73-bed hostel”, but that is certainly not what the Home Office has done in my constituency. They are 73-bed rooms.

The Minister has made a claim that is not the lived reality of the people the Home Office has placed in my constituency, including those 500 men. They have stewards, in effect, who have been telling those people not to leave hotel and hostel accommodation. They were not provided with interpreters; they were not provided with any means of accessing the internet; and the Government have prevented inspectors from going in, including Bishop Paul Butler and the Refugee, Asylum and Migration Policy project, who were promised access to Napier barracks and other accommodation by Ministers. The Government have rescinded that commitment. Perhaps the Minister could tell us why bishops and others are being kept out? What are the Government trying to hide?

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office) 3:45 pm, 21st October 2021

My hon. Friend is right about those conditions not being conducive to being able to make a claim with any confidence or certainty.

I was talking about asylum-seeking women. As we highlighted in the debate on clause 10, many such women are survivors of rape and other forms of gendered violence, and such large-scale accommodation is characterised by a lack of privacy. The APPG on immigration detention further notes that at Napier and Penally,

“The lack of private space was also forcing residents to hold sensitive discussions, for example with lawyers, within earshot of other residents and/or staff.”

For many asylum-seeking women who have experienced rape and other gender-based violence, disclosure of their previous experience can be very difficult as a result of the shame and stigma they feel. Accommodation centres lacking privacy is likely to have a specific impact on them, and make it particularly difficult for them to get their claims to protection recognised.

Coupled with that, the punitive detention-type elements of the centres as they are currently run are likely to be retraumatising. We are therefore deeply concerned that clause 11 seeks to expand inappropriate large-scale detention-style accommodation centres. In short, it seems like a way of actively inflicting increased harm on already vulnerable people. Our amendment seeks to ameliorate some of those centres’ worst aspects.

Given everything that has been outlined, it is hardly surprising that the High Court made a damning assessment of Napier barracks. Mr Justice Linden ruled on 3 June 2021 that the accommodation at Napier barracks was inadequate, in that it did not meet the minimum standards required by the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. Both the process for selecting people to be sent to Napier barracks and the process for monitoring its ongoing suitability while those people were there were flawed and unlawful, and from 15 January 2021, the residents were given an order to not leave the site until they were permitted to do so. The claimants were unlawfully detained, both under common law and the European convention on human rights.

Similarly, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons’ report on Napier and Penally raised a number of serious concerns about Napier, including, inter alia, the following: the screening of potential residents for physical and mental health problems was “wholly inadequate”, with all of those interviewed at Napier reporting feeling depressed and a third feeling suicidal, and extremely poor communication with the people accommodated at Napier. Again, we argue that our amendment is necessary to ensure safeguards that will prevent similar future judgments.

Of course, we know why the Government are taking a more draconian approach to asylum accommodation: it is part of the continuing hostile environment ethos that takes a punitive, negative stance on all matters relating to asylum. Their approach is also clearly fuelled by the misguided idea that taking such a punitive stance will act as a deterrent to those seeking asylum. However, as we stated in the debate on clause 10, there is no evidence that that is the case. Desperate people who are determined to make dangerous journeys will not be deterred when their lives are at stake. The idea that the kind of accommodation awaiting them at the other end has any bearing on people seeking refuge is laughable. People escaping for their lives are not weighing up accommodation in the same way that Ministers might weigh up the merits of a Hilton hotel versus a Travelodge. The idea that making accommodation punitive could in any sense act as a deterrent shows a fundamental misunderstanding of why refugees are prepared to risk their lives to find safety.

However, the kind of accommodation that awaits refugees can do extreme damage if it hinders integration and retraumatises vulnerable people. When the accommodation provided—as in the case of Napier—dehumanises people, puts them in danger of covid-19 and is found to be unlawful, that corrodes the values that make us a civilised society, undermines our reputation as a tolerant and welcoming nation, and gives the nod to some of the most undesirable attitudes that would seek to demonise those in need.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

Does my hon. Friend share my concern about increased criminality by gangs targeting the accommodation to get people involved in criminal activity? That is a direct result of policy from the Department that is meant to oversee law and order.

Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Shadow Minister (Home Office)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. These are vulnerable people, and they are subject to being exploited if appropriate measures are not taken to prevent that from happening. Having them all in one place allows criminals to prey on them.

I come on to the specifics of amendment 104. As I have set out, we have the gravest doubts about the clause. I find it disturbing. Our amendment seeks to ameliorate some of the worst aspects. I will set out each of its aims in more detail.

Presently, persons held in barracks and hotel accommodation are sometimes prevented from entering or leaving their place of accommodation at certain times and some places of accommodation prevent visitors from entering. The amendment addresses this inappropriately draconian situation by inserting proposed new section 22B into the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. It would qualify that the measure—in new section 22A, which relates to accommodation provided under sections 95A and 98A of the 1999 Act—to allow for the provision of accommodation in an accommodation centre, must allow for persons to be supported to enter or leave the accommodation centre at any time.

Although some controls on entry may be required to prevent persons hostile to residents of accommodation centres from entering, we believe that those held in such centres should be allowed to invite their own visitors. They should also not be precluded from communication with the outside world. The amendment would therefore introduce the right for the supported person

“(b) to receive visitors of their choice at any time; or

(c) to use communications equipment such as telephones, computers or video equipment.”

People working with persons supported in accommodation centres report that some persons in accommodation centres are unaware of their conditions of bail and may not have been provided with the conditions of their bail in writing. That places them at risk of arrest and detention for unknowingly breaching those conditions, or being unable to evidence their identity. The amendment would therefore introduce the provision that persons supported in accommodation centres must be provided with a written document setting out any conditions of bail.

Where controls or restrictions on freedom of movement of supported persons or their visitors are in place, a process for submissions by way of a complaints procedure needs to be in place, and the amendment would introduce a complaints procedure relating to the conditions of the accommodation and a procedure for appealing any decisions that may restrict the person’s freedoms, which will not apply to their bail conditions.

As has been argued, legal action taken against the Government over the suitability of Napier barracks for certain vulnerable groups has shown that the existing system has failed to maintain appropriate safeguards. The possibly widespread expansion of the system that the clause seeks to implement is very alarming and should be deeply concerning to any Member of this House.

The move away from community-based housing is poorly defined. Accommodation centres will unquestionably lower living standards for those seeking asylum. That is not an accident—it is the very design of the Bill and the clause. By the same measure, they will impede integration and advance a more draconian, prison-like setting for asylum seekers, who are, by their very definition, already traumatised individuals. If we do not agree our amendment, asylum seekers will find themselves in cold, dirty, isolated conditions, with all but no support services.

Given the widespread denunciations of the Home Office’s decision to house asylum seekers in Napier barracks, not least by the High Court, it is remarkable that the Government now seek to replicate it elsewhere. It should be noted that Mr Justice Linden criticised what he called the “detention-like” setting for the men there. Our amendment seeks to take away the detention element of the accommodation centres. They are de facto detention centres with prison-like conditions, which are cruel, wholly inappropriate and damaging to the individuals concerned. They can do nothing but increase harm and stress on already marginalised and vulnerable people whom we are beholden to protect under our international treaty obligations.

To speak plainly, the Government have got the wrong end of the stick. Clause 11 helps no one. They will find themselves on the wrong side of history with their ever-more draconian and hostile approach to asylum accommodation and, unamended, this clause starkly highlights that point. Amendment 104 should be supported to rectify that situation and ensure safeguards for the future. It would be utterly shameful if the clause, as it stands, enabled a repetition of the appalling situation at Napier barracks.

Without amendment, clause 11 will undermine the UK’s duty to support and protect those making asylum claims. We believe that the current dispersal system, whereby people seeking asylum live in regular housing in the community, is much better for supporting future integration and ensuring that people seeking asylum are able to access services that they need. We would rather see safeguards in place than the kind of appalling situation seen at Napier.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

We heard that the devolved Governments were prevented from taking part in the consultation because it took place during purdah in the run-up to their elections. However, Shona Robison MSP, the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Housing and Local Government in the Scottish Government, wrote a comprehensive response last month, in which she stated:

“This Government is clear that people should be supported to integrate within our communities from day one of arrival in line with the key principle of our New Scots refugee integration strategy. We are committed to the principle of community based integration for refugees and people seeking asylum. The New Scots approach is not compatible with use of remote and institutionalised camps. Such asylum accommodation will also not fix the underlying issues causing shortages in the asylum estate, which include the fairness, quality and timeliness of the asylum application and decision process.”

The position of the Scottish Government is the complete opposite of that of the UK Government, but their hands are tied. We cannot do what we want to do in Scotland to support our asylum seekers. That cannot be right.

Shona Robison also said:

“The Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration’s report highlighted significant issues”, as we have heard,

“with the management of Napier Barracks and Penally, their suitability, safety and the impact this type of accommodation had on people living there. The report also raised concerns about contingency of healthcare if people are moved around the asylum estate. I would add to this contingency of legal representation, essential services and support networks, which must be considered.”

However, we are not talking only about barracks; there are many other types of accommodation that people had to live in. People were taken out of their homes where they were settled and put into Glasgow hostels and hotels last year. The Minister says things like, “This is not our intention.” I do not imagine that it was anyone’s intention for the men I met in the hostel close to where I live to be living in dirty accommodation, but they were, because they had nothing to clean up after themselves with. What most upset them the day I first met them was that they had nothing to clean their toilets with. They were living in tiny rooms, and if they did their washing in the tiny sink in what we will call the en suite—the toilet was in the room—they had to leave their wet clothes on the bed to dry off. I can tell hon. Members that, in Glasgow, that does not happen quickly; our temperatures are slightly different. They said that they could not keep the toilets clean and that there was no support. They were not looking for people to clean up after them, but because their access to finance had been taken from them, they could not even go and buy a toilet brush and bleach. It was a pretty awful situation.

There is also the so-called mother and baby unit that Mears has set up on behalf of the Home Office in Glasgow. I spoke to women who, without any notice, got a visit and were told, “Pack your bags. You and the baby”—or the bump; some were pregnant, some had just given birth—“are moving”. They were settled in communities among friends, they knew where the GP and the shops were and they knew how much things cost, but they were taken out of those communities at almost no notice. Many of them were told that they could take two carrier bags’ worth of goods and no more. These people had babies. I do not know anybody with a baby who can leave the house with fewer than two bags, but they were told by agents acting on behalf of the Government that they could take two carrier bags of stuff.

One of them said, “I was living in Pollok”, on the south side of Glasgow, “and was surrounded by wonderful neighbours. It was my baby’s first Christmas and all the neighbours had come round with Christmas presents.” That is why we want community dispersal. We want people to be part of a community. It benefits not just asylum seekers but everybody in the community—and that community certainly supported that woman and her baby. They took round Christmas presents, but then she was told to leave them behind because there was no room for them in the mother and baby unit. She was devastated because those presents were a symbol of acceptance and love from her community.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office) 4:00 pm, 21st October 2021

May I repeat the point that I made earlier about the policy approach that we intend to adopt in accommodation centres, which is that children will not be accommodated in them?

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

I was really glad to hear the Minister say that, but then my cynical friend the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark pointed out that this is not about the intention but about making it crystal clear in the legislation—and perhaps the way to do that is to accept amendment 98. I hear what the Minister says, and yet still we have babies accommodated in a mother and baby unit. I have been fighting since January to get them out and have been told, “Okay, we will take them out of there.” There is a fantastic campaign called Freedom to Crawl, which points out that the rooms are so tiny that the development of these tiny babies—some of them becoming toddlers—is stifled because they do not have the freedom or the room to crawl. The Minister can tell me that they are not going to house children in those centres, but that is what is currently happening. If he thinks that is wrong, I would be glad to have his support to put an end to it.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I am talking very specifically about accommodation centres in relation to the clause. If the hon. Lady writes to me with the specifics of the mother and baby unit in her local area, I will take that away and look at it.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

I know that we have said “another letter” a number of times today, but I appreciate that offer. I understand that the Minister might not have heard of the unit because it is in Glasgow—although his predecessor might have known about it—but I would be happy for him to look at it.

Along with Alf DubsLord Dubs—I co-chair the all-party parliamentary group on refugees. We recently held a meeting to look at types of accommodation centres. We had a guest, a former politician from Belarus, who told us a story about why such accommodation does not work. He had to leave Belarus for political reasons in 2017. He had no choice. He was in serious fear of his and his wife’s safety. He said, “I am very grateful for the help and support that I have had, and I appreciate Britain taking me in.” He was really appreciative and not complaining, but he said now that he is settled he wants to make this point as much as he can so that other people do not go through what he went through when he initially got here.

They arrived in London and were put in shared accommodation in a hostel called Barry House, a big house full of, as he described it, “people like ourselves” who were seeking asylum. The people who lived in the house were from different backgrounds and cultures with different ideas about lots of issues. He said the staff did their best to make it comfortable, but it was not really possible to be comfortable. During the six months he was there, every day started and ended with some sort of scandal or argument. He described it as a powder keg, and we can understand why, because many of those people had post-traumatic stress disorder, and many of them spoke different languages, so we can imagine how stressful that would be. He said, “We tried to keep ourselves to ourselves—I couldn’t always tell what the arguments were about”, but he could feel the stress coming off other people. He said it was difficult for the staff to look after so many people; one thing he mentioned was everyone’s different dietary requirements, due to a number of things, including culture. He said the staff tried their best to provide a neutral menu, which meant that nobody was happy, but of course they did not feel they could complain, because they were grateful that they were no longer in their previous situation.

We have talked about not housing people with disabilities in that kind of accommodation, as mentioned in amendment 98. This gentleman had diabetes and is also a wheelchair user, and he said his health suffered because of the diabetes and he could not get access to the type of food he needs to maintain his insulin levels. He talked about using the toilets and said there was a limited number he could use, and because there were so many people in there, sometimes he had to wait for hours to use the few toilets he was able to get access to. He said it was like daily torture just trying to use the toilet, and a shower became a luxury for him.

This gentleman needed a specialist bed because of his mobility problems, but of course he could not get one because the rooms were so tiny he could not get one in. He said to me, “I knew I couldn’t go home. It wasn’t possible to go home. I thought I was safe, but I began to have suicidal thoughts at the centre. My life was at risk in Belarus, but it felt like my life was just disappearing in the UK.”

At the time, this gentleman said the stress and pressure was just enormous and that, had it not been for the Refugee Council in England, which provided a psychologist who gave him the belief he could get through it, he would not have survived. He said, “It was really difficult. I was a politician at home. I had what was considered a high standing in society, and I came here and I felt like absolutely nobody.” He said he was not underplaying everybody else’s problems; everybody else had serious problems, and when they are housed in accommodation together, the problems multiply. As I said, he described it as a powder keg and said that everybody had had negative experiences and everybody was scared of different things. Somebody is scared of noises, somebody is scared of something they see—people are all frightened, and that is the legacy of what they have been through. If they are put all together, it is extremely difficult.

I am strongly opposed to that type of accommodation, and the sooner people can get into community dispersal, the better. I know the Minister said he would ensure that the accommodation was not detention—or he said it would not be detention—but my question is whether it will feel like it. In the so-called mother and baby unit in Glasgow, for a time they were not allowed to leave without asking permission, and when they came back they were not allowed a key to the door. They had to wait, standing outside with their babies, until somebody came to let them in, which could be quite a while.

It is well documented how bad detention is for people seeking asylum who have mental health issues, which must be most asylum seekers after what they have been through. A lot of good work has been done by Professor Cornelius Katona and the Helen Bamber Foundation on mental health and detention. I am sure the Minister will be aware of the reports they have done.

I visited Dungavel detention centre in Scotland when I was a Member of the Scottish Parliament. I went in there and I felt like a criminal. They took my fingerprints and they walked about with big bunches of keys. Obviously, I was only there for a visit and I knew I was getting out again. The problem with detention is the indefinite nature of it.

The Minister said it is not indefinite accommodation, and if they can arrange other accommodation themselves they can get out, but I want to share the story of a mother and son I visited. The son was 10 years old. They were in detention, but I cannot help wondering whether we are going to find children in these accommodation centres feeling the same. At the age of 10, he said to his mum, “Mum, let’s not do this anymore. Please can we just find a way to let us die.” That is a 10-year-old boy. He is not dead now; things changed and their lives got a whole lot better, although he is very much impacted by his experience there. I am offering anecdotal evidence not to back up my claim, but to illustrate the detailed research that demonstrates that that child is not an isolated case. I know the Minister is saying that the intention is not for children to be placed in such accommodation—and certainly not in detention—but I want a guarantee that no children will be housed in these circumstances. I am sure he will agree with me that nobody wants to put children through what that child went through.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow North East. I rise to speak in support of this group of amendments to clause 11, and I agree with a great number of the points that have already been made. I join colleagues in raising grave concerns about the direction in which the provision of asylum accommodation has moved in recent months, and I fear that the measures in clause 11 will only make matters worse.

I will focus my comments on the increased use of so-called contingency accommodation—specifically, Napier and Penally barracks—to outline why the amendments are necessary if we are to avoid the failures of those centres being repeated with the proposed accommodation centres. In my former role, and along with many colleagues, I sought to raise serious concerns about the rising use of dormitory-style accommodation. The justification for their use was the pressures of the pandemic and increased numbers in the asylum system. However, clause 11 allows the Government to extend that style of institutionalised accommodation through the introduction of new accommodation centres.

Following reports of bad practice, I wrote to the Government back in December 2020 to raise concerns about the situation in initial and contingency asylum accommodation, and I called on them to commission a review of covid safety in all establishments being used for asylum accommodation. Those concerns became a reality in January this year, when there was a significant outbreak of covid in Napier barracks, with nearly 200 cases. In March, the then independent chief inspector of borders and immigration and Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons published their key findings from site visits to Penally camp and Napier barracks in mid-February. They confirmed that, given the cramped communal conditions and unworkable cohorting at Napier, a large-scale outbreak was virtually inevitable. Distressingly, inspectors visiting the site were informed by residents that, at the time of inspection, the barracks were at their best.

I submitted a freedom of information request to various authorities, which brought about the release of the Kent and Medway clinical commissioning group’s infection prevention report that was carried out at Napier barracks. It confirmed that the site does not facilitate effective social distancing. Every line of the report was devastating. The ICIBI and HMIP also raised serious safeguarding concerns, stating:

“There was inadequate support for people who had self-harmed. People at high risk of self-harm were located in a decrepit...‘isolation block’” that was considered “unfit for habitation.” A survey conducted by the inspectors at Napier barracks found that one in three residents had felt suicidal during their time there.

As hon. Members have said, the report’s findings were further supported by the High Court judgment in June, which found that the Government’s decision to house asylum seekers in such a way was unlawful. It concluded that the condition of the site was inadequate and that it was irrational to house people in dormitory-style accommodation, yet the accommodation remains open and houses over 200 people at any one time. It was deeply concerning that during a recent meeting of the Home Affairs Committee, Home Office officials were unable to confirm how many covid-19 cases there had been since the accommodation reopened in April, yet we know there was another outbreak in August. The Home Office’s continued lack of oversight and engagement at ground level gives me no hope that the Government have learned from their failures, yet they wish to extend and continue that type of accommodation with accommodation centres, as outlined in clause 11.

The ICIBI report on Napier and Penally found that the Home Office did not exercise adequate oversight at either site, where staff were rarely present. It said:

“There were fundamental failures of leadership and planning by the Home Office.”

That is damning, so can the Minister say what assurances we have that things will be any different or any better in accommodation centres? The ability to deliver safe and appropriate asylum accommodation is a duty of any Government, but that just has not been the case in recent months.

The investigation highlights that the advice of Public Health England and the fire authorities was not acted on and was ignored before the sites were opened. The pressures of the pandemic would have presented challenges to any Government having to find solutions to problems at pace. However, we know that the Home Office is planning to extend the use of Napier barracks until 2026. We will be using the breadth of Parliament to challenge that, but I return to the point that the direction of travel in clause 11 is bad. Amendments 100, 104 and 130 are an attempt to ensure that rights and safety obligations are upheld.

The Government claim that the use of barracks was primarily due to the unprecedented pressures of the pandemic. Last year, in a letter to Folkestone District Council, the former Immigration Minister, Chris Philp, wrote:

“The MOD has given us permission to use the site for 12 months, but the use of this facility will be temporary, and we will discontinue it as soon as we are able.”

Not only was that not the case but use of such dormitory accommodation is extended by the clause.

In September 2020 the Home Office conducted an equality impact assessment on the use of military barracks as contingency accommodation. It was never published, but we saw a leaked version. The assessment absurdly attempts to suggest that providing nothing but the absolute bare minimum to those seeking asylum is in the interests of fostering community relations. It says:

“Any provision of support over and beyond what it necessary to enable the individuals to meet their housing and subsistence needs could undermine public confidence in the asylum system and hamper wider efforts to tackle prejudice and promote understanding within the general community and amongst other migrant groups.”

Where is the humanity and courage in that statement?

As I have said, the expansion of such accommodation, facilitating closer living, also highlights how the Government seek to conflate asylum and detention accommodation. A report by the APPG on immigration detention recognised that while by legal definition Napier barracks was not a detention facility, it replicated many features found in detention settings including visible security measures, shared living quarters, reduced levels of privacy and isolation from the wider community. The report details the experiences of current and former residents, who described the barracks as “unsanitary”, “crowded” and “prison-like”. That Her Majesty’s inspectorate of prisons conducted the investigation alongside the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration also speaks to that point.

The removal of a maximum time limit in which asylum claimants can be housed in an accommodation centre is another area of significant concern, and that is why amendment 130 is necessary. The clause as it stands will mean that people seeking asylum could remain in accommodation centres for the entire time their claim is being considered, which could be months, if not years. Several claimants in a recent High Court judgment had been at Napier barracks for 4½ months. Considering the experiences and descriptions of Napier that we have heard, for anyone to be kept in those conditions for an indefinite period is a breach of human rights. We can and should do better.

There is a great deal to be concerned about in the clause. Amendments 100, 104 and 130, alongside others in the group, seek to impose safeguards. The risks of infection outbreaks, of fire and of people in crisis with their mental health all became a reality at Napier barracks. The impact assessment and the continued use of barracks alongside the clause make it clear that the use of such accommodation is not borne out of necessity but is a political choice. I am deeply concerned that the measures in the clause will result in yet further disasters. That is why Labour’s amendments are so essential.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office) 4:15 pm, 21st October 2021

We have had an extensive and wide-ranging debate covering a host of areas. I thank hon. Members for their contributions. I turn to amendments 16, 17, 98 to 104, 130 and 160.

Amendment 16 seeks to disapply a key part of the clause. As I set out, one of the clause’s aims is to enable wider flexibility so that individuals are supported in accommodation centres for as long as that form of housing and other on-site support and arrangements are appropriate for their individual circumstances. We need flexibility to increase the period of residence in a centre—the current maximum allowed by legislation is nine months—if experience shows it to be too short a period to provide consistent streamlined support. The amendment would prevent that. The Government take seriously our responsibilities to asylum seekers, and I reassure hon. Members that those accommodated in the centres will receive the necessary support to meet their essential living needs.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Will the Government not at least consider a maximum time limit on the duration of stay?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

There have been references during the debate to detention. As I set out in an intervention previously, the accommodation centres are not detention. It is very important to establish that again. I want to make the point clear: anyone in one of those accommodation centres is able to leave at any time. It is important to re-establish that.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

On the point about transparency and accountability in the centres and all accommodation used by the Home Office, will the Minister tell us whether the Bishop of Durham and other members of RAMP will be able to visit the centres? Perhaps the Minister will encourage them to be more open to visits by parliamentarians. Perhaps he will visit some of the accommodation used in Southwark, where people were told they should be moving and were not provided with interpreters, which has caused problems for them and for the wider community. Furthermore, covid outbreaks at hotel and hostel accommodation have put those people and the wider community at risk and placed the NHS under greater stress.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that I have not been in post for long—for just over a month—and the accommodation element of the Government’s work on immigration does not fall directly within my brief. However, I want to visit Napier, to see the situation myself and to understand the nature of the accommodation, and my officials are in the process of organising that. I might have done it sooner had we not had the Bill Committee proceedings over the next few weeks. I assure hon. Gentleman that that is something I very much want and intend to do, and I will certainly do it.

On the bishop visiting, I am not aware of any restrictions that would prevent that from happening. I hate to do this to the hon. Gentleman again, but if he furnishes me with the details of issues that have arisen, I will gladly ensure that that is looked at. As far as I can see, there is no good reason why those sorts of external visits cannot take place, but I would appreciate a little more detail.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

May I push the Minister a little further on the issue? He has been at pains to say that the Government’s plan is not for the centres to be where people are detained. Will he therefore put on the record that people are free to come and go as they wish, and to receive visitors as they wish in the centres?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

As I have said repeatedly now, my understanding is that people are under no obligation to remain within the accommodation facilities if they do not wish to do so. Of course, one of the reasons why people may be in an accommodation centre is that they are destitute. In such circumstances, we want to ensure that appropriate accommodation is in place for them to be accommodated and properly cared for in the centres. That is the intention behind the policy.

It is worth saying something about future oversight of accommodation centres, which has been alluded to. We will establish advisory groups for each centre. The group will visit the site, hear complaints and report any findings to the Secretary of State. I value the input that the advisory groups will have. It is important that we are responsive to the issues that arise and that where improvements can be made, they are made.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

On the point about section 33 of the 2002 Act—the advisory groups—will the Minister tell us why such groups have not been established at other existing centres? It is all very well to make a promise about the future, but that section has not been used for existing examples.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

There has been a very clear undertaking in Committee to establish those advisory groups, which is welcome. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that various transparency and accountability measures are in place for accommodation within our immigration system more broadly. That is right and proper but, again, where that can be enhanced and where we can bring greater transparency and improvement, we should do that. That is why I welcome the Government’s commitment with regard to oversight over the accommodation centres to ensure that there is regular engagement and that a clear channel is established through which to raise and take account of any issues.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

Who, specifically, will be responsible for bringing forward the advisory group for each centre? Where do the responsibility and duty lie?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

We are getting into very granular detail, as we would expect. I will need to take further advice on that specific point, which I will make clear to the Committee. However, our commitment to establish those advisory groups stands; those groups will play an important role in the oversight of the accommodation that we propose to bring about through the measures in the Bill. I give way to the hon. Gentleman again.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

The Minister may regret that. He is asking us to accept on good will that the advisory groups will exist in the future, but he cannot tell us who will set them up, who will be on them, or why they have not been used in the past, despite being in the 2002 Act.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that the people who organise my diary have confirmed that I am set to visit Napier in the not-too-distant future. I have been able to be responsive to that point pretty quickly. I will make some progress on his other point, and I hope to be able to visit it very shortly to provide him with the clarification he requires before concluding my remarks. That is my undertaking to him: I will, for the Committee’s benefit, establish the mechanism that will enact our commitment.

Contrary to what amendment 17 seems to imply, it is not the Government’s intention to maximise the number of supported asylum seekers accommodated in flats and houses in the community. I understand that SNP Members take a different view on the matter, so I appreciate that that will come as a disappointment to them. However, it may be more suitable to house certain cohorts of asylum seekers in accommodation centres, and that is why we are setting them up. Where, for example, their protection claims are likely to be found inadmissible and they can quickly be removed to the appropriate third country, it is likely to be much more efficient to place them in an accommodation centre so that the practical arrangements for facilitating their departure, such as dealing with the necessary travel documentation, can take place at the site. That efficiency benefits the individuals as well as the overall asylum system.

One point that has been overlooked during the debate is that the Government’s whole intention around the policy we are seeking to establish is to deal with cases in a much quicker, speedier and—I would argue—more humane way. I think being able to give people certainty sooner is a good thing, and I would like to think that, whatever the outcome of individual cases, spending less time in any form of temporary accommodation can only be a good thing. It is important to recognise that the whole intention of the policy we are trying to develop is to get on with adjudicating on cases sooner.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

It is not the type of accommodation that has led waiting times to spiral out of control. Only three years ago, there was a regular six-month target time—that was all within the dispersal system as well. Putting folk in the accommodation centres has no real impact on decision times. On the contrary, the Minister will know that since January, when the inadmissibility procedures came into place, virtually nobody has ended up being removed. It has just added six months to the waiting time; it has not accelerated anything. It is just a six-month block—that is it—so I do not understand where he is coming from.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

In the context of the Bill and in the course of our debates, we will revisit the various challenges in our asylum system many times. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North made the point earlier that the system is broken, and there is a wide acceptance of that. Undoubtedly, that means that people are left in a state of uncertainty around their circumstances for longer than any of us in this House wish to see.

I can provide clarity to the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark on his point about the duty to appoint the group. The answer is that section 33 of the 2002 Act requires the Secretary of State to establish advisory groups for accommodation centres. Napier has not been deemed an accommodation centre at the moment. It is contingency accommodation to manage the high demand for housing that we are undoubtably seeing as a result of the pressures in the system that are a direct consequence of the channel crossings. However, he has that certainty on that particular mechanism.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office) 4:30 pm, 21st October 2021

Given the merits of these advisory committees which the Minister has set out, and given that, in relation to Napier and Penally Barracks, the Home Office ignored advice from Public Health England in a pandemic, the weight that the advisory committee would carry really does matter. He said that Napier Barracks is still contingency accommodation rather than an accommodation centre. Would he consider setting up an advisory committee for Napier Barracks?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I will certainly take away the hon. Lady’s suggestion and feed that through to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Kevin Foster, who shares responsibility for immigration with me at the Home Office.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

At what point is a centre of accommodation such as Napier deemed an accommodation centre by the Home Office in order to get an advisory group set up? How long will Napier be used before it is acknowledged that it is an accommodation centre?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I dispute that interpretation of the situation at Napier, because Napier does not have the same wrap-around services that we envisage for accommodation centres. For example, the accommodation centres that we will seek to deliver will have significant caseworking functions built within them. That is a marked difference to Napier. Again, I am visiting Napier in a few weeks’ time and I will be interested to hear from the people there and to talk to the officials managing the accommodation to listen to their experiences. As I have said, and I think this is an important point, there is always a need to reflect on the appropriateness of the provisions in place and on whether governance and oversight arrangements remain adequate. That is something that we keep under constant review. I note with interest the suggestions that have been alluded to, and I will happily feed them back more broadly at the Home Office.

I want to make some progress, because I am conscious that time is marching on. The numbers of asylum seekers in different types of accommodation—if that is of interest to parliamentarians—can be obtained through existing channels, such as correspondence or parliamentary questions, so an annual report setting this information out is unnecessary. Amendment 98 is also unnecessary because there are no plans to place those with children in accommodation centres, and all other cases will only be placed in a centre following an individual assessment that the centre is suitable for them and that they will be safe.

Whether or not groups with the characteristics listed in the amendment are suitable to be supported at a particular accommodation centre will depend on a number of factors. These include their personal circumstances and vulnerabilities, and the facilities available at the particular site or in the particular area. It is not sensible to rule out large cohorts of cases from ever being placed in an accommodated centre in any circumstance, especially if their asylum case is more likely to be resolved quickly in a centre, which of course is in their best interests. I re-emphasise that our intention remains to get to a place where cases are processed quicker than they are at the moment, and that is something that we all should welcome.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Where is the evidence that doing this in accommodation centres speeds things up? We have had dispersal systems for years and on some recent occasions the waiting times have been absolutely outrageous, but a few years back they were perfectly acceptable. We can have fast decision making and we all support that, but that does not require these terrible accommodation centres to be set up.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

The hon. Member and I fundamentally disagree on this point. I think that there is value in having accommodation centres that provide accommodation but also ensure that caseworking facilities are available alongside. That aids in the processing of cases more quickly. That is a sensible step forward, and something that I endorse. I think it is the right thing to do in these circumstances.

Amendment 99 would also undermine a key objective that we are trying to achieve through setting up accommodation centres, which is to resolve asylum cases more quickly by putting casework and other services on site. This speaks to the point that I have been making; there is therefore no rationale for restricting the number of people who will benefit from these improvements to 100 individuals per site.

Additionally, there is no reason why unrelated asylum seekers cannot share sleeping quarters, provided that they are the same sex. This is already allowed for in the asylum accommodation system. Those in flats or houses, for example, may be required to share bedrooms. Some asylum seekers might require their own room—for example, the current policy provides that those receiving treatment from the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture should generally not share sleeping quarters with strangers—but that is because of their individual circumstances. I re-emphasise that appropriate decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis and, where circumstances require, appropriate arrangements should be made.

Amendment 100 seems to be based on a misunder-standing—I intervened on the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East on this point earlier. We are not proposing to accommodate anyone in the centres under the powers in section 17 of the 2002 Act. Asylum seekers will be accommodated in the centres under section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, or section 98 of the 1999 Act, pending consideration of an application for section 95 support. If the application is refused, there will be a right of appeal in the normal way.

Amendments 101 and 130 are both similar in theme to amendment 16. I disagree that the normal period of residence in an accommodation centre should be no more than three months. It may be that a three month period is appropriate in some cases, either because of the individual circumstances of the asylum seeker or the nature of the facilities at the site. However, as I have explained, we need the flexibility to increase the period of residence in a centre if experience shows this period is too short to provide consistent, streamlined support.

Amendment 102 would effectively give local authorities a veto on any proposals to set up accommodation centres in their areas. That is not appropriate. It is right, of course, that local authorities are fully consulted about such proposals and their views about local impacts and other matters given considerable weight.

Photo of Anne McLaughlin Anne McLaughlin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control)

I agree that it is right that local authorities are consulted, so the Minister will forgive me for being a little cynical that that will happen. When asylum seekers were put into a hotel in Falkirk a couple of weeks ago, Falkirk Council knew absolutely nothing about it and were not able to support them. He will forgive me for being a bit cynical about that pledge.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I think it is absolutely essential that there is an open dialogue with local authorities about any measures that are proposed in their areas, and that those local views are properly taken into consideration and reflected in the decisions that are reached. That is a commitment that we make, and is already a feature of the current system.

Photo of Neil Coyle Neil Coyle Labour, Bermondsey and Old Southwark

On that point, the hon. Member for Glasgow North East says she is a little cynical. I am afraid that I am a lot cynical. In Southwark’s example, the local authority was given absolutely no notice of a total of—I think—more than 700 asylum seekers being placed in hotel and hostel accommodation. That was just in my constituency. There were others in other parts of Southwark. When I asked the Home Office what resources were being allocated to local authorities to ensure that they could manage such a significant number, it replied that it had provided some small resource to the clinical commissioning group.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I take on board the point that the hon. Gentleman raises. However, as a general principle, I think it is right and proper—as I think all Members of this House would expect—for local authorities to be properly consulted.

Photo of Robert Goodwill Robert Goodwill Conservative, Scarborough and Whitby

Let me reassure the Minister that when the Afghans came to Scarborough recently, not only was the local authority fully engaged with the process, but the local community was too.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

The interesting thing is that my right hon. Friend’s experience in Yorkshire accords with the experience that I think the local authorities in Northamptonshire, where I am proud to be a constituency MP, have had.

There has been that consultation in relation to the Afghan scheme and the Government’s intentions around delivery of that important work. Although not required to do so by legislation, our accommodation providers consult local authorities on any proposals to use accommodation that has not previously been used to house supported asylum seekers. But it is not realistic to assume that that consultation will always result in agreement.

Amendment 103 is unnecessary because asylum seekers with children will not be placed in accommodation centres at any stage of the asylum process and unaccompanied children are supported by local authorities under different arrangements. Both groups of children will therefore be educated under normal arrangements in the same way as a British child. As we are not proposing to use the power in section 36 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, there is no need to amend it.

Amendment 104 is unnecessary also. Individuals supported in accommodation centres will be expected to live at the centre as a condition of their support and be subject to a range of other conditions attached to the provision of their support that are set out in writing—for example, that they respect other residents and do not commit antisocial behaviour. This is already part of the normal process and applies whatever accommodation is provided to supported asylum seekers.

Those accommodated in the centres will also be able to receive visitors, to use communications equipment such as telephones or computers and to leave the site for personal reasons or because they have found alternative accommodation. I hope that that gives the hon. Member for Sheffield Central the reassurance that he sought. It builds on the earlier point that I made about the fact that people would be able to leave if that was what they wanted to do.

There is already a complaints procedure administered by Migrant Help, a voluntary sector organisation that also provides advice on individuals’ entitlements and how the immigration system works. Asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers are currently issued with written information about their bail conditions. They are also issued with an asylum registration card, which is used for identification purposes.

Amendment 160 is also unnecessary. Sections 40 to 42 of the 2002 Act already prevent the Government from making arrangements for the provision of accommodation centres in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, unless they have consulted Ministers in the devolved Administrations. That consultation would include discussion of any financial or other impacts of introducing accommodation centres.

There are a few points that I have picked up in my main remarks but about which I want to say a few words in response to the questions that were put. In relation to Napier specifically, there have been extensive improvements to Napier since the High Court judgment. For example, all residents are offered a covid vaccination. Free travel is in place for them to get to medical appointments. There is a commitment to the availability of sports and recreation. A programme of works to improve the infrastructure is under way; that is along with weekly meetings to identify and act on any concerns that arise. Again, it is important to be responsive to issues that arise and to ensure that improvements are put in place. What I have referred to demonstrates that some of the issues that were raised previously have been taken very seriously and improvements have been made.

The judgment on Napier was reached on the basis of the conditions on the site prior to the significant improvement works that have taken place. The High Court did not make any findings that accommodation centres were not suitable for providing support.

Generally speaking, in the course of the debate on clause 11, we have talked about the difference that we hope accommodation centres will provide. I just want to restate the policy, which is to increase accommodation capacity, to try to get away from using hotels, which has been very, very challenging—I think everybody would accept that—and to achieve casework efficiency, for the reasons that I have previously set out. We think that co-locating services will be helpful in that regard, to try to process cases more quickly and try to give people the certainty that they are seeking. That is particularly beneficial to genuine refugees. Our policy is grounded in that basis.

A question was also asked about conditions in hotels and full-board centres. Full support is provided to meet essential needs, which includes food, toiletries and the means to communicate. Also, asylum seekers in full-board accommodation have access to legal aid, which pays for reasonable travel costs to see their solicitors.

I will specifically address the point about consultation with Scotland, because I know that SNP Members were very interested in that point, for obvious and understandable reasons. Sections 40 to 42 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 prevent the Government from making arrangements for accommodation centres in Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales unless they have consulted with Ministers in the devolved Assemblies. I am conscious that I have made that point previously, but it bears repeating in the context of the debate that we have had this afternoon, particularly given the fact that such consultation includes discussions around the financial impact or other impacts of these centres. I certainly welcome that engagement.

I turn to the clause stand part element of the debate. Clause 11 forms part of the Government’s plans to house greater numbers of asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers in full-board accommodation centres. These will be the first of their kind in the UK and will allow us to move away from the current accommodation model, which is under considerable strain and relies mainly on procuring flats and houses through the private rental market, and booking temporary hotels.

The use of accommodation centres will provide both additional capacity and flexible opportunities within the asylum estate, for example by enabling asylum interviews to be undertaken on site. The Government are committed to providing suitable accommodation to all those in the asylum system who would otherwise be destitute, but from now on we will give consideration to the stage that an individual’s protection claim has reached when we decide on the type of accommodation suitable for them.

Clause 11 also enables consideration to be given, where relevant, to the individual’s past compliance with conditions of immigration bail and the conditions attached to any support that they have previously received. Subject to an individual assessment, accommodation centres will be used to house those whose asylum claims are likely to be found inadmissible and who can be returned to a safe third country, as well as those who have been refused asylum and require short-term support until the practical arrangements are in place to return them to their country of origin.

However, I emphasise that there are no plans to use the centres to accommodate those with children. I make that point again, because I know that it is so important and that colleagues on this Committee are very interested in and concerned about it.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office) 4:45 pm, 21st October 2021

Could the Minister update Members about how many people have been returned to safe third countries since those legal changes came into effect?

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office)

I am afraid that I do not have those figures to hand, but I will take that request away—very gladly—and I will share that information with the Committee when I have it.

Clause 11 amends section 25 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, so that these periods of time may be changed, by order, to allow for longer or shorter periods. The clause will also provide the flexibility to ensure that individuals remain in accommodation centres for as long as that form of housing and the other support and arrangements on site are appropriate to their circumstances. I encourage the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

On this occasion, I certainly cannot complain that I have not had answers; I may absolutely despair about what those answers were, but the Minister has certainly provided the information.

I am genuinely sad that covid and the stress that it has put on the dispersal system means that the Home Office now appears to be abandoning that system altogether when it has not been justified that that is the correct option. I very much fear that in a few years’ time this will come back to cause the Government problems; more importantly, it will be devastating for lots of people who will be placed in this accommodation.

However, I have the answers, so I do not need to press the amendment to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment proposed: 104, in clause 11, page 14, line 41, at end insert—

“(22B) Accommodation Centres, whether for supported asylum seekers or failed asylum seekers shall not allow for limitations upon a supported person’s right—

(a) to enter or to leave at any time;

(b) to receive visitors of their choice at any time; or

(c) to use communications equipment such as telephones, computers or video equipment.

(22C) Accommodation Centres shall provide supported persons with access to a complaints procedure and procedures for appealing any decisions that may restrict a supported person’s claim to freedoms not limited by their conditions of bail.

(22D) Persons supported in Accommodation Centres shall be informed of the conditions of their bail in writing, and shall be provided with means of identifying themselves are their place of residence.”—

This amendment aims to distinguish Accommodation Centres from places of detention by introducing rights to persons supported at these Centres, and to require persons in Accommodation Centres to be informed of their bail conditions and provided with means of identifying themselves.

Division number 11 Nationality and Borders Bill — Clause 11 - Accommodation For Asylum-Seekers Etc

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Question accordingly negatived.

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

Division number 12 Nationality and Borders Bill — Clause 11 - Accommodation For Asylum-Seekers Etc

Aye: 9 MPs

No: 7 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 9, Noes 7.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 12 and 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Craig Whittaker.)

Adjourned till Tuesday 26 October at twenty-five minutes past Nine o’clock.

Written evidence reported to the House

NBB39 End Violence Against Women (EVAW) coalition