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Asylum Bill

Volume 202: debated on Tuesday 21 January 1992

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Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

3.49 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I note with regret that proposed new clauses 8 and 9 were not selected for debate. New clause 9 dealt with the difficult problem of special care for the unaccompanied children of asylum seekers. That aspect was debated at length in Committee, but was not pressed to a Division after the Minister indicated that he might be having further thoughts.

New clause 9 dealt in effect with the difficult problem confronting London boroughs. About 30,000 asylum-seeking households will come to this country this year, and the majority will arrive in London. That will place a heavy burden on London boroughs. Again, that aspect was discussed at length in Committee, there was no Division, and the Minister indicated that he might have further thoughts.

As those two issues are important, may I have your guidance, Mr. Speaker, as to how one may raise them during today's debate?

They may certainly be raised on Third Reading. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I always examine carefully all amendments that are submitted, and in particular whether any undertakings were definitely given in Committee. I am not required to give the reasons for my selection of amendments, but in the case of new clause 8, new legislation is not required.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. There was considerable debate in Committee on the future of the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service—particularly in relation to the future provision of advice and representation for those seeking political asylum, but also in respect of broader immigration matters.

Yesterday, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department met the executive committee of UKIAS. There has been considerable press speculation in the last few weeks about UKIAS's future arrangements. It appears that the Government are seeking to establish an autonomous refugee unit that would remain part of UKIAS, but would put the rest of that organisation on notice that unless it agreed to proposals to introduce a new constitution, executive, and management committee, there would be a clear prospect of no future funding for UKIAS.

I am not aware of all those matters, which are for the Government to consider, not me. Those are the very questions that the hon. Gentleman should seek to raise in the debate that will follow. If the Government have made a decision of that kind, there will be opportunities to debate it on the Floor of the House or perhaps in another place.

I understand that, Mr. Speaker, but I wondered whether the Under-Secretary had indicated to you when he will make a statement about the Government's proposals for the future of UKIAS and of advice and representation. No amendment relates directly to UKIAS, which is a major pillar on which this squalid Bill rests. That pillar seems to be extremely creaky. When will the Minister tell the House what he has agreed with UKIAS, what will be available to those seeking political asylum in terms of advice and administration, and what is the future of UKIAS? That major organisation seems to be in chaos.

I am not aware of any of that, though I am interested from the point of view of my own constituency. Those questions should be addressed to the Minister. The remarks made by the hon. Gentleman under the guise of a point of order will have been heard by the relevant Ministers on the Front Bench—and no doubt the hon. Gentleman will receive an answer to his questions if he puts them during the debate.

I merely want your advice, Mr. Speaker. As you may or may not know, I am a former chairman of UKIAS. I am not involved in any way with the organisation now, but its position is a matter of legitimate concern not only to hon. Members who are in the Chamber but to many others who—as you have said, Mr. Speaker—have advised constituents, or their relatives or friends, to go to that organisation.

It would, of course, be helpful if, during our debate on the new clauses, the Minister referred to the discussions that he had yesterday. I realise that that is entirely outside your control, Mr. Speaker, but it would be rather unfortunate if we engaged in a lengthy debate on various clauses without knowing the Government's intentions.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) said a number of reports have appeared in the newspapers. We do not know whether those reports are accurate, and—like my hon. Friend—I am in no way involved in any form of mischief-making. The position of UKIAS is very important, and it would help the House a good deal if the Home Secretary or the Minister could tell us whether the matter will be dealt with in our initial debate.

Those are not matters for me, but the hon. Gentleman's remarks may serve as a warning to the Minister that they may be raised in the debate.