HL Deb 11 March 1980 vol 406 cc723-6

2.43 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will amend the Housing (Homeless Persons) Act 1977 so as to relieve local authorities of the burden of housing immigrants who arrive at airports within their area but have no other connection with that particular area.


My Lords, as I said on 17th January in an answer to my noble friend Lord Orr-Ewing, the Government are currently reviewing the operation of the Act and any decisions to amend its provisions will have to await the outcome.


My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, which will give little comfort to the ratepayers of Hillingdon and those around Gatwick—the only two London airports accepting immigrants—who are already, like other communities, burdened in many ways. Is it not very unfair that these two areas should have to bear this burden? Cannot the Government consider making some form of grant, equivalent to the extra burden which these ratepayers have to bear, until they are ready to amend the Act?


My Lords, I must repeat that until we know, from the outcome of the review, the precise extent of the problem as it concerns and affects the two areas in question, it would be difficult to say precisely what ought to be done. It would be fair to say that the evidence would not seem to be as extensive as might be thought. Nevertheless, to prejudge it and also to prejudge precisely what one would do about it, would not be right. Clearly one must wait to see exactly what it is we are talking about. If it should be that the burden is as great as my noble friend intimates—and I repeat that we shall know only when we have the results of the review—clearly, we should want to look at it in the light of that.


My Lords, if I may, I should like to ask one more supplementary question. I did not say that the burden was very great;I said "the burden "—and undoubtedly there is a burden on the ratepayers. It is entirely wrong in principle, whether the burden be small or large, that the Government should not take any action to alleviate but simply say "Wait and see"


My Lords, what can we do but wait and see, when we do not have the facts in front of us to indicate the extent of what we are talking about? If it should prove to be—as some would suggest—quite minimal, the burden on the ratepayers would not be as my noble friend suggests. However, if it is a burden of significance, clearly the Government would want to take that into account.

Baroness BIRK

My Lords, in asking the Minister a question, may I say how delighted I was that he did not agree that there as an excessive burden at this stage, because I believe this matter has been greatly exaggerated. Does he not agree that the Greater London Council offered Hillingdon extra housing, which it did not take up? Secondly, does he not agree that in the recent case of the Ethiopian woman and her child, which has led to a great deal of publicity, the court found that they were completely homeless, without any other place of residence at all, and they would presumably have had to be housed in some way by any local authority?


My Lords, I should say at once that I did not, in fact, say that there was not a great burden on Hillingdon. I said that as yet we did not know quite what it was, and that we wanted to know. As for the other case to which the noble Baroness referred, I would point out that the court said that in those circumstances there was a duty to house. However, I think it would do no harm to make it quite clear that that is not so in every case. This was the case of someone who was designated and given the status of a refugee. In those circumstances the courts judge that there is a duty. However, it should also be stated that if it can be shown that the immigrant has not taken reasonable steps in advance to find accommodation, there may, indeed, not be a duty to do other than find some temporary accommodation until such time as the person concerned can reasonably find himself something else. Therefore, the matter is not as clear-cut as it might seem on the face of it. I think that we would be well advised to wait just a little longer until we know the outcome of the review. Then we can reach conclusions.


My Lords, can my noble friend indicate how long a resident of Hillingdon has to spend abroad before he can return through the airport and claim, as an immigrant, priority on the Hillingdon housing list?