§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Further considered on Report.
§ Schedule 5 [The Immigration Services Commissioner]:
§ Lord Dholakia moved Amendment No. 106:
§ Page 123, line 1, leave out ("(c),").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 106 is grouped with Amendments Nos. 107 and 108. A number of other amendments have also been proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Drumadoon.
§ I shall be very brief. The purpose is not in any way to dispute what the role of the immigration services commissioner should be. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the immigration services commissioner would have to refer an alleged breach by a member of the designated professional body of that body's rules to the relevant professional body.
§ Amendment No. 108 is designed and intended to ensure that all complaints in respect of the members of one body are conducted by the same body to avoid members being subject to the unnecessary conduct of two investigations by both their professional body and the immigration services commissioner. I beg to move.
§ Lord Cope of Berkeley
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, rightly said, Amendments 1126 Nos. 108A to 108C, which stand in my name, fall for discussion at this point. Amendment No. 108A allows the designated professional body an opportunity to address a problem which has arisen and to make representations to the commissioner before the commissioner becomes involved in the complaints procedure. Clearly, those who suggested it to us, in particular the Law Society of Scotland, believe that in many cases they would be able to resolve the problem without the necessity to bring up the heavy guns on the matter. That seems to me to be a sensible suggestion.
Amendment No. 108B has a slightly different character. It provides that the immigration services commissioner and the deputy commissioner should be disqualified from membership of the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales just as they are disqualified from membership of the House of Commons and the Assembly for Northern Ireland. I am advised by some legal opinion that that is necessary in order to fill a lacuna in the Bill. I may be told that that is already provided for. I am sure that it is everyone's wish that the disqualification should be put in place. If that is so, no doubt the Minister will tell us.
Amendment No. 108C refers to fees. At the moment solicitors and others pay considerable fees which provide for the protection of the public. It is not apparent why additional fees should be paid. The Law Society of Scotland made representations on this point. It pointed out that the disciplinary system is maintained from the fees already paid and that will obviously continue. That is the purpose of Amendment No. 108C.
§ The Minister of State, Cabinet office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton)
My Lords, I am grateful for the very clear way in which these amendments have been dealt with. However, I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that the early part of his remarks was lost in the noise of the stampede of noble Lords leaving the Chamber. Therefore, I cannot guarantee that I shall answer every point. The noble Lord should feel free to interrupt if I have missed a point.
Perhaps I may also deal with Amendment No. 109, which is a government amendment. I can do that very shortly. That amendment ensures that aggrieved clients or the immigration services commissioner have the appropriate means to enforce in Scotland a direction given by the immigration services tribunal for the repayment of fees to clients or for the payment of a penalty to the commissioner. At the appropriate moment I shall urge noble Lords to accept that amendment.
Amendment No. 106 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, would remove an alleged breach by a member of a designated professional body of one or more of the rules of the relevant body from the definition of a relevant complaint. It is linked with Amendment No. 107 which specifically excludes the designated professional bodies from the complaints scheme.
1127 The Government are committed to controlling the behaviour of unscrupulous immigration advisers. It has been decided that the best method of achieving that is by means of a statutory regulatory scheme. Unfortunately, some of the worst examples of unscrupulous behaviour have been carried out by members of the legal professions. In these circumstances it is entirely wrong that the complaint made against a member of one of the designated professional bodies would not be regarded, were this amendment to succeed, as a complaint to be investigated by the commissioner. Therefore, these amendments run contrary to the spirit of the regulatory scheme and I urge your Lordships to reject them.
Amendment No. 108 spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, would provide for the commissioner to bring to the attention of a designated professional body complaints made against a member of that body which relate to the competence or fitness of a person or of those working under his supervision or employ, to provide immigration advice or services or a breach of one or more of the rules of the relevant regulatory body.
However, the commissioner already has an analogous but more appropriate power under paragraph 9(1)(c) of this schedule under which he may determine a complaint against a member of a designated professional body and refer it and his decision on it to the relevant regulatory body. It is important that the commissioner should form a preliminary view on the complaint before referring it. As an independent regulator he can add value to the process. In the light of what has been said, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, will not move his amendment.
The Bill contains a provision which allows the commissioner to give directions setting a timetable to be followed by a designated professional body in considering a complaint referred to it by the commissioner taking any disciplinary action in connection with a complaint.
Amendment No. 108A would limit the commissioner to requiring a body to provide an explanation where a complaint is made to him about the time taken by that body to deal with the complaint and to give a timetable in which the complaint will be dealt with. If the body then fails to adhere to the suggested timetable, the amendment would allow the commissioner to set a timetable.
We believe that it is only right that all professional bodies should deal with complaints in a reasonable time. Sadly, the record in terms of timeliness of some of the legal professions in dealing with complaints has not been a happy one. Some legal professions have been given additional powers to investigate complaints in the Access to Justice Act. Against that background we believe that it is perfectly reasonable to provide the commissioner with the power to set a timescale for the conduct of an inquiry into complaints against members of the legal profession.
1128 The purpose of the regulatory scheme is to ensure that people receive quality immigration advice and are not overcharged for that, and that complaints are effectively investigated within a reasonable timescale. The effect of this amendment would be that as regards some complaints the timescale for their effective resolution would be lengthened. That runs contrary to the intention of the scheme. I invite the noble Lord not to move his amendment when the time comes.
Amendment No. 108B seeks to disqualify the commissioner and deputy commissioner from appointment to the Scottish Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales. There is already provision in relation to disqualification of the commissioner and deputy commissioner from the House of Commons and the Northern Ireland Assembly. However, disqualification from the Assemblies for Scotland and Wales is, we believe, a matter for those Assemblies. I invite the noble Lord not to move that amendment.
Amendment No. 108C would remove the provisions for specifying by order a fee for the purpose of meeting the costs incurred by the commissioner in respect of each designated professional body to be payable by the designated professional bodies and for the recovery of any unpaid fee. We have written to the professional bodies informing them that they will not be required to pay a fee in year one of the scheme. In year two, they may be required to pay a fee. Any fee will be based on an estimate of the likely regulatory activity carried out by the commissioner in year two in respect of each body.
One professional body will not cross-subsidise the regulatory activity of the commissioner in respect of any other professional body or those registered or exempted from the scheme. It is only right that each body should be expected to pay a fee For any regulatory activity carried out by the commissioner on behalf of that body. Again, I invite the noble Lord not to move that amendment.
§ Lord Kirkhill
My Lords, I wanted to remind my noble and learned friend that it is a Parliament in Scotland, not an Assembly.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Lord Dholakia
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. Like him, we are all concerned about the role of unscrupulous advisers and qualified people who exploit those who are in desperate need of help. The best course of action is to see how the functions of the immigration services commissioner are carried out. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 107 to 108B not moved.]
§ Clause 81 [Designated professional bodies]:
§ [Amendment No. 108C not moved.]1129
§ Clause 84 [Disciplinary charge upheld by the Tribunal]:
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 109:
§ Page 56, line 26, leave out ("order of the Court of Session") and insert ("extract registered decree arbitral bearing a warrant for execution issued by the sheriff court of any sheriffdom in Scotland").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 89 [Interpretation of Part VI]:
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 110:
§ Page 59, line 17, at end insert—
(""the Department" means the Department of Health and Social Services for Northern Ireland;").
§ The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, government Amendment No. 110 is a paving amendment to provide that in so far as Northern Ireland is concerned, the Northern Ireland Department of Health and Social Security may make regulations in connection with Part VI of the Bill.
§ Amendments Nos. 111, 112 and 113 provide for the definition of the term "dependant" in Clause 89 to apply in relation to a "supported person" rather than simply in relation to the asylum seeker. This puts it beyond doubt that the Secretary of State can support an asylum seeker's dependants independently of the asylum seeker himself; for example, if he were detained for some reason. As currently drafted, Clause 89 defines a supported person as being an asylum seeker or his dependant to whom support is given under Clause 90.
§ Amendment No. 114 simply amends this form of words so that it refers to a person for whom support is provided, thereby harmonising it with existing references elsewhere in Part VI.
§ Amendment No. 116 is a technical amendment which makes it clear that for the purposes of Part VI an asylum seeker's appeal against refusal of asylum is regarded as being disposed of when it is no longer pending for the purposes of the Immigration Acts or the Special Immigration Appeals Commission Act 1997. This would include appeals to the Court of Appeal and to the House of Lords.
§ This is important in terms of the termination of support because an asylum seeker being supported under Part VI whose appeal against refusal of asylum has been unsuccessful ceases to be entitled to support at the end of a prescribed period following notification of the outcome of that appeal.
§ There has to be a defined end to the asylum process at which point support provided under Part VI will be terminated. In essence, this is at the end of a prescribed period after the asylum seeker is notified of the decision on his asylum claim or, if he appeals, when he is notified of the decision on the final appeal. But given our concern for the welfare of children, Clause 89(5) disapplies that provision to families with children under the age of 18. They will receive support for as long as they remain in the United Kingdom.1130
§ Amendment No. 117 clarifies that once the youngest child reaches his 18th birthday, the family will cease to continue to be entitled to support under subsection (5). It will be a wholly adult household and should be treated in the same way as other adult asylum seekers. This was always out intention and the amendment ensures that that is the case.
§ The purpose of Amendment No. 181 is slightly to broaden the powers of the Secretary of State with regard to the recovery of overpayments as provided under the clause. At present, the clause extends to payments made under the main support scheme. The amendment extends this so that erroneous overpayments made under the powers in Clause 94 would also be covered. Any use of these powers would be in respect of public monies disbursed in error. The power of recovery simply places the public purse back into the position in which it would have been had the payment not been made. The existing provisions make allowance for secondary legislation to prescribe exactly how the recovery is to be achieved other than through the courts. Clearly, efforts would be made to ensure that the recovery did not lead to untoward difficulties for innocent recipients of the unintended bounty. I beg to move.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendments Nos. 111 to 114:
§ Page 59, line 18, after ("asylum-seeker") insert ("or a supported person").
§ Page 59, line 20, leave out ("the asylum-seeker's") and insert ("his").
§ Page 59, line 21, leave out ("the asylum-seeker") and insert ("his").
§ Page 59, line 37, leave out ("to whom support is given") and insert ("for whom support is provided").
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ The Lord Bishop of Southwark moved Amendment No. 115:
§ Page 60, line 3, at end insert ("and shall in any event be extended—
- (i) in the event that either party indicates an intention to bring judicial review proceedings in respect of an asylum claim or other aspect of an asylum seeker's immigration status, for a period reasonably long enough to enable him to do so, and
- (ii) for so long as any such proceedings, and any further appeal or proceedings arising from them, remain pending, and
- (iii) whether or not such proceedings are proposed or taken, for so long as the Secretary of State has under consideration further representations in respect of the claimant's immigration status, and
- (iv) whenever and for so long as the Secretary of State does not or is for any reason unable to effect the removal of an asylum seeker and his dependants (if any) following rejection of an asylum claim").
§ The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, Amendment No. 115 seeks to prevent support for an asylum seeker, with or without a family, being prematurely terminated. Its sub-paragraphs (i) and (ii) 1131 concern further proceedings which either the asylum seeker or the Secretary of State may have the right to bring with the leave of the court in question.
§ Obviously, hunger and homelessness should not be used to block access to justice to asylum seekers who may have good grounds to apply for judicial review. The rule of law is nullified if access to justice is denied to the most vulnerable, especially if they risk being starved out of their legal rights by the other party in the legal proceedings in question; in this case, the Government. As things stand, there is no power to extend support even when it is the Secretary of State who brings the challenge. That appears self-evidently to be wrong.
§ It will be no less wrong, and equally a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, to impose destitution in an attempt to prevent asylum seekers taking up their legal rights to seek to challenge unfavourable determinations. This aspect of the present proposals is perhaps especially worrying in the light of the 81 per cent success rate in immigration cases where leave to move for judicial review was granted in 1996–97. But the principle would be the same, whatever the statistics.
§ Sub-paragraph (iii) concerns the Secretary of State's power to reconsider cases. Surely, it would be wrong to fetter the duty and discretion of the Secretary of State to consider the adjudicator's recommendations or further recommendations and representations following a failed appeal by depriving the Secretary of State the power to extend support while he does so. There may be changes in family or other circumstances, or non-asylum humanitarian considerations, into which the Secretary of State would wish to make further inquiry. But as things stand, he may be effectively constrained from taking the necessary time to do so by the fact that the asylum seeker meanwhile has no means of feeding himself or herself.
§ Sub-paragraph (iv) concerns the various other circumstances in which unsuccessful asylum applicants may not be immediately removable from the United Kingdom. The asylum seeker may be in an advanced stage of pregnancy or otherwise unfit to travel; there may be problems and delays in travel documentation; or the circumstance in the country of origin may be such that removal to that destination is for the time being impossible or dangerous. For example, for the past year or more, UNHCR has advised that failed asylum seekers cannot safely be returned to Angola. That has resulted in some failed Angolan asylum seekers being on temporary admission for months following the dismissal of their appeals, with support where necessary being provided by their local authorities under the National Assistance Act and the Children Act.
§ What might happen to such people in the future if this part of the Bill is passed unamended? They could be removed from support scheme accommodation in whatever location they might have been dispersed, with no money or other means to feed or house themselves. As persons subject to immigration control, 1132 they would have no access to local authority assistance. What will they do? Will they beg, steal, and sleep in the streets?
§ In addition to all the other socially undesirable features of that scenario, how is it envisaged that the Immigration Service will find them when, and if, removal becomes feasible? It would be inhuman, not to mention prohibitively expensive, to detain indefinitely all those who, through no fault of their own, cannot yet be removed. The alternative, unless this amendment is passed, is the creation of a roaming vagabond class of unknown size and with no incentive whatever to maintain contact with the authorities.
§ The response of Mr O'Brien, the Minister in another place—that provision may be made for support through the voluntary sector—is not an adequate response. We in the voluntary sector seek to meet human need wherever necessary. Need of ten occurs through unforeseen circumstances or unforeseen consequences of otherwise enlightened legislation. We are more than happy to help to meet temporary needs in such circumstances. However, we are not happy to agree to provide a safety net in situations which are deliberately entered into. Without this amendment, it seems to me quite obvious that some people will be at risk of being made destitute. It is simply our duty to prevent that. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, the principle of Amendment No. 115 is straightforward and simple. It is that the processes which entitle people in this country to the full protection of the laws should not be short-circuited by their inability to survive while that full protection is extended to them. As the right reverend Prelate very eloquently said, hunger and homelessness should not be reasons why people are not entitled to justice.
Most people who seek asylum status in this country are far from well off. Some, when they reach us, are already virtually destitute. That is exactly the reason why, quite properly, the Government have sought to provide some sort of support for them. However critical we may be of the form that support takes, we accept that the Government recognise that those people deserve to be supported.
The strange thing is that that form of support comes to an end before the appeals process is completed. Indeed, one of the most serious forms of appeal, judicial review, is not included within the extension of the support arrangements. People seeking and getting leave for judicial review have already, by definition, a fairly powerful case. As the right reverend Prelate pointed out, in 81 per cent of cases where people seek judicial review, they are eventually satisfactorily shown to have a case which can not only be n lade out, but is accepted by the court.
What we are now effectively saying is that for the lack of the ability to support people, that final process of law may not be open to them. That is a profoundly 1133 objectionable principle. What is open to us should be open to them. It also conflicts, if I may say so, with what I might call the spirit of Tampere. It was only earlier this week that we were informed that under the agreements reached at the site of that European Union Council meeting, third country nationals were to be treated on a par with European citizens. Surely deprivation of the final right to that final stage of the judicial process hardly amounts to equal treatment.
I do not want to detain the House, but I believe that a fundamental principle is at stake here: the fundamental principle of justice to all, regardless of means, regardless of income and regardless of wealth. On the ground of that principle, I strongly commend to the House the amendment in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Lord Ackner
My Lords, I should like briefly to support the last two speakers. There seems to me to be little point in a having a litany of rights of appeal and rights to have the courts supervising the jurisdiction being provided if one cannot have the wherewithal to live while that process goes on. A right which cannot be exercised is no right at all. I support, for the reasons given, the need for a power to support, even where the appeal may look hopeless. Many appeals look hopeless but in the end turn out to be successful.
§ Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws
My Lords, I too rise to support this amendment, but the case for it will not be strengthened by my rehearsing again the arguments already placed before this House.
I spent a day at an adjudication tribunal a fortnight ago, and I took the opportunity to speak with many of those involved in such cases at the front line. They are some of our finest lawyers and I was enormously impressed by the arguments they put forward on this subject. I wanted to add my voice to those saying that this seems an eminently sensible, humane and right amendment. I hope that it will have some support from Government.
§ The Earl of Sandwich
My Lords, I too should like to support the amendment in the name of the right reverend Prelate. He has already referred to the work of charities and to the burden that this clause will create. We shall return to that point in a later amendment. I should like to ask the Government about the cost of including this amendment. I suspect that it may not be very great. I wonder also if, in their efforts to look firm—I understand the signals which they have to send to the public all through the process of this Bill—the Government are sacrificing their ability to be fair.
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
My Lords, the subject of Amendment No. 115, which is an important issue, has received much consideration both in Committee in this House and in another place. The Government believe it important that there must be a defined point at which the support provided under Part VI of the Bill 1134 will come to an end. Asylum seekers whose application or appeal has been considered and found to be without merit cannot expect to receive continued support once their claim has been resolved. To do otherwise would merely encourage people to take unfounded cases to judicial review in order only to prolong their stay here and to receive support while doing so.
I must emphasise that it has already been stated on a number of occasions in this context that in the interest of the welfare of children, we are committed to support asylum seekers with children under the age of 18 for as long as they remain in the United Kingdom. By the time an asylum seeker's case reaches the stage of judicial review, it will have been thoroughly considered by the Home office, by an adjudicator, possibly by the Immigration Appeals Tribunal, and will have been found to be without merit by all of these. If the tribunal's decision results in an appeal being heard either in the Court of Appeal or in the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords, support will continue for that period.
We believe that it is only right that those who want to take their case further by pursuing a judicial review should look to the voluntary sector or to their own communities for support. Recognising the role of the voluntary sector in supporting such cases, we propose to make substantial sums available to them for support of what one might term "hard cases", at their discretion.
The situations which the amendment seeks to cover are, with respect, exceedingly wide, and offer the less scrupulous economic migrant—for, at this stage of the asylum process, it is realistic to say that that is what they are of ten found to be—huge scope for creating delays. We know, for example, that the great majority of applications for judicial review never even result in the granting of leave. The scope of what the amendment terms "further representations" is huge, and the extent to which creative obstruction can create difficulties for normal removal is considerable. In order to continue the support, all that will be required is an application for leave to apply for judicial review or the making of further representations.
As part of the improvement of the whole immigration process, we are also upgrading arrangements for assisting the return of those no longer entitled to remain in this country. In certain circumstances, that may include assistance with documentation and ticketing. Rather than providing a continued expectation of statutory support, that is the correct approach towards people who claim difficulty in leaving the country.
Where there are genuine problems, the voluntary sector would be able to deploy a hard cases grant to assist such people. The support arrangements that we propose in this part of the Bill are eminently fair and reasonable for anyone with a genuine claim for asylum. I cannot accept the proposition contained in this amendment.
I shall deal with two points. First, I was asked what would be the costs involved. It will be impossible to tell the costs without knowing the number of people 1135 involved in the making either of an application for judicial review or the making of "further representations", to quote the wording of the amendment. In 1998, there were 1,350 judicial review applications from asylum seekers. However, I cannot tell your Lordships how many asylum seekers in total are covered by that number because the number of dependants would also have to be taken into account. Of those 1,350, only 320 were granted leave to make the application for leave for judicial review. Therefore, of the 1,350, 1,030 were rejected as having no arguable case. Despite that, the effect of the amendment would be that those cases would be entitled to the continuation of support.
A second point was raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark who asked what could be done by people with no resources. As is clear from the argument which I have advanced, we say that an end must be brought to the support when, in effect, the process comes to an end. It is worth pointing out that there has always been some person who is subject to existing immigration control while having no access to benefits. So far, such people have not been evident in the population of those sleeping rough on the streets. That was a point made by the right reverend Prelate.
§ In the light of all those circumstances, I respectfully ask the House not to accept the amendment.
§ Lord Ackner
My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord sits down, the point was made about applications for judicial review. What will happen if the application has been granted? That would cut down very considerably the problem of numbers mentioned by the noble and learned Lord. It means that a judge has taken the view that there is a good arguable case for establishing that someone has acted with out jurisdiction or has acted unfairly in the judicial review sense. What harm would there be in enabling support to run from the moment that leave to move has been granted?
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
My Lords, that point was raised in Committee. It has been very carefully considered by the Government. We do not believe that the appropriate way to deal with the comparatively small number of such cases in 1998 is by reviving the right to support, which is the implication of the noble and learned Lord's suggestion; we believe that those cases can be dealt with by the substantial sums that will be given to the voluntary sector to help with the hard cases.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord mentioned "substantial sums". Will he give the House a rough idea of what is meant by that and whether the voluntary sector has been consulted on whether it wants that burden?
§ Lord Falconer of Thoroton
My Lords, I do not have the precise figure at my fingertips. I shall write to the noble Lord in relation to that. The question of whether the voluntary sector has been consulted was also raised 1136 in Committee. The answer is yes, it has been consulted. I acknowledge that the voluntary sector said in many cases that it preferred the matter not to be dealt with in this way. Of course, for obvious reasons, any sensible voluntary sector organisation would say from its point of view that it is far better that the state bears that burden. However, we do not believe that that is the right approach as a matter of policy.
§ The Lord Bishop of Southwark
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. I respect the arrangements which the Government seek to make for what the Minister has called "hard cases". However, with respect, such hard cases sometimes end on the streets or on our doorsteps and I prefer not to see more of them.
I feel that this matter involves an important legal and moral principle. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 115) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 74; Not-Contents, 122.1137
|Division No. 2|
|Ackner, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Addington, L.||McNair, L.|
|Alderdice, L.||McNally, L.|
|Alton of Liverpool, L.||Maddock, B.|
|Avebury, L.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Bath and Wells, Bp.||Merrivale, L.|
|Bradshaw, L.||Methuen, L.|
|Brentford, V.||Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.|
|Calverley, L.||Newall, L.|
|Carlisle, E.||Newby, L.|
|Carr of Hadley, L.||Noel-Buxton, L.|
|Charteris of Amisfield, L.||Nunburnholme, L.|
|Clancarty, E.||Ogmore, L.|
|Clement-Jones, L.||Palmer, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Patel, L.|
|Dholakia, L.||Phillips of Sudbury, L.|
|Elton, L.||Razzall, L.|
|Ezra, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Rennard, L|
|Gage, V.||Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.|
|Geraint, L.||Russell, E. [Teller]|
|Glanusk, L.||Sandwich, E.|
|Goodhart, L.||Sharp of Guildford, B.|
|Grey, E.||Sheppard of Liverpool, L.|
|Hamwee, B.||Smith of Clifton, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Southwark, Bp. [Teller]|
|Hemphill, L.||Suffield, L.|
|Holme of Cheltenham, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Hylton, L.||Thomas of Gresford, L|
|Jakobovits, L.||Thomas of Walliswood, B.|
|Jenkins of Hillhead, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Kenilworth, L.||Thurso, V.|
|Kennedy of The Shaws, B.||Tordoff, L.|
|Kinnoull, E.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Kintore, E.||Watson of Richmond, L.|
|Lauderdale, E.||Wigoder, L.|
|Lichfield, Bp.||Williams of Crosby, B.|
|Acton, L.||Janner of Braunstone, L.|
|Ahmed, L.||Jay of Paddington, B. (Lord|
|Allenby of Megiddo, V.||Privy Seal)|
|Alli, L.||Jenkins of Putney, L.|
|Amos, B.||Kennet, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Kilbracken, L.|
|Archer of Sandwell, L.||King of West Bromwich, L.|
|Ashton of Upholland, B.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Bach, L.||Lea of Crondall, L.|
|Barnett, L.||Leathers, V.|
|Bassam of Brighton, L.||Levy, L.|
|Berkeley, L.||Lipsey, L.|
|Blackstone, B.||Lockwood, B.|
|Borrie, L.||Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.|
|Bragg, L.||Macdonald of Tradeston, L.|
|Brett, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.||[Teller]|
|Brookman, L.||McIntosh of Hudnall, B.|
|Burlison, L.||Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.|
|Carter, L. [Teller]||Mallalieu, B.|
|Chandos, V.||Mason of Barnsley, L.|
|Christopher, L.||Merlyn-Rees, L.|
|Clarke of Hampstead, L.||Milner of Leeds, L.|
|Clinton-Davis, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Crawley, B.||Monkswell, L.|
|Currie of Marylebone, L.||Montague of Oxford, L.|
|Darcy de Knayth, B.||Morris of Manchester, L.|
|David, B.||Nicol, B.|
|Davies of Coity, L.||Northbourne, L.|
|Desai, L.||Orme, L.|
|Dixon, L.||Peston, L.|
|Donoughue, L.||Pitkeathley, B.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Puttnam, L.|
|Dubs, L.||Ramsay of Cartvale, B.|
|Evans of Parkside, L.||Randall of St. Budeaux, L.|
|Evans of Watford, L.||Rea, L.|
|Falconer of Thoroton, L.||Rendell of Babergh, B.|
|Farrington of Ribbleton, B.||Scotland of Asthal, B.|
|Faulkner of Worcester, L.||Sefton of Garston, L.|
|Filkin, L.||Serota, B.|
|Gale, B.||Shepherd, L.|
|Gladwin of Clee, L.||Shore of Stepney, L.|
|Goldsmith, L.||Simon, V.|
|Gordon of Strathblane, L.||Smith of Gilmorehill, B.|
|Goudie, B.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Gould of Potternewton, B.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Symons of Vernham Dean, B.|
|Grantchester, L.||Thornton, B.|
|Hacking, L.||Uddin, B.|
|Hanworth, V.||Varley, L.|
|Harris of Haringey, L.||Walker of Doncaster, L.|
|Hayman, B.||Walpole, L.|
|Hilton of Eggardon, B.||Warner, L.|
|Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.||Watson of Invergowrie, L.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Whitty, L.|
|Hoyle, L.||Wilkins, B.|
|Hughes of Woodside, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Hunt of Kings Heath, L.||Williams of Mostyn, L.|
|Irvine of Lairg, L. (Lord||Winston, L.|
|Chancellor)||Woolmer of Leeds, L.|
|Islwyn, L.||Young of Old Scone, B.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 116:1138
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 117:
§ Page 60, line 8, after ("while") insert ("—
- (a) the child is under 18; and
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ The Lord Bishop of Southwark moved Amendment No. 118:
§ After Clause 89, insert the following new clause—
§ ELIGIBILITY FOR SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS
§ (". An asylum-seeker, and his dependants (if any), shall be eligible for any social security benefits to which they would have been entitled if neither Part VI of this Act or Schedule 1 to the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 had been in force, until such time as the Secretary of State has placed a report in the Library of the House of Commons giving details of the average process times in the determination of —
- (a) initial asylum decisions; and
- (b) appeals to adjudicators against initial asylum decisions,
§ The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, it is no secret that those of us in the voluntary sector involved in the day-to-day care of asylum seekers do not like the system of vouchers proposed in the Bill; nor do we like the overall level of the support package. Nevertheless, we have been slightly comforted by the Government's constant assurance that the care package is simply for a matter of months while an asylum application is swiftly decided, after which a successful applicant would fall within the normal benefit system. So there will be an inadequate and harsh system of care imposed for a matter of months.
§ The problem is that there are grave doubts that cases will be decided in a matter of months. The Home office computer at Croydon lies within my diocese and I am not at all comforted by the stories from those working there. The figures are not too bright: a little over 2,000 decisions made in July; 4,680 in June and 4,185 in May. Furthermore, the July figure included speedier Yugoslavian cases for which less casework was required.
§ The Government's aim of fairer, faster, firmer decision-making is thoroughly laudable. The aim of reducing the average time for processing applications to six months is a noble one. However, if that target is not reached in the short or the medium term, it is not right for asylum seekers to exist for years on an inadequate care package which was designed to see them through a few months.
§ Of course, we understand the politics of the matter. The Government do not want to be seen to be a soft touch for asylum seekers with weak cases, which is why vouchers, not cash, are given. I am also sure that the Government do not want to appear to be harsh and unjust to those who prove to be genuine in their search for sanctuary in this humane country of ours.1139
§ Amendment No. 118 takes the Government at their word and would provide that the support system shall not come into force until the Government have met their own targets for processing and that, in the mean time, benefits shall be restored to all asylum seekers who qualify for them. The Government have issued a consultation paper laying out new interim arrangements to be operated by local authorities from the coming into force of the Bill to the coming into force of the support arrangements to be operated by the proposed asylum support directive. It seems that those interim arrangements will, to a large extent, mirror the support arrangements under the Bill.
§ I may well have misunderstood these matters as they are complex and complicated. It appears that these proposals for interim arrangements constitute a breach of a commitment not to bring families into the support system until the time targets are met, as the interim arrangements would mean that they would be living under virtually the same scheme.
§ Amendment No. 118 would supersede all of that by restoring benefits for an interim period until the Government's targets are met. It keeps matters straightforward and just. I hope that your Lordships will support it. I beg to move.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, whom I am happy to see in her place, suggested during our debates on single parent benefits at the beginning of this Parliament that some of the gravest hardships facing people on benefit fell on those who had been a long time on benefit. She has since repeated that suggestion a little more definitely. It is the sort of thing about which she is of ten right. I take that suggestion extremely seriously. It is that principle which underlies the thinking behind this amendment.
The thinking behind Amendment No. 118 is that a system which puts people below benefit levels is only excusable, if at all, on the assumption which the Home Office has consistently made; that is, that it is to apply only for a short time. It is certainly a thoroughly plausible view and one I am strongly inclined to share.
This is an extremely moderate amendment. It does not challenge the introduction of the Home Office system. It simply puts a "condition precedent"—as the draftsman put it—on its commencement. That condition precedent is that the Home Office should have achieved an objective which it actually set itself.
I pass over altogether the argument of whether it is proper to use the system of support to deter asylum applications to this country. In saying that, I feel I am entitled, like Clive, to,stand astonished at my own moderation".I pass over altogether the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, with which the noble Baroness is quite familiar in relation to the adequacy of benefit levels and therefore a fortiori the adequacy of support below benefit levels. I pass over all the arguments about vouchers. Whenever such things have been introduced they have rapidly produced a discounted, second-hand market in 1140 which some remarkable things have happened. I pass over altogether the problem of supply in kind. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, may remember the point I made on the initial Statement last year; that when food drops were first offered to Bosnian Muslims, they were 30 per cent pork. We see in other contexts that where provision is made in kind, the actual amount of provision is diminished because some of it is unacceptable to some of the people who receive it. I pass over also an argument of costs such that we have had to get assurances that local authorities operating this system will be exempt from the provisions of best value legislation.
We are concerned only with the reality of the Home office's justification: that this scheme will be in force for a short time for each applicant. I rely on the Home office's White Paper which is the background to this Bill, paragraph 8.18. Having justified the claim that there ought to be a separate system of support for asylum seekers, the White Paper then states:The corollary of this is that asylum applications must be resolved much more quickly than at present, so that those who can establish an entitlement to remain in the United Kingdom are promptly distinguished from those who cannot".I agree with the Home Office on that. When the Home Office meets its own target, which I do not believe is imminent, this amendment would allow the scheme to go forward.
I remember reading—I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, has read it also—the testimony of Sir Michael Partridge to the Public Accounts Committee on the CSA. Sir Michael said that one thing that must never happen again was to have at one and the same time a major new piece of legislation, a major administrative reorganisation and a major new computer system. I pass over whether the Home Office computer is exactly new, but it is certainly having as many teething problems as if it were. Sir Michael's reservations apply strongly to this system of support. Under the interim system, the Home Office is proposing to introduce something close to that system no more than a month from now. Introducing a system which is even now being amended fills me with misgivings. We think of the CSA and the poll tax; we do not want to be there again.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Lord Swinfen
My Lords, attached to this group of amendments is my Amendment No. 183, which is designed to ensure that disabled asylum seekers have a right to special support for which they qualify because of their disability.
Clause 111, as currently drafted, means that no one who is subject to immigration control will be entitled to a range of income maintenance and extra cost benefits, including disability benefits. This amendment would ensure that severe disablement allowance—a meagre income replacement benefit available to those who are defined as 80 per cent disabled; disability living allowance which is an extra cost allowance for those with significant care or mobility needs; attendance allowance which provides 1141 for the care needs for those aged 65 and over, and the disabled person's tax credit, would be available to those subject to immigration control who meet the criteria for those benefits in terms of their disability.
Regulations have debarred asylum seekers and their families from claiming disability benefits since the changes to the benefit rules in February 1996, except for a small number who remain entitled because of transitional provisions. It is the view of disability organisations, and indeed my own view, that people with special and additional needs due to disability should have access to those special benefits in recognition of the extra costs that they face. The standard rate of support envisaged by the special support scheme for asylum seekers does not meet the needs of disabled adults and children. The simplest way for the Government to give asylum seekers that additional help is to restore to them the right to claim those benefits if they satisfy the medical tests. If the application for asylum fails, the entitlement to benefit will cease unless the asylum seeker appeals against the refusal of asylum status. Then the right to the benefit will continue until there is a final decision on the claim for asylum.
Although there do not seem to be official figures on the number of asylum seekers or refugees who are disabled, disability organisations' experience supports the view that the incidence of disability and ill health is much higher for this group than for the population in general. For some, direct experience of oppression, imprisonment, ill treatment, beatings or torture results in disability. For example, beatings around the head can cause permanent damage to the inner ear and loss of hearing. Rape and other forms of sexual abuse of ten result in permanent damage and recurring health problems. For others, disability results from untreated wounds or malnutrition experienced when fleeing persecution or war. The loss of limbs as a result of land-mines is a major cause of disablement in some parts of the world which are, or have been, experiencing warfare. Those asylum seekers with existing conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or haemophilia will have had them exacerbated by stress and the inability to obtain regular and safe medical care or treatment. It is extremely common among asylum seekers for a physically disabling condition to be accompanied by mental health problems.
As the House will know, there is an accepted body of research which substantiates the fact that disabled people face extra costs as a direct consequence of their disability. That is accepted by the Government and is reflected in the social security system through the provision of extra cost disability benefits, such as disability living allowance and attendance allowance. There is also some limited recognition—in the form of disability premiums and disabled child premium for income support within means-tested benefits—that extra financial help is necessary for those families with a disabled member.
§ The Lord Bishop of Lichfield
My Lords, I should like to press this point in relation to children. I work closely with the Children's Society in this matter. We are very concerned about the plight of families with young children whose circumstances are so grave that they can conceive of no other solution than to uproot themselves and flee. I am not clear what the position is as regards under 18 year-olds. Perhaps I may put it as a question. Can the Government assure us that asylum-seeking families with young children will not be provided for under these new interim arrangements but will continue to receive support under current arrangements until we know that the targets will be met for determining asylum claims?
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, Amendment No. 184, which falls to be spoken to in this grouping, has been tabled in my name. I shall preface my remarks by harking back to the debate in which I took part on Monday evening. At that time, I pleaded the case strongly for special consideration to be given to women who, as well as having many other sadnesses as regards their circumstances, also allege that they have been raped. The case that I made was brought to my attention by the Black Women's Rape Action Project and Women Against Rape, which operate out of Crossroads Women's Centre in Kentish Road.
I took great heart and comfort from the manner in which it was explained to me that the burden of their complaint is that rape, which amounts to persecution, had been insufficiently taken into account as regards the circumstances of women in that class. I am very grateful indeed because I felt that there was some sensitivity in the reply of my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer on Monday night and an indication that the issue is well understood.
My amendment seeks to exclude asylum seekers from a number of categories set out in Clause 111. It says:Subsection (1)(a) to (k) of this section shall not apply to an asylum seeker where there is evidence of persecution or torture…including rape or other sexual violence, who shall be paid income support at the urgent cases rate as prescribed".The case has been made from different points of view, but it is all the same. The purpose of the amendment is to restore cash benefits to asylum seekers where there is evidence of persecution and/or torture, including rape or other sexual violence. Again, I refer to my noble and learned friend's words on Monday night from which I detected that this was accepted as persecution.
I believe that it is urgent to ensure that the same standard of treatment is applied to victims of rape and other torture seeking asylum as rape victims in Britain. This includes access to cash benefits, reverting to the situation that existed prior to 1996.
The voucher system administered not by the DSS but by the Home office would stigmatise women and their children. This system forces women and children to live on inadequate and inappropriate food, seriously undermining their health, which is likely to have been significantly damaged by the torture from which they have fled. It will impose hardship and 1143 inestimable stress and anxiety on mothers who will have no cash for essential items such as nappies, medicines, and so on. It is also urgent to restore access to healthcare and social services to victims at a time when they need it most, as they are traumatised by rape and other torture as well as recovering from physical injuries or illness.
I believe that the case stands on the words that I have used. I am sure that noble Lords are not short of human feelings and that they recognise the dreadful situation of women who find themselves in such circumstances. I am also well aware that the Government do not have a bottomless purse and that they have to set priorities and make judgments—indeed, harsh judgments at times. However, the case I have made on behalf of these unfortunate women merits the most sympathetic and, l hope, generous response.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilkon
My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister a question relating to Amendments Nos. 183 and 184. I have in mind the facilities which will or will not be available for HIV and AIDS treatment. I believe that everyone in this House knows that Africa is ripe with HIV and AIDS. Many asylum seekers may be HIV positive but not know it. I should like to know what happens when such people become ill. Can the Minister tell us what the facilities for testing and for drugs will be? Can he also say what facilities will be available for the children who may also be HIV positive? Indeed, some of the women who have been raped may become HIV positive.
§ Lord Alton of Liverpool
My Lords, when we discussed Part VI of the Bill in Committee, my noble friend Lady Mar and I moved a number of amendments which dealt with some of the questions that have been put before the House today. I am happy to support the noble Lords, Lord Graham of Edmonton and Lord Swinfen, and the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Lichfield and of Southwark in the amendments to which they have spoken. They are good amendments which should commend themselves to the House.
Linked with these amendments are Amendments Nos. 149 and 150 which are tabled in my name. I heard what the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said earlier about taking the path of moderation, but perhaps I may for a moment lure him away from that path. These amendments are designed to go right to the heart of the voucher system. I make no apologies for saying that I believe it to be a bad system and that I would not wish to see it in the Bill.
I know that we are pressed for time and for that reason I shall be brief. However, I have some questions for the Minister about the voucher system. My understanding is that it will be run by an asylum-version of Camelot; in other words, a private company. I have no objection to this in principle if we can be told what the pr of it margins and the costs will be; and, indeed, the number of employees who will be running the system. Would it not be a better use of such personnel if they were to deal with the backlog of 1144 asylum cases, rather than setting up what is effectively a new counter-currency in the country? Frankly, on the basis of our experience in recent months with the administration of the passport system, I think that the Home Office probably has other administrative priorities on its mind without entering into these unknown waters. Of course, these are not entirely unknown waters because we know of the experience of the county of Kent, which does not stand well in this respect. Indeed, on the basis of their experience with vouchers, those concerned would recommend against the use of such a system.
I should like to raise a few practical points with the Government about the use of vouchers. Can the Minister say whether they have thought about the effect on people who will be vulnerable in any event of standing in queues and holding vouchers which will be available only to people who are asylum seekers? They will immediately be identified and, therefore, capable of being discriminated against and stigmatised. Have the Government thought about the bureaucratic business of being at a till in a supermarket and handing over vouchers and about the effect on those running the tills; and, indeed, the effect on the people waiting behind them in the queues? Have they thought about the practical consequences in that respect?
Moreover, can the Minister say whether or not change will be available from these vouchers? It has been put to me that they will come in denominations and that no change will be available when handing in such vouchers. If that is the case, it will reduce yet further the total level of support being given to asylum seekers. It also means that the very places where poor people would go to do their shopping—for example, street markets, stalls on roadsides and very cheap shops—will probably be out of bounds for those using the voucher system.
There are a number of other points that I could make in this respect. There is much evidence to show that vouchers do not act as a deterrent; indeed, we are told that cash is a pull factor. I do not think that there is any evidence for that—the Scottish experience certainly does not suggest that that is so. There are certainly administrative problems with a voucher system and there is the point about the stigma. For all those reasons, I should like the House to reconsider the question of whether we should be embarking upon this experiment which, frankly, I believe to be foolhardy.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group which have been either moved or spoken to. I wish to discuss in particular Amendment No. 149, to which my name is also attached. Clause 91 deals inter alia with non-legal expenses. I wish to give some examples of such expenses which an asylum seeker almost certainly will have to bear. I refer to stationery, stamps, telephone, fax, the cost of interpretation and translation of documents and travel not only to access legal advice 1145 but also to case hearings. It seems to me essential that all these matters should be covered either by a cash payment or by a kind of voucher which is instantly exchangeable for cash. I commend Amendment No. 149.
§ Viscount Brentford
My Lords, I have one question for the Minister on the voucher system. I have been told that 300 new staff are being recruited to operate the new voucher support system. If they were employed to take decisions on outstanding asylum applications they could take an extra 51,000 decisions a year, which would seriously reduce the backlog. I would be grateful to receive confirmation of that. On the matter of being stigmatised—I support what the right reverend Prelate said about that—I am concerned about the children because I understand that they are likely to be stigmatised as "voucher kids" which will make life more difficult for them.
§ The Countess of Mar
My Lords, I too support this group of amendments. I must apologise to the House for not declaring my interest on Monday evening. I am a member of the Immigration Appeal Tribunal. If the tribunal was run efficiently, there would be no need for Part VI of the Bill. Cases would be dealt with quickly and there would not be the drain on social security and housing benefit resources. Like the noble Viscount who has just spoken, I feel that if the machinery for hearing cases was improved, that part of the Bill would not be necessary.
§ Lord Warner
My Lords, I enter a slightly discordant note in this series of speeches in support of this group of amendments. I speak as someone who has been involved in social security for 10 years of my life. It is worth bearing in mind that social security is based on some principles. Some of those principles comprise residence in the UK and having the contingencies which require entitlement to a benefit. I suggest that the Government are quite entitled to take the view that UK asylum seekers do not meet either of those requirements and are quite entitled to shape the support arrangements in accordance with the needs of those asylum seekers. This is exactly what they are doing in this Bill. They are making a benefit available in kind in the form of accommodation and support for housing goods. They are providing money, part in cash, part in vouchers, for day-to-day living expenses. That seems to me an approach which is perfectly defensible. I remind the House that previous governments, Labour and Conservative, have used vouchers when it suited them, for example as regards beef and butter. They gave vouchers to pensioners and other people on low incomes when that was thought appropriate as a matter of public policy.
It is worth recalling those circumstances. It is also worth recalling that there is nothing in this Bill which prevents asylum seekers having access to the NHS and the kinds of services that they require if they have particular illnesses or other conditions. I suggest that 1146 the Government have gone a long way to provide support for asylum seekers in an appropriate form, have listened to some of the complaints that have been made and have enhanced levels of support for children and for families with children who enter as asylum seekers. I suggest that we are fretting about nothing and that we would do well to go with the flow and let the systems be introduced, as has been proposed in this Bill.
§ Lord Swinfen
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, he mentioned previous governments giving vouchers for beef and butter. Does he not agree that that was done to reduce the beef and butter mountains in Europe and was not a case of vouchers being given for normal day-to-day or weekly maintenance?
§ Lord Warner
My Lords, I was simply making the point that as a matter of public policy governments of all persuasions have used vouchers where that was deemed appropriate in the circumstances. This Government are doing nothing different in these circumstances. They are using vouchers where that is an appropriate part of the arrangements for the support of asylum seekers.
§ Lord Cope of Berkeley
My Lords, your Lordships will have noticed that my name also appears on Amendment No. 118, to which I wish to speak. We accept the introduction of the new support system, including the vouchers, provided that it can be properly implemented. The proposed short timescales for the introduction of the system that I have seen worry me a great deal. Some of us who have been in government have experience of the gap that can arise as between ministerial wishes and aspirations and the actual operation of policies on the ground. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, mentioned the dreaded letters "CSA". All of us who were in another place during the previous parliament have them engraved on our hearts as a result of our experiences in constituency surgeries and so on. I see some of my former colleagues nodding their heads in support.
This new system will comprise a large, bureaucratic task to be set up from scratch all over the country as people are to be dispersed as part of the policy. It will be a difficult task to get the system running smoothly and it will be made impossible if there are large and increasing numbers of claimants, as there are at present. Last year once again more applications were made for asylum—about one-third more than the previous year—than in earlier years. Fewer applications were processed. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark reminded us, the situation continues to worsen in this respect. More people are waiting and more people are applying. As far as we can see at the moment, fewer people appear to be having their claims processed.
I believe that the Government must get on top of the asylum applications backlog before they start to introduce this other policy. Otherwise the support 1147 system will not work well and it will not work humanely. We all want it to work humanely for all these people, and particularly for the genuine asylum seekers and refugees who seek refuge in this country. Other provisions of this Bill are designed to help the Government to get on top of the problem. It is not that the Government are not doing anything about the problem; this Bill forms a big part of doing something about it. The Government have a worthy target of six months for processing asylum applications. The amendment suggests that we should take the Government at their word and say, "Introduce this new support system once you have achieved the target and then you will stand a much better chance of being able to introduce it humanely and efficiently in the interests of all those concerned and in the interests of the good name of our country". Therefore I support Amendment No. 118.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I remind your Lordships of the amendments in this group which comprises Amendments Nos. 118, 149, 150, 151, 183 and 184. As has been observed by more than one of your Lordships who have spoken, these are topics that we have discussed on past occasions in Committee.
I start with Amendment No. 118. I have to say that the lone of what has been said in respect of all these amendments is one that I recognise as being entirely based on legitimate motives. However, I suggest to your Lordships that some of the fears are misplaced when one considers the problem a little more closely. The whole point of the new system is to provide for asylum seekers to be supported separately from the main social security system. The point made by my noble friend Lord Warner is a valid one. Some people claim asylum for financial reasons. I shall deal with that matter briefly. I am not being harsh and dismissive. We do not have an open door policy in this country. I do not believe that the majority of people in this country would support such a policy. I know I am repeating what I said on previous occasions, but if we do not have an open door policy for those who are motivated by economic reasons, then we must have a strategy to deal with those who come here for reasons which our political policy does not accept.
I repeat, if I lived in poor conditions in an eastern European country and I had young children, I would want to travel to this country, to Canada or to the United States. I do not despise that motive; I hope I fully understand it. However, while we understand and respect those motives, it is not government policy to accept them. It is not sensibly in prospect that any government would have a policy whereby we deal with economic migrants in the same way as we deal with those who are eventually demonstrated to be genuine asylum seekers. I hope that that does not sound harsh—it is not intended to be—but it is the essential underpinning of government policy. I repeat, I do not believe that any prospective government of any political colour is likely to alter that policy. We are not 1148 living in the age when the United States, for instance, throughout a great part of the 19th century, was able to say,Give me … your huddled masses yearning to breathe free".That is not the situation in which we find ourselves or are ever likely to find ourselves.
Going on from that matter, if there is a cash-only system, an economic pull is thereby generated. I am not saying that is discreditable; it is a necessary incident of the human condition that if one thinks one can do better elsewhere—economically, financially and in prospects for one's family—one is likely to think about doing so.
Part of the point of the voucher system is to provide a viable alternative to cash benefits; it will allow asylum seekers who turn out to be genuine to support themselves properly, without economic migrants being able to make unreasonable gains from the system. I do not think I can define our policy more plainly. I recognise that others in the House may have a different view. It is from that basis of policy that we derive the present structure of the Bill and our entire approach.
I repeat what I have said so many times to your Lordships, our intention in doing this is to ensure that asylum seekers are supported in this way for a short period of time only. I have given assurances to your Lordships and the Home Secretary has given assurances absolutely unambiguously in the Commons. He has undertaken that the new support arrangements will be based on bringing down the length of time it takes to resolve an initial application in asylum cases to two months, and for the resolution of any appeal a further four months. The noble Countess is right—we have to speed matters up. That is one of the central purposes of the Bill. I am informed that the Immigration and Nationality Directorate is well on the way to achieving that target.
I am not sure that all of your Lordships will remember that Mr Straw has given a further undertaking that, if the two-month target is not met, families with children, who are of ten the most vulnerable—I agree with the right reverend Prelate—would not be brought into the new support arrangements until the target is being achieved.
I understand the point of Amendment No 118 but it is not practicable. There will certainly be a lead time to setting up new arrangements or to continuing with the existing ones. We cannot delay the decision—which is long overdue—until the day before the new arrangements are due to take effect. My quarrel with Amendment No. 118 is that it is unduly rigid and restrictive.
In any event, I do not accept the implied proposition that the new support arrangements will be any less satisfactory for the genuine asylum seekers and their families than the present piecemeal ad hoc support arrangements that have grown up, even if the 1149 occasional circumstance may arise where asylum seekers are constrained to remain within the support system for rather longer than six months.
Perhaps I may advert to what my noble friend Lord Warner said. The genuine asylum seeker, by definition, requires decent treatment. Our system proposes all-found accommodation, free; with pots and pans, linen and so forth provided; with utilities provided at public expense; with a voucher provision, made for the reasons I have indicated; and a cash payment of £10 on top. I am not pretending—none of my colleagues ever has—that that will enable anyone to live a life of luxury. However, taking a decent, fair view of all the interests involved, I suggest that it is not unreasonable to provide such a system for a relatively short period of time. If some of your Lordships disagree with that, I respect the disagreement but we shall have to part company in our policy approach.
We are trying to achieve a systematic structure which deals with people who are in serious difficulties on a proper, efficient basis. No government so far has succeeded. The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, has been scrupulous on these occasions not to make any party political points. Nor shall I. No one has managed to deal appropriately with these difficulties. The noble Lord was generous enough to say that he welcomed the general approach behind the Bill.
Again I have to put a matter plainly; I hope it is not regarded as harsh. One way of making the system more prompt and effective is to reduce the flow of unmerited applications. One way of doing that is to mitigate, if not to remove entirely, the pull factor of cash benefits and unrestricted choice of residence. I do not think that I can illustrate our approach more clearly. If we disagree, we disagree.
Turning to Amendments Nos. 149 and 150, it is a fundamental principle of the Bill that support for asylum seekers should no longer be available in the form of cash for the reasons I have set out. We have found that after the Immigration and Asylum Act 1996, when those who did not claim asylum at port of entry became ineligible for benefits, there was a fall in the numbers claiming asylum after they had arrived in the United Kingdom.
Amendment No. 149 may be technically defective. That is not my argument; I am simply indicating that the amendment is defective in the drafting, probably because there is a word or two missing. I am trying to be helpful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton. If he wants to come back with the amendment he will be able to say "I have cured the deficiency". However, that is not my point. My point is that we differ in the fundamental approach.
We wish to honour our international obligations. We are obliged to provide a safe haven for those with a well-founded fear of persecution. Equally, we are not minded to continue a system which provides for those who seek to, or do, enter the United Kingdom simply for economic advantage. I repeat, we believe that essentially these needs can be properly met by the provision I indicated.
1150 I turn now to the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, Amendment No. 151. He has not spoken to his amendment, but it may be helpful if I deal with it at this stage. I am perfectly happy not to if the noble Lord does not wish me to do so.
Under the new arrangements, vouchers will be issued to the main applicant, who will usually be the person who has claimed asylum, and not a dependant or other nominated person. That will ensure the secure and efficient delivery of the vouchers to those in need. It is important where there are children that the responsible adult is required to receive a substantial number of vouchers. I do recognise that there may be exceptional circumstances—which may be what the noble Lord had in mind because he referred to this earlier—where the main applicant may be unable to collect or use the vouchers. In such cases we shall make arrangements for the main applicant to have his voucher allocation issued to another family member or nominated person.
I cannot accept Amendment No. 183, but I hope that my explanation will be sufficient to satisfy noble Lords, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, who spoke to that amendment. I accept that suffering a physical challenge may bring special needs. There is nothing between us on that. We have taken the power to make provision in the regulations on the circumstances in which support may be expected at levels other than that which is provided as a general rule. I refer to paragraph 3(b) of the new schedule to be introduced by Amendment No. 124. That will ensure that appropriate support can be given to asylum seekers with such needs, and to their families.
Where an asylum seeker or his dependants have special needs that require additional support, that will also be taken into account in the assessment of accommodation and essential living needs. It is possible that that could result in a higher level of spending power being made available in particular circumstances. We would certainly want to reflect the particular needs of a disabled person in deciding, for example, what kind of accommodation should be provided. The most obvious example would be the provision of level access for wheelchair users, but one needs to be flexible. Asylum seekers with disabilities would also be able to look to local authorities for assistance under the appropriate social services legislation. I reiterate what was said by my noble friend Lord Warner. There is, of course, an entitlement to use the general facilities of the National Health Service.
The amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Graham of Edmonton, Amendment No. 184, is the last with which I need to deal. His amendment addresses those cases where there is evidence of persecution or torture or both. Those would be tests that give an entitlement to social security benefits rather than support under Part VI. It is inherent in seeking asylum that one is alleging persecution or a well-founded fear of it. I would suggest that that is a claim properly to be assessed by the Immigration and Nationality Directorate rather than the Benefits Agency. For that reason, I cannot accept the 1151 amendment, but I should like to give such comfort as I may to those who are troubled by the same concerns so well articulated by my noble friend a moment ago.
We recognise that there will be a number of asylum seekers who have particular problems as a result of past torture. Perhaps I may refer to the helpful conversations I have had with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and remind noble Lords of our discussions in Committee when I believe that I was able to meet their concerns quite significantly, if not absolutely entirely. We are continuing to consider these matters. I repeat my earlier tribute to the work of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. We are still in active discussion with the foundation. Our conversations with the noble Lords I have mentioned have not stopped with the announcement I was able to make in Committee. We are having talks with the foundation about how to ensure that the new support arrangements can ensure that clients are able to continue to have access to their services.
I did take on board the further points made by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord about location near to specialist services. Part of that was met by my comments on expenses for travel. That may not be the full answer, and in a certain limited number of cases it may well be necessary to locate those who have suffered in this way close to the main sources of treatment. However, I should say immediately that that would run counter to our overall philosophy of moving asylum seekers away from London and the south-east. However, in a certain number of cases we shall be giving consideration to that, in conjunction with the foundation.
I realise that I have spoken for a long time, but I have done so in the main to honour all the concerns that have been expressed. I believe that we have provided a proper system. Perhaps I may turn to one or two specific questions which I shall deal with quickly, but if I should omit any points, I shall send detailed letters and, as I have always done, I shall place copies in the Library so that all noble Lords may have the benefit of reading them.
The noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, asked about staff in relation to the voucher system. The figure of 300 new staff does not cover simply the voucher system, but is to run the asylum support system as a whole. Further, we have more than 200 new caseworkers to consider asylum claims. Over the next three years—I revert to the point made by the noble Countess—we shall be investing £120 million to speed up the system.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked me about items such as stationery. That will be covered by the level of spending power available through the vouchers. It is no different from that with which an asylum seeker presently drawing social security has to contend.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, asked me about cash exchanges for vouchers. That is not currently planned. As I said in Committee, we are looking at the possibility of the redemption of vouchers in charity shops, and of course the fact is that £10 per head shall be made available.
1152 Questions were asked about the voucher system itself, its pr of it levels and so forth. Those details will become clear only when the tendering exercise presently being conducted has been completed.
The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, asked about facilities for HIV and AIDS victims. There is undoubtedly a problem there and we are not in disagreement on that. We are actively considering the issue, and I am grateful for her reminder. We are considering it in collaboration with the Department of Health and the voluntary sector, which has such an important part to play. Those sufferers will undoubtedly need special provision, and we are putting our minds to that.
I hope that the explanations I have given have done justice to the concerns expressed, even if I have not managed to persuade all of your Lordships of the virtue of the course we have adopted.
§ The Lord Bishop of Southwark
My Lords, I thank his Grace the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General for that response. I have of course listened carefully to what he has said, but I reel that Amendment No. 118 is a moderate and reasonable amendment that does not affect government policy in any way. If the Government are successful in meeting their targets—we all hope that they will be—the amendment simply would not come into force. It is only if the targets are not met that further protection would be given under the benefits system until those targets are met.
§ In all conscience I cannot see the logical objection to this provision. I should like to test the opinion of the House.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 118) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 161; Not-Contents, 116.1154
|Division No. 3|
|Addington, L.||Caithness, E.|
|Addison, V.||Campbell of Alloway, L.|
|Ailesbury, M.||Carlisle, E.|
|Alderdice, L.||Castle of Blackburn, B.|
|Alton of Liverpool, L.||Chesham, L.|
|Astor, V.||Clancarty, E.|
|Astor of Hever, L.||Clark of Kempston, L.|
|Attlee, E.||Clement-Jones, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Clitheroe, L.|
|Bath and Wells, Bp.||Coleraine, L.|
|Bathurst, E.||Coleridge, L.|
|Beaverbrook, L.||Colwyn, L.|
|Biddulph, L.||Cope of Berkeley, L.|
|Biffen, L.||Courtown, E.|
|Blaker, L.||Cranborne, V.|
|Blatch, B.||Crathorne, L.|
|Boardman, L.||Darcy de Knayth, B.|
|Bradshaw, L.||Denbigh, E.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Denham, L.|
|Byford, B.||Dholakia, L.|
|Cadman, L.||Dixon-Smith, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Monro of Langholm, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Montrose, D.|
|Elliott of Morpeth, L.||Morris, L.|
|Elton, L.||Mountevans, L.|
|Ezra, L.||Murton of Lindisfarne, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Napier and Ettrick, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Newall, L.|
|Fookes, B.||Newby, L|
|Freeman, L.||Norfolk, D.|
|Gage, V.||Northbrook, L.|
|Gardner of Parkes, B.||Northesk, E.|
|Geddes, L.||Norton of Louth, L.|
|Geraint, L.||Nunburnholme, L.|
|Glenarthur, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Goodhart, L.||Onslow, E.|
|Gray, L.||Onslow of Woking, L.|
|Gray of Contin, L.||Oxfuird, V.|
|Greenway, L.||Palmer, L.|
|Grey, E.||Park of Monmouth, B.|
|Hamilton of Dalzell, L.||Pender, L.|
|Hamwee, B.||Phillips of Sudbury, L.|
|Hanningfield, L.||Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.|
|Harding of Petherton, L.||Rawlings, B.|
|Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Razzall, L.|
|Harris of Greenwich, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Harrowby, E.||Rennard, L|
|Haslam, L.||Renton, L.|
|Hemphill, L.||Roberts of Conwy, L.|
|Henley, L. [Teller]||Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.|
|Higgins, L.||Rodney, L.|
|HolmPatrick, L.||Rotherwick, L.|
|Hooper, B.||Rowallan, L.|
|Hylton, L.||Russell, E.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Sandwich, E.|
|Iveagh, E.||Savile, L.|
|Jakobovits, L.||Seccombe, B.|
|Jopling, L.||Sharp of Guildford, B.|
|Shaw of Northstead, L.|
|Kennedy of The Shaws, B.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Kimball, L.||Smith of Clifton, L.|
|Kingsland, L.||Southwark, Bp. [Teller]|
|Kinnoull, E.||Stewartby, L.|
|Lane of Horsell, L.||Sudeley, L.|
|Lawrence, L.||Swinfen, L.|
|Leigh, L.||Taylor of Warwick, L.|
|Lichfield, Bp.||Teviot, L.|
|Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Thomas of Gresford, L.|
|Liverpool, E.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Lucas of Chilworth, L.||Thomas of Walliswood, B.|
|Luke, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Lyell, L.||Thurso, V.|
|Mackie of Benshie, L.||Tordoff, L.|
|McNair, L.||Torrington, V.|
|Maddock, B.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Mar, C.||Trumpington, B.|
|Marlesford, L.||Waddington, L.|
|Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Warnock, B.|
|Methuen, L.||Williams of Crosby, B.|
|Miller of Chilthorne Domer, B.||Wise, L.|
|Molyneaux of Killead, L.||Young, B.|
|Acton, L.||Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.|
|Ahmed, L.||Brookman, L.|
|Alli, L.||Burlison, L.|
|Archer of Sandwell, L.||Carter, L. [Teller]|
|Ashton of Upholland, B.||Chandos, V.|
|Bach, L.||Christopher, L.|
|Barnett, L.||Clarke of Hampstead, L.|
|Bassam of Brighton, L.||Clinton-Davis, L.|
|Berkeley, L.||Crawley, B.|
|Blackstone, B.||Currie of Marylebone, L.|
|Borrie, L.||David, B.|
|Bragg, L.||Davies of Coity, L.|
|Brett, L.||Davies of Oldham, L.|
|Dixon, L.||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Dubs, L.||McIntosh of Hudnall, B.|
|Evans of Parkside, L.||Mackenzie of Framwellgate, L.|
|Evans of Watford, L.||Mallalieu, B.|
|Farrington of Ribbleton, B.||Masham of Ilton, B.|
|Faulkner of Worcester, L.||Mason of Barnsley, L.|
|Filkin, L.||Merlyn-Rees, L.|
|Gale, B.||Milner of Leeds, L|
|Gilbert, L.||Molloy, L.|
|Gladwin of Clee, L.||Monkswell, L.|
|Glanusk L.||Morris of Manchester, L.|
|Goldsmith, L.||Orme, L.|
|Gordon of Strathblane, L.||Patel, L.|
|Goudie, B.||Peston, L.|
|Gould of Potternewton, B.||Pitkeathley, B.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Ramsay of Cartvale, B.|
|Grantchester, L.||Rendell of Babergh, B.|
|Grenfell, L.||Richard, L.|
|Hacking, L.||Rogers of Riverside, L.|
|Hanworth, V.||Sainsbury of Turville, L.|
|Hardy of Wath, L.||Scotland of Asthal, B.|
|Harris of Haringey, L.||Sefton of Garston, L|
|Hayman, B.||Shepherd, L.|
|Hilton of Eggardon, B.||Shore of Stepney, L.|
|Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.||Simon, V.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Smith of Gilmorehill, B.|
|Howie of Troon, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Hoyle, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Hughes of Woodside, L.||Symons of Vernham Dean, B.|
|Hunt of Kings Heath, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Islwyn, L.||Thornton, B.|
|Janner of Braunstone, L.||Turner of Camden, B.|
|Jay of Paddington, B. (Lord||Uddin, B.|
|Privy Seal)||Walker of Doncaster, L.|
|Kennet, L.||Watson of Invergowrie, L.|
|King of West Bromwich, L.||Wedderburn of Charlton, L.|
|Kintore, E||Wharton, B.|
|Kirkhill, L.||Whitty, L.|
|Lea of Crondall, L.||Wilkins, B.|
|Levy, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Lipsey, L.||Williams of Mostyn, L.|
|Lockwood, B.||Winston, L.|
|Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.||Woolmer of Leeds, L.|
|Macdonald of Tradeston, L.||Young of Old Scone, B.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Clause 90 [Persons for whom support may be provided]:
§ Viscount Bridgeman moved Amendment No. 119:
§ Page 60, line 29, leave out subsection (2)
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, this amendment stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Cope of Berkeley. It seeks to remove subsection (2) of Clause 90. I do not think that we are very far apart on this issue. I refer your Lordships to our proceedings in Committee on 21st July when (at col. 1105 of the Official Report) the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, gave an assurance that regulations would be introduced to cover circumstances in which it would not be appropriate to provide someone with support under the scheme who otherwise appeared to be destitute.
The views on this clause of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee have had quite an airing. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, reminded
us that they had been quoted ipsissima verba twice in Committee. On page 3 of its report the committee stated:
We question the need for clause 85(2)"—
the clause numbers have changed since the Committee stage—
which would enable the Secretary of State to remove this linchpin of support from those who, in the words of clause 85(1) are 'destitute or … likely to become destitute', and recommend its deletion from the bill, or at very least that the circumstances under which the power may be exercised are set out on the face of the bill".
§ As it stands, Clause 90(2) has serious Henry VIII implications, and we propose that it should be deleted. In view of the earlier assurance by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, we suggest that the Government's power, in appropriate circumstances, to withhold benefit from asylum seekers otherwise appearing to be destitute would not be inhibited. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman. I should also like briefly to raise the more general matter, which we have raised previously, of delegated powers issues.
As noble Lords on the Government Front Bench will know, we are very concerned about those clauses and amendments which still raise substantial issues with regard to the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, and in particular those that have not been able to be considered by the committee. We shall debate a number of new clauses later, and I raise the matter now so as to avoid having to do so in regard to each of them. We fear that phrases used in the government amendments—for example,for the purposes of that section and in that paragraphdo little to meet the committee's concerns. Some of the new clauses virtually set up totally new systems of regulation. I refer, for example, to the proposed addition of a new schedule before Schedule 8, and to the new Schedule 8 itself, which has only recently been tabled. The new proposals give huge powers for regulatory provision to the Secretary of State. The provisions arise in area after area—in terms of support, the treatment of asylum seekers and many others.
The proposal in this amendment—namely, to remove the power by regulation to exclude people from support—relates to only one example. A large number of later amendments also give rise to the objection that the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee has not had an opportunity to be heard on these matters. Therefore, we should very much like to know how Ministers intend to discharge their earlier pledge in regard to the amendments that are presently before the House.
My Lords, the difficulty that arises in regard to Clause 90, and is brought to a head in subsection (2), is that an important matter is left in a state of uncertainty. We should have to wait until the circumstances had been prescribed.
1156 An issue of this kind affects the future of an asylum seeker, the merits of the matter, and the public purse. It would have been better had the Government found some way of indicating what circumstances they have in mind in the Bill. I do not know whether it is too late for anything to be done along those lines, but it would certainly help.
§ Lord Ackner
My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment largely because I do know the Government's answer to the recommendation of the Select Committee on delegated powers. The committee's comments are strongly worded and require an answer. For the present, no such answer appears to have been provided.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Graham of Edmonton
My Lords, my Amendment No. 121 is in this group. The burden of the amendment is to ask the Government to clarify and, I hope, sympathise with the point that I make. It relates to the virtual ghettoisation, under the terms of the subsection which I seek to delete, of people entering this country. The subsection relates to the provision for support and deals with the accommodation that such people may be offered. The lines that I seek to delete refer to the location of that accommodation, the fact that it is temporary, and the fact that the persons concerned have no enforceable right to occupy the accommodation. Under the provisions of this part of the Bill, asylum seekers would be forced to live in areas designated by the Home Office—in my view explicitly disregarding family, friends, church and other support networks, upon which women with children depend in particular.
The matter is urgent. Many asylum seekers are severely traumatised as a result of their experience. Further isolation, and even the hostility of those around them, compound their suffering. It is vital for rape victims to have access to the support of communities, and to agencies which have particular expertise and resources, as well as to expert legal advice and specialist medical and other services, which are of ten not available outside London. Asylum seekers who had already been the victims of a lack of legal advice, or bad legal representation, would be further penalised. The Home office has raised corrupt. negligent legal representation as one of the justifications for the Bill, but there is a refusal to take that factor into account when deciding on asylum claims. Again, that would punish the victim.
I do not say that there is an easy solution. I simply ask the Minister and his advisers to bear in mind and understand the situation. It can be readily understood that people who can begin to justify their case that they are the victims of persecution and rape are desperately in need of communication and social intercourse with those who are either from their former country or share a common situation. Subsection (6) is 1157 deleterious to the interests of those who are in that dreadful situation. I hope that the Minister will be helpful in his reply, given the case that I have made.
§ Lord Goodhart
My Lords, I am a member of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. I cannot speak on behalf of the committee, which speaks through its published reports and not otherwise. Speaking for myself, I regard subsection (2) of Clause 90 as an extraordinary provision. Subsection (1) of the clause gives the Home Secretary power, appropriately, to provide special arrangements for asylum seekers who are destitute or are likely to become so. But subsection (2) simply goes on, without any explanation, to state that a person who would otherwise fall within subsection (1) is excluded in prescribed circumstances.
We do not know what those circumstances are. It may be that there are some circumstances in which that approach would be justified. But in the vast majority of foreseeable circumstances it would not be justified to take away the last barrier between a person who has entered this country and destitution. It seems clear that, if this subsection is to remain in the Bill, it should do so only on the basis that the circumstances are clearly spelt out in which the power to avoid destitution can be removed.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, in this group are Amendment No. 119, government Amendment No. 120, Amendment No. 121, government Amendment No. 122 and Amendment No. 122A.
I take the points which were so moderately made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and latterly the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart. I believe that they are entitled to the explanation which they so courteously requested.
As we know, Part VI offers the proposition that asylum seekers who are destitute—I take up the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart—may be supported under Part VI. The reason we have subsection (2) is that there are many situations where asylum seekers already have access to other forms of support. Therefore they do not need to be within the Part VI support system. For example, in April 2000, when the Secretary of State's new support arrangements come into being, some people who applied for asylum at the port of entry will be entitled to social security benefits. Others will be supported by local authorities under the interim arrangements in Schedule 8. We do not therefore intend to bring all those into the new support system all at once at the beginning of April 2000. It would be unrealistic to contemplate it. The power in Clause 90(2) is therefore included in part to deal with those circumstances, but there are others.
Some asylum seekers are nationals of countries which are signatories to the European Convention on Social and Medical Assistance or the European Social Charter. Asylum seekers who are nationals of those countries will, by virtue of provisions in the 1158 agreements, continue to be eligible to receive benefits after the new support arrangements come into force next year.
§ Lord Goodhart
My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. Surely people in those categories will not be destitute or likely to become destitute.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, they might well be destitute or likely to become destitute if they did not take up their entitlements in the way that I have described. We want the power to say: "These are alternative entitlements which you must look to".
To develop the question asked, there may be other circumstances. We are considering with some care how we deal with someone who has made himself intentionally destitute. I do not believe anyone would sensibly contend that in those circumstances there ought to be the automatic right to the Part VI support if he makes himself intentionally destitute by spending recklessly whatever money he brings into the country with him. If someone is being supported under Part VI, is it legitimate to consider withdrawal of support, for example, if he wilfully mistreats the property in which he is housed virtually to the point of destruction? We may need to rely on that power, Clause 90(2), and the provisions of paragraph 8 of the new schedule under Amendment No. 124 to make regulations on those matters.
There is no sinister plot being considered or engineered. Those are the kind of circumstances in which we would want the regulations available to be made to deal with them. I say quite unambiguously that we have no intention of using the power arbitrarily to deny—
§ Lord Ackner
My Lords, can the Minister assist us as to why the categories he mentioned cannot be put on the face of the Bill? For example, a prescribed situation would be where there are reasonable alternative sources of funds. Alternatively, as the noble and learned Lord said, it could be where the destitution had been brought on by the applicant's own unreasonable behaviour. Those are all circumstances which can be identified and prescribed.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, that is right as a blunt point. But I do not believe that restricting ourselves to the circumstances which we envisage at present being on the face of the Bill, in the way the noble and learned Lord suggests, is the correct answer.
We want the regulatory power in order to deal with circumstances which are not arbitrarily denying support to people who have no other means of alleviating their destitution; that is, except possibly in extreme circumstances where there has been real misbehaviour. That is the policy purpose behind Clause 90(2).
I turn to Amendments Nos. 120 and 122. They are drafting amendments to achieve consistency of the regulation-making powers in subsection (5) with those elsewhere where similar formulations are adopted.
1159 Amendments Nos. 121 and 122A have been debated on a number of occasions. They concern the test of the adequacy of the accommodation that an asylum seeker has when he seeks assistance. Amendment No. 122A invites us to delete the matters to which the Secretary of State may have no regard but would leave us with the option of re-introducing any or all of them by regulations under subsection (5)(b). That is counter to the criticism which we have heard on many occasions, including this evening, that we are not setting out enough of our proposed policy on asylum support in primary legislation. We think the principles set out—absence of security of tenure, sharing, the temporary nature of the accommodation and its location—are sufficiently central to the policy that they ought to be set out.
I do not dismiss the concerns raised on Clause 90(2). I wish to reflect on them, though I have to say as my immediate response to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, that we may still want secondary legislation for fine detail. Perhaps I may leave it in this way. The questions that have been raised are legitimate. I wish to consider them with my noble friend Lord Bassam to ascertain whether we can accommodate both our purposes. I can give no guarantee, but we will look at it together.
I was dealing with the later amendments. Asylum support is to be a last rather than a first resort. If there is other accommodation that meets their needs, they should not expect accommodation under the support scheme. For example, if someone is staying with friends or relatives who are willing to accommodate him, that should suffice, though under Clause 90 (6) he would not have a,right to occupy the accommodation".The directorate may not take into account the sole fact that accommodation is shared with another household. Shared accommodation may be quite adequate. We would not ignore real or serious overcrowding or the fact that a large number of people were relying on very limited shared sanitary or cooking facilities. Equally, "temporary" accommodation can be quite satisfactory for some during the limited period of their asylum claim. I do not say that this is ideal but at the moment homeless families, as citizens of this country, live quite adequately in temporary accommodation under the homelessness legislation for substantial periods of time. They are of ten longer than the periods that we contemplate here.
Location is not a matter to which regard should necessarily be had. If an asylum seeker has available accommodation provided, for example, by a relative in Birmingham, the fact that he might wish to be accommodated elsewhere is not of itself to be a determining factor in assessing his destitution. We are still considering whether to prescribe other factors under subsection (5)(b), and if we do, similar considerations would apply.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, I apologise for intervening and am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. I wished to pursue the matter he raised that under Clause 90(6) regard cannot be had to the sharing of 1160 accommodation. I understand the point made by the noble and learned Lord. He mentioned that it might not preclude overcrowding. Can he give an assurance that if overcrowding is a factor—and it can be related in part to the people sharing the accommodation—that matter could be considered under Clause 90, or would it also be barred?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, the noble Baroness asks a fair question. Some accommodation would be overcrowded even if it were in single family occupancy because there is not enough room for a large family.
We wish to look not at whether it is shared, which in the true sense is not relevant. If there were overcrowding, it would he a relevant consideration because the accommodation would not then be adequate. On a slightly different point, some accommodation in Birmingham might well be adequate but it might not be suitable if it were unsafe if it were in an area where there had been racial attacks. Those are the kind of factors we would wish to take into account. We want to get a humane test, a fair lest which is reflective of all legitimate interests.
I hope that the assurances that I have given, particularly the indication that my noble friend Lord Bassam and I will look again at the principled objection to Clause 90(2), will suffice to induce noble Lords not to press the various amendments in this group.
§ Viscount Bridgeman
My Lords, I am grateful for the contribution of noble Lords to the debate. I am also grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his indication that he will look at this matter again. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 120:
§ Page 60, line 41, after ("prescribed") insert ("for the purposes of this paragraph").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 121 not moved.]
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 122:
§ Page 60, line 42, leave out ("any prescribed matter") insert ("such matters as may be prescribed for the purposes of this paragraph").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 122A not moved.]
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 123:
Page 61, line 20, at end insert—
("( ) Schedule (Provision of Support: Regulations) gives the Secretary of State power to make regulations supplementing this section.").
§ The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in this group we find Amendments Nos. 123, 124, 146 to 148 and 152 to 158. Government Amendments Nos. 123, 124 and 158 replace and add to the provisions setting out the new asylum seeker support scheme previously contained in Clause 93. Essentially, this is a framework for powers to make regulations governing the parameters and operation of the scheme. In November we intend to publish a consultation paper on the regulations, which we hope noble Lords welcome.
§ Paragraphs 2, 5, and 6 of the schedule extend the scope of powers to make regulations regarding the resources of the applicant that may be taken into account in determining destitution and the support that is to be provided; in other words, we want to be able to take account of cash, savings and income. That will also allow us to set thresholds as to the level of resources below which a person is to be treated as destitute, and to make valuation of any assets other than cash that an asylum seeker may have at his disposal. It is reasonable to suppose that an asylum seeker might bring certain non-monetary assets into the country, for example, valuable jewellery. We do not propose that such assets are taken into consideration in the same way as cash or savings. Such assets will be required to be declared on the application form and if subsequently sold should be declared as a change of circumstances to the Asylum Support Directorate which will offset the value of the cash against further support.
§ Paragraph 9 of the new schedule makes provision for notice to be given to an asylum seeker to quit property provided to him under the support arrangements. Asylum seekers are unlikely to be tenants of accommodation provided under the new support arrangements, and we need to set clear terms under which they might be required to leave accommodation, whether because they are no longer supported or because it is necessary to move them elsewhere.
§ Paragraph 10 makes new provisions for the treatment of any income. It is possible that the asylum seeker has an income stream which, although less that the level of support that he might expect to receive under the new support arrangements, can be used as a contribution. In some cases this may be taken into account simply as an offset in the spending power he is given through the vouchers that he receives. In other cases, for example if he is living in a full board hostel, he may be asked to provide a cash contribution.
§ There will be a few instances where an asylum seeker arrives in this country without any money but with assets that can be realised in time; for example, shares or property that can be sold only on an overseas market. That should not debar him from support while he has no other disposable assets available. Equally, it is only fair that he should be required to repay the value of that support if he can realise those assets (paragraph 11). I recognise that in many cases asylum seekers come here with virtually nothing in their pockets. That is not true in every case. We need to cater 1162 for the whole range of cases to protect the legitimate interest of the taxpayer. That is the purpose of the new schedule.
§ Destitute asylum seekers may be provided with support under Part VI in a number of ways. Amendment No. 146 provides for the Secretary of State to meet costs incurred by the asylum seeker's dependants to allow them to attend the bail hearing, in the event that the asylum seeker is detained. The reason for this is that, if bail were granted, the asylum seeker and his dependants would be directed to move direct to the dispersal accommodation on release. Therefore, we wish the dependants to be able to be present at the bail hearing so that they can travel as a group to the accommodation provided. I hope that noble Lords regard that as a decent, civilised approach to this matter.
§ In the event of one of the asylum seeker's dependants being detained, we have also provided for the Secretary of State to meet the costs of the asylum seeker and other dependants to permit them to attend the bail proceedings for the same reasons. The support scheme is not, however, intended to cover any such expenses incurred by the asylum seeker or his dependants where release on bail would not result in the whole group being dispersed together. This proposal is along the same lines as those set out in Amendment No. 147 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and I hope that Amendment No. 146 meets his reasonable purpose.
§ Following the report of the Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation about the Henry VIII powers to amend subsections (1) and (2) of Clause 92, at Committee stage we undertook to reflect on this matter. We have done so and have concluded that it is appropriate to provide that, if future governments think it appropriate to make changes to these particular provisions, they can do so only by repeal, not amendment. Amendment No. 155 does that. I hope noble Lords accept that we have fulfilled that earlier commitment. I hope that this meets the Committee's concerns and that, had the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, considered moving his amendment (Amendment No. 154), he will now find it unnecessary.
§ Perhaps it is helpful to deal with Amendment No. 148. I recognise the concerns behind the amendment. As I said earlier in reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, asylum seekers who receive support under the scheme will qualify for full NHS treatment. I confirm that that includes treatment of a specialist nature, as well as more general medical care. There are provisions within the NHS for people in receipt of benefits, such as free prescriptions, to receive assistance with travel to an NHS hospital for necessary treatment. This would apply to asylum seekers supported under the scheme.
§ The legislation does not allow us to take asylum seekers' preferences as to location of accommodation into consideration. But if there is a particular reason—I repeat my response to concerns raised in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and the noble 1163 Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby—why an individual, or one of his dependants, needs to be placed in a certain area, for example for ease of access to a specialised hospital to meet specific health needs, that will be taken into consideration by the directorate before reaching a decision.
§ We do not believe that there is any justification for the Secretary of State agreeing to meet the costs incurred by an asylum seeker in travelling to see his legal adviser. As asylum seekers are dispersed and the cluster areas become established, we expect legal firms in those localities to have expertise in immigration law. We are discussing this precise matter with the Legal Aid Board at the moment. It should not be necessary for asylum seekers who need legal assistance in pursuing asylum claims to travel any distance. I do not believe that we should pay the kind of expenses proposed. Having heard my explanation, I invite noble Lords not to press the amendment.
§ Amendment No. 152 gives me the opportunity to explain how we propose to provide accommodation. I repeat, we want to provide accommodation to meet appropriate needs. We are setting up contracts for the provision of accommodation and shall take account of needs and realistic availability of facilities. We shall have regard to any special needs, not least the safety, welfare and protection of children. Obviously, we shall apply our minds to the maintenance of public health and work closely with local authorities, health authorities and public bodies to ensure that proper account is taken of these matters. I expanded our views on the Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture and in this context I do not need to revert to it.
§ As part of the arrangements we are making for the provision of accommodation and support, we shall be ensuring that the necessary translation services are made available. Clearly these will have to recognise the language capabilities of the applicants.
§ With regard to education, it is the Government's clear aim to ensure that all children of school age have proper access to the educational system. We would generally expect that this would involve the absorption of the children of asylum seekers within the mainstream educational system. Given the nature of our system, it will ultimately be a matter of detail for the receiving local education authority.
§ We want also to recognise fully the importance of ensuring the proper integration into the community of former asylum seekers who have been granted leave to remain. Again, we shall be publishing a consultation paper setting out our overall strategy. It can only work with partnership between central Government, local government and the voluntary sector.
§ Paragraph (c) of subsection (1) of Clause 92 contains a power to make regulations on matters of the sort we are discussing. I suggest that the flexibility of a secondary legislation provision offers a better solution than enshrining them permanently in primary legislation.1164
§ I assure noble Lords of our concerns over the matters that have been reflected not only in the amendments in this group but generally in our other discussions.
§ Perhaps I may set out our policy as regards Amendment No. 153 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley. We must relieve the pressures in London and the south-east. I believe that no one who knows of the problem in detail could take a different view. The situation in some parts of London is now so difficult that local authorities have no alternative but to rehouse local homeless families outside their area—despite the presumption in the legislation against it. There are many empty houses in both the public and private sectors, mostly away from London and the south-east. So we shall be looking for provision outside London and the south-east. We shall seek areas where there is a history of multi-ethnicity, where we can ensure the necessary support for asylum seekers. In general, we shall seek to house together asylum seekers from the same background. That goes to the point of mutual support—noble Lords mentioned the issue earlier, with which I agree—and managing such matters as translation. We have to bear in mind the questions raised in Committee. For instance, one cannot deal with Kosovars as a single group because they may be bitterly hostile to each other, as between Serbs and Albanians. We have to be careful and scrupulous about that also.
§ We do not want to be harsh. I have to say again that I do not believe that genuine asylum seekers who are fleeing persecution, or a proper fear of it, could object to being relocated in this way for a relatively short period. If they wish to go elsewhere where friends or relatives can help them, and receive only vouchers by way of support, they may do that. Those who are using the asylum system merely as a vehicle for economic purposes will not be happy; but that is our purpose.
§ Other systems that provide accommodation for people in need—such as the legislation on the homeless which serves both local people and some asylum seekers, and those social services provisions under which some asylum seekers are housed—do not allow for the preferences of the applicant to be taken into account. For those reasons I invite the noble Lord not to press his amendment.
§ I am obliged to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for raising an important matter in Amendment No. 156. All the illustrative figures that have so far been published have been published in 1998–99 values. They will need to be uprated to reflect the march or inflation between the publication of those figures and the commencement of the new support system in April 2000, in effect to reflect the two rounds of uprating that have taken place in the social security system.
§ It is our intention to make regular annual reviews of the level at which support is provided to asylum seekers, to reflect inflation and other changes in costs over the preceding year. I am reluctant to tie that inexorably to the uprating which might be made for income support purposes. I cannot speak for the long-term plans of colleagues in the Department of Social 1165 Security for the uprating of their benefits. I ask noble Lords to bear in mind that the scheme I describe is geared essentially to meeting short-term needs. Social security systems cater for a much wider range of circumstances, including people with longer-term needs. I hope that I have been able to satisfy your Lordships, and in particular the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that we are committed to undertaking a regular review of the level of support.
§ We intend to delete Clause 93, although its provisions will be reinstated in the new schedule proposed in Amendment No. 124.
§ The final amendment in this group is Amendment No. 157. We remain firm in our intention that the directorate should be able to take account of the support and assets available to an asylum seeker from his own resources or from other sources. That includes, rightly I suggest, friends and family but also charitable and/or religious organisations. Such organisations have longstanding expertise to which I readily pay tribute. Indeed, there may be instances where such organisations are funded by the Home Office to support asylum seekers under the provisions of Clause 107.
§ As the Home Secretary made plain in the House of Commons, there is no question of voluntary organisations being required to deplete all their finances in support of asylum seekers. We do not expect them to subsidise the work of the directorate. But it would not be proper for us to be required to support those who are or could be supported quite adequately by the voluntary sector. The potential for such double funding would not be acceptable. If the amendment were to be pressed, I should advise my colleagues to vote against it.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, perhaps I may comment on my Amendment No. 147, and on Amendment No. 146 the purpose of which the Minister has described. I welcome the outcome of the discussions held in the summer by the Minister with the voluntary agencies which resulted in Amendment No. 146.
Perhaps I may ask the Minister what the provision means as regards dispersal and bail. The head of the family could be in one place and his family in a remote location. Let us take the example of a Somali family. They arrive at Gatwick. The head of the family is detained in Tinsley House with the family dispersed to Sheffield where I believe that there is a concentration of Somalis and support facilities for them. The bail hearing may be scheduled at Hatton Cross. The detainee has to travel from Tinsley House to Hatton Cross and the family from Sheffield to the hearing at that location. Such an example makes one question whether it will be possible for the family to hold together. If they are in such different parts of the country, how will they be able to visit one another? What arrangements will be made for the family to travel from Sheffield to see the head of the household while he is detained in Tinsley House? Is the Minister 1166 satisfied that it is reasonable for a person to be detained in a location so distant from his family as to render family visits almost impossible?
The Minister said that in such cases dependants will be able to attend the bail hearing at Hatton Cross (or wherever it may be) and that the costs of their attendance will be paid out of public funds. However, the difference between the Minister's amendment and mine is that there is still no provision for the costs of the detainee to be paid. If I am right in my interpretation of the Minister's amendment, the head of the family still has to get from Tinsley House to Hatton Cross at his own expense. By definition he is destitute. How is he going to pay the cost of getting from the place where he is detained to the bail hearing? I should be grateful if the Minister would look at that.
I should also be grateful if the Minister could say whether he accepts the idea inherent in my amendment that sometimes people will be able to attend the bail hearings of third parties. I am thinking of cases where a surety is required. A person closely associated with the detainee, but who is not one of his dependants, might act in that capacity. Sureties are very important. The adjudicators normally require those involved to attend in person. If that is made impossible for financial reasons, we shall be irresponsible in not trying to correct that position while we have the opportunity this afternoon. Notwithstanding the fact that I welcome the Minister's amendment, as far as it goes, I hope that he will move a little further and accept the wider purposes of my amendment.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, it may be helpful if I respond immediately. Amendment No. 147 does not deal with wider purposes. Someone in custody is going to be taken to the bail hearing in the usual way. In the circumstances that I identified earlier, we have said that dependants would also be taken to the hearing at public expense. The question of whether one can have a publicly supported visit for a person in custody before or between the bail hearing is not addressed in the government amendment or in the noble Lord's amendment. I believe that I have met all the noble Lord's concerns in Amendment No. 146.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord for that reply. I hope that it is possible for him to deal with the further point I made about third parties and the need for people who are not part of the immediate family occasionally to act as sureties. How would their expenses be met?
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I shall certainly think about that. It is not dealt with in the noble Lord's amendment.
§ Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws
My Lords, I address Amendment No. 148. I was very heartened to hear my noble and learned friend say that as a result of discussions there has been acceptance of the fact that treating those who have suffered torture, for example, is of ten beyond the abilities of most health professionals and that, given the idea of introducing 1167 the dispersal of asylum seekers throughout the country, there would be acceptance of the need to meet the expenses of medical and other support services.
However, I am concerned that the noble and learned Lord does not accept the existence of the same need as regards the moneys needed if any asylum seeker is to meet with his legal representatives. Perhaps I may explain why I am concerned. The Minister has very rightly recognised the extraordinary damage that can be inflicted on asylum seekers by inexperienced, incompetent and unscrupulous legal representatives. The Legal Aid Board has stated that only specialists should practise in that area. I believe that we would all agree that it is a great advance that there will be the franchising of a core of competent lawyers in that field, which will drive out the shysters who have exploited the needs of asylum seekers.
However, we should recognise that asylum appeals are of ten complex and time-consuming. For the foreseeable future, expert assistance will be concentrated in London. Given that the clusters of dispersed asylum seekers may be far and wide, it is clear that even when expert assistance is available the clusters may result in asylum seekers having to travel long distances to receive the right kind of legal advice.
There are often expressions of horror by adjudicators where it emerges at appeal that lawyers have not seen their clients of ten enough—or at all—for the effective preparation of cases. Points have been missed through inadequate representation. There is of ten last-minute representation and judicial review applications. It seems to me and others practising in the field that that defeats the aim of the fast and effective disposal of appeals as well as being appallingly unjust if asylum seekers are not properly represented purely because they have not been allowed to travel to see their lawyers prior to the appeal because they did not have the money to meet that need. Therefore, I ask that the Government reconsider the position as regards support and this amendment.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, I too welcome what the noble and learned Lord said about this group of amendments. Perhaps I may also raise a few more concerns with which I am sure that the noble and learned Lord will wish to deal. I turn first to Amendment No. 124. I am sorry if I did not put the point sufficiently clearly when I spoke earlier. The amendment comprises a new schedule, which we did not see until Report stage. It contains a great many powers to make regulations. Some of them affect people in a most precise way. It proposes, for example, the power under regulation to cease to provide support; to change the levels of support; to determine what assets should be taken account including those of dependants; and to consider what income can be taken into account.
In our view, such matters should not lie in secondary legislation. If they do, at the minimum they should be subject to the affirmative procedure. It is usually the responsibility of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation to inform the House whether in its view there should be some form of 1168 affirmative procedure because the matters under regulation are of sufficient weight to require consideration by this House and another place.
In the light of the very generous assurances that were given to us on the first day of the Report stage that the schedule preceding Schedule 8 is the kind of instrument that the Select Committee should have the opportunity to look at—
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, the noble Baroness has a decent point here and I am content to adopt the course that she has suggested. Her point goes to Amendment No. 124 and I include Amendment No. 123, which is part of it in spirit. I do not propose to move them this evening because the point made by the noble Baroness is well made.
§ Baroness Williams of Crosby
My Lords, the capacity of the noble and learned Lord to take the wind out of my sails is yet another of his very many attributes. In future I shall avoid putting an) wind in my sails to begin with. Therefore, perhaps I may rely on the engine for the other remarks that I wish to make.
As my noble friend Lord Avebury has said, we are appreciative of the concessions made by the Government concerning Amendment No. 147. The noble and learned Lord addressed quite a few of his remarks to that amendment. We understand what he was saying. However, some questions arise. First, he will notice that the wording refers to "an application for bail". That means that someone other than the asylum seeker himself could apply for it. It might be a member of the family or some other person. From the noble and learned Lord's reply we are not entirely clear whether his remarks would apply as regards an application made by someone other than the person directly concerned. It is germane for the reasons adduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, that in some cases such an application is more likely to come from someone close to legal advice who is a member of the asylum seeker's family rat her than from the asylum seeker himself. That is the first direct point that I wish to raise with the Minister.
The second concerns Amendments Nos. 148 and 152. It directly relates to the consideration given under Amendment No. 152 and we are grateful to the Government for the provision they have made with regard to meeting the travel costs of alleged victims of torture to see specialised medical people.
Our concern was reflected by what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. There are substantial sections of the country in which there are neither the necessary legal advisers nor medical advisers. Perhaps I may give an example of a city which might well be within a cluster to which the Government decided they wanted to send asylum seekers. According to my information, there is no provision for a registered legal practitioner in Liverpool or any application for such a registration. I also understand that there are no specialists in the wide area around with any experience of victims of torture.
1169 I understand that the Government intend to look to general practitioners to sift out the cases and I understand the arguments for that. However, if a general practitioner finds that the person before him is likely to have suffered torture, will that factor be taken into account in the placing of victims of torture? There are two considerations. The first is that the Government might meet the travel costs and the second is that the Government might bear them in mind in deciding where to send such an asylum seeker. We are also concerned about the support that such a person would have, quite apart from the problems of travelling to a medical practitioner.
I want to ask a question with regard to Amendment No. 156. My noble friend Lord Russell will undoubtedly return to this issue, but I want to ask the noble and learned Lord to comment on the family premium which makes a great deal of difference as regards support given to asylum seekers and that given to people within the normal support system. I take it that that will not be included. My noble friend Lord Russell probably knows the answer anyway, but I do not.
In conclusion, we are grateful for the provisions that have been made. However, we are profoundly concerned by the fact that the cluster policy will be engaged in quickly. We understand that the interim support arrangements are likely to be in place before the end of this year. We fear that the building up of legal and medical expertise will take longer than three months and therefore, if the Minister could say how the gap between them is addressed, that would be most helpful to the House.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord has given me the pleasant opportunity to begin with a hat-trick of thanks. The first is for his concession to my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby a moment ago. The second is for his concession to me on Amendment No. 156 about uprating. That is generous and extremely welcome. I must confess to a small amount of regret that he did not agree to write it into legislation because, as he so effectively reminded me on Monday night, one cannot always trust those who are to come after. Nevertheless, when given at least three-quarters of a loaf, the only sensible thing to do is to say thank you and take it.
I should also like warmly to thank him for his concession on the delegated powers amendment, No. 154, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley. I must also offer to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, having discussed the amendment with him before it was tabled, my apologies for not putting my name to it in advance. I assure him that that is sheer oversight and pressure of business on two Bills and I am sorry. I should have supported it to the hilt and I am thankful it will not be necessary.
There are a considerable number of other amendments in the group. Inevitably, one must try to do justice to as many of them as possible and cannot 1170 possibly manage them all. Amendment No. 157, that funds provided by the voluntary sector shall not be regarded as support, rouses strong feeling in a number of quarters in this House. The purpose of the voluntary sector is to make things better than they would have been, not simply to relieve the pressure on the Treasury. The purpose is to do good to the people concerned. If one throws that aside, one creates strong feelings and necessarily so.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, I regret that nothing more is being done on travel to meet legal representatives, especially since the cluster areas concerned will be wide—at least, so rumour leads us to suppose. I have heard it suggested, for example, that Scotland and Wales will be cluster areas.
If asylum seekers were sent to Ullapool, it would be no great consolation to them that legal advice is available to them in Edinburgh. If asylum seekers were sent to Colwyn Bay—which I imagine is a serious possibility as there is a lot of vacant accommodation there in winter—it would be no great consolation to them that legal advice is available in Aberystwyth. To make that journey, you have to go right round into England and back again. It is a considerable journey. The noble and learned Lord shakes his head, but I believe he is assuming possession of a car. I doubt whether most of these people have cars, especially if they are destitute. It is not easy to run a car when you are destitute!
I also regret that nothing has been done to meet Amendment No. 153, again in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, and to which I should have put my name. That would have left out subsection (2) of Clause 92, which directs that the Secretary of State,may not have regard to … any preference that the supported person or his dependants … may have as to the locality in which the accommodation is to be provided".I understand what the Minister has said many times about the desire to move people out of the south east. I do not want to reopen that argument now, but the wording of that provision is so draconian that there is a slight risk that a provision might turn out to be ultra vires if by sheer coincidence they sent an asylum seeker to where he actually wanted to go. Will the noble and learned Lord look carefully at the words and assure me with all the authority of his office that that is not the case? I should be relieved to hear it.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord most warmly for that. He might also want to consider ensuring that he does not inadvertently give that impression to casual readers such as myself.
That leaves me with government Amendment No. 124. There is an awful lot in that. I agree with what my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby said. It strikes me that these are very unrestricted powers. Ministers talk about flexibility. This is flexible to the 1171 point of contortionism. It leaves the Minister free to do practically anything he likes and there is little—
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness that this is the fourth thank you that the noble Earl meant to give, but I was not going to move Amendments Nos. 123 and 124. I intervened to be helpful. I believe that the noble Earl is dealing with Amendments Nos. 123 and 124 now.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, I beg the noble and learned Lord's pardon; I had misunderstood what he said. I imagined that when he said he was not going to move it he meant that he was not going to press it to the vote. I had imagined we would have a debate now, as we would have had in Committee, and raise issues which might give the Minister warning of points which might be made when the issue comes back.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I am in your Lordships' hands, but I understood it to have been agreed that we would debate the matters when we had the benefit of the comments from the Committee. I believe that that is so.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, if that is the Minister's understanding and the understanding of the House, of course I accept it. I thank him for it and apologise for having misunderstood what he said.
§ The Lord Bishop of Lichfield
My Lords, because I judge this to be a point of such great importance, I want to thank the Minister for his assurance under Amendment No. 152 that there will be access to mainstream education.
I am thinking of two actual groups of asylum seekers who have made asylum applications this year. I refer to several hundred Rwandan and Burundian children and their families fleeing the terrors of genocide in that region. For such children who have suffered a fearsome experience access to education as mentioned in Amendment No. 152 is essential. A good primary school can be the beginning of stability and a place where children, having undergone such ordeals, can begin to make sense of a new country.
As the West Midlands, where I live and work, is already designated as a new cluster area for asylum seekers, I want to underline how glad we are that there will be access to our schools for that very needy group.
Having thanked the Minister, perhaps I may try something on him as a second point. Assuming that he is persuaded that providing for a basic: uprating will be proper and reasonable, will he consider making the total value of such upratings available to families with children in the form of an increase in the cash element of what they receive? A small reduction in the proportion of vouchers to cash at each uprating would be a judicious way of effecting an improvement to the lot of asylum-seeking families, especially those with children.
§ Viscount Brentford
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for a number of his comments, in 1172 which he has already answered the questions that I was going to ask. On Amendment No. 148 it seemed to me that my noble friend's amendment sought to introduce private medical care, to be paid for by the tax payer. It seems to me that that should be restricted to the NHS. I believe that that was what the noble and learned Lord was saying, and I therefore support him on that point.
I believe that the noble and learned Lord is going to look again at the wording of Amendment No. 153. I certainly misread it. I understood that he was saying that Clause 92(2) would be taken by the asylum seeker to mean, "Stay put in London". At the meeting last week, I asked the Home Secretary about the Government's programme for dispersal. I received an answer which was more or less that given by the noble and learned Lord this evening, but I am not sure that that is what that subsection actually says. I wonder whether there will be any regulations incorporating the admirable policy which the noble and learned Lord was himself giving this afternoon. Certainly, it is important that in this cluster policy the asylum seeker should be able to go where there are people who speak his own language, from the same background, where he can feel as much at home as he can anywhere in this country. That is the matter to which I took the subsection to be referring.
The noble and learned Lord's answer on Amendment No. 156 was satisfactory, but wonder whether it is going to be incorporated in regulations. I did not quite hear him say that. It may be government policy, but I should like to see it written down somewhere, because I am sure that that policy is correct. If it is not to be incorporated in the statute, will it be incorporated somewhere so that his successors can follow his excellent views on it?
I support Amendment No. 157. I believe that there can be an abuse of charities and churches, where local authorities should actually be paying, but they pass the buck. The local authority should repay to the charity or church what they are disbursing. I should like to see something more strongly along those lines in the Bill.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Alton of Liverpool
My Lords, I refer to the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, and supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, about the effect of dispersal. Clusters of people may be created who will not have access to proper medical and legal representation. In particular, I confirm what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, was saying about areas such as Merseyside and the unavailability in Liverpool of some of those specialist services.
I recognise that there have been unreasonable demands placed on the south-east of England, as the Minister himself told the House earlier on. However, we should be extremely careful, as the noble Viscount, Lord Brentford, has just rightly reminded us, about the dangers of using Clause 92(2) in ways which will prevent any immigrant or asylum seeker from being able to express a preference about the area to which he will go if those support services are there.
1173 I particularly want to raise a concern with the Minister about the over-reliance which I believe he is placing on what he described as empty properties outside the south-east of England. Even if people have no preference about the property which they may be allocated, the Minister should consider carefully at least excluding properties which have been designated by local authorities as hard to let.
I vividly recall the period when Vietnamese boat-people were coming to England. I was chairman of the housing committee at that time. The immediate instinct—which was a good one—of saying that we should provide accommodation was immediately followed by the suggestion that we had empty properties which were hard-to-let properties into which we were not prepared to put our own residents and which could be used instead for those asylum seekers.
I regret to say that as recently as within the past 12 months in the local authority on Merseyside precisely the same thing has happened again. When there was a possibility of Kosovars coming to their district, it was suggested that some high-rise blocks of flats which had been empty for years and out of which local residents had been decanted because they were unsuitable for people to live in might be set aside for refugees. Of course, they were also seen immediately as potential sources of income for the local authority.
We must guard against that outcome and look carefully at the wording of Clause 92(2) which states that people may not have preferences. I hope that the Minister will at least be able to give the House an assurance that it would not be the wish of the Home Office that designated hard-to-let empty properties, already set aside as hard to let by local authorities, should be used for asylum seekers.
§ Lord Phillips of Sudbury
My Lords, I should like to speak briefly to Amendment No. 148 and then to Amendment No. 157 which is tabled in my name together with those of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark and the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley.
First, perhaps I may briefly say on Amendment No. 124, which I understand is not being moved tonight, that there are major issues around the amendment and it would be useful if some sort of dialogue could be established between now and the next stage of the Bill to address those matters.
I declare an interest relating to Amendment No. 148 in that my firm has a legal aid franchise for immigration and asylum work. I believe that the Government are about to score something of an own goal unless they heed this amendment. If the solicitor has to go to the client in order to take proper instructions, the time taken has quite rightly to be compensated for by the Legal Aid Scheme.
If the Government are quite properly concerned about the related expense, frankly, a far cheaper and better way of contending with the problem is to allow the asylum seeker to go to the solicitor in his office.
1174 There is a high concentration of practitioners with franchises in the Greater London area which deal with cases all around the south coast and the airports. To have people zooming out, day in and day out, is totally counter-productive. Therefore, I hope that the Government will look at that matter again.
I need hardly remind the Attorney-General that Amendment No. 157 has been debated in this House and in the Commons at some length. The fact that it is now back on the Marshalled List is an earnest of the importance which the voluntary sector attaches to it. I speak in particular on behalf of several of the major aid charities which have bent my ear.
One needs to reflect upon the relationship between the Government and the voluntary sector, which has been put together with extreme care. That was done, first, by Alun Michael when he was Shadow Minister at the Home Office. He spent two years trawling with admirable care the voluntary sector to find out what sort of relationship would be best for it and for government if and when the Labour Party came to power, as it did.
Tony Blair has made clear that he supports the compact, as one might call it, between the Government and the voluntary sector. A key element—indeed, I would say almost the fundament of it—is that government and the voluntary sector should maintain a certain distance, each recognising the proper concerns of the other and neither trying to trample unduly upon the legitimate territory of the other. —
One of the major concerns of the voluntary sector in its relationship with government—not this Government; all governments—is getting too close; being too directly and closely drawn into the government's policies and projects. I believe that it is for that broad underlying reason that there is real alarm about the provisions in the Bill. Clause 93 states that the Government are permitted to make regulations which can take account of assets and income of those who are detained and who are destitute. As your Lordships well know, it defines assets and income as not only actual assets and income but income and assets which,is … or might reasonably be expected to be … available to the person concerned".I need hardly explain to a lawyer of the eminence of the Attorney-General what a rubbery piece of drafting that is.
I refer to the words used earlier today by the noble and learned Lord. He said that almost without exception the voluntary sector should not be put in a position where all its assets are depleted. Those were the noble and learned Lord's words. Indeed, it should not. It should not be put in a position where any of its assets are depleted against its wishes. Although it is fair to say that there is nothing in the Bill which allows the Government to raid the assets of any charity, it comes close to a sort of blackmail situation if, when considering the assets of destitute people, the Government can have regard to what they believe a charity might do by way of alleviating their misery. That pulls the charities directly into the legislation in a 1175 way that I suggest to the Government—I believe that the Government may agree—is not right or proper in terms of their own well-publicised intent to keep a proper relationship with the sector.
Another comment made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Williams, was that government do not see why destitute people should be supported by them if that person could be supported quite adequately by the voluntary sector. I return to that point. What is the definition of "adequacy"? Why should the resources of the voluntary sector be looked at at all? It is for the sector to decide where the resources should be disposed of, where best they are used and where the demand is greatest. I believe that presents a shifting of liability from the Government to the sector. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, made the same point in reverse. He asked why the voluntary sector should thrust those responsibilities on to government. On this side of the House we say that it is the Government's responsibility and it is quite wrong, directly or indirectly, to impose those obligations on the 'voluntary sector.
I urge very strongly that, however difficult this point is, it should be reconsidered because I believe that the House would accept that the voluntary sector as a whole does not act foolishly and is in business to do everything that it can to make the best of the extremely difficult problems with which it and the Government, in their different ways, are contending. I hope that the matter may be reviewed.
§ The Duke of Norfolk
My Lords, I thank the Government for having agreed in toto to the two amendments in my name; namely, Amendments Nos. 148 and 152. I wish to mention that the willingness to offer interpretation to asylum seekers in their own language is a very great offer. I thank the Government in particular for that.
It seems to me that we have come a long way in our free country when one compares the situation now with that pertaining until the 18th century when one could not even have one's own religion without ending up on Tower Hill, as did many of my family.
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
My Lords, I shall interrupt the noble Duke, if I may. I did not accept Amendments Nos. 148 and 152. I took a little while to explain the reason behind our policy and our thinking to indicate that those amendments would not be necessary.
§ The Duke of Norfolk
My Lords, I take it that everything in those amendments has been mentioned. Therefore, I understand that it is not necessary to move them.
§ The Lord Bishop of Bath and Wells
My Lords, I wanted to speak to Amendment No. 152. However, I should say first that I was greatly impressed by the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, of the relationship between the voluntary sector and government and I wish to pay tribute to that. I look forward to the noble and learned Lord's answer.
1176 With regard to Amendment No. 152, having worked for many years in east London, I understand the imperative to spread and disperse the situation that we are facing. With the large numbers involved, it is not hard to see the Government's difficulties. Of course, they are nothing as compared to the difficulties experienced by the people caught up in this process. They find themselves in a country with a different language and a totally unfamiliar social setting, with almost no resources to put together any sort of life, and waiting in a limbo.
The exchange a moment ago was helpful. I wish to speak to this amendment because I believe that what is stated in Amendment No. 152 does not seem to be stated obviously on the face of the Bill. It needs to be supported. There seems to be a surprising lack of reference to any criteria for a designated cluster, other than the availability of suitable housing.
At the moment in rural Somerset, in the Quantocks no less, there is a substantial argument about the use of an empty school. The village in which it is found is remote from any substantial nearby towns and is extremely remote from any settlement whatever of any foreign nationals. In fact, I believe that in some of our villages in Somerset a "foreign national" means someone who comes from the next village.
On the one hand, it is right to provide hospitality in such places and to resist racism and the sentiment of "not in my back yard". On the other hand, there is a feeling among those who would be moved there that they would be substantially isolated. The importance of Amendment No. 152 is that it sets out the essentials. Those ought to be stated. They make a very remote Somerset village seem inappropriate, not only because of the lack of specialised legal and medical resources but probably very little in terms of interpreting and translation services. Certainly they present considerable difficulties for long-term settlement. Those criteria seem to me to be very helpful for people who might look at the Bill to try to understand what is involved in the decisions which the Government are making.
In east London we always found that the most important element in not feeling alien was to be near to a community that did not react in that kind of way, and where possible to be near a community of familiar people. I understand the difficulties, but I still believe that Amendment No. 152 is important and that those details should go on the face of the Bill.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, I understand that we can adjourn for dinner in the middle of a group of amendments. As this is the Report stage, those who have already spoken cannot speak again. For the convenience of the House and of those waiting for the Unstarred Question, I believe that we should adjourn this debate now and return to it after the dinner break.
§ Lord Cope of Berkeley
My Lords, I believe that is helpful. I am one who is waiting to speak in the debate on this group of amendments. However, if f were to speak without having had my supper my speech might 1177 be briefer! If your Lordships are prepared to put up with the consequences, I believe that it would be convenient to have the dinner break now.
§ Lord Carter
My Lords, despite the suggestion of the noble Lord that speeches might be shorter, I am happy to move that the debate on Amendment No. 123 and further consideration on Report be now adjourned.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.