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Lord Carter: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, is he able to answer the question I put to him, as did the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, about the Government's estimate of the number of people who will qualify for hardship payments?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am afraid that I am not able to give that answer now. I will look into the matter and write to my noble friend and to the noble Lord.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, the Government are very slowly moving towards the ideas that we hold. However, it is like trying to drain Loch Lomond by the misuse of a quaich. It is very hard, slow work. My noble friend did not address the administrative point that was raised by me and by the noble Earl, Lord Russell; namely, that employment offices will be absolutely swamped with appeals and it would therefore be administratively much safer and better to deal with disabled people as actively seeking work pending the appeal.

I shall have to read with great care my noble friend's response on Amendments Nos. 31A and 31B. My objective, as I am sure he realises, is to prevent disabled people from falling between two stools. At the moment I have the feeling that both stools are in the cupboard and not available for use and that at the same time my noble friend is actively plying the plane, narrowing down each stool while I am busy trying to get them out of the cupboard. I shall look very carefully at what my noble friend said, but I have a strong feeling that I shall be returning to these matters at Third Reading. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 31 to 31B not moved.]

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 32:

After Clause 7, insert the following new clause:

("Refugees etc

. A person who is a refugee within the definition in Article 1 of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees done at Geneva on 28th July 1951 and as extended by Article 1(2) of the Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees done at New York on 31st January 1967 or has been granted exceptional leave to remain by the Secretary of State; and
(i) is attending for more than 15 hours a week a course for the purpose of learning English so that he may obtain, or improve his prospects of obtaining, employment; and
(ii) on the date on which the course commenced, had been in Great Britain for not more than 24 months, or had been granted leave, as defined in section 33(1) of the Immigration Act 1971, not more than 12 months previously;
shall be treated as available for employment under section 6 and as actively seeking employment under section 7 but only for a period not exceeding nine months.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, refugees are in the main highly motivated and often skilled individuals. Their problem on arriving in this country is how they can adapt their skills to the British job market. One of the key elements in equipping themselves to compete in the job market is the ability to learn English. Without access to education, the prospects for refugees are either

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no job at all or a poorly paid job well below their skills and abilities and possibly their previous training. Adapting to the job market in this country is the key. That means the opportunity to learn English. I contend that at the moment the scales are tipped very much against refugees. I seek an opportunity in this amendment to demonstrate that simple proposition.

The situation is made even worse by the change in the hours rule—the reduction in the permitted hours of study while actively seeking work from 21 to 16. It is also indirectly made worse by the new provisions that asylum seekers, before they are given refugee status or exceptional leave to remain, may now be charged overseas levels of fees and are to be treated by colleges as overseas students. Colleges have a discretion, but the effect may well be that while people who have come to this country seeking safety are waiting for their status to be determined, the level of overseas fees will debar them from study altogether. Effectively, therefore, when they are given a status that enables them to stay here, they are left with the difficulty of not being able to move into colleges because of the other restrictions upon them.

This amendment is extremely modest. It refers to a period of up to nine months during which such people should be regarded as being available for work or actively seeking work. My purpose is to seek the understanding of the Government. Perhaps I may anticipate the Minister's response. It may well be that, technically, my amendment is not appropriate or correct, and that I should seek to amend the provisions regarding income support rather than JSA. I appreciate that point. I seek from the Government some understanding of the dilemma and an opportunity to move forward on the issue. I beg to move.

Earl Russell: My Lords, today, 50 years after VE Day, seems a very important moment to recognise the debt this country owes to its refugees. Recently, I attended a degree giving ceremony at the University of London. One of the people awarded an honorary degree was the woman who organised the influx of academic refugees in the years after 1939. That was an enormous job of work, and the degree was very well earned. Being given honorary degrees with her were two former refugees she had helped to bring into the country and get settled. They are both now Nobel Prize winners. There were also two children of the refugees whom she had helped to settle. That is a pretty substantial gain for this country from the work of one person. And that is true not only in this country. At Yale I worked in a department where some 25 per cent. of the members were refugees from Hitler. That is a colossal concentration of talent. This country does not always remember to what extent it has cause to be grateful.

It is perfectly common for refugees, when they arrive, to have either no English or very limited English. The United States has the same experience. Its success in handling the problem is a measure of its success as a country. Limited capacity in English is a problem. We are always coming up against it when we discuss restricted availability for work. It causes a great many problems and gives the benefits system a great many headaches. Therefore if refugees can be taught English, that is a good public object. It is in the public interest

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by all possible criteria. However, while they are being taught English they must eat, and that involves some visible means of support. We do not need to insist that JSA is necessarily the right vehicle, or that a specific statutory provision is necessarily the only way of doing it.

There are a number of ways in which the Minister could handle this question. He might prefer to do so through income support. He might prefer, as the Government have hitherto handled the question of women in refuges, the prerogative of mercy tucked into the availability rules; namely, the provision that people may be regarded as available or not available. That is one perfectly practical approach. Or he might adopt the method provided by the amendment. We do not insist that it should be done in one particular way. We believe, however, that it should be done in one way or another. It is not merely in the interests of claimants, but in the interests of this country, and of a wider civilisation of which we are all part.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, I support this very modest amendment, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. To echo what the noble Earl has just said, it is indeed in the interests of this country, and in its economic interests over a very short time. Not so many migrants have come into Liverpool in recent years because jobs have been very short. But it happens that a substantial Somali community has settled there. That is why I am prompted to speak. A high proportion of those people do not speak English. My information is that the community includes people who are very gifted in different professions and skills. The language barrier blocks them totally. If, for reasons of our crude, selfish advantage, they are not helped to get through that barrier, they may in the long term become a drain on the benefits system of this country. If, however, they are helped through the educational barrier, they will make a very substantial contribution.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I should like to make just one additional point. When I was a Minister at the Home Office, one of our responsibilities was to deal with the influx of East African Asians who had left their country very suddenly and arrived in this country with very little knowledge of it and, in many cases, had not visited it before. Those people have made a tremendous contribution to this country and have become economically a very significant group.

What often characterises refugees is that they are either exceptionally enterprising or exceptionally courageous people. In many cases either they have stood up against an unacceptable political regime or they have shown a degree of enterprise which is unusual in the country from which they have come. Therefore, as the right reverend Prelate said, they make a great contribution to this country.

There is one other strictly practical point that I should like to put to the Minister. Over the past year the United Kingdom has accepted about 1,000 refugees from Bosnia. I understand that consideration is being given

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to whether more refugees from that country should be accepted. Very few people in Bosnia speak any English. It is not even the first foreign language of that country. Therefore, if we are to be fair to those people and give them a real chance to settle in this country, make a contribution to it, and begin to rebuild their shattered lives, this kind of relatively modest amendment allows them the opportunity to do so.

In the great tradition of this country, which has always welcomed refugees and regards that as one of the tests of a truly libertarian country, I hope that the Minister will give sympathetic consideration to this amendment.

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