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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I accept the concerns that the noble Lord has raised but I have outlined the way to deal with them which has been in use since 1994 in certain cases where local authorities use the homelessness code of guidance. We have no indication that that has not worked in a perfectly reasonable and humane manner. I indicated that many people come to this country as visitors and so on. We are talking about more than 6 million people every year. It would be impossible to track them as it would be to send a list of more than 6 million names to every local authority in the country. Local authorities would be the first to complain if they had to monitor 6 million names to see whether someone who had applied for one of the council houses or had come to them under homelessness legislation was one of them. Even the power of the modern computer would still find that a fairly time-consuming operation.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am beginning to suspect, reluctantly, that the Minister is not treating this amendment seriously. He cannot be serious in suggesting that the amendment deals with 6 million people. There are 6 million visitors to this country each year but we are talking here only about people who are aliens settled in this country. It is a very much smaller number of people. The figure of 6 million is simply a diversionary tactic.

I should like to think about what the Minister has said. I do not think he has been as helpful or constructive as he should be and I do not think he has been as receptive to the real concerns of local authority housing departments. Perhaps they should be expressed to the Home Office more clearly than they have been, in which case we can see to it that that is done. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 100A:

Page 6, line 43, at end insert--
("(1A) This section shall not apply to students from overseas who have leave to enter for a limited period and who comply with their conditions of entry.").

The noble Earl said: Before saying anything else, I must declare an interest in this amendment as a university teacher. I should also like to thank the Minister's honourable friend Mr. Curry for a meeting this morning and for giving very careful consideration to the arguments behind the amendment.

This is a classic case of the law of unexpected consequences from legislation. One does not normally think of students in the category of local authority housing. Indeed the case to which this amendment refers is one about which I knew nothing myself as recently as Second Reading. But it transpires that a number of universities, a high proportion of them in Scotland, have leased accommodation from local authorities in areas

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where there is a very small housing demand. The Gorbals turns out to be one of the cases in point. There are areas where there is not a sufficient body of applicants to justify keeping accommodation for the waiting list and where universities are able to use it for students with families, some of whom are from overseas and some of whom are not. It is a perfectly constructive arrangement in the interests of all parties, a classic case of public/private sector partnership of the kind of which the Government usually approve. The overseas students, who are only a part of this, earn this country more than £1 billion a year for our balance of payments, something I for one would rather not do without.

The Government's concern in this is that these students should not have recourse to public funds. It seems to me that this is met in this case. Universities are not public bodies; they are not nationalised industries; they are private corporations. The university leases these properties and the students are the tenants of the university. Under existing legislation universities are not allowed to subsidise student rents. So it appears to me that this is not a case of public funds being involved. If we can find a suitable form of wording--I have no wish for the wording of the amendment to be set in stone--it ought to be possible to reach a perfectly satisfactory form of words to deal with this case. I should also be extremely grateful for an assurance that property leased to universities by housing associations would not be involved under this clause. I beg to move.

Lord Goold: I wish to support the amendment and add my name to the thanks to Mr. David Curry for meeting us this morning. I must also declare an interest as chairman of court of the University of Strathclyde.

This clause, in aiming to prevent access to local authority housing to oversees students, will have a very serious effect. My university rents 290 flats in and around Glasgow from local authorities. This is not a cost to the taxpayer. Generally, the flats are in poor condition, in poor areas and are often empty. They are flats people do not want. The university pays to improve them. They are then occupied by overseas students and often their families. When the university vacates them they revert to the local authority, and in better condition than we got them.

Unfortunately, there are not sufficient private rented flats at prices students can afford. If access to council flats is denied, many overseas students will not be able to come to universities in Britain, with considerable consequent damage to the economy of the universities and of the country, to say nothing of the loss to research. I hope that my noble friend the Minister may be able to accept the amendment or produce a similar one at Report stage.

Lord Dainton: I wish to support the amendment. I was present yesterday and I heard the noble Lord, Lord Chesham, from the Government Front Bench commenting on the fact that there are 100,000 overseas students in this country. We have heard that each overseas student brings in around £10,000, which makes £1 billion, which I presume was how the noble Earl, Lord Russell, came to the figure of £1 billion. It seems

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to me that we are doing ourselves harm here. Overseas students in British universities are good for British students. They enlarge their horizons and they change their outlooks in a significant way, even though it is not a matter which is within the curriculum. More important than that, many of those overseas students return home and go on to have distinguished careers.

I have just come back from my almost annual visit to Singapore. Perhaps I may tell the Committee about Singapore's two major universities, which I had a hand in establishing some years ago. The chief executive of the National University of Singapore is a medical man who was trained in this country at Cambridge. The same is true of Nanyang Technological University. It is headed by an engineer who was trained at Cambridge. The man who runs that great endeavour, Jurong Town Development Corporation, was also head of that country's defence forces and was a student at Sheffield where he had a distinguished record in engineering. One cannot omit the senior minister, who is still a man of very great influence and power, Lee Kuan Yew. He received his education in this country and has never failed to acknowledge the debt that he owes to us in that respect.

We would be cutting off our nose to spite our face if we were to impose any impediment which made it impossible for able students from abroad to come to this country. They are now all self-financing and are not a charge on the taxpayer in this country. They often have different accommodation needs from our own students. Having left their own country, often many miles away, they do not return in the vacations and need to occupy accommodation for much longer periods of the year than home students. In addition, they are often older and married, sometimes with children. It is for that reason that many universities in this country have seen them as having a special problem for which they wish to cater by whatever means they can.

The rise in student numbers in this country over recent years has been so great that the universities have looked everywhere within their means to be able to provide accommodation for those much-valued students. The method by which they lease accommodation from local authorities or housing associations and sub-let it to the students is admirable. It brings into good use accommodation which, as has already been said, might not otherwise be used. Such accommodation is also useful for foreign students who come here for brief periods. I feel sure that the noble Lord, Lord Winston, who is at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, will probably remind the Committee that most of the distinguished foreign medical people who go there are housed in housing association accommodation.

It would be a very great pity if, by this legislation, we were to deny foreign students the accommodation that they need. It would harm foreign students in the short term, but I beg the Minister and the Committee to consider carefully the long-term damage that it would do to the standing of this country overseas. This is not a trivial matter. It is an extremely serious matter.

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Therefore, I hope that an exception can be made by the Government in due course, perhaps along the lines of this amendment.

Lord Winston: I rise briefly to support all that has been said already. I have nothing much else to say except to point out that many overseas students are postgraduate students. As such, they are often here for a postgraduate degree of, say, three years or occasionally more. One of their most common questions to us is whether there is accommodation for their families. The usual university accommodation is simply not appropriate for them.

I am sure that it is not the Government's intention to exclude that important source of immediate wealth to us or to ignore the long-term investment implications for this country. I beg the Government to consider a way of making sure that students can continue to come here and to occupy such accommodation.

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