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Baroness Park of Monmouth: The noble Lord, Lord Dainton, has already made, only very much better, the very points that I had wanted to make. Therefore, I strongly support the hope that some way may be found to solve this problem in favour of students.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: As I explained in our other two short debates, our general position on this subject is that persons from abroad who have entered this country on the understanding that they should have no recourse to public funds should not be entitled to assistance under the homelessness legislation; and that persons from abroad who are here only for a limited period should have no call on social housing created with public money to meet long-term needs. This is what Clause 9 of the Bill provides for generally, both for students and for others here on limited leave. I appreciate that noble Lords are not suggesting that overseas students are in some way a special category deserving a general exemption from those provisions.

I totally agree with the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, and echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Winston, and my noble friend Lady Park, that we have had a long and honourable tradition of providing education and training for people from a wide range of countries. We welcome overseas students, but we admit them on the same basis as anyone else who is granted limited leave; namely, that they should support themselves, including meeting all of their housing costs.

I understand that the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals is concerned that the provisions may bite on certain universities and colleges which have arrangements under which they lease accommodation from a local authority which they then let on to their students, some of whom may be from overseas. I know of the interest in this matter of my noble friend Lord Goold which relates to his position at Strathclyde University. There are number of houses in Glasgow which the local authority finds it hard to let; nobody particularly wants to live in them. A mutually beneficial deal has been struck between Strathclyde University and the local authority whereby those houses remain in

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occupation and, as my noble friend said, are improved. Students then make use of them. I understand the issue entirely.

We should be clear that that happens only when a local authority does not require the housing--either because its housing list is not long enough and no one demands the house or because of other factors, which I shall not go into. However, in the case of the Glasgow example which was mentioned by my noble friend, it is probably true to say that most people on the council waiting list would rather wait for a house in a different part of the city than be housed in the accommodation to which we are referring. There are circumstances where an authority may genuinely not have a use for all its housing stock and may find difficulty in letting it. If the authority is simply leasing out accommodation that would otherwise be standing empty, and there is little or no local demand for the accommodation, there may be scope for flexibility.

I discussed the matter a few hours ago with my honourable friend Mr. David Curry, the Minister responsible for housing and local government. Before I spoke to him, he met the noble Earl and my noble friends Lord Goold and Lord Jenkin. Perhaps I may assure the Committee that we shall consider the need to bring forward at Report stage an amendment to the order-making power in this clause to enable local authorities to continue to lease surplus accommodation to universities and colleges for use by overseas students who are here lawfully. I hope that with that assurance the noble Earl will be happy to withdraw his amendment.

Earl Russell: I am most grateful for that reply by which I am entirely satisfied. I look forward to seeing the draft of that amendment. It appears to meet absolutely fair and square the point that I was making. I accept the condition that the Minister makes about where there is little or no demand. After all, I too am aware that there are social needs to be considered. That is a fair condition.

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken on this amendment and for the way in which the debate has been conducted entirely irrespective of party. I should like to thank again Mr. Curry and the Minister, and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: Before I call Amendment No. 101, I must inform the Committee that if that amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 103 to 106 inclusive.

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 101:

Page 6, line 44, leave out subsection (2).

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 101, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 113, 115, 116, 118 and 120.

I listened carefully to what the Minister said on the first amendment, Amendment No. 97. I assume that the Minister still stands by the three categories of individual to whom this part of the Bill refers; namely--I hope that I have got this right--overstayers, illegal entrants and

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asylum seekers. He also referred to people who came to this country and had recourse to public funds, having given an undertaking not to do so. I am puzzled by what the Minister has said because it does not quite stack up.

Before I go into the details, perhaps I may set the context. In the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 provision is made for the housing of asylum seekers and their dependants. The Act provides that nothing in the homelessness legislation shall require a housing authority to secure that accommodation is made available for occupation by asylum seekers or their dependants. That power gave local authorities the option not to provide homelessness accommodation for asylum seekers or their families. It did not make it mandatory. I suppose that the reason why the Government have introduced this much tougher provision in the Bill is that they have found to their dismay that too many local authorities have done the right and proper thing and provided homelessness accommodation to these priority categories in need. The Government are saying that the 1993 Act is not tough enough and they are introducing a tougher measure.

We are dealing with the right of a very limited number of persons to homelessness accommodation. As far as I am aware, neither overstayers nor illegal entrants are likely to be given homelessness accommodation by local authorities. There is already guidance from central government that they should not do so, and there is no evidence that it is happening. We are talking about the third category as identified by the Minister: asylum seekers. We are concerned with a very small proportion of asylum seekers, that is, those in priority need, broadly households with children or sick, disabled or elderly adults. Those priority groups account for a very small proportion of all asylum seekers.

What is to happen to such people who quite properly and legally come to this country because they have a well-founded fear of persecution? Where are they to live while the Home Office decides on their status? These are vulnerable people who may well have suffered intolerably in the countries from which they have fled. We are now saying that there is no accommodation or anything for them. They do not come with money so that they can buy their way into the private market.

The Minister has said that the United Kingdom is more generous than other European countries. I contend that in this particular instance that is certainly not the case. I ask the Minister to list European Union countries as regards what they do in the provision of accommodation for such priority groups. I believe the Minister will find that many European countries provide at least some kind of hostel accommodation through whatever local government structure is in place. That is the case in the Netherlands, Germany and, I believe, in Denmark. If this provision is agreed what will happen to these vulnerable people? Are they to sleep in the streets? I believe that the Government are making a mistake. Even if the broad premise underlying the Bill is accepted--I do not accept it--it may be said that there

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is absolutely no need to be so harsh and inhumane to the small number of highly vulnerable asylum seekers who will be caught by the provision. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The question that we must address in considering this amendment is whether people who have sought leave to enter this country on the understanding that they should have no recourse to public funds should be entitled to set aside that undertaking. The immigration rules state quite explicitly that the homelessness legislation falls within the definition of public funds. This extends to those people who sought asylum after entering this country, since to obtain leave to enter they would have had to satisfy the immigration officer that they had the resources to maintain themselves in this country.

The purpose of the homelessness legislation is to ensure that families and vulnerable individuals who lose their homes through no fault of their own are provided with a proper safety net. It is one component of a wider set of welfare provisions that we have in place to help people through a crisis and allow them to continue their normal lives. But it focuses naturally and rightly on those people who are settled in this country.

The principle behind the provisions in subsection (2) is by no means new. In 1993 the Court of Appeal held in the Tower Hamlets case that a person not lawfully in the country because he had entered it illegally or had overstayed his leave was not entitled to assistance under the homelessness legislation. The Home Office is entitled to cancel leave to remain granted to anyone who entered the country lawfully but subsequently breached an undertaking not to have recourse to public funds. To that extent what we are doing here is no more than translating a well established principle in the homelessness legislation.

Your Lordships will be aware that the purpose of this measure is to align entitlement under the homelessness legislation with entitlement to housing benefit, which was withdrawn from most groups of immigrants here on limited leave in 1994 and from asylum seekers earlier this year. Local authorities rely on housing benefit to support a substantial part of the costs they incur. As we have seen from their protests over the past few months, following the withdrawal of benefit entitlement from certain asylum seekers--in particular those who claim in country--it is not tenable to leave the homelessness duty with them in the absence of housing benefit support.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has pointed out, it is true that other countries have different kinds of provision. For example, Germany and Holland provide accommodation in camps and benefits are mainly in kind. We have decided not to go down that route. Those people who seek asylum at the port of entry are eligible for benefits while the Home Office is considering their applications for asylum. If they are turned down and appeal, in those circumstances they are not eligible for benefit. We contend that they should not be eligible to be considered under homelessness legislation either. Similarly, those who enter the country under the strict

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condition that they will not be a burden on public funds are not eligible if they decide after weeks or months in this country that they wish to apply for asylum.

We believe that we have an effective welfare system in this country which is geared to meet the needs of the most vulnerable members of society, but we must resist attempts to exploit it by people without a proven case and a permanent base in this country. I am afraid that I cannot accept the amendment of the noble Lord. If he decides not to withdraw it and to put it to the Vote, I trust that my noble friends will support me in the Lobby.

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