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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I believe that I covered almost all those eventualities. I said that it was a matter for local authorities to decide. As regards a child who has come to this country alone, fostering or care might be the only option. However, if a child has come as part of the family the most sensible course of action for a local authority might be to help the family with housing. Those costs are being discussed between ourselves and the local authorities with a view to arriving at a sensible arrangement.
I thought that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, made my case for me. The people to whom she referred came to this country and said why they were coming. They were not intent on seeking asylum. They came here to visit relatives or to find work. Many people who come here cannot obtain a visa in order to find work; they must go through more hoops than that. However, many people, for whatever reason, come to this country, go about their business and fall on hard times. They cannot just turn around and say--or can they?--"Wait a minute! I know how to get out of this dilemma. I will claim asylum". We are not talking about people who come here to claim asylum. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, made my case for me in relation to people who make in-country applications. When many of them enter the country, making a claim for asylum at the port is the furthest thing from their minds. They come here to do all kinds of other things. But for a variety of reasons, when many of them are here they decide to claim asylum.
I turn to the main point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I hoped that I had made this clear. The categories of immigrants which will be specified in regulations under this subsection will make it clear that the orders will not apply to asylum seekers who claimed asylum on arrival during the period when their claim was under consideration by the Home Office. That provision is entirely consistent with the availability of income support and housing benefit to asylum seekers at the port of entry and for the duration of the time
However, I know that, although the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, may be pleased to hear that clarification, he would prefer to retain the position which existed before we made any changes; that is the position in which all one had to do was to come here and either at the port of entry or after having lived here for some time claim asylum and then be able to claim income support, housing benefit and the protection of the homelessness legislation. We are proposing to remove most of those concessions to people from abroad but we intend to keep available income support, housing benefit and the application of the homelessness legislation to those people who claim asylum at the port of entry.
Lord Dubs: I thank the Minister for that clarification but I take issue with the fundamental argument that he is putting forward. Perhaps I may try to clear up some confusion. It is clear that the clause applies to asylum seekers, but it appears to apply also to people who seek properly to come to this country as migrants on the condition that they do not have recourse to public funds. An intermediate group of asylum seekers does not claim asylum at the port of entry. They are, therefore, in the Minister's eyes, by implication, arriving on the condition that they do not have recourse to public funds and they then make a claim. There are three groups of people and perhaps I may disentangle the arguments relating to them.
I shall deal first with people who come to this country on a planned basis in the way in which the Minister would wish. Those people have the resources to look after themselves but may find themselves in changed circumstances before their immigration status has been confirmed. They will not be eligible for the homelessness provisions, even though the change of circumstance, such as a house being burned down, is beyond their control. That is one group of people.
In relation to them and in reply to a comment made by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, I understand that when people arrive in this country we do not take sponsorship letters or such undertakings at face value. Before giving entry clearance, the Home Office scrutinises the financial support that is available. Therefore, the issue is not quite as simple as the noble Baroness maintained--
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: Perhaps I may ask the noble Lord for clarification. If the Home Office makes a check and discovers that the financial support exists, why do so many of those people appear on the doorstep of the council to claim housing benefit or other support?
Lord Dubs: I am not aware that many such people do, but there may be some. The noble Baroness may be talking about asylum seekers who are faced with difficulties. There may be a dispute between us about the figures, but I have seen no indication that that happens other than on a very small scale.
Surely a clear principle is involved. We are talking about people who are vulnerable, who represent only a small minority of asylum seekers and for whom a little decency in terms of the way in which we treat them will not be a magnet for asylum seekers, or those purporting to be, the world over. I am talking about the way we treat people who have a well-founded fear of persecution.
Another group will fall through the net because, even on the Minister's own statement, if asylum seekers claim asylum at the port of entry and are then refused asylum by the Home Office and wish to exercise their right of appeal, they will lose all benefits between the date of the Home Office refusal and the date of the appeal hearing. That may be many months, if not years. I can interpret what the Minister said only as meaning that if during that period the local authority has provided them with accommodation for homeless people, they will be thrown out of it because they will no longer be eligible under the terms of the Bill. This is a miserable measure and I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.
[*The Tellers for the Not Contents reported 144 names. the Clerks recorded 143 names.]