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Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 105:

Page 6, line 46, leave out ("or assistance").

The noble Lord said: This is a very simple amendment. It is intended to probe the Government on the meaning of one specific phrase in Clause 9. As it stands, the clause states that the person:

I should like to know what the words "or assistance" mean.

The fear is that it may prevent local authorities from giving any advice at all to an asylum seeker of whom they have knowledge and who is in housing difficulties. That is the interpretation of the present drafting of Clause 9. And yet it is difficult to believe that that could be the intention because we have referred already today to the Housing Bill. In Clause 154 of that Bill, which I understand will supersede this provision when the Bill receives Royal Assent, local authorities will be under a duty to provide such advice. Therefore, I am rather puzzled as to why, for the period between now and the time at which the Housing Bill receives Royal Assent, assistance or advice cannot be given by local authorities. It can be given in the present situation and it will be possible to give it again when the Housing Bill becomes law. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that point. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The Government fully recognise the importance of housing advice in preventing homelessness and helping people to find suitable accommodation. In that respect, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and I are fairly well in agreement. The provisions in the Housing Bill, shortly to come before this House, give local authorities a new general duty to provide advisory services for the prevention of homelessness which will be available to everyone in the authority's area, including immigrants who have no substantive rights under the homelessness legislation.

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The provisions of this Bill amend the existing homelessness provisions in Part III of the Housing Act 1985. Broadly, these place a duty on local authorities to secure accommodation for applicants who are homeless and who have, or appear to have, a "priority need" for accommodation. Where homelessness is established but there is not a priority need for accommodation, the authority owes a lesser duty to provide advice and assistance.

The effect of the amendment would be inequitable. It would mean that homeless immigrants who had a priority need for accommodation would be owed no duty at all, while those who did not have a priority need would be owed a duty of advice and assistance. I know that that is not the noble Lord's intention. As I said earlier, I have some sympathy with what I believe to be the noble Lord's intention; namely, that everyone should have access to housing advisory services, regardless of their immigration status or whether they are entitled to substantive housing assistance.

As I said, the provisions in the Housing Bill will place a general duty on housing authorities to provide advice for everyone in their district. We would expect to see those authorities which are not already providing advice services to begin doing so in the autumn, when that legislation takes effect. It would not make sense to require them to establish services at an earlier date solely for persons subject to immigration control.

Therefore, I should like to assure Members of the Committee, and especially the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that when the new duty to provide advice takes effect it will extend to people with limited leave to remain here and to asylum seekers. On the basis of that assurance, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment and that he will also be able to support me when I come forward with a proposition under the Housing Bill.

Lord Dubs: I thank the Minister for his response; it is indeed most welcome. I shall certainly support him when he brings forward that proposition under the Housing Bill. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6 p.m.

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 106:

Page 6, line 47, leave out from ("Part") to end of line 4 on page 7.

The noble Earl said: The above amendment would remove from the Bill the part dealing with homelessness. Therefore, it would restore to asylum seekers what they had before under the Private Member's Bill moved by my late noble friend Lord Ross of Newport, who is sadly missed. It would give them back the same entitlement to help with homelessness as enjoyed by the rest of the population. The Government will undoubtedly produce a strong series of moral arguments on the issue. However, when the Government start being moral, I cannot help wishing that they were capable of being a little more practical at the same time. We really must consider exactly what will happen when homelessness help is withdrawn from

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people who are affected by the clause. It means that, if their houses are burned down, no one will give them anywhere else to live.

Sadly there has recently been a great rash of arson cases around the country; indeed, there has been a considerable number in my own area. If we think of the reaction of those unpleasant people to whom the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, referred on Second Reading, it seems to me that they may think that this is a temptation to indulge in arson. They do it often enough already. Therefore, to argue that people in that situation should be left on the streets without any help as regards homelessness seems to be a little perverse. It will shift burdens, not remove them, within local authorities from the housing departments to the social services. The burden on local authority social services is already pretty severe. Moreover, the operation of social services is necessarily a great deal more complex than that of a housing department merely because of the degree of individual assessment involved. Therefore, it will create more pressure, more expense and more work while not necessarily saving very much money in the end.

Under the homelessness powers we have a situation--with which we shall deal under a later amendment, but which is also relevant to this issue--where help with homelessness is withdrawn from those British subjects who are married to a person deemed to be homeless under the legislation because they fall to be treated under the Bill as if they were single. That will bear most heavily on those Asian families who have a habit of arranged marriages with people from, say, Pakistan, and so on. Apart from the hardship, it is a disincentive to marriage. We have heard a great many times in this Chamber about the need to support marriage. Imposing so strong a penalty on marriage is not quite the sort of consequence one believes that the Government intended. I wonder whether they thought it through. That situation would occur under subsection (2)(b).

What will happen to those people who are made homeless and who receive no help? One presumes that they will sleep on the street. However, obviously there comes a point when even the streets are liable to become overcrowded. It is not particularly good for any country to have a large proportion of its population sleeping rough. Quite apart from any argument about inhumanity, it tends to spread illness. I must remind the Government--I have said this before, but it bears repeating--that the rate of TB among the homeless on the streets of London is 200-times the national average. Leaving aside any issue of humanity, I do not believe that spreading that sort of danger is a good idea. Therefore, even from sheer, crude and practical self-interest, once people are here and homeless it is better to give them help than not to do so.

The fact that I tackle the matter on a practical front does not necessarily mean that I accept the moral arguments put forward by the Government. The people to whom we owe help are the people who are actually there and to whom hardship is happening. One cannot limit it by nationality in the way intended by the legislation. That is an abnegation of a responsibility which, because it is in front of us, I do not think we can give up. The late George Brown sometimes reminded

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me of the girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead. It is true to say that when he was good he could be very, very good. I shall never forget him speaking at the eve of poll rally at the Layton by-election in 1965. He was facing 200 National Front hecklers and said to them, "Now then, if you want to have go, you can have a go; but you must come one at a time". One of the hecklers happened to be sitting next to me. George Brown baited him until the whole audience was watching. He then turned round and asked: "How far back can you trace your English ancestry before you find something else?" The man turned white as a sheet and was silent for the rest of the evening. However, when he left at the end of the meeting, he murmured to me that he was "most impressed".

As it happens, the very first nationalist agitation against immigrants in British politics was started by Simon de Montfort who was himself a Gascon. I wonder what people who start that sort of agitation about our own people are really trying to prove. All of us come from somewhere else at some stage. If one looks at a pool by the seaside, if the tide does not flow back into it it will become stagnant and the water will become bad; nothing will live in it. If one studies The History of the World by my former tutor Professor John Roberts, one will see that he considered the question of what made certain areas flourish, succeed, grow prosperous and intellectually adventurous. He concluded that the one great force for development was the mixing of populations by migration. Therefore, if we adopt the philosophy involved in the Bill, I believe that we stand to lose a great deal more than we realise. I beg to move.

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