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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am fascinated by what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, says about the privileged information that he received from the

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Minister this morning. If the noble Lord looks back at the figures for asylum applications, I believe that he will find, although I am sorry to say this, that the Treasury is likely to be wrong. That is not to say that legislation does not have an immediate effect but rather that the effect wears off rather quickly. That is the reason why we have an Asylum and Immigration Bill only three years after the last one.

However, whether or not there is a case to be made for a total reduction in public expenditure, the argument put forward by the noble Lord for his amendment and for proper scrutiny of the real costs to local authorities was very well put. Without repeating what was said on my previous amendment, I do not know whether such costs are significant in total in relation to public expenditure; they are probably not. Nevertheless, they are enormously significant for those few local authorities which are immediately affected by the entry into this country of asylum seekers. I strongly support the amendment.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Taking the strictures of the noble Earl to heart, I shall try not to repeat some of the remarks that I made earlier when we discussed this subject in relation to previous amendments. However, as I indicated, I understand my noble friend's concern that local authorities should have the opportunity to explain to the Government their views on financing any additional expenditure which they expect to incur in discharging their statutory responsibilities towards refugees and asylum seekers and that Parliament should be able to consider and discuss the issue.

I should like to reassure my noble friend--as, indeed, I believe I have already--that those objectives are met by the current statutory and practical arrangements for the local government finance settlement in England and by comparable procedures operated elsewhere.

Each year local authorities have ample opportunity, through service working groups and in other consultative fora, to inform central government of their views about any additional costs they may face and how such expenditure should be financed. Local authorities are then consulted about the Government's proposals for supporting local authorities' expenditure before the final proposals are laid before the House of Commons in the Local Government Finance Report and debated. My noble friend asked me whether such matters could be debated in this Chamber. I am afraid that that is not possible because, as he knows, finance matters are normally the province of the other place. Such a matter is clearly a finance matter and, therefore, would not fall to be debated here.

As I have already said this evening, officials from the Department of the Environment and the Department of Health have been discussing the details of the grant with local authority associations. They are planning a further meeting on 20th May. A draft grant report will be considered then. At that time full details of the grant will also be considered. We would expect to see that report approved by the Summer Recess.

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Of course I accept that it is possible that other issues may arise late in the day. However, I believe the procedures are there to deal with them. We have also announced that we will make available a special grant for local authorities to cover a substantial part of their unavoidable additional costs. The provisions under which such a grant is made (Section 88B of the Local Government Finance Act 1988) require that the grant may only be paid following the approval of the report setting out the details of the grant by resolution in another place. Therefore, proper scrutiny will be given in the other place to the matter.

I do not believe that it would be sensible to create an additional bureaucracy by establishing the new statutory procedures which the amendment proposes. That would only duplicate the effect of existing provisions and practices. Without going on and thereby raising the eyebrows of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, by repeating myself, I hope that that reassures my noble friend and that he will feel able to withdraw the amendment, thus enabling us to get on speedily with the rest of the Bill.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: I am most grateful to my noble friend the Minister. Obviously it is most difficult to form a judgment on the matter until we have the details of the Government's proposals, which will be laid before local authorities on 20th of this month. However, there will be further opportunities for us to reconsider the matter at later stages when all the information is available. Therefore, in the circumstances I am sure that the right course for me now is to beg leave to withdraw the amendment. In that way we will be able to get on and complete the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 10 [Entitlement to child benefit]:

[Amendment No. 124 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

[Amendment No. 125 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 126 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

On Question, Whether Clause 10 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Henderson of Brompton: As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, was not present to move his amendment to,

    "leave out ("immigrant") and insert ("relevant person")--

Noble Lords: This is the clause stand part debate!

Lord Henderson of Brompton: I was talking about Amendment No. 125. I realise that it was not moved because the noble Earl, Lord Russell, was not present. I wish to refer to "immigrant" and not to "relevant person" during my remarks. This is a clause which I am quite sure we should do without. I have no hesitation in asking the Committee to vote "Not Content" when the Question is put. This clause, together with Clause 9 which we have just debated, and social security regulations which came into effect in February this year,

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withdraw social security entitlements which would otherwise enable immigrants to live free from destitution.

The question is: do we wish immigrants and their children--not all, but some--to live in destitution and thereby reduce their chances of living long enough in this country to exercise their rights of appeal? I submit that the answer must be, no. I believe that these legislative proposals are coercive and inhumane, and none more so than Clause 10 which we are discussing, which denies child benefit to any child immigrant unless he satisfies prescribed conditions. What those prescribed conditions are we do not know, so what we are being asked to do is to buy a pig in a poke.

The clause is indiscriminate, and I do not believe that legislation should be. I wish as much as anyone to attack welfare tourism and bogus asylum seekers, but not at the expense of genuine asylum seekers who flee from terror at home. There must be some better way than this of attacking bogus applicants without exposing to force majeure--because that is what it amounts to--those who are in genuine need. This is legislative overkill. This proposal to remove Clause 10 has all-party support. I am glad to see the right reverend Prelates are present. I feel confident that the late Lady Faithfull, if she were still with us, would have been the first to advise the Committee against this clause, which particularly affects children. I know that other Conservatives wish to support the proposal to remove this clause. I ask the Committee to vote against the clause and remove it from the Bill.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My noble friend the Bishop of Ripon is not able to be here today and has asked me whether I would support this amendment. I do so from the heart. I support what the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, has said. It is something we can do without. In the Glidewell Panel report Barnardo's submitted that,

    "the withdrawal of benefit would leave many families with no way of paying for accommodation or for feeding or clothing their children".
Barnardo's estimate, based on Home Office statistics, was that this might affect more than 4,000 dependent children. The Children Act obliges local authorities to provide assistance to children in need and to accommodate any child in need because the person caring for that child has been prevented from providing suitable care and accommodation.

The object of saving public money would hardly be achieved if local authorities had to take 4,000 children into care, let alone the effect on the children and families! Child benefit is much less expensive than social services. It is easy to administer; it is cheap to run and it does not distinguish between people. There is no stigma to being on benefit. Those involved in Church community projects say that people with a perfectly legitimate right to be here are now facing detailed questioning and form filling from staff in local benefit offices. That annoys, frustrates and frightens both clients and DSS staff. How does that help race relations? Scores of people are now becoming dependent on Churches and charities for accommodation, food and clothing. It has been described to me as a creeping crisis as resources are used up.

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A Government Minister, Ann Widdecombe, from another place stated in a letter to William Powell, MP,

    "The Government do not wish to see NGOs providing support to destitute asylum seekers as this would mean that the incentive to economic migrants would remain".
I had not thought of the Church before as an NGO (non-government organisation) but I suppose that is what we are. This seems to me to be a case of the Government not only ordering their officials to pass by on the other side but to stop a Good Samaritan from helping some of the most vulnerable people. I must assure the Committee that this NGO will not obey the Minister.

In the judicial review of 25th March this year, which found that the Government had not acted unlawfully in issuing the regulations, Judges Beldam and Buxton acknowledged that the removal of access to benefits under the regulations,

    "operates, and is intended to operate, as a disincentive to asylum seekers from using the appellate procedure".
We heard the Minister make much play on numbers. He appeared to be close to saying that we have to find a quota that is acceptable. While of course there is a genuine concern for proper and fair regulations to be in place, the cause of justice being properly done must be maintained.

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