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The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Nicol): My Lords, if Amendment No. 75 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 76 and 76A.

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 75:


Page 7, line 24, leave out subsection (1).

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The noble Earl said: My Lords, Amendment No. 74A became out of date as a result of events that took place after lunch today. We could not have taken account of that in the Marshalled List.

Amendment No. 75 seeks to leave out Clause 9(1) which provides that no housing authority shall provide a tenancy,


    "or licence to occupy, housing accommodation provided under the accommodation Part ... to an immigrant"--
I presume that word has now changed--


    "who is of a class specified in an order made by the Secretary of State".
It is not easy to find housing if one is looking for it on a low income. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, will recall some of the debates that we were having last week on the Housing Bill on the concept of suitable accommodation. Some of it one cannot afford; a great deal of it still covertly, notwithstanding the law, does not admit people who are black; an increasing proportion of it now will not admit smokers; some will not take children. The housing benefit will not cover the rent. So there is already a very considerable body of people who cannot find anywhere to live. In London as a whole 49 per cent. of those who present as homeless are from ethnic minorities. In the inner London boroughs the figure is 56 per cent.

The only place where such people can get housing at present is through the local authorities. It is the one place where they can be reasonably confident that racial discrimination is not going to take place. That is precisely the point that this clause in the Bill bars. I do not see the justice of that. It is of the essence of being an asylum seeker that, once your claim is registered, the Secretary of State cannot make you go away. So you are here and while you are here you have to live. So we have to consider, if such people are not going to live in accommodation provided by a local authority, where else are they going to live. The general likelihood is that many of them will end up being homeless. I do not believe that that will do us any good.

Housing associations are also concerned about the application of these provisions to them. They point out that they are contrary to their articles of association which say that they should take account only of housing need. If they are to be compelled to take account of immigration status as well, the housing associations will have to re-word all their articles of association. Local authorities will also have to get information out of the Home Office. We all know that that is not the easiest thing in the world to do. Shelter produced the example of 50 cases where such information was sought under the 1993 Act. In only two of those cases did the information appear.

What will be the consequence? It will be homelessness. If I were recruiting for some evilly disposed body of revolutionary anarchists, I would welcome this clause; if I were a TB bacillus, I would

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welcome this clause; if I were recruiting for the National Front, I would welcome this clause. From these Benches I do not welcome it. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, we have dealt with this matter before; namely, social housing, council housing and housing association housing. As I have explained previously, when someone acquires a tenancy of a council house or a housing association house, he effectively gains housing for life. He can stay there as long as he wants. He also acquires succession rights whereby he can pass on the tenancy to a close relative. He also acquires certain rights of assignment; for example, he can exchange the property with another tenant elsewhere. He can also acquire the right to buy.

I find it hard to understand an argument which says that somebody whose right to be in this country has not yet been properly established ought somehow to have the right to get such long-term housing. I do not understand the logic in that argument at all. As a government we are concerned that such housing should go to those with clearly established, long-term needs; namely, people who have a right to remain in this country indefinitely. The classes of immigrants whom we propose to exclude from council housing are generally here for a limited period only. Their need for housing is temporary and it can be more properly met in the private rented sector.

Most of the groups we are proposing to exclude from entitlement to social housing are already excluded from other forms of social assistance. There is no reason why they should be entitled to housing created with taxpayers' money, particularly when there are people with settled residence in this country who are seeking housing. This applies equally to those immigrants here on limited leave and to asylum seekers; only a tiny proportion of asylum seekers--in the first five months of this year only 6 per cent. of applicants--are actually granted full refugee status. The others are not. Where people are granted leave to remain, they can acquire the same rights to council housing as people with settled residence, people who have always lived in this country.

It is in those parts of the country where housing pressure is greatest, such as London, where we find the vast majority of asylum seekers. It is not fair to established residents in such areas to see temporary immigrants being allocated permanent social housing ahead of them, nor is it conducive to good community relations.

The Government are investing over £2 billion a year in the creation of new housing and the improvement of existing stock. This expenditure should go to meet the needs of the established population, not those who are likely to be leaving in due course and not those who have gained entry to this country by saying that they will not be a burden on public funds or look to the public funds for any help or assistance. I believe that the argument in favour of ensuring that local authority and housing association housing goes to those people with a long-term right to remain in this country is logical and well marries with the fact that the housing itself is

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of a long-term nature. It seems illogical that somebody should have a longer right to occupy their house than to occupy the country in which the house is situated.

10.15 p.m.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the Minister implies that the asylum seekers who will be caught by this clause and be denied access to local authority housing are here for only a short time. He implies that the decisions on their cases are made within a matter of weeks, whereas anybody who has had anything to do with asylum cases knows that some cases can take years. I quoted a case at an earlier stage of a Ghanaian asylum seeker who had been in this country since 1988 but whose case had not yet been determined. There are literally tens of thousands of people who were "left behind" by the 1993 Act and put onto the slow-track procedure--

Viscount Ullswater: My Lords, the noble Lord is taking up the time of the House at Report stage when the Minister has already answered. I do not believe that he is asking a question of the Minister; he is wandering into rather more extraneous matters.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I am asking the Minister whether he is aware that many people who are still here applied for asylum as long ago as 1988 and whether he can tell the House the number who have been on the list for that length of time who, under this provision, would have been deprived of the right to access to local authority housing for as much as eight years.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, without delving through the statistics, I cannot give the noble Lord the answer that he wants, but I do not think that that matters. The fact is that no matter how long they have been here, they do not have a long-term right to remain. What we want to ensure by many of the actions that we are taking with regard to immigration is that people do not have to wait for years before a decision is made. We want decisions to be made expeditiously. If people do not have a long-term right to remain, I do not see why they should have a right to long-term housing which is there for the established population, including those people who gain the right to asylum and who stay here and who then have the right to the same long-term housing as the established population. I should have thought that that was a fairly easy argument.

Earl Russell: My Lords, the last time that I saw a figure on the point, the average length of a mortgage was nine years. An owner-occupied home is surely one which has been undertaken putatively as a permanent home. My noble friend has cited cases of people who have been asylum seekers for eight years. I think that the Minister is making a little bit of a meal of the argument about not having a permanent home. Plenty of people take local authority housing while they hold jobs. They may hope that those jobs will be for life. Sadly, a great many jobs now are not. People may move after four years, or even four months, to the other end of the country.

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The argument of the Minister rather prejudges the outcome of the claim for asylum. The Minister said that such people would not be here indefinitely. But those who are successful in their claims may well be here indefinitely. Many of us on these Benches suspect that if cases were heard on a slightly different set of assumptions the proportion who remained here might be a great deal higher than the 21 per cent. it is now. That prejudging of the applications rather strengthens my suspicion as to the Government's argument behind the clause. I did not hear from the Minister any convincing case in reply to the contrary argument as to where these people would go instead. He suggested that they would go to the private sector. Before I decide what to do with the amendment, can the Minister tell me how an asylum seeker without property is able to rent in the private sector when he has taken away that person's right to housing benefit?


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