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Earl Russell: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may thank him for two points that he made. One is the interpretation of Clause 9(2)(b) and the other is the point about helping the family rather than taking the children into care. The Director of Housing and Social Services in the London borough of Sutton was given contrary advice. I shall be grateful if the Minister will tell me that I can convey to him what the Minister said as the authoritative ruling. That would be very helpful indeed.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am always careful about being invited by the noble Earl to

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answer a question like that. I hope I expressed the matter properly at this late hour of the night. I believe that I have expressed it correctly. I shall read Hansard in the morning and whether that is the case or not, I shall write to the noble Earl.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I have listened carefully to what the Minister said. He has left a few unanswered questions. Perhaps I may put the two difficulties to him because I do not believe that he has dealt with them fairly and squarely. He seemed to be saying this. A family may enter the country on condition that it does not have recourse to public funds. They may be living perhaps in a rented flat. If it burns down and the family is instantly, suddenly and unpredictably homeless, there will be no power for the local authority to provide that family with accommodation. In practice, I believe that it would be difficult for accommodation not to be provided from somewhere. But I do not know how all the families will cope.

The Minister said that such families would have to rely on other organisations and groups. But in each and every instant there may not be someone available to provide accommodation just like that. A block of flats may burn down and half the families may be taken into local authority homelessness accommodation and half may not on the technical distinction drawn by the Minister. The result would be unfair and perverse. I find it hard to believe that that is the Government's intention.

The second question concerns what happens between an asylum application being turned down and the appeal date. It is astonishing that the Minister is saying that the local authority will have to turn the family out and they will have to go somewhere else. The Minister shakes his head. In effect, that is what he was saying: that all benefit stops, which includes homelessness entitlement. If families are in homelessness accommodation and an asylum application is turned down by the Home Office, one can only conclude that the local authority has to throw them out because between the date the Home Office turns them down and the date of a possibly successful appeal there is no entitlement to benefit, including homelessness accommodation. I cannot find any other way of interpreting what the Minister said; and I cannot believe that that is right and fair.

The Minister said that all these matters put asylum seekers and UK residents on an equal footing in that benefit stops while an appeal is under way. I suggest to the Minister that homeless persons who are UK residents, whatever their benefit circumstances and whatever change or appeal is taking place, are not thrown out of their homelessness accommodation by the local authority. That seems to distinguish clearly between UK residents and asylum seekers. The Minister says, "They should do what they ought to do. They should go away and leave the country because so few will win an appeal that it is not worth bothering", but what is the point of having an appeal system if, on the one hand, the Government say, "Here is an appeal system", but on the other hand they say, "Don't bother. You're not going to win so you might as well leave the country"?

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11.15 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, surely an exercise of judgment is required. Not every person who is found guilty in the courts appeals, because judgment is exercised by them and their lawyers as to their chances on appeal. Frankly, in the case of asylum seekers, because of the availability of benefit that simple test is not being applied. When benefit is withdrawn during an appeal, I think that that test may well be applied by asylum seekers and their advisers.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I hear what the Minister says and of course asylum seekers, like anybody else, can make a judgment as to the likelihood of being successful in an appeal. Not everyone who is turned down by the Home Office will appeal; they have not done so in the past. But the fact is that there is an appeal system and the Minister has said that asylum seekers should look at the statistics on successful appeals. He quoted a figure of 3 per cent. He then said that any asylum seeker looking at that figure ought to draw a conclusion from it--and that that conclusion should be that it is not worth persevering with the appeal. He said, "Don't worry about losing benefit; just leave the country". I am paraphrasing what the Minister said. The noble Lord seems to be nodding--

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am not nodding.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, that is what the Minister said and I think that it is outrageous. I give way--

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, before the noble Lord gets too outraged, what I do think is that given those statistics, people should look carefully at the basis of the case before continuing with the appeal. Clearly, the majority of cases do not have any basis. I think that, logically, people should look at the statistics and at the detail of the particular case to see how strong it is. I should not have thought that people would have to do that for very long before coming to a conclusion about the strength of the case.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that comment, but even if they listen to what the Minister has to say, some individuals will conclude quite properly that they have a good case and they will persevere with their appeal because they fear--this is the strength of their case--that if they return to the country from which they escaped, they will face persecution and possibly serious danger to themselves and their families. In such cases, people will of course try their chance at an appeal--and some of them will be successful.

The principle of giving asylum seekers the right of appeal is not a statistical concept; every individual has the right to exercise that right of appeal against a decision of Home Office officials. Some will win; some will not. However, the Minister is saying that whatever their chances--and they will make a judgment on that--the fact is that they will be thrown out of their accommodation while going through that process. As such appeals can take months if not years, that is

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intolerable and, yes, I do find it outrageous. It seems totally unfair to subject people to that situation. It makes a mockery of the right of appeal.

Indeed, I could not believe that the Minister meant what he said. I thought that he would soften it a bit by saying that the regulations would make some allowance for people in that situation, but it seems that the Minister is being intransigent and unwilling to make any concession. I wonder whether he has had any further information. He shakes his head. I think that what the Minister has said is intolerable. It is an intolerable dilemma in which to place people. Some asylum seekers may well be forced out of this country by homelessness. They may have to return to the original country and to face consequences which are not pleasant and for which we, as a country, will be held responsible.

I see that the Minister is not to be moved, so it is with great reluctance that I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Courtown moved Amendment No. 79:


Page 7, line 28, leave out ("An immigrant") and insert ("A person subject to immigration control").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend who spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 76, I beg to move.

[Amendment No. 79A, as an amendment to Amendment No. 79, not moved.]

On Question, Amendment No. 79 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 80 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 81:


Page 7, line 35, at end insert--
("provided always that nothing in this section shall be held to disentitle victims of domestic violence to a place in a women's refuge.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, Amendment No. 81 is--and I hope will remain--a probing amendment. It is designed to discover precisely what is meant by accommodation in Clause 9. In particular, it is designed to discover whether anything in Clause 9 may be quoted to deny a woman who is a victim of domestic violence accommodation in a women's refuge. I hope that the answer to that question is no. These are not matters designed for what the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, described, in a rather unfortunate phrase, as the established population. This is ad hoc temporary accommodation for those suffering acute need. On occasion it can be very acute and can arise at the most improbable time of the night. What would be available to a casual American tourist ought to be equally available to an asylum seeker. It is in hope that I may receive a reassuring answer that I beg to move the amendment.


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