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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House shares the noble Earl's revulsion at domestic violence. As he has rightly said on a number of occasions, there is no excuse for it whatever in a civilised society. I pay tribute, as he

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has, to the excellent work done by women's refuges in providing safe haven for women of any background who flee domestic violence.

However, I doubt whether the amendment is necessary. Most women's refuges are run by voluntary bodies and are not principally providing accommodation under the homelessness legislation. Indeed, it is accepted under current case law that a person staying in a refuge may still be homeless within the meaning of the Housing Act 1985. In general, there is nothing in the provisions of this Bill that would prevent a woman subject to immigration control being accommodated in a refuge provided by a voluntary organisation, including a housing association. I hope that that assurance helps the noble Earl and that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment. As he is withdrawing it, he may be interested to hear my firming up the advice I gave earlier regarding children. We move from women to children, but it is not too great a distance in relation to some of these matters. Authorities have an obligation to discharge duties under the Children Act. It is for them to decide how they are discharged. Often, it will be more economic to support the whole family rather than take children into care. The special grant rules do not require specific action. I hope that that is helpful and will save correspondence.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister. It does save correspondence. Much as I welcome what he has said, there is one further point on which I seek reassurance. Some refuges are owned by the local authority. It is those which are the subject of the anxiety which led me to table the amendment. I believe them to be very different from what the Bill envisages. I believe them to be outside the intention of the Act. I would very much like to hear that I am right in my reading of it. If the Minister can reassure me now I shall be most grateful.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The noble Earl makes an interesting point. Perhaps we have before us two different examples. One is that a voluntary body may lease its accommodation from the local authority. In other words, the local authority owns the accommodation and the voluntary body runs its service inside that accommodation. We will shortly be considering a Government amendment that will allow us to place specified accommodation leased to third parties outside the scope of an order restricting the use of such accommodation by persons subject to immigration control. That is very much the thinking about universities, but I believe that that provision can be applied to women's refuges when we make that order. To be fair to the noble Earl, perhaps his question goes a little further and envisages the local authority, not the voluntary body, running the refuge. If he knows any such organisations, perhaps he will write to me and I shall consider the matter.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I am even more grateful to the Minister. What he said about leasing may well cover all the cases, but in case it does not I shall

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check the point and write to him if I need to do so. I thank him very much for his answer, and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 82:

Page 7, line 36, after ("section") insert--
("(a) may make different provision for different circumstances or for accommodation or assistance of different descriptions; and

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is the amendment I mentioned briefly during the course of my answer to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, on the previous amendment.

When this clause was being considered in Committee the noble Earl and a number of noble Lords, including some of my noble friends, raised the issue of the accommodation of overseas students. They pointed out that as the Bill is drafted, an order under Clause 9 would mean that a university would not be able to accommodate overseas students in property that it leased from a local authority. We are content for that to continue, provided the stock is genuinely surplus to the authority's requirements, and I undertook at that time to bring forward an amendment to get around that problem.

This amendment introduces additional flexibility into the order-making power and will allow us to provide for this case. I can assure noble Lords that the order we will be making under this power will not prevent local authorities from leasing housing held under Part II of the Housing Act 1985 to universities or colleges which may wish to use it to accommodate overseas students who are here lawfully, provided that the accommodation is genuinely surplus to the authority's requirements. I hope the amendment can receive a warm welcome. I beg to move.

Earl Russell: My Lords, the amendment can indeed receive a warm welcome. I shall even allow the Minister the amusement, which I am certain that he feels, at his chance to teach me the virtues of flexibility, as he has been trying to do for a very long time. I have always admitted that it does have virtues, and this amendment is one of them. It seems to me, as far as I can tell, to meet entirely the original case that I raised.

There is just one further question that I have to ask the Minister. I am sure that he will be expecting it. How do those powers impact on the Housing Bill? In the long term, of course, and even in the short to medium term, it is the Housing Bill and not this Bill which will govern the matter. My recollection is that there is an identical clause in the Housing Bill which will meet the case. Perhaps the Minister will assure me that that is the case.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, although the Housing Bill will generally be taking over from this Bill so far as concerns restrictions on housing entitlement, as I think mentioned a little while ago, we are minded to keep some of the provisions in this Bill, in particular this one which limits the use an authority

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can make of its Part II stock other than through its allocation scheme. We shall do that by limiting the extent of our repeal of the Asylum and Immigration Act. That is our present thinking on how to deal with the problem.

Earl Russell: My Lords, perhaps I may thank the Minister warmly before he sits down.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 83 not moved.]

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 84:

Page 7, line 38, at end insert--
("( ) No order shall be made under this section unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that no disproportionate extra costs will be incurred by local authorities fulfilling their social services responsibilities under the Children Act 1989 or providing services as community care services within the meaning of section 46 of the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990 as a result of the order, and before making any such order the Secretary of State shall consult organisations appearing to him to be representative of the authorities concerned and other relevant organisations.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 97 and 103 standing in the names of my noble friends Lord McIntosh and Lord Dubs. I am sure that the Liberal Benches will speak for themselves.

This is an amendment about costs. The Government grudgingly accepted that removing housing benefit, income support, council tax benefit and child benefit from asylum seekers will throw costs onto other bodies, especially local authorities, which, unlike the Government, cannot and will not walk away.

The person from abroad special grant report, which will require parliamentary approval, makes temporary arrangements for housing benefit from February to September l996 for those eight months during which local authorities continue to have a housing responsibility under the homelessness legislation, until it is removed, if the Government get their way, by the Housing Bill. The other part of the grant reimburses local authorities for the cost of aiding children under the Children Act 1989. We understand that that grant will run from 5th February 1996 to 31st March 1997. Presumably, the Government intend then to review the situation and, if appropriate, continue the grant.

Local authorities, especially the London boroughs, are extremely unhappy about these proposals. They estimate that there are more than 4,000 families in temporary accommodation in London awaiting a Home Office decision. The majority have children and the rest are vulnerable and in priority need, with mental and physical health problems. They may have to wait a year or more for a decision about their status.

Already the Association of London Government estimated that some 300 asylum seekers came to it between the beginning of February and the end of April this year; that is a couple of months. It estimates that it is likely to face more than 7,000 claims in the current financial year, at a cost to the local authorities of cash support and service support of well over £50 million, perhaps even £100 million. The local authorities will be

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required to pay housing costs as well as provide enough money to pay for heating, food, light and possibly some clothing.

Local authority social services departments are not geared up for that because, as the Minister has on other occasions reminded us, they are not social security departments. Yet they will have to assess each claim separately and individually and, where the asylum seeker speaks no English and lacks the support of a family or refugee network, the pressures on a social services department will be substantial.

Why are the financial arrangements so unfair? First, the grant kicks in only above a certain threshold of expenditure. For instance, Barnet has to bear the first £131,000; Barking the first £50,000; Westminster the first £107,000; and Wandsworth the first £112,000. Those are extremely substantial sums which will fall on local council tax payers. Overall, the London boroughs will have to find approximately £5.5 million out of their existing capped expenditure before any government help comes their way. The problem is not confined to London, although the bulk of it is there. I checked this morning and found that asylum seekers are being supported by the local authorities in Dover, Cardiff, Reading, Berkshire and East Sussex. A considerable charge for all of those will fall on local council tax payers. Therefore, the first concern is that the grant kicks in only above a threshold which is far too high and will put an unacceptable burden on local council tax payers.

Secondly, when the grant does kick in it will cover only 80 per cent. of additional costs. Again, that is quite unreasonable. These additional costs are falling on local authorities because central government are seeking to save £200 million of taxpayers' money from the DSS, a national decision, which is then being off-loaded on to a few local authorities and therefore a limited number of local council tax payers. It is not fair that some local council tax payers in some authorities should see their bills rise to meet the cost of government savings for all income tax payers. That is simply unfair. If that is to happen it should be topsliced across the country as a whole.

Thirdly, while grants help local authorities meet temporary housing and longer term children's costs under the Children Act, there is no reimbursement for costs to local authorities incurred under the community care provisions of the 1990 Act. That is as we understand the situation, and we hope that the Minister will comment on that. Some asylum seekers will be vulnerable because of physical or mental health problems, especially if they come from places where their situation has been life threatening; where they have been victims of torture. They will not be eligible for help under the Children Act 1989 but they will require help under the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990. That falls on the local authority but the Government have not arranged reimbursement for that expenditure. The Government need to clarify the position on that.

Finally, I understand that the Government are going to reimburse only the housing costs which fall on the general account; that is, where local authorities use bed

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and breakfast accommodation. But most local authorities use their own local authority stock, the older unmodernised properties, as it is cheaper for the local authorities and, as the Minister said earlier, it is more civilised for the family because it keeps it together.

But the costs involved in funding housing in unmodernised, older council properties are borne not by the general council taxpayer but by the housing revenue account and by rent payers. If the Government will not reimburse local authorities for housing revenue account expenditure but only for housing expenditure falling on the general account, local authorities, understandably, will be pressed into using those mechanisms for housing which are funded by the general account and therefore supported to some degree by government; that is, the more expensive but also the poorer value for money and deeply uncivilised form of help which is bed and breakfast accommodation. They will do that in order to gain grant.

Therefore, the financial arrangements which the Government have made are unsatisfactory because they kick in at too high a threshold. Secondly, when they do kick in, only 80 per cent. of the costs are recovered, which is something like £100 million of additional costs, the local authorities estimate, which will fall on a few selected authorities in order to save all income tax payers. The Government seem to have omitted the cost that will fall on local authorities for community care and seem to be unaware, perhaps, of the implications of only funding housing expenditure on the general account, not on the housing revenue account, which will have a perverse, expensive and deeply uncivilised effect on seeking to house homeless families under the Children Act. The House would be grateful to the Minister if he would address those points. I beg to move.

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