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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, frankly, I find that the figures of £100 million and a saving of £200 million beggar belief. If that is the best that can be produced, it underlines the need for thresholds. If that is the kind of money that would be sought from the British taxpayer, the threshold is well justified. The figures will be much less than that and the noble Baroness knows it. She should not believe these extravagant claims. I am sorry that I did not mention the position as regards the housing revenue account. I hope I may write to the noble Baroness because housing revenue accounts--as I remember from my days in local authorities--are complex.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, obviously the Minister must write to us and make the position clear. One of the differences between us is that the Minister seems to think that people seek asylum status in this country because of the generosity of our benefits system as opposed to having any sense at all of the situations from which they come: the torture to which some of them have been exposed, the fear of killings and assassination, or of detention of relatives and the like that many of them have experienced. They come therefore, as a client group, to put severe

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and heavy strains--rightly so--on our community care services. The Minister does not seem to understand that at all. In all his comments this evening he seems to suggest they are coming here for a holiday and he cannot see why the British taxpayer should support them. The gulf of misunderstanding on the Government Benches of the situation from which asylum seekers come, and the reception--thanks to this Government--that they are likely to get, beggars belief. However, it is late and, with the leave of the House, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 85:

Page 7, line 38, at end insert--
("( ) Nothing in this section shall apply to any person who has applied to a housing authority as a homeless person either--
(a) before the date of commencement of an order made under this section; or
(b) before becoming an immigrant of a class specified by the Secretary of State by an order made under this section.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this amendment seeks to ensure that we should not have retroactive effect here. That applies to Clause 9(3) and to the order-making power. It would attempt to provide that,

("( ) Nothing in this section shall apply to any person who has applied to a housing authority as a homeless person either--
(a) before the date of commencement of an order made under this section; or
(b) before becoming an immigrant of a class specified by the Secretary of State by an order made under this section.").

I do not know how many classes the Secretary of State may specify. If I knew how many the present Secretary of State was to specify, I would not know how many a future Secretary of State would specify. The measure deals with two separate points of retroactivity. The Minister no doubt will tell me that Parliament has been known to pass retroactive legislation. I have known it happen while I have been in the Chamber, which, in terms of parliamentary history, is the twinkling of an eye. But it does not happen often. Every time it does, it is given the most careful scrutiny and serious consideration. Attempts are made to ask the Minister to produce the justification for the retrospective power. Normally, the proper procedure is the one set out in this House by the Earl of Strafford in 1641:

    "Let the mark be set on the door where the plague is and then let him that will enter in die".

The Minister has made much of the deterrent power of the cuts. I cannot help thinking that Lord Justice Simon Brown must have known what the noble Lord was going to say, because he has illustrated with the greatest precision the point that Lord Justice Simon Brown made. It is that the measures are designed to deter legitimate asylum seekers. The Minister may recall admitting to me last Wednesday that he cannot tell whose appeal will succeed. That is by the way, and we shall return to it another time.

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I wish to ask the Minister to recognise that anyone who came into this country before the measure was law could not have been deterred by a penalty which was not then in place. Therefore it would be unjust and unnecessary to attempt to apply the proceedings of the clause to them. If the Minister must do it, let him do it according to the ordinary fair procedures which we use in parliamentary legislation. I can see no reason for an exceptional claim to the use of retrospective powers. I hope that the Minister does not intend to make one. If he does, I shall listen to it with great care. I beg to move.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, perhaps I misunderstood the Minister's statement earlier today. I believe that he said that because of the court ruling all those for whom benefit has been suspended or stopped since February would now have it reinstated. Therefore it would not be retrospective and benefit would be paid up to and until the point at which the Government's proposed changes became law in primary legislation. If that is the correct reading, I am not sure that the issue of retrospection applies.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am trying to find my way through the paper placed in the Library when the Bill was first committed to the Lords, in which various background notes were given. The noble Lord's question was how many categories will be specified. The answer will be found in the paper, I believe at G or H, but I need to read the document.

Returning to the general point, Amendment No. 85 would prevent the provisions of an order made under subsection (2) of Clause 9 being applied to asylum seekers who had been accepted as homeless by local authorities either before an order was made or before they came within the scope of an existing order. This would result in housing authorities being required to house individuals who Parliament has already decided should not receive public assistance through the payment of housing benefit.

The Government's position on using this order-making power is very clear: we propose to align the scope of the local authorities' homelessness duties under Part III of the Housing Act 1985 with the rules on housing benefit.

However, if noble Lords agree to Amendment No. 85, this would mean that persons from abroad who are here on limited leave, such as visitors and overseas students, who have not been entitled to social security benefits since 1994, would continue to be entitled to assistance under the homelessness legislation and the entire cost of meeting this obligation would fall on the housing authority. It is important that we are able to make the scope of the homelessness legislation consistent with the rules on housing benefit.

We have a clear policy that visitors and other persons who are given limited leave to remain in this country should have no recourse to public funds. The definition of "public funds" includes entitlement to assistance under the homelessness legislation. Amendment No. 85

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would weaken this policy by exempting certain people with limited leave and enable such people to avail themselves of assistance not intended for them.

This is not just a matter of ensuring that those people who have entered this country on the basis that they would not have recourse to public funds do not receive that benefit. It is equally to ensure that local housing authorities are not faced with further additional costs.

I am advised that it is Paper G that I was looking for in the document lodged in the Library. The groups are listed there. The main groups affected are: those without leave; those admitted with no recourse to public funds; and asylum seekers who claim after entry into the country.

I was not entirely sure what help the noble Baroness was trying to be to the noble Earl, but I believe--

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I was asking a question.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Yes, my Lords, but the noble Earl was exploring a much wider point than merely the reference to those who have made a claim since 5th February and whose claim was disallowed under the regulations. The claim they made under the regulations which have now been set aside by the Court of Appeal will now be honoured. Anyone who was not eligible under the regulations last Thursday would be eligible if he or she claimed today. However, as I made perfectly clear, we shall ensure that the benefits gained as a result of the decision of the Court of Appeal end when we receive legislative powers from Parliament.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that is fine so far as it goes; but what about those who did not make a claim after 5th February because they were told that they could not claim?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I thought I made that clear. If someone makes a claim today, the claim runs from today, as it does for any other claimant.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: From today?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I shall rephrase that as I understand that my words were misinterpreted. If a person makes a claim, the claim runs from the day of the claim. If the claim was made today, it would run from today. That is perfectly clear.

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