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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that does not meet the point. There are people who were told that they could not claim because the regulations came into force on 5th February. Retrospectively, following the Court of Appeal judgment, they would have been eligible for the period between 5th February and now. Will their claim apply retrospectively over the period in which they would have been eligible if the law had been as the Court of Appeal has decided it is?

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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I think the noble Lord is asking about people who did not make a claim but can make a claim today. They could ask for it to be back-dated to an earlier period. Under the normal rules, such back-dating can be done only if the claimant shows good cause for not having claimed earlier. In this case the existence of the regulations, now deemed ultra vires, which excluded the person from claiming would constitute good cause.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am most grateful--

Noble Lords: Order.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Minister has clarified a point that was not clear and I am expressing my sincere appreciation to him.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Will they receive the money in a lump sum?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: The noble Baroness likes spending taxpayers' money.

Earl Russell: I must confess that I am disappointed with the Minister's reply. It would have been the effect of this amendment to ensure that people who have already presented as homeless and who have already been housed would be able to stay where they were and the local authority would not need to evict them. I do not see why that is so very terrible.

The Minister said a great deal about persons from abroad and all the rest. But it never seems to occur to him that occasionally British subjects go to other countries. Occasionally British subjects may even experience misfortunes in other countries. Increasingly we live in a world in which people travel around, and in which their business is not confined to one country. If all of us are to be so strictly nationalistic about the help we are prepared to give to people, we are all going to find that we are in very great danger whenever we step outside our own frontiers. It is not the way to run a world. We shall have to clarify this matter further. I do not believe that we shall do it tonight. For the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 86 to 92 not moved.]

Clause 10 [Entitlement to child benefit]:

12 midnight

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 93:


Page 8, line 21, leave out ("immigrant") and insert ("person subject to immigration control").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I spoke to this amendment with Amendment No. 76. I beg to move.

[Amendment No. 93A, as an amendment to Amendment No. 93, not moved.]

On Question, Amendment No. 93 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 94 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

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Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 95:


Page 8, line 23, at end insert (", but he shall be taken to have satisfied any such prescribed conditions if--
(a) he is an asylum seeker,
(b) it is at least six months since he claimed asylum,
(c) no decision has been made by the Secretary of State upon his claim for asylum, and
(d) he satisfies the conditions required in any case to be satisfied for payment of child benefit to any person.".").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I should like to move this amendment because child benefit is enshrined in primary legislation and so the amendment is rather different from those amendments which no doubt we shall discuss to be brought forward by the Government at the recommittal stage.

Child benefit is about the well-being of the child. It is not about the ethnic origin of the parents, or their legal status as asylum seekers, or whether or not they applied at the port of entry or four hours later. It is about children. I hope that no one in this House believes that the faults or sins of omission of the parents should be visited upon their children. This House has a proud record of care for children and protecting them against abuse. I hope that tonight we shall respond to the amendment in the same way.

Ironically, given the events of the past few days, child benefit is one of the few benefits that cannot be obliterated by regulation. It has to be obliterated for asylum seekers by primary legislation. So important a benefit for children was it that Parliament wisely decided to protect it by primary legislation rather than leave it to the whim of the Secretary of State. It is therefore different from other benefits because it is enshrined in law.

It is also--this also is a significant difference of which I ask the Minister to be aware--different from other benefits because to a degree it is an earned benefit. One is not eligible for it until one has been here for six months and from then on it may well be, given that the asylum seeker has been given permission to work, that he will be paying national insurance and taxes. Child benefit, as your Lordships will recall, started life as a combination of both a tax allowance and family allowance.

Child benefit recognises that those who have children are entitled to pay less tax (or have an equivalent allowance) than those without children. It is a kind of horizontal redistribution. It is applied equally to all British citizens. It should apply equally to communities of immigrant people.

Child benefit is also different because, if an adult is denied income support the state need take no further responsibility for that individual, but the state, even if it wishes to do so, cannot walk away from children, though it denies their parents child benefit. Under the 1989 Children Act the local authority will have to pick up the pieces and either take the child into care at enormous expense--something like £800 a week for each child. Yes, my Lords, £800 a week is the going figure for a child going into care. It is a well established figure. If the Minister wishes to intervene,

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as opposed to a contribution from a sedentary position, I shall give way. The figure is £800 per week as the cost of taking a child into care and that will fall under the Children Act to the local authority. Or more probably the local authority will seek to prevent further trauma to that child by keeping the family together and putting them into bed and breakfast accommodation at an average cost of between £250 and £300 a family.

If that family does not receive child benefit while they come under the purview of the Children Act, the local authority must make good that shortfall quite directly by providing the family with enough money or food in kind to support the child. It is cheaper as well as more civilised to pay child benefit. Child benefit is one of the cheapest of all DSS benefits to administer; it has a 98 per cent. take-up; it is successful. If instead we have to furnish the same sum through a social worker to help that family pay for food and clothing under the Children Act, and then we claim that sum again from the Government, almost as much will be spent on administration as would have been spent on child benefit in the first place. The cost will be doubled and its effectiveness will be reduced.

Child benefit is not only a benefit to be paid to the mother; it belongs to the child. What is the situation of a child born of parents who are treated as persons from abroad, but the child has British nationality? Will the child qualify for child benefit in its own right? I hope the Minister will be able to tell us tonight. Can we assume that the nationality of the parents will not deny British children access to child benefit? We have not heard from the Minister on that point.

This is a compromise amendment. It does not say that child benefit should be paid to all asylum seekers after six months. It says that it shall be paid only after six months and only until the date of the decision on the application for asylum. That means that if the Government, as they should, make a speedy decision and decide to grant or not to grant asylum status or leave to remain, then the cost in child benefit will be negligible; the cost is driven by the Government's tardiness. If the Government are not tardy and do not accept the status of the asylum seeker, they will not pay any child benefit.

This is an amendment about rights, laws, administrative costs and administrative delays. But it is also about something more profound; it is about child destitution. Child benefit would give an asylum-seeking family with two children £25 a week. That is not much, but it may be enough to keep them from utter destitution. No one here, in a private capacity, would knowingly let a child go hungry, see a child endure malnutrition, expose a child to TB, rickets, anaemia or asthma deliberately--all diseases that come from being undernourished. I am confident that none of us would tolerate it as private individuals; yet collectively we appear to be willing to tolerate it as public individuals.

We are not an elected Chamber. We are an appointed and hereditary House. If there is any justification for that state of being it is because our personal experiences, our work with charities and voluntary organisations, and our private convictions can serve to inform a public

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policy. If the elected Chamber does not like it, it can overturn it. But if this House will not stand up for destitute children, who else will? I beg to move.


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