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Lord Ackner: My Lords, I apologise to the House if I did not make my point clear. My suggestion was that, if the appeal is to be controlled in some special way, it should be done by reference to the potential merits or absence of merits of the appeal. One does not do it by an indirect reference to the ability to survive, having removed from that person the right to work and the right to any social security benefits.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I understand what the noble and learned Lord is saying. However, I must point out to him that, as almost everyone appeals, I believe it would be quite difficult and time consuming for us to set up a system which would introduce a first sift of all the appeals submitted in order to sort out the very small number that may be justified. It must be remembered that only three in 100 applications turn out to be based on fact and, therefore, entitled to refugee status. I am not entirely sure what percentage we might have to sift out--perhaps, 90 per cent. to leave 10 per cent. in which the 3 per cent. would still be a comfortable minority--but it would involve a pretty big sift.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I wish to respond to three points that the noble Lord made. I do not often say this to him, but as regards my first point I do not think he can have listened at all to what I said. I drew, in considerable detail, on the parallel that he often makes between those denied benefit who are United Kingdom citizens and those denied the right to appeal who are asylum seekers. The position does not stand on all fours, as the noble Lord knows well. It is possible for someone in this country who has been refused benefit and is appealing against it to continue to be on a housing list. It is possible for that person to do casual work and it is possible for him to fall back on a network of family and friends. In all three respects there is no parallel with an asylum seeker who often knows no one here. If I may say so, the argument the noble Lord made does not do him credit. We tried to address exactly that argument in some detail, leaning--if I may say so--on the words of the Court of Appeal judgment which directly addressed this subject. The noble Lord will be aware that page 21 of the judgment lays out in detail the difference between a UK citizen and an asylum seeker in this regard. Secondly, it is interesting that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, attempted to respond to something that the noble Lord asked for earlier; namely, to make constructive suggestions. I am no lawyer but I understand that the granting of legal aid depends to some extent on the likelihood of the success of a case which is being put forward for legal aid. As I understand it, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, was suggesting something rather similar; namely, that one would consider the basis on which an appeal would be brought. We on this side of the House would certainly consider that, just as we would consider closely the expenditure on officials, as distinct from the cost of keeping people on benefit for months and months on end. It must be possible to deal with procedures more rapidly. That does not mean a period of three days, but it certainly need not mean four years. The noble Lord talks as if four years and three days respectively constitute the same length of time. It must be possible to deal seriously with an appeal in a period far shorter than four years. Perhaps the Home Office may take four years to deal with these cases. That seems to me an extraordinary length of time.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I speak to Amendment No. 16, a relevant amendment, so that we keep the issue to a single debate. I hope that that is acceptable.
Amendment No. 16 takes up the point made so eloquently by the noble Baroness, but with a difference. It states that Clause 11 and the schedule should not come into force until such time as the Minister is able to ascertain and assure the House that there is provision
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("( ) Regulations may provide that this section shall not apply to a person who is considered by the Secretary of State to be a vulnerable person."). The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 12 which stands in my name and those of my noble friends Lord McIntosh and Lord Dubs, I wish to speak--I have given notice of this--to Amendments Nos. 13 and 16, and to group Amendment No. 16 with Amendments Nos. 12 and 13. The provision I am discussing picks up a point we have been making throughout these debates on social security. As regards all our housing and social security legislation, however grievous the behaviour of the individual may seem in that he appears to have made himself deliberately homeless, or he has refused to be available for, or to be actively seeking work, or the individual has failed to co-operate with the CSA to divulge the name of an absent parent--whatever the sin, if I may use that phrase, and however threatening the penalties--we have always made a distinction between those who are not vulnerable and those who are. However badly the Government may feel someone has behaved, and however severe may be the sanctions imposed on that person; some proportion of benefit has always been restored within two weeks or so to those who are vulnerable. In other words the issue of basic subsistence for those who are vulnerable overrules a judgment of what is wrong or inappropriate in their behaviour. It is a basic principle of our welfare state that those who are vulnerable and who cannot reasonably be expected to look after themselves should not be denied by society the basic means on which to live. However, in this Bill--as we know to our cost--the Government are proposing to scrap benefit for all asylum seekers who apply in country--however strong their case turns out to be--and to take 19 months to determine a case, however severe the need. Yet these asylum seekers--unlike some people within the British social security system--who are subject to sanctions
"Anybody on British soil cannot be left helpless in terms of dignified survival, family ties, health, housing, clothing and an opportunity to become acquainted with the culture of this land".
He concludes by saying that he is unable to attend because he is on tour in Germany, and signs the letter, "Yehudi Menuhin". I leave his words to say more eloquently than I can why the amendment should be approved by this House.
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Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I speak to Amendment No. 16, a relevant amendment, so that we keep the issue to a single debate. I hope that that is acceptable. Amendment No. 16 takes up the point made so eloquently by the noble Baroness, but with a difference. It states that Clause 11 and the schedule should not come into force until such time as the Minister is able to ascertain and assure the House that there is provision