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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, we return to the basic point. The Minister has only one argument, and he repeated it endlessly. It is that the way through the problems for those who are vulnerable, traumatised, illiterate or unable to speak English is to apply at the port of entry. That is his only response, and he took quite a lot of time to repeat it. Amendment No. 12, which deals with the vulnerable, refers to frail, elderly, disabled, sick and terminally ill people. They are the people the Minister expects to have the confidence, fitness and health to apply literally at the port of entry. If the Minister cannot understand that if people are vulnerable, by definition that starts to incapacitate them from meeting our bureaucratic requirements, he shows

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a lack of imaginative understanding of the feelings of an asylum seeker when he confronts an immigration officer. It is a time of acute stress for him. The Minister made the point that, if they do not do that, they are coming here illegally. They are coming "illegally" only in the sense that the law is what the Government, and therefore Parliament, have defined it to be. It is a distinction that no other country in Europe draws. No other country in Europe says that if you apply at the port of entry the application is legal, but if you apply in-country it is illegal. It is an act of government to make such an application illegal. It does not make it immoral or wrong. It simply says: if you do that, we shall not give you benefit. That is the whole point of it. That is the only reason for it. There is no moral or ethical basis for it. It happens to be an administratively convenient way for the Government, as they believe, to deter benefit applicants. The UNHCR says that many genuine asylum seekers will need to lie and that, far from subverting their case, it is evidence of their case, because of the degree of their trauma. That is not my statement. The UNHCR have more experience in this area than, I suspect, do most noble Lords in this Chamber. The Minister went on to say that we have belaboured him for being mean. He asked, if our benefits were so mean, why were people coming to this country? He said that showed that the benefits must be generous and therefore we must check them. On the contrary, the Minister makes my point for me. If our benefits are mean and people continue to come here, it shows that they come because they have a well-founded fear of persecution, not that they come to exploit a benefits system which even the Minister admits is less generous than that of most of our European neighbours. The figures support that. Before last February I believe 67 per cent. of asylum seekers claimed asylum in-country. If the Minister is right and they sought to receive benefit, that was their reason for coming here and they were manipulating the system because they knew how to do it, as the Minister seems to suggest, since February we should have seen a sharp change in behaviour. We should have seen only 20 per cent. or 30 per cent. applying in-country because they knew that they would not get benefit and instead they would have applied at the port of entry. That is what would have happened if these manipulative, clever, cunning asylum seekers were operating in the way that the Minister suggests. On the contrary, 67 per cent. of those seeking asylum applied in-country before February; and after February--when they should have changed their behaviour if the model of rationality that the Minister offered was valid--what was the figure, 50 per cent., 40 per cent., 30 per cent.? No, it was 64 per cent. In other words, even though they know that they will receive no money by so doing, they still seek asylum in-country in almost the same proportion as before, when they could receive money. Their motivation was very clearly not money as such because this country was more generous than elsewhere, but because they feared persecution and for well-founded reasons did not wish to return to their country of origin.

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I repeat: this amendment is not an open door. It is about people who are vulnerable. The notion of vulnerability, contrary to what the Minister said, is well understood in social security law. It is the basis on which those who are sanctioned and lose JSA payment will receive the payment back after two weeks if they are vulnerable. The Minister and his department have to apply that test day in, day out through every benefit office in the country. It is also at the core of the Housing Bill, as the Minister will know, because he has also been handling that Bill. Far from "vulnerable" being a nebulous term and opening floodgates, on the contrary, it is a well-established, well-defined, well judged and well tested criterion by which we accept that those who are necessitous are entitled under the basic laws of humanity to bare subsistence. The Minister knows that. We know that. I shall not press Amendment No. 12, nor move Amendment No. 13. However, if the House agrees, I hope that we shall immediately go on to discuss Amendment No. 16. I encourage the noble Baroness to press her amendment at that stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. [Amendment No. 13 not moved.]

6.15 p.m.

Clause 13 [Short title, interpretation, commencement and extent]:

[Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 not moved.]

Baroness Williams of Crosby moved Amendment No. 16:


Page 9, line 45, at end insert--
("(3A) No day shall be named for section 11 and Schedule 1 to come into force until the Secretary of State has reported to both Houses of Parliament that he has put in place arrangements to secure that no person to whom that section and Schedule apply, nor any dependant of such a person, is left without the basic means of subsistence while pursuing his claim for asylum or while appealing against a refusal of asylum.
(3B) In putting into place arrangements under subsection (3A) above the Secretary of State must satisfy himself that either--
(a) no substantial extra costs will be incurred by any local authority in England, Scotland or Wales as a result of the arrangements; or
(b) if any extra costs will be incurred by any local authority in England, Scotland or Wales, they will be met by means of a special grant.").

The noble Baroness said: I shall seek the view of the House on this amendment, which I shall address very briefly.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I understand that Amendment No. 16 has been spoken to.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I believe I have the right to respond, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, responded. I raised the issue at the beginning regarding the leave of the House to bring the matter forward. It is not a grouped amendment.

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I understand that it is quite clear that I am entitled to speak to it again if I wish to do so. I am simply responding to a debate in the House.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. My understanding was that the noble Baroness stood up and said that she would like to group her amendment with the amendments spoken to a moment ago. They were spoken to and wound up on. My understanding now is that Amendment No. 16 has been debated by the House and that the noble Baroness, if she wishes, should put it to the House.

Earl Russell: My Lords, it is my understanding that when somebody wants to divide on one of the later amendments in a group, they retain the right of reply to the debate. I have exercised that myself in the past.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, may I add as a point of order that my understanding is that I did use the terminology that it might be for the convenience of the House if I spoke to my amendment. I did not move it. I am now moving it. It was entirely to save the time of the House. I apologise if I was in any sense out of order, but I understood that far from being out of order I was actually being helpful to the House. That was my intention. In any case, my remarks will be extremely brief.

Let me first draw the attention of the House to the extraordinarily minimal nature of the amendment that I am moving. It is an amendment--and I repeat the wording of it--about the basic means of subsistence. It is not an amendment about benefit. It is well below the level of benefit and it is that which the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, addressed when she gave example after example after example of how other countries were providing this kind of basic subsistence benefit--the lowest level possible to maintain life. Secondly, we have heard in this House the eloquent testimony of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford repeating his own first-hand experience of visiting church hostels and giving us case after case after case of people that he had met who were in exactly the condition that the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, has described. He gave us examples. He spoke to them at first-hand. He had met them. He had visited the church. Therefore, it cannot be argued that what we are suggesting here is simply a fantasy. There is a great deal of evidence. Thirdly, I find the point that the Minister made about the local authorities a strange one because my understanding is that, at least so far, the local authorities have received no money at all to enable them to sustain those people who have been dependent on them since February. I must ask the Minister to tell us, at least in correspondence after this debate, what steps are being taken to ensure that the local authorities are reimbursed. That is one reason for the wording of my amendment. Finally, I simply want to say that again and again the noble Lord has referred to the British taxpayer. I have, I must say, a much more generous view of the British

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taxpayer than he has. I believe the British taxpayer does care about other people and has compassion that can be reached. I do not believe the British taxpayer thinks about nothing at all except the last halfpenny that he has to expend to help people much less well off than himself. Anybody who has worked on this Bill as we have done can attest to thousands upon thousands of ordinary British people--most of them, I assume, taxpayers--who have pleaded with us to fight this Bill with every power we have, and they are entitled to have their voice heard in this House also. I beg to move.


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