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Page 105, line 27, at end insert--
(" ( ) Nothing in subsection (1) above shall render ineligible under this Part any claimant pursuing an appeal under the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment stands in my name and that of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and with it I wish to speak to Amendment No. 46. I should not have tabled the amendment if I had not listened to and then read carefully the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, at the Report stage of the Asylum and Immigration Bill. I found his answer so unsatisfactory that I thought it appropriate, on a more limited basis, to put this amendment forward.

I wish to make two points. First, I shall deal with the point that the noble Lord made about equating benefit entitlement for asylum seekers with the same system of benefit entitlement for normal UK residents. The Minister said that, while an appeal is taking place, a UK resident does not receive benefit and the situation is similar with asylum seekers. However, the point is different; it has been made before but must be repeated. If a UK resident is held not to be entitled to a particular benefit and chooses to appeal, the appeal is based on the decision to refuse the benefit.

In the case of an asylum seeker who is turned down by the Home Office in his asylum claim, if he appeals and then has his benefit stopped, the appeal is not about entitlement to benefit but the right to asylum. Yet, if the Government have their way, the asylum seeker will lose his benefit while the appeal is going on. It is because the subject of the appeal is different that it is not straightforward and not fair to equate the two processes. It is not right to say that one is treating all people equally.

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The main point of the amendment is to put right something unacceptable. If an asylum seeker does things properly and claims asylum at the point of entry or within three days--if the amendment holds, as I hope it will, in its passage through the other place--then the asylum seeker is entitled to various benefits, including homelessness accommodation. If the Home Office turns down the application, all the benefits stop unless and until the asylum seeker is successful in carrying out an appeal.

I believe I have got it right as regards financial benefits. The Government have said that a successful asylum appeal to an adjudicator or an immigration appeal tribunal will result in the asylum seeker getting back the financial benefits that he lost during that period. But as regards homelessness accommodation, that clearly is not possible. Not many asylum seekers are eligible for homelessness accommodation because they are not in the priority categories. But, as the Minister confirmed, if an asylum seeker is entitled to homelessness accommodation, as soon as the local authority is aware that the Home Office has turned down the asylum application it will have to turn him out. It need only reconsider the claim as and when the asylum seeker wins the appeal. That period between being turned down by the Home Office and having an appeal resolved can be weeks, is likely to be months, and could be years.

It is quite appalling that an individual who is deemed homeless and who, quite properly under the law, is put into homelessness accommodation by the local authority should then be made homeless from homelessness accommodation. That is absurd. I cannot believe that the Government could on a clear day, thinking about it, wish that to be the outcome. It is not comparable to loss of financial benefits. The Government are saying that that person and the family will be thrown out.

If there are children, the local authority will continue to bear the responsibility. It then has to go through the complicated process of assessing the family under local authority provisions in order to see whether it can step in and help that particular family. The process is complicated and bureaucratic. It is bound to be expensive for a local authority.

It is curious, to say the least, that the Government are telling a local authority which has housed an asylum seeker that the day after an asylum claim is turned down it has to throw the individual out while assessing, under other provisions put forward by the Government, whether to do something for the family, or at least take the children into care. I suggest that the whole procedure is likely to cost a great deal of public money--probably more than any perceived saving. It is a clumsy attempt to try to be consistent as between the policy on financial benefits and that on homelessness accommodation. It surely cannot be humane or sensible. I repeat: it cannot make any sense to turn people out of homelessness accommodation and make them homeless in the process. I beg to move.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, this is an important amendment, even though it affects only a small group

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of people. If the consequence of withdrawal of benefits is homelessness, that will be a very strong incentive to asylum appellants to abandon their appeal or to withdraw from it. If that happens, it will negate the whole appeal procedure which has been built up over a long period of years.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I shall not repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said. He put the case extremely well. I shall merely refresh the point that benefit withdrawn after appeal can be backdated and repaid. You cannot repay a home after an appeal. That is a vital distinction and I am most grateful to the noble Lord for it.

I am sure the Minister will recall a speech made at Third Reading of the asylum Bill by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, in support of an amendment moved from these Benches by my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby. The noble and learned Lord argued that the right to appeal is a fundamental judicial matter and that, by completely removing all means of support during an appeal, the Government might be thought to be frustrating the right of appeal itself. If the Minister has read the Court of Appeal judgment he will understand the reasoning behind the noble and learned Lord's thinking. It is a powerful and compelling point. The Minister will, of course, need to remember that the point of the Court of Appeal judgment was that the denial of benefits threatens the very right to seek asylum itself. I know he does not agree with that, but the question is one to be determined by the courts and not by the Government.

The amendment which was carried in this House in relation to entry will be, I believe, sufficient to protect the Government against that charge. Were they to accept the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, they would be protected against the second plank of that charge. The Minister should remember that although Parliament can do whatever it likes, it is incumbent upon Parliament to do something before the courts can understand what it has done. If Parliament enacts a contradiction, the courts cannot be certain which part of it Parliament intends.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, Amendment No. 45 would prevent an asylum seeker, who is pursuing an appeal under the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 from being prescribed as ineligible for assistance under Part VII of the Bill.

The amendment goes to the heart of the steps the Government are taking to reduce the number of asylum seekers who come to this country and lodge appeals that have no real basis. I shall remind your Lordships of the figures. Only three out of 100 appeals are found to be genuine asylum seekers. The other 97 are not. Those are the figures on appeals. I have advised your noble Lords on other occasions of those figures, and I apologise for doing so again, but I think it is well worth keeping in front of us the fact that only 3 per cent. are successful on appeal. Therefore, a very large number of asylum seekers pursue an appeal once the Home Office has refused their initial claim, and they do not succeed. Of course, all the time social security benefits and

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assistance are being given, and to date they were considered for help under the homelessness legislation while they pursued these asylum claims.

We have been over this ground on a fair number of occasions, and this House and the other place have decided on various parts of the Asylum and Immigration Bill, which will, in fact, enact what I have been advocating for some time, and the parties opposite, of course, have been disputing for some time. Genuine asylum seekers come to this country to escape persecution and not to obtain benefit. As I have said on a number of occasions, it is as much in the interests of those who are genuinely seeking asylum, as it is in the interests of our own taxpayers to reduce the number of economic migrants currently clogging up the asylum system.

The Government are taking action to remove entitlement to benefits and to assistance under the homelessness legislation from people who enter this country on the understanding that they will support and accommodate themselves, or indeed people who come here illegally, but who then change their minds and decide to claim asylum, and then have their claims for asylum turned down by the Home Office.

I pointed out last week that since the social security regulations were introduced earlier in the year removing benefit entitlement from these groups, the number of asylum applications in March, April and May has reduced; indeed the number reduced quite dramatically in May. Excluding these groups from entitlement to assistance under the homelessness legislation is a logical extension of that policy. Moreover, it would not be acceptable to place local housing authorities under the additional, onerous, burden of having to meet the full housing costs of applicants accommodated under the homelessness legislation, who were unable to claim housing benefit.

Amendment No. 45 would undermine our policies of removing the incentive for economic migrants to come to this country and pursue unfounded claims for asylum, and, more generally, of aligning the entitlement of persons from abroad to assistance under the homelessness legislation with entitlement to housing benefit.


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