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Earl Russell: My Lords, could the Minister tell the House how he knows the claims have been unfounded before they are heard?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, we have been over this a great many times. Out of every 100 claims decided by the Home Office only five are granted asylum. Out of every 100 claims going to appeal only three are granted asylum. Those are the 1995 figures. The 1994 figures are somewhat similar. The position is there; it is quite clear and quite obvious. That is the evidence. I do not think one requires any more evidence. The position is perfectly clear. As I said, Amendment No. 45 would undermine our policy.

Amendment No. 46 would remove the regulation-making power which allows the Secretary of State to prescribe that certain groups of persons from

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abroad are not eligible for assistance. As I hope I made clear, the Government are clear that persons from abroad who do not have a valid claim to public assistance--and that includes assistance under the homelessness legislation--should not have access to it.

It is important, therefore, that there should be scope to prescribe those classes of person who are not eligible for assistance under Part VII. Our policy is that entitlement to homelessness assistance should align with entitlement to housing benefit. The groups of persons we intend to prescribe as not eligible under Part VII will be precisely those groups which are excluded from entitlement to housing benefit under social security regulations.

Amendment No. 46, like Amendment No. 45, would undermine that policy, and I cannot recommend either of the amendments to the House.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, in his comments the Minister seemed to imply that, despite doing the right thing by applying at the port of entry, such people should still be deterred from seeking to come here. That has taken the argument several stages further than the Government's original proposition, which was to draw a distinction between those claiming asylum at the ports and those who failed to do so but claimed asylum when they had been in the country for some time.

The Minister thought that such a distinction would help the Government to control things on their terms. We on these Benches were not happy about any of that, but for the moment I accept the Government's argument. We have now taken the matter a great deal further. The Minister is now using the same type of emotional reasoning--if one can talk about emotional reasoning--or argument against those asylum seekers who have done as the Government said: they have claimed asylum at the point of entry; they have done everything properly and have had homelessness accommodation, if they were in the priority category, as only a small proportion of them would be; they are then turned down by the Home Office, maybe nine months, a year or two years later; and they then appeal.

If there is any virtue in having a system of appeals, it is to ensure that justice is done to asylum seekers. Yet the Minister says, "No, no--most people do not win their appeals and so forget about justice to those people". That is what the Minister said tonight. That is what he said in this House on 24th June during the Report stage of the Asylum and Immigration Bill. He said:

    "Frankly, unless their case is extraordinarily strong, my advice would be that they should consider returning home".--(Official Report, 24/6/96; col. 715.)
He made the point on a number of occasions.

If there is a concept of justice, it is not one that can be modified by statistics. Justice is for every single individual. It is not good enough to say that 3 per cent. win their appeal. Those 3 per cent. surely have certain basic rights. The Minister says, "We will forget about those rights; 3 per cent. is not enough to bother about and they ought to go home". That is the nub of the

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Government's argument. Furthermore, in quoting the 5 per cent. who obtained asylum status and the 3 per cent. who won appeals, the Minster forgot about the others--the 20 per cent. or so who obtained exceptional leave to remain.

But my key point is that if there is an appeal system, it ought not to be undermined by coercing people to leave the country and possibly face danger if they have to return to where they suffered persecution.

Finally, the Government conceded that, where there are cash benefits which are lost to asylum seekers during the period between being turned down by the Home Office and winning an appeal, those who win appeals will obtain financial recompense. Not a word has been said about recompense to people who have lost their homelessness accommodation. I should have thought that justice and equity demand that the Government do something for those people who have lost out even more badly, because in the end they will end up on the streets, compared with those people--and it is bad enough--who have lost their financial benefits. So the Government even within their own policies are inconsistent.

I do not know whether the Minister wants to comment further. Regrettably, we are now at Report stage. But I think the Government are wrong. They are behaving badly. They have not made their case. The right of appeal is a right of appeal for every single individual. The Government are seeking to undermine that right for individuals who may well have to face danger in the country from which they have fled. I think it is shameful. I think it is shabby. In the absence of any further comment from the Minister, I very reluctantly beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 46 not moved.]

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendments Nos. 47 to 49:

Page 105, line 28, leave out second ("the") and insert ("other").
Page 105, line 31, leave out subsection (3).
Page 105, line 34, leave out subsection (4) and insert--
("( ) A person from abroad who is not eligible for housing assistance shall be disregarded in determining for the purposes of this Part whether another person--
(a) is homeless or threatened with homelessness, or
(b) has a priority need for accommodation.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke to these amendments with Amendment No. 44. I beg to move them en bloc.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 175 [Asylum-seekers and their dependants]:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 50:

Page 105, line 39, after second ("asylum-seeker") insert ("who is not by virtue of section 174 a person from abroad who is ineligible for housing assistance,").

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 50, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 51 to 53. Amendments Nos. 50 and 51 are simply drafting amendments which clarify the provisions in subsection (1) of Clause 175. They do not alter the substance of the clause and, with your Lordships' agreement, I do not intend to dwell on them further.

Beyond subsection (1), the provisions in Clause 175, as drafted, largely re-state existing provisions in the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993, which provide a statutory framework for the Home Office to advise local housing authorities about the status of homeless applicants who are asylum seekers.

Under the present homelessness legislation, authorities need to know whether an applicant is an asylum seeker, as that will affect whether a duty is owed and, if so, the extent of the duty. Broadly speaking, no duty is owed to asylum seekers who have accommodation--however temporary it is--which is available to them. Where they do not have accommodation available to them and they meet the normal statutory homeless criteria--that is, they are unintentionally homeless and in priority need--the duty owed is to secure temporary accommodation pending resolution of their asylum claim.

Under the present legislation, authorities need to know when the status of asylum seekers whom they are accommodating changes: if their asylum claim fails they are no longer entitled to homelessness assistance. That will remain broadly the same, but Amendments Nos. 52 and 53 update the provisions in the Bill to reflect the revised information needs of housing authorities in the light of the new position on asylum seekers' entitlement to benefits.

Authorities will continue to need to know whether an applicant is an asylum seeker but, additionally, they will need to know the circumstances which will determine whether the applicant is eligible for assistance under Part VII--such as whether he claimed asylum on arrival. The new clause after Clause 175, which would be inserted by Amendment No. 53, will provide for that. Amendment No. 52 paves the way by deleting the associated provisions in Clause 175 which would no longer be required. I beg to move.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, again this is an amendment which we have not had time to examine in the detail in which we would have wished. However, I wish to make some comments, particularly on Amendment No. 53. I appreciate that in some respects the point of Amendment No. 53 is not totally different from the equivalent clause as already stated on the face of the Bill. Nevertheless, I should like to ask the Minister a number of questions.

First, I should like some assurance that information that goes from a local authority to the Secretary of State will not be passed on to the Home Office. I say that because it is accepted practice in this country--sometimes breached--that when government seek information for one purpose, they will not use that information for other purposes. It would be a matter of assurance to individuals if that information were not

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directly passed to the Home Office. There may be arguments to the contrary, but there is a point at issue there and there may be some anxieties.

Perhaps I may continue with my questions. Secondly, have the Government assessed how much work this will involve for the Home Office, the Secretary of State for the Environment and for local authorities? There is a danger that all of them will be put to a great deal of work and effort. I wonder what the implications are in that connection. Thirdly, what happens if a local authority actually passes a name to the Secretary of State for the Environment and nothing is known of that individual by the Home Office or by the Secretary of State? I find this matter quite complicated. There may well be people who the local authority suspects are asylum seekers, but it has no way of determining that and so the local authority will pass names to the Secretary of State and he will then have to make a decision. As regards my first question as to whether information will be passed to the Home Office, I suspect that the answer is that information will be passed because only that department can give the answer. I can see a rather difficult, circular argument.

Fourthly, what happens if nothing is known of the individual? There will be difficulties. The local authority may consider the case of a black person who is thought to be an asylum seeker, even though that person was born in this country and has lived with his family here for more than one generation. There may be the difficulty that an attempt is made to investigate the individual, who is British in every possible sense, having been born here, and who does not come under these provisions. That means there is the danger that there will be discrimination by local authorities who will not want to get involved in all the complexities of the matter.

Those are four questions, and I have a fifth, which applies to these amendments as it did to the others, but the Minister did not answer it. What recompense is to be given to an asylum seeker who is thrown out of homelessness accommodation for the reasons discussed in the previous short debate? What recompense is to be given if and when that asylum seeker is given refugee status or exceptional leave to remain as the result of an appeal? Surely some recompense is there by right. Will the Government make some available?

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