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Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. The amendment does not say "In any question". It states,

In other words, it is part of a hierarchy of considerations that the Secretary of State will take into account, but above all others his paramount concern will be the welfare of the child.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I may have misread the amendment. It states,

    "When any question arises with respect to a child, or with respect to any household which includes a child, the child's welfare shall be the Secretary of State's paramount consideration".

I do not believe that I have a wrong copy of the amendment. I am simply saying as gently as I can that no government will be able to deliver that provision. I repeat as kindly as I can that putting things in Acts of Parliament to make us all feel better and all the more humane is not to the point. What is to the point is achieving a regime which is fair and decent, which does not make people destitute, but which has to be looked at in the context of a country in which other people live.

Members of the Committee may find these truths to be disagreeable. Perhaps I may, for example, turn to the remarks made by the noble Baroness. I should point out that I am trying to answer a number of different questions, and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has the infinite benefit of the last word. The noble Baroness said that no one wants children to be stigmatised and no one wants to see them going to school with raggedy clothes. Of course they do not. I am putting forward the generally comparable nature of what we are offering to asylum seekers as being truly generally comparable with what we offer our own citizens. That is not a perfect answer. Indeed, the noble Baroness might say, although she is too generous, that that is an ignoble answer. I am simply saying that what we provide for people in the difficult circumstances described by noble Lords has to have an appropriate measure in the context of what we offer others.

The noble Baroness said, as we all know, that when children grow up their feet grow at an alarming rate and they need new shoes every five minutes. Indeed, they also need changes of clothing, as do working parents in this country and those who have no employment. People who sleep along the Embankment feel the cold and the rain in the same way as we do. Therefore, in every instance I do not think that the responses have been proportionate to what we are doing, as opposed to what people say we are doing.

I return to Amendment No. 152. What we have here are really declarations of desired objectives. I do not believe that there is any sentient being who would not regard these objectives as being desirable. I am simply saying that if

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one puts such provisions in the Bill, they are not capable of being delivered. I personally think that the best way forward is to listen carefully to what noble Lords say in this Chamber and elsewhere to see what we can manage to achieve. If the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, will not mind, perhaps I may take just one example. They were particularly concerned about access to specialist medical attention--I know that the noble Earl has also raised this matter--for those who are victims of torture. We shall deal with that issue later this evening, but I believe that we have been able to think carefully and constructively in that respect. That is the way to get a better outcome.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: Does the Minister concede that some of us on this side of the Committee have pressed very hard for what we regard as a somewhat better deal for those wearing raggedy clothes among our own citizens?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Of course I do. I have always recognised that fact. I am simply pointing out that as we have to deal, by and large, with the world we recognise rather than the world which we wish to inhabit--though the two may not always be enormously different--any government have to consider how such provision will fit into the general social context. My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis is absolutely right. Anyone we assist from foreign countries is not coming here to live in a bubble or a balloon; he or she will live in a community.

My noble friend is also right to say that one wants to be as constructive and moderate in language as possible. I did not regard my language as at all incendiary or disagreeable, although my noble friend Lord Judd chided me about it. If one is poor and one's life is pretty disagreeable, someone will have to answer the perfectly fair question: "Who's paying for all this?" Everyone in this Chamber has a duty to answer that, and pretending that the question is not there does no one any service.

Earl Russell: Perhaps I may ask the Minister whether I could possibly be dispensed from his request to make general remarks on this amendment. I would prefer to make my remarks on Amendment No. 156 for two reasons. First, they are germane to that argument and wide of this one; and, secondly, I missed the beginning of the debate on this amendment and, therefore, have remained silent. I hope that that is agreeable to the Minister and the Committee.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am here to serve the Committee. I shall do my best to reply to amendments. However, I think that I serve the Committee best by replying to specifics rather than generalities. The debate has ranged widely, and that is perfectly reasonable. Indeed, I do not criticise noble Lords for doing so. I have been longer in my response than I normally hope to be. However, I cannot be expected to deal with every general review of the wider panorama when dealing with each specific amendment in Committee. I believe that that is fair.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: We have had a wide-ranging debate. I am sure that we look forward to hearing the

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noble Earl, Lord Russell, on subsequent amendments. I am sure that he will, as always, ensure that his remarks are in order and that they will be pertinent enough to require relevant replies from Ministers. The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, said that this had been akin to a Second Reading debate. I think that it has almost been a pre-emptive clause stand part debate. There is perhaps something to commend the idea of looking at the sections of this Bill, or Bills like it, in the way that we have done. In that way, we would look at Part VI in some thorough detail, thereby setting the scene, and could then contextualise the amendments which follow. There is merit in that approach.

However, as we have moved from the generalities to the specifics of the two amendments, it has been difficult. Therefore, in my short reply I shall deal with the two amendments under consideration and the actual words which appear in the Marshalled List. The Minister is far from being "disagreeable"--the word that he used in response to his noble friend Lord Judd. The problem with the noble Lord is not that he is disagreeable but that he is an eminent lawyer and knows his way around statutes probably far better than anyone else in this Chamber. I am sure that people in the past have paid him substantial sums of money for presenting the argument in the very eloquent way he has done tonight. I am sure that we get him very much on the cheap. No doubt the Committee will agree that we are privileged to be able to listen to him dealing with these questions from the Dispatch Box.

I should like to take the noble Lord back to the remarks he made about Amendment No. 153. I pointed out to him that the amendment does not say, "When any question arises with respect to the child ... this will be the paramount consideration", in the sense that anything at all that is raised concerning a child will outweigh any other consideration. I felt that the noble Lord used his eloquence as a lawyer to put forward his argument. In fact, he persisted throughout the debate in suggesting that in some way this provision would place an unspeakable duty on all of us which was undeliverable. Indeed, he said that this was something which could not be delivered. He also said that no government could operate on that basis.

However, that is not what we are asking for in Amendment No. 153. It refers to,

    "any question [which] arises ... in the exercise of his powers under this Part of this Act".

It is specific to the issues that affect children arising under this Act. The amendment does refer to "paramount consideration"; in other words, we would not ignore every other consideration, not least those which are imposed on the Secretary of State to get value for money. As regards the Minister's slightly wider comments when talking about vouchers, I should point out that the Secretary of State also has a duty to get value for money.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and others suggested, we are left high and dry as regards knowing what the costs involved will be of the voucher system. For example, in a Written Answer to me early last week, the Minister said:

    "It is not certain at present how many personnel will be required solely to administer the voucher system. It is intended that the administration of the voucher scheme will be contracted out and contractual negotiations will take place during the Autumn. A small

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    number of staff in the Asylum Support Directorate will be responsible for administering that contract".--[Official Report, 15/7/99; col. WA 59.]

All of us would like to know what this will cost; and what the opportunity costs involved will be which could be used on processing applications. That, too, is a value for money argument. However, although it is an important consideration, it is not the only one.

The Minister also referred us to Clause 113 and pointed out that there it is in statute. He said that there are obligations placed on the Secretary of State in subsection (3). If it is not possible for us to impose a duty in the way suggested during the debate, why it is possible for this subsection to state,

    "If it appears to the Secretary of State that adequate accommodation is not being provided for the child, he must exercise his powers under section 85";

in other words, there is real duty and obligation expressed there in terms?

Although I am open to the argument that, of course, the suggested provision could be rephrased in words that would be more acceptable to the Government, all that I am seeking to do in this amendment is to ask the Minister to accept the arguments put forward by the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Clinton-Davis, and others from this side of the Committee. Here is a duty that ought to be written on the face of the Bill. I give way.

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