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Lord Falconer of Thoroton: First, I accept that this is a very important issue. I accept that it is sufficiently important for the noble Baroness to repeat the ipsissima verba of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who quoted precisely the same part of the report of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee. That was a perfectly legitimate response.

With the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, she asked for the circumstances to be explained in which there will be cases where a person might appear to be destitute but would not receive support under the asylum support scheme. I have indicated the first occasion, which is where a person might be eligible for benefit; the person would fall within the provisions in Clause 85(1) but it would not be appropriate to obtain support under the scheme. The second example I gave was where a person may appear to be destitute but the circumstances in which that person has become destitute are so suspicious that the Secretary of State should be entitled, without necessarily having to go behind the appearance of destitution, to say that benefit is not appropriate in this case. The third case is the one referred to in the Explanatory Notes; namely, where a person has previously caused serious damage to property provided under the support arrangements.

One of the two circumstances in which a person is to be treated as destitute under the terms of the Bill is where that person does not have adequate accommodation or a means of obtaining it, whether or not other essential living needs are met. What is the state to do where someone who has been provided with adequate accommodation severely damages that property and does so on a number of occasions? Is the state obliged in those circumstances to go on providing property?

The examples that I give cannot be exhaustive. However, they indicate three perfectly sensible cases where it would not be appropriate to provide support under the benefit scheme provided under Clause 85. If

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that is correct, it is right that Clause 85 should not be in terms of duty but in terms of power. Secondly, it is right, as a reinforcement or reverse of that, that there should be circumstances in which the Secretary of State can prescribe circumstances in which someone who would otherwise appear to be destitute could be excluded from the support scheme under Clause 85.

Having said that, I should make it clear that we have given undertakings that we will provide a comprehensive new support arrangement, which we are determined should be effective from 1st April 2000. I should also make clear that these arrangements would take the form of regulations governing the operation of the scheme which will obviously come before Parliament again. In those circumstances, there is not much between us. Once it is established that there are circumstances in which it would not be appropriate to provide someone with support under the scheme who otherwise appeared to be destitute, the form of drafting appears to me appropriate. This is about drafting and nothing else.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: Perhaps I may take it one stage further. As the Minister argues that there are clear circumstances where the continuation of any form of support would be inappropriate--and one can think of examples--would he be willing to accede to the Committee's proposal that this be set out on the face of the Bill? Can the noble and learned Lord tell the Committee why he believes that, so far at least, that has not proved to be possible?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: Because it would be inappropriate in a case such as this exhaustively to set out the circumstances in which someone would not be entitled to support under the scheme. This scheme will last for a considerable time. It must be sufficiently flexible for the benefit of both the asylum seeker and the taxpayer in the sense of what is available and what is not. In determining a whole system of support, it does not seem to me that the details should be on the face of primary legislation.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: The Minister responded in terms that many of us assumed he would as regards this debate. It is very much in line with the remarks made by the Minister of State in another place. The noble and learned Lord will not be surprised that some of us found them a little disappointing, although we recognise that he has also expressed his determination to ensure that this does not militate against the most disadvantaged.

The basic proposition in our argument does not question the good faith of the Minister or the Home Office but how it might be interpreted by others if it is not written on to the face of the Bill. The only flexibility that is available by not incorporating the word "shall" instead of "may" in Clause 85 is the flexibility not to provide destitute asylum seekers with food and shelter. I find that extraordinary.

I do not believe a great deal separates us on the need to address the problem. As the Minster has marginally left the door ajar for him to think about the wording of

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the amendment, I hope that between now and Report stage we will have a chance to see whether there is a form of words which would meet the arguments. I suspect that otherwise Members of the Committee will wish to return to the subject. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 159 not moved.]

Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 160:


Page 56, line 5, at end insert ("except insofar as that fact may affect adversely the welfare of a child").

The noble Lord said: In view of the extensive debate earlier on Amendment No. 156, I take the view that children and those with children should be given an element of special consideration in the arrangements that we make under this part of the Bill. It is one narrow and special point. The idea of the amendment is to prevent children being put at risk by virtue of the explicit exclusion of having regard to the fact of accommodation being shared. It is an extremely narrow point, but nevertheless it has an importance of its own.

It is suggested that we should discuss it with other amendments listed in the groupings which include Amendments Nos. 165 and 166 standing in my name and the names of my noble friends. By taking out the word "not", Amendment No. 165 would permit the Secretary of State to have regard, in deciding where an asylum seeker and his dependants were to be sent to live for the time being, to a preference as to the locality in which the accommodation was to be provided. That does not mean that the asylum seeker would be able to make the decision, but the Secretary of State could take into account and either ignore or agree to the preference expressed by the supported person. That seems more reasonable than the provision in the Bill that expressly forbids the Secretary of State to take any account of preferences.

Amendment No. 166 would delete subsection (3) of Clause 87. It follows the recommendation in the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee's report on the Bill. Paragraph 22 begins by saying:


    "The Committee does not consider the Henry VIII power in Clause 87(3) justified".

The report goes on to express the Committee's reasons. I am sure that your Lordships have seen it and I do not need to expand on the reasons. We should pay careful attention to the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee, which is a senior and important committee of the House that does a great service to us all by examining the small print of matters within its remit. It has been the habit of governments of both parties to take the committee's recommendations very seriously. I believe that they have all so far been agreed to. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I wonder if I could help the Committee by dealing discretely with the point about the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee's

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recommendation in case others had similar concerns. We are reflecting on the best way of addressing the issue and we intend to return to the matter on Report.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: I am sure that the whole Committee is grateful for the Minister's pre-emptive strike. I wish to speak to Amendments Nos. 161 and 164 and I support the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, on his amendments.

The two amendments in my name concentrate on the housing needs and the basic requirements of asylum seekers in the neighbourhoods where they are settled. My noble friend Lord Sandwich and I raised our concerns last week during the meeting with the Minister of State and his officials to which I referred earlier.

Twenty years ago I was the chairman of one of the country's largest housing committees in Liverpool. The committee was well intentioned in wanting to help some of the boat people from Vietnam who were seeking refuge in this country. Along with the other Merseyside boroughs, we put together a plan to assist those asylum seekers and more than 1,000 came to Merseyside. Our experience leads me to question the assumptions on which some of the Government's policies are based, particularly the issue of adequate housing needs rather than suitable housing needs, which is the subject of Amendment No. 161.

We were well intentioned, but hard-to-let accommodation on sink estates was inevitably used. In dispersed areas, mainly around the periphery of the city, people were left without common or familial support systems. They had no access to language facilities to help them. In one way the council was being relieved of the embarrassment of empty properties from which it was drawing no rent.

I was concerned to learn during the recent Kosovo crisis that the same local authority was suggesting that properties that have been vacant for some years might be made available to refugees. I know that that would draw in resources to a local authority that often finds itself short of funds, but the properties were not suitable for our tenants, who had been moved out of them some years before, and would certainly not be suitable for Kosovan refugees any more than the properties that we made available 20 years ago were suitable for the Vietnamese refugees.

Based on that hard experience, I commend Amendment No. 161, which would specify that the accommodation provided must be suitable for the needs of the individual even though it is temporary. The asylum support information document states an intention to make "acceptable" provision for asylum seekers. This amendment in a sense probes the good faith of that statement.

Accommodation, however temporary, which is not suitable to the needs of the individual asylum seeker, and his dependants, if any, is not capable of taking them out of destitution and is thus not capable of fulfilling the basic purpose of the scheme. For example, accommodation that is perfectly adequate in itself may be unsuitable for a wheelchair user if the sleeping and

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toilet facilities are not on the same level, or someone with a phobia about heights may find that the accommodation he is offered is on the 14th floor.

The point about location suitable for resettlement is crucial to making good the Government's stated intention that new arrangements should not penalise refugees. The particular accommodation offered under the scheme will be temporary, but every effort should be made to locate asylum seekers in areas where they can start to put down roots as soon as possible. It is accepted that those whose claims ultimately fail will then be uprooted. But for those who are recognised as refugees, there should be a realistic possibility of staying on in the area where they first settled, along with all the support systems that surely have to go with the policy of dispersal.

The Home Office itself has emphasised that it wishes to see those asylum seekers who are recognised as refugees, or are otherwise granted leave to remain in the United Kingdom, settle in the areas to which they are dispersed. It would prefer not to see secondary migration, particularly not back to the capital. The cases of the Ugandan Asians and the Vietnamese are examples of the way in which previous dispersal schemes have lasted for only a short time before secondary migration has taken over. If the Government are to achieve their stated objectives, then the factors set out in Amendment No. 161 must be taken to heart.

I would also commend to the Minister a first-hand experience of recent months. I commend to him a report which appeared on Thursday, 8th July, in the Harrow Times, which described how a man set fire to himself after facing eviction from a property. The report states:


    "An Iranian asylum seeker who was due to be moved from a Harrow Weald hostel to Devon tried to set himself on fire because he was so upset by the news, a Harrow court heard last week".

The report goes on to say:


    "The court was told that the 32-year-old barricaded himself in his room when he was told to leave temporary accommodation ... and wrapped himself in a sheet and set light to it while holding a knife to his throat until police broke down the door".

It is cases like that which illustrate my point. What we may regard as being perfectly adequate may not be suitable. Therefore, we should look carefully at these definitions, which have been used in housing legislation over the years. "Suitable" has particular connotations in the context of legislation dealing with homeless people.

I wish also to commend Amendment No. 164. The amendment provides a duty to assist destitute asylum seekers. It would be a way to fulfil the covenant set out in the White Paper. However, as the provision is drafted, the Home Office would be able to refuse assistance, leaving people homeless and without the means of subsistence. I wish to draw to the attention of the Committee the views of Shelter, one of the most highly respected agencies in this country. It states:


    "There are complex reasons why such housing is empty including the physical condition of properties; isolation of housing from transport, leisure and shopping facilities and employment; crime and the fear of crime and harassment".

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It goes on to state:


    "The factors which must be disregarded in deciding whether accommodation is adequate are precisely the factors that describe the inadequacy of the accommodation".

Without labouring the point--I recognise that the hour is late--I commend the two amendments to the Committee.


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