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The Earl of Sandwich: I wonder whether the Minister has said his last word on clusters. Has he responded to the concerns of the Medical Foundation and others about specialised medical and legal services?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Yes, at some length. Indeed, I said that I had one more point to make about the victims of torture. Otherwise, I think that I have dealt with the matter quite fully.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 85 agreed to.

Schedule 8 agreed to.

Clause 86 [Ways in which support may be provided]:

[Amendment No. 161 not moved.]

Baroness Williams of Crosby moved Amendment No. 162:

Page 56, line 32, at end insert ("and obtaining specialist medical care and treatment for himself and his dependants (if any).
( ) Costs of travel to appointments with legal representatives acting for the supported person in his claim for asylum, and appointments for specialist medical care and treatment for himself and his dependants, where such services are not available locally, shall be paid under section 85.").

The noble Baroness said: I note that the lights are slowly going out on us, so I shall make my remarks reasonably short before they disappear completely. It seems an appropriate conclusion to the third day in Committee.

The Minister was extremely gracious in the way that he received my noble friend Lord Dholakia and myself to discuss, among other things, victims of torture. He listened carefully and sympathised with the concept that victims of torture are among those who are highly likely to be genuine refugees. Indeed, some of those who have undergone torture have done so for the highest possible motives. Only tonight, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, introduced my noble friend to a victim of torture who happened to be a British citizen. He had been tortured in his efforts to try to support the refugees on the borders of Burma and Thailand. Therefore, being a victim of torture is not exclusively the characteristic of those seeking asylum in this country, but sometimes has pertained to British citizens fighting for something in which they profoundly believe.

On 26th April in another place, the Minister of State told the special committee of the House of Commons that he recognised that victims of torture were a particular group who deserved to be addressed sensitively. He also went on to say clearly that the present provision for victims of torture was inadequate and that we have not sufficient capacity in place to deliver for victims of torture. He made it plain that he recognised that in many parts of the country no adequate provision was available.

The reason why in Amendment No. 162 we have pressed for there to be special treatment for victims of torture over and above the provision for special treatment already made in the Bill is precisely because those facilities are not available in many parts of the country. The Minister has implied that special consideration will therefore be given to the dispersal of such asylum seekers. I am most grateful for that and hope that he will have more to say in his response to this last group of amendments.

I wish strongly to underline that, while the British Medical Association has responded generously in attempting to draw up lists of medical practitioners willing to meet victims who claim to be tortured and to see them rapidly, busy doctors will not be free to travel

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all over the country and will not be able to hold such sessions a long way away from their own centres. Therefore, I shall be grateful to hear more from the Minister about the provisions he intends to make in order to ensure that these particular asylum seekers are given the proper opportunity professionally to establish their claims to have been tortured.

In that context, I hope that the Minister will bear in mind Amendment No. 169. One of the aspects of the Bill which troubles me is that Clause 88(3)(b) implies that provision made for asylum seekers by, for example, voluntary organisations and others may be taken into account in considering their needs. In the case of that marvellous body, the Medical Foundation for the Victims of Torture, the Minister will be aware that the expenses it bears in order to assist asylum seekers claiming torture to have adequate tests made of their claims amounted in the past year to some £22,000. It expects that in the next year the amount will be about £100 each working day. Most of us are aware that every week or two we receive innumerable requests for charitable assistance to voluntary organisations; to the Refugee Council, the Medical Foundation and many other bodies involved in the work. It may be that one should not look to them to provide the elements which are necessary to establish a claim.

In Amendment No. 169, we specifically mention the faith communities as not being included within the provisions expected by the Bill to add up to additional assets and support for asylum seekers. In that context, I, too, pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon. He is not in his place but I expect that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark will pass on the remarks to him. We shall deeply miss his wisdom, example and enlightenment during many debates in this House. I hope and believe that he will pass on the torch to the young Bishop, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, to whose presence on these occasions we shall look forward.

I wish to make only a passing remark about Amendment No. 167, to which I suspect others may wish to speak in this group. The amendment affects Clause 87(6) of the Bill on page 57. That rather troubles me because it indicates that for the purposes of subsection (5)--namely, the power which deals with essential living needs--as I read the Bill, any additional support for exceptional circumstances given under Clause 86(1)(c) would simply be set off against the provision of essential living needs.

While I recognise that the Minister has graciously agreed to some increase in the amount provided for essential living needs, it troubles us that if the provision is simply to be reduced to exceptional needs, in the case of victims of torture we should not be a great deal further forward. I thank the Minister for the clues which he has provided, but we also express our concerns about some aspects of the Bill, in particular, the tension between adopting the cluster method of dealing with refugees and the special problems referred to by his colleague in another place with regard to the provision for victims of torture.

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That is the group of all asylum seekers about which we feel most concerned, indeed, even anguished. They are the people who have sometimes fought for the very things in which we believe at a terrible price to their health and which often involve great risks for their families.

Lord Avebury: My amendment deals with a completely different point to that raised by my noble friend. The only common feature of the amendments is that they are both attached to Clause 86. I should like to preface my remarks with a comment on subsection (1)(b) of Clause 86. The Minister will observe that the Bill states:

    "Support may be provided under Section 85--by providing what appears to the Secretary of State to be essential living needs of the supported person".

As a matter of English construction, I do not believe that the Secretary of State can provide for the living needs of a person. He can provide resources to meet the living needs of a person. The wording of that subsection needs to be considered. I should perhaps have tabled an amendment to that effect, but it came to my notice in the course of considering where to put my own amendment, which deals with the question of vouchers.

The amendment attempts to address the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, when moving his amendment a few minutes ago. He emphasised that the use of the vouchers causes a stigma to be attached to the recipient; that he may be subject to racist harassment or abuse as the result of being picked out as different from the rest of the people in the supermarket. My amendment suggests that vouchers should be made transferable to address that problem. I must say as a preface that it is difficult to draft an amendment of this kind when we do not have the voucher scheme before us. We are working blind, as it were. It would certainly have been, and still would be, useful if the Minister could table the regulations which contain the scheme for the vouchers before Report stage so that we can more easily see where such a provision should go.

My suggestion is that the vouchers should be made transferable so that the asylum seeker himself or herself does not need to go into Tesco's or Sainsbury's, as the case may be, to cash them. He can give them to someone else; that person can do the shopping for him; and therefore he does not need to be singled out in front of the whole crowd of shoppers as a person who is distinct from the settled population.

A provision of this kind is essential because some of the recipients may not be able to get to a supermarket. They may be disabled; they may be ill; they may be bedridden, and if they cannot pass the vouchers on to another person, it is difficult to imagine how they will provide for their essential needs.

A situation can be imagined where a number of asylum seekers live together. In response to the previous amendment, the Minister said that it was by no means inadequate for people to live in shared accommodation. If two or more families live in shared accommodation, it would be natural for them to share the burden of the

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weekly shop by transferring all the vouchers to one person to do the shopping for everyone in the shared accommodation.

I do not need to say much more about the amendment as it is such a common sense provision that I am sure that the Minister will have no difficulty in accepting it.

11.45 p.m.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: I speak to the amendments standing in my name on the Marshalled List: Amendments Nos. 167, 168 and 169 which have been grouped in what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has rightly described as a disparate group of amendments. In many ways, they have little in common with each other apart from the fact that they fall within the same part of the Bill. It would have been better if they had been separated. However, I want to refer to one or two remarks already made and to add some comments about Amendment No. 167.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, when speaking to Amendment No. 169, reminded me why 16 or 17 years ago I gave up several weeks of my life happily campaigning for her in the Crosby area. It has been a pleasure to listen to her putting the case on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers. Although we sit on different Benches, I concur with everything that she has said throughout our proceedings on the Bill. On Amendment No. 169, she was right to raise the issue of the role of voluntary organisations, charities, churches and religious groups to which I referred earlier. Those arguments still stand, without me having to repeat them.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on Amendment No. 163, referred to an earlier debate initiated by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon when several noble Lords mentioned the question of vouchers. I support his comments and refer to some remarks of Oona King, a Member of another place, who gave a good example of how vouchers will reduce purchasing power, and therefore why the value of a package will be worth less. In Commons Hansard of 16th June at cols. 446-447 she referred to the fact that in Sainsburys in Whitechapel, where vouchers are accepted, a pair of new children's socks cost £1.50 while on Whitechapel market, 20 yards away, a pair of children's socks cost only 40p. The same is true of food. Of course, change will not be given for vouchers. I can imagine people becoming involved in arguments in the supermarket as they try, with poor comprehension of English, to sort out all the issues that will arise at the supermarket counter when trying to deal with the vouchers.

For the reasons that I described earlier, this is an ill-thought-out scheme and no doubt one which in future legislation we shall have to rescind. It would be better if we addressed the matter properly now, rather than incorporating it into legislation only to have to revisit it, as we have done with some of the misplaced ideas that have emerged in the previous two pieces of legislation dealing with such issues.

I now turn to the substantive amendment standing in my name. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, for his support, to the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, and to the right reverend Prelate the

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Bishop of Southwark, who have also put their names to the amendment. Although many of us dislike the voucher system, I recognise that at the moment that is the policy with which the Government are working. Amendment No. 167 tries, in the spirit of that policy, to address the Government's contention with regard to the value of the package that they have laid out in the terms of the Bill. That was a point that my noble friend Lord Sandwich, along with Mr. Michael Kaye of the Refugee Council, took to the Minister and his officials in the helpful meeting that we had with him last week.

There are four reasons the Government advance against accepting the arguments contained in the amendment. Let me try and deal with them quickly. The first is that the scheme is a short-term basic safety net. Asylum seekers' entitlement to income support has already been reduced to 90 per cent on the basis that they are only supposed to be waiting a short period of time for their decisions. But asylum seekers should not have to survive on less because they are only here on a temporary basis. That is not a plausible argument. Income support is only intended to meet an individual's basic needs, and those needs must be met regardless of whether it is for a period of two months or two years.

Secondly, the argument is put forward that the package is not intended to cover utility costs. But a family of four in receipt of income support, including family premium, would pay 8.8 per cent of their benefit on utility costs. That is calculated from standard, flat-rate fuel deductions for a family at £12.35 which are used when individual fuel costs are not easily identifiable. That calculation was confirmed by the Official Report, Commons, 10/6/99; col. 455, when it was said that it would be no more than 10 per cent. So the payment of utility costs by the accommodation provider will increase to the value of the package by approximately 9 per cent of the asylum seeker's income support.

The third argument is that asylum seekers will not need to purchase replacement items. That assertion also needs to be challenged. Asylum seekers will certainly have to replace items within a six-month period. It is not credible to argue that they will arrive in Britain with clothes and possessions which will last them for six months. Furthermore, when fleeing their homes asylum seekers will have left behind many basic items which they will have to purchase again once they reach the United Kingdom. They may also arrive here without appropriate items, such as the appropriate clothes for the British climate. That was recognised by Mr O'Brien in another place when he accepted that,

    "Asylum seekers often arrive with few or no possessions and little concept of how they will cope in this country".

Those remarks were made in the special standing committee on 4th May.

The fourth and final point, dealing with some of the arguments put to us during our meeting at the Home Office, was that basic living utensils would be supplied by the accommodation provider and that must be seen to be part of the package. But currently the vast majority of private rented accommodation is furnished and many also provide basic utensils. However, British people

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living in furnished accommodation do not have their income support reduced as a consequence. To suggest, therefore, that asylum seekers should have a lower level of support because accommodation is furnished is not acceptable. The Government said that accommodation would include kettles, bed linen, light bulbs and other items which are not normally provided in housing. That is true. But the value that that would add to the package would be more than offset by the fact that the voucher system will effectively prohibit asylum seekers from getting the best value for money, as described by Oona King in another place. They will not be able to buy cheap food and clothing in markets or discount stores, which is where most people on low incomes do their shopping. Furthermore, even if the vouchers are issued in small denominations of 50p or 25p, asylum seekers will not be able to obtain change and will therefore lose some of the package. That is another reason for looking again at the overall value of the package that the Bill outlines.

No allowance has been made for the fact that many asylum seekers have to purchase essential items on arrival, replace items during the six months that they are here or may be in poor health when they reach the United Kingdom. That was certainly the case with many of the Kosovars who arrived here recently.

Based on that assessment the package of support offered is approximately 10 per cent short of the 90 per cent of income support, and therefore 20 per cent below what is normally considered to be the poverty line. After all, we are not talking of vast sums of money. None of us would wish to try to survive and eke out subsistence on the sums of money that we are dealing with. Asylum seekers will clearly be forced to try to survive well below the breadline and that will lead to more begging, which is an issue raised during our debates tonight. It will lead to illegal working, petty crime and the negative impact on race and community relations which will follow in its wake. Those are the consequences. We should go into this situation with our eyes wide open. Unless we are as generous as we can afford to be--to use the language that has been used consistently throughout this debate--those will be the social consequences. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, was right when he warned us earlier on of the consequences of social breakdown if we deliberately create those circumstances.

The Government state that the value of the package should be 90 per cent of income support. Therefore, Amendment No. 167, which increases the package of vouchers and cash to 80 per cent, is consistent with their policy and I therefore commend this amendment to the Committee.

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