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Lord Avebury: What will happen to the people who are at present accommodated, under the provisions of the National Assistance Act, in hostels run by the London boroughs where the pressures may be very acute? Will these people be able to remain indefinitely in the places in which they are at the moment residing, or will they too be forced to move to the provinces?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: They will not be able to remain indefinitely. A decision would have to be made about their status. I believe that that is one of the serious vices in which we have colluded over the years; namely the uncertainty and limbo. No one will be left destitute. There will be people who will still be eligible for social benefits in the general mainstream. However, when we start the support scheme under Part VI, everyone will be entitled to those elements of the support scheme which we have discussed over a lengthy period of time.

I believe it is wise to contemplate--and this is what we do contemplate--moving single people, over time, to relieve the pressure on London. There is a genuine

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pressure on London. I do not believe that it is simply a question of the ignoble "not in my back yard" syndrome. A very large proportion of accommodation in London is being used by local authorities when they have competing demands on their resources. I repeat that if one carries out dispersal on a cluster basis with a decent regard to the matters that I have mentioned, that will be a better outcome for people than simply being stuck in sometimes not very agreeable circumstances in London and the south east.

Earl Russell: The Minister has answered my question. He is an optimist, and I am very glad to hear it. However, he has not answered the question asked by my noble friend Lord Avebury. What is to happen to people who are at present in accommodation under the National Assistance Act in the period between the commencement of the Bill and the conclusion of their applications?

I believe that osmosis is in progress, is it not? I never for a moment wished to suggest that it was the intention of the Minister or anyone else in the Government to leave these people destitute. I never for a moment wished to enter into the debate on the comparative merits of the National Assistance Act 1948 and the system recommended in this Bill. Whenever osmosis is complete, I shall be happy to hear its results.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The noble Earl is always extremely courteous, bearing in mind the distance between me and the box. The answer to his question is that we shall use the powers under Schedule 8 to meet the question identified by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.

Earl Russell: I thank the Minister for clearing up that matter. Coming to the point of replying to him, I was not suggesting that the intention was to impose destitution. The point of a safety net is that it is used when the existing system does not work. That is why it was used in 1996. But things can go wrong, if the Minister tells me--

Lord Williams of Mostyn: It was used post-1996 because there was no alternative. I am suggesting that there will be an alternative--which is the whole of the Part VI regime. The situations are entirely different. Without the courts' utilisation of the National Assistance Act 1948, there would be no means for support. That is not the position which we have here.

Earl Russell: If the Minister had waited for one more sentence, he would have found that that intervention was unnecessary. I was about to deal with the point which he was making. It is, of course, clear that every system, including the one being introduced under Part VI of the Bill, is capable of breaking down on occasion. If the Minister believes that he has introduced the perfect system which will never break down then he will be the first Minister in any government in the history of the world ever to do so. In that case I should congratulate him even more warmly than usual. But--begging the Minister's pardon--I do not expect to do that.

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There is the possibility, as happened in Lubeck, of a large part of accommodation provided under Part VI being burned down and no immediate other accommodation being available for that particular night. In that situation, for example, the powers under the National Assistance Act 1948 could have been very material and useful to clear up an immediate emergency in which action would have been essential. I believe that the Minister will miss those powers sooner or later. However, I shall not press the point tonight. I withdraw my opposition to the Motion that the clause stand part.

Clause 107, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 108 [Other restrictions on assistance: England and Wales]:

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 186A:

Page 67, line 1, leave out subsections (1) and (2).

The noble Earl said: In moving the amendment I shall speak also to what is, in fact, my main concern. That is to oppose the Motion that Clause 108 shall stand part of the Bill. Clause 108 disapplies the National Health Service Act 1977. There is a sharp contrast between the way in which Clauses 108 and 107 apply. Clause 107 bites only on need because of destitution. But Clause 108 bites on practically all forms of social service provision. It bites on care of the elderly; on all sorts of community care; it may well bite on some of the services which have to be provided for victims of torture; it bites on the treatment of illness. I do not see why it has been made quite so far-reaching. I hope that in his reply the Minister will explain the reason for the difference in the drafting of the two clauses. It has puzzled all of us for some time.

There is also a danger that the wording,

    "a person subject to immigration control",

may make it even more difficult than it is at present for members of our ethnic minority communities to obtain treatment and service when they need it. We know the sort of difficulties that we have run into with the operation of Section 8 of the 1996 Act. Many people do not understand "exceptional leave to remain", and believe that any unusually-spelt name is sufficient proof of foreignness. It is just as well that they do not live in America because they would rapidly learn otherwise. Perhaps they should all be sent to visit.

Clause 108 also disapplies all the mental health services. We have been hearing all day about the effect of trauma in the course of becoming an asylum seeker on the mental health of those concerned. It is always likely to be considered. If trauma is followed by a total refusal to provide access to the necessary services, there must be a risk that trauma may lead on to paranoia. Paranoia is capable of leading to all sorts of undesirable forms of behaviour. When that happens, people may complain. I believe that the appropriate reply may be, in the words of John Stuart Mill, that it shows:

    "The inability of the unanalytic mind to recognise its own handiwork".

To cut severely disturbed people off from mental health services is liable to bring its own poetic justice with it. I do not applaud that. I regret it very deeply. But there

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is a considerable unwisdom involved. I should like to hear why the Government believe that this is a sensible thing to do. For the life of me, I cannot understand it.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I may be able to be helpful. The noble Earl has raised an important question on Amendment No. 186A in the distinction which he drew between the two succeeding clauses. Our belief is that the powers under the provisions to which the noble Earl spoke are little used by local authorities. I am not denying that there may be a need for existing services. I am trying to be helpful by saying that we are considering the need for Clause 108(1) and (2) and that those subsections should be restricted to those subject to immigration control whose need for support arises solely as a result of destitution. I believe that that meets the point which the noble Earl was making.

Viscount Astor: Perhaps it would be convenient if I spoke to my amendment, Amendment No. 187, which is in this group. I should like to make two quick points. I understand that, as currently drafted, the Bill removes the obligation on local authorities to provide residential accommodation and aftercare services for those subject to immigration control who have been suffering from a mental disorder. We are concerned that that proposal will have much further-reaching consequences than those immediately apparent for the individual concerned. To leave an immigrant suffering from a mental disorder without access to residential accommodation or aftercare services will have profound public policy implications. To adopt such a policy would raise concerns for the safety of the community as a whole.

That seems to fit rather strangely with the Home Secretary's recent announcement in relation to our own nationals in this matter. Perhaps the Minister will briefly enlighten the Committee on how those fit together. My further point is that, as I understand it, mental health law is devolved to the Scottish Parliament and is currently being reviewed by the Scottish Executive. How does that fit with the powers in Clause 108?

Baroness Williams of Crosby: I do not wish to delay the Committee, as the Minister obviously hoped that his intervention would prevent us from doing so. I simply want to ask him, for absolute clarity, whether he is saying that Clause 108(1) and (2) would not apply to people subject to immigration control as a result of the further consideration which he is giving to the representation made by my noble friend Lord Russell, or whether we have misunderstood that. We are not completely clear on these Benches.

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