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Lord Sheppard of Liverpool: My Lords, this cluster of amendments relates to support for asylum seekers. I looked particularly at Amendment No. 39, which bites on Clause 93. That gives the Secretary of State power to make further provisions. One of the major provisions relates to accommodation. Noble Lords raised this matter at an earlier stage. Some of the new arrangements are now coming about. I would like to read part of a letter, copied to me, from the chairmen of several voluntary agencies in Merseyside which are dealing with the most acute cases. It is a letter to the Home Secretary, written on 26th October:


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    extremely unwise to pursue this policy and would beg you to reconsider it, even at this late stage. Unless the local authority has control as well as responsibility for these unfortunate people, they run the very real risk of becoming victims of greed among some private landlords and of local racist attitudes, as many of those already here have sadly discovered. A properly established, funded and monitored operation by the City Council, which is already well advanced in its planning and has the benefit of recent experience gained through hosting Kosovar refugees in our city, could prevent many of the inevitable problems by providing community support and other facilities".

I should be most grateful if my noble and learned friend the Minister could spell out how the Government expect local authorities and others to make provision for accommodation. Arising also from this cluster of amendments, could he spell out in a little more detail how voluntary bodies would know whether they qualify for the "hard cases" money that the Government have spoken about? In what way it will be made available to voluntary bodies?

Lord Avebury: My Lords, my question follows on from those of the noble Lord. Has the Minister taken note of the serious shortfall in the money available to local authorities for housing asylum seekers? The magazine Housing Today says that the Government's framework is on the brink of financial disaster and that local authorities would lose out by £100 million unless more Home Office cash is forthcoming. This article, which appears in the current issue of Housing Today, is entitled:


    "Councils warn of £100 million shortfall as numbers rise".

I know that the Association of London Government and the Local Government Association have taken this matter up with the Home Office. The Home Office has said merely that it is all the more important that this legislation gets on to the statute book. When it does, the number of asylum seekers will fall from the current level--which is expected to be 70,000 during 1999--to an estimated 42,000 next year.

That is all very well, but what happens to the additional burden which, according to this report, is being imposed on local authorities in the meanwhile? Where is the additional £100 million--if that figure is correct--to come from? Can the Minister verify that figure? Will any more cash be forthcoming from the Government for the local authorities which are facing this colossal burden?

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Sheppard, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, in particular, emphasised the difficulties which the Home Office and its Immigration and Nationality Directorate will have in implementing the whole of the support system. It is very complicated; it is being set up from scratch; and it will have all the kinds of ramifications which have caused great complications for many years--both on the social security side and on the immigration side--all of which must be dealt with at once all over the country. It is a formidable administrative task. I hope very sincerely that the Home Office is alive to the scale of the task and that it is addressing itself very carefully to it.

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I rise merely to add a word or two on Amendment No. 73, on which my name appears. I cannot add much to what the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, said in speaking to the amendment, except to draw attention to the wording of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation, which said that,


    "The House may wish to consider removing or limiting this wide power"--

that is, the power to treat someone who is otherwise destitute as not being destitute--


    "if the Government do not provide a persuasive justification for it".

No one is more able to provide persuasive justifications for almost anything than the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General. He has not done so yet, but I am sure that he is about to.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, for giving me prior notice of the point that she raised. Perhaps I may deal with the distinct Scottish question first. My understanding is that the request for this provision came from the Scottish Office. We understand that it undertook the necessary consultations. The noble Baroness is right, education is a devolved matter; but immigration and asylum are reserved. The amendment parallels the provision in paragraph 116 of Schedule 13 in relation to the provision of free school meals in England and Wales under the Education Act 1996. There will not necessarily be any further expenditure in Scotland. At present, children of asylum seekers get free school meals because their parents are on income support. So the expenditure, by and large, is being incurred already.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, inquired about good cause. I am able to confirm that the provisions of paragraph 8(1) would be applied only if someone left accommodation without good cause. He specifically asked about asthmatic children. If accommodation is inadequate by reason of dampness, as he suggested, for those with particular health problems--whether children or the asylum seeker--the scheme allows for personal circumstances to be taken into account.

The noble Earl further asked me for examples in practice of the phrase, "reasonably to be expected". In some circumstances I revert to his original point. A partner of an asylum seeker is entitled to claim social security--perhaps because he or she is British--and he or she would be reasonably expected to claim that benefit and not to rely on asylum seeker's support.

The noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, is quite right, sub-paragraph (2) is a subsidiary part of sub-paragraph (1) and we intend to use the power in the way that he indicated.

In the context of the Bill, we are not regarding destitution as an absolute condition. We would want to treat as destitute someone with less than £200; we would not want to treat as destitute someone with a higher amount.

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The noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked about the uprating of limits for inflation. We intend to hold an annual review so that we can make our own assessment, separate from other systems. The noble Earl also asked about sentimental jewellery. My understanding is that sentimental jewellery will not be taken into account when assessing destitution.

My noble friend Lord Sheppard of Liverpool asked about responsibility. He gave an example of an asylum seeker placed in Liverpool by another authority. In Schedule 8 the interim arrangements provisions provide for case responsibility to be transferred so that an asylum seeker placed in Liverpool by another authority could be transferred to Liverpool City Council by agreement. My noble friend Lord Sheppard also asked about private landlords. Any accommodation to be used by asylum seekers will need to meet proper standards to be set out in regulations. We will also, of course, be establishing with the voluntary sector one-stop shops to provide advice and support.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked about the financial provision. Local authorities will be paid per asylum seeker family. If numbers rise, they will get a special increased grant. Other general expenditure by local authorities such as schooling and social services will be reflected in the standard spending assessment of the local government financial settlement in the normal way.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I wonder whether the local authorities may nevertheless have a cash flow problem because the number of asylum seekers this year has been rising extremely rapidly. I presume that the assessment will not take place until the spring of 2000. In the meantime, all the money will have been spent by local authorities and they will have to wait until the middle of 2000 to retrieve any of it under the standard spending assessment.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord has raised a perfectly reasonable point. The figure of £100 million was not one that I had put my mind to earlier. However, I am not complaining. The noble Lord probably himself had the figure quite recently as a matter of information. If it is convenient, either I or, more likely, my noble friend will write to the noble Lord and, as always, a copy of the letter will be placed in the Library.

My noble friend Lord Sheppard also asked about integration. I am happy to be able to tell noble Lords that today the Home Secretary published a consultation paper setting out our plans for the integration of refugees following successful asylum decisions. Many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, from the Cross Benches, have raised the question of how we should look to the longer term life of refugees who have been granted appropriate status in this country. Are they constantly to live in actual or notional ghettos, or are they to be integrated into the mainstream of our lives? I hope that

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when your Lordships have seen the consultation paper, it will prove itself to be a useful first step in addressing such longer term problems.

My noble friend Lord Sheppard also asked about the hard cases grant. Again, we will be issuing guidelines to the voluntary sector on how to administer that grant.

I believe that I have dealt with all the distinct questions put to me. If I have not, I shall read the account and I shall be happy to write to noble Lords. I may not have dealt with matters to the perfect satisfaction of all my interlocutors, but those are the replies I am able to provide.

On Question, amendment agreed to.


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