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Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I was accepting the amendment, but only on the basis that I reserve my position when I have a convincing argument. I trust that that will be before the millennium.

Lord Brightman: My Lords, I am very much obliged.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 114 [Exclusion from benefits]:

Lord Swinfen moved Amendment No. 44:


Page 76, line 32, at end insert--
("( ) Paragraphs (a), (b), (d) and (g) of subsection (1) above do not apply to a person seeking asylum in the United Kingdom or a spouse or dependant of such a person.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment is designed to ensure that asylum seekers retain the right to disability benefits. The most humane and efficient way of supporting asylum seekers is by using the mainstream benefits system. That approach has been rejected by the Government in favour of creating an entirely separate system of support for asylum seekers which appears to be a recipe for social exclusion.

However, I do not believe that disability benefits can be simply removed along with all the others without giving the matter separate attention. Disability benefits are only payable to those living with the qualifying level of disability as attested to by doctors. Thus we are here talking of a limited class to which access is strictly controlled. They are not benefits anyone can access. I have seen no figures setting out the number of asylum seekers who receive such benefits, but I am aware that it is small.

The Government's rationale for removing access to benefits is that cash benefits are an attraction. That rationale cannot and should not be applied to disability benefits. They cannot, because a person only qualifies for disability benefits when they have a disability. I do not believe that it can be argued that

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anyone would choose so to qualify. They should not, because that would suggest that we in this country want to provide a special deterrent for disabled people.

This amendment was discussed at Committee stage with Amendment No. 118. When replying the noble and learned Lord referred to paragraph 3(b) of the new schedule that had just been introduced into the Bill. It was not moved at Report stage. It was then Amendment No. 124.

I wish to know how the Government see the proposals of paragraph 3(b) working and whether they would work as well as the disability benefits. How will the asylum seekers be assessed? Will it be on the same basis as for those who already receive benefits? Can the Government give me any kind of undertaking or guarantee about those who come to this country with a recently-acquired disability which, although looked after properly from the medical point of view, is not looked after properly in terms of accommodation and the way in which they are allowed to live, and their disability gets worse? That may well put them in a position where they are not as able to earn their living as well as they might either in this country or elsewhere. I beg to move.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I warmly support the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, in his amendment. I underline what he said in relation to the necessity of getting away from the idea that paying disability benefit will encourage people to come to this country. The number of people who come here suffering from a disability must be extremely small; but many of them, as we discussed, are those who have suffered in their country of origin from severe ill-treatment and torture. They may indeed be clients of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, an organisation which we so much admire.

If the Secretary of State provides equivalent support to disability benefit under paragraph 3(b), as the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, suggests he might according to the assurances given in Committee, that needs to be clearly underlined today. I would not object to such an undertaking if the Minister could say that the levels of support which are to be provided are no less advantageous to somebody suffering from a disability than is the normal disability benefit. However, as the arrangements are in place and everybody knows how they work, it will be better to leave that system in place and allow people to claim disability benefit notwithstanding the fact that all other kinds of support come under Part VI of the Bill.

I hope that the Minister finds his way clear to accepting this excellent amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, which will reassure many people who are particularly concerned about those asylum seekers who come from overseas suffering from ailments or severe disabilities which arose because of their treatment in their country of origin.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, I support the plea made by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen. In a sense, the burden of proof of establishing that the subsection

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should not apply rests with the Government. I have not participated in debates on this point previously, but the plea on the grounds of common humanity, eloquently voiced by the noble Lords, Lord Swinfen and Lord Avebury, raises an important question mark. That being so, I shall listen with interest to my noble and learned friend. However, the Government must establish in this instance that the assertion made in the Bill is right, rather than the burden of proof resting on those who take a contrary view prima facie.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the Minister may recall that in Committee I moved an amendment to reinstate the position of disabled people. I am happy this evening to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, and supported by the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Clinton-Davis. I agree wholeheartedly with the arguments that they advanced and therefore do not need to reiterate them. However, perhaps I may ask two questions of the Minister concerning the position of disabled people as reflected by other provisions of this legislation.

The first returns to a question I raised at Report stage concerning accommodation. The Minister will recall his response that people will be made one offer which they will have to accept. However, will those offers take into account questions such as mobility, so that people with such problems will not simply be placed in high-rise blocks of flats or in hard-to-let properties without access and, therefore, doubly disadvantaged?

Further, can the noble and learned Lord comment on the question of mobility? For example, if, with a voucher system, all that is to be made available to people will be £10 a week, I am sure he will agree that it will be extraordinarily difficult for disabled people with mobility problems to get around on such a limited sum of money. Can he say whether those questions will also be taken into account when looking at the wherewithal for survival that disabled people will have at their disposal?

Earl Russell: My Lords, having not been present in the Chamber at the beginning of the debate on this amendment--and I apologise to the House--I shall not risk repeating what has already been said. I shall merely say that I have supported this amendment before and I will do so again tonight.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the aim of Amendment No. 44 is to seek to restore entitlement to attendance allowance, severe disablement allowance, disability living allowance and disabled persons' tax credit to all asylum seekers, their families and dependants. However, this would not be the effect of the amendment as all those benefits were withdrawn from disabled people by our predecessor in government. No disabled asylum seeker has had access to any of those benefits since that time. Therefore, the amendment is trying to re-introduce an entitlement which does not currently exist.

Before I turn to other matters, I must point out that there is a further problem here; namely, that anyone who was affected by Clause 114 and excluded from the

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benefits would only have to claim asylum to be entitled to all the excluded benefits again, even after an asylum claim had been dismissed. As long as there was an immediate re-application, the person in question would still, in the words of the noble Lord's amendment, be "a person seeking asylum". Plainly, on the phrasing of the amendment, there are those two defects. I can only repeat that the amendment would not restore benefit.

I shall now deal with the more important matters touched on by the noble Lords, Lord Swinfen and Lord Alton and by my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis. As the noble Lord said, we had a fairly substantial discussion on Report and I shall not weary the House by repeating it at length. We have recognised that those who suffer physical challenge may have special needs. That is why we have expressly taken power in the new schedule which, by virtue of Amendment No. 72, is to replace Clause 93, to make provisions in regulations as to the circumstances in which support may be expected at levels other than what will be provided as a general rule.

What we want to do--and I hope this is an assurance of the sort that my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis was looking for--is to ensure that appropriate support can be offered to asylum seekers with these particular needs and, of course, to their families. We will be addressing the needs of disabled asylum seekers through the Part VI support arrangements. We can do so in a number of ways; indeed, some of these particular questions were raised.

It is open to the scheme to provide additional levels of financial support in particular cases--I turn to the accommodation point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool--to provide specialised accommodation; to provide ongoing additional support (for example, commissioning supported housing from a specialised housing provider where this is appropriate); or--and I return here to the conversations that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and I have had over a period of time--to help the individual gain access to specialised services, such as those offered by the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. I believe we have already acknowledged the need to provide access to such services in appropriate cases.

Further, asylum seekers with disabilities will be able to look to local authorities for assistance through the appropriate social services legislation. We are looking to separate out the delivery of support for asylum seekers, whose needs generally, I have to say, are of a short-term character, from the mainstream benefit system that caters more for those with long-term needs. For this group, as for the great majority of asylum seekers who lack special needs, we intend to ensure a parallel but separate pattern of provision appropriate to need.

It is intended to take account of all the circumstances, including the support needed and the resources available, in assessing what a disabled person requires. Therefore I have to say that I do not think that the aim of Amendment No. 44 is capable of

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being achieved in this way but I hope that the reassurances and the undertakings I have given prove satisfactory to noble Lords who have spoken on the matter.

10.30 p.m.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for that response which sounds most encouraging. It is quite likely that I shall not be here for much longer to bully him but I am sure that if in the future it is found that disabled asylum seekers are not being properly looked after, there will be others not only in this House, but in the other place as well, who will certainly "chase his tail" to make certain that he or some other Minister comes up to scratch. As the noble and learned Lord knows, there are a number of people endeavouring to make certain that people with all kinds of disabilities are properly catered for. That will not go away. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 115 [Amendment of section 21 of the National Assistance Act 1948]:


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