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Lord Elton: My Lords, the noble Lord appeared to be trying to tempt me to my feet to answer his point. To describe what my noble friend alluded to as "locking up" is to make a very large assumption. The Liberal Democrat Party has also suggested that people should reside in places where they can be easily accessed for rapid treatment. Simon Hughes, in referring to the matter, twice used the word "escape", which made me think that that party is more keen on locking up than we are. It seems to me that if one can house people humanely and comfortably and provide for them to have a reasonable quality of life for a few weeks, that is very much better than dispersing them around the country, with all the penalties that we have heard described, and keeping them there for six months.
Lord Elton: My Lords, I am not the maker of policy on the hoof. The question is whether people should be kept in an area where it is possible to minister to their needs and make judgments about them simply or whether they should be dispersed around the country. I would not rule out housing them in concentrated areas. We are in an area of very evocative language. Merely using the word "concentrated" tempts the noble Lord to talk about concentration camps. In talking about "locking up" one is thinking about detention centres. I am entirely against keeping them in Rochester prison, which is where many of them are kept now.
Lord Bach: My Lords, I did not use the phrase "concentration camps". I would not even have thought about using them. The noble Lord should withdraw that if he believes that that is an expression I was coming to. I do not believe that the words "reception centre" are correct. I believe that the words "detention centres" are more appropriate. It is not a question of whether they take it or leave it or whether they come and go. The policy of the Official Opposition is that these people, whether justified or not as asylum seekers, should be locked up and not free
Lord Elton: My Lords, the noble Lord asked me to withdraw something which I did not say. I did not say that he was talking about concentration camps. I said that we were in an evocative area in which the media are all-powerful. The fact that I used the word "concentrated" invites an article about Tory concentration camps, which is dangerous and not what is proposed.
I say straightaway that the application form is in English. We anticipate that in the vast majority of cases--it is happening already--there will be an assistant from an established group for filling in the form. Normally there will be a one-stop service. There will be a voluntary sector service at reception areas. Someone will assist the applicant in filling in the form.
Although the noble Lord, Lord Cope, had fun with the application form--and who cannot have fun with any application form--I must tell the House that it won the Plain English Campaign's Crystal Mark for Clarity. I am not sure that all speeches in this House would necessarily win it. So far, there have been no problems in practice.
I have been asked to explain on behalf of the Government why these steps are being taken. The aim of the scheme is to maintain our international obligations and provide adequate support for destitute asylum seekers, but also to deter those who seek to use the asylum system simply, if understandably, to obtain a better standard of living than they could have in their own country. If something is not done to try to prevent people doing that, the time it will take for real asylum seekers--those who have a justified claim for asylum--to have the asylum that they deserve will take correspondingly longer.
We believe that cash is a strong pull factor. I say that in particular to the right reverent Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. While there are genuine asylum seekers, a large number are economic migrants, sadly, often assisted by those who cynically deal in human traffic and view the social security benefits as attractive. It is our belief that to pay in cash, and at the rate of social security income benefit for adults would attract even more false claims for asylum. We may be right or we may be wrong, but the legislation having been passed and these rules appearing under it, it is important to see whether it works.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, asked a number of questions and made a number of comments. I am advised that a family on income support would have to pay for utilities--gas, electricity and water--and would have to purchase household goods and utensils--bedding, pots and pans, cutlery and crockery--but that those will be provided for asylum
Furthermore, all applications for state provision to meet special needs will be considered on a case-by-case basis. The table in Regulation No. 10 sets out only what can be expected to be provided as a general rule. The noble Lord also asked what would happen if an asylum seeker were unfortunately to die. Where such a person dies and his dependants are being supported by the scheme, the dependants must notify NASS of that obviously relevant change of circumstance.
The noble Lord also referred to the letter which asylum seekers receive indicating that support will be removed before reasons for refusing asylum have been given. I am advised that that is not so. No support will be withdrawn until an asylum seeker has been properly refused. Only at that point does the 14-day grace period begin. Support would terminate 14 days afterwards.
The noble Lord spoke about violence and threats of violence and the regulations making no allowance for inadequate accommodation where there are threats of non-domestic violence. Again, I must tell him that that is not so. Note 6b on page 30 of the regulations states that where there is violence or racial, religious or sexual harassment, it may not be reasonable for asylum seekers to stay in their current accommodation.
My noble friend Lord Judd, in a very powerful contribution--of course, his experience and expertise in this field is renowned--asked why we extend the indignity of those who will qualify as asylum seekers. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, referred to that point, too. We are aiming to make decisions within two months in most cases. We are already achieving that for families. The large majority of those who are recognised as refugees will receive a decision within two months. That is our belief. We believe that the asylum support system is entirely reasonable for that period. It provides safety, security and support, which we believe are some of the requirements of those fleeing persecution. Of course, those who are genuinely fleeing persecution need to know as soon as possible that they will be allowed to stay in the country.
The noble Lord, Lord Elton, asked questions relating to English language. I believe that I have already made the point that those who apply for support are referred to reception assistants from voluntary organisations who will help them to fill in the form, or will fill it in on their behalf. I must stress that, where necessary, interpreters will be made available.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford asked about claimants who remain on support for 14 days after receiving notification of refusal. He asked what would happen if such a claimant appealed against a refusal. I am advised that, since notice of appeal itself must be made within seven days at most,
I should deal briefly, if I can, with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, concerning toys. It is important that noble Lords understand what we are saying in this regard. The support system is intended to meet the essential living needs of destitute asylum seekers on a short-term basis. Toys cannot be considered as an essential living need. Thus, they have been excluded by the regulations.
As the noble Lord knows, the provision for children stands at the same value as the equivalent income support personal allowance. We are satisfied that that level of provision for children is reasonable. It is up to individuals--granted, they will not have a huge amount of money--to decide on what they spend their vouchers. We are satisfied that the level of support provided to asylum-seeking families does not infringe our obligations under the article to which he referred. Toys and recreational items are not to be treated as an essential living need under the new scheme, but that does not preclude children from engaging in play and recreational activities. There has been a suggestion--
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