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Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I thank the Minister and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 43 [Accommodation]:

Baroness Ashton of Upholland moved Amendment No. 39:


"(7) At the end of section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 (c. 33) (accommodation) add—
"(10) The Secretary of State may make regulations permitting a person who is provided with accommodation under this section to be supplied also with services or facilities of a specified kind.
(11) Regulations under subsection (10)—
(a) may, in particular, permit a person to be supplied with a voucher which may be exchanged for goods or services,
(b) may not permit a person to be supplied with money,
(c) may restrict the extent or value of services or facilities to be provided, and
(d) may confer a discretion.""

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 39, I would like to speak to Amendment No. 43. The amendment to Clause 43 will enable the Secretary of State to make regulations to provide for additional needs to be met for those in receipt of support under Section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. The provisions will ensure flexibility, both now and in the future, to meet essential needs not directly connected with the provision of accommodation. Such needs might include, for example, travel to essential appointments and essential supplies for new mothers, such as baby clothes.
 
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Section 4 support is currently provided for, in the main, failed asylum seekers who are temporarily prevented through no fault of their own from leaving the UK. If the amendment is accepted, regulations will be drawn up to enable NASS to provide services or facilities to overcome these difficulties. Essential needs will be met by non-cash means. That is important, as Section 4 provides a limited form of support for those about to leave the United Kingdom. While meeting essential needs, the support should not act as an incentive for people to remain in the UK once they have exhausted their appeal rights. I hope that that explains what Amendment No. 39 seeks to do.

On Amendment No. 43, the Government have considered the views of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee about the powers in Clause 48(2). These were that by exercising a power administratively, as in requiring applicants to follow particular procedure, the Government will be doing away with parliamentary scrutiny of the procedure. The Government accept the point and seek to introduce the amended Clause 48 so that any mandatory procedures required of applicants will be set out in the immigration rules. We still wish to set out administrative details, such as what information and documents are required, and to be able to change this easily, where necessary. I hope that this amendment will meet the concerns of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. I beg to move.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords—

Lord Avebury moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 39, Amendnment No. 40:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness. I hope she will have an opportunity of speaking later. I begin by saying that this clause, as the Minister has explained, allows local authorities to provide accommodation to failed asylum seekers in accordance with arrangements that have been made by the Secretary of State. The amendments now before your Lordships extend this to the provision of vouchers for people receiving this accommodation. As the honourable Member for Walthamstow observed in another place, people supported under Section 4 used to be given cash, but then luncheon vouchers were provided instead. That caused all the problems that were encountered with the former hated voucher system.

This change was as a result of legal advice obtained by NASS in March 2005, which, as far as I know, has not been seen by anybody else—at least, that was the position at the end of May 2005, when Refugee Action and Citizens Advice obtained advice from Doughty Street Chambers on the extent of the powers under Section 4. This opinion stated that there was no express prohibition in Section 4 against making cash payments and that the arguments that cash payments would allow the recipient to obtain items outside the scope of Section 4 was invalid because people could sell the vouchers and spend the cash on whatever they wanted, as indeed they do and have always done.
 
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As Citizens Advice has pointed out, giving vouchers that can be used only for food and drink has a number of major disadvantages. The recipient cannot get everyday essentials, such as clothes, baby items and toiletries. He cannot use public transport, even for essential journeys that are necessary to comply with reporting conditions. He cannot buy food other than from designated retailers, which may not be local to the accommodation supplied. He cannot attend medical appointments and so on. He may not be able to buy culturally appropriate food, such as halal meat, or to conform to medically prescribed dietary requirements. He will not have access to basic medication, since those on Section 4 support are not entitled to free NHS care. Finally, there is a flourishing black market in vouchers, with criminal profiteers buying them—usually at 50 per cent of their face value—in return for cash.

Last month, there were 5,000 failed asylum seekers of 70 different nationalities on Section 4 support. In spite of Home Office efforts to open a route of return to Iraq and so reduce the number of Iraqis on such support, there were still more than 3,300 on 9 January. Following legal challenges, the Section 4 scheme is developing from a small-scale, short-term support system to a large-scale, long-term one. Many individuals have now been on Section 4 support for a great many months; Citizens Advice knows of one Congolese woman who has been on it for two years, while many Iraqis have been on it since early 2005. The number of applications for Section 4 support rose from 3,000 in 2004 to 15,000 in 2005 and, since June last year, two thirds of the appeals to the asylum support adjudicators have been in relation to refusal of that support.

We were therefore disappointed that the Government, having said that they would consider the representations by the honourable Member for Walthamstow—who is, after all, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees and has considerable expertise in the subject—and having conceded that NASS's legal advice may have been wrong, decided to return to the abominable voucher system. That is a deplorable return to the past, and I hope that we shall give another place a chance to think again about what the Home Office is doing.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I rise in relation to Amendment No. 43, which the noble Baroness explained was tabled in response to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee recommendation. I saw in the Government response that they were going to table this amendment. I notice that the immigration law practitioners doubt whether the amendment has the effect that the Government intend. I will not go into details, but has the Minister looked at the point which the law practitioners raised? Is the amendment, in fact, secure? I am sure that they are right to be doing this but—the point having been raised—we should make quite sure that the amendment is foolproof.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I want to warmly welcome the government amendment since it will much relieve
 
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the burdens currently falling on local authorities, voluntary bodies and churches. I think that it is also a response to the amendment moved in Committee by my noble friend Lord Listowel; I hope that I am right in that. However, I agree strongly with the amendment moved to Amendment No. 39 by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. He made an extremely strong case.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I welcome the principle behind what the Minister has said. I had not intended to speak in this debate but, as I understand it, the intention in what the noble Baroness proposes is to ensure that mothers who, for instance, currently lack the ability to buy milk or other provisions for their baby will have that provision. I welcome that aspect; however, I am concerned at the dependence on the use of vouchers.

An example of the difficulties that can arise is a case history where vouchers were initially being provided in the form of luncheon vouchers. The supermarket Tesco, in which people were intending to exchange their vouchers, was unwilling to provide them with anything other than food items. They had attended more than one Tesco store and had tried complaining. Disturbingly, the women were refused essential items such as baby milk and powder, clothes, including baby clothes, nappies, shampoo, washing powder and sanitary towels. I am sure that these vouchers that the Minister proposes will avoid that sort of problem. Yet there do seem to have been technical problems in the past which have caused worry to families.

I am particularly worried about families being identified, when they are paying at checkouts, as being asylum-seeking families or failed ones, given the great ill-will that sadly exists toward those families among many members of the public—especially in some of our poorer and more deprived areas—and the experience of those children standing in that queue and being aware of how many adults around them are regarding them. I think that the Minister understands my concern.

7.15 pm


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