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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: There may be confusion here; perhaps I intervened a phrase too soon in the noble Lord's remarks. I make it clear that anyone with a settled right to remain here, from wherever in the world that person comes, has the right, along with any other British citizen, to apply for and receive a council
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: At this stage of my speech, as the Minister said, all I have referred to is the quite specious use of the word "long-term" as applied to the rights of those in public housing. Clearly, there are no rights that are longer term than the right to remain in this country.
I turn to the separate issue of what is meant by the Bill and to whom the clause applies. The Minister has now given me, in terms, the assurance for which I asked; namely, that those who have the right to enter, or remain in, this country are not covered by the clause. He will recall that we debated earlier in Committee the extraordinary approach of the Government which means that Clause 12 contains a very wide definition of "immigrant". It includes those who have the right to enter or remain. The definition is half restricted in earlier clauses by the statement that the Secretary of State may by order restrict that right. I believe in the sincerity of the Minister's assurance that that is the Government's intention at the present time. However, that is not a protection against future Secretaries of State changing the provisions under Clause 9 and using the protection given to the Secretary of State by the definition in Clause 12. So we object as strongly as we did before to the process of having a wide definition in statute constrained only by ministerial statements about what will subsequently be contained in orders.
The Minister referred to the potentiality for conflict between the Housing Bill and the Asylum and Immigration Bill. He gave references to Clauses 144 and 165--although, I notice, not to Clauses 160 and 161--of the Housing Bill. He rightly pointed out that the Housing Bill refers only to England and Wales, and that there are other real differences.
The wording of the Housing Bill is entirely different from the wording in this Bill. It is very difficult for those working in local authorities to know to which they should pay attention. The Housing Bill refers to a person from abroad who is ineligible for social assistance. It refers to an asylum seeker or dependant of an asylum seeker if he has any accommodation in the United Kingdom, however temporary. These are words in housing legislation, and the Minister claims that the present Bill is not housing but immigration legislation.
We are entering the realms of absurdity. The Government must make up their mind what it is that they want to enact and must decide to put forward a coherent and consistent view before Parliament in one piece of legislation. It must not rely on ministerial explanation from any Front Bench, however conscientious and sincere, to tell us which piece of legislation should be prepared for by local authorities. I am not satisfied with the argument of the Minister that it depends on which piece of legislation is enacted first. It is up to the Government to get their legislation through in the order they think fit. It is not up to us to try to support it; and it is certainly not up to local authorities to prepare for any possible deficiencies in the Government's business management.
The Minister referred to the requirements on housing departments to obtain information from applicants about where they have lived for the past five years. When it was pointed out to him by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that some asylum seekers had been in the queue for more than five years, he responded as though it were entirely their fault. In practice, people who applied for asylum before 1993 and who are on the waiting list have been kept in the backlog precisely by the timetable imposed by the 1993 Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act, which has given priority to subsequent applications. That is why some people have been in the queue for more than five years and why they would not necessarily appear to local authorities as asylum seekers.
I said that I should not be satisfied with the assurance as to what the Government mean to do with this legislation. We have to deal with the legislation as it is presented to us. As it is presented, it is both unfair and incompetent. I ask the opinion of the Committee on Amendment No. 97.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.