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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, without accepting the pejorative implications of the noble Lord's description, I have to say that he is architecturally correct in his distinction between the millennium dome and a strict definition dome. As to what is going to be inside, and if I may concentrate on the emphasis of the original Question, it is for the Millennium company to decide what should be within the dome. I understand that consideration is being given not only to a place for quiet reflection but to the possibility of a chapel.
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Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, is it not somewhat inconsistent for Christian celebrations of this kind to be financed by the proceeds of gambling? Would it not be more in keeping with our Christian faith if the large sums of money which are to be expended on this exercise were to be distributed to people in need and suffering in our community?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I respect the views of my noble friend and of many noble Lords who, I know, will agree with him. However, I think he should remember that the National Lottery, whether one is for it or against it, has already collected £3.6 billion for good causes in this country, much of it for the relief of poverty and injustice. That should be taken into the balance.
Lord Sefton of Garston: My Lords, does the Minister gain the same impression as myself that, in view of the support given to the millennium dome, the Church of England is changing its mind about gambling, once a tenet of the Christian Church?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am the last person who would seek to speak for the Church of England. I simply observe that the Lambeth Group of all Churches appears to be content with the lottery funding of the millennium.
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the themes of physical and spiritual renewal which will run through the millennium celebrations are those which were identified by my right honourable friend the previous Secretary of State? Is the Minister aware of the considerable doubt about whether the millennium exhibition is actually going to take place? Can he reiterate my understanding that it definitely will take place? Will he also tell the House that it is going to be the best millennium celebration of its type anywhere on earth and that it will be a great success?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am not sure whether the noble Lord seeks to trap me in his last remarks by quoting from members of my own party. As regards the earlier part of the question, I hope that I made clear that the theme of spiritual and physical renewal has been part of the intention of the millennium since the very beginning and that that was the view of the previous government.
Lord Elton: It is a question I am asking, if I may. If your Lordships say that I may not, then I shall ask the Minister whether he is already aware, as he should be, that the future does not begin today because, for us, it began 2,000 years ago?
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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, that is rather wide of the Question. It is true to say that four-fifths of the expenditure on the millennium will be incurred outside the Greenwich dome. It will be used in all parts of the country and that will include Wales and Scotland.
How they intend to ensure that asylum seekers enjoy visible means of support pending a decision on their claims.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Baroness Hollis of Heigham): My Lords, we have made clear our concerns about the arrangements for asylum seekers made by the previous Government. Following a significant court ruling last October, support for destitute adult asylum seekers now rests with local authorities, in addition to responsibilities they already had under the Children Act. We will be working across Government to review the whole asylum seeker issue.
Earl Russell: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer, especially for the last sentence. Does she agree that while the present arrangement under the National Assistance Act is a small mercy for which we must be thankful, it is nevertheless ineffective in the relief of hardship, unfair in its incidence on local authorities and of an administrative coherence it would be generous to describe as makeshift? Does she agree that it is urgent to come up with a rather better system?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, like the noble Earl, I too believe that no one should be left destitute in this country in ways that they cannot remedy by any act of their own. Therefore, I was personally delighted when I learnt what the previous Government apparently did not comprehend at the time that, as a result of the National Assistance Act 1948 and the court ruling of last October, no one in this country need be left destitute when they cannot remedy their plight. But I agree with the noble Earl that the present situation of churning responsibility onto other bodies and the effectiveness of these arrangements needs to be reviewed. It is for that purpose that the Home Office is leading a cross-government review of all the departments affected by asylum seekers, including the Home Office, the Department of the Environment, the DSS and the Department of Health. The DSS is already preparing its preliminary work for that purpose.
Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, can the Minister give an indication of the size of the problem
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as regards the number of asylum seekers and economic migrants coming into this country? What percentage is proving to be genuine or otherwise?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, we know the raw statistics of admissions and refusals for the past few years. We know that last year (1996) about 28,000 people came into this country seeking asylum. Of that number 6 per cent. were granted refugee status; 13 per cent. were granted exceptional leave to remain and 81 per cent. were refused. But when the previous administration introduced their social security changes last year, they saw fit neither to conduct research before implementing their policy nor to set in place research to monitor its effects. Therefore my noble friend will understand why I cannot answer him as fully as I would wish.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the great difficulty that some local authorities are in? Although the responsibility has now fallen on them, they are not being given any special funding to meet the situation. From previous debates in which I have participated, the Minister will be aware that the asylum seeker and refugee problem varies very much, but is largely concentrated in London with particular boroughs being affected at different times. In those circumstances, what provision have the Government in mind to help financially the local authorities who are shouldering this great additional burden at the present time?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, so far the Department of Health has been reimbursing local authorities to the extent of a maximum of £140 per adult asylum seeker, or £280 a week for a couple, together with additional funds for children. That should represent a grant of £85 million for this yeara Department of Health reimbursement to local authority expenditure of some £85 million. In addition, local authorities may expect to spend in the course of a year anything between £5 million and £25 million. Therefore, of the original estimated savings of the department by the previous government, which were calculated at £175 million gross or thereabouts, nearly £100 million of that may have to go back to pick up the bill at local level.
Baroness Anelay of St. Johns: My Lords, I can promise the House that I shall be shorter than many of the noble Baroness's answers today. Does the Minister recall a debate which took place in this House on 30th January 1996 when, in describing the regulations which govern asylum seekers and benefits, she described them as "shocking, chilling and indefensible"? Therefore, can the Minister tell us why she is now waiting for a review to tell her what she told us she knew then and how to deal with the problem?
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, with pleasure. I am so pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, saw fit to ask that question. The reason is that at the time the government introduced those regulations they were knowingly and deliberately
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although they had obviously not consulted their lawyersrefusing any means of support to adult asylum seekers without dependent children. The courts subsequently saw fit to rectify that government decision by explaining to them that the National Assistance Act 1948 applied to individuals in this country who should not remain destitute through no fault of their own. That is why we are now able to take the situation forward and not look back to where the government of the noble Baroness left us.
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