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The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I should like to return to the grouping, which carries with it such a wide range of amendments, and speak to Amendment No. 157, which stands in my name. However, I should like to remain able to move it formally when the time comes.
The noble Lord, Lord Renton, in a masterly understatement, said earlier that a rather important matter has been left in a state of uncertainty. I have the feeling continually in this debate that we are dealing with a good many important matters, but we are being swept away by the great galleon of government. I am a small cabin cruiser sailing across the bows just to warn the Government that there are very important issues disguised in these amendments.
The noble and learned Lord said that he did not want to be harsh on asylum seekers and that he did not want to be harsh on non-governmental organisations. We take that point and the noble and learned Lord's great sincerity. But, equally, we must re-emphasise the
When I worked in the voluntary sector in the 1980s we saw the growth of government support for NGOs and we welcomed it. We recognise that there is informal co-operation with the NGOs at every level. But NGOs and voluntary agencies are not agencies of government. They are there to top up inadequate support and provision and to reinforce what the Government are not able to do. They are not a substitute for it or for the lack of it. I should like to quote from a note I received from the Children's Consortium which represents all the children's agencies in this campaign for refugees. It states:
Lord Hylton: My Lords, I support what my noble friend Lord Sandwich has said. I should like to put a specific question to the Government. Can they confirm that their new schedule, which may result from Amendment No. 124, will not by its paragraphs 2 and 5 force destitute people to rely at least in part on resources coming from charities and NGOs? It would be wonderful if the noble and learned Lord could reply to that point this evening. If he cannot, I hope that it will be seriously considered.
The next amendments in the group are government Amendment No. 146 and Amendment No. 147--which has already attracted some debate as to whether it is adequately covered by Amendment No. 146. I have nothing to add to the comments already made.
Amendment No. 148, moved by the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, has attracted a great deal of attention both at this stage and previously. The first part deals with expenses for specialist medical care. The noble Duke was correct in saying, in a slightly abbreviated form, that the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General had said that such expenses would be payable through the National Health Service under ordinary arrangements. So presumably we do not need to trouble ourselves about that.
But the position remains difficult with regard to the second part of the amendment, which deals with the costs of travel to appointments with legal representatives. Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells, I too have heard of the controversy in Somerset regarding the school that is being considered for conversion. I am not sure exactly how many miles it is from Bristol--25 or 30, I believe. Travel by public transport over that kind of distance in that kind of area is expensive. If one does not have a car, it is difficult; and of course the journey is expensive by taxi. It is not something that people in this kind of situation can be expected to do.
I am not sure whether Bristol, or for that matter Bath, has the necessary number of sufficiently qualified legal experts who are able to deal with the kind of specialist cases about which we are talking. As we have heard at some length, it is not just any solicitor who can deal with these cases. A whole section of the Bill is devoted to the exclusion of a large number of persons who might otherwise be considered immigration advisers. So the Bill acknowledges that this is a specialist matter. I do not know how many people are regarded as qualified in this specialist way in either Bristol or Bath. Even assuming that there is a sufficient number to deal with the individuals concerned, it is still an expensive business, quite apart from people having to travel right across the country to London. It is relatively local travel, but it is still expensive. It has certainly been my experience that one visit to a lawyer is not always sufficient to deal with a problem. It is sometimes necessary to go a number of times before one arrives at a solution. So that is a difficult aspect at local level, quite apart from the points that have already been made regarding wider travel.
Amendment No. 153--in regard to which I was grateful for the support of the noble Earl, Lord Russell--relates to preferences being expressed as to where a supported person would like to be accommodated. Like the noble Earl, I thought that, without this amendment, if any supported person was unwise enough to express a preference, it might make matters difficult for the Secretary of State. A brief intervention from the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General appeared to be of a reassuring nature. However, I should like to hear slightly more about why he thinks it so incredibly damaging as to require a law against it, and why an unfortunate person who finds himself in this position should be debarred from expressing a preference for one town rather than another because he has relatives or compatriots there, or feels that he has a connection with that town, or merely wants to go with his compatriots who have arrived with him. That seems a draconian position. I understand that the Secretary of state will not always be able to fulfil such requests. There is no question of that and we do not argue for it. But it seems extremely unreasonable that they should not be allowed to express a preference, even if it is not held against them afterwards.
On Amendment No. 154, I was grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for his support. However, as he rightly said, Amendment No. 155 seems to move in the direction of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers which the amendment concerns. I am glad to see it and grateful for it. Like the noble Earl, I was reassured by the reaction to Amendment No. 156.
That brings me to Amendment No. 157 which is the most difficult in the group to dismiss or be reassured about. There were some careful words from the Attorney-General at the beginning of our debate some time ago but they did not seem to me to take us far. I can think of no other instance where, if a charity gives money to a deserving person, that person then has their social security or other benefit taken away from them. But that is contemplated here. I admit that it is not set out in the Bill that it should happen but it is open to the Secretary of State to interpret the Bill that way.