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Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for giving way. It is in the Bill. Clause 93(3)(b) explicitly states that the Government or the authorities are entitled to look at not only what a destitute person has but what they may have. It is not even a question of taking account of what a charity may have given them; they have the right to consider what a charity might give them.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, yes, I was going to say that the schedule, having incorporated Amendment No. 124, repeats the words with very slight variations which do not seem to be other than a change of English. I do not believe the legal meaning is altered.
It seemed to me that either in Amendment No. 124 or Clause 93 the phrase states that if the support is haphazard, if I happen to pass an asylum seeker in the street and give him £10, he could not reasonably expect that to happen. So it would not be discounted from the point of view of his support. If, on the other hand, a charity sets itself up, among other things, to support people in that situation and begins regularly to assist people in a certain area or situation who fall within the provisions, it will not be long before the authorities are able to say: Ah! You have an expectation of that. Every other refugee who has been in your situation for the past six months has received help from this or that charity, so you must expect it. Therefore, we are knocking £ off your support".
The Bill does not say that money given by charities shall be treated in that way. But refusing to put it or anything like it into the amendment fuels the concern of charities and others that it might happen.
Valuable though it may be to give haphazard support, as I have described it, to deserving cases from time to time--and no doubt we all do it--targeted and organised support, organised by people who know what they are doing and can discriminate between the good and the worst cases is more effective. Being a chartered accountant, I have to point out that it is sometimes more tax effective as well if it is done through a charity. I do not believe that was in the Government's mind, but it is more effective in the way that it works in terms of relieving the poverty and distress at which it is aimed.
That kind of thing worries me about the wording in Amendment No. 124 to Clause 93 at which the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, is aimed. It is not a matter which we can brush off. It has worried many charities and many people, including myself, and the Government must pay careful attention to it in the course of looking at the wide range of amendments.
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, perhaps I may raise a quick point on one matter that I have been mulling over while the debate has proceeded. If charitable funds are to be taken into account, will not the charities consider them to be a replacement of public funds and therefore not charitable? Is it possible that the Charity Commission will consider any donations of this kind not to be charitable and, therefore, that the charities which provide such funds are acting illegally?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, a charitable organisation would not be acting illegally in those circumstances. In the nature of things, many charitable functions which are performed by charities can be regarded as a replacement of public funds" but would not be illegal on that basis.
I tried to pre-empt many of the questions that have been raised. Therefore, I deal with such questions as have been raised which seem to me to have been highlighted. First, I take up the observation of the noble Lord, Lord Swinfen, relating to charity. Perhaps it is useful occasionally to remind oneself of the text on page 63 of the Bill. Clause 93(3) reads:
What we need to do--I would have thought that most of your Lordships' thoughts are concentrated on this--is to look at the factual circumstances which subsist. I give an example. I suggest, and hope not to be contradicted, that if an asylum seeker has accommodation that is provided by a charitable organisation, the fact that that accommodation has been provided and assured by a charitable organisation for, say, six, nine or 12 months is plainly a part of the factual matrix which any prudent dispenser of public funds will take into account.
I give one or two further examples. It is not our policy to require those who are destitute, or may become so, to solicit support from charities, but quite a number of charitable organisations are grant-aided by the Home Office. It seems to me to be entirely reasonable and proper, as a prudent steward of public funds, to say that charity x is partly funded by the Home Office and is providing support of a level or kind that should be taken into account. I see no proper call for the public purse to be struck twice in those circumstances. All that the regulations are able to do is take into account--I underline those words--when deciding whether to provide support and what kind, any support or assets which are, or may reasonably be expected to be, otherwise available.
If one is looking at actual or immediately prospective need it is perfectly sensible, right and fair to say that an individual has support from a charity which has indicated that it will provide guaranteed accommodation--as a charity that can be relied upon--for three, six or nine months and also a level of support. That support may not be simply financial, because here we have in mind the level or kind of support. Perhaps I may finish my point before noble Lords intervene. If one goes on to point out to all those who are concerned with asylum seekers that they are grant-aided, why should one not take it into account? I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, is first and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, is second.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble and learned Lord for giving way. I have no argument with the circumstances described in which someone has accommodation and the charity providing it has been grant-aided under Clause 107. That is entirely reasonable. However, I am concerned with those circumstances in which a charity has not
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, reasonable expectation is a perfectly legitimate concept well known to law--not rubbery" to repeat the phrase used earlier. If a charity has a history of a certain level or kind of support, it is entirely legitimate for the directorate to say, It is highly probable that you will be supported in one way or another by this charity". It partly depends on the double funding point as to whether the money comes from the Home Office. But if a long established charity has as its only charitable purpose and function the assistance of asylum seekers from, let us say, the Roma community in Czechoslovakia, it is reasonable to take into account that it has a good track record on providing the level and kind of support about which we are thinking.
Throughout all sections of this House, our common purpose is to provide a decent level of life--I move myself away from support--to those who really need it. If that decent level of life is assured by funds, charities, churches or various organisations which are not publicly funded, I see no difficulty in recognising those facts or those reasonable expectations.
Earl Russell: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for saying that it is not the policy of the Government to expect those who would otherwise be destitute to rely on the voluntary sector. But perhaps I may ask him to compare his words with those of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, on Amendment No. 115. I say no more at present; we may return to the point at another stage.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, it is this. The Minister used the phrase highly probable" or assured" in respect of a charity whose objects were extremely narrow. The noble and learned Lord gave the example of Romanies. Does he accept that the anxiety expressed by those supporting the amendment
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