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Lord Judd: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I am sure that he has interpreted my remarks correctly. However, perhaps I may emphasise that I was not referring to asylum seekers as wicked and exploitative; I was referring to those who cruelly exploit the plight of poor people desperately looking for a better life and who lead them into terrible straits.
We are discussing the detailed regulations for asylum support. At the end of our discussions on the Bill, now an Act, on which this Motion is based, I expressed foreboding in regard to how the detailed regulations would work in practice, and I have not so far been reassured.
Perhaps I may refer briefly to the greater use of reception centres which is advocated by my party. I do not think that that should be seen as an inhumane approach by comparison with this approach. We can be certain, after all, if we follow the example of the French and the Germans in going down that route, that the people concerned will be adequately housed and supported during the process of having their claims decided, and that they will also have the necessary legal and medical support, without the need to resort to this type of voucher system with the disadvantages that we are discussing. I do not want to start a general discussion, but I thought it worth making that point in passing.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I shall not detain him more than a moment. I checked with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and I understand that, in Germany, most refugees are not detained in detention centres and that they are now able to start work within a month or two of arriving in the country.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, I do not want to go into the detail. The problem with the German system is that the position depends a good deal on the La nder and varies in different parts of the country. The matter also gives rise to a good deal of legal difficulty in the German courts. In any case, that is secondary to the Motion before us this evening.
To return to the regulations now being considered, it would be of assistance if the Minister who is to respond could provide the latest figures on those who are likely to be involved in the support system and how it is intended that that should be extended. It starts with limited categories of asylum seekers and is intended to be extended at some point in the future. In particular, it would be helpful to have the figures showing how the exercise to clear the backlog is proceeding. I do not necessarily expect the Minister to have those figures at his fingertips at the end of a debate of this character. If he prefers to provide that information in writing, I shall be entirely content.
Some detailed points have arisen on the regulations themselves. Several noble Lords, including the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, referred to the 14-day period. Although I believe that that requires some explanation, I do not need to dwell on it. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, referred to the position of charities, which is extremely important. However, it has already been dealt with and I do not need to repeat it.
Finally, my noble friend Lord Elton drew attention to Regulation 3(3) which deals with the application form that is required to be completed in full and in English. I, too, looked at that form. The first thing to face a person who arrives in this country, particularly if he or she has suffered persecution in other countries, is a 12-page form containing 11 pages of finely-printed notes on how to complete the form. One wonders whether the Inland Revenue, which has designed the self-assessment form, should be consulted. I do not believe that the self-assessment form is all that bad, given the complexity of what the Inland Revenue seeks to deal with. However, the Inland Revenue does not often hesitate to put burdens on legitimate activity while it tries to catch those who evade tax, which to an extent is what takes place here.
Lord Bach: My Lords, no one who has listened to the debate can fail to be impressed by the quality of the speakers. I do not refer just to the quality of their speeches but to the breadth of experience, expertise and pure humanity that they have demonstrated over many years. Their reputations truly go before them. What they have said will be read carefully and listened to.
I must remind noble Lords that this scheme came into effect following the passing of an Act of Parliament by both Houses. It has been in effect since 3rd April, and to judge it too harshly, or at all, at this stage seems rather too soon. Whatever criticisms there
I hope to respond to some of the points raised in a fairly limited period of time. If I were to attempt to answer every point we should be here for a long time. First, I seek to describe the broad purpose and content of the regulations. These regulations make provisions supplementing Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 and provide a statutory framework for the new national asylum support scheme. Under their provisions, support is to be available to asylum seekers and their dependants who apply in accordance with the regulations and appear to be destitute, or likely to become destitute, within 14 days of the application being considered.
The regulations define who is a dependant of an asylum seeker for these purposes and set out the matters to be taken into account in deciding whether a person or family group is destitute. They also set out what support can be expected to be provided to a successful applicant. This will generally take the form of accommodation, provision for other essential living needs or both accommodation and such provision. The provision for essential living needs, as noble Lords will know, will be in the form of vouchers.
That was a matter of a great deal of debate and discussion involving a large number of people who are present in the House today, some of whom spoke and some did not. However, that was the decision taken by Parliament. The vouchers are redeemable for goods or services and not more than £10 cash per person per week.
The regulations make provision for the notification of the Secretary of State when changes of circumstances occur that may affect the support to be provided. They enable the Secretary of State to require contributions towards the cost of providing support in those cases where an applicant has some income and assets and to recover sums of money spent on supporting an asylum seeker where the asylum seeker has assets which have become realisable since the original application for support.
The regulations prescribe the case in which support can be suspended or discontinued and make provision for bringing to an end tenancies or licences to occupy accommodation given to people being provided with accommodation under the scheme. In addition, they make provision whereby "destitute" in certain related legislation has the same meaning as it has for the purposes of asylum support.
That rather dry account of what the regulations provide involves the sort of remarks made by a Minister when moving an order in the normal course of events. It is important to remember that we are discussing today these orders. Using his ingenious qualities, which we often see in this House--that is a compliment--the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has prayed against the regulations and so we have had a full and wide-ranging discussion going somewhat into detail beyond the regulations, but perhaps all the better for that
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that we believe that the system, which has not yet been tried, is infinitely to be preferred to one where--whether one calls them reception centres or detention centres--every single asylum seeker, man, woman or child, would be effectively locked up until a decision was made about the particular case. Whatever justified criticisms noble Lords have, I hope that the majority, including perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Elton, feel that I am right in what I say. One cannot help but believe that the idea of locking up all asylum seekers for the necessary length of time is a policy put forward in the hope of garnering a few votes in a few weeks' time.
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