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5.45 pm

I understand that at the end of 2001, 25,000 asylum seekers were receiving voucher-only support and were not asking the Government to house them, whereas just over 40,000 were supported in NASS accommodation—a ratio of nearly a third to two thirds. I do not understand how it would be cheaper to get rid of that option. It would not, therefore, be in the Government's or our interests to do so.

Jeremy Corbyn: On the figures for NASS and non-NASS supported cases, am I right in thinking that it is the longer-term asylum seekers, who have come back to London after being dispersed elsewhere and suffering harassment or whatever, who are non-NASS supported? They are often living in terrible poverty, supported by other asylum-seeking families who are themselves trying to survive on 70 per cent. of income support.

Simon Hughes: That is certainly my experience. Many of the asylum seekers in my constituency are not asking the state for a great amount of support. Often, they rely on their church or faith community and on a network of provision that would normally be sent to support family in the home country, and which is therefore not sent.

The hon. Gentleman is right: many of these people were sent out of London. They found it better to come back here to people who speak the same language than to live on their own in an estate in, say, the east end of Newcastle—that is one example that I know for a fact—with no one else from their national group anywhere nearby, and no one to converse with.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Blunkett): It would be better in an accommodation centre.

Simon Hughes: Indeed, it might be. The right hon. Gentleman knows that that is why we have supported such centres as an option. In many cases, however, dispersal was not satisfactory. He has made the case that it is working better, but it does not work better for everyone. Some people say that they are willing to take responsibility for themselves and stay with friends—albeit in dire, overcrowded accommodation—because it is more comfortable to be with people who come from the same place and understand their needs than to be miles from anywhere and from anyone who understands what they need.

On amendment No. 84, like the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard), we believe that there should be affirmative resolutions before we go down the road proposed in clause 37. It is important that social security matters automatically receive proper scrutiny from the House.

We do not object to Government amendment No. 217, as it tries to tidy up the legislation, which is what I suggested to the Home Secretary that we should do to the entire Bill at the end of this exercise. Asylum issues should be in one part of the Bill, separate from non-asylum issues.

We do not object to Government amendment No. 216. Clearly, the provision should relate to people who are in the United Kingdom, not those who are outside it. Nor do we object to Government amendment No. 254, which is for clarification.

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In Committee we questioned what the wording meant, and we have tabled amendments Nos. 50 to 53, which would have had the same effect as Government amendments Nos. 254 and 255. The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre has proposals that are along the same lines and has tabled amendment No. 261, which we support. I hope that he will have an opportunity to persuade Ministers that that amendment would be appropriate.

We are troubled by the Government proposals in clause 43, which would allow the Secretary of State to choose the provision by which the asylum seeker is offered support and, in effect, would not allow asylum seekers to suggest an alternative. Having taken advice, that is our interpretation of what the clause would mean. Under clause 43, people may have to take the support that they are told to take or they may have no support. For example, people may say that they are willing to stay with family and friends and that they would prefer cash support, but that is no longer an option. That is why my hon. Friends and I tabled amendment No. 54.

I accept that amendments Nos. 55 and 56 contain drafting errors. The Minister's advisers will have spotted those errors, and I apologise for them. Those amendments should have included requirements for certain things and not others, but they came out wrong, so I shall not pursue them at this stage. However, we want to make it clear that priority individual needs should be met.

I am coming to the end of the list. I apologise for its length, although the grouping of amendments was out of my control, but at least we can get rid of a lot of issues in one go.

We do not dissent from Government amendment No. 218. With such issues, it is proper that people cannot seek to appeal decisions involving benefits when they have left the country. That is entirely different from yesterday's debate on appeals to remain in the country. People should make those appeals when they are in this country; they should not be required to leave.

Under amendments Nos. 143 and 144, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats jointly propose that people should be able to receive expenses for the travel involved in putting their cases, that their witnesses—if they are needed—should be able to receive financial support, and that legal advice should be available.

Under amendment No. 57, we propose that the Home Office should be able to give grants to those voluntary organisations that help people with social security, benefits and welfare appeals. That proposal is strongly supported by the Immigration Advisory Service, which is based in my constituency and whose chief executive is highly regarded throughout the House. I hope that hon. Members support that amendment and that the Government will be sympathetic to it.

Under amendment No. 194—the last in this group—we suggest that the cash-only support removal proposal should be subject to a separate debate in the House under the affirmative procedure before we agree to it.

I apologise for going through all the amendments in this group individually, but I thought that proper as they cover many issues. Unless the Government give us considerable comfort, we will not feel able to support their proposals at the end of the debate, because they have not been argued fully, because Parliament has not had a chance to debate them fully, and because they will produce some apparently wrong decisions, among some that are perfectly justifiable and correct.

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Unfortunately, we cannot separate the issues by voting on each amendment, as the Conservatives did yesterday, so we shall register our opposition. More importantly, we hope that the Government will hear the voices of hon. Members and those outside the House and change some of these unnecessarily draconian proposals.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow): I want to raise two issues briefly. First, I have a number of questions about new schedule 1. I must admit that I have difficulty in understanding all its implications; the schedule is complex and long.

Simon Hughes: It is recent.

Mr. Gerrard: I shall be generous: new schedule 1 has recently appeared on the amendment paper. Clearly, it will have a serious impact on the individuals who will be subject to some of its provisions, as they may lose all forms of support.

I well understand the argument that questions why a local authority should support someone who is entitled to be supported elsewhere. Why should someone who has perfectly normal rights to receive support in another EU country come to the United Kingdom, turn up at a local authority's offices and demand support? I understand the rationale behind such an argument.

I clearly understand the reasoning behind the proposals for children and families. Obviously, great pressure would be put on individuals who were told that they were to be removed from the United Kingdom, if the choice that faced them was either to comply with the removal directions, or for their children to receive support and be taken into care under section 20 of the Children Act 1989 while they themselves received no support.

I may be getting the proposal completely wrong because I have not had the time to understand all the details, but I find it difficult to see exactly how some of the provisions will work. Local authorities provided many but not all of the forms of support referred to in paragraph 1 of new schedule 1, including those under the National Assistance Act 1948, the Health Services and Public Health Act 1968 and Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968. There is a reference—I am not sure what it means—to section 21 of and schedule 8 to the National Health Service Act 1977. I hope that that does not mean that access to mental health services may be cut, if those services are relevant.

If those are the sort of benefits that may disappear and which people risk losing, it is fairly obvious that many of the decisions to remove such support will be taken by local authorities. A local authority will be faced with having to decide whether to give someone support under the National Assistance Act 1948, or withdraw the support that has already been given under that Act.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North): My hon. Friend makes an important point. When they make assessments for services, local authorities will have an opportunity to determine whether someone is eligible for assistance. What does my hon. Friend think will happen if someone already receives assistance? How will local authorities know how to implement Home Office decisions involving those who are receiving such services?

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