|Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill
Mr. Turner: In a way, the right hon. Lady's answer reflects her earlier response to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Garnier). The problem is that recently the Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), was talking about the need to prevent people from using the health service when they were not entitled to do so. Perhaps the measures that the right hon. Lady has put in place are not effective.
Beverley Hughes: That is a related, but rather broader, issue. When talking about eligibility for a wider range of public services than just income support of various kinds, access to health services, and so on, we would be talking not only about people who are here illegally, but about those who might have entered legally on visitors' visas with the express intention of trying to get some expensive health treatment at an NHS hospital.
The Government are considering eligibility across the board as it is already defined. This is not my area and I have to be careful, but I understand that although the NHS has been able for a long time to check people's eligibility, it is not common practice.
Column Number: 440One of the reasons it is not common practice is that it is difficult to prove somebody's identity and ineligibility at the point they receive the service.
It is well known that one of the reasons why the Home Secretary is concerned that we should move to a national identity card is that in addition to having an impact on illegal entry and working, there will be a benefit in its being used as a check on a person's eligibility to receive a broader range of public servicessuch as health servicesand it will provide the health service with an easy way to check somebody's eligibility at the point of referral. We are with the hon. Gentleman on that point, but it is broader than the question of asylum seekers and illegal entrants; it would include other people who are entitled to be here, although not necessarily entitled to access services. The Government are working on that.
I am sorry that I cannot willingly accept any new clause in this large group. However, I hope I have assured hon. Members that we are with them in spirit on some of them. I should like to ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the motion.
Mr. Oaten: There is some reassurance in what the Minister said on a number of the new clauses. We are just going to have to agree to differ on section 55, because I am fundamentally opposed to it. Despite the Minister's assurances about the appeal process, which I shall have to plough through, I am sure that a number of people were left with the impression that there would be a form of appeal system whereby there would not be a requirement to go to a higher court. If 45 per cent. of decisions are being overturned at the earlier stage of reconsideration, there are some issues around how the process is working. We can revisit that point at a later date.
The Minister was helpful on back payments. I am grateful for her responses. She shares my concern that some things are fundamentally wrong: for example, the single mother I mentioned who has lost £400 over a three-week period because the money has not been paid. The issue, as I understand it, is complex and the Minister will need to take legal briefing on it. We look forward to that happening in a couple of weeks' time. I hope that the Minister will be able to report on it at some point during the next stages of the Bill.
I would be concerned if Ministers judged that even if someone had missed their payment there would not be a natural assumption that they would be entitled to it. I am concerned that the individual in the example that I gave, who might have survived for a couple of weeks by borrowing money, should be able to pay that money back. The hon. Member for Walthamstow made a good point about direct payments going into public bodies. In that example the bodies concerned would not be able to recover that money. However, the Minister has given us assurances that she will consider the issues sympathetically and I am happy with that.
On new clause 11, I am comfortable with the pilots between the DWP and the Home Office and the attempt to ensure that the individual knows that the clock starts ticking when the decision is taken. Both are good ideas. However, I am less comfortable that as
Column Number: 441much energy is being invested in ensuring that the information is made as clear to those who are unsuccessful.
Beverley Hughes: I will check.
Mr. Oaten: I am grateful. Although I do not necessarily agree with pilots for unsuccessful applicants, the lessons that are learned from pilots on the successful applicants should be transferred. In essence, a lot of that will be about the information and about how to get a good quality letter in the first instance, which should be easy to transfer to the unsuccessful cases. Indeed, it is probably slightly more important to get things right in those cases, because there will be a shorter period.
Finally, new clause 12 concerns, for want of a better word, domestic violence. I acknowledge how far the Government have gone in tackling the issue and I mentioned that when I moved the new clause. At the end of the day, however, the Government measures have a missing link, which is that, whatever assurances might be given, unless people have the financial security to take the bold decision to leave someone who is inflicting domestic violence, there will always be the risk that they will stay in a dangerous and unhappy marriage. However, the Minister outlined some of the work done under the supporting people programme. That programme cannot give the full financial support that would be available under the scheme that we propose in new clause 12. However, I hope that the discussions in which Baroness Scotland will be involved could introduce a slightly stronger financial package to ensure that individuals have the freedom to make that choice.
There has been a little progress. I am certainly pleased with the comments on back payments and domestic violence, but we shall have to agree to disagree on section 55. Given the Minister's tone and her comments on a number of the new clauses, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.
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