House of Commons portcullis
House of Commons
Session 2006 - 07
Publications on the internet
Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Integration Loans for Refugees and Others Regulations 2007

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Bill Olner
Blunt, Mr. Crispin (Reigate) (Con)
Browne, Mr. Jeremy (Taunton) (LD)
Campbell, Mr. Alan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Cox, Mr. Geoffrey (Torridge and West Devon) (Con)
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab/Co-op)
Green, Damian (Ashford) (Con)
Gwynne, Andrew (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian (Leeds, North-East) (Lab)
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab)
Hunter, Mark (Cheadle) (LD)
Marris, Rob (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab)
Ryan, Joan (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe and Lunesdale) (Lab)
Smith, John (Vale of Glamorgan) (Lab)
Steen, Mr. Anthony (Totnes) (Con)
Wallace, Mr. Ben (Lancaster and Wyre) (Con)
Whitehead, Dr. Alan (Southampton, Test) (Lab)
John Benger, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

Third Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 19 March 2007

[Mr. Bill Olner in the Chair]

Draft Integration Loans for Refugees and Others Regulations 2007

4.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Joan Ryan): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Integration Loans for Refugees and Others Regulations 2007.
The regulations will introduce a system of integration loans for those recognised as refugees or given humanitarian protection, and for their dependants. For ease I shall refer to potential recipients as refugees, but I shall mean by that not only refugees but those with humanitarian protection and their dependants.
Section 13 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 enables the Government to set out in regulations a loans scheme aimed at helping refugees to integrate into UK society. That section was amended by section 45 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 to extend eligibility for the scheme to other categories of migrants, as prescribed.
When a refugee is first granted status, she or he normally enters a critical period of transition during which she or he needs to find accommodation, train or requalify and seek employment. As part of the integration process, an interest-free loan will make a considerable impact on the refugee’s ability to become established in the UK. It is intended that the loan should be spent on such things as deposits for accommodation, the purchase of the tools of a trade or vocational training.
The regulations establish who will be eligible to apply for an integration loan and the criteria against which applications for a loan will be considered. The opportunity to apply for an integration loan will be made available to any person aged 18 or over granted refugee status after the date on which the scheme is introduced. Successful applicants will be eligible to receive only one loan. Loans may be subject to conditions, and the regulations set out the types of conditions that may be applied. They also make provision for borrowers to enter into a loan agreement that details the conditions on which a loan is made, repayment terms and how terms may be amended if there is a change in the borrower’s circumstances.
A system of integration loans will be much fairer and more cost-effective than the arrangements that are currently in operation. Current legislation provides for those who are recorded as refugees—here I mean only refugees—to claim a back payment of the income-related benefits that they would have received, calculated from the day on which they first claimed asylum. Deductions are made from that sum equal to the value of any asylum support received in the meantime. No provision is currently made for those with other subsidiary status or for dependants.
Back payments are inherently unfair. The amount of money due to a refugee in backdated benefit is based solely on the time that they have spent awaiting a decision and bears no relation to the needs of the individual. The integration loans scheme will ensure better value for money by targeting resources at the refugees most in need, for specific purposes that will help their integration. The payment of a loan will not be automatic, and applicants must say what use they intend to make of it.
It is intended that the scheme will funded by the savings made through the abolition of back payments. The maximum loan payable will be capped at £1,000, while the minimum will be £100. Loan repayments will be recycled to ensure a continued fund for future refugees. The scheme will be closely monitored to assess its take-up rate and cost-effectiveness and will be jointly administered by the Home Office immigration and nationality directorate and the Department for Work and Pensions. That partnership will ensure that the administration of the scheme is as cost-effective as possible.
The Home Office is committed to the successful integration of refugees and recognises the potential vulnerability of those in that client group, many of whom have little or no experience of a culture of formal borrowing and repayment. Loans will be interest-free, with gentle repayment rates based on pre-existing arrangements that operate in the DWP. The existing expertise and safeguards built into DWP processes and legislation should deliver the policy intention of ensuring that repayment terms are tailored to the individual recipient’s circumstances. In particular, it is planned to recover the loans from those on income-related benefits by way of an amendment to the Social Security (Claims and Payments) Regulations 1987 and their equivalent in Northern Ireland.
The amount to be deducted from those on benefit will be consistent with deductions already in operation within the current framework. From 5 April, that will be £3 per week. If and when the regulations are approved by both Houses, amendments to the relevant DWP regulations will be laid. For borrowers in employment or not claiming any income-related benefits, rates of payment will be set in accordance with established DWP guidelines for other debts and overpayments.
The regulations make provision for repayment terms to be revised if a borrower’s circumstances change. Section 12 of the 2004 Act repeals the various pieces of primary and secondary legislation that enable the payment of backdated income-related benefits. That section will be commenced when the regulations have been approved by both Houses. That is in line with the commitment made during the passage of the 2004 Act that back payments would not be abolished until a loans scheme was introduced.
I believe that the introduction of integration loans will be an important step in helping refugees to find their feet in British society and to start contributing to our economy as soon as possible. I commend the regulations to the Committee.
4.36 pm
Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): I am grateful to the Minister for her explanation of what she sees as likely to happen when the system is introduced. However, at times, it bore a fairly tangential relation to the reality.
It is worth putting the regulations into perspective. First, we are talking about people who have been accepted as refugees, not any of the controversial groups that we spend our lives debating. Whatever people’s attitudes to immigration and asylum seeking in general, we all agree that refugees should be allowed to stay and make their lives in this country because they would be in danger in their home countries.
Secondly, slightly contrary to the Minister’s portrayal of the regulations as a generous loan system enabling refugees to stand on their own feet and integrate into life in this country, they will replace a benefit system with a loan system and so make life more difficult for those people. Whatever one’s view of the regulations, it is important to put that on the record. They will make life on the margins more difficult for genuine refugees.
I am fascinated by how the regulations will work in practice. I hope that the Minister will address that point. She blandly said that they will be monitored and operated by the Department for Work and Pensions. Anyone with experience of constituency correspondence with the DWP and some of the bodies for which it is responsible, such as the Child Support Agency, will find it hard to accept that that is a virtue of the scheme. It seems overwhelmingly likely that many of those involved in the loan scheme will be changing addresses a lot, for example; they will not have been in the country for very long and, as she said, will be setting themselves up in a job and meeting new people. Those are all complications. Many refugees will be entering employment for the first time and therefore changing their circumstances in ways that might affect the repayment of the loan. Some may be going in and out of employment and changing their circumstances and address in an extremely complex way. I must say that I do not share her confidence that the DWP will deal with that situation competently or smoothly.
I have another big question that I hope that the Minister will address this afternoon: how much is this system meant to save? She gave two figures—the£100 minimum and £1,000 maximum—but she did not give us the macro-picture. How much is being spent on the benefits now and how much will therefore be saved by not paying them? How much will be shelled out for the loans system in the early stages and when do the Government expect to get it back?
The regulations also need to be put in the context of the current squeeze that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is putting on the Home Office. We already know that immigration enforcement will be funded by the increase in visa charges on those coming to this country. It seems to me that the change that we are considering needs to be seen in that context—a Home Office that is desperately scrabbling around for money, because the Chancellor has frozen its budget before he announces the rest of the comprehensive spending review. This measure is another small way for the Home Office to try to grab some money back, in this case from genuine refugees.
It is genuinely important that the Committee, and therefore the House and the public, should know the size of this clawback from refugees. The Minister asserted that the current system of back payments was unfair, because those payments were based on the time that it had taken for somebody to have their asylum claim heard and approved, rather than on the need that they have for such payments. I would gently ask her a question: to whom is that system unfair? I suggest that it may be unfair to the Treasury, because the Treasury and therefore the taxpayer—this is not a frivolous or facetious point—currently have to pay for the Home Office’s incompetence regarding the time it takes to process what are, in some cases, quite straightforward asylum claims.
As constituency Members, we will all have had personal experience of asylum claims that go back five, six or seven years; many claims go back longer than the Government’s six-month target. I can therefore understand that, if people become eligible for back payments of benefits for such a period, they will receive cheques for quite considerable sums from the Treasury. I can also understand why the Treasury wants to change the system. However, to suggest, as I think the Minister was trying to do, that the present system is somehow unfair to the asylum claimants themselves is a bit rich, frankly. It is unfair to the taxpayer and to the Treasury, and it is an expense created by governmental and departmental incompetence, but it really is not unfair to those who receive the benefits.
The appropriate attitude to adopt towards these changes is one of benign scepticism. I can see why the Government want to introduce the regulations, but we need to take the decision in a clear-headed way, as this measure is essentially concerned with saving money for the Treasury.
4.42 pm
Mr. Jeremy Browne (Taunton) (LD): I should like to start by echoing some comments made by the previous speaker, who said that we must remember that the category of people that we are talking about is refugees—people who will quite often have come to this country in extremely straitened circumstances and be suffering considerable distress. Within all groups of people moving from one country to another, there are examples of abuse of the system and I do not think that anyone would claim otherwise. However, we ought to assume that people who have applied for and been granted refugee status are legitimate claimants and view their cases in those terms.
On viewing such cases in those terms, it seems extraordinary to me, as it would if I were a Labour Member who had sat in this House for 10 years under a Labour Government, that such measures are being introduced. Had I been elected as a Labour Member in 1997, I would not have imagined that I would be brought along to such a Committee to ensure that money was clawed back from acknowledged refugees to try to save money in times of straitened budgetary circumstances. I should like to work through a few of the reasons why I suspect that many Labour Members serving on this Committee will be extremely uncomfortable about supporting this measure—and I would expect them to be uncomfortable, because I know that many Members serving on this Committee are genuinely concerned about such issues.
For a start, we are talking about a loan. The Government state:
“The integration loans are to be funded by savings made from the abolition of back-dating of income related benefits.”
As was noted by the previous speaker, we are discussing removing a benefit—a cash entitlement, as it were—and replacing it with a loan, so it is difficult to see immediately the legitimacy of the savings correlation. I would be extremely interested to know what assessment the Minister has made of the overall savings that will result from this initiative. She spoke about achieving “better value for money”—I quote her directly—so one assumes that there has been an assessment of how much money the Government will save by introducing these measures, but I have difficulty imagining that it will be a substantial amount in return for the pain that it may cause individual applicants.
The Minister also said—this was the least reassuring part of her opening remarks—that the measures would be administered in a way that nobody on the Committee need be too concerned about. Admittedly, I have been a Member of Parliament for just under two years, but overwhelmingly the biggest category of people who come to see me at my weekly surgeries do so because of their exasperation and frustration with incompetent Government administration, whether in the form of the Child Support Agency or the Chancellor’s greatest achievement, tax credits—
The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman is straying wide of the mark.
Mr. Browne: Tax credits, the Child Support Agency or other functions of Government administration—
The Chairman: That is the last time that you mention that.
Mr. Browne: In such areas, people often feel that they have not received a service to the highest administrative standard. I shall leave it at that, but I hope that the Minister is confident on that matter.
I worry that people who apply for the loans will be deterred by having to fill in forms. In many cases, they may be deterred by language barriers; anxiety about the process that they are being asked to undergo; lack of familiarity with the currency; or anxiety about incurring debts, particularly in a country with whose banking system or other such procedures they are unfamiliar with.
The Government have given assurances that the loans will be processed within a respectable time; I will be interested to hear from the Minister some clarification about how long she thinks the process will take, how the loans will be administered and the amount of money that will be saved. For all those reasons, unless she says something so compelling that it requires us to change our minds, my party will oppose the statutory instrument.
4.47 pm
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Olner.
I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Member for Taunton, but as a Labour Member I do not have a problem with the regulations. I have one or two questions that I should like to put to the Minister to clarify matters. First, what will be the position of asylum seekers who have ordered their affairs currently on the calculation that they will get a back payment of benefits on being granted refugee status, in a sense taking a gamble that they will get it, who will now not get the back payment and will have to apply for a loan with all the attached conditions?
Secondly, I understand from regulation 11 that joint applications can be made and that both parties to such an application must be eligible. One thinks of two refugees who are husband and wife, for example. Will the maximum for a joint application be £2,000, or will those individuals be disadvantaged? I am not saying that every couple would get £2,000, but given that the maximum for one person is £1,000, is the maximum for a joint application £2,000?
My other points relate to English for speakers of other languages. I should like the Minister’s reassurance that refugees will not be expected to take out a loan to pay for ESOL courses. I know that that is not directly within her Department, but I imagine that it has been considered with regard to the regulations. Coupled with that is a point related to one made by the hon. Member for Taunton. Under the proposed changes that the Department for Education and Skills is discussing, which are likely to go through as they are Government proposals, asylum seekers whose applications are being processed will not be eligible for ESOL courses, unlike under the current system. An asylum seeker who becomes a refugee will therefore be less likely than current asylum seekers, who can access ESOL courses, to have any command of English. That leads us on to the issue of refugees who have been asylum seekers and have not had access to ESOL courses, who will then have to cope with form filling and so on to go through the DWP. I say, parenthetically, that I do not have a problem with the DWP administering the scheme jointly with the Home Office. I stand open to correction, but presumably the DWP handles the back payment of benefits anyway, and I am not aware of any problems with it. I do not have asylum seekers who have been confirmed as refugees coming to my surgery about problems with back payments, and I would not expect there to be a problem with the proposals.
My final point, which was adverted to by the hon. Members for Ashford and for Taunton, is how much the rotating fund—I think that that is the expression the Minister used—will be. I understand that under the regulations, in contradistinction to the current position, in humanitarian cases which are not, strictly speaking, asylum seeker or refugee cases, those being granted leave to remain on humanitarian grounds will be eligible for the loans. I think that such people are not currently eligible under the back-payment scheme. That will have an effect on the magnitude of the rotating fund. I hope that the Minister will be able to shed some light on that matter when she replies to the debate.
4.51 pm
Joan Ryan: I must say that I am very surprised by some of the comments made by Opposition Members, who will, like me, know that applications for asylum were down by 75 per cent. in quarter 4 of 2006 and that applications are at their lowest level since 1993. As to people being in the asylum system and waiting for a decision, obviously the longer they wait the higher their back payment becomes. That is not necessarily related to need in any way.
The need for refugee integration support of people who wait a much shorter time might be just as great, if not greater, than that of people who have waited a long time for their decision, yet they do not get fair treatment. As so many people are now dealt with so much more quickly, back payments would be at a much lower rate anyway. This is therefore a sensible time for the proposal, especially as it has been on the cards for a considerable time. Most people have known since 2005 that it would be introduced, so it is not a shock; it has not happened because of some sudden Treasury issue that may or may not exist.
What we propose is a much fairer system; people wait a much shorter time now than in the past because of the introduction of the end-to-end system in the IND and the new asylum model. The likelihood now when someone gets refugee status is that they have been in the country for a much shorter period than was previously the case and their need for an integration loan should be assessed at that time.
We are very conscious of integration needs, and so we should be. Across the House, there has been debate about the need to ensure that integration measures are in place, as they are important for the refugee, for the wider society and for the community as a whole. The measure will enable us to take account of those integration needs in respect of matters such as accommodation, employment and education.
Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): I have just two questions for the Minister. The first arises from her statement that the previous structure of benefits was not related to need. They were income-related benefits, as far as I understand it, which suggests that they were related to need and that there would have been some assessment of the individuals receiving them. Will she please clarify exactly what she meant by that? Secondly, and more importantly, I have been unable to identify any cost-benefit analysis of the regulations. That is linked to the questions put to her by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford and the hon. Member for Taunton. Can she give us a figure for the costs and benefits to the taxpayer?
Joan Ryan: Let me tell the hon. Gentleman, his hon. Friend the Member for Ashford and the hon. Member for Taunton that the DWP in fact does not record back-payment spend, but on the basis of a model developed to calculate an estimate, a budget transfer of £5 million has been agreed for 2007-08 and the budget will be reviewed on a yearly basis.
Damian Green: Will the Minister give way?
Joan Ryan: I shall do so shortly when I have covered some of the points that have already been made. I presume that hon. Members asked me questions because they wanted me to answer them. I shall come to my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West and his questions in a moment.
I say to the hon. Member for Taunton that if people are on benefits, the DWP will know their address for the benefit payments system—a point that was also raised by the hon. Member for Ashford. Obviously people not paying back their loan will not be an issue in those cases. If people are not on benefits, they will have made a commitment to provide details of any change in address or circumstances in their loan agreement. Obviously, there are sanctions if people do not pay back their loan; the loan would become payable in full if that was the case and we would be able to take enforcement action in the usual way.
Damian Green: Can the Minister repeat what I think she just told the Committee? I think she said that the DWP is paying out benefits to a group of people and does not know how much it has paid out. Specifically, she said that it does not count it and does not know how much it has paid out. In that case, several members of this Committee may well go straight from this sitting to the National Audit Office to ask it to investigate the matter. If it is the case, it is appalling.
Joan Ryan: The hon. Gentleman asked about the impact on individuals. The payments received by individuals will in certain circumstances be lower than if those individuals were in receipt of a back payment. Therefore, the impact of this change would be potentially to save resources on back payments.
Mr. Blunt: Will the Minister give way?
Joan Ryan: Not at the moment.
However, that is not the purpose of this scheme. The purpose of the measure is to introduce a loan scheme of which all refugees, including people on humanitarian protection, whom my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West mentioned, will be able to take advantage and which will address their integration needs.
To clarify the point, what I actually said was that the DWP does not record back-payment spend. To clarify that for the hon. Member for Ashford, I should explain that it does not record back-payment spend separately. It is not that it is not accounted for; it is simply that it is not recorded separately. Whatever he chooses to do at the end of the sitting, however, is of course a matter for him.
Rob Marris: As I understand it, what the Minister is saying—perhaps she could confirm this—is that the DWP does not keep separate records of back payments made to asylum seekers who become refugees, bearing in mind that there are back payments of benefits to other individuals who are not asylum seekers or refugees but are UK citizens who are applying for benefits and, for whatever reason, get back payments. She may or may not know, as she is not a DWP Minister, but the DWP will have records of back payments, although it may not disaggregate them with regard to asylum seekers who have become refugees and other individuals who are quite properly claiming and who get back payments.
Joan Ryan: My hon. Friend is exactly right. The spend is recorded as part of a larger record of benefit spend.
Mr. Blunt: Will the Minister give way?
Joan Ryan: I shall, but I think I will make it the last time that I do so before I move on to answer some of the other points that were raised.
Mr. Blunt: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, although I am slightly concerned that she is not going to do so again. There is plenty of time, and this is an important issue. Is not even some form of estimate kicking around inside Government as to what the savings will be? It is beyond comprehension that the Government could have introduced a set of regulations without the first idea of the savings or whether there will be additional costs. She says merely that she expects that there will be savings, because there would have been considerable back payments to asylum seekers and those sums would have been rather greater than the maximum loan of £1,000. However, she must do better than that. She must give the Committee at least an estimate of the amount that the measure will either save or cost the taxpayer.
Joan Ryan: I think that I have made clear the reason for the change, and why we wish to introduce integration loans. I have also made it absolutely clear that of course records are kept, but the back-payment amount is recorded as part of a larger record of benefit spend. That is perfectly understandable, and I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman is having difficulty with it. I would also say that, as I have explained, the calculated estimate that he has asked for is a budget transfer of £5 million agreed for 2007-08. The budget will then be reviewed annually. I had already made the point that the transfer would be made from the DWP to the Home Office in order to cover the first year of the scheme.
Mr. Browne: Will the Minister give way?
Joan Ryan: I shall do so shortly. As loans are made and repaid, the money will then recycle and rotate—as repayments come in, further loans can be made. I think that that is a perfectly acceptable system, and it is also perfectly understandable.
Let me come to some of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West. We seek to start the scheme on 10 April 2007, so it will begin shortly. Anybody who gets their decision after that date will be included in it. It could have been introduced in 2005, so it is not a measure of which people have been unaware.
Mr. Blunt: On a point of order, Mr. Olner. The Minister has given no explanation of the impact of the regulations on the taxpayer. She is refusing to give that kind of information to the Committee. How can we be in a position to make a decision on the regulations in these circumstances? Have you ever in your experience as a Committee Chairman come across a similar state of affairs?
The Chairman: I am very aware of political interventions, and I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that that is not a point of order for the Chair; it is a point of debate.
Joan Ryan: Thank you, Mr. Olner.
I think that I have fully covered the estimate of costs, the estimate of previous spend and how the scheme will be financed. I have been very open with the Committee about how the scheme will work, as I would expect to be. [ Interruption. ] I shall give way further in a moment, but having been asked an array of questions, I think that I should give the Committee some answers.
There is nothing hidden, strange or unusual in the financial information that has been made available to Opposition Members. I do not think that, other than showing some manufactured indignation, they have managed to point out anything that would give anybody any real cause for concern.
Mr. Browne: Will the Minister give way?
Joan Ryan: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman, who seems very keen to get in.
Mr. Browne: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way on this crucial point. In her introductory remarks, she told the Committee that the measures provide “better value for money” than the existing arrangements. Therefore, I expected to hear first how much was currently being spent on back payments—the separate calculation that she seems to be unable to provide—and secondly an assessment of the cost of the interview process and the administrative burden that will go with assessing who is eligible for loans of what size. Thirdly, I expected to hear how many people she expects to qualify for the loan and at what level, as some people will be eligible for £100 and some for £1,000. Fourthly, I expected to hear in what time she expects the loans to be repaid and how much interest the Treasury will incur if they are interest-free. It seems reasonable that all those calculations should be put before the Committee so that we can assess whether the scheme will offer better value for money, as she put it.
Joan Ryan: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has been bothering to listen at all to anything that has been said. If somebody applies for an integration loan, an assessment will be made of whether they should be entitled to £100 or anything more than that up to £1,000. I clearly cannot tell him here and now exactly how many people will be entitled to any particular amount between those figures.
Mr. Blunt: On a point of order, Mr. Olner. Would it not be an abuse of the Committee and of Parliament if there were an existing estimate inside the Government, subsequently discovered under a Freedom of Information Act 2000 request, that had been denied the Committee by the Minister in our proceedings today?
The Chairman: I have to say from the Chair that I think the Minister is trying to answer the debate as honestly as she possibly can. I am sure that if anything else comes to light further to the debate, it will not be a problem for it to be published.
Mr. Blunt: Further to that point of order, Mr. Olner. If there is information in the Department that has been requested by the Committee in the course of its proceedings and is not produced, but is then subsequently ascertained under the Freedom of Information Act, is that a form of abuse of the Committee and of Parliament?
The Chairman: That is not a question for the Chair. It is a question of procedure, and as I far as I am concerned, the Minister is answering as honourably as she can. The hon. Gentleman has pressed her hard, and that will come out in the debate.
Joan Ryan: Thank you, Mr. Olner.
I shall cover some of the other points that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West made. He asked a question about married couples, implicit in which was the assumption that one loan would be available on that basis. If that was his assumption, he was correct. He also asked about ESOL, and he is right that the scheme will in no way affect a refugee’s right to the arrangements that the DFES is putting in place. However, that does not mean that an applicant for a loan cannot specify that they wish to use the loan for further access to English provision of one type or another. That will not be precluded.
The way in which the regulations have been received by Opposition Members is unfortunate. They are concerned that somebody is trying to hide some figures from them, but I assure them that I am trying to hide nothing whatever.
Mark Hunter (Cheadle) (LD): Will the Minister give way?
Joan Ryan: Not at the moment; I shall do so shortly.
I was asked how long we expect people to take to pay back their loans. We think that five years is adequate, but clearly, as with DWP rules for other loans, a degree of discretion and flexibility would be exercised when considering a refugee’s individual circumstances.
Mr. Browne: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but still we have not heard any numbers, which is the crucial problem. However, let me very briefly try a separate tack. She has not run through with the Committee the type of requirements that would be deemed suitable in order for a person to access a loan. In passing, she mentioned employment, education and accommodation, but is there a more specific list of requirements that would satisfy the person conducting the interview as to which reasons were legitimate for accessing a loan and which would be regarded as insufficiently worthy to warrant that sort of financial arrangement?
Joan Ryan: Obviously, it was not in passing that I covered those three requirements; they are three of the most important needs for refugees when applying for such a loan. However, each of those areas could contain a range of options. The form will allow for a separate reason not covered by those three areas. A refugee could outline something completely different, which would then have to be assessed. The IND and DWP guidance for a person considering a loan is that that reason should be able to be categorised as an integration purpose, which is why those three categories are the main guide.
The hon. Member for Taunton also referred once again to the figures. I have given the Committee today all the figures that I have available. I am not trying to withhold any figures from Opposition Members, including the hon. Member for Reigate in particular. Those that I provided for the basis of the model, how it was calculated and the estimate are correct. I am not seeking to mislead the Committee, and I hope that hon. Members are satisfied with that.
I think that I have covered most of the points raised. Those who fall into the category of humanitarian protection do not receive back payments, but will be able to apply for a loan. The hon. Member for Taunton suggested that we are uncomfortable with the measures, but my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West pointed out that he was not uncomfortable—and neither am I. We have put quite a lot of work into the measure to ensure that it meets the needs of refugees and of the wider community. That is important to bear in mind.
Looking a little further down the tracks, we have consulted on refugee integration provision across the board and we are looking to ensure that at the point of decision, refugees will be able to access an advice and support service similar to the SUNRISE—strategic upgrade of national refugee integration services—service, of which hon. Members may be aware. We hope that within that service, the SUNRISE workers will be able to advise refugees about this provision and how they can access it.
Overall, these are good regulations. They will make a difference to the lives of refugees at a very important time. The scope of the regulations is bigger than that, however, because good integration is crucial to all of us in society. I therefore commend the regulations to the Committee.
Question put:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 8, Noes 2.
Division No. 1 ]
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Dobbin, Jim
Gwynne, Andrew
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Marris, Rob
Ryan, Joan
Smith, Geraldine
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Hunter, Mark
Question accordingly agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Integration Loans for Refugees and Others Regulations 2007.
Committee rose at seventeen minutes pastFive o’clock.

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 20 March 2007