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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I believe I heard at the tail end of the noble Baroness's speech the words "we shall review it". That is certainly a long way short of what I remember being assailed with day after day when we took the Bill through your Lordships' House. Indeed, "reviewing" seems to be the policy for everything as far as the party opposite is concerned. I notice that at least I have made some progress, which is more than my colleagues in the other place have managed to do, in that I have some kind of statement from the noble Baroness that the party opposite will review the jobseeker's allowance. Therefore, I am not surprised that poor Mr. Meacher was reprimanded for
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I apologise to the Minister for interrupting so early. Our difficulty is that all the evidence shows that the financial situation that the Labour government will inherit appears to be deteriorating by the day. Only when we see the books can we know what we can afford to do.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, that is a good try, but the books are clear. Every year we publish what is called, the Red Book. I commend the noble Baroness to read it where she will see the situation. It is the lamest of lame excuses that her party cannot make up their minds on policy until they win the election. That will not go down very well. Talk about buying a pig in a poke! As I was about to say, my recollection is that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who is sorry that he cannot be here this evening, made it very clear that if his party were to gain power or to gain influence, it would abolish the jobseeker's allowance. I suspect that he retains that position. Anyway, we have had a commitment that the Opposition will review it. It does not sound as though they are as concerned about the jobseeker's allowance as some of their rhetoric might lead one to believe. However, I welcome that half-conversion that the scheme is so well founded that a review is all that will be necessary to keep it going.
Turning to the regulations, I have tried to explain why we need them. They are largely minor and, essentially, we need them for three reasons: first, to replicate recent income support changes in JSA. Those changes have occurred since we brought forward the JSA regulations. One of those changes is that mentioned by the noble Baroness and relates to persons from abroad and asylum-seekers. I shall come to that in a moment.
The second reason is that following the passage of the regulations, the Central Adjudication Service started work on them and has advised us that some amendments are necessary to ensure that there is no confusion over interpretation. I should have thought that that was a sensible way for government to proceed in the interests of both good administration and customer service.
The third reason is that a few typographical and cross-referencing errors occurred in the main regulations. Indeed, I recall pointing one out when we dealt with those regulations earlier this year. We have taken this opportunity to put right those errors. I think that those are perfectly reasonable reasons for bringing forward the regulations.
I turn now to implementation. We have always made it clear that it is our intention to implement JSA in October as planned and we are holding to the timetable. The noble Baroness will be happy to hear that trials are running successfully in 29 offices. Those trials are a valuable step in our preparations for the introduction of JSA as we seek to ensure that a high quality service continues and that staff are fully prepared when JSA is implemented in October. Training is a very important aspect of social security matters and is being delivered on schedule to all staff in response to their detailed training needs as analysed.
Work on the IT systems is continuing and is progressing on schedule. We have said for more than a year that we are retaining the other two systems--the National Unemployment Benefit System (NUBS2) and the Income Support Computer System (ISCS)--to reduce the risk which anybody who knows about computers is aware accompanies any large-scale new computer system. Existing claims on 7th October will remain on those systems. New claims will be handled on the new system (JSAPS). We shall move gradually from three computer payment systems to a single computer payment system by August 1997. However, there will be a seamless service for jobseekers who will certainly not be aware that three systems are in operation.
The noble Baroness drew your Lordships' attention to the error rate with income support. We are, indeed, concerned about that error rate and are looking at the reasons for it and at the ways in which we can improve upon that situation. It is exactly that which has led us to believe that the far-reaching change programme on which we have embarked in the Department of Social Security must play a key part in reducing that error rate. Frankly, our system is far too complex. It is often driven by the demands of various very small groups which want everything tailored to the very last dot and comma. That complexity alone leads to errors. We are looking for ways to simplify the whole system so that it is fair and can deliver benefits quickly, efficiently and correctly. I hope that, as the years progress, the noble Baroness will applaud our work on the change programme.
I turn now to persons from abroad. The amendments simply bring JSA into line with the changes introduced with regard to income support. If people from abroad apply for asylum at the port of entry, they will be eligible for income support, but naturally they will not have to consider JSA until they have been here for at least six months and until they have asked for and been granted leave to seek work. I suspect that very few will make that move.
On costs and the general point about asylum seekers, we are working with local authorities with regard to some of the costs that may arise for them initially because of the changes that we have made. Of course, there will be great savings to them when the number of people who come here seeking asylum and are proved to have no justifiable grounds for the granting of asylum or of exceptional leave to remain is reduced. There will be great savings for local authorities when that flow decreases, as it has done over the years for most of our European friends. When that flow decreases, which I hope will happen as quickly as it has increased over the past seven to eight years, not only will we be able to deal with applications much more speedily, including appeals, but local authorities will find that they save a great deal of money--
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the noble Baroness knows very well that our European friends are all those other members with which we share the European Union, as well as Norway and some other countries in Eastern Europe which are not yet members of the European Union, including Slovenia, which one day we hope to welcome. Many of those countries, with perhaps the exception of Germany, have seen a quite dramatic reduction in the number of their asylum-seekers, following the firm steps that they have had to take following considerable increases earlier.
I know that the noble Baroness will be more than delighted to learn that comparing month for month last year and this year we have seen a steady and gradual decrease in the number of asylum applications. Indeed, the figures for May show a reduction of 49.16 per cent. from 3,450 in May 1995 to 1,754 in May 1996. If that trend continues, what I said when I introduced the regulations on asylum-seekers will, indeed, come about. We shall be able to deal much more speedily with asylum-seekers' first applications with appeals also. Local authorities and others will be saved a great deal of money because they will no longer have to look after the large numbers of people who come here who have no justifiable grounds for the asylum that they seek.
It seems to me that the early figures are encouraging. As I have already explained to the House, most of those who come here are, understandably, economic migrants who see this country as a far better place in which to live than their country of origin.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister can answer another two questions about asylum-seekers. What is the Government's current estimate of the net saving and what percentage of asylum-seekers do the Government expect to fall within the local authorities' remit in terms of the Children Act 1989?
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, it is difficult to judge how many people will fall within that remit. If the decline that I have quoted from last year's May to this year's May continues, the number of people coming within the ambit of a local authority in that regard will fall considerably.
As I have said in this House--and as my right honourable friends have said down the corridor--we have promised that we shall help local authorities with unavoidable additional costs which, to be honest, have still to be seen. We have already agreed how that will be calculated with the local authorities. We shall have to see how much money we shall have to give local authorities in order to help them over the problem, as opposed to the £200 million which we estimate will be the benefit saving from not paying benefit to people who apply in-country, who are found not to be genuine asylum-seekers or not to justify the granting of exceptional leave to remain and who appeal. They are no longer eligible for benefit. Against that benefit saving of £200 million, social services and housing authorities will have to spend some money. We have been negotiating on that with the local authorities. We have made clear what we are prepared to
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