|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Earl Russell: There is sense in the proposition that we are here because we are here because we are here. That proposition applies to the homeless just as much as to anyone else. If someone is homeless in this country, it really will not be of immediate assistance to that person if he may possibly have a place where he might be living in Pakistan or Nigeria, because the person is here and here is where he happens to be homeless. If there is to be an insistence that the person withdraws and occupies the accommodation in Pakistan, Nigeria or wherever, he may have a good deal of difficulty in getting there. That may involve the Home Office finding the costs of deporting the person. That is really quite unnecessary.
We are not only concerned here with asylum seekers. Plenty of people--perhaps British subjects who have gone to live abroad--may perhaps come back to this country for such an innocent purpose as visiting their aged mother. Let us suppose that she dies and the place that she was occupying is on a life tenancy. The person who visited her may find himself suddenly homeless and may need, even if only for a period of two months--possibly for a temporary reason to do with his work--accommodation in this country. I do not see the useful purpose to be served by putting him on the street rather than allowing him to have the same attention paid to his housing need as anyone else who lives here. If people are here, they are here, and the Government have to deal with that fact. They cannot pretend that those people do not exist. This is an excellent amendment and I hope it will be accepted.
Lord Monkswell: In rising to support my noble friend on this amendment, I paint a slightly different scenario. A young man of 19 or 20 is born in this country and has probably grown up here and lived here all his life. However, his parents have emigrated to Australia. For most of his life he lived with his parents. The local authority to which he applies because he is
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: As noble Lords have indicated, the amendment seeks to remove the phrase "or elsewhere" from Clause 156. The original 1977 Act contained no such definition. The reason for putting the provision into the Bill is that there is no reason why someone who has voluntarily left accommodation in another country in which he or she could have continued to live should be regarded as homeless for the purposes of domestic United Kingdom legislation.
The suggestion was made that the clause could impact on people with family connections outside the United Kingdom but who have lived and worked here for many years and who may have children who were born here. Furthermore, fears were expressed, in this Chamber by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and elsewhere, that black and ethnic minority applicants were likely to be affected most, although the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, seemed to think that it might affect Australians.
That is not our intention, nor do I believe that the provisions can be misinterpreted in such a way. The purpose of the clause as drafted is simply to ensure that a person with accommodation overseas should not be able to leave it voluntarily and then rely on the homelessness legislation to gain a second address in this country. The clause will not interfere with the right to assistance under the homelessness provisions for those applicants who have a right to be housed in the United Kingdom.
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, made much of "he's here because he's here because he's here", saying that one could not pretend that the situation did not exist. Equally, one cannot pretend that a house elsewhere, which that person could perfectly reasonably occupy, does not exist. The house may be in Europe, possibly France. We may all know people who have houses in France or in southern parts of Europe. In what will be only a minority of cases--the number will be small--I do not believe that it is right to turn a blind eye to the fact that the person has a house that he or she can occupy.
For example, last February there were press reports of a woman of dual nationality who had been given a grant under the DoE sponsored "cash incentive" scheme which she used to buy a house in her country of origin. Those grants are no longer available for overseas purchases. She lived there for a while but then returned to this country and subsequently presented herself as homeless. The High Court found that she was owed a duty under the homelessness legislation, a decision which Camden Council described as "bizarre". That is exactly the situation the Government wish to avoid.
Earl Russell: I am surprised at the depth of the localism of the Minister's picture of the world. It is rather like the Hampstead alderman in the days before Camden who said, "Do you mean to say that our ratepayers are paying rates to pay for public conveniences for the convenience of people from other boroughs?" People cross boundaries a great deal more often than the Minister suggests.
Let me take a concrete example. Let us suppose that the present Secretary of State at some future time should be without employment. Suppose at some future time his present house should be burned down. Would it be reasonable to say that the Secretary of State would be entirely unentitled to help because he had a home elsewhere in France? That place is not his normal centre of business, nor where he would look for future employment.
That kind of localism is remarkable. With the increasing freedom of travel in the world, people move about it: they have relatives in some parts of it, business interests in other parts of it, and occupations in other parts. If we are to go back to a world where everyone has to be shut in within their own little boundaries, we will do a great deal to discourage economic growth, culture and interchange. We will go back to a picture of this country under the old Poor Laws where everyone was sent back to their home parish. The Minister shakes his head, but the cases are exactly parallel. If that restraint had gone on, all the economic growth which the country experienced during the Industrial Revolution would have been impossible. It is exactly the same kind of localism as is being put forward here. In neither case is it capable of working. The Minister should notice how the world works. It is not like that.
Lord Monkswell: Perhaps the Minister could help me in the case that I suggested. The parents of a young man of 20 had emigrated to Australia. They have to be contacted by the local authority to see whether they can accommodate their son. They have a reasonable sized house with a spare room, so they are in a dilemma. If they say: "Yes, we can accommodate our son", the local authority will not be required to treat him as homeless. On the other hand, the parents could lie and even though
Lord Dubs: Having listened to the Minister, I wish that I had Hansard in front of me. I thought he said something interesting when he referred to Clause 157(4), stating that if an asylum seeker made a claim for asylum, it would be all right because the provisions of the paragraph would apply. I was delighted to hear it because he spent most of the earlier debates saying that many asylum seekers did not have a proper claim. In any case, until the claim was properly tested and accepted by the Home Office, they would have no entitlements. I believe that the Minister has made a concession, if I heard him properly. Perhaps he wishes to rebut that.
Lord Dubs: No, I am not getting confused. I accepted as a general principle what the Minister said about the right of people who claim asylum to certain entitlements. I thought it was a good principle. However, perhaps I should not pursue it too far in case the Minister withdraws what he said.
There are difficulties. I understand what the Minister said, that if someone clearly has a home and no particular reason to leave it but arrives in Britain asking for accommodation, then there is a difficulty. The trouble is that most examples are likely to be the other way. At the least, they are likely to put local authorities in a difficult position. I give the Minister one example. Suppose a family arrives from Iraq, claiming asylum. The local authority may well say: "We are not sure about your claim, you have a perfectly good house in Baghdad, what are you doing here?" The danger is that an investigation by the local authority as to the circumstances in the country that the people left might well be damaging to them or to other members of their family who are still there. It would cause all kinds of difficulties.
I do not suggest that local authorities would actually do that. They would have the sense not to. But there may be other examples in other countries where a simple investigation which might be innocuous in some countries could be quite lethal in its consequences for the relatives or friends of the individuals who fled. So there are difficulties.
I fear that the Minister is not to be persuaded. He is adding to the statute book a measure that will mean great difficulty for local authorities. It will place upon them a burden out of all proportion to any possible benefit and will do a lot of harm to most people who