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Lord Dubs: I wish to make two points in relation to the Minister's remarks. First, whatever the argument about the number who will, or will not, win an appeal--I concede that at present the majority do not--the fact is that the justice of an appeals system is denied. If people are unable to function, if they have nowhere to live while awaiting an appeal, then it may be very difficult for them to stay in this country and exercise their right of appeal.

As the noble Earl said, there are wider issues at stake than simply the technical point made by the Minister that people are using the time it takes to reach appeal as a way of staying here. The implication is that some appeals have not been very well founded.

Justice has its price. The price of justice is surely protection of the rights of all individuals so that those who will win an appeal are not penalised because of others whom the Minister says should not have their rights while waiting for the appeal date.

My second point concerns the number of people who will be affected. I am trying to remember some of the details of the Asylum and Immigration Bill, with which the Minister will be as familiar as anybody. It contains changes to the appeals system as a result of which fewer people will be allowed to exercise an in-country right of appeal than would have been able to do so. The Minister's argument loses some of its force if the Asylum and Immigration Bill goes through in its present form. Therefore the rights of justice would seem to me to loom larger than they might otherwise have done.

The Minister's position is not very convincing. I wonder whether he would care to comment on the fact that the effect of the Asylum and Immigration Bill will be to reduce the number of people who can give effect to a right of appeal in this country and therefore he need not be so worried as he said he was about people who might be abusing the system in his terms.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am having some difficulty at the moment in running two Bills at the same time. I am afraid that I cannot immediately give the noble Lord an answer to the particular point he raised at the end of his remarks. It is certainly true that anyone who appeals in country for asylum does not receive any benefit and is not eligible to be considered under the homelessness legislation. They are still considered by the Home Office for eligibility for asylum or exceptional leave to remain. Certainly, if they are refused, they are able to appeal, although they still do not get onto the benefit system. Perhaps the noble Lord is thinking of the fast tracking system. That is what I jotted down. To be honest with the noble Lord and the Committee, I cannot just recall the appeal procedure on the fast track, and so I cannot confirm or deny what he said.

I was beginning to wonder whether the lateness of the hour was affecting the noble Earl when he asked how I could tell who was going to be successful and who was not. I then realised that he asked the question in order to answer it himself; the answer being, of course, that I could not tell. That is true. If we could

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tell, we should have been able to make a much finer judgment on the whole question of asylum seekers and their continuing right after they had been turned down by the Home Office for the first time. Would that there were a method by which we could look into the future and foretell the outcome of their appeal! But there is not. I do not feel that it is a question of guilt or innocence. It is simply a matter of whether or not the person satisfies the various international legal definitions which give them the right to be considered as asylum seekers or give them exceptional leave to remain in this country. I do not believe that it is quite comparable to the law.

Moreover, it means that people from abroad--asylum seekers--are put on all fours with ordinary citizens of the United Kingdom who wish to appeal against a decision on benefit. As Members of the Committee will know, during the course of that appeal UK citizens whose application for benefit has been turned down do not get benefits. So, in fact, persons from abroad seeking asylum to that extent are on all fours with United Kingdom citizens lodging benefit appeals.

I know that both noble Lords who have spoken do not agree with me on that point. We have been over it a number of times and I have tried to explain the logic of the Government's position, which I believe is well founded. If we could only get the numbers down and begin to clear cases much more quickly than we are able to do, with the very considerable numbers who have been coming over the past few years, we should be able to make much more rapid decisions.

Earlier today, one noble Lord pointed out, in response to a suggestion that people could disperse themselves around the UK, that people from abroad--asylum seekers--by and large want to live in that area of the country (usually in the city) where their compatriots have settled and will be around them. It seems to me that in the majority of cases it is to those compatriots that people can and do look for sustenance during the course of their appeal and indeed during the course of their original application if they apply in country.

Earl Russell: At this time of the night it was a little perverse of the Minister to tempt me and the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, into the byway of discussing the way appeals against refusal of benefit are treated in this country. I shall resist that temptation.

I am grateful to the Minister for his admission that he cannot know whose appeals are going to succeed. In making that admission, he admitted that he is going to do injustice to genuine claimants. Having made that admission, he should withdraw the Government's proposal.

Lord Dubs: I do not find the Government's argument to be in any way persuasive--not because he is not totally familiar with the details of the legislation (I am sure none of us are on top of the

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details of that), but in terms of the principles the amendment seeks to address. But perhaps I can make one brief point.

It is not good enough to say that because refugees and asylum seekers coming here are supported in many instances by refugee community organisations, those organisations can look after the consequences of people who have nowhere to live because of the Government's measures. With the best will in the world, refugee community organisations are poor. They provide valuable work for asylum seekers and refugees and valuable support in a cultural, linguistic and religious sense. They do not normally have the resources with which to house people and it is disingenuous of the Minister to suggest that. He is not to be persuaded. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 265AB to 265ZBA not moved.]

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 265BA:

Page 96, line 39, leave out subsection (3).

The noble Earl said: This amendment proposes to delete from the Bill the condition which ties entitlement to help with homelessness to the housing benefit regulations. At the same time I should like to speak to Amendment No. 265BB grouped with it, which states:

    "The regulations shall not apply to a person who is not unlawfully in the United Kingdom".
That seems to me to be the nub of the whole issue. If people are entitled to be here, then they are entitled to help. Indeed, one might say that if they have to be here, they are entitled to help.

It does not make sense to let people come here and then make them starve when they have got here. I simply cannot understand why the Government think that those are consistent things to do. Or at least I can understand it: they cannot deny those people the right to come here because they are bound by international law; but they believe, quite possibly wrongly, that they are not bound by international law to afford them any social protection when they come here. That will become a matter of a great variety of cases in a great variety of international tribunals, and the Government may well lose some of them.

I really must say that of all the things British governments have done in my lifetime, I cannot remember any which have made me quite so ashamed of my country as this has done. I beg to move.

11 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Perhaps I may first apologise to the noble Earl. I tempted him into thinking that he had to deal with Amendment No. 265B because I had it mixed up in my notes with the two amendments to which he has just spoken.

We have already gone over a good deal of this territory. The main purpose of the provisions on eligibility for assistance under Part VII is to enable

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entitlement to assistance under the homelessness legislation to be aligned with entitlement to housing benefit.

Since 1994, under social security regulations, certain categories of person from abroad have not been entitled to housing benefit. The descriptions of person that the Government intend to prescribe in the regulations under Clause 165 as being ineligible for assistance under Part VII will be precisely the categories of person who have no entitlement to housing benefit. In other words, we are aligning the two descriptions--the homelessness description with the housing benefit description.

Broadly, these are: first, a person who requires leave to enter or remain in the UK under the Immigration Act 1971, and who is: an illegal entrant, an overstayer or a person given temporary admission; or a person who sought asylum after entering the United Kingdom (except where an asylum claim is made within three months of a declaration by the Secretary of State that his country of origin has undergone an upheaval) and who has no other leave to remain in this country; or a person whose claim for asylum has received an adverse decision by the Home Office--we have already discussed that case--or a visitor, student or other person given limited leave to enter or remain on the basis that he could support and accommodate himself without recourse to public funds; or the subject of a sponsorship agreement made within the previous five years, and whose sponsor is still alive; secondly, a person from abroad who fails a test of habitual residence in the UK; and, lastly, a person who is a citizen of a member country of the European Economic Area, and who is in breach of a European Community right of residence directive.

Those are the categories we propose to deal with in the regulations. It is important that entitlement to homelessness assistance and entitlement to housing benefit are in alignment, not least because of the implications for housing authorities' costs if they are not. To secure that aim we need the very provision that the noble Earl would in a rather narrow way attempt to remove. Amendment No. 265BA removes a secondary, but nevertheless important, provision which allows the regulations to make reference to the housing benefit regulations.

We have been over this ground today on a number of occasions. I rather fear that the noble Earl and I will not persuade each other. I have explained why we believe the entitlements ought to be aligned and I have given a very clear description of the categories we intend to bring within the scope of this part of the Bill. While I do not expect my arguments to win over the noble Earl, I hope he will be prepared to withdraw his amendment.

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