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Lord Ackner: My Lords, I apologise to the House if I did not make my point clear. My suggestion was that, if the appeal is to be controlled in some special way, it should be done by reference to the potential merits or absence of merits of the appeal. One does not do it by an indirect reference to the ability to survive, having removed from that person the right to work and the right to any social security benefits.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I understand what the noble and learned Lord is saying. However, I must point out to him that, as almost everyone appeals, I believe it would be quite difficult and time consuming for us to set up a system which would introduce a first sift of all the appeals submitted in order to sort out the very small number that may be justified. It must be remembered that only three in 100 applications turn out to be based on fact and, therefore, entitled to refugee status. I am not entirely sure what percentage we might have to sift out--perhaps, 90 per cent. to leave 10 per cent. in which the 3 per cent. would still be a comfortable minority--but it would involve a pretty big sift.

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If my noble friend Lady Blatch came to the House with a proposal to introduce such a sift system and it was pretty rough and ready, I suspect, having listened to arguments on the issue, that the people who take the opposite view to the Government on the matter would oppose us. However, perhaps I am not seeking a very easy way out of that dilemma; indeed, I do not believe that there is one. Most people on the Opposition Benches would demand that anyone who wished to appeal on being denied refugee status should have his or her case properly considered. I believe that that conflicts with some kind of initial sift to decide whether or not an appeal was justified. The benefits system is there for a variety of reasons. The problem is--I have tried to prove it but, obviously, I have not convinced some noble Lords opposite--that the present system acts as an attraction to people to keep their claim going as long as they possibly can because, in that way, they can continue to receive benefit. I am not complaining about that. It seems to me to be a sound behavioural reaction from the individuals concerned. However, I do not believe that the Government, who are responsible to taxpayers for the spending of public money, can allow such a situation to continue. We must do something to try to inhibit what has been happening and what has grown into a very expensive commitment on behalf of British taxpayers. I have already suggested that in the benefits system British citizens do not generally receive benefit while appealing against a refusal decision. If they did, they would all have an incentive to appeal against a decision not to award benefit. Every time a British citizen was refused benefit, he or she would have every reason to appeal because the benefit that they had been refused would continue to be paid. I do not believe that anyone has suggested that we incorporate such a provision in the benefits system; yet we incorporate it in the appeals system so far as concerns asylum. Interestingly enough, nearly half of those who appeal in the British benefits system--to be honest, there are not too many in number compared with the number of decisions which are made by the Benefits Agency--win their appeals. Last year only three out of 100 asylum seekers won their appeals. As I have said many times, it is wrong to treat asylum seekers more generously than British citizens. Moreover, it is certainly wrong for British taxpayers to be asked to pay benefit to those people for months when 97 out of 100 of those involved in such cases will actually turn out to be, as I described yesterday, not the right people to receive the benefit. I do not believe that the British public would consider that to be a reasonable and sensible way to proceed. In fact, if members of the public knew in detail what was happening, I believe that they would be outraged. When I say, "what was happening", I mean the number of people who apply for asylum while receiving benefit for months and whose applications then turn out to be unjustified. The more incentive that there is to appeal, the more appeals will be forthcoming and the longer it will take to process them. The longer benefits remain in payment to the vast majority of appellants whose claims for asylum are unfounded, the higher will be the cost to

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British taypayers. The longer the very few genuine refugees or asylum seekers have to wait for a decision, the longer they will be left in a state of insecurity, worry and concern. I do not believe that the current situation can be justified. Apart from the noble Baroness and the Liberal Democrats, who have made it quite clear that they would just live with the situation as a consequence of their general policy towards asylum seekers, I have not heard any real suggestion as to how we can manage to stop this very considerable expenditure of public money. With that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment. However, if she does not do so, I hope that my noble friends will join me in the Division Lobby yet again.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I wish to respond to three points that the noble Lord made. I do not often say this to him, but as regards my first point I do not think he can have listened at all to what I said. I drew, in considerable detail, on the parallel that he often makes between those denied benefit who are United Kingdom citizens and those denied the right to appeal who are asylum seekers. The position does not stand on all fours, as the noble Lord knows well. It is possible for someone in this country who has been refused benefit and is appealing against it to continue to be on a housing list. It is possible for that person to do casual work and it is possible for him to fall back on a network of family and friends. In all three respects there is no parallel with an asylum seeker who often knows no one here. If I may say so, the argument the noble Lord made does not do him credit. We tried to address exactly that argument in some detail, leaning--if I may say so--on the words of the Court of Appeal judgment which directly addressed this subject. The noble Lord will be aware that page 21 of the judgment lays out in detail the difference between a UK citizen and an asylum seeker in this regard. Secondly, it is interesting that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, attempted to respond to something that the noble Lord asked for earlier; namely, to make constructive suggestions. I am no lawyer but I understand that the granting of legal aid depends to some extent on the likelihood of the success of a case which is being put forward for legal aid. As I understand it, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, was suggesting something rather similar; namely, that one would consider the basis on which an appeal would be brought. We on this side of the House would certainly consider that, just as we would consider closely the expenditure on officials, as distinct from the cost of keeping people on benefit for months and months on end. It must be possible to deal with procedures more rapidly. That does not mean a period of three days, but it certainly need not mean four years. The noble Lord talks as if four years and three days respectively constitute the same length of time. It must be possible to deal seriously with an appeal in a period far shorter than four years. Perhaps the Home Office may take four years to deal with these cases. That seems to me an extraordinary length of time.

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Thirdly, I feel that the Minister is straining at a relatively small element of expenditure while being prepared to swallow a large one. As the Minister knows, the sum of £300 million is a large sum of money. We believe that that sum could be substantially reduced in the ways that I have hinted at. But the Government have never yet denied the estimate publicly made that the poll tax cost taxpayers £10 billion. They never seem to be willing to consider the ways in which huge sums of money are wasted in this country by noble Lords and Members of the Government opposite. They always point to some small expenditure and hope that none of us will notice the great gaps that have opened up as a result of the irresponsible use of taxpayers' money. We are not prepared to be blamed for that as if it happens only as regards one side of the House. That is not the case. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment. Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 9, line 8, at end insert--
("( ) Regulations may provide that this section shall not apply to a person who is considered by the Secretary of State to be a vulnerable person."). The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 12 which stands in my name and those of my noble friends Lord McIntosh and Lord Dubs, I wish to speak--I have given notice of this--to Amendments Nos. 13 and 16, and to group Amendment No. 16 with Amendments Nos. 12 and 13. The provision I am discussing picks up a point we have been making throughout these debates on social security. As regards all our housing and social security legislation, however grievous the behaviour of the individual may seem in that he appears to have made himself deliberately homeless, or he has refused to be available for, or to be actively seeking work, or the individual has failed to co-operate with the CSA to divulge the name of an absent parent--whatever the sin, if I may use that phrase, and however threatening the penalties--we have always made a distinction between those who are not vulnerable and those who are. However badly the Government may feel someone has behaved, and however severe may be the sanctions imposed on that person; some proportion of benefit has always been restored within two weeks or so to those who are vulnerable. In other words the issue of basic subsistence for those who are vulnerable overrules a judgment of what is wrong or inappropriate in their behaviour. It is a basic principle of our welfare state that those who are vulnerable and who cannot reasonably be expected to look after themselves should not be denied by society the basic means on which to live. However, in this Bill--as we know to our cost--the Government are proposing to scrap benefit for all asylum seekers who apply in country--however strong their case turns out to be--and to take 19 months to determine a case, however severe the need. Yet these asylum seekers--unlike some people within the British social security system--who are subject to sanctions

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have committed no sin or been guilty of bad behaviour. They simply made a mistake of applying in country rather than at the port of entry. They made a bureaucratic mistake, whether through ignorance, illiteracy, intimidation, fear or whatever. For that they lose 19 months or more of benefit. What is even worse is that within that group of asylum seekers who have made a bureaucratic mistake and have lost benefit are some of the most traumatised and vulnerable people any of us are likely to encounter. What would this amendment do? It would not give basic means of support to the single, fit and healthy and those who have some capacity to support themselves--particularly after six months--and who perhaps will find work. Even though I believe those people should continue to receive benefit, that is not what this amendment achieves. The amendment refers to those who are defined as vulnerable. That is a well-established term in social security legislation and it is at the heart of the Housing Bill which is currently going through your Lordships' House. Therefore we know whom we mean by vulnerable people; that is, those who have dependent children, those who may be poorly fed, in poor health and traumatised (there are 3,000 or 4,000 of them a year coming through) together with the sick and disabled, the frail elderly and the terminally ill. Those people should be regarded as vulnerable and eligible for basic benefit. Whom are we talking about? I give an example which I have received today from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. The source of this information is a nurse practitioner based in Southwark who is part of a three-boroughs' primary healthcare team. She describes several cases that she has dealt with this morning. One of them concerns a man in his fifties with TB. He has nil income. He will spend two weeks in hospital--that is the infectious period only--and upon discharge, if the nurse cannot get him into Mother Teresa's Sisters of Charity hostel, which has limited places but which is rent free and provides care, he will be back on the streets. The nurse states that that will inevitably re-activate his TB and require him to be re-hospitalised. In the interim he will infect others. The nurse states that TB is a disease of poverty and is on the increase, especially among ethnic minorities, who more often than not contract it after arrival in the UK because a UK strain of TB is usually diagnosed. This morning that same nurse dealt with another refugee asylum seeker--a 72 year-old who currently receives no benefits and was hospitalised following an assault while sleeping on a park bench. After a couple of days in hospital he may be back on the park bench. The nurse points out that the homeless are sitting targets for such assaults. The nurse is dealing with those who are vulnerable through disability, ill-health, frailty, old age or terminal illness. They have nowhere to keep their medication if they live on the streets. Where do they keep their insulin if they do not have a fridge? What happens if their crutches are nicked? That has happened to one person the nurse has dealt with. How do they replace the crutches? Incontinence is common among traumatised people. How do they maintain personal hygiene when they have no money to buy food or to

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find accommodation? What happens when their immune systems are compromised through poor nutrition, exposure and poor diet? Are we really willing to see such people live, sleep and perhaps die on the pavements? Are we really willing to see some of our streets become like the streets of Calcutta when the refuges, shelters and church halls are full? Apart possibly from Greece, no other country in Europe of which I am aware offers no means of support whatsoever to in country applicants for asylum. We are the meanest and worst in Europe apart possibly from Greece. According to the information that I have from reputable organisations, all other countries offer at least hostel accommodation and food. Perhaps noble lords will forgive a literary allusion. Thomas Carlyle said that a widow showed her sense of sisterhood by infecting people with cholera because those who were well off did not clean up the water supply. That man with TB will reinfect others with TB in terms of a new notion of brotherhood. Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden make some basic provision for the needy and vulnerable. It may be a reception centre. They may offer modest subsistence support. Germany has three times the asylum seekers that we have but it offers accommodation, food and modest benefits. Greece has some element of discretion. We alone in Europe offer nothing to those who apply after they enter this country even though they are the most vulnerable, are terminally ill, have dependent children, or are pregnant, disabled, frail and elderly. They will live on our streets, and they may die on our streets. I exaggerate not at all. In practice, local authorities cannot walk away from responsibility for children under the Children Act 1989. The Government will face significant costs for reimbursing those local authorities for bed and breakfast accommodation or for taking the children into care. Equally, those who are vulnerable are likely to come within the community care and National Health Service provisions. However, hospitals are now beginning to refuse to discharge patients such as that man with TB and will keep them in hospital at £250 a day because we will not offer them £50 a week in income support. Will the Government think again even at this late hour? We are talking about people who are vulnerable, destitute and innocent. They are here. We should surely be doing something other than turning our back and walking away. No other country would be as flinty as we are in the face of such destitution. I beg to move.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I speak to Amendment No. 16, a relevant amendment, so that we keep the issue to a single debate. I hope that that is acceptable. Amendment No. 16 takes up the point made so eloquently by the noble Baroness, but with a difference. It states that Clause 11 and the schedule should not come into force until such time as the Minister is able to ascertain and assure the House that there is provision

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for this basic subsistence--the means of keeping alive. At the most basic level that means food vouchers, and some kind of shelter--the level that simply keeps body and soul together. It is the bottom level that any civilised country can possibly accept. Amendment No. 16 proposes that the provisions of the Bill should not be finally introduced until the Government can say to Parliament and the people that that minimal provision has been made. We heard some eloquent and moving testimony from the right reverend Prelates in this House about the terrible pressure being brought to bear within church halls, voluntary halls and churches in a desperate effort to shelter people who have nowhere else to go. There is a limit to how much the churches, and men and women of good will, can carry. The Minister should not allow these draconian provisions to go ahead until he or she can be sure that there is provision so that people do not die on the streets. I do not wish to detain the House. The amendment is the bottom line; there is nowhere to go. Below the level proposed in the amendment one is beginning to deal with people who are starving or dying of the cold, and those who cannot protect themselves from the rain and the snow. Even in the 1805 Eastbourne judgment this country was not prepared to leave such people simply to fight on their own for survival on the streets. I conclude my brief remarks by reading a letter sent to me by one of the most distinguished Members of your Lordships' House who happens also to have been a refugee in his time--a man who has brought great lustre to our country. The noble Lord sent me the letter and asked me to read it out on his behalf; I did not ask him for the letter. He says:

    "Anybody on British soil cannot be left helpless in terms of dignified survival, family ties, health, housing, clothing and an opportunity to become acquainted with the culture of this land".
He concludes by saying that he is unable to attend because he is on tour in Germany, and signs the letter, "Yehudi Menuhin". I leave his words to say more eloquently than I can why the amendment should be approved by this House.

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