Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Page 97, line 35, at end insert ("section 153(1A) or").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 2, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 7, 9, 10, 12 and 14.

Perhaps I may echo the noble Baroness and welcome my noble friend Lord Ferrers back to the House. I do so with a great deal of relief but, unfortunately, almost immediately I have to return to your Lordships because this part of the Bill affects part of the Government's policy on asylum seekers and the tie-in with the changes which we have made to benefits.

I have told the House, on what must be beginning to feel like an excessive number of previous occasions, that the Government are clear that social housing, which is intended to meet the ongoing needs of people who require low-cost affordable housing over the long term, should not be used to accommodate people who may be here for only a short time. We intend to ensure that persons who are subject to immigration control do not have access to long-term tenancies allocated by a local housing authority unless they have the right to remain here indefinitely and the right to receive public funds.

8 Jul 1996 : Column 29

As drafted, Clause 153 provides the Secretary of State with the power to prescribe by regulations classes of persons who are or are not qualified to be allocated housing by a local authority. In practical terms, this means that any exclusion from entitlement to be allocated a social tenancy would be achieved by subordinate legislation: in other words, by regulation. Your Lordships will be aware that the Court of Appeal on 21st June, in reviewing the lawfulness of the Social Security (Persons From Abroad) Miscellaneous Amendments Regulations 1996, has recently expressed concern about the vires of subordinate legislation which excludes certain asylum seekers from entitlement to non-contributory social security benefits such as income support and housing benefit.

As your Lordships will recall, in the light of that court judgment we have recently amended Clause 9 of the Asylum and Immigration Bill, which deals with the housing entitlement of persons subject to immigration control. The effect of those amendments was to make clear on the face of that Bill that persons who are subject to immigration control are not entitled either to be allocated a council tenancy or to assistance under the homelessness legislation, unless they fall within a class of person prescribed by regulations. That puts beyond doubt, in primary legislation, that such persons do not have an entitlement unless they are prescribed as so having. Your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that we wish to make similar amendments to this Bill in respect of persons who are not qualifying persons for the purposes of allocating tenancies under Part VI and also in respect of persons who are not entitled to assistance under Part VII. I shall deal with that part later when we come to it.

Amendment No. 7 will achieve that end by providing that all persons subject to immigration control will be ineligible to be allocated a social tenancy by a local housing authority unless they were to fall into a class of person prescribed by regulations as being qualified. Notwithstanding the issue of vires and lawfulness, the practical effect of this amendment is nil. We are in the same position as we were with the original clause. The classes of persons we intend to exclude from entitlement to be allocated a tenancy by a local housing authority are not changed.

Under Clause 153 as drafted, we would prescribe by regulations those classes of person subject to immigration control which are excluded from entitlement. Under the clause as it would be changed by these amendments, we would prescribe by regulations those classes which are entitled. We intend that an order under Clause 153(1A) would specify that the following classes of person, subject to immigration control, are qualifying persons in relation to local housing authorities. They are, first, refugees; secondly, persons granted exceptional leave to remain; and, thirdly, persons having indefinite leave to remain. We intend that such regulations would be made at the outset on commencement so that Amendment No. 7 would put beyond doubt the lawfulness of excluding certain classes of person subject to immigration control from

8 Jul 1996 : Column 30

entitlement to be allocated a local authority tenancy. Amendments Nos. 9, 12 and 14 are drafting amendments consequential upon that amendment.

Amendment No. 10 would clarify that regulations made under Clause 153(2) may prescribe classes of person who are or are not qualifying persons in respect of either an individual authority or in respect of local housing authorities generally. We have been over this argument on a fair number of occasions before, and I commend these amendments to your Lordships.

4.15 p.m.

Earl Russell: My Lords, yesterday a number of your Lordships probably had rather more leisure than I had for applauding the exploits of Richard Krajicek at Wimbledon. The few moments that I was able to watch, in the time I could take off from considering this Bill, were well worth it. It was a clear reminder of how much a country may gain in credit and reputation from what is done by those who come to it as refugees. If his parents had come to this country now, I believe he would never have been born; but I will take that matter no further now.

This is a technical amendment. It substitutes the vires of primary legislation for the vires of regulation. That, so far as it goes, is a laudable change, though it will of course take up a certain amount of time in the next Parliament, and that will have to be found. It is wide of the point of the judgment. I understand the Government's caution; if it makes them a little more cautious in future about what they set out to do by regulation, that may be a good thing. The point may arise again when we come to Amendment No. 8 and those amendments which are grouped with it.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 97, line 36, at end insert--
("( ) For the avoidance of doubt, under section 157(2) of this Part the local housing authority may in exceptional circumstances give additional preference to persons to whom the authority are subject to a duty under section 181 of this Act.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I wonder, ever hopeful, whether this amendment might acquire the support of the Government Benches and possibly even of the Government themselves. It refers to the issue of exceptional circumstances. I believe that your Lordships' House is occasionally persuaded by what I would like to think is the stronger argument, and this may be one such case; I do not know. Only those people who are eligible for permanent council housing are those at the top of the waiting list. Most homeless people are on the waiting list in the usual way, living with family or friends, or living in a six-months shelter awaiting their turn. Then arrangements may break down and they become homeless. Sometimes the family becomes homeless shortly before they are due to be rehoused from the waiting list. The Minister made it clear in Committee by repeating the assurances made in another place that the local authorities could, in exceptional circumstances, give additional preference to homeless

8 Jul 1996 : Column 31

people near the top of the waiting list. This amendment seeks to put the Minister's words on to the face of the Bill to avoid doubt.

What the amendment does--and we welcomed the Government's response--is to allow a modest amount of flexibility in the system. Somebody is sharing accommodation and they are on the waiting list, having waited perhaps one year and eleven-and-a-half months or maybe they are two months away from a permanent allocation. Although they are just a very short time away from permanent reallocation their two years is up and they are forced to move into yet another home in the meanwhile. No sooner will they have moved in the furniture, contacted the utilities and changed the address for council tax than out they move again, all at considerable cost and with great stress being caused to the family concerned as well as being destabilising for the children.

The Minister could, if he wished, define by guidance the word "exceptional". We pressed him on what this word meant at Committee, but the Minister merely emphasised that, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, "exceptional" meant exceptional and that local authorities had that exceptional discretion. He would not go further. I hope that the Minister would like to see the words he used in Committee immortalised on the face of the Bill: I am sure that local authorities would. It is the aim of this amendment that, as the Minister has said, local authorities may in exceptional circumstances, such as the one I have envisaged, rehouse a family rather than send them through the process when they only have six weeks, two months or whatever to go. I think that local authorities, to avoid the possibility of litigation, need to have that assurance so that it is not just in the Minister's words printed in Hansard but printed on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I support the amendment. I have sympathy for the Minister who said at the last stage that by definition he could not define "exceptional". I believe that this amendment is an appropriate way to tackle the issue. It is right that the matter should go on the face of the Bill. If the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, now asks the mover of the amendment to define "exceptional", I believe that the noble Baroness is quite right to quote his colleague's words back at him.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page