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Members of the Committee may find these truths to be disagreeable. Perhaps I may, for example, turn to the remarks made by the noble Baroness. I should point out that I am trying to answer a number of different questions, and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has the infinite benefit of the last word. The noble Baroness said that no one wants children to be stigmatised and no one wants to see them going to school with raggedy clothes. Of course they do not. I am putting forward the generally comparable nature of what we are offering to asylum seekers as being truly generally comparable with what we offer our own citizens. That is not a perfect answer. Indeed, the noble Baroness might say, although she is too generous, that that is an ignoble answer. I am simply saying that what we provide for people in the difficult circumstances described by noble Lords has to have an appropriate measure in the context of what we offer others.
The noble Baroness said, as we all know, that when children grow up their feet grow at an alarming rate and they need new shoes every five minutes. Indeed, they also need changes of clothing, as do working parents in this country and those who have no employment. People who sleep along the Embankment feel the cold and the rain in the same way as we do. Therefore, in every instance I do not think that the responses have been proportionate to what we are doing, as opposed to what people say we are doing.
I return to Amendment No. 152. What we have here are really declarations of desired objectives. I do not believe that there is any sentient being who would not regard these objectives as being desirable. I am simply saying that if
Baroness Williams of Crosby: Does the Minister concede that some of us on this side of the Committee have pressed very hard for what we regard as a somewhat better deal for those wearing raggedy clothes among our own citizens?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: Of course I do. I have always recognised that fact. I am simply pointing out that as we have to deal, by and large, with the world we recognise rather than the world which we wish to inhabit--though the two may not always be enormously different--any government have to consider how such provision will fit into the general social context. My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis is absolutely right. Anyone we assist from foreign countries is not coming here to live in a bubble or a balloon; he or she will live in a community.
My noble friend is also right to say that one wants to be as constructive and moderate in language as possible. I did not regard my language as at all incendiary or disagreeable, although my noble friend Lord Judd chided me about it. If one is poor and one's life is pretty disagreeable, someone will have to answer the perfectly fair question: "Who's paying for all this?" Everyone in this Chamber has a duty to answer that, and pretending that the question is not there does no one any service.
Earl Russell: Perhaps I may ask the Minister whether I could possibly be dispensed from his request to make general remarks on this amendment. I would prefer to make my remarks on Amendment No. 156 for two reasons. First, they are germane to that argument and wide of this one; and, secondly, I missed the beginning of the debate on this amendment and, therefore, have remained silent. I hope that that is agreeable to the Minister and the Committee.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I am here to serve the Committee. I shall do my best to reply to amendments. However, I think that I serve the Committee best by replying to specifics rather than generalities. The debate has ranged widely, and that is perfectly reasonable. Indeed, I do not criticise noble Lords for doing so. I have been longer in my response than I normally hope to be. However, I cannot be expected to deal with every general review of the wider panorama when dealing with each specific amendment in Committee. I believe that that is fair.
However, as we have moved from the generalities to the specifics of the two amendments, it has been difficult. Therefore, in my short reply I shall deal with the two amendments under consideration and the actual words which appear in the Marshalled List. The Minister is far from being "disagreeable"--the word that he used in response to his noble friend Lord Judd. The problem with the noble Lord is not that he is disagreeable but that he is an eminent lawyer and knows his way around statutes probably far better than anyone else in this Chamber. I am sure that people in the past have paid him substantial sums of money for presenting the argument in the very eloquent way he has done tonight. I am sure that we get him very much on the cheap. No doubt the Committee will agree that we are privileged to be able to listen to him dealing with these questions from the Dispatch Box.
I should like to take the noble Lord back to the remarks he made about Amendment No. 153. I pointed out to him that the amendment does not say, "When any question arises with respect to the child ... this will be the paramount consideration", in the sense that anything at all that is raised concerning a child will outweigh any other consideration. I felt that the noble Lord used his eloquence as a lawyer to put forward his argument. In fact, he persisted throughout the debate in suggesting that in some way this provision would place an unspeakable duty on all of us which was undeliverable. Indeed, he said that this was something which could not be delivered. He also said that no government could operate on that basis.
As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and others suggested, we are left high and dry as regards knowing what the costs involved will be of the voucher system. For example, in a Written Answer to me early last week, the Minister said:
The Minister also referred us to Clause 113 and pointed out that there it is in statute. He said that there are obligations placed on the Secretary of State in subsection (3). If it is not possible for us to impose a duty in the way suggested during the debate, why it is possible for this subsection to state,
Although I am open to the argument that, of course, the suggested provision could be rephrased in words that would be more acceptable to the Government, all that I am seeking to do in this amendment is to ask the Minister to accept the arguments put forward by the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Clinton-Davis, and others from this side of the Committee. Here is a duty that ought to be written on the face of the Bill. I give way.
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