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Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 154A:

Page 54, line 11, leave out ("over") and insert ("not under").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 155B and 155C. Amendment No. 154A arises from the decision which we have reached, which is the intention in Part VI that the Secretary of State should have power to provide support for destitute asylum seekers aged 18 and over. We reflected on the wording of Clause 84(1), and thought it better to amend it so that it is clear that eligibility begins on the day that an asylum seeker becomes 18, rather than the day after.

Amendments Nos. 155B and 155C provide that asylum-seeking families with children being supported under the Secretary of State's scheme will continue to receive support for as long as they remain in the United Kingdom. As originally drafted, that concession was limited to the legal or biological offspring of either the principal asylum seeker or his spouse. That provision harks back to an example given by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, relating to whether one ought to be too restrictive about dependants. I said that we listened carefully to those thoughts. I believe that I can demonstrate that in these two amendments.

In Clause 84 there is power to extend the definition of "dependant" for the purposes of Part VI. When the Bill was considered in another place, my honourable friend Mr O'Brien gave an undertaking that consideration would be given to amending the Bill so that the definition of "dependant" in Clause 84(1) would also apply to Clause 84(5). We have thought about that and, therefore, with the leave of the Committee, we shall amend Clause 84(5) to bring it in line with Clause 84(1). That is the purpose of the amendments. I hope the Committee will consider that this is an example of listening with care and improving the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Lyell: I wonder whether I may intervene. I have been silent so far on this matter. Has there been a

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problem with a young asylum seeker as his or her 18th birthday was "over" and "not under" 18? I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, explained the matter very well. Does this clear up a problem that has occurred? Is this part of general syntax or good grammar? I was interested in the way in which the noble Lord phrased his explanation to make it clear that it referred to an asylum seeker's 18th birthday. Has there been a problem with definition or is it a case of the noble Lord expressing matters with his customary clarity?

9.15 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: There is no problem at the moment because Part IV, let alone any other part of the Bill, has not yet become law.

One ought to have clarity in an area where there may be difficulty. We aim, on this occasion at least, to benefit an individual. Amendment No. 154A is not the most important in the group. I believe that Amendments Nos. 154B and 154C are more important.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: It is a great pleasure to thank the Minister for having listened to what my noble friend Lord Russell and I had to say on this matter. We are grateful to him and believe that the amendment clarifies what could have been a slightly grey area in the Bill. We thank the Minister for having taken notice.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Alton of Liverpool moved Amendment No. 155:

Page 55, line 3, at end insert ("and shall in any event be extended--
(i) in the event that either party indicates an intention to apply for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal or Court of Session, or to bring judicial review proceedings in respect of an asylum claim or other aspect of an asylum seeker's immigration status, for a period reasonably long enough to enable him to do so, and
(ii) for so long as any such proceedings, and any further appeal or proceedings arising from them, remain pending, and
(iii) whether or not such proceedings are proposed or taken, for so long as the Secretary of State has under consideration further representations in respect of the claimant's immigration status, and
(iv) whenever and for so long as the Secretary of State does not or is for any reason unable to effect the removal of an asylum seeker or his dependants, or both, following rejection of an asylum claim.").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 155 is grouped with Amendments Nos. 155A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby and Amendment No. 157 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley. I strongly support those amendments to which I am sure they will speak in due course.

The purpose of Amendment No. 155 may best be summed up by saying that it prevents the support directorate from cutting off support to an asylum seeker after the Home Office has determined the application or when the appellate process before the IAT has been

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exhausted. To put it another way, it ensures that support is not prematurely terminated in circumstances in which it would be necessary for the power of the Secretary of State to support asylum seekers to be continued beyond the initial appeal stage. The amendment is also concerned with ensuring that destitution is not used as a weapon against a bona fide asylum seeker.

The amendment falls into four parts. In a moment I shall explain what the four parts seek to do. First, I should like to put on record that the amendment has the support of the Immigration Law Practitioners Association, of the Asylum Rights Campaign and of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture.

The Earl of Dartmouth: Does it have the support of British taxpayers?

Lord Alton of Liverpool: If the noble Earl had been able to contribute to earlier debates, he would have heard me say that I hope that noble Lords will not see all these issues through the prism of the interests of the taxpayer. Sometimes we should also consider our interests and duties towards asylum seekers and refugees. Those questions have to be balanced one against another.

In the debate on Second Reading I said that less than a quarter of 1 per cent of our entire national social security budget is allocated to all refugees and asylum seekers before we start to deal with anyone who may falsely be claiming expenses.

I believe that we are disproportionate in the terms in which we raise the sort of intervention of the noble Earl. We would do better to concentrate on ensuring that there is justice for people who come from backgrounds of persecution, who may be dependants with children, who may be fleeing appalling regimes and who may have suffered grievously. We have a duty towards them.

The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture says:

    "It is wholly unacceptable that any class of people in this country should be left without food or shelter, or any means of obtaining these".

To answer the intervention by the noble Earl, we are not talking about continued support for persons who over-stay and those who have gone to ground. I make that clear. The Minister of State in another place indicated that support may be available through the voluntary sector for some, although not for all, who have reached the end of the process. That is not an adequate or proper solution. It is no answer for the Minister to say, as he said to the Special Standing Committee, that,

    "If individuals want their case to be taken further, they will have to reflect on how they can support themselves. They could look to the voluntary sector or to their own communities for support".

That is effectively another punishment that we are heaping upon the heads of people who have already suffered quite grievously. That punishment, once again, is entirely out of proportion to the mischief that it is supposed to address.

I said that I would turn to the four parts of the amendment and shall try to do that briefly. Sub-paragraphs (i) and (ii) in Amendment No. 155

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concern further proceedings which either the asylum seeker or the Secretary of State may have the right to bring with the leave of the court. Hunger and homelessness should not be used to block access to justice by asylum seekers who may have good grounds to go to higher courts or to apply for judicial review. The rule of law is nullified if access to justice is denied to the most vulnerable, especially if they are literally starved out of their legal rights by the other party to the legal proceedings in question--in this case, the Government.

As matters stand, there is no power to extend support, even where it is the Secretary of State who seeks to challenge a favourable determination. So an applicant who has satisfied the appellate authorities that he merits recognition as a refugee must choose between the Charybdis and the Scylla--that is, between the country where he fears persecution, or remaining in destitution for however long it takes the Secretary of State to pursue higher court proceedings. That is self-evidently wrong. We should not put people in the position of choosing between that rock and a hard place.

It is no less wrong, and equally a breach of the human rights convention, to impose destitution in an attempt to prevent asylum seekers taking up their legal rights to seek to challenge unfavourable determinations. That aspect of the present proposals is perhaps especially worrying in the light of the 81 per cent success rate in immigration cases where leave to move for judicial review was granted in 1996-97; but the principle will be the same whatever the statistics. It is not just a question of how many were successful. It should not be for the Government to establish a support scheme in such a way as to pre-empt such applications for political reasons, but for the courts to determine their legal merits. So sub-paragraphs (i) and (ii) seek to establish that principle.

Sub-paragraph (iii) concerns the Secretary of State's power to reconsider cases. It is wrong again to fetter the duty and discretion of the Secretary of State to consider an adjudicator's recommendations or further representations following a failed appeal by depriving him of the power to extend support while he does so. There may be changes in family or other circumstances, or non-asylum humanitarian considerations, into which the Secretary of State would wish to make further inquiry, but, as things stand, he may be effectively constrained from taking the necessary time to do so by the fact that the asylum seeker meanwhile has no means of even feeding himself.

Finally, sub-paragraph (iv) concerns the various other circumstances in which unsuccessful asylum appellants may not be immediately removable from the United Kingdom. The asylum seeker may be in an advanced state of pregnancy, for instance, or otherwise unfit to travel; or there may be problems and delays in travel documentation; or the circumstances in the country of origin may be such that removal to that destination is, for the time being, literally impossible or may be dangerous. For example, for the past year or more, UNHCR has advised that failed asylum seekers cannot safely be returned to Angola, with the result that some

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failed Angolan asylum seekers have been on temporary admission for months, since the dismissal of their appeals, with support where necessary from their local authorities under the National Assistance Act and the Children Act.

What will happen to families such as those unless we put this belt-and-braces provision into the legislation? What will happen to such people in the future if this part of the Bill is passed unamended? They would literally be thrown out of support scheme accommodation in whatever location they might have been dispersed to, with no other means to feed or house themselves. As,

    "persons subject to immigrations control",

they would have no access to local authority assistance. What do the Government believe people in that predicament will do? They will beg; they will steal; they will sleep in the streets and do all the other things that we know form part of a begging-bowl culture. In fact, reverting to our earlier debate and the remarks the Minister of State made in relation to people in that position, the truth is that sometimes we force them into that position. Unless we amend the legislation, we will increase the number of people who sometimes intimidate in the way that the Minister of State described earlier.

It would be inhuman and prohibitively expensive to detain individually all those who, through no fault of their own, cannot yet be removed. But unless this amendment is passed, the alternative is the creation of a roaming vagabond class of unknown size and with no incentive to maintain contact with the authorities whatsoever, save that for some a hot meal in a warm cell may actually be a lure to crime and preferable to the position in which they find themselves at that moment.

In another place the Minister of State, Mr O'Brien, said that provision may be made for support through the voluntary sector. I have referred to the evidence that he gave to the House of Commons Special Standing Committee. That is not an adequate response. We shall return later in these proceedings on this part of the Bill to the role of the voluntary sector. But I know that there is deep resentment among many voluntary groups, community groups and Church-based charities which feel that they are being turned into an arm of the state and that they are being co-opted into a role which they have never asked to take on. Often that is done with paltry resources available to them. It is therefore inhumane and a breach of our obligations under the Human Rights Act that such food and shelter should not be approved. In those terms I commend Amendment No. 155 to the Committee. I beg to move.

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