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Lord Glentoran: I thank the Minister for that clear explanation. I am delighted to hear that his right honourable friend in the other place has written to the commission. I hope that it will be satisfied with what it reads. In the light of that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 102 agreed to.

Clauses 103 and 104 agreed to.

Clause 105 [Overpayments]:

Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 181A:

Page 65, line 29, at end insert ("as a result of the error").

The noble and learned Lord said: I hope that the Committee will agree that this minor amendment will serve to improve the clarity of legislation, something to which this Government ever aspire. It safeguards the interests of the asylum seeker by putting beyond doubt that the only amount recoverable from the asylum seeker would be the amount overpaid by way of error. I beg to move.

4.30 p.m.

Earl Russell : I welcome the amendment. It brings the law in this area into line with social security law in a way that is thoroughly appropriate. Does it also imply the e converso principle which is applied in regard to social security; namely, if an under-payment is detected, the department will meet it?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: That certainly does not follow from this amendment. It relates to over-payment.

Earl Russell: In that case, will the Minister contemplate completing the bringing in of the alignment, as was first proposed?

Lord Falconer of Thoroton: I will think about it. My initial reaction is that, if there is an under-payment, that would be in accordance with some provision of the legislation and that would not be necessary.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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Clause 105, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 106 [Exclusion from benefits]:

Lord Alton of Liverpool moved Amendment No. 182:

Page 65, line 39, leave out paragraph (b).

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 183 to 185. The first three amendments in this group deal with the issue of disability. Amendment No. 185 deals with the entitlement of families with children to a limited range of mainstream benefits. With the permission of the Committee, I shall speak to the first three amendments and deal subsequently with the fourth.

The first group of amendments is supported by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, who has asked me to express his apologies that he cannot be present for today's debate and to express his support for the arguments advanced. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, also has his name to this group of amendments. The second group is also supported by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby.

Many noble Lords will have seen the report in the Sunday Times last weekend concerning allegations that the French Government are paying refugees to seek asylum in Britain and that a confidential report has been sent to the Home Office by British immigration officials. It claims that substantial numbers of refugees have been placed on trains in order to take them out of French jurisdiction and place them under British jurisdiction.

If that is so, it seems extraordinary, given all the arguments advanced last week about collaboration with our European Community partners and the purpose of these arrangements being to safeguard asylum seekers. On the one hand, with the collaboration of another EC government, it appears that there is a deliberate abuse of our asylum arrangements and therefore the deliberate misuse of taxpayers' funds; on the other hand, we are being asked to approve legislation under which benefits are to be taken away from vulnerable groups of genuine people, including the disabled and families with children. Given those oft quoted words, "fairness", "firmness" and "faster arrangements", this provision would seem to do none of those things. I hope that, in replying, the Minister will at least say a word about those reports. Does he agree that those resources could be placed at the disposal of vulnerable groups such as those who are disabled?

The purpose of the first three amendments is to ensure that disabled asylum seekers have a right to special support for which they qualify because of their disability. Clause 106 means that no one who is subject to immigration control will be entitled to a range of income, maintenance and extra cost benefits, including disability benefits. These amendments would ensure that severe disablement allowance, which is a meagre income replacement benefit available to those who are defined as 80 per cent disabled, and disability living allowance, which is an extra cost allowance for those with significant care and/or mobility needs, would still

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be available to those subject to immigration control who meet the criteria for those benefits in terms of their disability.

The Bill contains some welcome proposals for speeding up the asylum application process and for dealing with the backlog of cases. We all welcome those. But other aspects of the Bill not only fall short of alleviating the problems faced by disabled asylum seekers in particular but threaten to exacerbate the stress and difficulties caused by their disabilities.

Although there do not seem to be official figures on the number of asylum seekers or refugees who are disabled, perhaps in replying the Minister will be able to give the Committee some guidance as to the numbers of people whom we know to be disabled among those who are currently registered as asylum seekers. Disability organisations with a great deal of experience in the field support the view that the incidence of disability and ill health is much higher in that group than for the population in general. It would be for the interest of the Committee to have some comparative figures.

For some asylum seekers, it is the direct experience of depression, imprisonment, ill treatment, beatings or torture which results in disability. For example, beatings on the head can cause permanent damage to the inner ear and loss of hearing. Rape and other forms of sexual abuse often result in permanent damage and recurring health problems. For others, disability results from untreated wounds or malnutrition experienced when fleeing from persecution or war.

The loss of limbs as a result of landmines is, for example, a major cause of disablement in parts of the world which experience, or have experienced, warfare. Until recently, I was treasurer of the All Party Anti-Landmines Group. Many Members of this place are members of that group and are well aware of the situation concerning landmine victims. Last year, I travelled to the Burma/Thai border and saw at first hand prosthesis centres operating in areas where many people lose limbs as a direct result of the conflict in that part of the world.

Those asylum seekers with existing physical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or haemophilia will have those conditions exacerbated by stress and the inability to obtain regular medical treatment. It is extremely common for physically disabling conditions to be accompanied by mental health problems among asylum seekers. In addition, the Committee will be well aware that HIV and AIDS are likely to affect some asylum seekers and their children. There is a high incidence of AIDS among people coming from central Africa. Many noble Lords will have read the harrowing accounts of AIDS victims in countries such as Zambia and Kenya. Many do not know that they have the disease, and access to services is inadequate. A healthy diet, warm clothing and accommodation, not having to share bathroom facilities, and minimum stress are important in enabling that group to prevent their health deteriorating further.

The mental health problems that I have mentioned are the commonest manifestation of disability among asylum seekers according to those who operate in the

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field. Many asylum seekers suffer post-traumatic stress syndrome. The experience of torture, of seeing family members tortured or killed, of rape and beatings can all result in serious mental health problems. I recall visiting camps such as Bekla and Hwakalo on the Burma border last year and meeting people there who had seen family members raped or, in one case, a grandmother killed as a result of a bomb being dropped into the camp from the Burma side of the border. There were harrowing accounts of husbands who had been made to work as porters and were shot dead when their physical health broke down. That led to the mental breakdown of many of those family members who had been exposed to those accounts and sometimes to seeing the incidents at first hand.

There is, of course, the stress of not knowing what has happened to family members who have left their home country. Many of us have read the recent accounts of those fleeing from countries such as Kosovo and not knowing what has happened to other members of the family or what the future holds. All of that can lead to chronic depression, to isolation and also to mental illness. People can develop physical symptoms in relation to stress and fear and can undergo a personality change. Many others become ill as a result of dislocation from their home and culture and as they experience the loneliness of exile and alienation in the unfamiliar, often hostile societies in which they find themselves.

For others, it is the loss of status and responsibility consequent on the transition from being respected professionals in their own country to life in emergency accommodation and a hand-to-mouth existence in day centres. I have encountered groups of Sudanese and Egyptian Copts, for instance, living in this country and have drawn up reports on the situations in their home countries. These people are often high-powered individuals who suddenly find themselves regarded almost as the lowest of the low. Having to deal with the circumstances in which they find themselves can be traumatic.

Children can also become physically disabled as a result of injuries inflicted in war conditions or by exploding landmines. Others will have been disabled from birth or early childhood but have little access to medical treatment. Childhood diseases that leave little mark on British children can have serious consequences in countries where children are weakened as a result of poor nutrition and inadequate access to healthcare. Polio and TB are common causes of disability and ill health in many poorer countries.

My noble friend Lord Hylton was responsible for successfully amending a previous Criminal Justice Act to deal with the plight of children who were exploited by so-called "sex tourists" in countries such as Thailand and the Philippines. Your Lordships will be aware of other examples of children being shot dead on streets. I was the founding chairman of the All-Party Street Children Committee. I recall harrowing accounts by people from Guatemala, Nicaragua and Brazil of children being molested on the streets and shot dead because they were regarded as worse than vermin.

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Children and young people also suffer from mental ill health. This may result from the loss of parents, witnessing beatings, rape or killings, or coping with the stress of the ill health of another family member. A teenager whose parent is severely depressed and unable to cope is also likely to suffer mental health problems. Other children find themselves bullied or taunted at school, unable to concentrate on lessons and isolated and lonely if they do not speak the language or have money to join in activities.

There is an accepted body of research that more than substantiates my assertion that disabled people from all of the categories I have mentioned face extra cost as a direct consequences of their disability. This is accepted by government and reflected in the social security system through the provision of extra costs disability benefits: disability living allowance and attendance allowance. There is also some limited recognition, in the form of disability premiums and disabled child premium for income support, within means-tested benefits that extra financial help is necessary for households with a disabled member.

The most obvious direct financial costs of disability are hearing aids, sticks, wheelchairs, special beds, prostheses, glasses, incontinence pads, handrails, home adaptations, ramps, non-prescription medicines, special cutlery and tin-openers. In addition, disabled people often must spend more on meeting basic needs: extra heating, especially if mobility is restricted; extra hot water for bathing, perhaps as a result of night sweats or pain relief; extra clothing, if this wears out more quickly; specially made clothing and shoes, if a disabled person's body shape is unusual or he or she is unable to use back-fastenings; extra laundry costs--hot water and washing powder--due to incontinence; extra nappies, sheets and mattresses for the same reason; food for special diets or allergies; individual transport and fares to hospital; and cleaning, cooking or personal care.

On top of these extra needs, disabled people may have to pay more for basic items. People with limited mobility may have to use the nearest, rather than the cheapest, shops. A disabled asylum seeker may face all or some of the extra costs that I have mentioned. I have deliberately not included those extra costs incurred by permanently settled disabled people, such as specially adapted cars or major home adaptations, such as stairlifts and the like.

Therefore, the withdrawal of access to social security benefits from those who apply for asylum in-country rather than at the port of entry has already resulted in much hardship among asylum seekers. Refugee organisations have provided well documented evidence of the disastrous effects of leaving asylum seekers destitute. The response of local authorities has been welcome and well intentioned but it is inefficient, expensive to administer and denies choice. It is not acceptable that the level of provision to an asylum seeker should be dependent entirely on the particular local authority area in which he or she happens to end up. The provision of bed and breakfast accommodation and food vouchers causes major problems for someone whose disability means that he or she must keep to a special diet. Health professionals report that their work

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in treating asylum seekers is hampered by their patients' inadequate diets, poor and insecure accommodation and generally high levels of stress.

It is therefore to these issues that I draw the Committee's attention in considering Amendments Nos. 182 to 184 which seek to reinstate the position of disabled people above and beyond any other category. I make no apology for singling them out in that way. I believe that there are very good reasons why the Committee should consider giving them particular consideration. The purpose of Amendment No. 185 is to restore the entitlement of families with children to a limited range of mainstream welfare benefits.

Last Wednesday the Minister made a welcome announcement in Committee regarding support for children as part of the family by the asylum support directorate. I strongly welcome that. However, there are four areas on which I should like the Minister briefly to touch in his reply. First his announcement that a couple with two children would receive £106 per week implies that asylum-seeking children will receive 100 per cent of the rate for children up to the age of 11 years. The increase in the provision for asylum-seeking families should not be paid as a flat rate of £24.90, which is the rate paid for children under the age of 11, but should increase according to the child's age. The payment of 100 per cent of the personal allowance for the purposes of income support for asylum-seeking children should correlate to the rate payable to a resident child of the same age. When the Minister comes to reply perhaps he will comment on that proposition.

Secondly, the increase in provision is said to be paid in cash as opposed to vouchers. The proportion of cash payments to vouchers should be increased in relation to the whole package for families. Can the Minister elaborate further on his statement on that matter last week?

Thirdly, the value of the support package for families with children rises in accordance with inflation and is in line with the annual increase in benefits payments. When the Minister comes to reply, can he say whether the value of this support package will rise in relation to benefits payments and whether, when the provision under Part VI of the Bill is implemented, in practice the value of the support package for parents and carers with children will be based on the equivalent level of income support?

Fourthly, provision is made for the payment of one-off grants for families immediately after arrival in the UK. I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement prior to Report in another place that after six months families will receive a one-off payment to meet the costs of replacing items, such as clothes and so on. While the payment may address the problem of replacing items of children's clothing that either wear out or are outgrown after six months--I raised this point with the Minister when I saw him as part of a delegation from the Refugee Council--it does not help families to provide for their children immediately upon arrival in the UK.

As we witnessed in the recent events in Kosovo, many families flee their homes and countries wearing literally the clothes in which they stand. There is a need

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for families to be able to purchase everyday clothing as well as particular items, such as warm clothes if they arrive in the winter. Many families may have had to exist without recourse to washing facilities or a change of clothes, which may render many clothes useless after weeks of difficult travel. In such circumstances families will need immediate recourse to funds to replace basic essential living items, the cost of which will be beyond them if they must exist on only 70 per cent of the adult income support level and 100 per cent of the personal allowance of income support for children.

I hope that, in the spirit of the Minister's recent very welcome announcement relating to children, he will be able to respond to the matters which are dealt with in Amendment No. 185. I beg to move.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Clinton-Davis: I shall speak to Amendment No. 186 in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Graham. Effectively, it seeks to disapply some of the provisions of Clause 106(1)(e), (j) and (k) where there is evidence of persecution or torture, or both, which it elaborates.

The asylum support directorate is charged with enormous responsibilities. I do not believe that I go too far in suggesting that it is charged with setting up a separate system of welfare support. Those responsibilities go far beyond those which commonly exist in the welfare system in this country, because they determine where people should live and to which services they are able to seek access. In other words, they will decide whether an asylum seeker lives in an area where someone is able to communicate with that person in a language which he or she may understand; whether there is a representative who is a specialist in asylum law and able to take the case of the asylum seeker; whether the asylum seeker lives in an area where healthcare workers are able to make appropriate linguistic and cultural provision, and whether he or she lives in an area in which specialist healthcare responsibilities are available. That is why I say that these are huge responsibilities.

I am not at all sure that the support directorate is doing more than setting up a very rudimentary way of dealing with these vitally important matters. Is it right that people who have undergone severe torture should be thrown into such a system?

The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, which has vast experience in such matters, asserts that in its experience safety, comfort and security make a huge difference to the ability of people to work through the experiences of torture, organised violence and exile. The steps proposed here do not suggest that that is the objective.

I know that my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn is extremely sensitive to all these matters. He gave assurances in the earlier debates in Committee that the dispersal policy will be sensitive to the need of the survivors of torture to access services and that, where a survivor of torture needs to travel to attend appointments, for example, with the medical foundation, the expenses will be met by the support directorate.

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Many people including myself also have other concerns about the support scheme, in addition to those about dispersal. There are serious anxieties about the support proposals outlined in the Bill and in the documents produced by the asylum support team. As I understand it, little has allayed the anxieties of specialists in this field that the projections as to the time people will spend in the system, the numbers involved, and the cost and scale of the administrative project, are realistic. There is anxiety that the scale of services for refugees available in different regions has been overestimated. There is a fear that the support system will in due course, perhaps not immediately, become a system in crisis. Surely, the kind of people we are talking about have had enough crises in their lives already.

The asylum support information document asserts that the system being designed will have a significant deterrent effect. Is that the right sort of system to be set up here, having regard to the kind of people we are talking about? I am concerned with a whole range of case studies which have been submitted to the department about the anguish being endured by people in these circumstances; namely, those who are clearly torture survivors. I do not propose to weary the Committee with a list, but I hope that my noble friend is aware of them. I shall send him the documentation that has been made available to me.

I hope that my noble and learned friend will be able to offer some words of comfort in a potentially dire situation which has already become dire for many people. I hope that my noble and learned friend will be able to allay some of the very profound anxieties which have been expressed to me by an organisation of unsullied reputation which has a great deal of experience in dealing with the victims of torture.

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