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Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I apologise for intervening and am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. I wished to pursue the matter he raised that under Clause 90(6) regard cannot be had to the sharing of

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accommodation. I understand the point made by the noble and learned Lord. He mentioned that it might not preclude overcrowding. Can he give an assurance that if overcrowding is a factor--and it can be related in part to the people sharing the accommodation--that matter could be considered under Clause 90, or would it also be barred?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Baroness asks a fair question. Some accommodation would be overcrowded even if it were in single family occupancy because there is not enough room for a large family.

We wish to look not at whether it is shared, which in the true sense is not relevant. If there were overcrowding, it would be a relevant consideration because the accommodation would not then be adequate. On a slightly different point, some accommodation in Birmingham might well be adequate but it might not be suitable if it were unsafe if it were in an area where there had been racial attacks. Those are the kind of factors we would wish to take into account. We want to get a humane test, a fair test which is reflective of all legitimate interests.

I hope that the assurances that I have given, particularly the indication that my noble friend Lord Bassam and I will look again at the principled objection to Clause 90(2), will suffice to induce noble Lords not to press the various amendments in this group.

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, I am grateful for the contribution of noble Lords to the debate. I am also grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his indication that he will look at this matter again. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7 p.m.

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 120:

Page 60, line 41, after (“prescribed") insert (“for the purposes of this paragraph").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 121 not moved.]

Lord Williams of Mostyn moved Amendment No. 122:

Page 60, line 42, leave out (“any prescribed matter") insert (“such matters as may be prescribed for the purposes of this paragraph").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 122A not moved.]

Lord Williams of Mostyn had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 123:

Page 61, line 20, at end insert--
(“( ) Schedule (Provision of Support: Regulations) gives the Secretary of State power to make regulations supplementing this section.").

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The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, in this group we find Amendments Nos. 123, 124, 146 to 148 and 152 to 158. Government Amendments Nos. 123, 124 and 158 replace and add to the provisions setting out the new asylum seeker support scheme previously contained in Clause 93. Essentially, this is a framework for powers to make regulations governing the parameters and operation of the scheme. In November we intend to publish a consultation paper on the regulations, which we hope noble Lords welcome.

Paragraphs 2, 5, and 6 of the schedule extend the scope of powers to make regulations regarding the resources of the applicant that may be taken into account in determining destitution and the support that is to be provided; in other words, we want to be able to take account of cash, savings and income. That will also allow us to set thresholds as to the level of resources below which a person is to be treated as destitute, and to make valuation of any assets other than cash that an asylum seeker may have at his disposal. It is reasonable to suppose that an asylum seeker might bring certain non-monetary assets into the country, for example, valuable jewellery. We do not propose that such assets are taken into consideration in the same way as cash or savings. Such assets will be required to be declared on the application form and if subsequently sold should be declared as a change of circumstances to the Asylum Support Directorate which will offset the value of the cash against further support.

Paragraph 9 of the new schedule makes provision for notice to be given to an asylum seeker to quit property provided to him under the support arrangements. Asylum seekers are unlikely to be tenants of accommodation provided under the new support arrangements, and we need to set clear terms under which they might be required to leave accommodation, whether because they are no longer supported or because it is necessary to move them elsewhere.

Paragraph 10 makes new provisions for the treatment of any income. It is possible that the asylum seeker has an income stream which, although less that the level of support that he might expect to receive under the new support arrangements, can be used as a contribution. In some cases this may be taken into account simply as an offset in the spending power he is given through the vouchers that he receives. In other cases, for example if he is living in a full board hostel, he may be asked to provide a cash contribution.

There will be a few instances where an asylum seeker arrives in this country without any money but with assets that can be realised in time; for example, shares or property that can be sold only on an overseas market. That should not debar him from support while he has no other disposable assets available. Equally, it is only fair that he should be required to repay the value of that support if he can realise those assets (paragraph 11). I recognise that in many cases asylum seekers come here with virtually nothing in their pockets. That is not true in every case. We need to cater

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for the whole range of cases to protect the legitimate interest of the taxpayer. That is the purpose of the new schedule.

Destitute asylum seekers may be provided with support under Part VI in a number of ways. Amendment No. 146 provides for the Secretary of State to meet costs incurred by the asylum seeker's dependants to allow them to attend the bail hearing, in the event that the asylum seeker is detained. The reason for this is that, if bail were granted, the asylum seeker and his dependants would be directed to move direct to the dispersal accommodation on release. Therefore, we wish the dependants to be able to be present at the bail hearing so that they can travel as a group to the accommodation provided. I hope that noble Lords regard that as a decent, civilised approach to this matter.

In the event of one of the asylum seeker's dependants being detained, we have also provided for the Secretary of State to meet the costs of the asylum seeker and other dependants to permit them to attend the bail proceedings for the same reasons. The support scheme is not, however, intended to cover any such expenses incurred by the asylum seeker or his dependants where release on bail would not result in the whole group being dispersed together. This proposal is along the same lines as those set out in Amendment No. 147 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and I hope that Amendment No. 146 meets his reasonable purpose.

Following the report of the Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation about the Henry VIII powers to amend subsections (1) and (2) of Clause 92, at Committee stage we undertook to reflect on this matter. We have done so and have concluded that it is appropriate to provide that, if future governments think it appropriate to make changes to these particular provisions, they can do so only by repeal, not amendment. Amendment No. 155 does that. I hope noble Lords accept that we have fulfilled that earlier commitment. I hope that this meets the Committee's concerns and that, had the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, considered moving his amendment (Amendment No. 154), he will now find it unnecessary.

Perhaps it is helpful to deal with Amendment No. 148. I recognise the concerns behind the amendment. As I said earlier in reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, asylum seekers who receive support under the scheme will qualify for full NHS treatment. I confirm that that includes treatment of a specialist nature, as well as more general medical care. There are provisions within the NHS for people in receipt of benefits, such as free prescriptions, to receive assistance with travel to an NHS hospital for necessary treatment. This would apply to asylum seekers supported under the scheme.

The legislation does not allow us to take asylum seekers' preferences as to location of accommodation into consideration. But if there is a particular reason--I repeat my response to concerns raised in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and the noble

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Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby--why an individual, or one of his dependants, needs to be placed in a certain area, for example for ease of access to a specialised hospital to meet specific health needs, that will be taken into consideration by the directorate before reaching a decision.

We do not believe that there is any justification for the Secretary of State agreeing to meet the costs incurred by an asylum seeker in travelling to see his legal adviser. As asylum seekers are dispersed and the cluster areas become established, we expect legal firms in those localities to have expertise in immigration law. We are discussing this precise matter with the Legal Aid Board at the moment. It should not be necessary for asylum seekers who need legal assistance in pursuing asylum claims to travel any distance. I do not believe that we should pay the kind of expenses proposed. Having heard my explanation, I invite noble Lords not to press the amendment.

Amendment No. 152 gives me the opportunity to explain how we propose to provide accommodation. I repeat, we want to provide accommodation to meet appropriate needs. We are setting up contracts for the provision of accommodation and shall take account of needs and realistic availability of facilities. We shall have regard to any special needs, not least the safety, welfare and protection of children. Obviously, we shall apply our minds to the maintenance of public health and work closely with local authorities, health authorities and public bodies to ensure that proper account is taken of these matters. I expanded our views on the Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture and in this context I do not need to revert to it.

As part of the arrangements we are making for the provision of accommodation and support, we shall be ensuring that the necessary translation services are made available. Clearly these will have to recognise the language capabilities of the applicants.

With regard to education, it is the Government's clear aim to ensure that all children of school age have proper access to the educational system. We would generally expect that this would involve the absorption of the children of asylum seekers within the mainstream educational system. Given the nature of our system, it will ultimately be a matter of detail for the receiving local education authority.

We want also to recognise fully the importance of ensuring the proper integration into the community of former asylum seekers who have been granted leave to remain. Again, we shall be publishing a consultation paper setting out our overall strategy. It can only work with partnership between central Government, local government and the voluntary sector.

Paragraph (c) of subsection (1) of Clause 92 contains a power to make regulations on matters of the sort we are discussing. I suggest that the flexibility of a secondary legislation provision offers a better solution than enshrining them permanently in primary legislation.

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I assure noble Lords of our concerns over the matters that have been reflected not only in the amendments in this group but generally in our other discussions.

Perhaps I may set out our policy as regards Amendment No. 153 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley. We must relieve the pressures in London and the south-east. I believe that no one who knows of the problem in detail could take a different view. The situation in some parts of London is now so difficult that local authorities have no alternative but to rehouse local homeless families outside their area--despite the presumption in the legislation against it. There are many empty houses in both the public and private sectors, mostly away from London and the south-east. So we shall be looking for provision outside London and the south-east. We shall seek areas where there is a history of multi-ethnicity, where we can ensure the necessary support for asylum seekers. In general, we shall seek to house together asylum seekers from the same background. That goes to the point of mutual support--noble Lords mentioned the issue earlier, with which I agree--and managing such matters as translation. We have to bear in mind the questions raised in Committee. For instance, one cannot deal with Kosovars as a single group because they may be bitterly hostile to each other, as between Serbs and Albanians. We have to be careful and scrupulous about that also.

We do not want to be harsh. I have to say again that I do not believe that genuine asylum seekers who are fleeing persecution, or a proper fear of it, could object to being relocated in this way for a relatively short period. If they wish to go elsewhere where friends or relatives can help them, and receive only vouchers by way of support, they may do that. Those who are using the asylum system merely as a vehicle for economic purposes will not be happy; but that is our purpose.

Other systems that provide accommodation for people in need--such as the legislation on the homeless which serves both local people and some asylum seekers, and those social services provisions under which some asylum seekers are housed--do not allow for the preferences of the applicant to be taken into account. For those reasons I invite the noble Lord not to press his amendment.

I am obliged to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for raising an important matter in Amendment No. 156. All the illustrative figures that have so far been published have been published in 1998-99 values. They will need to be uprated to reflect the march of inflation between the publication of those figures and the commencement of the new support system in April 2000, in effect to reflect the two rounds of uprating that have taken place in the social security system.

It is our intention to make regular annual reviews of the level at which support is provided to asylum seekers, to reflect inflation and other changes in costs over the preceding year. I am reluctant to tie that inexorably to the uprating which might be made for income support purposes. I cannot speak for the long-term plans of colleagues in the Department of Social

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Security for the uprating of their benefits. I ask noble Lords to bear in mind that the scheme I describe is geared essentially to meeting short-term needs. Social security systems cater for a much wider range of circumstances, including people with longer-term needs. I hope that I have been able to satisfy your Lordships, and in particular the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that we are committed to undertaking a regular review of the level of support.

We intend to delete Clause 93, although its provisions will be reinstated in the new schedule proposed in Amendment No. 124.

The final amendment in this group is Amendment No. 157. We remain firm in our intention that the directorate should be able to take account of the support and assets available to an asylum seeker from his own resources or from other sources. That includes, rightly I suggest, friends and family but also charitable and/or religious organisations. Such organisations have longstanding expertise to which I readily pay tribute. Indeed, there may be instances where such organisations are funded by the Home Office to support asylum seekers under the provisions of Clause 107.

As the Home Secretary made plain in the House of Commons, there is no question of voluntary organisations being required to deplete all their finances in support of asylum seekers. We do not expect them to subsidise the work of the directorate. But it would not be proper for us to be required to support those who are or could be supported quite adequately by the voluntary sector. The potential for such double funding would not be acceptable. If the amendment were to be pressed, I should advise my colleagues to vote against it.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, perhaps I may comment on my Amendment No. 147, and on Amendment No. 146 the purpose of which the Minister has described. I welcome the outcome of the discussions held in the summer by the Minister with the voluntary agencies which resulted in Amendment No. 146.

Perhaps I may ask the Minister what the provision means as regards dispersal and bail. The head of the family could be in one place and his family in a remote location. Let us take the example of a Somali family. They arrive at Gatwick. The head of the family is detained in Tinsley House with the family dispersed to Sheffield where I believe that there is a concentration of Somalis and support facilities for them. The bail hearing may be scheduled at Hatton Cross. The detainee has to travel from Tinsley House to Hatton Cross and the family from Sheffield to the hearing at that location. Such an example makes one question whether it will be possible for the family to hold together. If they are in such different parts of the country, how will they be able to visit one another? What arrangements will be made for the family to travel from Sheffield to see the head of the household while he is detained in Tinsley House? Is the Minister

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satisfied that it is reasonable for a person to be detained in a location so distant from his family as to render family visits almost impossible?

The Minister said that in such cases dependants will be able to attend the bail hearing at Hatton Cross (or wherever it may be) and that the costs of their attendance will be paid out of public funds. However, the difference between the Minister's amendment and mine is that there is still no provision for the costs of the detainee to be paid. If I am right in my interpretation of the Minister's amendment, the head of the family still has to get from Tinsley House to Hatton Cross at his own expense. By definition he is destitute. How is he going to pay the cost of getting from the place where he is detained to the bail hearing? I should be grateful if the Minister would look at that.

I should also be grateful if the Minister could say whether he accepts the idea inherent in my amendment that sometimes people will be able to attend the bail hearings of third parties. I am thinking of cases where a surety is required. A person closely associated with the detainee, but who is not one of his dependants, might act in that capacity. Sureties are very important. The adjudicators normally require those involved to attend in person. If that is made impossible for financial reasons, we shall be irresponsible in not trying to correct that position while we have the opportunity this afternoon. Notwithstanding the fact that I welcome the Minister's amendment, as far as it goes, I hope that he will move a little further and accept the wider purposes of my amendment.

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