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Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, first, as we indicated at the time, we were grateful for the Government's review of the exclusion from certain National Health Service services under, at that time, Amendment No. 118. We are grateful that the Government looked at that again and decided not to maintain that exclusion in the case of asylum seekers and those who come under the European Convention on Human Rights. I suspect that my noble friend Lord Goodhart will cover the issue of the definition of "destitution" on Amendment No. 73, so I shall not waste the time of the House by talking about that.

In relation to Amendment No. 41, the noble and learned Lord has taken the step of ensuring that I do not waste my eloquence on desert air. I realise that the Government have taken a considerable step towards improving the situation that worried us; namely, that the original support system recognised that this provision would not make money available for the replacement of essential, durable goods. I cannot guarantee that there will not still be an effort to try to bring in a more generous support system, but I am most grateful for what the Government have done in this respect. Indeed, it goes at least some way towards meeting the point that I raised about the position of asylum seekers who remain here for some length of time.

Sadly, for reasons that the noble and learned Lord outlined earlier in the debate, it may well be the case that people have to wait six months or more. The promises given by the Home Secretary, in all good faith back in June, cannot be completely held to because the kind of targets then given were, of course, dependent upon a continuing flow of asylum seekers at roughly the rate current at that time. I realise that that may well create problems. Nevertheless, I express my gratitude to the noble and learned Lord for everything except depriving me of the chance to give an eloquent speech.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, as my amendment forms part of this group, I think it might be convenient for the House if I were to speak now. The effect of Amendment No. 73 would be to leave out Paragraph 2(2) of the proposed new schedule to the Bill which is to be added by way of Amendment No. 72. That sub-paragraph states:

Clause 93 contains a definition of the word "destitution", which I need not go into. However, the point that worries me--one which also worried the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee--was that there cannot be any meaning to sub-paragraph (2), except that it will enable the Secretary of State under these regulations to treat as not being destitute someone who is in fact destitute. Otherwise, there would be no purpose behind the provision. If a person

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is destitute, there is no need for a provision that says that he should be treated as such. Equally, if the person is not destitute, there is no need for a paragraph stating that he is to be treated as not being destitute.

Therefore, one wonders what the provision is intended to achieve. The noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General suggested that this might be necessary to cover, for example, the asylum seeker who comes to this country with several hundred pounds in his pocket. However, such a sum of money would surely represent assets which are available to him for the purposes of support within the meaning of sub-paragraph (1) of the new schedule. One might want to amend that subparagraph so that it would refer to,

    "assets of a prescribed kind and value",

and that would be easy enough.

All the circumstances that come to mind in which one would need regulations that would exclude this sort of problem are easily covered by sub-paragraph (1). While I hear what the noble and learned Lord says about this, I remain very concerned because he cannot commit any future government as to what regulations they may choose to make. The fact is that sub-paragraph (2) could be used to treat a person who is destitute as not being destitute. That is something which I believe should not appear in the Bill.

Earl Russell: My Lords, perhaps I may add a little more to the debate on Amendment No. 72. Many of these proposals run fairly clearly along the lines of recognised social security law. Therefore, one is entitled to draw attention to some of the recognised social security problems on which I believe the Home Office will need to do a certain amount of thinking. Perhaps I may take one obvious example. Under Paragraph 2 of the new schedule, the department is proposing to lay down in regulations the limits of income or of assets which would entitle it to treat a person as not being destitute.

The first question that occurs to me is: will these limits be regularly uprated for inflation? If they are not, we shall very soon have a problem. However, if they are to be regularly uprated, I would prefer--though I am sure the Home Office would not--to have them included in the regular provisions for mandatory consideration of uprating. Because capital limits in ordinary social security law were left out of that provision, they very often do not get uprated. Indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, has admitted in this Chamber quite frequently, some of them have not been uprated since 1988. So there could be something here which might create a lot of further hardship in the future.

I am also concerned about whether the words,

    "might reasonably be expected to have",


    "might reasonably be expected to be",

are appropriately placed here. Those, again, are regular words in social security law. They are designed to deal with the sort of person who is a company director with an apparently moderately prosperous company, but once the accounts have been audited by

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someone with whom he has a long-standing business relationship, there suddenly turns out not to be any money to pay maintenance to his ex-wife under the CSA. In that case one understands the meaning of the words,

    "might reasonably be expected to have".

But of course, in the case of an asylum seeker whose case has not yet been adjudicated upon, whether one might reasonably expect him to have income from the country he has left might have something to do with prejudging whether his claim is genuine.

The noble and learned Lord said something--I have been trying all day to track it down, but I have not succeeded. I was just about to ask him about it when the Lord Chairman made an appearance--reassuring about the application of Paragraph 2(1)(b) to personal effects, sentimental jewellery, wife's wedding ring, things of this sort. For some people who are perhaps the only survivors of their families things of this sort may have a sentimental value, and indeed far more than that. They may have a value to their collective memory and collective sense of their own identity. It would, I think, be peculiarly important that such things should not be taken into account in any assessment of what people are to be assessed as being worth when support is being considered. I thought when I heard the noble and learned Lord use the relevant words on Report that they were probably sufficient on this point and I am sorry to have to come back to the matter. But because I was not able to track them down and the amendment, of course, by his generosity was not moved, I would like a little further clarification on this.

The other point on Amendment No. 72 that I want to take up concerns the proposed new paragraph 8, which states,

    "The regulations may make provision for the suspension or discontinuance of support",

because of,

    "the cessation of residence in accommodation provided under section 93".

This is an area where I can see miscarriages of justice taking place quite easily. It is sadly true that a number of people from ethnic minorities suffer a quite considerable degree of harassment in their residence. There was a recent case in Lancaster of someone who it seems had been assaulted in his house several hundred times but the local police authorities had not taken any action. I do not think that such cases are common but they happen. When an asylum seeker says that he has left his accommodation because he was constantly subjected to racial harassment there, this statement is ex parte. If the local police in that place are--shall we say?--somewhat less zealous in this matter than some other police forces might have been, there will be no way of verifying that ex parte statement. Therefore it could well end up being disbelieved when it was in fact totally true. I would like to know whether there is a good cause provision here and whether the good cause provision will be used, with some investigation into the possibility of getting independent evidence, because otherwise there could be serious trouble.

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Also, of course, other good causes can include the state of the accommodation. If, for example, you have an asthmatic child and the accommodation is damp, you may well want to leave that accommodation without being in any way nefarious, or wishing to evade the system. I hope that the measure will not be applied rigorously and I hope that it will be applied sensitively. I would be grateful for any comments that the noble and learned Lord can make on that point.

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, on a rather different point, I ask the noble and learned Lord about Amendment No. 84, which, as he mentioned in his preliminary remarks, relates to Scotland. This amendment alters the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 and I understand that it extends the provision of school meals in Scotland in order to comply with the requirements in the Bill.

Education is of course devolved to Scotland. I am aware--the noble and learned Lord will remember well from his involvement at the time--that Section 28(7) of the Scotland Act allows this Westminster Parliament to legislate for anything in Scotland, whether it is devolved or not. This is a devolved matter. I wonder how the Government have handled this. Have they consulted the Scottish executive on the point to see whether it agrees to school meals being extended in this way? Has the Scots Parliament considered it? Does it realise that it is happening? This may increase to a small extent the expenditure on school meals that will be required. I wonder whether the Government have perhaps agreed a concordat with the Scots Parliament for dealing with the matter. This kind of thing will obviously arise quite often. I gave the noble and learned Lord notice of the question, and I should be grateful if he could tell me how this has been handled.

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