|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Earl Russell: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, does he accept that the clause as drafted is entirely inflexible and allows the Government to remove support from everyone concerned all at once? Before he takes refuge behind the affirmative resolution procedure, does he accept that it is entirely proper for the House to vote on an affirmative resolution?
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I shall not be drawn into changes to the working practices of the House. That is clearly a subject on which there has been considerable debate and differing opinions. The noble Earl knows that better than most.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, it does, but the Secretary of State's hands are not tied. He can choose whether to use the power or to bring it in incrementally, using other powers in the Bill. He is not forced to use the power, if he thinks it inappropriate to do so.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I identified three issues in the amendment. One is that pressure on services will increase, if people live with families with no support for essential living needs. Somebody will have to identify those needs, and that will fall to the services.
The second point is that the proposed measure is particularly punitive. Many asylum seekers will be elderly people, single mothers or people suffering from mental illness, whose friends or family have realised that they would be incapable of surviving on their own, if dispersed to accommodation elsewhere, and have taken them into their own home. I refer again to the NACAB report, which shows that, in many cases, vulnerable individuals were left for weekseven monthswithout the means to buy food and other essential items.
We tried to get some assurances on the matter in Committee: we did not get them, nor are we satisfied with the Minister's reply at this stage. In the circumstances, I shall seek the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
This is our old friend the Humpty-Dumpty clause"Destitution means whatever I say it means". It is not a power that I am particularly eager to allow anyone. There is something to be said for the previous definition of destitution, in Clause 96 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999being unable to meet essential living needs, which is a strong phrase.
I hope to hear from the Minister how he expects people who are denied the means to meet their essential living needs to remain alive. If I do not hear an answer to that question, I will repeat something said by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, when she was the Speaker in another place. When a mobile phone went off during a debate, she exclaimed, "It should not have been brought into the Chamber in that condition". If the Government have no answer to my question, they should not have brought in Clause 43 as it stands.
Grouped Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 relate to clauses that allow compliance with a condition to be made a condition of support and bar local authorities from providing support for anyone who breaches any condition. No doubt some conditions andI concede this before the Minister makes the pointsanctions will have to exist but we do not regard as acceptable the total withdrawal of support as a means of enforcing conditions. We do not believe that punishment should be inflicted in a civilised society.
But such treatment must attain the minimum threshold of severity, determined on a case-by-case basis. I do not understand how denying people their essential needs for living can fail to meet that condition. No doubt that question is one that government lawyers will have to answer in due course.
We regard the total denial of support as an entirely unacceptable punishment. We are opposed to the death penalty. We are opposed to not officiously striving to keep people alive. We are opposed to what the law describes as recklessness, as to whether or not people are able to remain alive. I beg to move.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I rise to support the amendment because it has many ramifications throughout the drafting of the Billsome of which relate to the questions that I asked at col. 984 of the Official Report of 17th October. To put the matter in perspective, Amendment No. 5 only opens the key to the door.
Would assistance be available to all those who would otherwise be left destitute? I think that the Government's answer is no. Must there not be some casual connection between an act of omission of an improper nature and the fact of being left homeless and destitute? I think that the Government's answer is no. Ought not the burden of proof to rest with the Secretary of State in establishing whether conditions for withholding support are compatible with human rightsand that those conditions have been met if a person is to be left without adequate housing, food or clothing? The Government's answer is no.
As no appeal to an adjudicator is available to those persons who are adjudged ineligible for support, ought there not to be the power to provide some support pending the outcome of the application for a judicial review? Again, the Government's answer is no. Finally, it all turns. One condition turns and is related to another. Are adequate safeguards provided against violation of the human rights of children under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the European Convention on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which are expressly safeguarded by Section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998? The Government's answer is no.