Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Avebury: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, could he answer my question about the exercising of the Minister's discretion in relation to the three different categories of persons who receive varying levels of support during the period of their application from 0 per cent up to 90 per cent of income support? How will the Minister's discretion be used to take account of the fact that these people are in varying degrees of destitution?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I do not have a formal answer to that, but the facts are as I set them out in my response to the amendments. At the point that the loan is made, the following questions will be asked. What are the person's assets and income? What does he want the loan for? Is it consistent with the regulations? Is it
 
28 Jun 2004 : Column 48
 
for the purpose of refugee integration? I say to the noble Lord that, with the best will in the world, it is no good trying to rewrite the history of the people who came to this country before they became refugees. I think that that is what the noble Lord is seeking to do.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down and with the leave of the House, can I ask him to expand a little more on what he said about Amendment No. 15, which seeks to leave out the words,

He said, in effect, that this discretion is simply to create an integrated loan system. But subsection (3) states:

How does that limit the discretion in the way that he described? Does the drafting establish that and, if so, where?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am not a lawyer but the fact is that this has happened before in other legislation. Paragraph (i) relates to Clause 13 and to the purposes which this part of the Bill sets out for the refugee integration loan. I said that the intent behind subsection (3)(i) is to confer a discretion on the Secretary of State for the purposes of a refugee integration loan and not for any other purpose.

The inclusion of the provision is merely a safeguard to ensure that the pot of money available for disbursement of refugee integration loans can be targeted to refugees who need most help with their integration. But the point is that, when he exercises that discretion, the Secretary of State cannot act on a whim or a hunch; he will have to act in accordance with the regulations in which the discretion will be set out clearly and transparently and, of course, as I said, he will have to act in line with more general public law principles. Therefore, the provision is exclusively for the purposes of operating a policy of a refugee integration loan.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, if the House will permit me, I understand that and I am sure that the Minister is absolutely correct. It is simply that it seems to me that the drafting of the Bill does not give that assurance. The assurance will be in Hansard but it is not on the face of the Bill. The Bill simply states:

Lord Rooker: My Lords, if there is any doubt about this matter, I shall take away the drafting and have a look at it. The note that I have is clear but the point may not be clear in the Bill. Therefore, if we need to match the note with the Bill more clearly before Third Reading, we shall do so. I cannot make a concession now; to say that we shall go away and change the Bill would be ridiculous. But if I need to make it clearer, I shall seek to do so at Third Reading.
 
28 Jun 2004 : Column 49
 

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister, who recognises that we are trying to achieve the same objective as the one contained in the speaking notes he used today. What he said on the record today for Hansard gives the kind of clarity which my noble friend and I would wish to see on the face of the Bill. I am grateful for the fact that he will consider the matter again. We appreciate that he may come back with the same advice, but at least we shall have the opportunity further to consider it.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I have just translated a note, which I hope is helpful to the noble Baroness. Subsection (3)(i) has to be read in conjunction with Clause 13(1), which states:

Clause 13(3) then states what those regulations will include. It would be helpful to have, which we cannot, a slide presentation. We would then be able to explain the way in which a clause is constructed, and that various parts are activated by other parts. In other words, subsection (3)(i) does not stand on its own. It has to stand with the trigger mechanism of Clause 13(1). In other words, the Secretary of State is constrained. His discretion is not total. To that extent there is a constraint on him which is consistent with what I said. I hope that drawing attention to those two parts of the clause further clarifies the answer.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I do not think that my noble friend and I were quibbling with the interpretation which the Minister has just deciphered from the note from his advisers. Certainly, our concern is that even reading subsection (3)(i) in the context of Clause 13(1), the difficulty may be that it would give the Secretary of State—not this one but a future one who is far less liberal—the opportunity completely to ignore subsections (a) to (h) in the guidance and change regulations so that they were far more draconian than this. We are trying to assist all liberal—with a very small 'l'—governments in future to do what is right.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for saying that he will consider this again. I think that we shall all need to do that. It may be that we all agree in the end that the Bill should stay exactly as it is. In this particular group of amendments, I am now beginning to see the curtain drawn aside on some of the provisions that underlie the new clauses introduced by the Government. I am beginning to have a feeling for how the loans will operate. I hope that that will be read across into some of the other provisions.

I turn to Amendment No. 12. I am grateful to the Minister for saying that he will consider again my proposal that the Secretary of State might be able to make the loans by way of instalments. It was intended, as he perceived it, to be a helpful suggestion. Where a fairly substantial loan may be made, it could be for the benefit of all that that is done in instalments rather than by one lump sum.
 
28 Jun 2004 : Column 50
 

I am grateful for the way in which the Minister sought to address the issue of Amendment No. 14, which concerns the conditions on the use of the loan. He said that he was giving not a prescriptive list but an illustrative list. I am sure that noble Lords will take it in that spirit. That is the kind of thing we want to hear; that is, how the Government anticipate that the loans might be used. From what he was trying to explain, I think they will be used to enable activity not to disable it. That is what we want to see.

As regards Amendment No. 10, the Minister gave the usual answer that the drafting does not change anything and that the Secretary of State has to act reasonably. I would be grateful if he could consider again the drafting of subsection (3)(a) and allay my concerns, perhaps by letter between now and Third Reading, that the drafting achieves what the Government intend.

I am concerned that we shall need to consider again Amendment No. 15, but I say that in a constructive sense. I understand that within the context of the regulations in subsection (3) the Government may need subsection (3)(i) to get round the circumstances where the Secretary of State needs to discriminate against and between different types of people who want to make an application for a loan and may want to discriminate on good, not bad, grounds.

There may be occasions where the Secretary of State needs a get out clause, whereby if he has made an award to one person, he cannot be judicially reviewed by another because he has failed to give a loan to them. So, I do not seek to take away the power from the Secretary of State to act equitably on behalf of the taxpayer. What I seek to do throughout all this is to ensure that the rules are applied properly on behalf of all. It is with that approach that I say that I may want again to consider one or two of these issues at Third Reading. Certainly, I shall want to give the Government the opportunity to fulfil their commitment to consider again Amendment No. 12 even if they decide that there is no reason to go ahead with it. At this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments. Nos. 11 to 15 not moved.]

Clause 19 [England and Wales]:


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page