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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, in his earlier contribution, the noble Lord said that he wanted me to listen carefully to what he had to say and I did. The noble Lord has given us statistics and his own calculations and I should like to have the opportunity to reflect on them. I am more than happy to write to him going over the points he has raised because it may be a more useful and constructive way of dealing with the issue. The noble Lord knows that this has been a rough-and-ready approach, but we have provided improvements. I have previously argued the case from the Dispatch Box—and I am happy to do so again today—that we are providing a safety net for those who are destitute. I believe that the noble Lord understands that.

In developing the asylum system, we are trying to drive up the efficiency and effectiveness of the support system. We now have through NASS 12 established offices in the regions of the UK. Staff already deal with "outreach" work, involving visiting newly arrived asylum seekers to help them access services, housing management and investigations. Regional management teams liaise closely with local authorities and others to ensure an effective system of support. That is particularly helpful in continuing the improvement of community relations and in ensuring that we preserve community cohesion, which is an extremely important part of their work.

It is worth putting on the record that we do not see this as the end of our plans for NASS to have a greater presence in the regions. We are now working on decentralising to the regions some of the NASS casework which is carried out in Croydon. We are approaching that with care and sensitivity because it is important that the processes that are in place enable the work to be done well and effectively.
 
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NASS is also working on procuring new contracts for accommodation—a matter about which I know the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, is concerned—post 2005 when the current ones expire. Again, NASS is working closely with local authorities on that as it is vital that we take account of local issues in determining where to place asylum seekers.

Budgetary pressure has encouraged NASS to make efforts to reduce its costs, and it is estimated that the abolition of the discretionary single additional payment will save approximately £4 million in the next financial year. The Government are also proposing to abolish back-payments of income support to successful asylum seekers and to replace that with a refugee integration loan, which will be available on application to those who qualify. We want the asylum process to be as efficient, as timely and as effective as possible. Therefore, we believe that it should be forward-looking and that we should look to move away from retrospective payments that, in effect, reward time spent as an asylum seeker.

It is important to remember that no scheme directly equivalent to the single additional payments scheme is available to United Kingdom citizens who receive income support or jobseeker's allowance. Therefore, we intend to proceed with the Asylum Support (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations as implemented.

There were a few other points which I do not think I covered in my commentary on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. I want to reiterate that I do not believe that I was confused when debating these matters earlier. It is our contention that asylum seekers receive roughly the same amount as those on income support when payments in kind are taken properly into account. I know that the noble Lord disputes those figures. I am not saying that they add up exactly; I am saying that they are broadly the same.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, if we can prove from the statistics, as I think I have done with the figures that I gave, which, after all, are the Government's own figures, that the asylum seeker is worse off to the tune of 7 per cent of the value of income support compared with the native who is on the basic rate of income support, will the noble Lord reconsider what he said? He said that the objective of the Government is to put people on broadly the same footing as those on income support. If it can be proved that they are considerably worse off than someone on income support, will the Government take action to correct that?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, that is not the kind of commitment that I intend to give from the Dispatch Box. But, of course, the Government always keep carefully under review the levels of support that are provided through schemes. We can argue the finite detail of these matters, but I believe that we are providing a scheme which is effective, which covers the fundamental needs of asylum seekers and which I think many would say is generous in the way in which it works and in its application.

We have to stick to budgets. NASS now has a budget. I am happy to provide the noble Lord with some more details and I shall be happy to write to him
 
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on that point. We are working to achieve a better level of prediction in terms of the demand for asylum support in the context of the 2005 accommodation strategy.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his questions. The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, asked a further question, which I believe concerned the denial of support to late applicants and whether that had been the subject of litigation under human rights law. In our view, Section 55 has played its part in reducing the asylum intake. The Court of Appeal has granted leave to appeal to the House of Lords and the Government are preparing their case further. I hope that that clears up the point raised by the noble Viscount.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for raising this issue and I appreciate the sensitive nature of it, but we in government believe that we have a responsibility to the nation to provide proper systems of support. However, those systems of support must be effective and efficiently organised and must also keep to budget.

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he give an assurance—if he is not able to answer it tonight, perhaps we can have something in writing—about the large stock of houses which remains unoccupied at great cost to the taxpayer?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I shall be happy to write to the noble Viscount. I think that his point relates to an article in the Sunday Times. I can furnish him with some additional details and perhaps it would be better if I dealt with that matter in correspondence.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the information that he has given to the House but, as he will realise from my last intervention, the fundamental point I made still remains. I say that it is wrong to withdraw the £50 single additional payment (SAP) because the asylum seeker who has been on NASS support for six months, and who would otherwise have received that payment but for the order now before us, would have been worse off if he was on full NASS support, to the tune of 7 per cent; if he was on subsistence only he would be worse off to the tune of 30 per cent; and if he was one of the Section 55 cases to which the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, referred, he would be worse off to the tune of 100 per cent.

So someone who has been a victim of Section 55 of the 1999 Act who has been living on thin air for six months would then receive this small amount of £50 and the Minister proposes to remove that. He proposes to remove the £50 from people who, by definition, are worse off to the tune of 30 per cent because they were on subsistence only. As the Minister and everyone else has acknowledged, that amounts to 70 per cent of income support. The Minister has not produced any alternative figures to contest my basic calculation that someone on full NASS support, living in NASS provided accommodation and getting his utility bills and household expenses paid for is still
 
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7 per cent worse off than a native or a person who has indefinite leave to remain and who is receiving normal income support.

The Government say that it is their objective to put the asylum seeker on broadly the same footing as if he was on income support. I have demonstrated from government figures that that is not being achieved. Irrespective of what is decided tonight—clearly, we shall pass the order and the £50 single additional payment will disappear—I beg the Government to look carefully at the figures that I have provided. If they think that there are alternative figures, either from the NASS accounts, which I have not been able to access or from any other source, which will show that the accommodation and the utility payments on behalf of the asylum seekers are worth 30 per cent and not 20 per cent as Mr Jack Straw said originally, then we should get together and discuss this.

There is a dispute between us. We have produced some figures. The Government have not produced their calculation and it is a rather unsatisfactory way to end this debate for me to have shown my arithmetic to the Government and for them not to have satisfied the House with any alternative. In the circumstances, there is no more I can do this evening than to beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.


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