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Whatever their views more generally on immigration and asylum issues, few believe that destitution is an appropriate way to deal with anyone in a civilised society, yet that is the result of our present system, which is why it cannot be described as robust but fair. People in Leeds speak to me of the increasing number of rough sleepers among asylum seekers, who add to the homeless pressure at places such as St George’s Crypt in Leeds and rely on food parcels from organisations such as Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers and a host of small organisations which have developed in our cities to provide basic necessities for people. I worked in the South Yorkshire coalfields during the miners’ strike and saw the damaging effect of denying families and individuals basic—not generous—support, and I now find that replicated on the streets and in the communities of Leeds.

This amendment does not dispute in any way the right of Government to control their borders nor the right of Government to return those without protection needs, but it disputes any moral right to use destitution, deliberately or not, as a way to influence and force people to leave or to disappear. That takes us to the next issue. The present system is highly ineffective. We simply lose track of people altogether. They disappear into a twilight world, sleeping on the floors of family members or of friends. Their children no longer go to school and therefore are deprived of the benefits which they ought to have. To provide basic healthcare and benefits would establish a far more orderly, effective and humane asylum system. Amnesty International’s report, Down and Out in London, strongly suggests that this would lead to an increase in those enabled to return to their home countries because there would be so much more clarity about where those people were.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation recently published its report on destitution in Leeds, Moving On—From Destitution to Contribution. Kate Adie, who chaired the inquiry, Courtenay Griffiths QC, Sayeeda Warsi and their colleagues advocated an end to destitution and the establishment of a right to work for refused asylum seekers. This last point is dealt with in Amendment No. 18. Kate Adie and her colleagues speak of the erosion of human dignity and the will to survive. They quote a senior nurse saying:

They quote an asylum seeker saying:

That is the situation which faces an increasing number of people in our society and our cities and which we have it in our power to deal with.

Speaking to some of the Rowntree team, I was struck by the effect that their research was having on them. Any amount of statistical information cannot make up for the actual damage being done—

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psychologically, sometimes physically, and in mental health—to people in Leeds and in many other cities in this country. This needs a cross-party solution, for no one can believe that the present situation is tolerable.

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It is true that Section 4 hard case provision in theory exists. It is difficult to access, and only a tiny minority of asylum seekers ever achieve it. Most of them do not know about it. It would be far more straightforward and effective to continue Section 95 provision to keep people in the system. Adie’s report comments:

Adie and her colleagues speak of three principles, and those are also taken up in the Joint Committee report. First, there is the need for the asylum process to keep people in the system and not drive them out of it. Secondly, there is the need for asylum seekers to contribute to host communities wherever possible, rather than being a burden on them, which is why the report advocates jobseeking and taxpaying by asylum seekers. Thirdly, there is the need to ensure that all asylum seekers have the basic necessities of life, which is, I submit, a requirement of any part of the legislation of any society.

The amendment would provide the first and the third of those principles. Adie pleads that,

The amendment gives us the opportunity to do exactly that. I beg to move.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, if this amendment is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 17.

Lord Judd: My Lords, the humanity, logic and relevance of the case made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds is powerful. It spells out the cause of decency and civilised values in this context. It is good in every sense to find myself positioned behind him.

I shall speak to Amendment No. 15. I studied very carefully our deliberations in Grand Committee, and the response given by my noble friend did not resolve the matters that were raised by the amendments on this issue. In Grand Committee, it was noted that the Joint Committee on Human Rights had welcomed Clause 17 as recognising the right of asylum seekers to receive subsistence support pending the final determination on their claim. However, it was also noted that the Joint Committee had been persuaded by the evidence submitted to it that the Government had been practising a deliberate policy of destitution in relation to asylum seeking and that the Joint Committee had found that policy clearly unacceptable. In keeping with the recommendation of the Joint Committee, this amendment seeks to ensure that, in line with Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, asylum seekers will always be treated in future with common humanity, as indeed the common law requires.

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My noble friend has yet to tell the House how that objective will be fulfilled without the amendments. I fervently hope that he will be able to do so today when he replies to the more comprehensive proposal that has been put with so much commitment both in Committee and today by the right reverend Prelate.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, from these Benches, I shall speak to Amendment No. 17, which is in the same group as Amendment No. 14. I remind the House that on 26 March we celebrated 200 years since the end of the slave trade and the work of people such as William Wilberforce and Thomas Clarkson. We applauded our own humanity in restoring dignity to those people who had in slavery suffered in such a terrible way. We said, “What good people we were 200 years ago”.

A few weeks ago, I was in Parliament Square when the statue of Nelson Mandela was unveiled. He was there, and how we celebrated with him what had happened in South Africa because of his leadership and sacrifice. With the end of apartheid, dignity had been restored. We celebrated and applauded then, yet today we are asked to continue a measure that undermines not only the dignity but often the very survival of those who arrive in the United Kingdom. I am talking about Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act, which is affected by this Bill. As has been said, that Act withdraws all benefits from failed asylum applicants and their families. It was mentioned the other day that this legislation is in total breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 24 guarantees every child health provision, but that is to be withdrawn. Article 26 gives every child a right to social security, but that is breached. Article 28 on education is breached, and there are other breaches as well. If we are to support all the obligations and opportunities of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, we must vote for these amendments.

There were three trial areas, involving 116 families and 219 children. Every local authority involved said that the trial was impossible because it was in contravention of the children Acts that support and defend children. We had a glimmer of light—I thought that it would be more than a glimmer—when the three pilot areas were withdrawn. That was an admission that they failed. Where Section 9 had been tried, it failed. We read in the evaluation report that families went into hiding rather than be deported to their countries of origin. I mentioned the other day the countries to which they would be deported. Pakistan might be okay. Then there were Somalia, Zimbabwe, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Iran. The largest number of applicants came from those countries. This proposal tries to force people back into those troubled areas. That is totally immoral. Little wonder that families go into hiding.

The provision tries to force people to leave by the cruellest of methods. The physical consequences such as food, shelter, health and benefits being withdrawn have already been mentioned. There is also the psychological damage. Imagine that you are a child in this darkest of situations. The Government say, “We

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recognise that, and we might get a new caseworker project going”. There is the Hotham project in Australia, and such projects must be encouraged. At the moment, the Bill is the legislation of the bully and is totally unworthy of a place in our legislation. Is there any other Act whose consequences are destitution?

Over the years, we have tried to withdraw from that. We have listened to various political statements and policies, and we have tried to lift children and families to new levels of hope and prosperity. But Section 9 does completely the opposite. Some say that this is a political argument. It is more than that; it is one of the great moral arguments of our time. Are we going to support legislation whose end is destitution?

Slavery was wrong and it was abolished. Apartheid was wrong and it was abolished. This section also is wrong and the Government must today, or possibly at Third Reading, come back with a proposal that removes this prospect of destitution from our statute book. The Government might say “Yes, it is there, but it will never be used—it is just a final deterrent”. We might as well say, “Let’s keep slavery, in case it is needed some day; let’s keep apartheid in case it is needed some day”. As those were wrong, so this is wrong. Section 9 is a scar, an ugly blemish, on the legislation of the United Kingdom. I suggest that today we put it finally to rest.

I know that my Benches will support this amendment and, unless the Minister gives us an assurance, we intend to test the feeling of the House and put the amendment to the vote at the end of this debate. It is not the time for anyone to sit on their hands. You cannot be a spectator. You must say either that we are for this sort of destitution clause or that we are against it. I say to those who up until now thought that they could just look on, can you really look on when you see children and others forced into this terrible state of destitution? I passionately urge noble Lords to support these amendments and to remove this blot from the statute book of the United Kingdom.

The Earl of Listowel: I shall speak to Amendment No. 17, to which my name is added, following the passionate speech of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts. It is deeply lamentable that in this country we can make families destitute by removing all support for them. Yes, there are means—complex means—by which social services can intervene, which put an additional burden on them, but this process of gradually withdrawing support for families puts those people under immense distress. Yet, it is ineffective or hardly effective at all. While 2 per cent of families were being returned by other methods, under this pilot it was raised to 4 per cent. The difference is marginal.

Other options can be used—detention is the most extreme—but the voluntary assisted return programme has been effective. I welcome the Government’s withdrawal of the pilots until now and their statement that they will use this measure very rarely. But look at what happened. Four children were taken into care as a consequence of these pilots; 32 families went underground into who-knows-what housing conditions with no access

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to healthcare or education. What sort of employment conditions were they subject to? It is hard to reconcile the Government’s desire to raise the status of social workers and demonstrate our respect for them, while not attending to the very strongly expressed concerns of the Association of Directors of Social Services and the whole of the social work profession about this measure.

The honourable Diane Abbott MP said in an earlier debate on this subject that the Government,

Earl Russell echoed that. There seems to be a lack of understanding. On Monday this week, representatives of families subject to this measure visited your Lordships’ House and spoke to some Members of Parliament. I welcome the fact that we heard that they had sensitive treatment from the case workers who were dealing with them. At least one of them reported that.

However, in 10 per cent of those families, the mothers were pregnant. I heard from a young woman with four siblings that her mother was pregnant with twins. They were born at four-and-a-half months—one died and one survived. Why are we putting families through such a mill to achieve so little? One family member reported that her mother was asked, “What will you do if your children are separated from you?”. The mother said, of course, “I would rather die than let that happen”.

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The Leader of the Opposition recently spoke to his party conference about the family. He said:

Yes, indeed, we should be supporting families, not seeking to undermine them. I heard from the young woman on Monday that her mother was rendered barely able to care for her five children because of the distress that this measure had put her through.

I applaud the steps that the Government are taking to improve support for case workers and I recognise that the Government are trying to introduce tight supervision of this measure. I welcome the fact—and I would like the Minister to confirm—that the Government intend only to use this measure in a handful of cases. But look at the culture that this comes out of—including the case of Victoria Climbié, the history of abuse of children in children’s homes and the turnover of social workers. We do not have in this country a solid base of confidence that we treat our families well and that we treat our vulnerable families in the right sort of way.

In that context I tremble to think of giving case managers this power. I very much respect the Minister and his experience as a social worker and leader of a

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local authority. Surely he knows that Section 9 serves no one’s interests and can only harm children. I beg him to accept Amendment No. 17.

The Lord Bishop of Winchester: My Lords, passion comes in many styles; whether it is the style of the noble Earl or that of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, it is appropriately directed here, because destitution as an instrument of policy is not acceptable. My hope is that the amendment of my colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, will be carried—if not, then Amendments Nos. 15 or 17 should be carried. One of them has to be carried or there has be a cast-iron assurance from the Minister that a better amendment meeting this absolute need will be brought forward at Third Reading.

The Still Human Still Here coalition offers a figure of 280,000 people who are caught in this destitution trap. If that is even remotely true it is a horrifying figure. Whether the information comes from the Rowntree work in Leeds, the Refugee Action leaflet or experience on the ground—some of us have met such people—the facts are the same. A couple of years ago I spoke with a very experienced priest of ours in Southampton who has worked in a number of the most deprived areas of this country in a lifetime’s ministry. He had recently been taken to a house in Southampton where destitute asylum seekers were, as it were, “hot bedding” in conditions which he said he had never seen in a lifetime’s ordained ministry in this country. Water was coming through the roof and there were appalling conditions. It is worth saying that a number of such people are in this position because of previous failures in the system—loss of documents, poor or inappropriate legal advice, flawed decision-making, and failures in the education and training of adjudicators.

It then needs to be said—as has been said by the noble Earl and by my colleague—that this instrument is simply ineffective. Most people who are subject to it do not, as a matter of fact, react to being removed or leaving the country by getting themselves on track. The large majority cannot: they do not have the papers; they have other difficulties; or they will not because, for very good reason, they are afraid to do so. The result, as my colleague the right reverend Prelate said, is that they are pushed into a twilight world, into poverty or into ill-health with little or no access to medical care except at points of crisis. They are also pushed into crime; they become vulnerable to trafficking; and, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, pointed out on Tuesday, as he has done on a number of occasions, they are a further driver to the kinds of resentment that are utterly contrary to the Government’s cohesion agenda. Those questions have to be taken into account before any attempt is made to justify destitution as an instrument of policy.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, the Government have already acknowledged that this is bad legislation. They acknowledged that when they accepted the amendment during the 2006 Act to repeal Section 9 following widespread opposition inside and outside Parliament. We have been here many times and it is disgraceful that we are still discussing this matter, even

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after the pilot showed that Section 9 was not working in the Government’s favour. As with reporting restrictions and other measures, in the words of the Refugee Council, this is an “inhumane and ineffective” policy and it is in breach of the UN convention. It will only have the opposite effect to that intended, which is to cause fear and drive more children and young people underground or into destitution, as many noble Lords have said. There have been countless reports by the churches and voluntary organisations bearing that out.

The Minister referred to this section in Grand Committee as,

which implies that the Government are doing battle with asylum seekers in order to meet their targets. That is somewhat in contrast to the professed policy under the new code, which we discussed on Tuesday, to provide proper protection and keep children and others safe from harm.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I shall not continue this discussion. Of course, we are all extremely worried—in fact, we are more than worried; we are horrified—at the effect that the policy has had, which I do not think was expected or anticipated. I want to ask the Minister one question relating to Clause 17(6), which states:

We do not legislate retrospectively. This clause is welcome; it is doing something that everyone has said is good, but why is it drafted in this way? I do not remember seeing such a subsection in legislation. The clause should be treated as “always having had effect”—that is, turning it into retrospective legislation. Can the Minister tell us why it is drafted in this way? It is rather worrying.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, reminded us that in the proceedings on the 2006 Act we persuaded the Government to accept an amendment which allowed them to repeal by order Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act. That was because, as the noble Earl has also said, there was almost universal opposition to this provision from churches, local authorities, professional bodies and voluntary organisations, which now includes the Refugee Children’s Consortium, the Association of Directors of Social Services, the British Association of Social Workers, the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and many others.

At that time, the Government said that a final decision on repeal would be taken when they had the results of the pilots, to which reference has been made. The clear inference was that, if the pilots failed—as they have, to universal acknowledgement—the power to repeal would then be used. But when the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, responded to this amendment in Grand Committee, he said that it was an important part of the process—a “tool in the armoury”, as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, reminded us. He went on to say, correctly, that that analogy might not be attractive to all those involved

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in the debate but that there might be many cases—he could not say how many; I shall come to that in a second—to which we must apply Section 9.

The Minister also complained in Grand Committee about the length of time that we took in raising these amendments. He said that he had heard most of the arguments before and declared that his mind had not shifted on the issue. I do not know what it would take to shift his mind when he is obviously out of step with the vast majority of informed opinion and with the normal principles of humanity and morality.

To pursue my noble friend’s line of argument, the Minister probably would not like to see torture used against families who stubbornly refuse to co-operate in their removal. However, to our way of thinking, making people destitute and separating them from their children is a form of torture, and a particularly nasty one at that. If, as the Minister said, in the end we are talking about only one, two, three or four cases a year where, for reasons that he could not or would not explain, it is impossible to remove the families, as happens with the vast majority of those who refuse to co-operate, we simply cannot understand the Government’s attitude.

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