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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it is not a stealth tax because it is all too obvious. The noble Lord should recognise that when it comes to the

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overall position on business taxation, the Chancellor has to balance the factors he has identified against other areas where the Government are concerned to help business. Further, the Chancellor made it absolutely clear yesterday that he was open to representations on the way in which we could safeguard the future of enterprise and business in this country, and I do not have the slightest doubt that that dialogue will continue.

Housing: Prices

2.59 pm

Lord Greaves asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government’s macroeconomic framework has delivered stability and rising prosperity. As set out in the 2007 Pre-Budget Report, house price inflation is expected to ease over the coming year.

Lord Greaves: My Lords, I sympathise with the Minister for his onerous afternoon of Questions, with three in a row, and I thank him for an Answer that did not actually say anything. Is it not the case that we can all now recognise that the size of the increases in house prices in the United Kingdom in the past 10 years—in all but the short term for some people—has been bad for the economy, bad for the efficiency of the housing market and particularly bad for those who have suffered from it, especially young and less affluent people who have not been able to afford to buy houses? Is the Minister aware of the comments made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, which were reported in the press last Thursday? The Chancellor criticised the companies that have been fuelling,

What will the Government do to make sure that, when the present dampening of the housing market is over, we do not have another series of unsustainable and irresponsible rises in house prices?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, rising house prices are not necessarily damaging for the economy—far from it. They produce very significant assets for families—and it should be recognised that family assets are 72 per cent above what they were in 1997 when this Government came to office—and therefore give householders the confidence with which to carry out their economic activity. The noble Lord will also recognise the high levels of employment that have obtained over that 10-year period. But of course he is right that we should be concerned about the affordability of housing, particularly for first-time buyers. That is why the Government are tackling the issue on both fronts, in the supply of housing by seeking to produce 46,000 extra houses per year under our new proposals, and by giving what assistance we

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can to first-time buyers in shared equity schemes and so on in order to tackle the problem of how people get on to the first rung of the housing ladder.

Lord Best: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the first prerequisite for bringing down house prices is for supply to be increased to match demand as nearly as possible? Does he also agree that that in itself is unlikely to be sufficient? The wall of money that has come in through the buy-to-let scheme, now running at over £100 billion—lenders such as Northern Rock have been prominent in this—has inflated house prices and pushed out first-time buyers in a way that we have not seen for a long time. Does he agree that some burnt fingers may be required for those buy-to-let speculative investors before we see prices stabilise?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the whole House recognises the noble Lord’s expertise in this area. I merely indicate to him that if the burning of fingers—if that is the right analogy—is required in order for lenders to recognise the undue risks that they may be taking, the Northern Rock episode is a most salutary illustration of that singeing. That is backed up, of course, by the fact that the Financial Services Authority is very concerned to identify where lending has been extravagant and unjustified and is seeking to bring pressure to bear on those who verge on the reckless. On the other front, the noble Lord is absolutely right that it is important that we should also tackle the issue of housing supply.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, the level of personal debt, much of which is secured on domestic property, is now nearly £1.4 trillion, which is larger than the UK’s GDP. What analysis have the Government carried out of the impact of falling house prices on household finances and therefore on consumer demand?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, of course the Government are concerned with that analysis, because it is a significant aspect of prediction with regard to the development of the economy. But even in this period of relative difficulty, house repossessions are less than half what they were in 1990. There is no indication that we are anywhere near a 15 per cent interest rate or high repossession rate. Therefore, the circumstances that led to the housing crash that occurred under the previous Administration in the late 1980s do not obtain today.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, perhaps I may take issue with the questioner, who referred to a heavily overpriced market. There can only be one price for the housing market and that is the current price. It is essential that there should be no panic. It may very well be that mortgagees are lending over and above 100 per cent of the real value but, nevertheless, one should keep a sense of proportion, because the market can bear those strains. Ultimately, demand will settle the level of price, and demand remains very high.

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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord’s remarks help to bring balance to the short discussion that we have had today. There is anxiety about the exposure of US lending authorities in the sub-prime market. I hasten to add that lending in Britain in the sub-prime category is half that in the United States, so we can anticipate that we will suffer nothing like the shock that the United States might face. The noble Lord is right about the general position with regard to supply and demand but, as we all know, where there is dissonance between the two, there can be some very unfortunate outcomes for households. At the present time, as the noble Lord indicated in a previous question, the demand of first-time buyers for housing needs to be met, because we recognise that our fellow citizens are facing difficulty.

UK Borders Bill

3.07 pm

Read a third time.

Clause 16 [Conditional leave to enter or remain]:

Lord Avebury moved Amendment No. 1:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Clause 16 empowers the Secretary of State and his officials at the Border and Immigration Agency to impose residence and reporting conditions on any person whatever granted leave to enter or remain in the UK unless that grant is for an indefinite period. Those who could be subjected to these conditions in theory include refugees, international students, work permit holders, highly skilled migrants, tourists and other visitors, and family members of those who are already settled here.

Although none of these groups has been identified as a target, the potential was expressly conceded by the Government in Committee when the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office said:

So hundreds of thousands of immigrants therefore face the possibility that they may be required to report monthly, weekly or even daily to an immigration officer, to reside at a specified address or to be present at that place of residence at particular times. This follows from the drafting of the clause, which leaves the purpose for and the circumstances in which the conditions may be set wholly at large. Such conditions might be highly intrusive with the potential to disrupt studies, work and other economic activity, and ordinary family and private life.

The clause does not explain what its true purpose is or why, if the limitations on its use in practice are to be those that were outlined by the Minister in Grand Committee, they could not have been written into the

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Bill. We know that the intention is to apply the conditions—initially, at any rate—to UASC and foreign prisoners, though not those covered by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill now in another place. Since the clause is far wider than that, however, there has to be accountability if and when it is used for other categories of person.

That is the immediate thrust of the amendment, but it also allows us to remind the Minister of the assurance he gave at the end of the debate on a previous amendment on conditions on 12 July in Grand Committee. He promised “something comprehensive” and said that the department,

Noble Lords who are interested in children will remember that there was a consultation in progress on the Government’s planning for better outcomes and support for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children under which it was proposed that these children should be concentrated in 40 to 50 local authorities, with responsibility each for about 100 children, in four regions that were outside London and the south-east, where they are concentrated at the moment. However, in the Minister’s letter to me of 19 July following that session of Grand Committee, although he gave me a lot of information about the numbers of UASC and the need for better management of contact with them—and we hope the letter was useful to some of the agencies with which we shared it—he did not mention the specialist authorities. It was not until 18 September that he wrote again to say that the responses to the consultation, which were originally planned to be published at the end of August, had been delayed so that the Government could announce their decisions arising out of the consultation at the same time. The target date is now the end of November, which effectively prevents your Lordships from making any contribution, as we could otherwise have done to the debate on the treatment of UASC if the original timetable had not been scrapped.

At what point was the decision referred to in the letter of 19 July taken? It must have been before the end of August, so why were noble Lords not informed until three weeks later? Does the Minister not agree that his undertaking to provide feedback from the LGA on the specialist authorities idea—given in Grand Committee and therefore, I hope, equivalent to an undertaking given on the Floor of the House—should have been honoured irrespective of what was decided about the rest of the answers to the consultation? When a Minister says he will produce something in any debate and the information is available, does he have the right to delay the publication for three months on the grounds that he wants it to appear simultaneously with something else? As the Minister knows, we are sympathetic to the concept of the specialist authorities, and we can see that paragraph (v) will be necessary to make it work. That is why our amendment asks only for written reasons to be given for the reporting, not the residence, condition. If all the UASC were concentrated in the 40 to 50 authorities, contact

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management could be improved significantly, and should any child abscond or go missing the authority concerned should know about it immediately and inform the BIA accordingly without disrupting every child’s education and other activities by requiring him or her to attend the nearest BIA office. I beg to move

Lord Hylton: My Lords, written reasons are just about always desirable when a decision is taken that has a strong bearing on personal and individual liberty. The subject matter of this clause enables me to mention the subject matter of exceptional leave to remain. This used to be a large category of decisions in asylum cases but in recent years it has been squeezed almost out of existence. I say that having it in mind that many applicants probably do not deserve full refugee status. On the other hand they have a serious need for humanitarian protection; for example, because it will be impossible for them to return to their own country, or if not impossible, highly risky and dangerous, so I urge the Government to do whatever they can to make greater use of exceptional leave to remain.

3.15 pm

The Lord Bishop of Winchester: My Lords, I am grateful, as I have been throughout the Bill’s passage, to both noble Lords who have just spoken. I pick up an implication in the early part of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in support of this amendment. Those at the sharp end of this whole system often experience it as one example after another of arbitrary, oppressive exercise of power. This amendment is one small contribution to lessening that experience and to ensuring that those at the basic levels who have considerable power over vulnerable people’s lives set out exactly why they are making this requirement or another. I hope that the House will accept the amendment.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords who contributed to this short debate. I will set out our thinking on this issue as best I can and try to deal with some of the questions that have arisen in this and earlier discussions.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, tried to flush out more of the purpose of Clause 16. It is designed to allow the Border and Immigration Agency to monitor and maintain contact with certain individuals who have been granted limited leave to remain. That is its primary purpose. As I explained to noble Lords previously, we will grant leave with reporting conditions only where this is justified by a need for close monitoring of an individual.

We want to be able to apply the clause to former foreign national prisoners, who have been released from prison but who cannot be removed at present due to legal barriers. The need to monitor all such people with a view to their eventual removal is clearly in the public interest. I should have thought there would be common agreement on that point.

We also propose to apply the clause to certain young people under the age of 18 where it is considered there is a need to monitor them. Principally we aim to

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monitor all former unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who are granted limited leave to remain in the United Kingdom due to the lack of reception facilities in their home countries, but who nevertheless need to be prepared for return to their countries once they are old enough or the appropriate reception arrangements are in place. There is a clear need there.

Conditional leave may also be used to monitor young people given limited leave other than with their parent or legal guardian, who have not identified themselves to the welfare, health and education agencies but with whom we have reasons for wanting to stay in touch until we are satisfied that the child is being cared for properly. The provisions may also be used to monitor those young persons who have been in the care of local authorities but have since opted out of that care. Again, there are good reasons. I should like to reassure noble Lords that we would only apply the conditions reasonably. Our general duties in public law require us to use all our powers rationally and reasonably.

I have concerns regarding the amendment, particularly in relation to ensuring consistency with the way we currently manage foreign nationals with leave who are placed on similar conditions. There is no general legal duty to provide detailed written reasons in respect of decisions to impose the existing conditions on leave under Section 3(1) (c) of the 1971 Act. To introduce a new duty in these circumstances runs counter to existing practice. It is not necessary and could prove disproportionate.

We would set out in correspondence to the applicant the general principles which are applied when considering whether to place these conditions on leave. Separately, the specific reporting arrangements that are put in place for an individual placed on conditional leave will be looked at on a case-by-case basis. For example, in the case of reporting arrangements involving a former unaccompanied asylum-seeking child who was in care we would consider the resource implications for any local authority. We would aim to keep face-to-face reporting to a minimum and would use telephone or video contact where possible and practicable.

In addition, we will continue our discussions on this issue with the Association of Directors of Children’s Services during the implementation of this provision, and ensure that its views on frequency and the nature of reporting are taken into account when drawing up advice to BIA caseworkers on handling former unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. I believe that those are good reasons for adopting the approach that we have.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked about the greater use of exceptional leave. Exceptional leave has now been replaced by humanitarian leave and discretionary leave, which are much more widely used. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked when this decision was made. I shall have to write to him because I do not have that information today and would like to give the matter further thought. I appreciate the noble Lord’s patience, but we try to ensure that we give timely responses, and give proper and appropriate advice on the development of policy. I apologise to the noble Lord for that.

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Lord Avebury: My Lords, the noble Lord has gone some way towards satisfying us on this by saying that the Government would give reasons in writing, but that they would be of a general nature and would not be applied in the particular circumstances of the individual. At least, any person required to report to an immigration office under new Section 3(1)(c)(iv) of the Immigration Act 1971 would know the general background which led to this condition being imposed.

However, I am disappointed that the noble Lord could not say more in response to my request for information, which he had previously undertaken to give us, on the attitude of the LGA to the specialist authorities. That is critical to the residence conditions. If the 6,000-odd UASC are to be concentrated in 40 to 50 local authorities in specified regions outside London and the south-east, it would mean a major reform to the system. When UASC arrive, presumably, as we did with adult asylum seekers under the NASS system, they would be directed to a particular locality where the authority had spare capacity and is experienced in dealing with this group of young people. It is perfectly reasonable for there to be residency conditions for all UASC. When they reach their destination they will normally be in the care of the local authority and the local authority will have the prime responsibility for seeing that they remain in the accommodation provided for them, be it local authority accommodation or a foster home. They will break those responsibilities if they are not fully aware of the location of the children at any moment, and should have first knowledge of any child who absconds or, for one reason or another, is not residing in the place allocated to him.

We still consider that the prime duty should be laid on the local authorities, and that they are perfectly capable of telling the BIA when there is any breach of the residence conditions. We accept that close contact with UASC needs to be maintained for all the reasons given by the noble Lord. We have never opposed that project. We asked repeatedly for more information about how it was to operate; we are still waiting for that information. Obviously, I have to withdraw the amendment at this stage, but I regret that during this Bill we have not been able to have the thorough discussion that would have arisen if the original timetable had been adhered to, and responses to the consultation published on 30 August. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Hylton moved Amendment No. 2:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, on Report the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, gave me four separate assurances. He said that the Government intended to

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narrow the gap between policy and practice in deciding who was to be detained. He spoke of reviewing the guidance to staff. Amendment No. 2 gives him the opportunity to honour his words. It has the incidental merit of enshrining this year’s High Court decision of Mr Justice Wyn Williams in case CO/9745/2005.

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