House of Lords
Wednesday, 3 February 2016.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.
Syria: Brimstone Missiles
My Lords, the Brimstone missile offers the coalition a capability to strike moving targets accurately, with minimal risk of collateral damage. Between 2 December 2015 and 31 January 2016, RAF Brimstone missiles were used successfully on nine occasions in Syria to strike enemy vehicles. There have been no associated reports of civilian casualties and it is assessed that all targets were successfully destroyed or damaged.
Yes, I think that the kill so far has been two trucks and five mobile cranes. Does it really matter what type of bomb or which of the coalition partners drop it? It has been reported that some 40 civilians or more were killed in January and in the first two days of this week. Surely we are involved in a joint enterprise and, by long-standing principles of English law, we are all of us legally and morally responsible for the lives of those who are killed—innocent civilians, innocent men, women and children—by these bombs. What comment would the Minister have?
So far as we are concerned, as a member of the coalition, we take the possibility and risk of civilian casualties extremely seriously. As I said in my initial Answer, to date there is no evidence that UK strikes have resulted in civilian casualties. Three factors underpin that: our use of precision guided weapons; our adherence to very strict targeting and planning protocols; and, above all, the skill of our pilots and air crew. I think that it does make a difference whether it is the RAF or another air force taking part.
The real problem here is heavy bombers flying from Russia unloading unguided bombs in large numbers and killing almost indiscriminately. Does not that also have a dramatic effect in driving up the refugee numbers, which continue to destabilise Europe? Maybe—just maybe—we are not taking this seriously enough.
The noble Lord is absolutely right. There is no question that Russia is actively targeting civilians and is almost certainly in breach of international humanitarian law in the process. That has to stop. Russia cannot continue to sit at the table as a sponsor of the political process and, at the same time, bomb the civilian areas of the very groups of people whom we believe will form the backbone of the new Syria, once Assad has left.
My Lords, we have not yet heard from the Conservative Benches.
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, for not giving way. The Minister will be aware that a number of Syrian refugees got into the sovereign base area on Cyprus where our air attacks go from without being detected. Can he assure the House that security there has been tightened up? Clearly there is huge vulnerability to terrorists trying to get at our aircraft and our aircrew before they can be in the air being looked after properly.
My Lords, do the Government agree that the European refugee tragedy is caused largely by the evil Islamic State which we, the United States and other allies could destroy on the ground in a few months? Is the reason we do not do so because we have lost our nerve after our disastrous invasions of Iraq and elsewhere? Has the time not come to think again because we clearly cannot solve the problem with airpower alone?
The noble Lord is right that airpower alone will not defeat Daesh. Indeed, military action alone will not defeat Daesh. We have to counter its ideology as well and cut off its sources of finance. We have set our face against putting British troops on the ground in Iraq or Syria. Prime Minister Abadi of Iraq has made it very clear that he wishes the action on the ground to be pursued by Iraqi armed forces, not western troops, and we respect that.
My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an extremely important point. There have been many occasions—I cannot give her a precise number—when a strike mission has been called off because it has been deemed too risky to the civilian population. We always err on the side of caution in that respect.
My Lords, the House is indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, for tabling this Question because the impact of our actions in Syria on the civilian population must never be far from our minds. On this side, we have consistently argued for airstrikes against ISIL’s oil-exporting capability, thus depleting its sources of funding. Can the Minister update us on this? More than that, I remind him that the Defence Secretary promised a quarterly report on our activities in Syria and one must be due any day now. Will he come to the House and make a Statement when that report is published?
My Lords, if a Statement is decided upon through the usual channels and my right honourable friend’s decisions, of course I am very willing to repeat it in your Lordships’ House. I am in full accord with the noble Lord’s initial statements and I am prepared to update the House on a regular basis.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made by the review into funding for extremist interpretations of Islam within the United Kingdom, including from overseas sources, announced by the Prime Minister on 2 December 2015 with the declared intention that it would report by the spring of 2016.
My Lords, the review into the funding of extremist interpretations of Islamic ideology, including funds that come from overseas, has made good progress. Analysts from across government are working on the review, led by the extremism analysis unit. It will report to the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary in the spring of this year.
My Lords, we understand that the Charities Commission has been doing some work on domestic sources, looking particularly at the role of Muslim charities. Foreign funding is entirely legitimate but it should be transparent, whether it comes from government or private sources. We have indications that some Governments have been supporting Muslim education in this country, but of course it should be directed to legitimate ends and not to the support of extremist versions of Islam.
I totally agree with the noble Lord that any source of funding that seeks to divide or disrupt what we have here in the United Kingdom should be looked upon, and the full force of the law for anyone seeking to create such divisions will be imposed. The noble Lord mentioned the review by the Charities Commission. That is very much factored into the review that is currently being carried out and I am speaking to colleagues in the Cabinet Office very closely on this subject.
My Lords, what are the Government proposing to do about the Muslim Brotherhood, considering that the report that the Government commissioned, which was published in December, concludes with the words:
“Muslim Brotherhood ideology and tactics, in this country and overseas, are contrary to our values and have been contrary to our national interests and our national security”?
Will the Government at least arrange for a debate in your Lordships’ House on the matter?
The issue of a debate is very much for the usual channels. If my noble friend wishes to table such a debate, it will of course be taken forward in the normal way. On the issue of the Muslim Brotherhood, he is of course quite right: the Government published their findings in the review. The whole issue around the Muslim Brotherhood is something that the Government are watching very closely.
My Lords, when we talk about Islamic extremism, should we not attempt to be more precise in what we are talking about? There are passages in the Koran that might have been relevant to the time when the infant Muslim community was under siege from all sides but may not be so relevant today. It is important that those passages be put in the context of today. Should the Government not be working with Muslim leaders to that end?
It is not the Government’s role to decide on which interpretation of Islam is correct, but I assure the noble Lord that we work with all Muslim organisations, and indeed all faith institutions across the board, to ensure that we not only sustain what we have in our country today but build the resilience, strength and indeed the harmony and diversity of faith across our country that is a source of great strength for this nation.
My Lords, it is widely agreed that all statements that tend towards causing hatred, contempt and violence towards other faiths should not be permitted, but does the Minister nevertheless agree that it is not extremist in any way, and should in fact be encouraged, for there to be statements that are frank and categorical assertions of faith or no faith, and that there is no right not to be offended or hurt by such statements?
I agree on the whole issue of interpretations and the right not to be offended, because after all that is what we are protecting here in our country. I think that there is a distinct line to be drawn when it comes to any conservative practice of a particular religion. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is on record, when referring to Islam in particular, as saying that anyone who is devout of faith can be anything but an extremist. The right to offend someone and not to be offended remains a value that we wish to protect, but we need to stand up to those who seek to divide us and to create division between society and faiths. That is certainly what our counterextremism strategy is all about.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that I have tried four times to get a straight answer to a Parliamentary Question about whether, in countering extremist ideology, the Government are concerned about the preaching and teaching of Wahhabism in mosques and Muslim education bodies in Britain that are funded from overseas? Could he please answer that question with a yes or no?
We are concerned as a Government—as we all are—about any kind of funding which seeks to harm and disturb the nature of our society. The noble Lord referred to a particular issue; the review that has been set up was set up with that very intention: to look at all forms of extremism that seek to influence or distort Islam in a way which is not conducive to the fundamental shared values we enjoy in Britain today.
My Lords, does the Government’s analysis of extremist interpretations of Islam include what is preached in our mosques, madrassahs and prisons by imams and extremists speaking in Arabic and other languages? How many reliable interpreters do we have, and should we not fund quite a few more from our own resources?
It is not the Government’s role, as I said earlier, to start adjudicating on different interpretations of Islam. The Government’s role—and this is exactly what they are doing—is to protect and secure all our citizens and protect the fundamental values we enjoy, which include the ability to profess, propagate and practise your faith with the basic and fundamental value of respect for all faiths and none in our country. That is what the Government seek to do, and I believe that we all subscribe to that principle.
That is not only the Government’s intention but what we are doing, including myself as the Minister responsible. My right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, as well as other members of the Cabinet, are directly engaged. Indeed, the engagement forum, which the Prime Minister has himself led on a couple of occasions, alongside the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, has been about engaging with all denominations across the wide spectrum of Islam in Britain today.
Channel 4: Privatisation
No decisions have been taken about the future of Channel 4. Channel 4 is an important part of the UK broadcasting landscape, and the Government want to ensure that it has a strong and secure future. We are looking at a wide range of options to help deliver this, including those proposed by Channel 4’s own leadership and those involving private investment.
I thank the Minister for her reply. The Secretary of State has said that he wishes to ensure that Channel 4 can continue to deliver its remit. Does the Minister accept that privatisation would have a negative impact on the channel’s delivery of news and current affairs, diversity, the Paralympics and the plurality of public service broadcasting in general? Will Her Majesty’s Government now rule out privatisation?
My Lords, taking into account the remit that the noble Baroness outlines, we are rightly looking at all the options with a view to achieving what the Prime Minister called Channel 4’s secure and successful future. That is very important, because Channel 4 is so unusual in its distinctiveness and experimentalism, being innovative and of course appealing to diverse sections of society.
Does the Minister agree that, operationally, Channel 4 is already in the private sector in that it raises money through advertising, and it cannot do that unless it is successful in attracting an audience for its programmes? Privatisation would simply face it with the obligation of funding that privatisation through either bank interest or dividends to shareholders, all of which is money that could have been spent on programming. That is therefore undesirable.
We are looking at all the options. Of course, government is a sole shareholder, and the channel gets 90% of its revenue from advertising, as has been suggested. Its revenues are £930 million and last year it made a profit of less than £5 million.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Channel 4 pension fund and a former chief executive of Channel 4. Does my noble friend agree that the current settlement for Channel 4 is no longer fit for purpose and puts a risk on the public purse, because in the end the taxpayers are the shareholders of last resort? The world has changed dramatically, and the commercial threats to Channel 4 are a hundredfold greater than they were when I was there and was part of the present settlement. It is absolutely time that the channel had a new settlement that will enable it to change its modus operandi and become a fully fledged business.
I very much agree with my noble friend that this is a challenging and fast-changing environment. It is partly because of that that we are looking at options to secure Channel 4’s future. We will look at all the points made about benefits and the changing environment in which the media operate today.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that Channel 4’s overall share of young audiences is growing and that a higher proportion of young viewers watch “Channel 4 News” than any other broadcaster’s news? Does she accept that Channel 4 has an important role in providing public service content to young people, and that privatisation could threaten this very important part of its remit?
I very much agree with the noble Baroness, except perhaps her conclusion. “Channel 4 News”, which is regulated news provision under Ofcom rules, is important. It is great that the channel attracts younger audiences because that is what we need for the future of the media and our creative industries in Britain.
My Lords, I am sure the whole House will congratulate Charles Gurassa, the new chair of Channel 4, appointed by Ofcom on the advice of the Secretary of State. According to the Financial Times, Mr Gurassa has previously chaired three media and communications companies, all of which were sold during his tenure. Can the Minister confirm whether privatisation experience was specified in the job description?
As the noble Lord said, the appointment was made by Ofcom and approved by the Secretary of State. It is true that Charles Gurassa brings a wealth of experience. That includes business experience of the kind the noble Lord suggests, but also experience on the board of the National Trust and as chairman of a housing association. He is very broadly experienced, and it is a sound appointment. I very much look forward to his ideas for the future of Channel 4.
My Lords, while my noble friend is rightly looking at all the options for the future of Channel 4, will she take into account the extraordinary public service work it does for the disabled? Following the exceptional and exhilarating coverage of the Paralympics, it has now nominated 2016 as its year of disability, in which it is substantially increasing the number of disabled actors in its shows, increasing the number of disabled people working in production companies and reserving a full 50% of its apprenticeships for the disabled. Is this not a significant example from public sector broadcasting that other broadcasters would do well shamelessly to follow?
The noble Lord did not quite say what I hoped he would say but he made a very important point. I digress slightly from the issue by saying that many major companies in this country have pension funds that are greater, in terms of their deficiencies, than the value of the company. I declare an interest in Channel 4, having been a member of the authority that set it up in the first place. Will the noble Baroness confirm that the Government’s ambitions here have nothing to do with the Chancellor’s growing need for funds?
I think that would be a good Channel 4 programme. The environment is challenging and changing, as I have tried to explain and as my noble friend Lord Grade kindly said. That is a reason to look at the benefits and at options. As I have explained before, it is good to look at the future of organisations like this and to build on their success.
My Lords, we are interested to see the results of the consultation on NHS England’s proposals for a sugar tax. Urgent action is needed to tackle obesity, particularly in children, which is why we will shortly set out a comprehensive new strategy to tackle the problem.
The World Health Organization and the NHS, both distinguished bodies, have proclaimed that a sugar tax is desirable, necessary and should be introduced as soon as possible. In that light, do the Government have any plans to revise their previous position and introduce proposals for a sugar tax by no later than April of this year?
My Lords, the Government are considering a whole range of options for tackling the scourge of obesity in young people, which include portion control, reformulation, advertising and many others. One issue they are considering is a sugar tax, but we will announce the results of that strategy in the very near future.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that the key to weight management is correcting energy imbalance? Will the Government therefore consider forcing manufacturers of junk foods to put on their labels the number of hours of vigorous exercise that are equivalent to the contents of the packet?
My Lords, as the noble Baroness will know, there are plans for later this year to have compulsory labelling of sugar content on packaging. However, I am not aware that there are any plans to have pictures of well-known athletes on the packaging as well.
My noble friend is partly right. It is of course a matter of individual and parental responsibility, but I think we have an obligation in our country to make the right choice as easy as possible, and for too many people the wrong choice is far too easy to make.
My Lords, I am sure the Minister is aware of a meta-analysis study carried out of nine studies which compared the pricing of sugar-sweetened beverages against the reduction of consumption of such drinks. It showed considerable price elasticity. Therefore, it is difficult to determine in an economy like ours the level of taxation that is required to achieve the right reduction. What plans do the Government have to find such evidence?
My Lords, it is interesting that in the plans put forward for consultation by Simon Stevens of NHS England they are looking at a levy of 20% on sweetened beverages. In Mexico, they brought in a sugar tax of 10%, which according to a study by the Lancet resulted in a reduction in consumption of some 12%. But it is very difficult to isolate the particular impact of tax when many other measures are being used at the same time.
My Lords, Simon Stevens, the NHS chief executive, recently pointed out that obesity is the new smoking, and that Britain spends more on obesity-related healthcare than on the police, the fire service, prisons and the criminal justice service combined: £6 billion and rising. He has promised to raise the price of sugary drinks sold on NHS premises to staff, patients and visitors as another small step. Cannot the Government take steps to introduce this policy across all government departments and institutions?
Does my noble friend agree that taxation, along with other measures, has played a significant role in diminishing the consumption of tobacco in this country over the years? Is it not therefore rather strange that the Government should be so reluctant to make more use of this weapon with regard to obesity?
My Lords, we have to be careful, or at least recognise, that if a sugar tax were imposed it would fall largely on those who are least able to afford it. There is of course a strong argument for a sugar tax, but there is also a case for making the argument against sugar consumption and making it easier for people not to consume sugar before we resort to taxation.
My Lords, will the Minister give us an assurance that when the new policy comes out to tackle obesity we will not fall into the trap of saying that the answer is exercise? You have to run for miles and miles to take off a single pound of fat.
The noble Baroness makes an interesting point. This is one of the difficulties with the proposal for a sugar tax. We must be very careful about which sugars we would tax. I cannot give the noble Baroness a proper answer save that where sugar taxes have been introduced, they apply to where sugar is added as part of the manufacturing process or where it is present in syrups and fruit juices, but not where it occurs in, for example, fruit or vegetables.
Trade Union Bill
Order of Consideration Motion
That it be an instruction to the Committee of the whole House to which the Trade Union Bill has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order:
Clauses 1 to 15, Schedules 1 and 2, Clauses 16 and 17, Schedule 3, Clauses 18 and 19, Schedule 4, Clauses 20 to 23, Title.
Committee (4th Day)
Relevant documents: 7th Report from the Constitution Committee, 17th, 18th and 19th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee.
Clause 34: Appeals within the United Kingdom: certification of human rights claims
227: Clause 34, page 39, line 16, at end insert—
“( ) After subsection (3) insert—
“(3A) Before a decision is taken to certify a human rights claim, the Secretary of State must obtain a multi-agency best interests assessment in relation to any child whose human rights may be breached by the decision to certify.””
My Lords, Clause 34 and this amendment deal with rights of appeal relating to persons who claim to have a right to remain in the United Kingdom on asylum or human rights grounds, but whose claim has been refused. Under the terms of the Bill, the Secretary of State will have the power to certify the claim for someone appealing on human rights grounds against an immigration decision so that they can only appeal from outside of the United Kingdom unless to do so would be in breach of their human rights.
This extends to all individuals the provisions that are already enforced for the deportation cases of former foreign national offenders, and will affect all those bringing human rights appeals under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, on the right to respect for private and family life. In order to make an application under Article 8, it is necessary to gather extensive evidence demonstrating the extent to which a child, for example, has developed a personal life and connections within the United Kingdom, including evidence from the carer, teachers, therapists, medical professionals, mentors and friends. This is surely made far harder where those connections are severed by distance and time, enforced by deportation and delays in the tribunal system.
It is also vital not only to understand and obtain evidence, but to present it appropriately, which requires legal assistance, yet legal aid is not available for Article 8 appeals save on an exceptional basis. For those without the requisite leave there will also be no legal aid to challenge the certification of the case prior to removal. As a result, out-of-country appeals, for which the deadlines to lodge an appeal are often extremely tight, will not be pursued or will be pursued only inadequately, given the costs of taking forward an appeal as a privately paying individual from overseas. It may be that that is the deliberate intention of this measure. Under the Immigration Act 2014, the Secretary of State was given power to certify deportation appeals so that a foreign national offender subject to a deportation order can be removed before their appeal or during the appeal process if the Secretary of State decides that to do so would not cause serious irreversible harm—not just serious harm, but serious irreversible harm. Available data show that in the year since the provision came into force for foreign national offenders, the number of appeals against deportation brought out of country has dropped by 87% compared with the number brought in country in the year to April 2013. The rate of success on appeal is also lower than before, decreasing from 26% in the year to April 2013 to just 13%. That suggests that many individuals are unable to appeal effectively a decision following removal from the UK, and that appeals which would have been successful are not being brought.
The available data indicate that “deport first, appeal later” has had an adverse impact on the ability of foreign national offenders—whom I appreciate may not be the most popular of individuals—to challenge a deportation decision, which suggests that this handicap will affect thousands more individuals if the provisions are extended, including many who have British or settled family members in the UK, such as partners and children. We have in this group a stand part Motion relating to Clause 34.
Amendment 227 is intended to ensure that before a decision is made to certify any claim for an out-of-country appeal, the best interests of any child affected must be considered in line with the terms of our amendment. As I have already said, Clause 34 is a wide extension of the existing powers relating to a limited class of individuals, and will now cover many people who are appealing their cases. It is not clear to what extent the Government have considered the impact, particularly on children, of separation in such circumstances. The Children’s Commissioner published a report last year about the impact of different rules, including the rules about the income requirement that has to be met before a spouse can join a family. It also addressed the adverse impact on a child of not having access to one parent for months or sometimes years. The Government’s figures indicate that around 40% of appeals succeed, which is a high success rate for appeals, and if a family is involved it could result in the distress referred to in the Children’s Commissioner’s report, because they cannot have any meaningful contact with one of their parents for a prolonged period. That is a real difficulty with the intention to extend the removal of individuals before an appeal can take place. Many appeals take a long time to deal with, and this Bill seems a bit thin in addressing that issue.
There is also the issue of the practicability of appealing from abroad. The process and procedures will be rather different from how we normally resolve cases, as will the ability of the parties to make and challenge submissions, and of the judge to ask questions and come to a decision. Presumably, if someone has to appeal from abroad, their submissions will be made well before the hearing, either electronically or in hard copy form, and there will not be the prospect of the same kind of exchanges that take place for hearings in this country, with all the parties present, with a view to determining the truth or resolving key issues. There is a very real difference between a hearing at which the individuals are present and able to deliberate and make submissions, and one where some of the most affected individuals are abroad. How does the appellant abroad deal with the points that the tribunal hearing the case wants to make as it begins to make up its mind?
Much of the Bill is aimed at illegal migrants, given its declared intention of making it harder for them to live and work in this country. However, illegal migrants will be affected by the removal of appeal rights in this country. The Bill extends that provision to all migrants making human rights appeals, regardless of any illegality or criminality and whether it has been established or even suspected. As a result, people who have committed no offence and would in fact be granted the right to stay in the United Kingdom will be forced to leave for an indeterminate period, involving separation from their families. The Government cannot dodge the reality that that will be the Bill’s effect.
Immigration appeals currently take about six months, but a year or more is not unusual. There appears to be no significant indication that that situation will improve. The Law Society has apparently suggested that if the current appeal success rate is maintained, it could be at a cost to the Government and taxpayers, since successful applicants might be able to seek compensation over the enforced separation from their families. Leaving aside whether that consideration would come into play, bearing in mind the potential consequences for children of separation from a parent, it is surely crucial that, before a decision is made to certify any claim for an out-of-country appeal, the best interests of any child affected be considered, and for that to be on the face of this Bill in particular.
I thank the Minister for the letter and further information regarding these measures. I appreciate that he will no doubt be referring to a particular Court of Appeal decision in his response. It is also worth mentioning that that Court of Appeal said that an out-of-country appeal would be less advantageous to the appellant than an in-country appeal, which supports my point about it being more difficult to appeal when you are overseas.
I have made the case for putting the duty to consider the best interests of the child in the Bill, and I hope the Minister will respond favourably. Surely the last thing any of us wants—I know the Minister will share this view—is for damage to be caused to children by appeals having to be heard out of country. I beg to move Amendment 227 and repeat that we also have a stand part Motion in relation to Clause 34 in this group.
My Lords, I am a signatory to Amendment 227, which has been so comprehensively and well introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, this afternoon. The noble Lord, Lord Bates, will recall that, prior to Second Reading, I chaired a meeting in your Lordships’ House organised by the Refugee Children’s Consortium and the Children’s Society. Some of the issues raised by the noble Lord today were raised then, and I know that they have been on the mind of the Minister.
The position of children was brought home to me by a report that appeared in the Daily Telegraph on Monday last, reiterated in the Observer on Sunday, which stated:
“At least 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees have disappeared in Europe, the EU’s criminal intelligence agency has said, as it warned many could be in the hands of traffickers.
Brian Donald, Europol’s chief of staff, said the children had vanished after arriving in Europe and registering with state authorities”.
He went on to say:
“It’s not unreasonable to say that we’re looking at 10,000-plus children”.
We should take the rights of children, which are at the heart of the amendment, very seriously within our own jurisdiction, as well as recognising that children are suffering outside our jurisdiction as a result of this massive crisis of migration.
The seriousness of this question and of out-of-country appeals was also brought home to me this morning when, with my noble friend Lord Hylton and as a result of the kindness of the noble Lord, Lord Bates, and Mr James Brokenshire in organising it for us, we visited Yarl’s Wood detention centre. I was deeply impressed by a lot of what we saw there. We were able to talk at random to people at Yarl’s Wood. I spoke to a lady who is 33 years of age. She has lived in this country for 26 years. She has three children, aged 17, 14 and 12. She was born in Somalia. Because she has some minor convictions, including things such as shoplifting in the past, this lady will be deported from this country to Mogadishu in Somalia. “Needless to say”, she said, “Every night, I sleep with my heart pounding”. I do not know, but will this woman have to launch an appeal from Mogadishu? Is this the sort of thing that could arise as a consequence of this legislation?
That is why the amendment that the noble Lord moved is so important. I have three very brief reasons why I support it. First, thousands of children, including British citizens, will be at risk of being separated from their parents or being removed from the UK before any judicial scrutiny of the Home Office’s decision and without adequate consideration of the best interests of the child. Secondly, given the consequences of inappropriate certification and the cost and obstacles to challenging certification—the only means of doing so being by judicial review—surely it is wrong to extend the existing provisions. Thirdly, Clause 34 could see more cases involving unaccompanied children or young people aged over 18 who claimed asylum alone as children, or who arrived as children and have lived in the UK for most of their lives, being certified for an out-of-country appeal and being removed to their countries of origin without a sufficient assessment of their best interests being undertaken.
The Children’s Society tells me that the provisions risk children being deprived of their parents or forced to leave the country that they grew up in before any judicial scrutiny of the Home Office’s decision and without adequate consideration of the best interests of the child. It says that this provision could see more cases involving unaccompanied children or young people aged over 18 who claimed asylum alone as children and/or who have lived here for many years and have built their lives in the UK being certified for an out-of-country appeal.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, was right to remind us of the implications, following the changes made under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act, of the consequences of removing legal aid. I was struck by a report, again by the Children’s Society, that estimates that 2,490 children would be out of scope in a post-LASPO context. Clearly, without legal aid these children, including those in care, are unable to resolve their immigration issues, often resulting in a crisis for the child as they turn 18.
I have only one other point, which is a question to the Minister. Given the difficulties that children and families face making immigration applications because there is no legal aid for immigration claims, how will the Home Office be sure that it has all the information it needs to make a comprehensive, best-interests assessment before allowing an appeal only from outside of the United Kingdom? Before we agree the provisions of the clause or reject the amendment, we need an answer to that question.
My Lords, I shall speak in support of opposing the question that Clause 34 stand part of the Bill and in support of Amendment 227, to which I added my name. In its two reports on the last Immigration Bill, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I was then a member, raised serious concerns on human rights grounds about out-of-country appeals. It questioned reliance on judicial review to challenge certification. I note that the Select Committee on the Constitution suggested that we may wish to bear these concerns in mind. Indeed, I see that the current chair of the JCHR has written to the Home Secretary to raise concerns about how extension could result in families with meritorious Article 8 claims being subjected to extensive separation.
A wide range of human rights and immigration organisations have raised concerns on human rights and rule of law grounds, as access to justice is likely to be impeded, as we have already heard. On the rule of law question, ILFA notes that the Government point to the decision in Kiarie, R v the Secretary of State for the Home Department as support for its view that an out-of-country appeal is adequate. However, ILFA responds that a decision that the Secretary of State is entitled to proceed on the basis that an out-of-country appeal will meet the procedural requirements of Article 8 in the generality of criminal deportation cases, where she is balancing the individual’s right against the public interest of deporting someone with a criminal conviction whose presence, it is asserted, is not conducive to the public good, does not necessarily mean that it will meet those requirements in the wider generality of cases covered by Clause 34.
Concerned organisations, including Amnesty, also point out that the consequences of being removed from the UK may be profound and long-lasting, even if removal is for a short time only. Despite the equality statement’s assurance that no adverse impact on grounds of gender are anticipated, as I said at Second Reading:
“Rights of Women is worried about the implications for women migrants who have left abusive partners but who do not qualify to remain under the normal domestic violence rules because of their status, which is a common occurrence. Rights of Women fears that:
‘A mother seeking to remain in the UK as the parent of a child who is wrongfully refused by the Home Office faces the prospect of leaving her child in the UK with an abusive father or taking her child with her forcing them to leave behind a network of friends and family, abandoning their schools and communities and being forced to live in a country where in many instances they have no ties, no understanding of the language or culture’.
It points out that this upheaval could last for months or longer”.—[Official Report, 22/12/15; col. 2491.]
Potential family separation is a concern raised by a number of organisations. Will the Minister confirm that the family test was applied to this provision and, if not, why not? If the answer is yes, would he be willing to publish the conclusions reached, as, to its credit, the Home Office did, in the equality statement Reforming Support for Failed Asylum Seekers? In particular, what impact do the Government believe the policy will have on all family members’ ability to play a role in family life—one of the questions in the family test? The fact that the DWP guidance suggests that this question is aimed mainly at work/family life balance issues should not allow the Home Office to ignore this clause’s potentially much more profound impact on the ability to play a role in family life where families are separated as a consequence of it.
This brings me to Amendment 227. In its recent note on this clause, the Home Office acknowledges its duty under Section 55 of the Border Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 to,
“have regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of any child in the UK who will or may be affected by any immigration decision”.
“where the decision maker is aware that there is a child who is affected by her decision, the decision maker will have regard to the best interests of that child as a primary consideration in deciding the human rights claim and also in deciding whether to certify the claim so that the appeal is heard after the person has left the UK”.
This is clearly meant to be reassuring but it does not reassure members of the Refugee Children’s Consortium, whose experience is that children’s best interests are not systematically and comprehensively assessed within immigration decision-making. Its briefing reminds us that the,
“UNHCR’s audit of the Home Office’s procedures highlights that, at present, there is no formal and systematic collection or recording of information that will be necessary … to a quality best interests consideration. This includes a lack of any mechanisms to obtain the views of the child”.
As the JCHR concluded in its final report of the last Parliament on the UK’s compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child:
“The Home Office seems still to prioritise the need to control immigration over the best interests of the child. This is unsatisfactory. The Government must ensure that the best interests of the child are paramount in immigration matters”.
In contrast, the Home Office note emphasises:
“While the best interests of the child are a primary consideration, they are not the only or an overriding consideration”.
Of course they are not the only consideration but established case law makes it clear that decision-makers must first understand what course of action would be in the best interests of the child before going on to take account of other considerations, including immigration control.
On the basis of its experience, the Refugee Children’s Consortium raised the question already asked by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, which I hope the Minister will be able to respond to. It also asked for the Minister’s estimate of how many children are likely to be affected annually by Clause 34. The fear is that thousands of children, including some who are British citizens, will be at risk of separation from their parents or of being removed from the UK without there having been a proper determination of their best interests. It could also mean unaccompanied children being returned,
“to countries and circumstances where they may be at risk of serious harm including sexual abuse … violence, forced marriage, forced recruitment as child soldiers”.
This cannot be right.
My Lords, I rise from these Benches to support Amendment 227 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and others.
The briefing note on Clause 34 to which the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, referred is a model of clarity. It was certainly very informative to me. It made clear, as the noble Baroness said, the statutory duty on the Secretary of State,
“to have regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of any child in the UK who … may be affected by any immigration decision”—
that duty is not in doubt—and that,
“the best interests of the child are a primary consideration”.
While I understand that a primary consideration may not be the only one, I do not understand how a primary consideration can be set aside even if it is in some way qualified. If it is trumped by other factors, it does not seem to be a primary consideration. So there must be a risk that Clause 34 unamended could undermine the Secretary of State’s statutory duty.
I do not doubt the Minister’s and the Government’s best intentions here, but there is widespread concern among organisations such as the Children’s Society, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, which deal with vulnerable children on a daily basis, not least about the Home Office’s capacity to cope with an unamended Clause 34. Without an adequate process to determine the child’s best interests,
“children could be returned to countries and circumstances where they may be at risk of serious harm including sexual abuse, neglect … violence, forced marriage”,
and so on. There is plenty of research to indicate the way in which separation from a parent when vulnerable causes long-term harm to a child’s developmental and emotional well-being. We should not be making such separations more commonplace.
The Home Office briefing argues that appeals from abroad have been effective and fair but, as we have heard, the cuts in legal aid for immigration cases are bound to undermine the capacity of families to put forward evidence, and the danger of not knowing the facts in an appeal must surely grow.
I have been talking generally about the impact of all this, but of course it will always be experienced in particular. An example given by the Children’s Society vividly illustrates the risks. A woman came to the UK 16 years ago to escape forced marriage. After an agent stole her documents, she lived under the radar and now has three children aged 11, seven and two. She received help from the Coram Children’s Legal Centre two years ago—pro bono—to make an application for leave to remain on Article 8 grounds. It was refused, largely because it was said that the family could return to the woman’s country of origin. She appealed and had to wait more than a year for the appeal to be heard, apparently because of a “shortage of judiciary”. The children speak only English; the older two are doing well at school and the eldest child, I understand, is now eligible to register as British.
Under the Bill’s provisions, this woman and her family could have been removed from the UK for more than a year while waiting for her appeal. The children would then have lived in a small African village with their estranged maternal grandmother, with whom they do not have a common language. Their schooling would have been interrupted, since there is no teaching in English locally. The youngest child would have been at risk of female genital mutilation in a place with limited health services. The removal of the eldest child from Britain, the only country he has ever known, would have made him ineligible to register as British since it would have happened just before his 10th birthday.
I want to believe that this family would have benefited from a Home Office caseworker’s laborious and careful sifting of all that evidence, resulting in a recommendation that the family should stay here. But how can this be guaranteed without some amendment of Clause 34? We need full and proper scrutiny before we deport such families or children. I hope that the Minister will offer us some comfort that these points have been heard.
My Lords, from these Benches we support Amendment 227 and the opposition to Clause 34 standing part of the Bill. I will not speak to Clause 35.
The right reverend Prelate has just mentioned legal work provided pro bono. I would like to take this opportunity of echoing a comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, from the Dispatch Box the other day when he repeated an Answer to a Question on legal aid. He said that there are a lot of legal firms which are not “ambulance chasers”. Those firms do terrific work in very difficult circumstances, and many of them are engaged in this sort of work.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, referred to comments on the last Bill from the Joint Committee on Human Rights. The committee, of which I am a member, has drawn the attention of the House again to particular difficulties which might be faced by appellants if a non-suspensive appeals regime is extended in circumstances in which judicial review is the only means of challenge. This could mean that families with meritorious Article 8 claims are subjected to extensive separation. I think that she also referred to the report of the Constitution Committee, which commented among other things—there were two or three pages on this—on the practical extent to which legal aid is perhaps not likely to be available in respect of judicial review challenges to certification decisions.
We use the term, “Deport first, appeal later”, but of course it is not quite that. It is “Be deported and appeal later”, or deport first and then be appealed against in a situation in which the appellant can apply only in a way that the Court of Appeal and the Solicitor-General have acknowledged is less advantageous—that is the term used in the court. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, referred to this and it is certainly less advantageous for the appellant or potential appellant. There is difficulty in paying for legal representation and liaising from abroad with legal representatives—if you can find any who can help in the circumstances—difficulty in obtaining, submitting and giving evidence, and difficulty for the tribunal in assessing evidence.
The human rights memorandum published by the Home Office said that,
“there is no intention to apply this power to cases relying on Article 2 and 3 rights”,
“case law … makes plain that where there is an arguable Article 8 claim, there needs to be the effective possibility of challenging the removal decision”.
If Clause 34 has to remain, it would be good if it could somehow refer to what is in that ancillary documentation.
It struck me during discussions about this how difficult it is to certify a negative. It is almost as difficult as proving a positive. The Secretary of State has to certify a claim, as we have heard, if she considers, first, that removal is not unlawful and, secondly, that the appellant would not face a real risk of irreversible harm. I am sure that the Minister will, as the noble Lord said, refer to the recent Court of Appeal case which ruled that the regime was lawful. However, that was in the context of deportation, and the fact that it was lawful does not make it right.
There is no equality of arms and a perversity about this. As the Law Society has pointed out,
“the spouse of a national of any EEA”—
European Economic Area—
“member except the UK would retain a full in-country right of appeal … whereas the spouse of a UK national”—
not the spouse of any national of any other EEA member—
“would have to leave the country”.
My Lords, I am proud to be British and was both proud and privileged to serve for nearly 41 years in the British Army. But I have to admit that I am not proud of much of the thrust of this Bill, which seems to be based on the assumption that every would-be immigrant or asylum seeker is illegal, and should be treated as such. That is akin to regarding everyone awarded a prison sentence as being a combination of mass murderer, armed robber, rapist, arsonist and paedophile, and treating them accordingly. The vast majority of would-be immigrants and asylum seekers are legal, which should be the default thrust of any regulatory legislation.
On 12 July 1910, the then Home Secretary, the 36 year-old Winston Churchill, winding up a debate on prison estimates, said that the way in which any country treated crime and criminals was the true test of its civilisation. He could well have added immigrants and asylum seekers. On Monday night, I heard the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie, read from his brief an assertion that:
“The Government already have a raft of guidance and standards in place for ensuring that the regimes in detention centres operate at appropriate levels and in the interests of the welfare of detainees”.—[Official Report, 1/1/16; col.1696.]
In view of my experiences while inspecting them, I thought of Churchill and was completely flabbergasted. Has no one in the Home Office paid the slightest bit of attention to inspection report after inspection report, which point out that what the Minister described as,
“a raft of guidance and standards”,
is not subject to any meaningful oversight? For “appropriate”, he should have said “'wholly unsatisfactory”. So stunned was I that I totally failed to ask the Minister what the word appropriate meant, and who in the Home Office was responsible and accountable for allegedly ensuring the operation of such regimes, and whether their reports could be made available to noble Lords.
That was bad enough. But Clause 34 is so far outside the rule of law, let alone what decent people regard as civilised, that I am ashamed to think that anyone British was responsible for the concept, let alone its inclusion in the Bill. I know that the Court of Appeal has ruled that the imposition under the Immigration Act 2014 of out-of-country appeals in deportation cases is legal, but such appellants have committed serious crimes and received substantial prison sentences before being deported. How can any Home Office Minister seriously bring forward so draconian a proposal for those whose presence in the United Kingdom is entirely legal knowing that, currently, 61% of immigration appeals are either allowed, remitted for the Home Office to retake its decision or acknowledged by the Home Office to be flawed before a hearing? This means that 61% of those whom Ministers intend to force to make their appeal from abroad will have legal grounds for compensation, which is bound to add up to more than the cost of continuing to do the decent and civilised thing.
Included in the 61%, as the Solicitor-General acknowledged to the Committee and the other place, is an appeal success rate of 42%, which the latest figures from the Asylum Support Tribunal show to have risen to 44%. On what grounds do the Government think their proposal to force legal, as well as illegal, potential appellants to leave the United Kingdom before appealing against such appalling and proven faulty decision-taking is justified, appropriate and civilised?
There is one group of people for whom the Government’s proposal is even more uncivilised: children —as the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Alton, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich mentioned. Among the 631,000 undocumented migrants living in the United Kingdom today are an estimated 120,000 irregular migrant children, more than half of whom were born here. Research by the Coram Children’s Legal Centre has highlighted that the environment for irregular or undocumented migrant children in the United Kingdom and their ability to have their legal claims to remain considered fairly have already deteriorated considerably.
The provisions of Clause 34 risk children being deprived of their parents or forced to leave the country they grew up in, before any judicial scrutiny of a Home Office decision and without adequate consideration of their best interests. As we have heard, the Home Secretary has a duty under Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 to safeguard and promote the welfare of children with respect to its immigration, asylum and enforcement functions. Established law on children’s best interests makes it clear that decision-makers must first understand the best interests of a child before considering any countervailing public interest factors.
However, research by the Refugee Children’s Consortium shows that children’s best interests are not systematically and comprehensively assessed within immigration decision-making. Furthermore, a UNHCR audit of the Home Office’s procedures has highlighted that there is no formal and systematic collection or recording of information that will be necessary and relevant to making a quality best interest consideration, nor any mechanism for obtaining the views of a child and giving them weight in line with their age and maturity. The Home Office usually includes in any decision letter a statement that the best interests of the child have been taken into account, but routinely does not give any adequate reasons for the conclusions drawn.
In the light of all this evidence, which points to the need for urgent reform of the current decision-making process, is the Minister confident that current Home Office decision-makers, with their proven track record of failure, could guarantee to a court of law that the Home Secretary’s duty has been honoured in every appeal case involving a child?
There is an old saying that justice delayed is justice denied. Currently, immigration appeals are being listed at least six months ahead, and it is not uncommon for appellants to have to wait for a year or more for their appeal to be heard. As I have said more than once during the passage of this monster Bill, it is imperative that the Government codify and simplify their immigration and asylum system, so that those on the front line have the tools to enable them to act quickly and efficiently when it comes under even greater pressure in the years ahead—which it undoubtedly will. Above all, that means having a decision-making process that is efficient, fair and transparent, which the current one is not.
A civilised nation would ensure that its immigration system is fair and includes checks and balances, such as an appeals process—the ability of an appellant to give oral evidence being a central component of any fair hearing. Clause 34 violates all that, and I therefore hope that, in justifying any claim that the United Kingdom has to be thought civilised, it will be removed from both government thinking and this Bill.
My Lords, I speak in support of Amendment 227 and to oppose the proposition that Clause 34 stand part of the Bill. During my maiden speech I referred to time spent as a caseworker and head of office for my noble friend Lady Kramer when she was a Member in another place. I will recount the salient details of an immigration case that has stayed with me for more than a decade and which will illustrate several speeches made by noble Lords here.
One morning, I received a call from a concerned friend of a young man from Chad who had arrived here as an unaccompanied minor. He was anxious that his friend, having become 18 years of age, had been detained by immigration officers and was about to be deported. To cut a long story short, I was successful in locating the young man and succeeded in getting him off the plane—just. Now, this orphaned young man eventually succeeded in getting indefinite leave to remain, but not until he had spent several months having to report to Lunar House, often having to walk there from Kingston as he had little cash.
He also endured several months in Harmondsworth, where I had occasion to visit him. It was a prison in all but name. In all that time, he lived with the constant fear of deportation. No one should have to go through such mental anguish because of poor decision-making, which was the sole reason behind his ordeal. The Home Office got it wrong. Poor judgment on the part of the Home Office is still prevalent today. If this clause were to be passed as it stands, the injustice this boy suffered would be magnified inordinately.
My Lords, I will make a brief contribution to this debate based on my own experience as the Member of Parliament for Orpington for 18 years. My experience may be the same as or different from that of other Members of Parliament in the other House, but I had so many immigration cases regularly that one out of my three caseworkers was solely devoted to dealing with them comprehensively. By the way, I think the people in these cases got a pretty good service. I am not sure that a lot of people could devote so much casework time to one particular aspect of what an MP has to face.
None the less, I want to address the question of Clause 34, rather than Amendment 227 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. However, while I understand the argument put forcefully by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, about the guarantee you get from having something in the Bill, my experience in relation to the handling of children is that they were handled exceptionally carefully. Whenever there was a family involved, the Home Office took particular trouble to do it properly. I felt that it pursued its statutory obligations very fully.
On the wider issue of Clause 34, my own experience was that the really difficult problem in dealing with immigration cases, whether they were economic migrants or asylum seekers, was the length of time the whole appeals procedure took. As the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said, it is byzantine in its complexity. That is the truth of the matter. That very complexity and the number of possible appeals you could make—tier 1, tier 2 and then appeals beyond that—meant that cases went on not just for several months but for several years and individuals, whatever the eventual result of the case, were placed in a situation of great difficulty, resulting very often in mental problems and severe depression. These cases could go on for five, six or seven years before they were eventually resolved. This was the really big problem in dealing with immigrants.
Will this clause as it is improve that? Will it speed things up? We have evidence from the new procedures for dealing with visa applications, for example, on the hub and spoke principle brought in by the last Government, whereby visas were dealt with in a particular area—let us say Dubai for the whole of India, for example—and things were speeded up. Those measures were brought in so that visa applications could be dealt with more rapidly than hitherto. Great experience was developed in dealing with the paperwork, as opposed to seeing people face to face, which ordinary common sense would suggest is a better procedure than dealing just with paperwork—but none the less, that is what was developed in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as a means of dealing with these things more expeditiously than would otherwise be the case. If my noble and learned friend can tell me what experience and evidence we have that Clause 34 would speed things up, I would be in favour of it, because the real problem was the length of time that appeals took in immigration cases.
My Lords, in the interests of speeding things up, I shall be very brief in putting a question to the Minister about absconding. There is an overlap again between these groups of amendments. The relationship between support and appeals is very critical, and I do not believe that the Government have quite got it right; they are trying hard but not succeeding. We are discussing asylum seekers facing genuine obstacles to leaving the UK; the Government want to remove their right of appeal against decisions to withhold or discontinue support. Does not that relate to Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004? My understanding of the Section 9 pilot is that nearly one-third of the families disappeared to avoid being returned to their country of origin. The rate of absconding was 39% for those in the Section 9 pilot but only 21% in the comparable controlled group, who remained supported. Can the Minister comment on those figures, because they would appear to lend credence to the amendment?
My Lords, perhaps it is time for a different point of view on this subject. I have no difficulty with Amendment 227, which of course concerns children, but I would like to speak in favour of Clause 34 in respect of cases that do not involve children. In such cases, the aim should be to confine the application of the clause to vexatious appeals, which would help to speed up the process, as the noble Lord, Lord Horam, pointed out.
Much of the discussion in this Committee has focused on the rights of applicants at various stages of the process. That is entirely understandable, but should not we also have regard to the need for a swift and effective asylum system? That would surely be in the interests of genuine asylum seekers, who make up about 50% of those who apply, and in the interests of maintaining public support for the whole system. This clause is germane in that context. It is in effect the extension of a procedure that has already been applied to foreign national offenders, as has been mentioned already. I entirely accept that the people whom we are talking about are not offenders and are not usually of the same character, but I believe that the extension of the removal of non-asylum cases should be seen in this wider context. It is essential that we should break the link for those who are in reality economic migrants between setting foot in the UK and remaining indefinitely.
At present, removals of immigration offenders—not foreign national offenders—are running at a very low level, of only about 5,000 a year. That has to be tackled if we are to break this link, which I think is increasingly understood as you look at southern Europe and so on. We have to find ways of giving protection to those who deserve it and of removing those who do not. This clause is a step in that direction.
My Lords, I am obliged for the comments that have been made with regard to Clause 34 and Amendment 227. I shall begin by clarifying one point. Clause 34 applies in respect of migrants who have been found to have no lawful right to be in the United Kingdom. It does not apply to asylum cases.
Noble Lords will be aware that there is a long-established principle that persons can be removed or deported before an appeal is brought or heard. Indeed, in 2002, the previous Labour Government introduced powers to certify “clearly unfounded” claims so that the appellants could be removed from the United Kingdom prior to marking and pursuing an appeal. In 2014, the coalition Government used the Immigration Act to provide that arguable claims from foreign national offenders could be certified where deportation pending appeal would not cause serious irreversible harm or otherwise breach the person’s convention rights.
I emphasise that last point because of the observation made at the outset by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, about it being a case of serious irreversible harm. That is but part of the test. The test under Clause 34, as under the existing provisions of the Immigration Act and as it was under the 2002 Act, is whether it would give rise to serious irreversible harm or a breach of the person’s convention rights. In this context, it is acknowledged, as it is acknowledged in respect of existing legislation, that this will not apply in cases that fall under Article 2 or Article 3 of the convention. It would generally apply in respect of cases that fall under Article 8 of the convention, which concerns the right to family life. That will give rise to questions about children, which I will come on to address in a moment.
The power introduced in 2014 has yielded significant results because more than 230 foreign national offenders have been deported before appeal in the first year since it came into force, and more than 1,200 European national offenders have been deported under equivalent regulations.
In our manifesto, the Government committed to extend this power to apply to all human rights claims. That is what Clause 34 does. We suggest that it is in the public interest that we maintain immigration control across the board. That means and includes prompt removal in cases where it is safe to do so. It is simply counterproductive to allow people whose human rights claims have been refused—again, it has to be underlined that these are people whose human rights claims have been refused or rejected—to build up their private or family life while they wait for their appeal to be determined.
This power will never apply, and does not apply in its existing form under Section 94 of the Immigration Act, in cases based on Article 2 or Article 3 of the convention. Where it does apply, each case will be assessed on its own facts. We will always ask whether there are reasons why an effective appeal could not be brought from outside the United Kingdom, and any reasons given will be fully considered when deciding whether to certify such a case.
I am conscious of the observations that have been made about whether an appeal from overseas can be a fair or effective remedy. Bringing an appeal from overseas does not mean it is less likely to succeed. Internal Home Office statistics for the five years to July 2015 show that some 38% of out-of-country entry clearance appeals succeeded.
A number of noble Lords have already mentioned a decision in the Court of Appeal, the unanimous judgment in October 2015 in the case of Kiarie & Byndloss, where it was held that Article 8 of the convention does not require an appeal to offer the “most advantageous procedure available”. Rather, an appeal must offer, and this is what is offered in Clause 34,
“a procedure that meets the essential requirements of effectiveness and fairness”.
The Court of Appeal was satisfied that out-of-country appeals met the essential requirements of effectiveness and fairness. In that context, the Court of Appeal confirmed that the Secretary of State for the Home Department was entitled to rely on the independent specialist judiciary of the Immigration Tribunal to ensure that an appeal from overseas was fair and that the process was in line with legal obligations that arose under the convention. We will also take account the impact of certification on family members, including children. It is important to note that it will always be possible to challenge decisions to certify by reference to judicial review.
I turn specifically to the impact on children and to Amendment 227, which would require that before a decision was taken to certify a claim under the power in this clause, the Secretary of State must obtain a multiagency best-interests assessment of any child whose human rights may be breached by the decision to certify. The amendment has been tabled to ensure that the best interests of any affected child are considered before a claim is certified so that an appeal must be exercised from overseas. One can quite understand what lies behind the desire for such an amendment but, however well intentioned, I suggest that it is unnecessary. It is unnecessary in law because Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to, already imposes a clear statutory duty to consider the best interests of any child affected by a decision to certify. It is unnecessary in practice because whenever a person concerned makes the Secretary of State aware that a child may be affected by her decision, the best interests of that child are a primary consideration in deciding whether to certify. That approach is underpinned by published guidance. I note the observations of my noble friend Lord Horam that in his experience of such cases, which appears to be quite extensive, he noticed that the interests of the child were taken into consideration and regarded as a primary concern.
Today the Secretary of State takes careful and proportionate views regarding the interests of children. Whether it is necessary to engage external agencies with regard to the interests of the child in a particular case will depend on the facts of that case. For example, if the Secretary of State is made aware that a social services engagement exists with a child, she will make further inquiries of the social services. However, I suggest that it would be disproportionate to require extensive inquiries in every case by means of a multiagency assessment even where there was no indication that these were relevant. I am concerned that such unnecessary inquiries could be potentially intrusive and, in some instances, unwelcome to the families themselves. It is the family of the affected child that is best placed to identify the potential impact of certification in their particular circumstances. There are no restrictions on the evidence that a family can submit about the impact on a child, and that will always be fully considered by the qualified judiciary of the relevant tribunal.
Noble Lords asked whether in some cases we could see the separation of families. The answer is yes, in some cases. The effect on the family will always be considered on a case-by-case basis. The best interests of children in the United Kingdom are a primary consideration in any immigration decision, including the decision whether to certify under the new power. Where an individual has made a claim or seeks to appeal against a determination that they should not remain in the United Kingdom, the family dependent on that individual will of course be affected by that decision; therefore, there are two obvious options. One is that the children remain in the United Kingdom with a parent or carer, or that they depart with the parent or carer in question. Again, there is no question of children having to face serious, irreversible harm in such circumstances. The right reverend Prelate alluded to a case in which a young child might face the dangers of genital mutilation or other risk of sexual violence. In such a case, there would be no grounds for certification; therefore, there would be no basis for saying that the appeal should proceed out of country. Therefore these safeguards are already in place.
As I mentioned before, in some of his observations the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, alluded to serious, irreversible harm, which is but one part of the test. It is about serious, irreversible harm or a breach of someone’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights—both aspects have to be addressed. As to the idea that they would be unable to appeal, there is clear evidence in the context of entry appeal processes that out-of-country appeals succeed and are effective. Indeed, in the context of an appeal from out of country before a specialist tribunal, it is necessary to bear in mind that the proportion of the evidence that will be material, particularly to a claim based on Article 8, is that relating to family connection within the United Kingdom. Those who can speak to that might be best qualified to give oral evidence rather than simply the appellant him or herself. In addition, there is of course scope for video evidence to be given, and by other means. Indeed, the specialist tribunal reserves the right to call for evidence in various forms if it considers that necessary to dispose of a particular appeal.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, also raised the question of compensation. We do not consider that in circumstances where an appeal was successful there would be any relevant legal basis for a claim of compensation. I notice that that point was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. The point was also made that under existing legislation, and in particular in the case of Kiarie and Byndloss, one is dealing with foreign national offenders. However, with great respect, it does not appear that there is any material distinction to be made between the prospects of appeal for a foreign national offender and other migrants who have no right to be within the United Kingdom. Surely they are all entitled to a fair and reasonable appeal process, which is what the Court of Appeal said they would have in the context of an out-of-country appeal. I acknowledge the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that it would be better, easier and more attractive to have an in-country appeal, but that is not the relevant test. The Court of Appeal made that absolutely plain only a few months ago.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, alluded to issues pertaining to the disappearance of children or minors coming into Europe, which is a tragic and dreadful state of affairs. One means of seeking to meet part of the problem is insistence upon the Dublin regulation and its imposition, which would involve fingerprints and biometrics being taken from these children upon their arrival in Europe. I am sure that more needs to be done in that respect to meet that problem.
The noble Lord also referred to his recent visit to one of the immigration centres, of which I am aware and which he mentioned that he intended to make when we spoke a few days ago upon earlier parts of the Bill. With regard to the Somali case he mentioned, I understand that the lady in question has quite a long record of criminal offending in the United Kingdom. Be that as it may, because she is a foreign national offender, she will not be subject to any out-of-country appeal under Clause 34; she is already subject to an out-of-country appeal procedure on the basis of existing legislation. Indeed, one questions whether she even has an appeal because, if she had no stateable basis of appeal, it would be rejected pursuant to Section 94. There are difficult cases and I hesitate to go into the details of one case at this stage, but I notice that, even in outline, it appears that this is the sort of case that falls under existing legislation.
As the noble and learned Lord says, it would be invidious to build a whole argument on just one case, but I must add two points to what he has just said. First, the lady told me that she had several convictions and custodial sentences but none had been for longer than three months, which does not suggest that these were hugely serious offences. Secondly, this is about returning someone to Mogadishu in Somalia, with all the problems that country faces at present. Every day one hears reports of bombings and last week there were reports of bazookas being used on the streets. This is someone who has lived in the United Kingdom for 26 years and has had three children in this country in that time. That is why the case is relevant to this afternoon’s debate about the undesirability of breaking up family life in those circumstances.
I quite understand the noble Lord’s point. That is why the Secretary of State retains discretion over certification—this is not an absolute. In circumstances where there is a risk of serious irreversible harm because of conditions in a particular country or part of a country, there will not be certification. In circumstances where that would amount to a breach of an individual’s human rights, there will not be certification. There is that safety net. It may not be as large as some noble Lords would wish but it is there for these very cases. It is not dissimilar from the instance cited by the right reverend Prelate of a child being exposed to the very real risk of sexual violence or mutilation. Again, this is why the provisions of Clause 34 are not absolute and compel the Home Secretary to take a reasoned decision that has regard to a primary issue being the interests of the child.
A further point was raised by the noble Lord about whether and when the Secretary of State for the Home Department could be sure that she had all the information. Of course, there can be no absolutes. However, in a situation involving children, individuals—parents and carers—readily come forward to explain that there are children. Where the existence of children is identified, that matter is explored, as it is bound to be, pursuant to Section 55 of the Act I cited earlier.
My experience of being involved in the Kiarie and Byndloss cases before the Court of Appeal involved my examining the decision letters issued by the Home Office. These are not glib, one-paragraph notices, but very detailed and considered letters that were sent out, giving not only a decision but a reasoned foundation for that decision. I cannot—and would never dare to—assert that they are invariably right in every respect, or that they are exhaustive in every way. On the face of it, however, it is the practice, subject to the guidance given, to send out truly reasoned decision letters in these circumstances, with particular reference to the interests of the child or children who may be affected.
I turn to the observations of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, who also mentioned the Kiarie and Byndloss cases. She suggested that ILPA took a slightly different view of that decision from the one I have expressed. I would cleave, however, to the ratio of the unanimous decision of the Bench of the Court of Appeal: it is quite clear what it was saying with regard to this matter. It is not tied to the fact of criminality; it is tied to the facility for an out-of-country appeal and the ability for that appeal to be discharged in such a way that we can be satisfied that it is fair to the appellant. In other words, it may not be the most advantageous form of appeal but it does meet the essential requirements of effectiveness and fairness. That is not affected in one way or another by the pre-existing criminality, or alleged criminality, of the relevant appellant. To that extent, I am afraid I have to differ from her on that matter.
The noble Baroness mentioned the matter of a family test. However, a family test does not immediately arise in this context. I understand that the family test is designed to ensure that the Government’s policies overall encourage and support family life in the United Kingdom. We are dealing here with someone who is not entitled to be in the United Kingdom, and the policies that concern removing persons from the United Kingdom will therefore not always engage the family test.
My understanding of the family test is that it is to apply not to the generality but to any policy proposal in law that might impact on families. One of the big concerns raised by many organisations giving evidence and briefing us is that this will have very serious implications for families because of family separation. Therefore, it seems appropriate to apply the family test to this proposal.
It is not immediately apparent to me that it is applicable to this proposal, but in this context one has to bear in mind that a primary consideration is the interests of the child or the children. To that extent, what might be regarded as an aspect of the family test is being applied. That is always a primary consideration. There are circumstances where it may be appropriate for the children to accompany a person out of the United Kingdom, and there may be no difficulty about that. There may be circumstances in which it is appropriate for the children to remain with a parent or carer within the United Kingdom. If there are circumstances where they will have no parent or carer within the United Kingdom and it would not be appropriate for them to leave the United Kingdom, again, there is the safety net of the certification, dealt with in Clause 34, as there is under the existing legislation. To that extent, it appears to me that the matter is dealt with.
The noble Baroness went on to mention again the interests of the child and to ask how many children would be affected by this. It is not possible at this stage to say. On the basis of unofficial and informal figures, I understand that no child has been certified for an out-of-country appeal under existing legislation. Of course, the present amended legislation has been in force for only a short time, since 2015, so it is difficult to discern figures from that.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich referred to particular cases. I hope that I have addressed his concerns. If there was such a serious risk to a child as he alluded to, it appears to me that, with respect, the safety net in Clause 34 would apply.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to difficulties in producing evidence in the context of an out-of-country appeal. I do not accept that it would be materially more difficult to produce evidence in these circumstances. We are talking about an appeal to a specialist tribunal that is well equipped to decide the form of evidence it requires in a particular case. As I mentioned, when dealing with a case that is going to arise largely on the basis of Article 8 of the convention, if there is to be a convention appeal, one is concerned with family links with the United Kingdom, which are going to be spoken to by persons within the United Kingdom. In so far as there is any factual issue to be addressed by an appellant, it can be done in writing, by video link or even by telephone. That may appear less satisfactory than taking oral evidence but, as the noble Baroness may be aware, it is far from exceptional for appellants not to give evidence in such appeals before a tribunal. It is certainly far from exceptional for appellants not to give oral evidence in such proceedings.
My Lords, I am grateful for that. I did acknowledge the Court of Appeal decision, but I said that in our view it did not make the situation right. However, do the Home Office or the Tribunal Service give information or even assistance to appellants who are outside the country—as a minimum, information on how they can set about dealing with an appeal from outside the country?
While I am on my feet, the Minister credited me with a comment about the best interests of the child which I think came from the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. I have an amendment on that later so it is understandable that he might have thought that I was going to say what I will be saying.
I am obliged to the noble Baroness. Without the benefit of second sight, I cannot say whether I thought she was going to say what she had not said but was planning to say later—but I acknowledge that the original comment came from the noble Baroness, Lady Lister.
I would like to ask my noble friend about a situation that was made clear to us in a fairly recent debate on the question of putting children together into families. There was quite a big family with four children. They were all over the place and the little girl—the tiniest one—was promised that she would have a brother. Her brother was to be put with her in an adoption situation and it was all going to be wonderful. This child believed what she was told. But it was explained to us during the course of the debate on the Bill that years went by and the child had hung all her hopes for the future on the thought that the authorities would place her real brother with her, as they had promised. Nothing was done and it wrecked that child’s belief in what older people told her. But no real comment was ever brought through that made that child’s promise be delivered. Does that still happen? Has it stopped?
I acknowledge the observation made, but I cannot comment on the particulars of such a case. What I can say is perhaps only related and not directly on point. Part of the thrust of the next part of the Bill is to address the time taken for appeals to be processed. That matter will be addressed by my noble friend Lord Bates in due course. In general, it is hoped that appeal processes in simple cases will not exceed six months and even in complex cases will not exceed 12 months, so that there will not be the degree of separation that has been alluded to, even in cases where one child perhaps goes out of the United Kingdom and another remains in the United Kingdom. I rather suspect that that would be an exceptional case—albeit it is amazing when you read the facts of some of these cases just how diverse the family arrangements can be.
The noble Baroness asked about communication of out-of-country appeals procedures. I do not have that information immediately to hand. I am aware of the tribunal regulations. Perhaps I could undertake to write to her to outline what the guidance is.
My research has come to a conclusion already. There is published guidance on the GOV.UK website on how to appeal from overseas, so it is there. I knew that it existed but I was not aware that it was actually on the website. Whether further steps are taken with regard to this matter, I cannot say. If in fact there is something over and above the website, I will write to advise the noble Baroness.
Perhaps I may come on to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. He observed that the vast majority of migrants in these cases are legally here in the United Kingdom. With great respect, that is not so. We are not dealing with asylum seekers, we are dealing only with migrants who have been found to have no right to be in the United Kingdom. It is an appeals process following that determination that we are addressing in Clause 34, so it is not a case of saying to legal migrants that they have to leave the country for some appellate process; with respect, that is simply not the case at all. I cannot accept that the out-of-country appeal process is contrary to the rule of law. Indeed, the Court of Appeal went out of its way to point out that an out-of-country appeal process is perfectly legitimate. It falls within the rule of law and provides what is required under the convention processes; namely, a procedure that meets the central requirements of effectiveness and fairness.
As regards the percentage of appeals allowed in general, I am not able to give a figure, and in respect of appeals that fall under the existing conditions, there are not sufficient data since the Immigration Act 2014 to give percentage figures for out-of-country appeals. But there is a parallel in the context of refusal-of-entry appeals, where, as I noted earlier, some 38% of such appeals succeed: I acknowledge that. Again, I take issue with the suggestion that there is going to be some avalanche of compensation. There might be an avalanche of compensation claims, as there sometimes is in such circumstances, but in my submission they will be ill founded and therefore it is not an issue. The fact that an appeal succeeds does not confer upon somebody a right to compensation. That is taking even our compensation culture a little too far.
With regard to the matter of children, I reiterate that the best interests of the child are a primary consideration and will remain so in terms of Clause 34. We are entitled to have some confidence in the decision-making process which is conferred upon the Secretary of State for the Home Department in this context. The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, referred to a particular case involving someone from Chad and she observed that the Home Office does get it wrong. I am not standing here to make a claim of infallibility—indeed, I believe that the right reverend Prelate might intervene if I attempted it—but nevertheless while the Home Office is not infallible, it is responsible. The department proceeds responsibly in applying these powers and procedures. I note again that from my own experience of reading the decision-making letters in the context of the Byndloss and Kiarie cases, they reflect a very detailed assessment, particularly in cases that involve the interests of a child.
I mentioned earlier the matter of the time taken on appeals—a point raised by my noble friend Lord Horam. As I say, it is acknowledged that in the past there were backlogs. The intention is that there should be further improvement in the time taken for appeals, and it is hoped that the further provisions in the Bill will lead to a situation in which the appeal process for those involved in simple cases will be up to a limit of six months, and even in complex cases up to a limit of 12 months.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred to Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 and gave some comparative figures. I am not in a position to respond immediately to those figures, so perhaps he would be prepared to let me write to him on that subject.
There is one further point, which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. He alluded to Section 55 and to the interests of the child, and suggested that perhaps, although these obligations exist, it might be better if they were reflected in the clause itself. That is a point on which I should like to reflect before Report, if he will permit me to do so. I am obliged to noble Lords.
First, I thank the Minister for that lengthy and comprehensive reply, which I am sure will have been appreciated by all those who have spoken and raised points in this debate. That does not necessarily mean that they have agreed with the Minister, but I am sure they have appreciated the extent to which he has sought to reply to the points that have been made. I also express my appreciation to everybody who has spoken in the debate.
In the light of the noble and learned Lord’s last comment that he would reflect further on whether something not too dissimilar to what was suggested in our amendment might appear on the face of the Bill, which I think is what he said, frankly I am tempted not to make all the points that I was going to make in response. I hope that that will not be taken as meaning that he has left me completely speechless with his reply; I am doing it in the light of what he said at the end of his contribution. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 227 withdrawn.
Clause 34 agreed.
Clauses 35 and 36 agreed.
Clause 37: Support for certain categories of migrant
Debate on whether Clause 37 should stand part of the Bill.
We have the clause stand part debate on Clause 37 and an amendment in this group.
On 4 August, the Government initiated a consultation on proposals for changes in the support available to refused asylum seekers. The consultation ended just over a month later on 9 September and the Immigration Bill was published six days after the consultation ended. One can only comment that that was remarkably quickly after the end of a consultation exercise on part of the provisions of the Immigration Bill.
At present, there are two forms of support for asylum seekers under the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999—they are usually referred to as Section 95 support and Section 4 support. While waiting for a decision on the application, asylum seekers are not eligible for mainstream benefits. If they would otherwise be destitute, they can apply to the Government for accommodation or financial support or both under Section 95 of the 1999 Act. Since August of last year, the financial support available has been £36.95 per week per adult or child. That is, by the way, one-eighth of the daily allowance applicable in this place, which I believe one noble Lord recently declared was “inadequate”.
Asylum seekers whose application for asylum is unsuccessful and whose appeal rights are exhausted cease to be eligible for Section 95 support, which is terminated 21 days after the claim has finally been determined. Under some circumstances, destitute refused asylum seekers can apply for Section 4 support under the 1999 Act. If granted, that is not paid in cash but a payment card is provided, credited with £35.39 per person per week to be used in specified retail outlets to buy food and essential toiletries.
Under the 1999 Act, refused asylum-seeking families with children under the age of 18 who were part of the family before the final decision was made on the asylum application can continue to receive Section 95 support until the youngest child turns 18 or the family leaves the United Kingdom.
Under the Bill, that entitlement for refused asylum-seeking families is taken away. As a result, support under Section 95 for families with children will be stopped once they have been refused and had any appeal rejected, following, in the light of the recent information we had from the Minister, what will now be a 90-day grace period, which I acknowledge is longer than the Government were originally proposing.
After the 90 days, these families may then be eligible for a new form of support under new Section 95A, which replaces Section 4 support. However, to qualify for support under new Section 95A, individuals and families who have had their asylum application refused will need to demonstrate that they are destitute and face a genuine obstacle to leaving the United Kingdom. The details of how this will work will be set out in regulations, but the Government have already stated that the criteria for provision under new Section 95A will be very narrowly drawn and more narrowly defined than under Section 4.
Will the Minister say whether the Section 95 support will be withdrawn after 90 days for families who are fully engaging with the authorities over their departure, or will it continue in these circumstances? If so, who would make that decision for it to continue? Would there be a right of appeal against a negative decision in that regard? I ask that in the context that, as I understand it, the Government’s review of their family return process showed that, in 59% of cases, it took longer than three months to complete the process of leaving. Presumably, the evidence suggests that there will be many cases where support under Section 95 will cease before the family whose asylum claim has failed has been able to make all the necessary arrangements to return home.
The Government have also said that, under the new arrangements, it will not be possible to apply for new Section 95A support outside the prescribed grace period of 90 days under Section 95 support, except where the regulations permit this for reasons outside the person’s control. New Section 95A claims will require the applicant to show that there is a genuine obstacle to leaving the UK. For pregnant women, that is defined as being within six weeks of the due date. What will happen in a claim by a pregnant woman during the 90-day grace period for new Section 95A support who, at the time of the application, is not within the qualifying six weeks of the due date? Will they qualify for Section 95 support?
This clause and its associated schedule are clearly intended to deliver the objectives so bluntly set out in the Explanatory Notes of making it hard for those without the appropriate immigration status to live in this country. In this instance, it is the Government’s stated policy intention to encourage the departure—to put it euphemistically—from the UK of refused asylum seekers.
Will the Minister, when he responds, place on record the Government’s estimate of the reduction in the number of people in this country with no lawful basis to remain that will result from this intended change in the support arrangements, and the basis on which that estimate was determined? I ask that because the Government will be aware that there is far from universal acceptance of their apparent premise that cutting off support after 90 days to asylum-seeking families whose appeal rights have been exhausted will result in their leaving the United Kingdom, because where parents think that their children’s lives will be at risk if they return home they are rather more likely to consider that becoming destitute in the UK is still the better option available to them.
In 2005, the then Labour Government ran a pilot scheme in which families whose appeal rights were exhausted had all their support removed if they failed to take reasonable steps to leave the UK. The Government’s own evaluation of the scheme in respect of Section 9 of the 2004 asylum and immigration Act, which involved 116 families, concluded first that the rate of absconding was 39% for those in the Section 9 pilot, but just 21% in the comparable control group who remained supported. Secondly, it concluded that only one family in the pilot was successfully removed, compared with nine successful removals in the control group. There was no significant increase in the number of voluntary returns of unsuccessful asylum-seeking families. Finally, the earlier evaluation concluded that Section 9 should not be used on a blanket basis.
The pilot was based on the proposition that withdrawing support—threatening destitution—was likely to encourage people to leave. In the light of the evaluation, the pilot was considered a failure. The reality is that support for families facing removal is the best means of ensuring that they leave. That means financial support, support with documents on obstacles that may arise and support through the giving of advice. Families who are supported are the ones most likely to leave. Withdrawing support for this category of migrants is in reality a threat of destitution as a means of trying to enforce immigration rules.
In Committee in the House of Commons, the Government argued that the measures in the Bill would have a different impact from those that were the subject of the pilot and evaluation in 2005 because the burden would be on the family to show there was,
“a genuine obstacle to their departure”,
in order to qualify for support and because there would be,
“a managed process of engagement with the family”—[Official Report, Commons, Immigration Bill Committee, 5/11/15; col. 408.],
instead of a largely correspondence-based system.
The thinking behind the first point is not clear, since there is no reason to believe that putting the onus on the family to prove a genuine obstacle will make them less likely to go underground if support is withdrawn. On the second point, it is difficult to see how the change referred to will make a difference to the results of the 2005 pilot, since the withdrawal of support will hardly encourage keeping in contact with the authorities. In fact, the evidence suggests that it will have the opposite effect as a result of the hardship, distress and anxiety caused by the withdrawal of support, and will be wholly counterproductive.
Frankly, destitution in the 21st century should not be a means of enforcing immigration rules, yet that is what lies behind these provisions in the Bill, even in the light of the 90-day grace period, because those provisions change the current basis of support. Children should not be adversely affected in this way by the decisions of their parents, yet the Bill will visit those adverse impacts on them.
We also have an amendment in this group which seeks to provide for the right of appeal against Home Office decisions on support for asylum seekers. The Government have indicated that there will remain a right of appeal against a decision to suspend or discontinue Section 95 support before it would otherwise come to an end. I have already asked a question in my contribution about the continuation of Section 95 support in respect of a family who have co-operated with the authorities but whose removal has not been possible within the 90-day period, and what their rights of appeal would be. The Government have provided for no right of appeal for failed asylum seekers against the refusal of support under Section 95A. The Government maintain that they do not consider a right of appeal to be necessary because the assessment of whether there is a practical obstacle to departure from the UK in their view generally involves straightforward matters of fact. That is a somewhat debateable assertion in view of the high success rate of appeals against Home Office decisions on support. I ask the Government to think again on this point.
The Government also say that relatively few existing appeals relate to the issue of whether there was a practical obstacle to departure from the UK, which begs the question: why not provide for a right of appeal in what the Government consider will be very few cases of such claims? The other point to make, though, is that to qualify for Section 95A support the applicant has to show they are destitute. The Government say this will not be an issue since claims under Section 95A have to be made during the 90-day grace period under Section 95 support, and that that support, under Section 95, will have been given only to those who have been able to show they are destitute. However, not every asylum seeker receives Section 95 support. They might have savings or be staying with friends or relatives who are supporting them. However, that position could change so that it becomes necessary for them to apply for Section 95A support because they are claiming they are now destitute and that there is an obstacle to them leaving the country. What happens if their claim that they are now destitute and meet the criteria for Section 95A support is declined? Are the Government saying that they would have no right of appeal on the issue of destitution and, if so, why?
I hope that the Government will reflect further on the withdrawal of that support after 90 days and on the need and desirability for the proposed changes in support for refused asylum-seeking families with children. I hope that they will also reflect further on the issues of right to appeal which I have raised.
My Lords, I support Amendment 230 in this group. My colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark, spoke at Second Reading of his concern about the architecture of Clause 37 and Schedule 8. I share his belief that the reduced weekly support of £36.95 per person, to which the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, referred, for an asylum seeker under the current system is inadequate. Where that financial provision is refused, it is subject to a right of appeal. I note that in nearly two-thirds of such appeal cases, the appeal is successful or the refusal is withdrawn.
There seems to be an inexorable but ultimately self-defeating utilitarian logic in government policy in this area. The argument seems to be that when an asylum seeker’s application is refused and an appeal is unsuccessful, there is no further need for or right to any financial support. It seems to be assumed that this will be an incentive in itself to leave the United Kingdom. I fully understand the Government’s desire to maintain the integrity of immigration control by ensuring removal, whether voluntary or not, but I wonder how effective this policy will be.
As we have heard, the criteria under the new provisions for any financial support in such situations are destitution and genuine obstacles to leaving the UK, and there is then no right of appeal. What constitutes,
“a genuine obstacle to leaving the United Kingdom”,
is not defined, although it could appear in the Bill rather than be left to regulation. In another place, the Minister expressed hope that greater engagement with failed claimants would lead to many more voluntary departures. He said that under existing legislation such engagement led to 377 people leaving between April and October last year.
The Refugee Council notes that this engagement often went on over months and involved many meetings with families and case conferences. Such experience suggests that a significant period of grace, with some financial support, in such cases is both necessary and constructive. I may have misunderstood but the Bill’s existing provision seems inimical to developing this practice and may well undermine its very aim. Scrutiny of the existing system—one which, after all, involves rather modest financial maintenance—shows that on appeal there are a significant number of corrected decisions. That is why, if the provisions of Clause 37 and Schedule 8 are conceded, they ought to be subject to appeal. I hope the Minister may be sympathetic.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Paddick and I have added our names to the objections to Clause 37 and Schedule 8 standing part, and we have a number of specific amendments in this group.
I will deal with what I have noted as minor amendments —although one of them is not that minor—before coming to the more general point. My Amendment 229ZD deals with “further qualifying submissions”. The provision requires them to fall to be considered by the Secretary of State under the Immigration Rules, which I saw, when I was looking for various things on the GOV.UK website, are described as legislation. But, as noble Lords will be very well aware, they are not subject to parliamentary scrutiny. The purpose of the amendment is to ask about the process for scrutiny, if any, of current and future amended rules and the application of these to the schedule.
The provision that is the subject of my probing Amendment 229ZE merely changes “claim for asylum” to “protection claim”. My amendment would omit “as may be prescribed”, which applied to the claim for asylum under the previous legislation. I found that slightly odd in the context, but I wonder whether there has been any experience of a prescription claim under the legislation. Perhaps the Minister can flesh that out a bit.
The last of these three specific amendments, Amendment 230ZB, is much more material. Schedule 8 provides for support not to be in the form of cash. The experience of the Azure card is not a happy one. I can just about see that vouchers for certain services might be defensible. Vouchers for goods require the recipient, in effect, to shop in places which are not convenient, do not provide what may be sought within a particular culture and are not the cheapest. In particular, they cannot be used in a market. They may mean travelling to a place where vouchers can be used but vouchers are not available for travel. Getting to essential appointments, such as medical and legal appointments, becomes a huge problem. Children are affected not only through hunger but because the card does not cover things such as school trips or, as I say, travel fares. We have had evidence that the payment system affects people’s mental health—I am sure that this is not news at all to the Minister. It affects their ability to maintain relationships and to participate in social, cultural and religious life. Not every cashier in shops where the card can be used is properly trained, so embarrassment can be caused. The card can generally be a source of stigma because it singles out the recipients.
On Clause 37 and Schedule 8, reference has been made to the current Section 95 regulations. When I was preparing for my Motion to Annul those regulations in October, I was shocked to read how minimal was the provision for essential living needs. One of my noble friends commented to me afterwards that it was obvious from the expressions on several faces opposite, where a number of the Minister’s colleagues were sitting, that they were shocked by what they had heard. The Official Report does not record facial expressions but on that occasion I felt, as I have sometimes felt on others, that the Minister may not be a particularly good poker player.
I was very critical on that occasion of the methodology used to assess essential living needs, which in the case of a child could hardly be called an assessment. It does not include nappies, formula milk and other items specifically for babies. There was a very blunt tool for applying the approach of economies of scale. By just using that rough and ready term, without any disaggregation or analysis, the adult rate was applied. Of course I did not win when I then put the matter to the vote—the regulations have been in force since August—but one outcome was some discussion both privately with the Minister and during the debate about consultation with the NGOs and others who work in the field on periodic reviews of the support rates. The Minister said:
“We would certainly welcome evidence and data”.—[Official Report, 27/10/15; col. 1160.]
That is not of course in the context of the new Section 95A, but it is relevant, and I hope that the Minister can give the Committee an assurance about the process of arriving at the rates.
I do not want to take the time of the Committee by repeating points which have been made by the noble Lord and the right reverend Prelate, but they can take it that I agree with the detail as well as the spirit of everything that they have said. However, I will pick out, perhaps in a slightly disjointed way, one or two points. One important point is that the opportunity to engage with and receive assistance from the Home Office must not be lost, as it would be with a short grace period. Engaging with the authorities is important if people are not to be lost in the system—or rather fall out of it. That links in with the importance of a good returns process, which I will come back to in a moment.
Comments have also been made about the scope for dispute between the Home Office and local authorities. I am not suggesting that either sets out to be argumentative, but the strain on local authorities means that inevitably, under new paragraph 10A, there will be a focus on whether the responsibility should be that of a local authority. It was suggested that these could be resolved much more simply, quickly and cheaply by a specialist asylum support tribunal rather than through judicial review.
My Amendment 233 is about support for voluntary returns. I have already referred to forced destitution making it more difficult for families to leave the UK, because with ineffective support, families will disappear. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and I were all members of the all-party committee which looked at immigration detention. During our work, we heard about the effectiveness of different forms of support for voluntary return in other countries. The International Detention Coalition found that,
“asylum seekers and irregular migrants are more likely to accept and comply with a negative visa or status decision if they believe they have been through a fair refugee status or visa determination process; they have been informed and supported through the process; and they have explored all options to remain in the country legally. In contrast, those individuals who believe their case has never been heard properly”—
I think this comes within the same category as the support that may be given under the provisions we are talking about—
“are more likely to appeal a negative decision or find another avenue”—
that is put very delicately—
“to remain in the country”.
Our report mentioned the case management models in Sweden and Australia. I do not think we would be surprised to hear of the practice from Sweden, but Australia is not normally held up as a model in the migration area. I had better not take the time of the Committee by reading all this out now. I hear some support for that notion from my side—one can go off people. However, the underlying point is that maintaining contact and providing helpful support is not only humane but effective in gently persuading the people concerned that the best course for them is to accept that they should go back to their country of origin.
My Lords, I oppose the Questions that Clause 37 and Schedule 8 stand part of the Bill and support Amendment 230. I note in passing my support for Amendment 230ZB—I was going to say that the history of vouchers and the Azure card is not a happy one, but that is exactly the phrase used by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I am a bit worried after the confusion about who said what on the previous group that we are somehow seen as interchangeable; I hope not—from both sides, I am sure.
At Second Reading, I warned of the exploitation that could result from Clause 37 and Schedule 8. To show destitution will not now be sufficient on its own to qualify for assistance. It is clear from past research conducted by organisations such as the Children’s Society and the Centre for Migration Policy Research for Oxfam that destitution can all too easily lead to exploitation—notably of women and children—of various kinds. In particular, it can lead to economic exploitation, which the Bill is supposed to reduce, as destitute asylum seekers are pushed into the shadow economy, sometimes earning as little as £1 an hour in deplorable conditions, and sexual exploitation. This can involve both commercial sex work and transactional sex in return for shelter and basic subsistence.
Children’s Society practitioners report that they see many such ambiguous and all-too-often abusive transactional relationships. As one practitioner observed:
“These women are absolutely at the mercy of other people because they are powerless and have nowhere else to go”.
Previous Children’s Society research revealed how destitute children and young people, too, are vulnerable to abuse and sexual exploitation.
Prospective destitution is in effect being used to incentivise voluntary return—the language of incentives is the Government’s, not mine. The thinking that it betrays was challenged by a Centre for Social Justice working group on asylum a few years ago, and by evidence from many organisations working with asylum seekers—at Second Reading, I cited that from Women for Refugee Women. Not one of 45 women it spoke to in a 2012 study felt able to contemplate return, despite facing destitution. That still held true when they spoke to 30 of those women a year later. It concluded that parents who fear for their own and their children’s safety will not be swayed to return to their home countries by the threat of being made destitute or actual destitution.
Back in 2007, the Joint Committee on Human Rights made it clear, with reference to piloting of the Section 9 scheme, that,
“using both the threats and the actuality of destitution and family separation is incompatible with the principles of common humanity and with international human rights law and … it has no place in a humane society”.
Serious human rights concerns about the proposals in the Bill have been raised by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, with reference to the ECHR and the UNCRC, and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which has deemed them retrogressive concerning rights contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The only real concession in response to the consultation, other than to local authorities, has been to extend the grace period for families to 90 days, as we have heard. This extension is very welcome. However, there seems to be a sting in the tail, as it now appears that an application for Section 95A assistance will normally be possible only during the grace period while already claiming Section 95 support, and that 90 days will represent an absolute cut-off point. This has caused considerable concern among organisations working with asylum seekers.
Two particular questions arise. I apologise if I am repeating questions posed by my noble friend Lord Rosser, but I am not absolutely sure that they are the same questions because I did not quite take it all in. I do not think that there is any harm, because it is important that these questions are addressed. I should be grateful if the Minister would do so when he replies. First, will he provide an assurance that the regulations that permit applications outside the grace period will include changes of circumstance such as when asylum seekers who were previously supported by friends or family become destitute or encounter a barrier to return after the grace period is over? If the 90 days prove to be too short for families to complete the family returns process—we heard already that the Home Office’s own evaluation of the process shows that three out of five families take longer than three months—what discretion will there be for support to be extended for families still going through the process?
Welcome as the Home Office’s recent note was in providing more information, it is deeply unsatisfactory that it does not contain the level of detail about the regulations that we need to scrutinise these provisions properly. Nor does it indicate the level of support that new Section 95A will provide. Will it be the same as that provided by Section 95? Given the savage cuts to support for children that we debated last year and to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, already referred, surely there can hardly be less than that level of support. What is the Government’s response to the Delegated Powers Committee’s recommendation that the regulation should be subject to affirmative not negative procedures?
On Amendment 230, it is simply not credible to maintain, as Ministers do, that an appeal is not necessary because whether or not there is a genuine obstacle to leaving is a straightforward matter of fact. As Still Human Still Here legitimately asks, if such decisions are really so straightforward, how come the Home Office so often gets them wrong? As it points out, the reality is that these types of support decisions are complex, with caseworkers having to assess both whether someone is destitute and faces a genuine obstacle to leaving the UK. During 2014-15, it represented 168 asylum seekers deemed not to be destitute and in 70% of cases the Home Office decision was overturned. A similar proportion of cases was overturned or remitted in the 89 cases it represented where the appeal was on grounds of fitness to travel or reasonable steps being taken to return.
Such statistics demonstrate that facts are not just facts but have to be interpreted and evaluated, and a judgment made. All too often, it would appear that the Home Office is making an erroneous judgment. Yet in future there will be no tribunals, either to ensure justice or to provide some kind of check on Home Office decision-making, which is likely to become even worse as a result. The Home Office contends that appeals win only because of the late submission of evidence, but that is not supported by the analysis conducted by ASAP. Has the Minister seen that analysis and would he care to comment on its findings?
Important human rights and rule of law issues are at stake here. It is not good enough to say that judicial review remains as it would be very difficult to use JR in such cases. The tribunal system provides a more practical, efficient and fair means of enabling vulnerable people in pretty desperate straits to challenge decisions they believe to be wrong. The stakes are so much higher now than even under the present system. It would be a grave injustice if we were to allow the decision to remove basic appeal rights to stand.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, who spoke with such sincerity. I support these amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and others. I am grateful to the noble Lord for mentioning absconding again. I hope we will get an early answer on that.
Amendment 230 would include a right of appeal against the decision not to provide support. There is a small army of campaigners on this matter out there, some of them in the House of Commons where this was a major issue in the last debate on the Bill. One of the campaigners was called Iain Duncan Smith. The Minister may already know that in a 2008 report, Mr Duncan Smith said that the then Labour Government were using forced destitution as a means of encouraging people to leave voluntarily. He said that it was a “failed policy”; only one in five left voluntarily. The same Home Office is again aiming to squeeze Section 95 and Section 95(9A) on support and to narrow down the eligibility of families of so-called refused asylum seekers, although I have never liked that term. That may even prevent, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said, local authorities supporting children and families under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. We were debating this in October, as the noble Baroness said, under the Motion to annul, and arguing whether £5 was enough for a person to live on. If you take into consideration food and clothing—shoes, for example—it is not. There are some sad examples of mothers and children facing destitution, and worse. These are taken from serious case reviews, which I shall not relate now, but they convinced me that the Government have to think again.
My Lords, for many years we have discussed the Azure card, and it is good to return to it—and also to say that we had one or two victories in our most recent discussions, whereby instead of the value of the card being scrapped altogether there is a rollover now, so people can save a little perhaps from £35 to go over to the next week.
We are dealing here with vulnerable people. People are never illegal; they are people just like every one of us in this Chamber, as I keep on repeating. We have the opportunity to either undermine the dignity of people or to restore it. We should remember that it is as we restore that dignity that we build a legacy for the future that is far more worth while than trying to diminish the rights of people. Imagine that you are in a queue at a checkout in a shop or a store and you are wondering whether, with £35—£5 a day—you have enough to pay for the goods you have in the basket or trolley. Imagine that you get to the cashier and the cashier says, “Sorry, you can’t have that”, because you have gone over the £35. By introducing cash benefits, we could at least give people a little bit of dignity in that queue, so that they are not embarrassed. They are people—and often people of great dignity and worth.
Today I read in a paper that I do not often read that there is an easyJet shop opening in north London where for at least a month most items are 25p each. I do not know whether other noble Lords have read about this. That is great—so the person with the Azure card goes there and finds out that they do not use it there. It is used only in 14 or 15 stores. And how would they get to north London, when you cannot use it to buy a bus ticket or a ticket on the underground? If they had cash, they could do that. I am reading between the lines in transitional instructions—not in what the Minister said in the other place—that the Azure card was to stay. We have another opportunity here to bring about a bit of dignity for those people. You have children with you—and children sometimes might want a piece of toffee or chocolate, but you cannot do it, because you do not have the money. And is that included in the goods that you can buy with the Azure card? Probably it is.
We have created second-class, third-class or fourth-class citizens existing on £5 a day. I spend more on that in the cafeteria and in the restaurants here, and I know that some people pay as much as that for a coffee in some places in our Parliament. But we have the opportunity, and we are moving in that direction whereby the Azure card is yesterday’s news and cash benefits in hand are today’s news. Then we have to restore the right of appeal. There is a lot more to be done, but I am sure that the Minister will give us some comforting words at the end of this debate.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, has reminded us that this clause is about forced destitution. Is it right that in a country such as this, which is one of the wealthiest in the world and upholds humane and civilised standards of decency, we should leave people without adequate resources believing that it is a way to somehow force them to leave the country? At Second Reading, I rehearsed some of the arguments. I mentioned Asylum Link Merseyside, of which I am a patron, and the work it has done that demonstrates that that simply does not work, because when parents, rightly or wrongly, think that their children’s lives will be at risk if they return home, they will generally consider that becoming destitute in the United Kingdom is the better option available to them. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, is right to ask whether we wish this clause to remain part of the Bill and to argue why it should not stand part.
Asylum Link Merseyside works with asylum seekers, but as my noble friend Lord Sandwich and others have reminded the Committee, the Home Office commissioned its own report into these things—I think that the Home Office study covered a cohort of about 116 families. It found that the rate of absconding was 39% for those in the Section 9 pilot but only 21% in the comparable control group who remained supported. Only one family in the pilot was successfully removed, compared to nine successful removals in the control group, and,
“there was no significant increase in the number of voluntary returns … of unsuccessful asylum seeking families”.
That is why the Home Office concluded that Section 9 should not be used on a blanket basis. Removing Clause 37 would remove something that we know does not work, that is likely to be more costly, that is an inefficient support system and that will clearly, as others have said, put the welfare of children at risk.
The Bill will establish a highly bureaucratic system which will be burdensome to administer. Local authorities will remain the body to which destitute refused asylum seekers who have fallen through the safety net turn for support. They will have to conduct eligibility tests and assessments to see whether support is required in order to safeguard the welfare of a particular child. In these cash-strapped days, do we really believe that local authorities will be in a position to do that? The complexity of these new arrangements means that families with children are likely to fall through the gaps in the system and find themselves destitute, at least temporarily. The consequences of refused asylum seekers being left without support, even for short periods of time, is extremely serious as it causes illness and complicates existing health problems.
Some noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Hamwee, were able to attend a briefing a few weeks ago which was given by, among others, Still Human Still Here. I asked then for some illustrations of how this could work out in practice. I shall give two brief examples. Still Human Still Here mentioned a 2012 serious case review which involved an asylum seeker who developed a brain infection and could not look after her child. The boy starved to death and the mother died two days later. The family became destitute during the transition from asylum to mainstream support, leaving the family,
“dependent upon ad hoc payments by local agencies”.
The review expressed,
“concern about the adverse consequences on vulnerable children and the resulting additional pressure on local professional agencies”,
when support was cut off.
In 2011 a serious case review involving child Z noted that the circumstances of the child’s mother, a refused asylum seeker facing removal with a life-threatening illness and caring for a young child with few support networks,
“would challenge any individual's coping strategies”.
It stressed that the,
“need for high levels of support for someone with such vulnerabilities was clear”,
and the absence of this support was a major factor leading to the woman’s death and her child needing to be looked after.
Both these cases highlight the consequences of leaving vulnerable families without support, and I therefore have some questions for the Minister. The Government’s proposals leave the detail of the new support provisions, including the level of support, to regulations. First, will the Government provide an assurance that the level and type of support provided under Section 95A or new paragraphs 10A and 10B of Schedule 3 to the 2002 Act will meet the essential living needs of asylum seekers and that the housing provided will be appropriate for vulnerable children and their families?
Secondly, the Government have stated that it will not be possible to apply for Section 95A support after the prescribed grace period, which is 21 days for single adults and 90 days for families with children. Will the Government provide an assurance that the regulations which permit applications outside the grace period will include changes of circumstance, such as when asylum seekers who were previously supported by friends or family become destitute or when asylum seekers encounter a barrier to return after the grace period is over?
Thirdly, will the Government consider amending language which prevents local authorities providing support under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 where,
“there are reasonable grounds for believing that support will be provided”,
as it is likely to leave families destitute for considerable periods of time while responsibility is determined?
Fourthly, and penultimately, while local authorities will be able to provide accommodation and subsistence support when they are satisfied that it is needed to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child, regulations will be laid specifying factors which the local authority must or must not take into account in making this decision. What factors do the Government intend to specify must or must not be taken into account?
Lastly, will the Government provide an assurance that the best interests of the child, which were referred to by the Minister’s noble and learned friend in earlier exchanges, shall be a primary consideration in the operation of any actions concerning children in the Bill —a point that I think will be reflected on in response to what the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said earlier—and that the new mechanisms of support set up in the Bill will ensure that every child has a right to,
“a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development”?
Those words are required by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. I hope the Government will consider bringing forward their own amendment at least to put that in the Bill.
I realise that the Minister may not be able to answer those five questions now, although I hope the Box will be able to provide him with some response. However, at least between now and Report, I hope that he will give reassurance to all noble Lords who have participated in today’s debate supporting the excellent points that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, made in moving that this clause should not stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, as we now embark on Part 5, which deals with levels of support and the treatment of migrants, it might be helpful if I put some general points on the record. First, I readily accept that we are talking about a vulnerable group of people. Irrespective of whether their asylum claims are upheld, they have travelled from another country and find themselves in a country where they often have difficulties with the language. One does not minimise in any way that they are a vulnerable group.
Secondly, when the Immigration and Asylum Act was passed by the previous Labour Government in 1999, the provision under Section 95(5) for people in need was a recognition of our international obligations to provide a basic standard of care for people who had applied for asylum in our country and for our protection while their case was being considered. I do not think that it was ever the intention of the Government at that time, as evidenced by their attempt to reform Schedule 3 to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, that this would be an open-ended commitment, irrespective of whether the person was within the asylum process or had gone through that process and found that their claim was not upheld. It was not intended for that support to continue ad infinitum.
The next point is that we have not embarked upon this approach lightly. We have had a period of consultation on this, and that consultation received many representations from the groups that have already been referred to. The consultation was responded to by the Government. We then set out, in my letter to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, on 21 January, significant supporting materials setting out what the changes would be, with the purpose that noble Lords would have greater detail than perhaps is normally the case in considering what the reform of support for failed asylum seekers and other illegal migrants is going to be, and the information contained in Schedules 8 and 9.
Because of the above, we are aware that we are dealing with very sensitive situations and that we have a duty of care, particularly to vulnerable people, so we want to be absolutely sure that we are getting this right. That is the reason why so far we have introduced some 26 different government amendments, including three in this group, which we will be coming to in the next seven or eight groups, to deal with some of the gaps that have been identified—for example, in relation to human trafficking. The reports that have been received from the Red Cross have been considered very carefully, and the Asylum Support Appeals Project does valuable work, particularly with those who go through that route of applying for asylum support.
The broad principle that I am trying to set out is in many ways a response to the comments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich about the importance of having a fair and humane process. I want to set out that when we talk the about the cash elements that are available, we have to remember that they are in addition to safe and secure accommodation with all utility bills paid for. All that we are talking about here, when it comes into force—“when” being an issue that we will return to—would apply only to new applicants.
In recognising the original purpose of Section 95(5) of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, I note that some cases in the asylum applications that we receive, coming to this country each year, raise some question marks. The fact that we receive 80% of 16 and 17 year- old asylum applicants in Europe from Albania is something that we need to factor into these considerations; it is not that there is not a problem. As we want increasingly to extend our hand of help, support and protection to the most vulnerable in our society, particularly those from Syria and Iraq, it behoves us also to ensure that we use the resources available where they are particularly needed, and not perhaps for people who have come to apply to this system who may not be the most in need.
Clause 37 and Schedule 8 reform the support arrangements for failed asylum seekers who the courts have agreed do not need our protection. They do not alter the support for asylum seekers who would otherwise be destitute while their claim is determined and any appeal is heard. Schedule 8 makes two key changes. First, failed asylum-seeking families will no longer be treated as though they were still asylum seekers. They will cease to be eligible for support under Section 95 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, and Section 4 of that Act will be repealed. Support will be available only to destitute failed asylum seekers and any dependent children if there is a “genuine obstacle”—we will return to that phrase and I will expand upon its meaning—that prevents their departure when their appeal rights are exhausted.
In speaking to Amendments 229ZA, 229ZC and 230C, which I will move when we reach them on the Marshalled List, I shall also address some of the amendments in the names of other noble Lords. Amendments 229A, 230A and 230B in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, would amend the new support provisions for failed asylum seekers so that the Secretary of State “must” rather than “may” provide support if the conditions set out in the regulations are met. We believe that these changes are not necessary because I can confirm that it is our intention to provide support in accordance with the regulations.
Amendment 230 would create a right of appeal for failed asylum seekers against a refusal of support under the new Section 95A of the 1999 Act. It will have been decided that there is no genuine obstacle to them now leaving the UK. These are failed asylum seekers who the courts have agreed do not need our protection and have no lawful basis to remain here. Let us also remember that they have initially made a claim to the Home Office, and a caseworker has examined the facts and reached a decision. At the moment, 41% of those who arrive in the UK are granted leave to remain or humanitarian protection. If they then disagree with that finding, they can appeal to the lower Asylum and Immigration Tribunal. If that appeal is unsuccessful, they can appeal to the Upper Tribunal. So we are talking about people who have gone through some system that entitles them to receive legal aid and advice where they meet the merits tests. There are also organisations such as Migrant Help that are there to offer advice through the system.
Home Office support for families will not end until 90 days. It also has to be remembered that in that initial consultation the recommendation was 28 days; I think it was 21 days for single people and 28 for families. But we have already said—again, I use this to underscore the fact that the Government recognise we are dealing with areas of great sensitivity; we are not setting our face against any change now or in the future in response to evidence we receive—the grace period went up from 28 days to 90 days. I appreciate that it has now been questioned whether 90 days is enough, and we are examining that.
What we mean by “genuine obstacle” will be set out in the regulations, which will be subject to parliamentary approval. It will be, for example, where medical evidence shows that the person is unfit to travel—in the case of the pregnant lady who was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, it would be if it was within six weeks of her due date—or where they have applied for but not yet been issued with a travel document. This will involve a straightforward assessment of the facts, so we do not consider that another right of appeal on the end of the process that we have outlined is necessary.
I pay tribute to the excellent work done by the Asylum Support Appeals Project, but we say that its briefing for this debate supports this conclusion. Some 41% of appeals against refusal of support are allowed and others are admitted back to the Home Office for reconsideration, but in many cases this is because the evidence required to show that support was needed was supplied only at the appeal stage. This is evidenced by the cases sampled in the briefing paper. Few appeals currently hinge on whether there is a genuine obstacle preventing their departure from the UK. This is because the Home Office receives few applications for support on this basis. The allowed appeals relied upon usually involve a completely different matter: for example, whether the person is destitute or whether support is necessary to avoid a breach of their human rights.
Most asylum support appeals are against the refusal of Section 4 support to a failed asylum seeker who has lodged further submissions or intends to do so. The Bill will repeal Section 4 and provide Section 95 support for those with outstanding further submissions on protection grounds. A right of appeal against a decision that a person does not qualify for Section 95 support will remain.
Amendment 229ZD, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would remove an important provision that defines those seeking Section 95 support on the basis that they have made “further qualifying submissions” by reference to the Immigration Rules. This cross-reference to the rules is necessary to provide clarity as to what is meant by “further qualifying submissions” and how they fall to be considered after they are lodged. The rules set out the proper procedure to distinguish cases where the person is simply repeating matters that have been already been considered and rejected from those with genuine new grounds to lodge a fresh protection claim. The latter will be granted protection and will therefore be able to apply for mainstream benefits, or will be given a fresh opportunity to appeal against the refusal of their claim and be supported under Section 95 support.
Amendment 229ZE would remove the provision in Section 94 of the 1999 Act that enables a grace period to be provided before a person ceases to be eligible for Section 95 support. The grace period starts when the person is notified of the decision on their protection claim or when any appeal is finally disposed of. Regulations prescribe how long the grace period will last but cannot alter the actual day on which the protection claim or appeal is determined.
Amendment 230ZB would mean that failed asylum seekers supported under new Section 95A of the 1999 Act could be supported only in the form of cash rather than cash or vouchers, as well as with accommodation. The legislation needs to be flexible enough to provide support in different ways to deal with particular circumstances. Section 95 already allows support to be provided through cash or vouchers and it is appropriate that new Section 95A should do the same. We expect that failed asylum seekers who move on to new Section 95A will continue to be supported as they were under Section 95. This will generally be by way of accommodation and cash.
The short answer to that is yes.
Amendment 233 would require the Secretary of State to provide failed asylum seekers with a caseworker, a named contact and legal advice. It would also require the appointment of an independent person to report on the financial assistance available to failed asylum seekers who leave voluntarily, and on contact with welfare organisations in the country of return.
I agree as to the importance of these issues but not as to the need for this amendment. We provide generous financial assistance to incentivise returns and assist with reintegration in the country of origin. This can be up to £2,000 per person for families and up to £1,500 in support for a single person, in addition to removal expenses and their travel and transport costs such as flights. We also provide help with travel arrangements and resettlement needs. Some 143 families comprising 435 people and 469 single failed asylum seekers left under the assisted voluntary return scheme from 1 April to 31 December 2015, which suggests that the arrangements are working.
I will address some of the specific questions raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, asked about the no right of appeal. I made the point that the wider facts will have been contested in the earlier appeals and examined by the Home Office caseworker, and that therefore a genuine obstacle would be easy to understand —in other words, that there is medical evidence that the person is not fit to travel or that they do not have the necessary travel documents to do so.
I am sure that the noble Lord will accept that it is not quite as straightforward as just saying that there will be medical evidence; there might be a view on what weight should be attached to that medical evidence and whether it meets the criteria. It cannot all be effectively a tick-box exercise, although I almost get the impression it is being portrayed as such.
It is certainly not a tick-box exercise. Of course, a statement that someone is medically unfit and unable to travel is a fact that can be proved by a medical practitioner and which can be evidenced. The fact that the documents are not in place for travel can be evidenced by the absence of those documents; therefore we contest that the key facts can be established as to whether there is a genuine obstacle to the person leaving, without necessarily reopening the whole case for review.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, was generous enough again to recognise in connection with the Azure card, on which he has faithfully spoken over many years in this place, that we have made some improvements. I will refer back the comment on the specific chain he mentioned, the easyFoodstore—or is it the easyJet store?—which has food for low prices, because that ought to be considered. The list is not an exhaustive one: it can be changed and added to, provided that the companies themselves are willing to join the system. I will certain explore that further.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, asked whether the 90-day grace period would be extended if there is a change of circumstances. The person must genuinely ensure that there is an obstacle to return. An example might be if they did not receive timely notice of the asylum refusal or a failed appeal. The 90-day grace period for families will enable us to work effectively with families and local authorities to encourage and enable returns. Assisted voluntary return for families is a scheme for families comprising a maximum of two adult parents and at least one child under the age of 18. Families who leave the UK under this scheme can qualify for up to £2,000 per family member. A key difference between that scheme and the previous one— the test that was done under Schedule 3 to the 2002 Act—is that that was a dry, correspondence-based exercise, whereas with family returns we are talking about a family returns engagement officer, who works with them to ensure that provision is in place for them and their family both while they are in the UK and in the country to which they will return to.
On the regulations and whether they will be affirmative, we are very conscious as to what the committee has said, and of course we always tend to show great deference to that committee. However, I will have to come back on Report to confirm how we will deal with this. It simply requires a process we need to go through as regards consulting other people with interests across government to get approval or not for that type of thing. I feel as though I am letting my poker face go again—I have never played poker, and now I am probably figuring out why. Noble Lords have guessed it. In any case, we take the committee seriously and will come back with an amendment to—
More details will come out. We are working very closely with the local authorities and the Department for Education on what the guidance should be on this. We have to get that joined-up system there to ensure protection, particularly for the families, and work out how it will work. That process is ongoing. As set out in my letter of 21 January and in the substantial document, the review is current. I realise that we had a significant debate on the level of asylum support on 27 October. On page 2, paragraph 6 states:
“As Lord Bates confirmed in the House of Lords on 27 October 2015, we continue to keep the support rate under review”.
We have engaged with a number of stakeholders, including Still Human Still Here, Refugee Action, the Children’s Society and Student Action for Refugees and we will study the results carefully. The review should report in March or April and will provide detailed reasons for the conclusion when it comes through.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked what the reduction in the number of migrants will be. An impact statement is attached, where the noble Lord will see that we anticipate that an estimated 20% of the failed cohort will return. That is the assumption we have used in the impact assessment. It is not an easy estimate to make, however, for the reasons the noble Lord gave. It cannot be judged on just this one measure but needs to be judged by the wider measures in the Bill, which will make it more difficult for people to rent accommodation, drive or gain employment if they have no right to be here. It is part of the package but that is the assumption.
I come to discontinuation of support. If there is a genuine obstacle, support will continue. If a pregnant woman is not due to give birth within six weeks of the expiry point of the 90-day grace period, she will generally be fit to fly and therefore not eligible for new Section 95A support. If that were not the case, there would be medical grounds to cite a genuine obstacle to being able to travel.
I cited what I understand to be the figures from the family returns process. A significant number of the families involved are not dealt with within the three-month period. I suppose I am asking whether the Government agree with those figures, which I understand came from a government analysis. If it is accepted that, under that process, a significant number of families cannot with the best will in the world complete the process within three months, what happens under the 90-day period if there are likewise families with Section 95 support who cannot complete the process for leaving within the 90 days? Or is the Government’s argument that everybody should finish the process within 90 days and any reference to what is happening under the family returns process is somehow not relevant?
That is, of course, how it is at the moment, but we will bring forward in the regulations means by which we believe we can improve the efficiency of that process and reduce a lot of the complexity in the system, which everyone wants to see removed. That will, in turn, speed up the process so that the vast majority of claims fall well within the 90-day period. That is our intention but it needs to be kept under review so that it is the case.
We hope that is achieved and that we get a quicker process. At the moment, however, unless what I am saying about the family returns process is wrong, there is evidence that it will not be possible to complete the process for a significant number of families within 90 days. All I am asking is: if that is the case —and there is no suggestion that the families themselves have contributed to the fact that the process has not been completed in time—will that Section 95 support be continued beyond the 90 days?
Every case will be different but in a normal case, if someone cannot leave within 90 days, there is probably a genuine obstacle to their doing so. They may not be well enough or they may not have travel documents, in which case they would come into the category of having a genuine obstacle and, therefore, support could continue under new Section 95A.
If a pregnant lady is to be deported within six weeks of the birth, and if flights can be arranged, what arrangements will be made in her destination? She will need medical attention. Might voluntary organisations be able to help? What arrangements can be made to ensure that she is well cared for on arrival?
I am happy to set that out in a little more detail. I think it would be helpful to say how we envisage that working. The plan is for the family engagement officer—who is a key figure in this, working with the family to manage their return—to have cognisance of their circumstances not only while here but when they return, so that will be taken into account and will be something that we look at. I will write more on that; I am happy to do so.
My Lords, while we are on this subject, the noble Lord, in response to my Amendment 233, talked about the current process. The amendment was tabled after discussion with the Red Cross in particular and other organisations that commented on the need for the items set out in the amendment, namely,
“a caseworker … a named point of contact … and … legal advice”.
The part of the amendment dealing with a review refers to,
“the level of financial support provided to failed asylum seekers when they leave the United Kingdom, and … the level of contact with organisations in the country of return necessary for the welfare of the failed asylum seekers”,
which was very much the point my noble friend was making. The Minister has just described a caseworker and named person. I am not clear whether this is intended to be a change from the current process or whether his notes are defending the current process. If it is the latter, the comments I received which led to this amendment indicate that the current process, which the Minister described, is not working.
While I am on my feet, I am afraid I must take the Minister back to the Azure card. He said that, generally, support would be in the form of accommodation and cash. What are the exceptions to that?
First, I am a huge admirer of the work of the Red Cross and pay tribute to all that it does in this area. The noble Baroness referred to my charitable endeavours over the recess. Last year, I raised £90,000 for projects for the International Red Cross in China. My response to the point about the Red Cross study is that we are engaging with it. Home Office officials are in contact with the Red Cross and we are working through its recommendations, which I have read. There is some question—which we need to understand better—about the cohort. I think that the Red Cross looked at some 60 case studies. The majority—all but five or six, I think—were failed asylum seekers, but there was not really sufficient explanation of why they had failed. Suffice to say that we take this very seriously. We want to engage with organisations such as the Red Cross so that we move forward sensitively.
I have said that I will write on the point about the Azure card and perhaps I could include the exceptions. With that, I hope that noble Lords will accept my explanation and withdraw their opposition to the clause standing part.
My Lords, perhaps I could ask one question. A number of noble Lords have said that when this sort of scheme was tried before, where, basically, failed asylum seekers were forced into destitution, not only were there fewer returns than in the control group but more people absconded and disappeared than in the control group. I understand the Minister’s arguments about saving government money for more deserving cases and that if somebody has exhausted the asylum appeals process you cannot keep giving them resources, but surely the most important thing is to ensure that the people who should not be in this country are no longer in this country. When this was tried before, the evidence was that starving failed asylum seekers into leaving the country is counter- productive. The Minister has not answered that question.
That is one of the reasons why, in the preceding group, we talked about the policy of deport first, appeal later. If people are appealing from outside the country, there is less of a risk that they will abscond. We should also note, when comparing this with the 2002 Act, the different way in which we now engage families in this situation—through caseworkers, through Migrant Help and by working with them to manage their return to the United Kingdom. There is also a very generous grant available to them—up to £2,000 per person in addition to travel costs—when they agree to do so. So judged in the round, within the wider package of things that we are trying to do in the Immigration Bill, we can actually see that that figure will improve. But I am sure that the noble Lord will hold us to account when those figures are published each year to see how we are doing.
My Lords, the Minister will recall that I put five questions to him. Although he has in his ministerial reply touched tangentially on some of those points, I wonder whether he would be good enough to confirm that he will write to me with a response to the particular points I made.
I apologise if I did not address those questions specifically head-on. Of course, I am blessed with having a team of officials behind me who capture the gaps in my response. We have a track record, I think, of following up in some detail to plug those gaps so that Members have the information that they need to scrutinise the legislation before the House.
Clause 37 agreed.
228: After Clause 37, insert the following new Clause—
“Asylum support move on period
Persons in receipt of asylum support will cease to receive such support 40 days after receiving a Biometric Residence Permit following the granting of—(a) refugee status;(b) humanitarian protection status;(c) discretionary leave status;(d) indefinite leave to remain; or(e) limited leave to remain for 30 months.”
My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 228 and I am grateful to those noble Lords who have added their name to it. This concerns what is commonly called the “moving on” or “grace” period, during which an asylum seeker granted status continues to receive asylum support but after which it is expected that they will have sorted out mainstream financial support, employment and accommodation. The current period is only 28 days. The amendment would increase this to 40 days.
As I said when we discussed the previous group, I applaud the Home Office for listening to the concerns expressed about the grace period proposed in the consultation on asylum support for failed asylum seekers, but I was disappointed that the same document stated:
“There are no plans to change the grace period arrangements for those granted asylum or other status here”.
I hope that we might be able to persuade the Minister to look again at this also, particularly given that the grace period for failed asylum seekers will now be 90 days.
I was prompted to table the amendment as a result of reading the recent Work and Pensions Committee report Benefit Delivery. The report referred to the research evidence suggesting that,
“28 days is insufficient time for refugees to make the transition from Home Office support in many cases”.
This includes the DWP’s own research which,
“showed it takes on average 32 days from receipt of claim to first payment for a claimant with a National Insurance number and 35 days for a claimant without”.
The Committee asked why only 28 days is allowed, when it is clear from the research that,
“it is in many cases insufficient”.
It recommended that,
“the DWP conduct an immediate investigation into the ‘move-on’ period and work with the Home Office to amend the length of time if necessary”.
I realise that this amendment goes further, but I do not believe further investigation is necessary, given the evidence that already exists, including from the British Red Cross, as cited by the Work and Pensions Committee—and I am grateful to the BRC for its help with the amendment—and also an earlier report by Freedom from Torture.
It was in fact that report, on the poverty barrier faced by survivors of torture, that first alerted me to this issue. I tried in vain to find out who had responsibility for this matter in DWP and, to my shame, when I did not find out I let it go. But the publication of the Work and Pensions Committee report, following the recent research report from the British Red Cross, convinced me that we must use the opportunity provided by this Bill to address what is a very real and unnecessary injustice.
The Red Cross research identified 23 factors at play affecting the speed with which refugees are able to move on to mainstream support. For some people, five to 10 of these factors could be holding up progress. The research documents the complexities of the transition period, involving multiple stakeholders and the issuing and management of multiple documents. During a one-month data collection process, the study found that 14 out of 101 people helped by the BRC refugee support service in Birmingham were in the moving-on period, and two out of 55 people in Plymouth. All 14 participants in Birmingham were destitute, with neither financial support nor adequate accommodation. All 11 for whom it had sufficient information had been without support for more than 15 days, five for 15 to 35 days, and three for more than 75 days. In Plymouth, both had been without support for between 15 and 35 days.
BRC has provided me with a case study that was not part of the research. Hagos is a 19 year-old from Eritrea living in Stoke on Trent. He was granted status on 16 October and claimed jobseeker’s allowance on 29 October. In case anyone is wondering why there was a delay in claiming, let me remind noble Lords that claiming benefits can sometimes be difficult for people at the best of times. In his oral evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee, Fabio Apollonio of the BRC explained:
“It is clear to us that at a particular stage when a person is just coming out of a trauma, perhaps, they are thinking of what to do next and they are bombarded with a lot of things to do and very often they do not even start the process until very late. It is very difficult to engage with a benefit agency at that stage unless you are prepared and you have been receiving advice from someone who can explain to you clearly what you should do without delay”.
Anyway, back to Hagos. His asylum support was terminated on 19 November. His first JSA payment was not made until 7 January—held up in part because of incorrect advice given by Jobcentre Plus staff—so this young man, still in his teens, experienced destitution for a period of 50 days.
Another example provided in the West Yorkshire Destitute Asylum Network’s submission to the Work and Pensions Committee was of a woman with severe mental health problems, with two children, who was told that her claim for benefits could not be processed until two days before her asylum support was due to end. It then took over a month for the first payment to be made. The family were left in temporary accommodation without any subsistence support for a number of weeks and had to rely on food parcels and hardship payments from a member organisation of the network. As the network points out, many new refugees lack the safety net of savings or social networks able to support them through this difficult period.
The researchers concluded that:
“Our findings show that moving from asylum support to mainstream benefits and employment is a real ordeal for new refugees—and usually takes much longer than the … ‘grace period’ given by the government”.
I do not believe this is hyperbole, and even though it is a small study, it is consistent with the other available evidence.
In particular, the psychological impact of the ordeal that new refugees face is documented by the Freedom from Torture report that I mentioned. It observes that:
“The relief of gaining security of legal status can dissipate fairly quickly as the reality becomes apparent, while at the same time the survivor may be particularly vulnerable psychologically, as the full impact of torture and the loss of their former life may begin to be fully felt at this time of transition”.
Clinicians interviewed for the research said that it was at this time of transition and great psychological vulnerability that clients were most likely to experience destitution. They commentated on the devastating impact that this could have as, in their experience, when survivors of torture are effectively made destitute, it can lead to a deterioration in their mental health and/or to an increased risk of suicide. It can also have a long-term impact on their ability to recover from their past trauma, even after they are no longer in destitute circumstances. As one clinician put it:
“There’s nothing worse for our clients than thinking all your problems have ended because you get ‘status’ and then becoming homeless”.
If we stop and think how we would feel in that situation, it is all too understandable.
I do not believe that this is what anyone in the Government wants. It is a policy of neglect and bureaucratic inertia rather than of deliberate intent, but it is no less cruel for that. A number of practical reforms that could help are detailed both in the BRC report and in evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee—for instance, to start the clock of the grace period ticking only once a refugee has received key documents such as an NI number. But this problem has been going on for years. Indeed, the Home Affairs Committee recommended in 2013 that,
“asylum support should not be discontinued until the Department for Work and Pensions has confirmed that the recipient is receiving mainstream benefits”.
I am afraid that I do not have confidence in the statutory agencies to ensure that measures are implemented effectively without legislative change. Of course, the sooner a refugee can move from asylum support to mainstream support, the better, but in order to ensure that they do not drop into a horrible limbo in between, the time has come to extend the period to 40 days as a basic safeguard against destitution.
I am sure that the Minister is not comfortable with this situation. Therefore, would it be possible to arrange a meeting involving representatives of the Home Office and the DWP together with interested Peers and representatives of key organisations supporting refugees through the moving-on period to look at what might be possible before Report? I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, put the case eloquently and persuasively. She and I attended a briefing with the British Red Cross and she then tabled the amendment. I added my name as a signatory because it puts, as she said, a real and unnecessary injustice right. It is a basic safeguard against enforced destitution.
The Minister needs no convincing about the merits of the British Red Cross. He has not only raised significant sums for the organisation in a voluntary capacity but I know that he has huge admiration for the work that it does. Representatives told us in the briefing that we had with them that they had helped to reunite 300 refugee families last year in the UK. They also illustrated from their own experience that destitution in the asylum system is a worsening and deepening problem. They supported 9,000 refugees and asylum seekers who were destitute in 2015, compared with 7,700 in 2014, which is an increase of some 15%. That included people granted refugee status but not given enough time to transition to mainstream benefits in the way that the noble Baroness just described.
Nearly 44% of destitute refugees and asylum seekers supported by the Red Cross last year were from Eritrea, Iran, Sudan and Syria, all of which are among the world’s top refugee-producing countries. Although I agree with what the Minister said earlier about people seeking better lives from countries such as Albania—a point referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in his intervention—we must never lose sight of some of the hell-holes from which people are coming.
When the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and I were at Yarl’s Wood today, two men had just arrived off the back of lorries from Iran. Another had arrived from Mosul in Iraq. The situations they had come from were such that any noble Lord in the Chamber tonight would have attempted to escape from too. We have to be clear that these are not economic migrants or people who are just coming for a better life. Some of them have come from the most perilous and appalling situations.
If the Bill is left unaltered, it could plunge thousands more people in those kinds of situations into poverty, including families who are unable to leave the UK through no fault of their own, for example due to a lack of identification documents to provide their nationality or because they have no viable or secure place to return to.
Research conducted by the Red Cross in South Yorkshire has found that, among asylum seekers with no recourse to public funds, two-thirds experience repeated hunger on a regular basis, with a quarter experiencing it every day. Over 60% had no fixed accommodation and were therefore reliant on informal networks, relatives, friends or other acquaintances for a place even to sleep at night. Over half reported worsening health over the past year.
In the previous group of amendments, I made a number of points about enforced hardship and the calamitous consequences of that on individuals as well as on society. I do not need to repeat all of those. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, I, too, have seen case studies from the Red Cross. She cited the particular example of Hagos, a 19 year-old, who spent 50 days in destitution. There were three other case studies I looked at. I will not go into the details other than to cite the numbers of days of destitution. One was a 27 year-old from Sudan who had been destitute for 38 days. In the third study, another young man from Sudan had been 19 days in destitution. In the fourth study, a teenager of 19 years of age from Ethiopia spent 21 days in destitution.
All of us with children or grandchildren can imagine our own youngsters in that kind of situation. We would not want it for them and we should not want it for these young people. I know that the Minister, in his heart, would not want it either. This is a just and reasonable amendment, and I hope that the Minister will take seriously the request made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, in asking for continued discussions around this question between now and Report.
My Lords, I add my warm support to my noble friend in moving this amendment. For any of us who have been exposed to the realities of the situation, it is impossible to forget the mental turmoil that is so often present in the case of the person going through the process. The minds of those who have suffered torture are already in a pretty twisted and confused state. Just trying to cope with the procedures is physically and mentally exhausting. That is aggravated, frankly, because sometimes they have been through all the injustice of ill-prepared cases against them by the Home Office, which were subsequently totally dismissed as unacceptable, allowing the person to acquire asylum status. All this adds to the psychological pressure.
The other thing that strikes me—both the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my noble friend referred to this—is the amount of arbitrariness in this process. Some come up against wonderful people in the community. I can think of a case not very far from where the Minister lives where there was a wonderful amount of support forthcoming for the couple concerned, and they roped me in on it, but all the time I was thinking, “But what about all those who do not have this support?”. It was bad enough for them.
Let us consider the arbitrariness that people encounter at the appeal stage in terms of the procedures in court. I was present for this couple’s case, and indeed I was called as a witness. The judge was simply incompetent, but fortunately for this couple, they had a superbly good lawyer to present their case. She was able to shred the case brought by the judge almost within minutes. What was again constantly in my mind was the fact that the couple were fortunate to have the support of a wonderful family and an excellent lawyer, someone who was commended by her own profession for her work, but what about all the others? This indicates that we need to look closely at what is realistically possible.
To be fair, I should add that when I became involved in this case, I was given a lot of helpful support by the Home Office. It was obvious that some people there were unhappy about the situation and they were trying to help. But only a minority of cases have the good fortune of the kind intervention of others. We cannot take the business of fairness lightly and we must be able to think ourselves into the shoes of the people going through this process—what they have been through, what state their minds are in and how capable they are of coping with what is required of them during the period of transition. I hope that the Minister, who I know is an extremely fair-minded man, will listen carefully to the plea of my noble friend and resolve this.
My Lords, our Amendment 229 also addresses the issue of people who have been granted refugee status, humanitarian protection and various forms of leave to remain accessing mainstream benefits. I am sure that being able to work, and as a secondary to that being able to access mainstream benefits and accommodation, is what people in this situation want. They do not want to be supported. But delays in the Home Office in issuing biometric residence permits and delays at the DWP in issuing national insurance numbers so that people can get identity documents and thus establish a claim to benefits mean that the system is not working as it should.
Our amendment would not make as many changes as its length might suggest. The relevant addition to the definition of when,
“a claim for asylum is determined”,
are the lines,
“and the claimant or dependants of the claimant do not appear to the Secretary of State to be destitute”.
In other words, adding that in as another condition to be met, as it were. I can understand that it must be much easier to have an automatic time trigger for these things, but we have heard throughout the debate on this Bill how matters are considered on a case-by-case basis, and it seems that this is another occasion when that consideration should be applied.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, for moving her amendment, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. In the interests of time, perhaps I may first draw the attention of the Committee to my letter of 21 January and in particular to the accompanying document, Reforming Support for Migrants Without Immigration Status: The New System Contained in Schedules 8 and 9 to the Immigration Bill, and specifically to pages 10 to 12 which deal with the handover situation of people on support from the Home Office and moving them on to a local authority, and how that system can be improved.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, who I respect enormously for his humanitarian instincts, as I do the noble Lord, Lord Judd, referred to the British Red Cross report. It was published on 13 January, I think, which is fairly recent in terms of government decision-making. We are engaging with the charity and we will have more to say on the report in due course.
At the heart of what the noble Baroness wants is whether we will agree to a meeting to look specifically at this issue. The next group of amendments is a significant one about children leaving care. I was going to suggest that we should have a meeting on that issue, which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, will probably find very helpful. I am happy to incorporate this specific point into that wider meeting, given that we already have five meetings coming up before Report. If that is helpful to her, I shall restrict my remarks to drawing attention to the document I have just mentioned and agreeing to combine this issue with those to be addressed in the meeting as a result of the next group of amendments.
I thank all noble Lords who have spoken so helpfully and the noble Lord for that positive response. I am happy for this to be taken as part of another meeting, although I hope that we will be able to include representatives of the British Red Cross and the Refugee Council since they both work with people who are in the moving-on period. I think that I referred to an earlier British Red Cross report rather than the one which has just been produced. I know that there are two reports which are relevant to our discussions so it is possible that I have muddled them up, but I was referring to a different report from that cited by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. Anyway, that does not matter because the important thing is that we should sit down and talk about this. As I have said, I do not think that there is really any difference between us, but this has been going on for too long. I do not know what the answer is. It may be a longer time limit or it might be something else. If we can sit around a table, that would be very helpful.
I should make one specific point that I need to put on to the record. It is not just a case of extending the time period, it is also about making sure that people apply for these benefits promptly. One of the figures cited in the 2014 British Red Cross report showed that of its sample of 16 individuals, only three had applied for welfare benefits within the first three weeks of being granted status. Part of the issue is getting people to apply earlier.
The Minister has just put his finger on a good example of the difficulty here. He has said that it is important that people should apply promptly, but sometimes their mental condition and the state of confusion they are in makes that a totally unrealistic proposition unless there are families or friends who can take them through the whole process, as was the case with the couple I cited as an example earlier. People have to work hard on it. These are exactly the sort of points which should be taken up in the discussion that I am glad to hear the Minister is suggesting.
My noble friend has taken the words right out of my mouth. As I said in moving the amendment, it is easy to say that people should apply earlier. However, they are in what is still a strange country to them and are accessing a strange system. Even for people who are brought up here it can be difficult to claim benefits. If these people do not have the support of an agency like the British Red Cross or the Refugee Council, is it surprising that there is a delay? I know that it is not what the noble Lord is doing, but it does sound a bit like blaming the victim to say, “If only they would apply earlier”. I know that it is not what he meant.
I cannot let that stand. I certainly would not be guilty of doing that. I am simply saying that when there are delays in the system we need to look at all the parties to explore why. The one fact I presented was that only three out of 16 applied within the first three weeks. That could contribute to the need to examine why, and what extra help they need. I certainly was not blaming the victims. It is not about simply adding days on in the end and finding that even that is not enough, as we were talking previously about the grace period going up from 28 to 90 days. We need to look at the whole system so that people get the care they need when they need it and the system works effectively. That is what we are about.
I am grateful for that. As I said I did not really believe that that was what the noble Lord meant. It might have sounded like it, so I am glad he has made it clear.
The Work and Pensions Committee said that 28 days is really very little time. It may be that the answer is not another fixed time limit, but I absolutely accept that we need to look at all the different aspects—the DWP, the Home Office and how people engage with them. On the basis that the Minister has very kindly offered to extend the meeting he was offering anyway, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 228 withdrawn.
Amendment 229 not moved.
Schedule 8: Support for certain categories of migrant
Amendments 229ZA to 229ZC
229ZA: Schedule 8, page 114, line 5, at end insert—
“( ) in section 134 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008, omit subsection (5);”
229ZB: Schedule 8, page 114, line 7, after “or”” insert “and “persons temporarily admitted and””
229ZC: Schedule 8, page 114, line 7, at end insert—
“( ) in paragraph 8 of Schedule 3 to the Immigration Act 2014, omit paragraph (a)”
Amendments 229ZA to 229ZC agreed.
Amendments 229ZD and 229ZE not moved.
Amendment 229A not moved.
Amendment 230 not moved.
230ZA: Schedule 8, page 117, line 33, leave out from “a” to end of line 36 and insert “condition imposed under Schedule 7 to the Immigration Act 2016 (immigration bail);”
Amendment 230ZA agreed.
Amendment 230ZB not moved.
Amendments 230A and 230B not moved.
230C: Schedule 8, page 121, line 31, at end insert—
“In Schedule 3 to the Immigration Act 2014 (excluded residential tenancy agreements), in paragraph 8 (accommodation provided by virtue of immigration provisions)—
(a) in paragraph (b) after “95” insert “or 95A”, and(b) in paragraph (c) after “98” insert “or 98A”.”
Amendment 230C agreed.
Schedule 8, as amended, agreed.
Clause 38: Availability of local authority support
230D: Clause 38, page 40, line 18, at end insert “subject to subsection (2).
(2) This section and Schedule 9 shall not have effect in respect of any former relevant child if a local authority by whom he or she was looked after failed to ensure that he or she was advised and assisted in connection with—
(a) an application for him or her to be registered as a British citizen in circumstances where he or she was either entitled to be registered as a British citizen or otherwise entitled to apply to be registered;(b) an application for him or her to be granted indefinite leave to remain in circumstances where he or she satisfied requirements under the immigration rules for a grant of indefinite leave to remain; or(c) an application for him or her to be granted limited leave to remain in circumstances where he or she satisfied requirements under the immigration rules for a grant of limited leave to remain.(3) In this section—
“former relevant child” has the meaning described in section 23C of the Children Act 1989 (continuing functions in respect of former relevant children), and“immigration rules” means the rules as laid before Parliament by the Secretary of State under section 3(2) of the Immigration Act 1971 (general provisions for regulation and control).”
My Lords, as the Minister said in his reply to the previous group of amendments, we will now have our attention focused on a whole group on the plight of children primarily, and how this legislation will affect them. It is slightly mind-boggling to find your amendment grouped with 26 government amendments, let alone 10 other amendments, and I will leave others to deal with those.
Earlier, I referred to a report that appeared in the Daily Telegraph on Monday and had its origins in a story in the Observer newspaper on Sunday. I should like to return to that for a moment. The report states:
“Brian Donald, Europol’s chief of staff, said …‘It’s not unreasonable to say that we’re looking at 10,000-plus children’” ,
who are unaccompanied and who had disappeared in Europe. He continued:
“‘Not all of them will be criminally exploited; some might have been passed on to family members. We just don’t know where they are, what they’re doing or whom they are with’”.
The report continued:
“Of more than a million migrants and refugees who arrived in Europe last year, Europol estimates that 27 per cent of them are children … ‘Not all those are unaccompanied, but we also have evidence that a large proportion might be, Mr Donald told The Observer, adding that the 10,000 is likely to be a conservative estimate’”.
If thousands of child migrants have vanished in Europe, it is clearly not an issue about which we can be complacent. As we did with the human trafficking and modern-day slavery legislation, we must provide flagship legislation which other nations can emulate. Our practice here must be beyond reproach and we certainly must do all we can to safeguard children from falling into the hands of people who would exploit them.
One issue to which we have given relatively little attention in the course of our proceedings is that regarding children born in the UK or living in the UK from an early age without citizenship or leave to remain. Amendment 230D has a particular effect in relation to children in the care of a local authority. However there are many other children in similar circumstances in the UK, albeit not in care. The amendment would prevent in defined circumstances the application of Schedule 9 which, in various respects, removes obligations on local authorities to provide leaving care support to children without either British citizenship or leave to remain in the UK, including in relation to accessing higher education and other education and training. The circumstances in which it would prevent the effect of Schedule 9 is where the local authority has failed to support the child in its care to register as a British citizen, or obtain the leave to remain to which the child is or was entitled. Why should a local authority benefit effectively from reduced obligations in circumstances which have come about only because of the authority’s failure to adequately assist the child?
The project for the registration of children as British citizens—PRCBC, which I shall simply refer to, if I may, as the project—is supported by Amnesty International UK which drew this issue to my attention, for which I am grateful. It says that among the young people who stand to lose leaving care support under Clause 38 are young people who come to the UK at a very young age, and indeed some who were even born in this country.
I asked for examples so that I could illustrate the problem. They include people like Henry who was three years old when he was brought to the UK. He is now 15 and has been under the care of his local authority and in foster care since his grandmother’s death when he was seven. Henry is one of the luckier of these children. He has no leave to remain. However, he was referred to the project and it has been able to assist him in connection with his entitlement to register as a British citizen.
There are an estimated 120,000 children in the UK subject to immigration control and without leave to remain, more than half of whom were born in this country. Many of them are entitled to British citizenship under various provisions of the British Nationality Act 1981. However, many of them do not know and there is nobody to tell them of their entitlement. Indeed, in many cases, nobody makes the effort to find out that the child does not have citizenship or leave to remain in the UK until he or she turns 18 and seeks access to university or employment.
Another example is a young man called James whom the project has been able to assist. He was born in the United Kingdom. He has been in care since the age of one. His social worker attended one of the project’s free training sessions and referred his case. He, too, has no lawful status in the UK but is entitled to register as a British citizen.
Arising from these cases in the illustrations I have given, I have some questions for the Minister. Has he any assessment of the number of children—children without status but who are either entitled to register as a British citizen or who may be able to apply for registration at the discretion of the Secretary of State—who will be affected by Clause 38? Can he confirm, as both the project and Amnesty point out, that these children will also be adversely affected by the rest of a generally hostile environment, including the provisions we have discussed today concerning the right to rent and unlawful working, and issues we have discussed on previous sitting days? How many children in local authority care will fall into these categories? What steps do local authorities take to establish the immigration status of children in their care and then keep that under review? Do they just disappear into the ether? What assistance does the Home Office provide them to ensure they understand the entitlements of these children?
Many of the children face difficulties accessing legal advice or paying the fee required for them to register their citizenship. I should be grateful if the Minister, when he replies, can confirm that there is no legal aid for this and that the fee is currently some £749, of which £526 is simply profit to the Home Office. I understand that it is intended for the fee to go up to £936—a rise of 25%. Is that correct?
Although the focus of the project is assisting children to access their entitlement to British citizenship, it also sees cases where a child may alternatively be eligible for leave to remain. These children are young people; they are not culpable for their lack of status. Indeed, in some instances that arises due to historical wrongs in our citizenship laws, which Governments have taken some important steps to address, for instance, concerning illegitimate children. I commend that, but given that local authorities are in many cases failing to identify a child’s lack of status in the UK, or failing to take effective action to address it, it is particularly galling that Clause 38 would effectively reward the local authority for its failure. A child who would have remained entitled to ongoing support from the local authority on leaving care, had the authority taken effective action to attain status for the child, will lose that entitlement because of the failure to act.
As Amnesty made clear in oral evidence to the Public Bill Committee in the other place, these children are among those who will suffer from the hostile environment being established, particularly as they approach and reach their majority. Surely that cannot be right. I hope that the Minister will tell us what steps the Government will take to ensure that that is not the result. Perhaps it is an example of the law of unintended consequences, but I hope that it is something that the noble Lord will take seriously and see whether it is something that we can rectify, if not today then between now and Report. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise to support my noble friend’s Amendment 230D and to speak to my Amendments 234B, 234M, 234N and 235A in this group. I strongly support my noble friend in what he asks. I am well aware that local authorities too often do not give timely advice and support regarding making applications for leave to remain for young people in their care. I have frequently heard that this is the case. What my noble friend asks for is very helpful and I hope that the Minister will give a sympathetic response. Indeed, I am grateful that the Minister has pre-empted this grouping by saying that we will meet to discuss these very important and sensitive issues. I am grateful to him for that.
I will endeavour to be as brief as possible. My amendments would undo those elements of Schedule 9 that would mean that children in the immigration system would be treated differently from other children in the care system. These children would not get the support in leaving care that children outside of the immigration system receive. It would also mean that the Government would fund the care-leaving support for young people in the immigration system.
The key message I make to your Lordships is that these are vulnerable 18 year-olds. We need to treat these young people with humanity. They are somebody’s child, somebody’s grandchild. They are not so different from your Lordships’ grandchildren. They are recognised to be extremely vulnerable because of their histories. Care leavers get support from the state. The care leaving Act allows young people to have a personal adviser to the age of 21 or to the age of 25 if they are in education or training. The personal adviser can help them with things such as securing housing, and advise them on getting into education and training. These are important measures that support these vulnerable young people.
Recently, the Government introduced the staying put arrangements for young people leaving care. This has been most welcome and very popular. Half of children or young people leaving care take up this offer. It allows them to remain with their foster carers to the age of 21, where they and their foster carers agree. It gives these young people the continuity of care that they so much need. It was accepted in the context of the fact that most young people nowadays leave home on average at the age of 24. These vulnerable young people need that support at least until the age of 21.
Why should we be giving all these young people this kind of support? The risk is that they may enter criminality if they are not properly supported. Their mental health may seriously deteriorate. They may be exploited, perhaps sexually. For the young people we are talking about, I think for instance of a Kosovan Albanian young man, the son of a teacher, whom I worked with many years ago when there were real issues of concern in the Balkans. He was a charming young man, well dressed and courteous to the young women he shared his hostel with. He had every good potential in the world, but I could also see him getting hooked up with some Albanian mafia group and dropping off into that environment if he was not given that proper support when he turned 18.
I think also of an Afghan young woman who I saw on many occasions. She spoke a very select dialect of Pashto; the translator was at the other end of London. It was so hard for her to communicate. She was fostered for a time in a family with boys. There were very strict rules in her culture about not being brought up with boys, apart from her brothers. It was very difficult for her. I remember arriving one day and seeing her in tears because her family town was being shelled and she had no way of communicating with her family. Vulnerable young people such as these have gone through a lot of trauma and are in a very difficult situation. They do not have family in this country to support them. They really need our help as they turn 18.
Many of these young people will not return at the age of 18. Research by the Children’s Commissioner into young people leaving care with this sort of status in a local authority found that for 56% of them there was no prospect of the Home Office returning them to their home countries soon. They are stuck here and they need help because of that.
As I said, the key message that I try to communicate to your Lordships is that these are vulnerable young people. They have been through trauma of various kinds. They need the same support as other young people in this country who have experienced familial abuse. I have a couple of questions for the Minister. How do the Government’s new proposals limiting support to care leavers align with their stated commitment to care leavers in recognition of their additional vulnerability when transitioning into adulthood? Secondly, will the Minister outline what would happen if a care leaver who had exhausted their appeal rights needed additional support, for example to remain in a foster placement because of concerns that they may self-harm? Would the local authority have the power to support this vulnerable young person in those circumstances? I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I have my name to a number of the noble Earl’s amendments. We have all received a considerable amount of briefing material. He just referred to the work of the Children’s Commissioner. I will use that as the basis for questions—not even that: I will simply read out some of the key questions that it is said need answering. There will be a certain amount of overlap with the noble Earl.
Will the statutory guidance on transition be revised as a result of changes made in the Bill? The noble Earl referred to that. We are all concerned about young people missing from care. The Children’s Commissioner asked:
“Will transfers from local authority accommodation to Section 95A accommodation by adult migrant care leavers be monitored to look at the impact the policy is having on the missing figures and to determine whether the new arrangements have been successful in encouraging former unaccompanied children to leave the UK?”.
I share the noble Earl’s observations about the likelihood or otherwise of these children going back.
Will the Minister clarify what happens to failed asylum seekers without status turning 18 who make further submissions under the Immigration Rules, resulting in either the grant of leave or acceptance of the further submissions as a fresh claim for asylum? Will this group return to being eligible for leaving care support from their former local authority? Will the Minister clarify what provision—whether under the Children Act 1989 or under Schedule 3—will be available to care leavers with no status who do not have a pending non-asylum application or appeal when they turn 18?
Our amendments in this group are all small probing amendments. As I know that the Minister’s briefing will refer to them, I will mention simply three types of amendments. One refers to an “application … of a kind”. This phrase occurs in two places in government Amendment 234G. Does that application of a kind refer to the leave which is applied for? I think that it probably does, but I was not sure about that.
A couple of our amendments seek to replace “may” with “must”. I am beginning to think that I might seek a debate just on this issue; I think that most Members of the House would take part in it. These provisions are about making regulations. The Minister will no doubt tell me that they will be made and therefore I do not need to worry. However, I do worry about these things.
Amendment 234X concerns regulations to be taken into account in making a determination with regard to accommodation and subsistence in new paragraph 10A of Schedule 9 to the Bill. New sub-paragraph (7) states that the regulations may specify factors which the person who is to take the decision,
“may or must take into account in making a determination”.
I would like to take out the words “or must”. I find it a very curious thing to give discretion to somebody to make a determination and then have two categories of factors to be taken into account, some of which the person may take into account and some which he must take into account. If you are giving somebody the job of making a judgment, I do not think that the judgment should be fettered in this way. However, the main points have already been made by previous speakers.
My Lords, I support Amendments 234B, 234M, 234N and 235A in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, to which I was pleased to add my name, not least as he has been such a consistent champion of the rights of care leavers. I am also supportive of other non-government amendments in this group, particularly Amendments 230D and 239B.
On Monday, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, spoke about the deeply unsatisfactory way that this Bill has proceeded, with amendment after amendment having been tabled by the Government since its initial introduction in the Commons. It is particularly inappropriate that amendments concerning an issue as important as the treatment of care leavers should have been introduced in this way, leaving a host of unanswered questions as to how the new provisions affecting such a particularly vulnerable group—as the noble Earl emphasised—will work in practice.
This vulnerability cannot be magicked away by constant referral to this group of young people as adult migrants, as if, miraculously, the vulnerabilities that were recognised at the age of 17 years and 11 months have evaporated overnight on their 18th birthday. As the Refugee Children’s Consortium and the Alliance for Children in Care and Care Leavers point out, it is long established in law and policy that those who have been in care need continued support on turning 18 in light of their vulnerabilities. Indeed, leaving care and children’s legislation is predicated on an understanding of the need to provide additional support beyond just accommodation and subsistence needs after the age of 18.
Likewise, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner points out:
“For the purposes of the Commissioner’s primary function, a person who is not a child is to be treated as a child if he or she is aged 18 or over and under 25, and a local authority in England has provided services to him or her under”,
the relevant sections of the Children Act at any time after she or he turned 16. As the commissioner explains,
“the intention of the Children’s Act was to establish that leaving care responsibilities apply by virtue of the authorities’ position as good ‘corporate parents’ irrespective of the care leaver’s particular circumstances and in recognition that turning 18 does not result in overnight independence from those who have cared for you previously”.
By removing these young people from the protection provided by the Children Act, Schedule 9 also takes care leavers with unresolved immigration status out of the remit of the Children’s Commissioner, thereby overturning a provision introduced for good reason by Parliament as recently as 2014.
Once again, immigration control trumps the well-being and protection needs of children and young people—a more general tendency observed by the JCHR, of which I was then a member, in its report on the human rights of unaccompanied children and young people in the UK. As the Refugee Children’s Consortium and the alliance argue, it is creating a two-tier discriminatory system of support for care leavers based on immigration status. One consequence is that a young person on turning 18 could be torn from their foster parents with whom they may have developed a strong and loving relationship. Think what effect this might have on a young person who had suffered earlier trauma as a result of separation from her or his parents. This really is disgraceful and it makes me both sad and angry to think what we might be doing to this particularly vulnerable group.
Many young people in this position do not even understand that they have no leave to remain after the age of 18. Amendment 230D is particularly relevant here. The JCHR inquiry concluded:
“Discretionary leave to remain is used too readily at the expense of properly considering other options”,
and recommended that decisions should be,
“made about their future on robust evidence as early as possible”.
That this should happen will be all the more important once Schedule 9 takes effect. The JCHR report made clear that:
“The duty towards an unaccompanied migrant child does not end at 18”,
and argued that it is right that local authorities’ duties,
“continue to apply to vulnerable children who may continue to require support as they face fundamental decisions about their future”.
It notes that the Government, in their written evidence to the inquiry:
“stressed that unaccompanied migrant children were supported ‘in the same way as any other child in need’, throughout and beyond the care system”,
but no more, my Lords.
We were highly critical in that report of how effectively existing duties towards migrant young people were fulfilled. But that is not a reason for absolving local authorities of these duties. We recommended that:
“Unaccompanied migrant children must be properly supported in the transition to adulthood”,
“bespoke and comprehensive care plans”,
“take full account of the wishes of the child … remain applicable up to the age of 21, or 25 if the young person remains in education, to enable children to realise their maximum potential”.
The Government responded:
“We agree with the Committee that children should be properly supported in the transition to adulthood”.
It would seem that they believe, in the face of all the evidence, that that transition ceases on a child’s 18th birthday.
Schedule 9 raises all kinds of practical questions that must be clarified before it becomes law. We have heard some from the noble Earl and from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. She referred to questions raised by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner. Has the Minister met the Children’s Commissioner to discuss these matters? If not, will he undertake to do so before Report, or to include her in the meeting that he has very kindly already offered, because she is charged with protecting the rights of this group? As it is, Schedule 9 will remove rights established to protect some of the most vulnerable young people in the country, as we have heard. I have said this before and I will say it once again: this cannot be right.
My Lords, I have a question which comes up in parallel to this huge group of amendments. It is as follows: if a young person or adult has been in this country for more than seven years without committing any serious offence and is therefore in a position where they would be eligible for British citizenship, if they applied for it, is it the intention of the Home Office to deport them? I will just explain that this question arises from the visit that my noble friend and I made to Yarl’s Wood today. I quite understand if the Minister does not feel able to give me an answer now but if he does not, will he please write to me and place a copy in the Library?
My Lords, having heard my noble friend and others, it is clear how important these amendments are, and I am sure that the Minister will take them seriously. I will make just one point. Those who are behind these amendments are probably the people in the House who are the most experienced in depth about the issues with children that we are discussing. Their commitment to effective work with children cannot be doubted. It would therefore be outrageous if the Committee did not take seriously what they feel is important to put forward as amendments.
The one thought that strikes me is our failure to think ahead, to think in a wider context and to make connections. We agonise about the rising evidence of mental illness. We agonise about delinquency, extremism and terrorism. What are we doing with this younger generation? Are we actually trying to generate mental illness? Are we trying to generate recruits for extremists or, at a lesser level, gangs? Do we really want to build healthy citizens? These children are going to go somewhere, and they are either going to be positive, creative citizens or they are going to be deeply damaged youngsters with all kinds of negative consequences. We really need to bring our thinking together on social policy, health policy and all the policies necessary for a stable society and, indeed, for protection against extremism. These amendments are highly relevant to the imperative of that wider thinking.
My Lords, I do not want to detain the Committee because we have heard the significance of these amendments, to some of which I have added my name. I want to follow what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has just said because we all know that the consequence of not providing for these young people when they leave the care system is serious because they are going to remain in this country.
Given that these young people are likely to remain here and to go under the radar, I simply ask the Minister to comment on the figures in relation to removal directions served on former unaccompanied young people in 2014. As I understand it, 245 removal directions were served on former asylum-seeking unaccompanied young people, but only 15—less than half of 1%—were forcibly removed. What I cannot see is how any of the proposed legislation is going to do anything other than make that situation worse and make those young people more destitute. The Children’s Society has plenty of evidence of those young people ending up sleeping on buses and selling the currency of their bodies to have somewhere to stay. I cannot think that that is the sort of response that we in this House want or the sort of society we want to create.
I will not go through the list of cases that the Children’s Society has given me of people who have now reached the age of majority and are receiving some support in education and training, putting themselves in a position where they can make a contribution to our society. But if we implement a system whereby they do not get support after the age of 18, as others do, we are storing up enormous trouble for ourselves and huge financial as well as emotional costs.
My Lords, the amendments in this group concern Clause 38 and Schedule 9. I declare an interest as an elected councillor in the London Borough of Lewisham.
As we have heard, many noble Lords have concerns about this part of the Bill, particularly the effect it may have on children who do not understand their immigration status and who, on reaching the age of 18, can find themselves in considerable difficulties. As we have heard, Schedule 9 aims to remove most local authority obligations under the Children Act to care leavers with unresolved immigration status.
We have to be clear that in these circumstances we are dealing with very young people—young adults but also very vulnerable people—and before approving these provisions we need to be satisfied that proper arrangements are in place to look out for these young people, who, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and other noble Lords have said, are at risk of serious abuse and other terrible things. They will lose their entitlement to support from the local authority where they have lived for many years and will not be allowed to remain with their foster parents. This is a particularly tough decision, along with the young adult not being able to benefit, on leaving care, from the services of a personal adviser to provide advice and support in place of a parent.
The Bill is flawed because it assumes that everything is okay, everything has been done properly and there is nothing to worry about—“Just use those criteria to assess them”. But it must be understood that these people will have come here as young children, they can be traumatised and have no understanding of why they are here and why they are on their own. They may have witnessed terrible things that no person, let alone a child, should witness. Is it really correct that we just assume that everything has been done properly when the reality may be very different? The best the young person could hope for would be being placed in Home Office accommodation, potentially far away from their foster family and the area they have grown up in and have come to understand. It can be far away from their existing support networks and their legal representatives. They will have to establish that they are destitute and have been refused asylum and that there is a “genuine obstacle” to leaving the UK.
Amendment 230D, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, seeks to deal with the problem where the young person, on reaching 18, has not had the correct advice and could have been entitled to register as a British citizen or otherwise, and it makes provision for the schedule to have no effect in these cases. It is an excellent amendment, which I hope the Minister will accept or at least reflect on before we come back to this issue on Report. It will be important for the Minister to set out carefully what safeguards are in place to ensure that injustices are prevented from happening and are not built into the provisions in Schedule 9. I endorse all the questions asked of the Minister by noble Lords in the debate.
Amendments 235 and 236, in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Rosser, seek to maximise parliamentary scrutiny and ensure that Parliament has the opportunity to debate and approve by resolution the regulations before they come into force. These regulations have such far-reaching consequences that it is right that this level of scrutiny takes place, and I think there are some government amendments on the Marshalled List which have a similar effect.
Other probing amendments in this group, in the names of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich and other noble Lords, seek to improve the provisions and increase the protections available to care leavers. They all have the support of these Benches and it will be interesting to hear the Minister’s response to the issues they raise. There are a number of government amendments, which I am sure the Minister will explain in detail shortly. I may have some further questions after hearing his explanation.
My Lords, my Amendment 239B relates to asylum seekers who came to this country as children, who then progress into higher education. They are currently subject to the rules that provide for higher fees in education because they have come from abroad, so they face the charges that are faced by those who apply to come to this country, as though they were people living elsewhere.
I am seeking an amendment to the Bill to allow for those young people not to be subject to the charges faced by foreign students and, since they have come as asylum seekers and are living now in this country, being provided the protection and safe haven of this country, we might therefore provide for tuition fees to be charged at the lower rate that is charged to people in this country. I should have risen before my noble friend on the Front Bench, but I had not realised that my amendment was in this group. That is the basic argument being made for Amendment 239B.
I have direct experience of this because, as I think I have mentioned in the House before, there is a small foundation which gives bursaries to people who are particularly disadvantaged. A category of them are asylum seekers, so we are very conscious of the problems that young people have when they come to this country and are given a safe haven. They are then often the most diligent at sixth-form colleges and in further education, and go on to higher education, but they face this incredibly high bill, although they have very little resource at all. We can help them in the tiniest ways, but they are facing the increased fee as if they were a well-to-do person applying to come to study in this country from abroad. So we think that the Government might want to look at this matter.
My Lords, I am conscious of the time and that there has been some shuffling around and stern looks from the usual channels, who are looking to make progress. I hope your Lordships will bear with me when I say that it just happens that the way in which the scheduling has gone, we arrived at what is probably the most important group of amendments just before 7 pm. There are a huge number of people outside as well as inside this Chamber who need to understand what the 26 amendments that the Government have in this group, and of course the other amendments in it, would do. I need to put that on the record—that is a kind of clue to those people who are hovering that it may well be 15 minutes before I have done that. I hope that the House will bear with me and understand that we are talking about a very important group. I want to get those comments and explanations on the record so that they can be examined ahead of Report and our meeting.
To shorten somewhat what I will go through, I again refer noble Lords to my letter of 21 January and to the response explaining Schedules 8 and 9. I particularly draw the Committee’s attention to paragraphs 64 through to 76, and to appendix B. I have struck out some remarks of explanation in the areas covered in that document, which has been circulated and is in the public domain. I have also given an undertaking to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, that we will have a meeting on this—an opportunity to exchange views and take a little more time to look at the evidence in the period between Committee and Report.
Clause 38 and Schedule 9 make changes to local authority support in England for migrants without immigration status, under Schedule 3 to the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, while they establish a lawful basis to remain here or prior to their departure from the UK. Our public consultation on asylum support highlighted concerns that the framework provided by Schedule 3 and associated case law was complex and burdensome for local authorities to administer, and involved complicated assessments and continued litigation to establish what support should be provided and in what circumstances. The Public Bill Committee of the Commons heard similar concerns from local authority colleagues.
We are clear that we want to encourage and enable more migrants without any lawful basis to remain here to leave the UK in circumstances where they can do so, while retaining appropriate safeguards. We have also listened carefully to what local authorities have told us about the scope for simplifying and strengthening the current framework. In that context, we have also had engagement with the Office of the Children’s Commissioner and I will ensure that we get a readout from those discussions for our meeting.
Schedule 9 therefore makes two key changes to Schedule 3 to the 2002 Act. First, it simplifies the way in which local authorities assess and provide accommodation and subsistence for destitute families without immigration status. It enables local authorities to continue to provide, under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, for any other needs of a child or their family in order to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare. Secondly, it prevents adult care leavers who have exhausted their appeal rights and have established no lawful basis to remain here from accessing local authority support under the 1989 Act. It makes alternative provision for their accommodation, subsistence and other support before they leave the UK. It ensures that local authorities can still provide these care leavers with any social care support which they consider that the young adult needs during this period.
Schedule 9 includes powers for similar changes to the UK-wide framework in Schedule 3 to the 2002 Act to be made in other parts of the UK by secondary legislation, subject to the affirmative procedure. We are continuing to discuss with the devolved Administrations how that will work in practice in their jurisdictions. As I have said, I wrote to noble Lords on 21 January setting out the details.
In proposing that Clause 38 and Schedule 9 should stand part of the Bill, I will also move a number of government amendments which make important improvements to these provisions. These reflect our discussions with local authorities and other partners and the advice that we have received about particular cases and scenarios. We have listened carefully to the views of noble Lords who spoke at Second Reading. In particular, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for bringing together experts from a number of voluntary organisations working in this field to discuss the issues raised by these measures. The government amendments that I am moving today respond to several important issues which have been put to us.
In particular, I would highlight Amendments 234G and 236ZB to 236ZD. These amendments retain Children Act support for those adult care leavers with an outstanding first application or appeal to regularise their immigration status. This will provide an important safeguard, for example, for those who have been looked after by a local authority as a victim of trafficking or because of problems within their own family here.
Amendments 234Y and 235M will enable local authorities to prevent destitution by providing temporary support to families and care leavers under new paragraphs 10A and 10B of Schedule 3 to the 2002 Act, pending their decision on eligibility. This will ensure that there is no gap in the support that can be provided. Amendments 235D and 235F will enable local authorities to provide under paragraphs 10B and 11 of Schedule 3 for any other social care support that they consider is required by an adult care leaver whose accommodation and subsistence needs are being met by the Home Office. The same safeguard will apply to any adult care leaver who the local authority is supporting under paragraph 10B.
We have listened and acted to ensure that young adults do not fall between the cracks. We will continue to listen and to reflect on today’s debate. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss these matters further. In providing a better basis for local authority support in this area, we are continuing to work very closely with the Local Government Association and other professionals working in the interests of looked-after children and young adults. We shall want the benefit of their advice on the implementation plans and, crucially, the transitional arrangements as well as on the substance of the measures. We are clear that these changes should not adversely affect any young person currently cared for by a local authority. Processes, systems and safeguards must interlock. Working with local authorities and the Department for Education, we shall ensure that the right planning is done for this to be so.
Amendment 230D, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, would disapply the changes made for adult care leavers by Clause 38 and Schedule 9 where the local authority has not ensured that they have received the advice and assistance necessary to make an application for immigration status. I agree with much of the sentiment behind the noble Lord’s amendment but not with its terms. Schedule 9 will not affect the support that must be provided to unaccompanied migrant children in the care of a local authority. They will remain supported under the Children Act 1989, like any other looked-after child. This will include the provision of a personal adviser and pathway plan to assist in their transition, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, mentioned. I will write to noble Lords on the specific numbers of people affected, as well as covering a number of the points that I will not be able to reach in answer to the questions raised in the course of the debate.
The Department for Education’s statutory guidance for this group is clear that social workers need to support these children to engage with the immigration authorities to resolve their immigration status. This work should be done as an integral part of their pathway plan, which must address the support they will need if they are granted leave to remain in the UK and their long-term future is here. It also needs to address the support they will need before they leave the UK if the Home Office and the courts decide that they have no lawful basis on which to remain here. We are making no change to the Children Act framework in this respect. It will continue to apply, as now, to adult care leavers pending the outcome of an outstanding asylum claim or first immigration application or appeal and to those who, before the age of 18, are granted leave to remain.
In that context, I turn to Amendments 234B, 234M, 234N and 235A in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, which would remove the changes made by Schedule 9 to local authority support for adult care leavers. They would maintain, in all cases, the local authority duties under the Children Act 1989 to support them and require those to be adequately funded. I acknowledge the noble Earl’s deep knowledge and expertise in these areas and his concern for the care of young people. I have listened carefully to him and other noble Lords and will continue to do so, particularly at the meeting.
To be clear, the changes in Schedule 9 will affect only those adults leaving local authority care who have not established a lawful basis on which to remain in the UK. I do not agree in principle that this particular group should attract local authority duties to provide support which are designed for the needs and development of those care leavers whose long-term future is in the UK. The Children Act 1989 was not intended to be, and is not appropriate as, a vehicle for meeting the support needs, pending departure from the UK, of adults who the courts have agreed have no right to remain here. We need instead to provide the right basis for ensuring that their individual needs are met prior to their departure from the UK.
Under Schedule 9, local authority support will be available, through new paragraph 10B of Schedule 3 to the 2002 Act, to those who have exhausted their appeal rights and do not face a genuine obstacle to their departure from the UK but who the local authority is satisfied need support. This will enable the local authority to ensure that support does not end abruptly, so that there can be a managed process of encouraging and enabling departure from the UK. The local authority will be able to provide accommodation, subsistence and, by virtue of paragraph 11 of Schedule 3, such other social care support as it considers necessary in individual circumstances. This might, for example, include social worker support in coming to terms with the requirement to leave the UK and making arrangements for that. Where appropriate, it might involve remaining in a foster placement for that period.
Home Office support will be available to those adult care leavers whose asylum claim has failed but who would otherwise be destitute and who face a genuine obstacle to their departure from the UK. Again, the local authority will be able to provide such other social care support as it considers necessary in individual circumstances.
I recognise the important issues of principle raised in this debate. I also recognise the context for it. It is not appropriate that we create such obvious incentives for more unaccompanied children to seek to come to the UK to claim asylum for the wrong reasons, often by using dangerous travel routes controlled by people smugglers and traffickers, and for more young asylum seekers to claim, falsely, to be under 18.
Amendments 234H and 234L, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would amend government Amendment 234G. That amendment provides for regulations, subject to the affirmative procedure, to specify the kind of outstanding first immigration application which, pending its outcome, will mean that the adult care leaver remains subject to the Children Act framework. The noble Baroness would instead specify the circumstances which could give rise to such an application. I am not persuaded at this stage that this would be a more effective definition. Instead, it would be less precise and more open to debate, and therefore offer less of a safeguard to the young adults concerned.
Amendments 235G and 235H, also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would similarly amend the scope for local authority support under new paragraph 10B of Schedule 3 to the 2002 Act for other adult care leavers with an outstanding application for leave. For similar reasons, I am not persuaded that the amendments would make better provision for this group. Her Amendments 234Q and 235B would require the Secretary of State to make regulations providing for support under new paragraph 10A or 10B of Schedule 3 for families and care leavers without immigration status. This is unnecessary, as the changes in local authority support for those groups made by Schedule 9 depend on those regulations being in place.
Amendment 234X, also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, would prevent the regulations for local authority support under new paragraph 10A of Schedule 3 for families without immigration status specifying factors which the local authority must take into account in determining whether the provision of support is necessary to safeguard and promote the welfare of a child. This would weaken the framework for consistent decision-making that we intend, working with the Department for Education, the regulations will provide. To be clear, the decision whether support needs to be provided will remain one for the local authority to determine in light of all the circumstances of the case.
Amendments 235 and 236, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, which the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy spoke to, would require the regulations providing for support under new paragraph 10A or 10B of Schedule 3 to the 2002 Act for families and care leavers without immigration status to be subject to the affirmative procedure. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has recommended this and we are giving due consideration to it.
Amendment 239B, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, would allow care leavers granted limited leave immediate access to a student loan to meet home student tuition fees for higher education and require local authorities to pay those fees while the immigration application was determined. I take the additional point she made by way of explanation that children in care are judged to be international students for the purposes of the fees and that therefore the fees will be substantially greater, perhaps between £11,000 and £15,000. I will write to her on that—we will look at it and engage in consultation. I listened carefully to the noble Baroness’s suggestion, but we see some difficulties with it. It will require further discussion, which will continue ahead of Report.
It is reasonable to expect those wishing to access student support to demonstrate a fundamental connection to the UK which would suggest that they are likely to remain here to make a long-term contribution to our economy or society. In nearly all other cases, including those of other migrants and British citizens, individuals are required to demonstrate at least three years of ordinary lawful residence here, and the courts have upheld this approach. It is also reasonable to expect migrants with limited leave to meet a long residence requirement before benefiting from state support in this way. It is also right, as Schedule 9 provides, that the costs do not fall on local authorities. I will look again at the specific point about the difference between domestic and international fees and come back with comments.
Other specific points were raised by, for example, the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. I have a pile of responses to those questions. If the noble Lord and other noble Lords will bear with me, I will put those in writing. They will be circulated to all Members of the Committee and placed on the public record in the Library of the House.
My Lords, the Minister told us he received stern looks at the beginning of this group of amendments because of the time that they would take to consider. He has been his usual patient and courteous self in the way that he has addressed the points that have been raised, and 56 minutes on a total of 37 amendments, 26 of which were tabled by the Government, does not seem to be a wholly unreasonable time to take. Indeed, surely it is an example of this House doing its duty to scrutinise, line by line, clause by clause and schedule by schedule, a huge Bill that raises important issues which have been touched on by all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate this evening, which has been passionate and well informed. We have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, my noble friend Lord Hylton, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and my noble friend Lord Listowel.
It was the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who reminded us of the questions put by the Children’s Commissioner. The commissioner is, after all, not a non-governmental organisation or a charity: his remit is to promote and protect children’s rights. The four questions to which the noble Baroness referred still need to be answered. She talked about the difference between “may” and “must”. This is a case of “must”: those questions must be answered.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, reminded us that turning 18 does not absolve us of our responsibilities. I was thinking of a friend of mine who asked me which were the most challenging years in bringing up my children. I said that a friend had told me that the first 30 years had been the worst, and I suspect that that is true of the experience of many of your Lordships. The children and young adults we are talking about here have no one to fend for them. They are often unaccompanied. They do not have all the resources of the state. They cannot just be left to their own devices. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, was right to remind us of the consequences of people without resources sleeping rough and being pushed into destitution, and how that can lead to mental illness or become a recruiting ground for people who draw them into all sorts of bad pursuits.
As many have said, my noble friend Lord Listowel has been a tireless advocate on behalf of young people. He has huge first-hand experience, and I know that the Minister will take seriously all the points that he made this evening. I welcome what the Minister said about the continuing discussions that will take place outside your Lordships’ House after this evening. There has been some movement in the government amendments tonight—it would be churlish not to thank the Minister for that—but that young person who perhaps personifies the desire of all of us always to receive more, Oliver, may be an inspiration in those discussions. Many more things need to be done, and I hope that the Minister will ensure that, as he put it earlier, the sentiment will be followed by the detail. That is clearly what we need between now and Report. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 230D withdrawn.
Clause 38 agreed.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.47 pm.
Housing Benefit (Abolition of the Family Premium and Date of Claim Amendment) Regulations 2015
Motion to Regret
That this House regrets that the Explanatory Memorandum to the Housing Benefit (Abolition of the Family Premium and Date of Claim Amendment) Regulations 2015 does not contain sufficient information to gain a clear understanding of the policy objective and the intended implementation; and that some of those in receipt of housing benefit will be adversely affected by the regulations.
Relevant document: 17th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee
My Lords, it is a pleasure to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper, which refers to the 17th report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. This is a slightly unusual Regret Motion. I gave the Minister’s private office notice of the fact that I wanted to spend a moment looking at some of the process issues around the regulations and in a wider context before moving on to some comments about the difficulties that may arise for those claiming housing benefit who may be adversely affected by the regulations.
I shall also refer to the 21st report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee because, taken together, they cover an important worry that the committee, chaired so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, was beginning to have about the information and data supplied by the Department for Work and Pensions over recent weeks and months. Two other sets of regulations, the Universal Credit (Waiting Days) (Amendment) Regulations of a few weeks back and the housing costs amendment regulations, were also subject to some lapses, as is the committee saw it. The committee’s report stated in stark terms that it believed that there was insufficient information to determine the policy intent or intended implementation in the Explanatory Memoranda that the department supplied for the purposes of scrutiny by the committee.
The report used some stark language: there was a section on inaccuracy, a section on incomplete information, one on obscurity and one on lack of context. Taken together, they caused me some concern that this was a matter that should be drawn to the House’s attention. Speaking for myself, I rely almost completely on the excellent work that the committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, does. It has a duty to bring matters to the House’s attention when it feels that that is necessary. If it is not getting the basic data that it needs to do that, it is a matter for concern. Incidentally, the Social Security Advisory Committee report that also looked at the regulations in front of the House also complained about limited material, lack of consultation and no analysis of the backdating period that was currently being claimed for the regulations as they were submitted to the committee.
Having said all that, I must acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, responded to that in a robust way. He went to the committee and the exchange that he had with it is clearly set out. He agreed to set up a review to ensure that the process is clarified at a strategic level to deal with some of the complaints raised. I warmly welcome that. His letter of 11 January, I think it was, sets out clearly that some work is being done. He has given a reassurance that he will make sure that that happens. I am perfectly prepared to take his word for that, but I am sure that I am not the only Member of this House who will be looking carefully at the review when it is published.
I say this not by way of threat by any stretch of the imagination, but process is an important part of scrutiny. If the process is inadequate, it could be tested in the Lobbies. I am not saying that that by itself would be a reason for voting down statutory instruments, because the policy content is important, too, but these are important procedural matters. I am pleased that the Minister responded as clearly as he appears to have done, but I want the House to know that I support the statutory instruments committee and the SSAC in pursuing the department if they feel that they are not getting the information they need.
Having got that off my chest, I turn very briefly to the content of the final clause of the Motion, which deals with the backdating issue. Again, I drew heavily on the conclusions of the Social Security Advisory Committee. It came up with a compromise of a three-month period for backdating, not one; it is currently six months, as colleagues will know. I have looked at the argument both ways and the government response. I just do not believe that the department has dealt adequately with the important set of detailed questions raised by the Social Security Advisory Committee, which eventually took the issue under reference after it had a workshop about it. These are skilled people who know the complexity of the legacy benefits in a way that is not normally given to the rest of us.
I absolutely agree that the digital service of universal credit will deal with some of this in future. The one-month backdating is perfectly adequate for universal credit in the way that it is cast, as far as I am concerned, although we will need to wait and see what happens. So this is a transitional issue; I understand that. Of course, the announcement was made in the Budget. As the Minister knows, I complained religiously about him letting Treasury Ministers make announcements about social security. It is not a good thing because it is done under purdah. Nobody really gets a chance to look at the consequences. I am sure that the savings are drawn like blood out of the department and it is not an easy thing to do. I understand, too, that there is a responsibility to the nation’s taxpayers. But the Budget announcement just came out of the sky and I do not think any of us had a chance to understand any of the implications until after the deed was done. Once a Budget Statement is made, there is no going back.
I cannot figure out how the saving is £10 million. There are no data in there that persuade me that that is anything other than an estimate. I understand that it is a marginal amount of money in the totality of the Budget. I also understand that when this kind of material was being sifted through in the Treasury and the department there were a whole lot of other things going on. I can see a context where Ministers were saying, “Well, why are you bothering me with small amounts of money like this?”. Having said that, the people that it may affect are potentially the most vulnerable. We all know that these legacy benefits will still be around for a long time, in spite of everyone’s best endeavours to try to get universal credit implemented as soon as we can. Backdating, as I know from my former constituency days, is a well-known legacy safety net but one of last resort. People who really need it really need it. There are obviously delays, oversights and mistakes in the legacy systems, and we hope that universal credit will deal with some of that, too. But the histories of people who disproportionately claim backdating for lengthy periods of time are, in my experience, those claimants who have a disposition to mental illness and other vulnerabilities. That has to be weighed in the balance.
I would argue, too, that continuous good cause needs to be proved for any backdating claim to be seen under the legacy system. That is a way of dealing with claims that are not considered appropriate or within the rules. So there is a protection there. I also make the point that, as Crisis recently explained to me, its most recent work suggests that if people fall into homelessness —if they cannot get the backdating, are evicted and become homeless—that can cost between £3,000 and £18,000 further downstream to the public purse. That is just passing the problem on to our colleagues in local government. That is not necessarily helpful.
As I understand it, if there is only a one-month backdating period eligible, because there is no eligibility for housing benefit beyond that, there is no capability within the current rules as I understand them of applying discretionary housing payments. You need to be entitled to housing benefit to apply for DHPs. The Government have been quite creative about using discretionary housing payments to fill some of the gaps but I am not sure that they can be used properly in this context that we have in front of us this evening. I am be anxious to be put right on that if I am not correct.
I have just a final point of experience. Through my experience in the Wise Group in Glasgow, I saw one or two really difficult cases of sanctions being applied and, because of that, housing benefit being stopped over a long period of time—wrongly. That causes distress to housing benefit claimants whose situation will be made worse by these regulations.
So I am not sure about the saving. The wider cost-benefit analysis would need to weigh in the balance any discretionary housing payments or alternative payments found by local authorities to try to deal with the consequences of eviction as a result of these changes. I still believe that the SSAC compromise of three months would be a good one. Apart from anything else, the other legacy benefits such as income support and income-related JSA already have three-month backdating limits. So it is maybe not surprising that the SSAC in its conclusion came to the view that,
“the summary rationale given for the proposals—namely early alignment with UC—is too simplistic and potentially misleading”.
That is quite strong language for the Social Security Advisory Committee, but it is right to be concerned. I share its concerns and I hope that the debate this evening will point up some of the problems that may arise. I hope the Minister will watch these things carefully—I know that he always does—and that he will give us an assurance that if the changes have unintended consequences, he will do his best to bring these matters back to the House and try to get them sorted so that no vulnerable clients and HB applicants in future are caused further distress and misfortune by the content of these regulations. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood. I will speak particularly on the backdating aspect of the regulations.
Limiting backdating of housing benefit payments to one month is likely to put vulnerable people at risk of rent arrears and subsequent eviction, and possibly homelessness. Crisis, the charity for single homeless people, wrote to tell me that it is concerned that the most vulnerable will be affected by this change, including those who have experienced homelessness. It says that many of the people it supports to find and sustain tenancies make successful backdating claims for housing benefit often for upward of 12 weeks. These are often the result of clients having additional support needs that make it difficult for them to navigate the benefits system. Consequently, they fail to claim the benefits to which they are entitled in time.
The Government dispute the suggestion that limiting the backdating period will lead to tenants falling into rent arrears but Crisis says that many of its clients accrue considerable arrears before they seek the support they need to backdate a claim. Backdating claims are often made following a change in circumstances that affect a person’s entitlement or because of failures in the system that lead to housing benefit not being paid. I will mention three examples of when people may need to make a backdated claim. There is where there are fluctuations in income. When someone finds a job their entitlement to housing benefit must be adjusted. If they enter casual work, such as on a zero-hours contract, their entitlement must be calculated on a weekly basis. This can lead to payments being stopped until the claimant can provide all necessary payslips. That causes delay and the need for a backdated claim. The ability to backdate by only one month may not be enough to cover that delay.
Housing benefit claim forms may be lost. Despite the best intentions of council staff, housing benefit claim forms can go missing or online submissions may not be received. I can empathise with this and can vouch for the fact that this kind of thing can happen through nobody’s fault. Today, I rang up to buy some more premium bonds, only to be told that I needed to provide a password. Apparently, one had been sent to me in the course of the last year but it never arrived. Getting back to housing benefit, resubmitting claim forms can cause serious delays at the beginning of a tenancy. We need a backdating period sufficient to cover such delays.
Again, housing benefit is sometimes stopped in error when someone is sanctioned. This can lead to arrears, particularly if the landlord is receiving direct payments and does not notify the tenant that the rent has not been paid.
The Social Security Advisory Committee advised that the case for this policy has not been made out and recommended that it should be possible to backdate housing benefit for at least three months. It says that inconsistencies between the rules attaching to different benefits are hard to defend and add to the complexity that claimants are required to navigate. For people whose rent is paid monthly or four-weekly in arrears, the proposal will mean that there is no slack in the current complex legacy benefit context for them to realise that there is a problem with their housing benefit entitlement and make a late claim. This presents a clear risk that the impact on landlord and tenant behaviour could result in upward pressure on homelessness among the more vulnerable, with attendant costs that could offset the projected savings. It is disappointing, the committee says, that there has been no cost-benefit analysis of these aspects. For people whose rent is paid monthly or four-weekly in arrears, the proposal will mean that the new rules will not provide sufficient time for a backdated claim to cover the delays that have taken place.
The fact that there has been no effective impact assessment makes it difficult to assess the effect of reducing backdating by different amounts from the current six months. Centrepoint undertook a survey of more than 800 young people using its services and found that 78% of those who made a late claim for housing benefit were not seeking backdating for longer than three months; the majority of backdating claims could therefore be accommodated within a three-month period, and reducing it further could have a financial impact on a sizeable group of vulnerable young people, potentially causing hardship to those least able to withstand it. The Committee highlighted the fact that the legacy benefits system is more complex than universal credit; that being the case, there is a strong case for maintaining a longer backdating period to account for these complexities. Removing the ability to back-date housing benefit claims for a sufficient period may deter landlords from letting to tenants in receipt of housing benefit. Landlords may be particularly reluctant to let to people who have experienced homelessness in the past, given that they may be vulnerable to falling into rent arrears, often through no fault of their own.
The committee concluded that the position faced by housing benefit legacy claimants, particularly the more vulnerable, is substantially different and more challenging than the position following migration on to universal credit. It added that in the absence of a robust impact assessment, the case for a simple alignment with a one-month backdating rule has not been made and that there is a significant risk of offsetting additional costs to the estimated one-year saving of £10 million if the proposal is pursued in this form. It therefore recommends that, if the Government still wish to make an early reduction in the backdating period, a three-month period would strike a better balance between the aim of securing an expenditure saving and recognition of the substantial differences between the housing benefit legacy and universal credit positions. With the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, I would want to maintain that the three-month compromise is the one that we should go for, and the Government should rethink.
My Lords, we should be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, for giving us the opportunity to range over this issue this evening and to the noble Lord, Lord Low, for his very extensive analysis of some of the risks around homelessness that these changes will create. Given the hour and the business to follow, I shall raise one or two brief questions.
On the family premium, the Explanatory Note with the regulations says:
“Removing the Family Premium helps to simplify the overly-complex HB system … and should therefore reduce administration costs”.
Can the Minister seriously tell me how much of a reduction in administration costs is anticipated just from removing this one component of what is and can be quite a complex calculation? It seems to me that it should be built into the system, so whether it is there or removed would make very little difference to the cost.
As for backdating, we have heard the arguments against the Government’s position that effectively we want to get equality with universal credit and if universal credit only needs one month’s backdating why does the housing benefit system need longer? I should have thought that it was recognised—and the noble Lord, Lord Low, has made it clear—that the housing benefit system is more complex. Indeed, is that not one of the boasts of the Government about universal credit, which we have supported—that it is an easier system whether you are in or out of work? You simply move up the scale; you do not have to come off one system of benefits and go on to another, or seek to return to them in due course.
We are in danger of overlooking a fundamental point here—that this is about backdating if there can be shown to be good cause. It is not something that is awarded willy-nilly. There are particular concerns around people with mental health conditions and the extent to which they are supported to make the right sort of decisions and judgments about their claim for benefits. That seems to sweep aside that issue.
There is one technical issue that the Minister may be able to help with. If somebody is awarded JSA after making a claim, they would be entitled to a three-month backdating of that benefit. The award of that benefit could automatically transport somebody on to maximum housing benefit—somebody who was not previously eligible for housing benefit. So we get somebody on JSA with a three-month backdating, which opens up the opportunity for housing benefit for somebody not previously entitled. There is something in the text that suggests that that backdating would apply to housing benefit as well, but I cannot quite see technically how that comes about. I would be grateful if the Minister could clarify that on the record tonight, because clearly there would be an anomaly with accessing one benefit opening up the opportunity for another benefit and giving rise to different backdating results, as a result particularly of these regulations.
My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s enthusiasm to respond to the challenges put to him, but I regret that I am going to add to them, if he can bear with us for a little bit longer. I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, for giving us the opportunity to debate these regulations and for having gone into some detail about the process questions. I very much share his concerns. We have concerns of substance on these Benches, but the process should be of concern to all Members of the House, irrespective of the view that they may take on these regulations. I hope that the Minister gives some satisfactory answers on that.
As we have heard, these regulations do two things: they remove the family premium from claims to housing benefit from April 2016 and the backdating of housing benefit, to which I shall come in a moment. Existing claimants will also be affected if their circumstances change, such as if they move or if a child reaches the age of 18. When it is lost, it will be lost almost exclusively to working families, because households where someone is claiming an out-of-work benefit will automatically receive the maximum possible housing benefit payment. The Social Security Advisory Committee report cited an example from the Peabody Trust of a single parent in part-time work, caring for her disabled adult son. Should she need to make a new claim for housing benefit following the removal of the family premium, she would lose around £572 a year, compared to what she would get currently—a lot of money for someone in those circumstances.
My noble friend Lord McKenzie asked a very good question about the admin costs. It is hard to believe that simplification is the reason; one could always simplify benefits by abolishing them. We really have to have better arguments than that.
The DWP claims that withdrawing the family premium in HB will “promote better work incentives”, but, as the SSAC points out, some HB claimants will permanently lose the premium if they temporarily increase their hours and therefore could be deterred from doing so. Equally, some will be deterred from moving address to secure or look for work if it means a drop in HB, or could be discouraged from taking short-term work over Christmas, for example, if it means a drop in housing benefit. Will the Minister comment on that?
The SSAC was also very critical of the Government’s refusal to adopt linking rules. It gives the very serious example of domestic violence victims who need to be rehoused and points out that if somebody moves outside a local authority area, they lose the entitlement. The SSAC points out that some local authorities and social landlords have a deliberate policy of moving domestic violence victims to a different local authority area to minimise the risk that they would run into their assailant and to protect them. It states:
“Those organisations now face a fairly stark choice in terms of whether to keep the existing policy in the knowledge that the victim is likely to be financially worse off, or to rehome them within the existing local authority area where they may be at greater risk”.
The Government’s only response to this is to say:
“Since 2010 our policy has been to move away from building new linking into our reforms to Housing Benefit”.
That is not a reason. That is basically saying “The reason for our policy is that it is our policy”. I hope the Minister can give us the reason behind the policy rather than telling us that it is the policy. The Government go on to say that they do not think linking rules are the most appropriate way of supporting vulnerable cases, but they do not explain why. The only alternative they can offer is our old friend the discretionary housing payment, which has already been offered as an answer to almost every problem created by welfare change since 2010, from the fallout of the welfare Bill to the benefit cap.
The SSAC also points out that universal credit will allow linking and continuity of claim where there is a temporary increase in income or relocation to another local authority area, but they will not be available under these HB proposals which it says will have a negative impact on work incentives and will raise issues around income stability and security.
I now come to the backdating change which other noble Lords have commented on. A number of NGOs and charities have said that limiting backdating to one month will have a significant impact on vulnerable renters, a point made very clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Low, and my noble friend Lord McKenzie. As we have heard, the SSAC recommended that the Government should not proceed with the reduction from six months to one month. It is interesting that the committee expressed disappointment at the lack of proper consultation with local authorities, landlords and voluntary and charitable bodies which will be impacted by these changes. I hope the Minister can explain why that consultation was not done.
The SSAC’s view is that the position faced by HB legacy claimants, especially the more vulnerable, is substantially different and more challenging than the position following migration to universal credit. It pointed out that in the absence of a robust impact assessment the case for simple alignment was not there.
The response from the Government to the SSAC report was so slight as to be almost rude. Their only argument is to say that the policy intention is to align the housing benefit treatment with that in universal credit. Where is the rush? As the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, pointed out, it is not as though the entire population is about to land on universal credit. I know that back in November 2010 the DWP believed that everybody would be on it by 2017, but we now know that it is going to be at least 2020, possibly 2021, and maybe some way beyond that. We are years away from everyone needing housing support getting it entirely through universal credit. There could yet be millions of people who could come on to housing benefit, get it, move into work, come off it, come back on to it and still not be on universal credit, so there is a significant issue. I hope the Government will tell us their real reasons. It cannot just be that they want to be in exactly the same position on universal credit and on legacy benefits; otherwise they presumably would not have allowed the situation to develop where two people in identical circumstances, one on tax credits and the other on universal credit, could find themselves with a difference of £3,000 a year in entitlement. Will the Government tell us what the real reasons are?
To summarise I would like the Minister to answer some questions. I will be interested in his response to the process points made by the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood. He referred to the Minister’s letter of 11 January to the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, saying that he had instigated a review of the way the DWP produces explanatory memoranda. Will he tell the House when that review is likely to report? Will its findings be published? If they are not going to be published, how will the House get reassurance that his department will be able to do this job better in the future than it has in the past? Will he tell us why the Government did not consult properly before issuing this instrument? Will he explain the reasons for opposing a linking rule in the family premium? In particular, will he tell us why he has rejected the SSAC recommendation of three months if the Government are not willing to go all the way to six months? I look forward to the Minister’s answers.
My Lords, I ask noble Lords to forgive me for not keeping up with the exact floating role of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, as he moves forward and back on the Benches. I thank all noble Lords for their contributions which, as one would expect, covered a number of issues.
I start with the family premium, which will align housing benefit with universal credit, which does not have this process. As noble Lords will be well aware, it applies to new cases only. It will therefore not affect people in receipt of family premium on 30 April this year. They will continue to receive the family premium until they are no longer responsible for any children or young people under 20 or make a new claim for housing benefit. To avoid people dying at the stake for the sake of these premiums, I remind noble Lords of their very complicated history which started in 1988. With the reform of tax credits, they were removed from income support but not from housing benefit. I know there is a lot of historical nostalgia for bits of the benefit system, but this one reminds me more of an appendix than of anything else: it had a purpose at one time, but it is pretty odd to remember what it was and it can cause you problems, as I am discovering.
On the linking rules, where claimants are in receipt of housing benefit and subsequently move house into a different local authority, they are required to make a new claim for housing benefit. That has always been the case and the policy does not seek to change it. If the claimants were in receipt of the family premium before their move and they move after 30 April, they will no longer receive the family premium in their new housing benefit claim from their new local authority. That responds to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock. I know that the noble Baroness likes to stretch out the period for which this will last, but universal credit will be coming in for new cases reasonably soon. It is simply not feasible to introduce linking rules for these cases because that really would introduce a level of complexity and cost.
I regret that I cannot answer the precise question from the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, on the administration costs saved. When you go through the sums of how you reach that family premium amount and then do the taper with it, and you have to do that differently through every local authority, I have to believe that it genuinely saves some money. However, I cannot put any amount on that.
On the point about work incentives made by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, the loss of family premium would be one factor among many others, including the financial gain and development prospects that would come from entering work. It is important to mention the likely behavioural change that could result from this policy, as the potential reduction in benefit may make claimants more likely to find work or increase their hours. Indeed, you see evidence of that in some of our welfare reforms already.
I turn to the issue of backdating, which noble Lords touched on. This change introduces equality for working-age claimants by aligning housing benefit rules with those in universal credit. Under current rules, as noble Lords have pointed out, the working-age housing benefit claimants may have their claim treated as made from a date up to six months before they actually make the claim. The backdating period will apply from the date of claim and is not dependent on the time that it takes to process claims. Our rationale is that the one month provides a reasonable period to seek assistance or to get claimant affairs in order for those who can demonstrate good reason as to why they did not claim more promptly. While claimants still receive legacy benefits before migration to UC, there is sense in preparing them for the transition to UC by, so far as practicable, equalising how they are treated. The other factor that is useful when we look at this is that our administrative data show that more than two-thirds of backdating claims for housing benefit are awarded for one month or less.
The noble Lords, Lord Kirkwood and Lord Low, asked why we rejected the three-month recommendation —although, interestingly, the numbers between the one-month figure and the three-month figure are actually not very great. We are aiming to change behaviours. If people want to claim benefits, one month allows sufficient time for them to register a claim in the first instance. It does not matter if it is a more complicated process, because the processing and getting the detail does not change the date of entitlement, which is established on the initial claim.
To respond to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, who as usual has excruciating detail at his fingertips, I confirm—and I am impressed that he has looked at this—that where a claim for housing benefit is linked to a claim for one of the legacy income-related benefits that applies the three-month backdating rule, entitlement to housing benefit will be linked back for the full three months if it is made within one month of the award for legacy benefit. So he got that spot on.
On the point from the noble Lords, Lord Kirkwood and Lord Low, we do not anticipate pressures on the homelessness front. I am slightly influenced by the fact that every time we make such a change we are warned about that but so far it has not come through.
Does the Minister not agree that I gave some concrete and tangible examples where people might be justified in needing to have their claim backdated for longer than a month, through no fault of their own—for example, where forms have gone missing or where they have been sanctioned in error? Would it really mean any skin off the Government’s nose to include an element of flexibility to take account of those cases? If someone has lost a form or they have been sanctioned in error, those are not instances of behaviour that can be changed by limiting the backdating rules to one month.
I listened very carefully to the noble Lord on those points. My response to that is, if the claim was made on that date and it was lost but it was made then, the issue is whether the bureaucracy accepts the claim that it is lost. The date is established then, and would be established in both of those cases. A lot of the problems may be through legacy benefits, where, as I just explained, the situation has not changed.
DHPs are designed to give additional support to claimants who need it. It is technically possible for DHPs to meet a historic need, although in practice we suspect that it is rather unlikely that a local authority would make this award for that reason, as the regulations state that a claimant should need further financial assistance with housing costs to receive a DHP. As the time period that they are applying for would have passed, it would be difficult to argue that there was a need for financial assistance with housing costs. Therefore it is unlikely but not impossible.
On the issue of impact assessments raised by the noble Lord, Lord Low, as noble Lords will be aware, the DWP administers a complex system of benefits and produced over 500 statutory instruments in the last Parliament. It considers impacts as part of the policy development process, engages regularly and consults a full range of stakeholders to understand potential impacts. We routinely provide impact assessments on large measures such as universal credit, but we do not routinely provide them for the many smaller changes we make where, often, the general context is set out in the impact assessment for the parent legislation and to prepare a full impact assessment for smaller changes would not be an effective use of limited departmental resources. However, I recognise the need—as those noble Lords who saw my evidence to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee will know—to be clear about the effects of proposed changes in the Explanatory Memoranda. The review I have now instigated is examining how we best do that. I have acknowledged publicly that I am not satisfied with those Explanatory Memoranda and that we can do better.
As noble Lords know, I have committed to a review, which is looking at the lessons we can learn from what has gone well and what could be improved. It is exploring ways to ensure that Explanatory Memoranda have the right breadth of context, have regard for varying levels of knowledge and explain the headline impacts of proposals. What struck me when I met the committee was that I was dealing with a group of generalists, while SACC is a group of specialists. Do we have the right balance, particularly on context? Some of these things are incredibly complicated; as noble Lords know, you have to be a historian to understand what, for instance, family premiums are trying to do and why they are still there, and why some have gone and some have not. I assure noble Lords that this review is now under way and is making good progress. I will ensure that noble Lords receive a copy of the letter I will send to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee setting out the steps we are taking as a result of the review.
Some noble Lords will remember that we made a big effort to improve things in 2011. That at least got us a couple of years where we seemed to be getting it right, but it seems that another go at this is needed. These regulations will help to align housing benefit with universal credit and are part of a much wider system and set of reforms designed to bring about behavioural change in claimants while drawing a balance between their needs and those of taxpayers, who fund the welfare bill. We are saving money: we saved £6 billion over the last Parliament in housing benefit reforms, and the annual housing benefit bill would have been considerably higher than it is now if we not made some of these changes.
My Lords, I am grateful to all colleagues who took part and, as always, I am grateful to the Minister. We will all collectively study his remarks in the Official Report tomorrow. I am very grateful for the opportunity the business managers have given us to have this debate, and I am pleased to seek permission of the House to withdraw the Motion.
Committee (4th Day) (Continued)
231: After Clause 38, insert the following new Clause—
“Review of the rules relating to refugees reuniting with family members
(1) The Secretary of State must undertake a review of the current rules on refugees, or those granted humanitarian protection, reuniting with close family members in the United Kingdom.
(2) The review under subsection (1) must consider—
(a) the implementation of the provisions in the EU Dublin III Regulation (Regulation (EU) No 604/2013) for spouses or children under 18 with refugee status or those granted humanitarian protection to be reunited with family members in the United Kingdom;(b) options for allowing British citizens to sponsor close family members recognised as refugees or granted humanitarian protection; and (c) options for extending the criteria for family reunion to include children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, spouses, civil or unmarried partners or siblings who have refugee status or have been granted humanitarian protection and have close family members in the United Kingdom.(3) A copy of a report on the review under subsection (1) must be laid before both Houses of Parliament within six months of the passing of this Act.”
My Lords, Amendment 231 and Amendment 234, which will be spoken to shortly by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, both seek to put in the Bill revisions concerning the reuniting of refugees with their family members who are resident in the UK. Again, we are dealing with people in some of the most desperate situations in which you could find yourself. The UK has always had a proud record of being a safe haven for people in such circumstances. The British Red Cross, in its very helpful briefing, provided a number of examples of families who have been split up due to the age of the children, although the whole family has fled a conflict zone. Noble Lords will understand the distress that causes.
Our amendment is very simple. It asks the Secretary of State to conduct a review, which must consider,
“the implementation of the … EU Dublin III Regulation”,
in addition to allowing close family members who are recognised refugees or have been granted humanitarian protection to be sponsored by relatives who are British citizens living in the UK, and,
“options for extending the criteria”,
for who can be considered. A copy of the report,
“must be laid before … Parliament within six months”.
The review would help the Government deal with a number of issues and to examine whether we have the best arrangements in place when dealing with refugees and reuniting them with their families in the UK. That means having the best and fairest rules in place, not just those that seem the harshest.
Some of the issues that could be looked at in the review include the fact that there is no legal aid for sponsors in the UK, as legal aid for this area ended in 2013. Has that policy improved the situation? The rules are restricted to immediate family members only, which means partners and children under the age of 18, so older children, just over the age of