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Hansard 28 July: Column 1531 et seq ...
Hansard 28 July: Column 1531 et seq

The government will have to consult with local authorities over the management of properties in designated reception zones for asylum seekers.

It accepted a recommendation of the powerful scrutinising deregulated powers and deregulation committee and amended the Immigration and Asylum Bill during its continuing committee stage.

Home office minister Lord Williams of Mostyn said government hoped it would never have to use the power to direct, but if it did there needed to be proper safeguards for landlords. Another government amendment requires the home secretary to consult with voluntary organisations before designating a reception zone.

'We are very conscious of the importance of the voluntary sector in the development of our arrangements for the dispersal of asylum seekers to cluster areas. We are currently discussing with the voluntary sector they way in which it might provide support for asylum seekers through one-stop shops in the regions, and these one-stop shops would provide outreach support in any area that might be designated a reception zone', said the minister.

He said that at present local authorities were accomodating 15,000 asylum seekers under the provisions of the National Assistance Act 1948. Lord Williams added: 'I do not believe that anyone who has looked at this matter could dispute that there is an intolerable strain on a small number of social services departments. That is not fair to them, it is not fair to their local communities, and it is not fair to those who are in the position of having to rely on this small number. I repeat that in future they will be relieved of the burden, and asylum seekers...will be able to apply for support under the new scheme'.

Liberal Democrat Lord Avebury asked what would happen to those at present accomodated under the National Assistance Act in London boroughs.

Lord Williams said they would not be allowed to remain indefinitely. A decision would have to be made about their status.

He continued: 'I believe that that is one of the serious vices in which we have colluded over the years:namely the uncertainty and limbo. No one will be left destitute. There will be people who will still be eligible for social benefits in the general mainstream. However, when we start the support scheme under Part VI [of the Bill], everyone will be entitled to those elements of the scheme...

'I believe it wise to contemplate - and this is what we do contemplate - moving single people, over time, to relieve the pressure on London. There is a genuine pressure on London. I do not believe that it is simply a question of the ignoble 'not in my back yard' syndrome. A very large proportion of accomodation in London is being used by local authorities when they have competing demands on their resources.

'I repeat that if one carries out dispersal on a cluster basis with a decent regard to the matters I have mentioned, that will be a better outcome for people than simply being stuck in sometimes not very agreeable circumstances in London and the south east'.

Lord Williams said under the new support arrangements, it will be the home secretary rather than social services departments, who would ordinarily responsible for meeting the accomodation and essential living needs. Local authorities could not generally provide for those needs.

'But in all other respects, local authority social services departments will have the full range of responsibilities towards children and their families - for example, if a child had particular needs resulting from a disability or where a child was at risk. So asylum-seeking families can expect the same level of assistance as any other family, albeit from two different sources', said the minister.

Local authorities would be able to provide accomodation for a whole family group; and taking a child into care would be a last resort.

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