Diego Garcians (Surrey)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:16 pm on 4th November 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Paul Clark Paul Clark Assistant Whip 6:16 pm, 4th November 2004

Nothing has gone wrong with the logic. What we have to understand is the legal responsibilities and the legalities of the process of becoming a British citizen, and the rights to which that entitles individuals. I will deal in due course with homelessness, local authorities and the resources available.

I turn to the Reigate and Banstead case. I listened very carefully to what was said about the number of such people who could come to this country. That is an issue, but we have to deal with the facts. It was suggested that thousands could come, but the fact that 900 people have applied for passports does not mean that all will come here to seek accommodation and resources; it is not necessary to follow that logic. Small groups of Chagossians have made their way to the UK. The most recent group, of some 43, arrived at Gatwick airport at the beginning of October. I have said very clearly that they are welcome to be here in the UK, but we have also made it clear that they are expected to support and accommodate themselves when they arrive. Income-related benefits and local authority housing are generally not available to persons from abroad, including British citizens, who are not habitually resident in the UK.

In the case of the most recent arrivals, I understand that they were all accommodated by West Sussex county council for a temporary period while care assessments were made under the National Assistance Act 1948. I believe that the county council is continuing to accommodate a small number of them. Most of the Chagossians were subsequently required to leave the hotel accommodation provided by West Sussex council, and it seems that the next port of call for them was the housing authority. Accommodation was provided by West Sussex in Horley, in the hon. Gentleman's constituency in the district of Reigate and Banstead borough council. About 31 applications have now been made under the homelessness legislation.

We must recognise that homelessness legislation is there to protect all people who are genuinely homeless or claim to be genuinely homeless. That is why I laid out clearly what our High Commission says to British citizens about what they can expect. When they are here, they then fall under the provisions of the homelessness legislation, which provides an important safety net for vulnerable people who find themselves facing a housing crisis.

Where specified criteria are met—that is, that applicants are eligible for assistance, have become homeless through no fault of their own and fall within a priority need group—the local housing authority must ensure that suitable accommodation is available until a settled home can be found. Lesser duties apply in cases where homelessness is intentional or where the applicant does not have a priority need for accommodation. Those categories are defined in the legislation.

I understand that the decision by Reigate and Banstead, in all the cases concerning the Chagossian arrivals, was that the applicants were ineligible for housing assistance because they were persons from abroad who were not habitually resident in the UK, or the wider area including the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man. I am sure that all hon. Members would agree that it is important for proper decisions to be made concerning homeless applications, and would understand why safeguards are built into the legislation.

Applicants have the right to ask the local authority internally to review a decision that they are ineligible for assistance, and I understand that the Chagos islanders have exercised that right with the Reigate and Banstead borough council. As a further safeguard, the legislation also gives local housing authorities a discretionary power to accommodate applicants while they carry out a review. Reigate and Banstead council originally decided not to exercise its power to provide applicants with accommodation, pending an internal review. There has also been a review of the High Court proceedings, to which the hon. Gentleman referred.