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5.15 p.m.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I am always glad to find the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon among us because he was once a much loved and highly respected vicar in my former constituency and I have always admired his sincerity. However, if I may say so, his arguments today seem somewhat unrealistic.

The right reverend Prelate congratulated my noble friend Lady Blatch on not using the word "bogus". I was surprised that she did not use it. Perhaps I may explain to the right reverend Prelate that in 1995 nearly 44,000 people applied to remain in this country as seekers of asylum, as refugees. That figure compares with nearly 33,000 in 1994 and with about 22,000 in 1993. The significant point is this: in 1995 and 1994 only one-third of the applicants applied on arrival at the port, the rest did it as an afterthought. When their cases were heard, a very high proportion of those who did it as an afterthought were not granted leave to remain and only 3 per cent. of their appeals were allowed. I am sorry to have to say to the right reverend Prelate and your Lordships that a very high proportion of those cases were bogus cases.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord is aware that more of those who applied in-country rather than at a port were granted asylum.

Lord Renton: My Lords, their numbers were very much greater. That is partly the answer. If there is a further answer, I have no doubt that my noble friend Lady Blatch will be happy to give it either now or in Committee.

I am strongly in favour of the Bill. Perhaps I should confess that it brings back memories to me because as long ago as 1962 I had the responsibility of helping my late noble friend Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, when he was Home Secretary and in another place, with the

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piloting through another place of the first of the Commonwealth Immigrants Acts. Indeed, the 1971 Act is mainly a consolidation measure.

It is interesting to look back at the performance of the Labour Party in these matters because Labour Members voted 42 times against the 1962 Act and we all thought that they would either repeal it or considerably soften it, but they did not. Eventually, in the 1968 Act, they strengthened it and allowed the provisions to remain. We hear the party opposite, as it always does in opposition, complaining about any kind of immigration control.

Earl Russell: My Lords, will the noble Lord withdraw the words "the party opposite"? They are not merely inaccurate, they are unfair to the Cross-Benches and to the spirit of the House.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl for that correction. He was fully justified in making the point. I started by saying "the Labour Party" then I carelessly referred to it as "the party opposite". There is a party opposite with which I have rather more sympathy. Indeed I have to say that I was born a Liberal, but, like the great Sir Winston Churchill, I eventually became a Conservative.

After listening to the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord McIntosh of Haringey and Lord Lester of Herne Hill, one realises that they will nearly always oppose this type of legislation, however much we may think it is in the public interest, and it is.

The Bill is necessary. I am glad to say that in this country we have, since earlier times, had a magnanimous policy, which has been referred to, of giving hospitality to people persecuted elsewhere, even though it may not always have been in the interests of our own people to admit them. We should bear in mind that it often costs money to have them here; it adds to unemployment, the housing problem and education problems. We cannot get away from that.

However, as I see it, the trouble now is twofold. First, there is so much persecution in so much of the world that the number of people trying to settle here has increased greatly. Hence the applications that I mentioned--nearly 44,000 last year.

The second reason is that some people come either from those countries where there is oppression or from harmless countries, who, for personal or economic reasons, want to get away from them. It is well known that immigrants sometimes come here to escape domestic or criminal liability in their own countries. They are refugees in that sense. That is well known.

Another factor is that, if people want to get away from their own countries for a genuine reason or another reason, they know that our country is the easiest country in the world in which to obtain asylum. Hence the numbers! Other Western European countries have, in recent years, tightened their asylum controls. Germany, Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Spain have all done so. As my noble friend the Minister demonstrated in her speech, the Government have a duty towards the people

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of our country to ensure that our immigration control is not abused. We also have to face the problem of public expenditure, and the Bill attempts to deal with that.

To my mind, the Bill's provisions are inevitable and workable. I do not want to go into a great deal of detail. We will have to do that in Committee. But I must confess to some agreement with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, about the drafting of Clause 1. In my 50 years in Parliament I do not believe that I have seen a major Bill start in quite the way this Bill does in Clause 1. It will be so easy for my noble friend the Minister to ask the draftsman to have paragraph (5) of Schedule 2 of the 1993 Act rewritten so that we can all read it; so that the people who have to obey it can read it; and the people who have to administer it can read it. I hope that we shall have that matter put right in Committee.

The increased penalties in Clause 6 are done, admittedly by reference, in a way which is now conventional and acceptable. I do not believe that there is anything wrong with the drafting of Clause 6. Nor do I believe that there is anything wrong with its substance, because as time goes on, despite the Government's splendid efforts to control inflation, we have to adjust the penalties to the change in the value of money.

In my opinion the new criminal offences created by Clauses 4, 5, 7 and 8 are inevitable if the control of illegal immigrants who wish to seek asylum is to become effective. In the past 50 years, our country has generously admitted large numbers of immigrants--at least 3 million of them--and they and their descendants now form about 5 per cent. to 6 per cent. of our total population. At the same time, we are told that there must be 27 new towns of 40,000 people each, taking up more of our lovely countryside, making England even more urbanised than it is already. That is not so true of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

One could go on, and in Committee we shall have to go into these matters in detail. In my opinion the Bill is necessary. I hope that the Government succeed in getting it through your Lordships' House in a form in which it will be effective.

5.27 p.m.

Lord Hesketh: My Lords, in a previous incarnation I was a great admirer of brevity. I do not intend to be inconsistent today. I must, first, declare an interest as the chairman of--I hastily add--a small international airline. That may be a tangential interest, but it is one that I think I should declare to your Lordships' House. Of course, as your Lordships will be aware, all carriers, by land, sea and air, are subject to the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 which introduced a fine of £1,000 per passenger, raised in 1991 by order to £2,000 per passenger.

I have no argument with the Act, apart from the odd small anomaly. What is more important is that the legislation was supposed to help reduce the numbers. The numbers mentioned today indicate that they have inexorably risen. Whether they would have risen even more had there not been the legislation is, I suspect, a

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moot point. Having declared that interest and having tried merely to add some of the background, I should like to make it absolutely clear that I believe that in this House today, or any other day, we would never find a proponent for opposing political asylum.

The large increase in the number of applications is driven, I suspect, by three or four different events, one of which I believe has been referred to. The introduction of legislation in other countries which would have been an attractive alternative to the United Kingdom merely forced people towards the UK. It was not due to any event which occurred within the UK itself.

I fear that from the evidence I have seen that that it is a growing industry operating on an international basis. I know also from what I have seen that although there has been an increase in vigilance, there has also been an increase in criminality. That probably indicates that there is an increased economic attraction in encouraging people. There has also been an increase in the quality of forged documents. All those events make for a depressing tale.

The Government have introduced this Bill in order to keep under control a problem that might otherwise get out of control. I have only two questions to ask my noble friend. I propose to use as few facts as possible. I am sure that the debate will suffer from the surfeit of facts common to most good arguments.

Perhaps I may take a simple round figure rather than saying 3,292 as against 7,500. During the past six years the annual average number of applications, which I have downsized, has been 30,000. There have been up to 2,000 grants of application, leaving a differential of some 28,000. Taking those rough figures, my first question to the Minister is: are those applications representative of individuals or do they include the dependants? What proportion do they represent? In other words, does the annual figure represent the total number of individuals or the total number of applications?

My second question relates to the relationship between applications and what is the story at the end of the application process. In other words, how many people go home or return to the location from which they travelled to this country? I have seen no figures but I am informed that last year the figure was about 4,000. Obviously, there are many different cases, the facets of which change, that one would have to examine over a longer period of time. That is why I have taken the annual average figure of 30,000 over the past six years. An anomaly appears to exist which must be answered. That could perhaps remove some of the arguments made against the Government.

As regards the generality of the Bill, I have seen some figures that worry me. I believe that if we do not achieve a balance with other civilised countries and deal on an equal basis we will be in a position that is intolerable not only to the people of this country but to those who have come here. Furthermore, there will be intolerable conditions for people who try to come to this country. I say that because my experience is that each time an airline has to increase vigilance as regards inspecting tickets, travel documents, passports and visas, on many

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occasions great unhappiness and inequality are imposed on customers who are trying to travel. Those people have not been mentioned in the debate. I support the Bill.

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