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Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. Does she agree that it is a rather unusual argument to say that the fact that there are so many applications or appeals pending is an argument for taking away rights? After all, there are many other areas of life, including applications for judicial review, where there is an absolute mountain of cases which is increasing all the time, but no one suggests that it would be fair to limit the rights of those who then become eligible.

Baroness Elles: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that intervention because I do not agree with him that human rights are being removed from asylum seekers. The point of the Bill is to enable the cases of genuine asylum seekers to be dealt with more quickly.

I have given notice to my noble friend that I should be raising this matter. If it is practical or possible, we should increase the figure of £37 million for extra staff to enable the backlog of cases to be dealt with even more speedily. I believe that the provisions of the Bill are absolutely necessary but I believe that we need more financing and a more speedy settlement of the procedures which we shall be debating in the next few weeks.

If the Government could find that money to pay more staff--and if they can find adequately trained people to do that specialist work--there would be an advantage in financial terms, although that is not the only criterion to be considered. It would lead to greater economies in relation to expenditure on benefits, use of public services including health, education and other services.

I know that the Government have a duty to cut public expenditure. But in this particular regard, I believe that it is a case of being penny wise and pound foolish. If more money could be found now, future expenditure would be considerably less.

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Secondly, it is also the task of the Government to ensure that justice is done to whoever is within the United Kingdom jurisdiction, even in the case of approving a white list of countries in the procedures set out in the Bill. There cannot be collective expulsions or deportations but each case must be considered on its merits in accordance with the provisions of the UN convention on the status of refugees. Will my noble friend confirm that each case is dealt with individually? Some noble Lords have sought to criticise the Bill but I believe that they may misread Clause 1. I believe that my noble friend should explain that when she winds up the debate.

In view of the criticisms of the policy in relation to asylum seekers who are not genuine asylum seekers and who delay their appeal for asylum several months after being in the United Kingdom, it is worth recalling that Article 31 of the UN convention on the status of refugees states quite clearly:


    "The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorisation provided"--
and I emphasise the word "provided"--


    "they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence".
That is one of the problems that has been faced by the Government. So many of the so-called manifestly unfounded asylum seekers are claiming to have been, say, students for six months or have come in through racketeer procedures to do all sorts of things. Then, after a considerable time, they make an appeal for asylum. Of course, I quite understand the situation in certain countries where there has been a change as regards the government's dealing with certain individuals or groups of people. I believe that that is provided for in the Bill. Where someone has come from a safe country where the change has taken place with the behaviour of the government or, as I say, the authorities, then that case will be considered in a different light.

Thirdly, legitimate concern has been expressed about the provisions of Clause 8 which lays a responsibility on employers to identify illegal immigrants. In a letter received today from the CBI it is understood that it would not be opposed to the measures proposed if,


    "no more than an initial check is required on documents containing national insurance numbers, and that appropriate guidance is given to employers".
In any case, is that not the procedure required for any new employee? It is also hoped that those inspectors called upon to check the role of employers will take an understanding and helpful attitude and not act in a way which could impose such strictures on employers which could imperil good race relations in their firms. The way that enforcement procedures are handled is most important. Indeed, sometimes the attitudes are more important than the actual legislation.

I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister could confirm the truth or otherwise--and I have given my noble friend notice of this question; and it was raised in another place--of the claim that there are 20 million excessive insurance numbers available which could lead

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people to believe that they are forgeries or false documents. Can my noble friend give some indication as to the truth of that and, indeed, say how such a problem would be dealt with?

Fourthly, there is a need for close co-operation with other European Union member states to deal with a problem which has been overwhelming most states. Many have already adopted stricter provisions and procedures to deal with increasing numbers of asylum seekers. Measures have been aimed to reduce the number of asylum applications to be considered by the introduction of new procedures for the receivability of new applications. Measures have also aimed at reducing the time needed for the examination of asylum applications, including rapid procedure for manifestly unfounded applications and the implementation of the third country principle. As the noble Lord, Lord Lester, knows better than anyone else, all those countries are in fact high contracting parties of the European Convention on Human Rights. I believe that all the rapid procedures that have been introduced are in accordance with the human rights provisions both in the convention and in the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees. It may be of interest to your Lordships to know that even citizens from other European Union member states do not have an unqualified right to reside in another member state as and when they wish to do so. That was apparent from a recent case reported in The Times.

I should also like to comment briefly on the Dublin Convention. The United Kingdom was one of the first signatories to that convention which determines the state responsible for examining appeals. Most states have already introduced the necessary legislation even before the entry into force of the convention. The convention asserts the general principle which I know the Government support--indeed, as one of the signatories, they were bound to do so--that the first country of asylum should normally be responsible for considering an asylum seeker's claim. There is nothing in that particular provision which constitutes a violation of human rights of any individual. The convention was drawn up for the benefit of all the member states of the Community. As I said, they are all high contracting parties to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The examination of applications for asylum is the exclusive responsibility of the authorities of the member states, as well as the determination of "safe third countries". That was a reply from the Commission to a recent question posed by a member of the European Parliament which is worth remembering.

I was rather surprised by the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. I was going to say somewhat "acid" remarks, but that is not a very polite word. I should perhaps use a more triumphant word as used by the noble Lord when he said that many of the provisions come from the European Union. Of course they do. Under Title VI covering Justice and Home Affairs of the Maastricht Treaty, asylum and immigration is one of the subjects on which member states should co-operate. I welcome the fact that the Government have seen fit to work with other member states of the European Union when dealing precisely

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with the problem, which is a European problem and one which cannot be confined only to our country. I see that the noble Lord wishes to respond. I give way.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am much obliged. I was not objecting to any of that. I was objecting to the secrecy with which it was done; the fact that it is not acknowledged in the way in which the Bill has been introduced; and the fact that the Home Secretary claims to his party that those policies are being made in Britain and not in Brussels.

Baroness Elles: My Lords, I should be delighted if they are made in this country and not in Brussels. Surely that co-operation is one to which the United Kingdom has contributed. Further, as the noble Lord mentioned, all the provisions that he chose to single out are contained in resolutions and recommendations and are not legally binding. It is the Government who have decided to put in this Bill, in this House and in this Parliament provisions which they have agreed to but which are not legally binding on any of the other member states. However, in their common interest and their common purpose, they have also seen fit to ensure that they are useful and helpful provisions which do not violate the human rights of people who are seeking asylum in the countries within the European Union. I am extremely grateful to my noble friend and to the Government for the fact that they have adopted those provisions and put them in the Bill.

Another point which has been extremely helpful is the recommendation by European Union member states for having a proper definition of a refugee. That has been agreed as being,


    "a person with a well-founded fear of persecution".
I believe that we all agree to that definition. Indeed, we should be grateful for the fact that it will be adopted in United Kingdom law as it will also be adopted in the law of other member states.

Those are the people whose rights and interests this Bill is determined to protect. The Bill will also identify those who benefit from protection and benefits when they are not entitled to do so. So far as concerns legal immigrants, the protection of their human rights is guaranteed. In fact, the UN Declaration on the rights of non-citizens adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1985 was largely based on a draft proposal prepared by a Conservative Government in 1973. Perhaps I may say that I was proud enough to be the special rapporteur on that subject and introduced that declaration to the UN General Assembly in December 1985.

The Labour Party considers that the Bill will, or could, harm race relations. I believe that that is totally unjustified. Those in the Labour Party know that they have no valid argument against the proposed provisions. They could possibly as regards the detail; but the principle must be accepted. They know that, if they were ever to be in government, they would be faced with the same problem and that they would either have to introduce similar if not identical provisions, especially as some of them are shared with our European Union member state neighbours, or else allow a massive influx

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of illegal immigrants. That would do infinite harm to those who, over the years, we have welcomed to this country and who have made their own valuable contribution to our general well-being and prosperity.


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