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Lord Hylton: My Lords, it was in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for that correction. But it was certainly in Egypt. Were any points raised that Ministers feel appropriate to include in the legislation before us today? If not, can the Minister say anything about the future introduction of a conspiracy law that will put a halt to the exploitation of the United Kingdom as a centre for organising terrorist activities abroad?

7.12 p.m.

Viscount Addison: My Lords, some years ago I became infuriated by a development that took place in a well known department store chain. It was the introduction of foods' retailing in an open plan sort of way--no supervised entry system and, once in, no supervised exit system. You could walk through the store, from clothing through food to exits, and vice versa. No doubt retail advisers to the chain would say that the system gives an inviting rather than threatening or suppressive feeling to the likely customer, an openness that induces them in. The customer is trusted to go to a check-out which is totally offset to the general flow of customers--no long corridors monitored by simple set cameras but shelving set in high squares making it more easy to conceal, to shoplift or even to pick up and eat a sandwich on the way through; and, my Lords, I have seen that done. I was not surprised in the least to gather that theft from the chain was on the increase. You see, my Lords, it was becoming a soft touch.

I asked myself why their policy was not changed. I believe it is because turnover has increased and the overwhelming reliance on trust is engraved in the fact that the vast majority of people from all walks of life in this country who use the store are honest; not the vast majority of so-called asylum seekers who are proven by the records taken to have dubious intentions and are therefore dubious, possibly abusive and possibly bogus. Make no mistake, I have nothing whatever against any bona fide refugee or asylum seeker. I am, however, dissatisfied with the way that, increasingly, this country, like my chain store example, has been and is being drained as a soft touch; and it is well time that changes were made.

I commend my noble friend the Minister on her efforts to amend and supplement the 1971 Act and the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 and to make further provisions. Noble Lords opposite--I say "opposite" happily--have spoken about the backlog of applications. I should like to put them into perspective. While applications for asylum in 1995 were roughly 44,000--an increase of 34 per cent.--it should be borne in mind that, of the applications outstanding on 31st December, the increase was a more modest 6 per cent. higher than the previous year. The cost of

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processing the 79 per cent. of soft-touch applicants that were refused in 1995 was around £9 million. The number of bona fide refugees has remained remarkably constant compared with the huge increase in soft-touch applications.

In 1991, 505 applicants were granted asylum; in 1992, 1,115; in 1993, 1,590; in 1994, 825--that fall was due to a ministerial announcement in 1993 that exceptional leave would be granted only in cases where there were genuine humanitarian or compassionate grounds to allow a failed asylum seeker to remain in this country--and in 1995, the number of successful applicants was 1,295.

With regard to illegal working and race relations, it must be obvious that illegal working takes away jobs which would otherwise be available to people with a right to work here, from whatever community they come. It is a fact also that racketeers exploit illegal immigrants. They prey on them because they know that they can always threaten to expose them to the authorities. No longer should racketeers be entirely immune from action.

Having spent some years in Spain, and having gathered many of the problems regarding automatic rights of entry, I was interested to see what would happen after legislation was introduced in 1994-95 ending automatic right of entry. While applications rose from 4,000 in 1988 to 12,600 in 1993, applicant numbers have fallen significantly following the introduction of new legislation in 1994-95. There were under 2,500 during the first six months of 1995 compared with 10,200 in the whole of 1994.

One of the key features of the Spanish asylum system is the special procedure for sifting out and dealing quickly with the manifestly unfounded claims. Clause 1 of the Asylum and Immigration Bill will extend the categories of claims which may be certified by the Secretary of State as without foundation and therefore subject to the special accelerated appeals procedure. Late claims made purely to fend off removal and repeat applications fall into the Spanish accelerated procedure and are comparable with some of the new categories included in Clause 1 of the Bill. This similar system is working in Spain to the benefit of the true asylum seeker.

My noble friend Lady O'Cathain has touched on my last point. A growing problem is the undocumented asylum seeker. There were more than 4,000 such cases at Heathrow, Gatwick and Dover last year. By disposing of the passport before arrival the asylum seeker prevents the authorities from determining his true nationality. Some try to pass themselves off as nationals of countries with higher asylum success rates. Destroying the passport may conceal the fact that the applicant arrived via a safe third country such as France. An undocumented asylum seeker is also more difficult to remove after refusal because his country of origin may not take him back without evidence that he is one of its nationals. If we accept in principle that a refugee may need to use false papers to flee his country, so the Bill will not penalise asylum seekers who present a false passport on arrival provided they declare it as such. One cannot be fairer than that. However, if they try to gain

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entry under a false identity, the Bill will enable the Secretary of State to certify the claim when he refuses it. I support the Bill.

7.20 p.m.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, by this stage of the debate most of the arguments have been well rehearsed and I shall not repeat that which has already been said. However, it is worth making one introductory point. Underlying the whole of our discussion on asylum seeking, but largely unremarked in the debate, is the fact that this country has a complex and elaborate system of immigration control, which has been built up over many years, which has been progressively tightened by parties of all political complexions, and which now offers the people here--both those who have been born here and those who have come here as immigrants and possibly as asylum seekers--the assurance that one of the most crowded countries of the world has effective immigration controls. I have always supported the argument that you cannot have harmonious race relations in a country like ours unless everybody can be reassured that we are not going to be subject to massive immigration which will lead to the stresses and problems that have been widely recognised.

I am sorry that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol is not in his place, and I am sorry that he made a great deal of the petition that he has received from a number of sources in Bristol. Bristol is par excellence the kind of city likely to face serious problems if we had unlimited immigration. That is what is behind the Bill. Under our system, asylum has always been seen as a side gate. It is the final protection. Yes, we have a tight immigration system, but because of our deep, cherished humanitarian principles going back centuries, and because of our clear international obligations, our immigration legislation has always preserved the rights of asylum seekers. That is the background to the Bill, and it needs to be borne in mind.

I turn now to the asylum figures. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, gave a classic example of an extraordinary refusal to face the facts. I refer to the facts about the growing number of asylum seekers, facts which this country's Government and the governments of other countries have faced. I refer particularly to the growing number of asylum seekers who fail to prove any well-founded fear of persecution. It is worth repeating the figures: 95 per cent. of cases last year were rejected by the Home Office and 97 per cent. of appeals were dismissed.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, does the noble Lord take into account those who have been given exceptional leave to remain because it would be unsafe and positively dangerous for them to be returned home?

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I take the point that there is, as it were, another escape hatch, and the noble Lord is perfectly entitled to mention it. However, those are the figures for asylum seekers.

As my noble friend Lady O'Cathain said forcefully, other countries have tightened their procedures with the result that in western Europe, where almost every other

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country has introduced legislation, the numbers of applicants are falling. There were 180,000 fewer in 1994 than in 1993--that is a 40 per cent. reduction in one year. In Britain over the two years 1993-95, the number of applicants doubled from about 22,000 to 44,000.

I come now to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, who says that that is because of the long delays and that people come here because that delay will give them the opportunity to enjoy the standard of living in this country. The noble Lord seems to argue that if only the Government poured more resources and more money into this and had more civil servants applying the rules, the number of applicants would somehow be reduced because the procedure would be shortened. That defies belief. What happens when you reduce the numbers going through is that you reduce the number of applicants. One has to say that the argument which the noble Lord constructed at the beginning of his speech is a cop-out because it somehow excuses the Labour Party--to some extent, the Liberal Democrats are the same--of facing up to the question of whether they want to reduce the number of applicants. They seem to think that they can evade that question by using the argument about delay. That has been their principal argument against the Bill both here and in another place.

We shall discuss matters of detail in Committee, but it is simply not true to say that by increasing the resources, you will reduce the number of people going through the system. One can see that because Belgium, Finland and Germany introduced asylum legislation in 1993 and saw a reduction of between 45 per cent. and 60 per cent. in the number of applications in 1994. Apart from the United Kingdom, the only country where applications rose was the Netherlands. Its figures rose in 1994. However, in that year the Dutch tightened their asylum legislation and in 1995 the numbers fell by 40 per cent.

Frankly, the idea that you can somehow reduce the number of applications simply by reducing the time taken to process them, by pouring in more resources and without any tightening of the regulations is incredible. It is a cop-out--and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, because he is a decent man with a sense of shame, knows that it is a cop-out.

I support the Bill, but I have given my noble friend notice that I should like to draw one issue to her attention. My noble friend may prefer to deal with the matter briefly now or she may prefer to leave it to Committee when my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish may be at her side to help. I refer to the impact of this legislation and the regulations on local authorities. I declare an interest in that I am a joint president of the Association of London Government, representing the 32 London boroughs and the City of London. As many applicants come in through Heathrow and Gatwick, arriving at Victoria, London's authorities have to cope with a very high proportion of this country's asylum seekers.

As the Government have properly acknowledged, there is no doubt that the social security regulations will impose additional costs on local authorities, which will continue to be responsible for supporting vulnerable

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groups under the housing legislation, under the Children Act 1989 and under the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990. In terms of housing, the boroughs will still be under a duty to secure accommodation for asylum seekers who are homeless and in priority need although those affected by the regulation changes will no longer be entitled to housing benefit. That means that the boroughs will have to cover 100 per cent. of the housing costs of that group--at least until Clause 9 comes into effect. However, there is a problem in the meantime because it will be some time before the Bill becomes law.

Under the Children Act 1989, local authorities are responsible for providing support to the children of asylum seekers who may have had their entitlement to benefit removed. In many cases, local authorities may prefer to support and house a whole family rather than putting the child into special accommodation.

Under the 1990 National Health Service and Community Care Act, boroughs are also responsible for caring for vulnerable individuals who are affected by the changes to the benefit regulations. Such individuals will comprise the elderly and infirm, those who are mentally ill and those who have been the victims of torture. Those are the current responsibilities of the authorities--and the burden falls on relatively few of them. There has been a good deal of pressure, not least from the Association of London Government and refugee groups. The Government have recognised the extra costs that local authorities would face.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Security made a Statement in the other place on 11th January. He said:

    "The Government also propose to assist local authorities with any unavoidable additional costs arising under the homelessness legislation or the Children Act 1989. My right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Health and for the Environment will discuss the details with local authority associations shortly".--[Official Report Commons, 11/1/95; col.332.]
That Statement was greatly welcomed.

However, the promises so far fall somewhat short of what appeared to be offered there in general terms. For homelessness, expenditure based on 80 per cent. of the housing benefit subsidy forgone by local authorities in respect of asylum seekers and other persons from abroad housed under the homelessness legislation is all that is being offered. Again, with children, it is 80 per cent. of social services' unavoidable expenditure above a certain threshold.

So far there is no suggestion that there will be any special grant arising out of a local authority's responsibilities under the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990. There is one other point that I mention now. Much of the support for asylum seekers comes from the extremely worthy voluntary bodies which raise charitable funds and provide help to people in those circumstances. The loss of housing benefit means that those bodies will have to find extra money, and so far I do not believe that my noble friends have made any suggestion as to how they may be helped as a result of the withdrawal of benefit.

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I have some questions for my noble friend. When can we expect the full details of the grants and thresholds to be announced? Councils are already incurring expenditure. The benefits have already been withdrawn, under the regulations which we passed in this House with a substantial majority at the end of January. They need to know the full details of the level of support they can expect.

Secondly, why is it only 80 per cent. of their costs above the minimum threshold? They point out that the costs are incurred because of a saving being effected by the DSS. They cannot understand why it cannot be 100 per cent. The Government's answer is that that will encourage them to extravagance. But on housing benefit they are already subject to a 5 per cent. withholding to ensure efficiency. So it is difficult to see why there should be another 20 per cent. reduction. Why is there no recognition of the extra costs arising from the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990? They will have to provide support. It will have to be found entirely by council tax payers.

There is then a point which may sound technical but which is of some importance. The Government propose that there should be special grants made under Section 88B of the Local Government Finance Act 1988. That means that the grants will have to be approved by an affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament every year if it is proposed to make the grants. That is fine if we have a one-off grant. I pay my council tax in the country to the district council of Uttlesford in whose territory is Stansted Airport.

There was a celebrated case about three years ago when a jumbo jet arrived at Stansted full, I think, of Rwandan refugees. The leader of the Stansted Council just said that without money there was no way he would be able to do anything for them and that they could stay at the airport without any support. That was right, because it is a small council with a tiny budget. Most of it seems to be mine, but that is by the way. I am in Band H, or whatever it is. The Government very properly came up with, I think, 100 per cent. grant paid under that Act, because that was appropriate for a one-off payment.

What the London boroughs feel about that is that it does not seem to be the appropriate way of dealing with what will be a continuing series of payments, year after year, which will become, as it were, an integral part of the support. It will be some special and specific grant. The system is full of special and specific grants. It was in my day, and I suspect that it still is. The problem of special grants for one year is that there could be immediate political difficulties. If we do not get it, then it is the poor council tax payers who will pay the whole thing. We have had no debate on that issue today. In a sense, I am giving my noble friend notice that this is a matter that we shall have to explore.

It may be that the Association of London Government is exaggerating the problem. I do not know, but it feels the point keenly. It affects particular authorities. I shall not talk about personal social services, but particular authorities face heavy expenditure. Hillingdon, Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster seem to have

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a problem. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, has a problem in Haringey. I know that there are some problems in the London Borough of Waltham Forest. My NHS trust has to provide Somali interpreters for Somali refugees. So it is a problem. The Government have shown a willingness to recognise it, but they have not yet met it. I hope that my noble friend will be able to give us some comfort.

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