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It seems to me that if there are such long delays on the Home Office side in determining asylum claims, then it is not surprising that on the other side people also seek to delay the process, for the very reason that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, rejects; namely, that people want more time. If there are delays caused by the Government, it is not surprising that there are delays on the other side. However, it is not appropriate for me to take up more of the time of the House in trying to determine how one deals with all of those delays.
I accept as a principle that asylum claims should be determined quickly. I do not believe that it is just or fair that they are protracted, whether the delay is caused by Home Office officials or by applicants. I accept that all sides of the process should be speeded up.
I turn now to the question of safe third countries and limitations on in-country appeals. If it were the case that anyone removed to a safe third country--for example, one of the European Union countries--were removed on the assurance that that country would allow the individual to enter into the asylum procedures there, I would not mind so much. The difficulty is that there is no such safeguard and the Government can remove somebody to another country without considering the individual's claim here and without having any assurance that that person's claim will, in turn, be considered in the country to which he is removed. That country may in turn apply the same principles and remove the individual further down the line, until in the end the individual ends up in a country where he may be in danger. That is my concern about these removals. People are being removed to third countries not because they have spent several months in France, Belgium, the Netherlands or Germany, but because they may have been in transit at Charles de Gaulle Airport. They may have spent two or three hours driving across northern France to Calais and on to Dover. Such brief periods of time are not the basis on which we should say, "You cannot have your claim considered here. Go and find another country which will consider your claim".
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred very properly to the difficulties of detention; and the use of detention for asylum seekers. Perhaps I may say this about the policy. It seems to me wrong in principle that we should detain people, deny them their liberty, without any judicial process, but simply on the decision of an official.
I said that I would praise something that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said. I have much sympathy with the point he made about the burden that would be placed on local authorities as a consequence of the social security and other provisions passed a few weeks ago in both Houses. They are also contained under the heading of child benefit and housing in the Bill. It is a sorry situation that we as a country use the threat of poverty,
I do not like the idea that people arrive without documentation because they have destroyed it. That is undesirable. I regret that in all too many instances, racketeers who have, as it were, tried to facilitate the arrival of people here have encouraged people to destroy their documents so that the racketeers cannot be identified. I understand that that is one of the explanations. However, it does not mean that people do not have a proper basis for a claim even if they were helped to escape from their country by a person trying to raise money.
I consider Clause 4--it refers to gaining entry by deception--with a great deal of concern. Although we have had some verbal assurances, as the Bill stands someone using a forged passport as the only way of escaping from an oppressive regime could well be accused of having gained entry by deception. The Government state that that is not the intention, but my fear is that it sounds as though it is.
I should like to see a registration scheme for people who give immigration and asylum advice. That provision is not in the Bill; I believe that it should be. I hope that some amendments will achieve that aim.
Perhaps I may quote some statistics, and compare the figures for 1990--it is well before the 1993 Act--with the most recent figures for 1995. In 1990 the number of people given refugee status was 22.8 per cent. In 1995 it was 4.7 per cent. plus some who gained such status on appeal. But the dramatic difference was the fall in the number who gained exceptional leave to remain. In 1990 the figure was nearly 60 per cent. By 1995 the figure had fallen to 16 per cent. ELR is not a status covered by statute; it is a grace and favour status given by the Government--and a necessary one. But part of the large increase in the number of refusals stems from the Government's deliberate decision to reduce the number of people being given exceptional leave to remain. Nevertheless, we are still talking about some 20 per cent. in all who are allowed to stay either under ELR or refugee status.
There is no time to deal with European Union comparisons, some of which were cited. Perhaps I may say this. If this country makes one mistake in determining an asylum claim, we are liable to send back to danger an individual who may face a future too horrible to contemplate. People have been returned to countries when it had been argued that they should be allowed to stay. People have been returned to countries--Zaire is an obvious example, but there are others--where they have disappeared as soon as they were a mile or two from the airport. It is because of the awful consequences for someone who has a well-founded fear of persecution under the 1951 convention that we have to be so careful about all the details whereby an asylum claim is determined.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, it has been an interesting debate. It is fair to say that there has been a healthy and useful exploration of the different aspects of the Bill. There have been times also when I wondered not only whether people understood the Bill but whether they had listened to my speech at the outset such has been the misunderstanding not only before I came to the Chamber but in the course of many speeches.
The answer of noble Lords opposite, in particular of the party represented by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is simply to employ more staff and to provide a great deal more money. Numbers of applicants would indeed rise inexorably because we would have the most relaxed procedures in Europe. The delays, which the noble Lord claims would be dealt with by even more adjudicators and assessors, are frequently caused, as I said a moment ago, by applicants who can resort to many ways of delaying the appeal process. While those cases were being delayed, all benefits would be paid and many would be treated more favourably than citizens of this country and legal settlers here.
It will be difficult to respond to all the points made in the debate. I shall do what I can. If I do not reply tonight, I shall do so fully in writing and I shall place all copies of my letters in the Library for the availability of all Members of the House.
The first point made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was about detention of asylum seekers. Only 1 per cent. of asylum seekers are currently detained. Detention is used only when there are real concerns that an applicant would abscond. Most detained asylum applicants have had their claims refused. Children are detained only rarely. It is only in exceptional circumstances and for only very short periods, usually just before deportation. Unlike many of our European neighbours, we do not require asylum seekers to live in application or reception centres.
Children are detained under Immigration Act powers only in the most exceptional circumstances. Authority at a minimum of inspector level is required for the detention of children under 18 and is reviewed by an assistant director within 24 hours. Unaccompanied young persons may be detained at around the age of 16 or 17 years. But in a large number of cases the true age may be the subject of dispute. Children younger than that will normally be held in detention centres only as part of a family unit. In those circumstances, the children may not be detained but accommodated with the detained parent or parents with their agreement. In those circumstances, the detention would be for a very short period only prior to removal of the family unit. We do not believe that our arrangements represent any breach of the United Kingdom's international obligations.
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to some statistics. He mentioned 115 successful applicants from India, Pakistan, Bulgaria, Poland, Ghana and Cyprus. Only 17 applicants from the seven countries currently considered suitable for designation were granted asylum
The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, also referred to European Union resolutions. The United Kingdom's asylum policy is decided in Westminster, not in Brussels. That is the whole purpose of our considering the Bill before the House. In developing the asylum package, we have drawn extensively on the experience of other European countries and on work in international fora. But our proposals are our own. It is ludicrous to talk of toeing the Brussels line. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has a smile on his face at the moment but I must say to him that under the United Kingdom's successful presidency in 1992--he referred to it but he did not say that it was the UK presidency--a resolution was adopted on,
Of course I will take away the report of the scrutiny committee which was published today and give serious consideration to its recommendations. It is worth noting that with the order-making powers following the powers under the relevant benefit legislation, the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee approved the negative procedure. However, that does not prejudice consideration between now and Committee stage.
As regards employers, the Home Secretary's power is to exempt employers from the requirement to check in certain cases. So it will remove a burden rather than add one. The negative procedure is appropriate here, as the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee found.
My noble friend Lord Renton and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to the drafting of Clause 1. I noted what they said and I am conscious that Clause 1 and some other clauses operate by amending previous statutes. It is not practicable always to proceed by re-enacting the old provisions in a revised form, although I recognise that it can make a Bill easier and more straightforward. I shall consider the points made about drafting between now and Committee stage.
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