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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in the debate. My noble friend Lord Holme of Cheltenham, who normally speaks on Northern Ireland for the Liberal Democrats, was taken ill with 'flu last night and I therefore stand in his stead to welcome this order, which very much follows the lines which Liberal Democrats have supported in this House and in the other place in recent years. It is a useful consolidating measure and as such we all welcome it.

My concerns, so far as I have them, very much echo those of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, in terms of the burden of proof and the international aspect. It seems clear that what we now face in Northern Ireland, as we have faced in Italy for some time and as we appear to be facing in Bulgaria, Russia and elsewhere, is that peculiar mixture which is partly terrorist, partly criminal, partly drug trafficking and partly money laundering which overlaps criminal activities, political activities and financial fraud. In the nature of the case, that is rarely confined to one country. I remember a member of the Serious Fraud Office saying to me some years ago that there was no longer any such thing as domestic financial fraud--all financial fraud was, in the nature of the case, international. I therefore have a question for the Minister on Articles 42 and 43, which refer to the extraterritorial and international dimension. I wish to know whether they are strong enough as they stand, and how far they

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relate to co-operation, particularly with other European Governments under what is now Pillar 3 of the Maastricht Treaty, in terms of ensuring that we have full co-operation with other governments which often face similar concerns across Europe and beyond.

I am also a little concerned about shifting the burden of proof. Mention has already been made of a case in the High Court which may go further, in which the question of whether confiscated property had been clearly shown to have been accumulated in the course of crime or in other ways is being challenged. It seems to us that on civil liberties grounds--and even where terrorism in Northern Ireland is concerned--we must be careful before shifting the burden of proof from the criminal standard to something much more like the civil standard.

Having said that, I welcome the order. We give it our full support. Again, I apologise that my noble friend Lord Holme of Cheltenham is unable to be here this evening.

Baroness Denton of Wakefield: My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Prys-Davies and Lord Wallace of Saltaire, for their welcome for the order. It is important in building a peaceful future for Northern Ireland. Attention has rightly been drawn to the tightrope that needs to be walked in terms of protecting people's rights while ensuring that those rights are not taken away by terrorism.

We have always been fortunate in this House in that when absence is unavoidable members of the substitute bench, if I may put it that way, are welcome to our debates and are knowledgeable on the issues raised. However, I should like to send the noble Lord, Lord Holme of Cheltenham, the wishes of the whole House for a full and speedy recovery.

The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, asked me to clarify whether the court could ask for confiscation if the prosecution did not. I can confirm that the court will have discretion to ask for confiscation if the prosecution does not do so.

Both noble Lords expressed concern on the question of balance. There is no intention to change the standard of proof in determining guilt for an offence. That remains the criminal standard. It has always been the case that the confiscation procedure should operate to the civil standard of proof. That has been the case since 1990. However, the assumptions that the court makes are rebuttable. If the defendant can prove that his property was legitimately paid for, the court may not make that assumption. I hope that that gives noble Lords some comfort.

Both noble Lords also referred to the necessity of working closely with other countries. The problems that we have experienced are not, unfortunately, unique to Northern Ireland. This problem has spread throughout the world. Like just about everything these days, the financing of terrorism in its various forms has global connotations. There is no such thing as isolation of activity.

The order makes provision for reciprocal arrangements with other countries for the enforcement of each other's restraint and confiscation orders, but any

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such activity involves two partners. The United Kingdom has ratified the 1988 United Nations Drugs Convention and the 1990 Council of Europe Confiscation Convention and has, I am pleased to say, concluded bilateral co-operation agreements with many countries, particularly those where the question of drugs is relevant, such as Holland. We are also concerned about the possible paths that criminals might take to the United States with which we also have a bilateral agreement. We continue our work to bring forward such agreements. We see evidence that people are moving towards signing such conventions and thus participating in that co-operation. Like both noble Lords, we believe that those provisions are important to the success not only of this order but of other such legislation throughout the United Kingdom. This is a high priority. We hope that in due course all the necessary signatures will be put to the conventions.

I thank the noble Lords for their support for the order and commend it to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Viscount Long: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.5 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.25 to 8.5 p.m.]

Asylum and Immigration Bill

House again in Committee.

Clause 9 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 122 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 122A:

After Clause 9, insert the following new clause--

Income Support

(".--(1) Section 135 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 shall be amended as follows.
(2) At the beginning of subsection (1) there shall be inserted the words "Subject to subsections (2A) and (2B) below,".
(3) At the beginning of subsection (2) there shall be inserted the words "Subject to subsections (2A) and (2B) below,".
(4) After subsection (2) there shall be inserted--
"(2A) In relation to a person who submits a claim to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, which is not finally determined, for asylum under the Convention, no amount (or aggregate of such amounts) may be prescribed which is less than the amount (or aggregate of such amounts) which would be applicable to him if he was not such a person, except that, in the case of income support, the amount in respect of himself or, if he is a member of a married or unmarried couple or of a polygamous marriage, the amount in respect of both or all of them may be reduced by no more than 10 per cent.
(2B) For the purpose of subsection (2A), "Convention" means the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees done at Geneva on 28th July 1961 and the Protocol to that Convention.".").

The noble Earl said: The Minister will not be surprised to hear me utter the word "vires". Vires are like the Hydra: if you cut off one of the Hydra's heads, it grows 10 more. If one wanted to kill the Hydra one

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had to break its back. If one wishes to get rid of regulations it is no good revoking them; one has to get rid of the powers under which the regulations are made. That is the purpose of this amendment. The amendment addresses the power to provide a nil applicable amount of income support for asylum seekers.

It is a good principle that appeals are allowed on grounds of important fresh evidence. I will not attempt to reopen the arguments that we had on 30th January but I will attempt to bring forward fresh evidence of what has happened since 30th January; indeed, since the regulations came into force on 5th February.

In dealing with a previous amendment the Minister suggested that one did not find the number of asylum seekers in difficulties that had been suggested. That is not our experience from collecting information since 5th February. I have here a considerable number of cases--I assure the Committee that I will not quote all of them--which have come to light since 5th February. The Refugee Council has come across no fewer than 300 people altogether without anywhere to sleep except the street. In many cases all that it has been able to do is to provide those people with blankets. There is also a considerable number of people who, although they may have had help from local authority social services, have obtained it in a piecemeal way, often in a way that gives rise to a considerable number of legal problems.

To take one particular case--one wonders whether it has been rightly decided--an asylum seeker from Zaire arrived here in August 1991. He still has not had a decision on his application. He had been working for most of the time since he came here but was made redundant in January 1996, paid two weeks in lieu of notice and claimed benefit on 12th February 1996. It is not clear whether that person had ever before claimed income support as an asylum seeker. If he had done so, he would be entitled to income support under the saving provisions. If not, he is a person who has earned and paid British taxes and national insurance but who has been refused the protection which normally goes with that. I wonder whether that case was correctly decided.

It appears from the case law that when a couple claim benefit and then split up only the one who claims the benefit is able to go on claiming after 5th February 1996. That surprised me. I am sorry that I did not notice that when the regulations were dealt with. It immensely increases the danger faced by those women who turn out to be married, as some do, to violent partners. It has the effect of turning marriage into a prison, which is not what it is supposed to be.

We have another case: applied for asylum on 2nd February, but did not claim benefit until 7th February; refused under the new rules. Again, I cannot help wondering whether that case was decided correctly. That person has been refused help by social services, presumably because the local borough was facing extreme pressure. He is living on a certain amount of food provided by the local Sikh temple. It is not an adequate way of keeping alive.

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Another case arrived on 9th February and applied for asylum two days later; was counted to be an in-country applicant, from which the point arose that "on arrival" in the regulations is not defined. I should have thought that that was about as immediate as one could get.

I shall not detain the Committee with many more of these cases. But I wonder whether we are doing anything sensible here, or whether we are creating a great deal of hardship which will lay up problems for us as well as for them in the future, and serving no useful purpose. From a number of those cases the fact that a number of them did not claim at the port, and indeed in some cases say that they were given no hint that it made any difference whether they claimed at the port, it should emerge that the assumption that all asylum seekers are market sensitive to changes in our regulations is, as I have been arguing all day, wide of the mark.

We have gross hardship here. That is already clear. Considering that it is so early for evidence to come in, we should be surprised by the amount that has come in. I beg the Minister to consider it possible that he may be mistaken. I beg to move.

8.15 p.m.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: We on these Benches support the amendment which would restore income support, removed by regulation, to asylum seekers. Both Opposition Benches resisted its withdrawal in the debate on 30th January when I prayed against the regulations. Nothing that has happened since has suggested that any of our fears were exaggerated, any of our alarms were unnecessary, or that any of the Government's promises have been fulfilled.

Why did we resist that withdrawal of income support? Why do we seek to reinstate it through the Bill? There are three reasons. First, when the Government removed the right to means-tested benefits from those who applied for asylum after they had entered the country, they did so because they were making a distinction between those who sought asylum at the port of entry and those who sought asylum in-country. It is a distinction which we believed then, and believe now, is bogus. The evidence supports us.

That distinction does not separate the genuine from the fraudulent. If it did, we might have rather more sympathy for it. What the distinction does is merely separate the confident--those who apply at port of entry--from those who are not confident or who are insecure or frightened, who apply once they are safely inside the country. It separates those who can speak and read English who apply at port of entry, from those who do not and cannot. It separates those who already have friends here from those who do not.

The fact, as my noble friend Lord Dubs said earlier this evening, that over 80 per cent. of all those coming to the Refugee Council apply for asylum within one week of being inside the country shows that all the mythology of benefit tourism, people on holiday, people changing their stories in order to live here gratis, courtesy of the British taxpayer, is rubbish. They do what you or I or, I hope, my children would do in a

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similar situation: first get inside the country, seek help, and then apply immediately to legitimise one's status. That is the sane and sensible thing to do. It is what so many asylum seekers have done.

We know, too, that at least the same proportion, if not a higher proportion, of those who apply once in-country, as opposed to applying at port of entry, subsequently gain refugee status or exceptional leave to remain. They are more likely to be genuine asylum seekers if they apply in-country than if they apply at the port of entry. The statistics show it. Therefore, to have the test of whether one obtains benefit depend upon where one applies, is not a good enough test for the giving or withdrawing of benefit.

So far as I am aware, no other European country draws the distinction--not Scandinavia, not France, not Germany, not Italy--that one's fate depends upon where one applies rather than upon the test of one's need. We are the only European country which refuses all welfare assistance to those who apply one day or two days after they have entered this country and not at the port of entry.

The first argument for trying to reinstate income support was that the distinction that the Government drew--those who apply at the port of entry are genuine; those who apply later are changing their story and are fraudulent, and it is therefore legitimate to drive that wedge between them--was bogus, and remains so. All the subsequent evidence shows it to be so.

The second argument that we advanced--it still remains true--is that much of the problem that we experienced with benefit is due not to asylum seekers' "fault" but to our fault--the fault of all of us around the Chamber and on the Government Benches--which is the delay in processing asylum applications.

At December last, 15 per cent. of all those who applied in 1991 had still not been heard; 15 per cent. of those who applied in 1992 had still not been heard; 15 per cent. of those who applied in 1993 had still not been heard; 25 per cent. of those who applied in 1994; and 25 per cent.--this is more understandable--of those who applied in 1995 had still not been heard. If the Home Office fails to resolve the status of asylum seekers when it should--and it does not--it is unreasonable, unfair, and improper to expect the DSS to sort it out by denying them benefit.

Because asylum seekers are not having their applications heard on time on asylum grounds, we seek to deter them from remaining on financial grounds. Because we do not hear them when we should, we try to avoid having to hear them at all by refusing them the benefit upon which they might live in the meantime and by forcing them into destitution. That is an appalling basis upon which to make public policy.

The third reason for opposing this regulation back in January--all the evidence subsequently confirms that we were right to do so, and all that we have heard this evening shows that we were right to do so--is that as members of a civilised society none of us can allow these families literally to starve. Churches, charities, and, above all, local authorities using their powers under the Children Act are obliged morally to respond to

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families with children. The Children Act 1989 gives local authorities no choice. The cost of taking a child into care if unaccompanied, or sustaining a family in a bed-sit life, will be horrendous.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, will be able to persuade the Government that it would be right to reimburse local authorities to 100 per cent. of their costs. That would be the right and proper thing to do. We believe that the costs incurred by local authorities are likely to outweigh the savings in benefit hugged in by government, especially given the concession tonight that local authorities will sustain families in the housing that they are in.

For those reasons we support the amendment, because we believe that restoring the benefits cuts effectively would be cost neutral, that it is our responsibility, that we have failed to accelerate the time in which hearings should be determined, and, above all, because we and, I hope, every Member of the Committee recoils from being a member of a society where families with children are left destitute to live on and off the streets.

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