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The Earl of Longford: My Lords, I notice the giggling opposite. So I understand that there is a new

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regulation from the Benches opposite: to make an Answer as short and as inconclusive as possible. However, perhaps I may ask a question which will receive a more satisfactory answer. Is the noble Baroness aware that the Bill is an attempt to give effect to the findings of the Woolf Committee? Is she further aware that the Woolf Report was recommended to this House in July 1991? Do the Government still stand by the findings of the Woolf Committee?

Will the noble Baroness accept a supplementary question? Does she agree that we should congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, on becoming Master of the Rolls? I certainly hear no dissent from that. Does she further agree that we should congratulate Judge Tumim, who is associated with that report, on having been knighted? There seems to be even less dissent from that. In my eyes he is a hero of our times. Will the Minister give us an assurance that the new chief inspector will not be deprived of his knighthood because of being reprimanded by the Home Secretary?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, this is a happy occasion. First, let me defend my colleagues who were amused at my reply. In my reply I welcomed the report and they were rather amused at what they saw to be some hesitancy on the part of the noble Earl, who was rather surprised that I had welcomed the report. I wholeheartedly and very warmly congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, on his new appointment. Equally, I warmly congratulate Judge Tumim on his knighthood.

I hope that the noble Earl will forgive me for not speculating on any award that the present chief inspector may or may not receive. He is very new in that particular role and that matter is for others to discuss.

As for the Question on the Order Paper, the Woolf Report made 12 key recommendations. All but one of those recommendations were accepted and formed the basis of the programme for the White Paper, Custody, Care and Justice. The Prison Service has already implemented most of the commitments made. There is no question of either Ministers or the Prison Service back-tracking on progress already made. Both the Woolf Report and the 1991 White Paper identified the need for a proper balance between essential security measures and effective and constructive regimes. That remains the Prison Service policy today.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, without seeking to pass judgment on a complex Bill produced by the Prison Reform Trust, does not the Minister agree that the section on the prison ombudsman, if enacted, would have been helpful in avoiding the intensive and lengthy debate which has had to take place about the terms of reference of the prison ombudsman in recent months? It might even have avoided the reported dressing down of the prison ombudsman by the Home Secretary only last week.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, it has always been our intention to review the situation once the post has been in place for a sufficient period. We still intend to consider putting it on a statutory basis. Perhaps I may also say that the proposals seek to make the

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ombudsman's recommendations binding on the Prison Service in respect of disciplinary adjudications, and that would be unacceptable. Ombudsmen operate on the basis of recommendations and any attempt to make their findings binding runs counter to that principle.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, does not the noble Baroness accept that the present trend of government penal policy is all too likely to be a disaster for those in prison and lead to frustration for prison staff? Will the Government consider, instead of building many new prisons, providing special care for those at risk of offending, especially when they are still children, and also treatment for first offenders?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I disagree profoundly with the noble Lord's first statement. I believe that protection of the public and suitable punishment to fit the crime is at the centre of our policy and we have no intention of changing that. There is a consultative paper out in regard to sentencing and the noble Lord will have a full opportunity both to respond to that and to consider any legislation which may flow from it.

The other point made by the noble Lord is important in relation to how much we can do and whether we can do more to address those who are at risk of offending. A great deal of my time is spent, through the Probation Service and the voluntary sector, doing what we can to make sure that young people do not get into trouble in the first place. I wholeheartedly agree that it is an important part of the policy.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, how does the noble Baroness square what she has told us today with the fact that in a recent debate initiated by the Lord Chief Justice, five former Conservative Home Office Ministers denounced Howardism?

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, we live in a democracy and people are entitled to their views. However, I believe the Home Secretary has been extremely courageous in that respect. He believes that the protection of the public is essential and that the punishment should fit the crime. This is an important White Paper which is out for consultation and no doubt the noble Earl will respond to it in his customary way.


3.2 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m. my noble friend the Leader of the House will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is to be made in another place on the European Council in Florence.

Commonwealth Development Corporation Bill

Lord Chesham: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript

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amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Moved, That the order of commitment be discharged.--(Lord Chesham.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Asylum and Immigration Bill

The Minister of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish): My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Blatch, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report.

It may assist the House if I make a brief announcement regarding the Government's intentions following the Court of Appeal decision on the vires of the regulations made in February on asylum seekers. Those regulations restricted the circumstances when income support, housing benefit and council tax benefit could be paid to asylum seekers. The Court of Appeal found the regulations to be outside the Secretary of State's powers and quashed them. The Government propose to restore their policy--the policy agreed in both Houses.

It is the Government's intention to introduce amendments aimed at restoring Parliament's intention at the Third Reading of the Bill next week. The amendments will provide the powers that the court said were lacking and restore the regulations to exclude from benefit people who have entered the United Kingdom illegally or as visitors and only later claimed asylum and those who have been found by the immigration authorities not to satisfy the UN convention criteria for refugees.

It is our intention that entitlements gained by those groups purely as a result of that judgment will cease as soon as the amendments become law and no new entitlement will arise. In the meantime we will of course implement the law as expressed by the court and pay the entitlements arising under the current legal position. Our amendments will seek to put a stop to those unintended entitlements at the earliest opportunity. It is our intention that entitlements gained purely as a result of that judgment will cease as soon as the amendments become law.

We have examined the judgment with great care and noted that the prime focus of its concern is the impact of the regulations on the genuine refugee rather than on the large number of economic migrants. We intend to introduce arrangements which will enable us to make provision for those who are at the end of the day found to be genuine refugees. We will shortly bring forward measures to enable genuine refugees to claim income support and housing benefit in respect of housing costs in respect of the periods during which they had been excluded from benefits while their asylum applications were under consideration. Once those arrangements are in place, voluntary bodies and charities which support those that they consider to be genuine refugees will do so in the knowledge that the refugee will be in a position to repay them for their support.

Moved, That the Bill be now further considered on Report.--(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the House is grateful to the Minister for being candid with the House and Parliament at the outset of the Motion further to consider the Bill on Report regarding the Government's intentions following the dramatic judgment of Lord Justice Simon Brown last Friday. In case it seems too simple from the Minister's explanation, perhaps I may quote some of the more startling conclusions to which Lord Justice Simon Brown, supported by Lord Justice Waite, came. He said:

    "the 1993 Act confers on asylum seekers fuller rights than they have ever previously enjoyed".
It must be noted that he referred to "asylum seekers" without reference to whether or not they are genuine. He continued:

    "the right of appeal in particular. And yet these Regulations for some genuine asylum seekers at least must now be regarded as rendering these rights nugatory. Either that, or the Regulations necessarily contemplate for some a life so destitute that to my mind no civilised nation can tolerate it".
Lord Justice Simon Brown went on to say that he would hold it:

    "unlawful to alter the benefit regime so drastically as must inevitably not merely prejudice, but on occasion defeat, the statutory right of asylum seekers to claim refugee status ... some basic provision should be made, sufficient for genuine claimants to survive and pursue their claims ... For the purposes of this appeal, however, it suffices to say that I for my part regard the Regulations now in force as so uncompromisingly draconian in effect that they must indeed be held ultra vires".
He founds his decision on the:

    "wider ground that rights necessarily implicit in the 1993 Act are now inevitably being overborne. Parliament cannot have intended a significant number of genuine asylum seekers to be impaled on the horns of so intolerable a dilemma: the need either to abandon their claims to refugee status or alternatively to maintain them as best they can but in a state of utter destitution. Primary legislation alone could in my judgment achieve that sorry state of affairs".

It is now apparent that the Government intend to introduce primary legislation in order to achieve what Lord Justice Simon Brown calls a "sorry state of affairs". It appears that the Government, affected only by the wording of the judgment in the Court of Appeal and not in any way by the humanitarian implications of that judgment, intend to create a situation where asylum seekers--whether genuine or not remains to be determined until the case has been heard--will be forced either to abandon their claims or to live in a state of "utter destitution". That cannot be right as a principle of policy. It cannot be right for the Government to seek to do that and we will oppose such an effort with every power that we have.

In relation to this issue the question goes much further. The Minister has just told us that the Government will bring forward next week at the Third Reading amendments to give statutory effect to the "sorry state of affairs" to which Lord Justice Simon Brown referred. That would be a gross abuse of parliamentary procedure. The time available between now and 1st July, which is the date set down for Third Reading, is quite inadequate for the preparation of complex amendments which the Government would have to carry out and, much more important, the time available would be quite inadequate for proper parliamentary consideration of those amendments by this House. I remind the House that this

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is the last stage of a Bill which has gone through all its stages in the House of Commons and will have gone through all its stages by 1st July next and which would have completed all but one of its stages by tonight.

The ruling also makes a nonsense of the debates to take place this afternoon on Clauses 9 and 10 of the Bill because they will put into effect the provisions which complement the regulations now declared unlawful. The House will note that in his statement the Minister did not say that the Government are proposing to appeal against last Friday's judgment to the Appellate Committee of your Lordships' House. Therefore, what is proposed this afternoon is the Report stage on clauses which will compound the lack of legality. Under those circumstances it would be totally improper for us to consider this afternoon Clauses 8 and 9 or indeed any part of the Report stage of the Bill.

The least that the Government can do, having decided to abandon all humanitarian principles and seek to overturn the judgment of the Appeal Court (which refers specifically to such humanitarian principles), is to postpone consideration on Report of this Bill and to propose to the House a timetable which will give a proper opportunity for parliamentary consideration of the primary legislation which they propose. I invite the Minister to respond to that. I give him notice that unless there is an entirely satisfactory response, I intend to ask my noble friends to vote against the Motion that the Bill be further considered on Report.

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