Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


The Lord Bishop of Ripon: I support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. She moved an amendment to a clause which seeks to reverse the situation brought about by the Court of Appeal's judgment declaring the withdrawal of benefits from certain categories of asylum seekers to be unlawful. The final words of Lord Justice Simon Brown's judgment include those words already quoted by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, as regards the horns of the dilemma. The judgment concludes with this sentence:


The primary legislation is that which the clause seeks to enact; and the sorry state of affairs is precisely that already described--namely, the stark choice which faces some asylum seekers either to persist with their claim and become destitute, or to abandon their claim and leave this country.

It is true that Parliament has the sovereign power to legislate as it wills. But to many of us this piece of legislation is repugnant. The chief reason is that it presents some of those seeking asylum with the choice which has been put starkly by the Court of Appeal. Those who apply in country, and those who are appealing against a determination, are to be refused benefit. We have had already a good deal of discussion about the comparisons between those who apply in country and those who apply at port. As I read the figures, for years it has been the case that those who apply in country are as successful, or on occasions more successful, in their claims than those who apply at port of entry. Of those who appeal, a proportion succeed. That proportion has been fairly constant over the years. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, is a mathematician, as indeed I am. As I read the figures, the proportion of those who achieve a successful determination as asylum seekers has not altered much over a decade. What has altered is the proportion of those given exceptional leave to remain. That figure has dropped dramatically in recent years.

Clearly, we have different perspectives over how far those who do not achieve a successful determination or exceptional leave to remain can be treated as bogus or as economic refugees. But even on the Government's view--that all those who fall into the 77 per cent. are bogus--there are some who have come to this country for genuine reasons; and within both categories (in-country applicants and those pursuing their appeals) there are found to be genuine asylum seekers. Those

1 Jul 1996 : Column 1231

applicants are presented with the choice of destitution and the pursuance of their claim, or the decision to abandon their application and go elsewhere.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, spoke about the way in which the figures have altered over more than a decade. If my memory is right, he referred to about 5,000 asylum seekers who came to this country in 1985 out of a total of some 250,000 who came to Europe. My arithmetic tells me that that is about 1 per cent. of those who found their way to Europe. I ask the Committee whether 1 per cent. in that year was a fair proportion for this country to take of all the asylum seekers who came to Europe. Germany took in much larger numbers. In other words, over this decade we have received a fairer proportion of those coming to Europe.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, also referred to the drop in those coming to this country to pursue an appeal. But surely they will be aware that the choice facing those already in the country is one that they will have to face should they come here. It is, therefore, not surprising that the numbers should have dropped.

When the Minister said that he would speak of what had happened since the February decision, I assumed that he would state what was happening to asylum seekers in this country. It is, I suggest, an indication of our difference of perspective that he spoke rather about those who are not coming to the country. What has happened to those who are in the country and who have been affected by the decision to withdraw benefit has been outlined in a report prepared by the community liaison officer of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster. The report suggests that the vast bulk of those who are already seeking asylum in this country are being cared for by their own communities. It suggests that that is a course of action which it will be possible to sustain for a short period but it cannot be sustained in the long term. There are those who have no community in the country to which they can turn and emergency provisions are being made. I quote from the report:


    "Churches in Hampstead, Camden, Bayswater and Hackney are providing emergency shelter for asylum-seekers with no welfare benefits. This accommodation is very basic, consisting of mattresses on church hall floors and limited washing and cooking facilities".
The report has a considerable description of what is happening to those who are attempting to pursue both lines of action: to remain in this country to pursue their cause and to continue to try to find some way of surviving while they do so.

We all share a concern that abusers of the asylum system should not be tolerated. There are, of course, abusers of the system, although some of us do not believe them to be so numerous as the Government claim. It is quite right to ensure that they do not profit and the Government are entirely right to pursue a course of action which ensures that that does not happen. But the way that they propose is at the expense of denying to genuine asylum seekers their right to pursue their case. It is the politicians' job to find a way of holding together those two policy decisions, but I suggest to your Lordships that the judgment of the Court of Appeal provides some pointers as to how that might be done.

1 Jul 1996 : Column 1232

They are not necessarily those that I wish to support, but the judgment suggests that a benefit could be provided in kind rather than in cash. It suggests also that the levels of benefit might be set in such a way as to deter those who abuse the system.

However, the point remains that the way forward that is being suggested now is at the expense of those who need the opportunity to pursue their claim and for many of whom it will be found to be genuine. Therefore, I support the amendment.

4. p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: I oppose the amendment. None of the noble Lords who have spoken, nor the right reverend Prelate, has begun to address the essence of the problem. It is that any responsible government must have a policy of some kind--and no one has suggested what it should be--to save abuse by bogus claimants to the tune of £200 million a year paid by the taxpayer. No proposals as to how that should be tackled have as yet been mentioned in the debate, although they were mentioned on commitment. Inevitably on recommitment there is an element of repetition. With the leave of the Committee, I shall be brief because most of what I wish to say has already been said.

In that context, I come to the convention. I agree--as I often do--with the noble Earl, Lord Russell. It is an important international convention, but for the life of me I cannot see in it any provision for benefit. There never has been any. The genuine asylum seekers, the Huguenots, the Lombards and others, came here to seek refuge, not finance or benefit. It is important--

Earl Russell: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Is he aware that the Huguenots and the others to whom he referred received considerable relief from parish funds?

Lord Campbell of Alloway: I do not say that people who came here never received relief, there was no state relief provided by the taxpayer. Perhaps the noble Baroness will allow me to finish my sentence and then I shall give way to her. I am obliged. Unfortunately, I have forgotten what I was going to say so I shall give way.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: I wish to affirm the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that in the period to which the noble Lord referred no one was eligible for state relief. There was no such thing as state benefit. All benefits were parochial benefits. Refugees were treated in exactly the same way as local people. That is all we ask for in the amendment.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: I am grateful to the noble Baroness. What I wished to say relates to the point. The problem is not the same. We live in this century, approaching the next, and the Government have to tax people.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. However, I suggest that he

1 Jul 1996 : Column 1233

does not allow the noble Earl to take him too far along historical parallels. It can often lead one up blind alleys, as I know to my cost. Does my noble friend agree that we will provide benefit to all those who apply for asylum on arrival in this country? That is the important point.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: I totally accept that.

The Lord Bishop of Lincoln: Parish relief has been mentioned in the debate and it may help the Committee to have a picture of the situation.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Perhaps the right reverend Prelate would not mind giving way. I believe that my noble friend had not finished his speech.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: I shall do my best to finish it. I am grateful to my noble friend. I was coming to the port of entry argument which was discussed on the previous occasion and which confers the benefit. However, before that I was discussing the genuine asylum seeker who comes here to seek refuge, not money. We are now in an age where the Government must watch their expenditure on what has been shown to be a mass of bogus asylum seekers.

The only new matter that arises on recommitment is the judgment of the Court of Appeal. That is of no relevance at all. First, it is totally irrelevant whether the Divisional Court was right, whether the dissenting opinion of the Court of Appeal was right or whether the majority opinion of the Court of Appeal was right. It matters not. We will never know--


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page