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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Wait!

Baroness Blatch: It is looking a bit dicey for you at the moment. I thank also my noble friend Lord Courtown, a marvellous Whip who has given great assistance and without whom I think my sanity might well have departed at times. I thank too my noble friends Lord Campbell of Alloway and Lord Renton. My noble friend not only speaks with great knowledge of these matters but of course he is somewhat of a mentor for me; indeed, he stood in my shoes some years ago. I think he may well have experienced some sense of deja vu about many of the matters we have discussed. I would also mention my noble friends Lady Rawlings, Lady Seccombe and Lady Gardner of Parkes. They, like me, saw the merits of the Bill and accepted the genuine attempt by the Government to address very real problems, some of which certainly impact very greatly on the taxpayer.

The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, cited the Bill as one that impacts way beyond the confines of this House. I hope I never claim that any one Bill does that. I joined this House in 1987. I have not known a single Bill that does not resonate beyond the confines of this House. I sometimes think that we become rather too cosy in this place, without realising the impact of what we do here. I mention recent Bills. We had the Criminal Appeals Bill, which affects very important people outside this House. We have had education Bills, health Bills, the Family Law Bill, the Defamation Bill. There is not a single piece of legislation which is destined to impact only upon people within these hallowed walls.

The only other point I wish to mention in detail at this moment is addressed to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who described race relations in this country as being on a knife edge. I believe that statement does a disservice to the many people in our communities--

Earl Russell: My Lords--

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Earl will have a proper opportunity to reply to what I am saying later. I am proposing that this Bill do now pass. I have no doubt that the noble Earl will have the opportunity to speak in due course. I think such statements do a disservice to the many people in the community who have worked assiduously for good race relations, underpinned, I might say, by an extremely effective piece of legislation, the 1976 Race Relations Act. Perhaps I may also say--because the noble Earl was rather selective in his comments about the CRE--that the Commission for Racial Equality made clear in its

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report that it thought race relations in this country compared favourably set against the levels of xenophobia in many neighbouring European countries.

The noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, is not in his place at the moment, but I promised that I would refer to what might be described as his "Bill do now pass" speech made yesterday. I was grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. He reminded us that many established and valued communities arrived here as refugees and that this country has an honourable tradition of harbouring those at risk of persecution. We attach great importance to preserving that tradition. He reminded us also that this is an exceptionally densely populated country and that many plead persecution when what draws them here is economic advantage. All that I welcome. I agree with the noble Lord even though I naturally regret that he did not feel able to support us on benefit proposals. Nevertheless, I appreciate his contribution to our debate.

The Bill reflects this Government's long-standing view that firm immigration control is a necessary condition for preserving this country's good record on race relations. The Government remain wholly committed to fair asylum procedures and fair immigration procedures. We intend to continue to comply with our international obligations, and in particular with the 1951 convention on refugees. Indeed, we fully intend to preserve this country's long and honourable tradition of providing refuge to those genuinely at risk of persecution. The Bill is not only consistent with all those objectives; it is essential if the United Kingdom is to continue to achieve them. That is why I commend the measure to your Lordships.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(Baroness Blatch.)

The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Nicol): My Lords, I have to inform the House that in the second Division the total for the Not-Contents should have been 144 and not 145, as was announced earlier.

6.45 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Minister in the speech she has just made, sought to give the impression that this is somehow a coherent and principled response to the problems, which all acknowledge, of how to deal with asylum and asylum claimants and how to deal with immigration. Of course it is no such thing. This Bill is a ragbag of hurried, mostly ill-thought-out attempts to deal with the deficiencies of the legislation which the Government themselves passed in 1993 in the Asylum and Immigrations Appeals Act. Some of these attempts are trivial and will have very little effect. Some of them are more important and more dangerous; but all of them are objectionable in some way or another. This is a bad series of small measures put together to form what is inevitably a bad Bill.

The Minister referred to changes which have taken place in this House. There have indeed been quite a number of them. Changes on Divisions have seen to it that there will be no "fast tracking" of victims of torture from the so-called white list countries. Changes made

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yesterday will make sure that there is a three-day period of grace for asylum seekers in which to claim asylum after they have entered the country, without losing benefits. A further change made yesterday on a Division provides protection for abused domestic workers.

In addition to that, it is only right to acknowledge that a number of changes have taken place by concessions on the part of the Government rather than in Divisions and also through assurances which have been given in the course of debate. The thoroughly objectionable word "immigrant" has been removed from the face of the Bill, although the intention of what we objected to is still there in the phrase:

    "a person subject to immigration control".

There have been minor improvements in relation to advisers, who could run a risk of prosecution for giving advice to asylum seekers. An assurance has been given that persecution other than by the state or agents of the state in other countries will be recognised as persecution within the terms of the legislation, as is already the case in the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees. There is now a provision that the adjudicator can direct the Secretary of State to assist the return of a successful appellant who had been removed. There have also been changes with regard to affirmative resolution procedures.

However, there are still many grave defects in the Bill. It is still the case that what are called "fast-track procedures" will mean that some cases--inevitably, a substantial number of genuine cases--will not receive proper consideration and that appellants will not be present for their own appeals. It is widely agreed by those with experience of appeals that that reduces the likelihood of their appeals being properly heard or resulting in a proper conclusion.

As a result of the amendments introduced yesterday--I shall have to return briefly to this issue--many people will be left destitute and homeless, and inevitably, as even the Government admit, they will include genuine asylum seekers. Because of the provisions (not so much on immigration but particularly on employment) it will still be the case that black and Asian British citizens will have to prove their immigration status when they apply for jobs, housing, child benefit or any of the other benefits which are dealt with in Clause 11. I believe that there will inevitably be an increase in discrimination against black and Asian citizens, many of whom have been properly in this country for many years and who may be the descendants of those who came to this country over the centuries.

I am sorry to say that it is still the case that immigration offences will be ranked alongside murder, rape and armed robbery in seriousness and that powers of warrant will still apply to immigration offences as if they were as serious as the offences which I have just mentioned. The Government have failed to address the true level of the seriousness of immigration offences. They have also failed to address the issue of the registration of immigration advisers. I deny the Minister's allegation that we were somehow being lax on racketeering. On the contrary, we believe that the

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Government's proposals on racketeering are thoroughly inadequate. A number of our amendments were intended to improve the situation.

I have to say something about the new clause, now Clause 11, which was introduced yesterday. It was introduced in a very great hurry at the end of the proceedings in both Houses. It seeks to deal with the dilemma that was recognised by the Court of Appeal on 21st June when it said that legally the Government were in error in introducing changes to primary legislation by means of the regulations which came into force on 5th February. However, the judgment went very much further in its description of the effects of those regulations--now primary legislation. Let us acknowledge that the Government have rectified the legal problem identified by the Court of Appeal, but they have not recognised the true horror of having in this country significant numbers of people who are asylum claimants, who are here in order to be asylum claimants, who are recognised as asylum claimants but who are being left without any means of support and, as the Court of Appeal said, in a state of destitution. That cannot be a civilised way to treat people who are, if not our fellow citizens, at least our fellow inhabitants of the British Isles. This hasty attempt to overturn the decision of the Court of Appeal will redound to the discredit of this Government as a government of a civilised country.

The way in which the Government have dealt with Parliament will also redound to their discredit. The time available to us for consideration of the new government amendments, which were not available until late on Thursday afternoon, was quite inadequate for proper consideration. Indeed, it was in the middle of that debate yesterday afternoon that we learned that further government amendments were being tabled to their own amendment--even as we were debating it. We now know that those government amendments were withdrawn. Were they justified or not? If they were justified, the Government should have persisted in them. If they were not justified, we can presume that the new government amendment is defective in ways that we do not know.

It is difficult to understand what the Minister said about the Government's reaction to the defeat that they suffered yesterday. I took down what the noble Baroness said. She said that the Government would consider how to respond to the amendment "when the Bill returns". What does that mean? Is the amendment to be accepted in the Commons or is it to be changed there? What does "returns" mean? Does it mean when the Bill "returns to this House" or when it "returns to the Commons"--

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