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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: What!

Lord Renton: My Lords, we have much less than when I was young between the wars, and much less than in the late 1940s and early 1950s. But besides dealing with child poverty, governments have to deal with education problems, the health service, housing problems, drugs, terrorism, and unemployment. They have to find money--the people's money--by direct and indirect taxation for those and many other matters. It is taxpayers at all levels of society from whom the money has to be obtained to deal with those problems.

Governments have to have priorities. They cannot pour out money on every good cause, as I have said. I do not know whether any noble Lord on the Opposition Front Bench can correct me, but I read in one of the Sunday newspapers that the Leader of the Opposition in another place is reported as saying that he would not, if there were a Labour Government, increase government expenditure. Let him tell that to those who want to cause the Government to increase the large sums already being spent on asylum seekers and other people trying to get in here, of whom, as has been said, there were 55,000 last year of whom only 5 per cent. were granted asylum on arrival. Of the many more who appealed, only 3 per cent. of the appeals were successful.

There has been a far greater increase in the number of people trying to come in and settle in this country than in any other European country. That is so, despite what the noble Baroness was saying earlier. The millions of pounds which the Government have been spending hearing the cases of those who want to come here and in maintaining them is something we have to bear in mind. The problems must be dealt with. Thank goodness we have a government who had the courage and determination to introduce the Bill and, I hope, get it through both Houses of Parliament in order to deal with these problems.

7.20 p.m.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the noble Lord said that he wanted to put the Bill in its proper context. He did that by prefacing that section of his speech with a reference to the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962. We are concerned not with the people who are being

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tortured or extrajudicially executed, or who want to escape from such regimes and come to this country; we are talking about a device which the Government are using to limit immigration by the back door. By imposing serious financial penalties on people who may well have a perfectly legitimate claim to asylum, they are seeking to make it impossible for them to pursue a claim by starving them into submission.

The way in which the Bill has been handled is utterly unacceptable. To chop it up and then reconstitute it like a kedgeree, bringing it back in different sections, has been very confusing and created enormous difficulties for noble Lords who have attempted to take part in the proceedings. I am afraid that the Bill will leave this House with serious defects which no one has yet been able to identify; that those will lead to serious confusion and error in the administration of the Bill and defeats for the Government in the courts. I certainly hope that that will be the case because I believe that the Government have brought that on their own heads by rushing through this legislation in a totally unnecessary manner. The House could well have sat for another week in order to have given your Lordships adequate time to consider all the amendments that were tabled at a late stage on Thursday afternoon.

My principal reason for wanting to speak at this stage is that while your Lordships have been proceeding on the assumption that, as my noble friend Lord Russell said, the Bill must be judged in the light of its compatibility with our international obligations, the Foreign Secretary has been talking about material alterations in the convention in, of all places, Jeddah. The Foreign Secretary goes to a country which is renowned for indulging in public executions, endemic torture, detentions without trial and all the other evils which cause people to go into asylum and chooses that place of all places in the world to talk about amendments to the United Nations Convention on Refugees. Admittedly, he was speaking in the context of the world attack on terrorism following the Sharm el Sheikh summit and the G7 meeting at which President Clinton said that a new confrontation with terrorism was necessary. I do not disagree with that. I believe that the world must face up to terrorism which is instigated in certain countries. In that connection I speak particularly of Iran because we all know that that is the hotbed of world terrorism. It is no good concealing that fact from ourselves.

As an international community we need to take every possible measure to confront terrorism. However, if the Foreign Secretary is saying that we have to do that by limiting the rights which people have hitherto enjoyed under the United Nations convention it is an extremely sad day for this country. It is sad that Britain of all countries should be taking the lead in whittling down those rights, although it is of a piece with the remarks which the right honourable gentleman made on other occasions, in particular the interview he gave to the Arabic newspaper Al Hayyat immediately after he took office. He then made a blanket condemnation of Arab and Moslem dissidents coming to this country. If we are in the process of making radical alterations to the United Nations convention it would have been better if the

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Foreign Secretary had made a Statement in another place rather than doing so in Jeddah where human rights are violated on such an enormous scale--

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, we must be extremely careful about how we address the affairs of a sovereign state, especially a state which has a culture which it upholds.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, that is the opinion of the noble Viscount but I am entitled to express my opinion about the nature of the punishments which are inflicted on people in Saudi Arabia and the incongruity of the Foreign Secretary talking about amending the United Nations Convention on Refugees in such a location. If he had done so in Washington in response to an initiative of President Clinton I should have said that that was a suitable environment in which to discuss the action of the international community against terrorism and the possibility that changes might be effected in the United Nations Convention on Refugees with a particular view to combatting terrorism.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I do not believe that the noble Lord's speech is in the tradition of this House where, on Third Reading, we speak about the Bill. It seems to me to have ranged rather wide. Those of us who would like to say something about the Bill would be very grateful if he could limit those remarks.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I believe that what I am saying is appropriate to the Bill because we are talking about a measure which, as my noble friend Lord Russell remarked, may be considered to be in violation of some of the provisions of the United Nations convention. If we are talking about a convention which is likely to be altered by action prompted by the Foreign Secretary we are entitled to know what he has in mind and what effect that may have on the implications of this legislation. For him to go off to Jeddah and talk about these matters just at the moment when the Bill is before your Lordships in the last stages of its proceedings is highly incongruous and unacceptable.

We have come to the end of these proceedings. It would have been better had we been able to complete the Question that the Bill do now pass without the slur which the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, inflicted on the so-called armchair critics. During its passage through this House we have done our best to try to amend the Bill as we see fit. Perhaps I may say to the noble Baroness that if your Lordships are to work in amity and friendship across the Floor of the House, that kind of remark is best avoided. I believe that if we can maintain civilities between the two Front Benches that will help to smooth the passage of legislation which, as my noble friend remarked, is very difficult indeed.

The noble Baroness challenged us on this side of the House to say what alternatives we have to the proposals in the Bill. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson of Lymington, made what some of us consider to be a very sensible proposal for limiting the rights of asylum

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of people who have been here for some length of time. That would have to be defined but he was referring particularly to those who have been commented upon by the noble Baroness; those who first enter as visitors or in some other capacity, remain here for six months, get an extension for six months and then suddenly wake up to the fact that it is possible to apply for asylum. They then remain for a further period while the appeal is being considered.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, also said that the right way to proceed was by having a sieve which limited access to the appeals system, although he did not go into the same kind of detail as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson. I should have thought that with advice from two such distinguished experts in the law, at some point in the proceedings the noble Baroness would have responded to those initiatives.

The fact is that there are plenty of alternatives and they are not limited to the acceleration of the procedures about which my noble friend Lady Williams rightly commented at earlier stages of the Bill. There is plenty that could have been done to limit the amount of money that is being spent on benefits to asylum seekers. I believe that the provisions which we are now allowing to pass will have a very damaging effect on the most vulnerable sections in our community, including many who have a genuine claim for asylum.

7.30 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I welcome the Third Reading of this Bill. I believe that the debate has been very intense on all sides because views are very sincerely held on all sides. The House must have a degree of understanding of that.

My noble friend Lord Renton referred to the invasion of people before the 1962 Act. I am one of the invaders. I was very sorry that my family and friends were excluded in the way in which many others have been since. But I understand the need for that in a country of this size. Therefore, I believe that the Government have done their best to try to be fair. That is why I support the Bill.

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