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Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said, the question is whether we intend to ask another place to think again. That entitlement is very rarely used. This is a particularly sensitive time. The party opposite has certain proposals that will affect the ethos and independence of this House, and there are constitutional consequences which urge a degree of caution.
I am grateful to see the noble Earl, Lord Russell, in his place. I wish to refer to his letter in The Times today. The noble Earl says that to accede to this amendment and to ask another place to think again would be a mere exercise of executive control. It would be far more than that. Let us face it; in effect we should be running the gauntlet of confrontation with another place which has, in substance, already considered this argument and expressed its will.
The name of the game this afternoon is not ping-pong. It is much more akin to Russian roulette. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, seems to ignore all the sensitive constitutional considerations which must be taken into account in this matter. There is a paradox here. Perhaps, if I may say so without offence, it is an apparently somewhat cynical paradox. The party which, if it gets the chance, is moving towards a form of instant government without the Parliament Acts--
Lord Campbell of Alloway: In my respectful opinion, my Lords, much as I respect the noble Lord, I feel that if he would open his mind to the situation, he might see that there is an appearance of cynicism behind this. Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to explain. What in effect is happening is that the party opposite, for which the noble Lord speaks presumably on this occasion, is committed--unlike the noble Earl, Lord Russell--to the formation of a form of instant government without the Parliament Acts, and on this occasion, he now has resort to the Parliament Acts to delay and defeat the will of the elected Chamber. If we were to accept this amendment, the effect could but be to add grist to the mill grinding away at our own delaying powers. So much for the constitutional position.
As to the merits of the argument, I totally accept what my noble friend the Minister said about the tide of applications, the abuse, the benefit applications by economic migrants and the racketeers. In a previous debate, with other noble Lords I supported the idea that there should be clear, precise, cautionary information given at all ports of entry. I believe that on that matter I join forces with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. But I oppose this amendment, which extends benefit rights so widely--indeed to illegal entrants. Every word that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, rings only too true to my ears.
Fewer than one in 10 have been found to be genuine asylum seekers. Only 3 per cent. of asylum appeal decisions result in the grant of refugee status. With the greatest respect and humility before the noble and right reverend Lord, I wonder whether in regard to constitutional consequences he truly knows what he does. He, of us all, will remember Ecclesiastes, Chapter III. Perhaps he may ponder on a time to insist and a time not to insist. I most respectfully suggest that this of all times is a time for restraint.
The Lord Bishop of Liverpool: My Lords, I think that it would be good if your Lordships' House came back to the subject of asylum seekers. I support the amendment. I believe that it is a genuine attempt--and the Government should recognise it as such--to meet the detailed objections that were made in another place to the amendment which was carried with support from
The Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, spoke of someone entering as a businessman being rewarded. Does he truly believe that someone would be admitted today as a businessman and successfully apply on Thursday as an asylum seeker? The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, rightly drew attention to the higher proportion of in-country applications. Noble Lords will see the force of that and the danger that genuine asylum seekers will be returned to countries where they are in great danger.
This is a very modest amendment which speaks of "within three working days". Do we have to speak all over again of people who may have been the victims of torture or have reason to flee for their lives, who come, not knowing the language, to a country which has, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, regulations that are just as difficult as sheer language problems? Of course many are scared when they face officialdom again. The noble Lord, Lord Carr, made it clear that it is not a calm and easy situation. The Minister spoke logically and coolly, as though it were a calm and straightforward situation when someone is desperately hoping that he might be able to find a place of refuge. I regret that in his description he made no reference to the kind of situations from which asylum seekers may have come. Three days to take some advice does not mean a change in principle from applying at the port of entry.
I led an ecumenical delegation to see Mr. Howard last autumn. This withdrawal of benefit was still only an idea at that time but we questioned him about it. He told me that he believed that Britain was regarded as a soft touch. Perhaps he feels that something good has been achieved now that Britain is regarded as a brutal touch, and fewer asylum seekers, including fewer genuine asylum seekers, try to come here. I am dismayed that Britain is regarded as a brutal touch.
I am very disturbed to note that in the letter to which I have already referred from the Secretary of State for Social Security to Julian Brazier, a Minister of the Crown continues to use the loaded word "bogus"--I regret that the Minister used it again today--to describe those who do not qualify by the Home Office rules as asylum seekers. Ministers repeatedly quote the figures that 4 per cent. are granted the status of genuine asylum seekers and therefore 96 per cent. are bogus. It is a classic case of putting up a new set of hurdles and then declaring that anyone who fails to leap over them is bogus. We should stop using the word in that context.
It interested me to discover that the Daily Mail ferreted out where the church was and sent a team to spend the day checking up on what we had said. No doubt it would have splashed the story across the paper if it could have disproved our letter. But it was just as we had said and the Daily Mail printed nothing. Do not let facts disturb a campaign!
Lord Elton: My Lords, it is an uncomfortable position in which to be as a Back-Bencher when one's head and one's heart pull in opposite directions. In private life one responds almost inevitably to the heart; in government affairs one must keep them in balance, and that is what we on the Back-Benches are seeking to do. I find the names subscribed to the correspondence about these amendments and some of the speakers to be people for whom I have an extremely high regard. But perhaps my noble friend the Minister can help some of us in our difficulties.
First, we must forget the issue of the economic refugee; compelling though it is, it is not the question before this House, as the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, rightly said. It is an emotive issue but it is not relevant to our present debate. We are discussing a relatively small number of people who come to this country in search of freedom from fear and persecution and who satisfy the criteria set, as I understand it, by the United Nations.
Is it the case that every airline is under a duty to secure that the passengers coming to this country have legitimate papers to gain them entry? If so, presumably those people had to go to a British diplomatic power based abroad in order to secure those papers. That is the first opportunity at which, without any stress or duress, the terms under which entry to this country is accepted can be made clear to them. It may be that because local people are employed by those embassies, the prospective refugees may feel that such a declaration of interest imperils them and will keep it to themselves.
Next, the prospective refugees board the aircraft and before they can land in this country they must complete a landing card. It is a simple document. Is that document--if not, can it be?--presented in such a way that it contains, in most of the languages likely to be spoken by refugees, a description of the process to the extent that either one declares one's hand at the port of entry or one loses one's chance? It is against that loss of chance that this amendment is directed.
We next come to the point of entry. It would be helpful to know what are the conditions there. My noble friend Lord Carr spoke of his sight of it many years ago. It would be helpful to know whether things are the same now and whether translation services are readily and easily available. That is the point at which those who have not declared their hand at the embassy, who obtained entry papers perhaps under false pretences to gain access to the aeroplane and who were not persuaded by the landing card that they should declare their hand at once may be retrieved.
Those are the safety nets. Another one was usefully made clear by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams; that is, appeals after entry against an unreasonable requirement to make a declaration. Two cases were cited which I should have thought exactly match the criteria which describe the people the amendment seeks to protect.
It seems to me that there are at least five levels of protection in existence. My noble friend the Minister must convince your Lordships that those levels of protection exist and work. I found the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, coming as he does from the Cross-Benches and not always a friend to the Government, to be a practical illustration of real life; and it is real life we are talking about and not the heart.
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