Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the five-day limitation is that which presently obtains for others. A good deal of thought has been given to that limitation. As to the backlog, my noble and learned friend is both right and wrong. Of the backlog to which I referred--10,000 over five years old (pre-June 1993)--they are not appeals at all. In those cases not even an initial decision has been taken. Therefore, they are not part of the appeal backlog. I am aware, however, of the second point to which my noble and learned friend has alluded. He asked whether the resource that was available for the hearing of appeals was being properly used on a nationwide basis. I believe that there is a very good case for concluding that the system should be used more flexibly as my noble and learned friend implies. Certainly, that is something that is under consideration. We also want to give the appeal tribunal greater status so that it is less likely to be the subject of successful applications for judicial review.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I too should like to commend the comments of the Minister about the provision of written reasons and keeping a register of lawyers. There are some very unscrupulous lawyers who have been battening on the misery of people trying to emigrate to this country. Perhaps I may ask the Minister to look again at two issues that particularly affect genuine refugees. Like most of the House, I recognise that not everybody falls into that category. The five-day limit bites particularly hard on people who claim that they have been tortured. Often these are people who have been the most outstanding dissenters or fighters for democracy in authoritarian regimes. I do not understand how any genuine refugee who falls into this category can hope to obtain an adequate medical examination for his appeal within five days. Associated with that, I am extremely troubled by the remarks of the Minister on the subject of documentation. He explained helpfully that no one with proper documentation would be refused entry, but he did not say what steps might be taken by someone with inadequate documentation to indicate that he was a genuine refugee. Again, the five-day limit is particularly hard on those who are most probably real refugees--people without adequate documentation and with very serious charges of abuse, torture or other maltreatment in the countries from which they have come.

Finally, I ask him to consider whether some small cash element might remain in the support that refugees will be given, all the more because they will be dispersed. I have in mind the issues of how a refugee will ring his lawyer and how he will travel to a place at which he may meet an NGO interested in his case. In other words, will the noble Lord consider a margin of cash--I am asking only for a margin--which will enable genuine refugees to reach, associate with and meet those who intend to assist them?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, obviously I shall bear in mind what the noble Baroness said about the

27 Jul 1998 : Column 1258

five-day limit, not least--and I am not being discourteous--because that point was made so valiantly by my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell a moment or two ago. All I can say is that we shall listen carefully to what has been said.

The question of documentation is not always easy. It is not always the position that someone has left his or her country of origin without documentation but that sometimes documentation is forged; sometimes it is acquired here on the basis of forgery; and also that there is in many cases--this is not simply anecdotal--a deliberate, wilful destruction of documents when the airliner has already been boarded. We cannot pretend that these things do not happen. We do have a duty, which is not an overarching duty but a significant duty, first, to genuine asylum seekers and, secondly, to people who already live in this country.

I think I can assist the noble Baroness on the question of a cash margin. I shall re-read the single sentence in paragraph 24 of the Statement that is of relevance:

    "Support will, therefore, be separated from the main social security benefits system"--

these are the words for which I think the noble Baroness is looking--

    "and will principally be provided in kind, and not in cash".

I think that is the indication--perhaps it is a nudge--at which the noble Baroness wanted me to look.

Lord Brightman: My Lords, I wish to raise a brief point on the British Refugee Council panel of advisers for unaccompanied refugee children. This invaluable non-statutory scheme was set up by the Home Office a few years ago as a result of debate in this House. Is the Minister able to give an assurance that the scheme, which costs very little to run, will continue in operation?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I am personally sympathetic to the noble and learned Lord's point. At the moment I am intending to be the messenger, waiting for the message. In fact, I am happy to combine being the messenger and giving the message, because, extremely quietly, my noble friend Lord Hoyle transmitted the message. The scheme will continue.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, the Government deserve congratulations on tackling this whole matter in the comprehensive way set out in the White Paper. The word "shambles" was used a number of times. That is clearly the correct word to use about the present situation. It is a situation for which the previous government must bear as much responsibility as the present government. But I am not sure that they were to blame. The blame is in regard to the failure of administration--I have some sympathy with the point raised by the noble Earl--of successive generations in the Home Office to tackle the matter efficiently. If one wants an illustration of that one has only to look at paragraphs 11.14 and 11.15 of the White Paper on fingerprinting. The situation is quite lamentable.

Perhaps I may ask the Minister two questions. First, does he recognise that in order to have a much better system of identification we need to introduce a

27 Jul 1998 : Column 1259

national identity number not only for citizens in this country, for which one does not exist at the moment, but particularly for people who have been processed under the existing and will be processed under the planned system of immigration control? Secondly, may I emphasise the reference to ill considered legislation, which is one of the reasons why the system has not worked up to now? Perhaps I may suggest that, frankly, this is an extremely good argument for the continuation of your Lordships' House as a scrutinising Chamber.

I wish to ask a specific question on asylum seekers' support, which in the annex to the White Paper is put down for the present year and the coming year as £350 million. That is a significant sum. The annex shows "n/a" for 1997-98 and for 1996-97. Can the noble Lord give some idea of how the £350 million compares with previous years' expenditure for the same purposes? Is this expenditure to be cash limited?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Lord made some extremely important comments when he directed your Lordships' attention to paragraphs 11.14 and 11.15 of the White Paper. Paragraph 11.15 is really rather lamentable. Perhaps it is worth looking at. It states:

    "The system is outdated and requires investment before it can add significantly to the removals effort. We will be considering the extent to which the use of targeted fingerprinting with commensurate technical support would substantially strengthen the enforcement effort. The protocol to the Eurodac Convention referred to later in this chapter will, in any event, require a change to our existing legislation to provide for the routine fingerprinting of certain illegal immigrants".

Furthermore, and again taking up the noble Lord's point, at the bottom of page 58 the White Paper helpfully sets out:

    "The following elements of the strategy can only be achieved with primary legislation".

A menu is then set out there for those who, like the noble Lord, think that this House has a useful function as a revising Chamber, which, of course, he put to me entirely non-controversially.

The Secretary of State's Statement in another place indicated that one might be looking to a special committee to deal with these areas. Essentially, what we need is an efficient outcome and not to be clouded by partisan jibes of who should have done what over the past 25 years. I have tried to avoid that this afternoon. Certainly, an enormous amount of scrutiny will be required because one is looking, I hope, at a rational spectrum to put right what has not been put right, or to put right what has been approached in a piecemeal fashion in the past.

On the expenditure questions, the expenditure will decline as the process speeds up, beginning with the clearance of the backlog. I do not think that is a complete answer in terms of the detail the noble Lord wanted. I shall do my best to research the figures but they are really quite complex to obtain. The equivalents he wanted were between a figure of, say, £350 million when support is transferred to Home

27 Jul 1998 : Column 1260

Office control as opposed to all those elements of housing benefit, general support, local authority costings and so forth. I shall do my best to research those figures--they are rather difficult and perhaps sometimes shrouded in mystery--and write to the noble Lord as soon as I can.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page