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Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I can only agree with the noble Lord that we must inform ourselves as best we can and take account of every avenue of scientific advice available to us in order to improve both the science base and our competitive performance in industry, which is vital. If the Answers appear wooden and dismal it is because the Questions appear so repetitive.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, as the individual to whom the Minister is probably referring, may I ask him whether he accepts that science tends to follow fashions and that different scientists have different ideas? One of the problems with experts is that they

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know all the answers so they do not ask the questions. Therefore, will the Minister accept that the Government's latest proposals are very welcome to me? I hope that we shall have a fresh wind blowing through MAFF and the Ministry of Defence.

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I am extremely glad that there is a supportive comment on the whole question of the way in which we consult and develop policy. I took the noble Countess's comments to be very supportive, particularly in relation to those areas which apply to scientists and the science base. We have a wide range of research councils and extremely good advice on science. Long may that continue.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that there is sometimes a language problem when scientists communicate with lay people and that when, for example, scientists say, as they frequently do--and I am talking about the meaning of the word "evidence" here--that there is no evidence to show such and such, often what they mean is either that they are not yet 95 per cent. certain or else "We haven't actually looked"?

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, as a modern linguist it has often proved difficult for me to understand some of the submissions from scientists that I have received in my industrial career. It has struck me recently that their ability to give evidence to require the political system to provide answers has been successful to the extent that they have secured an extra £1.1 billion on their spending budget, which was already, in private and government hands, at £14.4 billion. Therefore, it seems to me that there is evidence that their communication is both successful and clear.

Earl Russell: My Lords, if the Minister has found the noble Countess's Questions repetitive, does he agree that on occasion that may be because they have been answered at the seventh rather than the first time of asking? Do I take it from the encouraging words that I have heard exchanged that that will no longer take place?

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, I can only speak for my own position in response to the noble Earl. I am now answering for the second time. I hope that I bring wholly good news on a series of repetitive questions that amount to two.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, the noble Lord makes much of the business of repetitive questions. Will he accept an assurance from this side of the House that Questions will cease to be repetitive just as soon as they receive satisfactory answers?

Lord Simon of Highbury: My Lords, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. I hope that the noble Lord is satisfied with an increase of £1.1 billion in the science budget over three years and the extension of research councils. I am sure that all noble Lords will look forward to the good news which the Prime Minister may bring about these matters when he makes a Statement later in the day.

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Asylum System: Abuse

3.2 p.m.

Lord Renton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress has been made since 31st December 1997 in reducing the number of bogus asylum seekers in the United Kingdom.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, provisional figures show that more than 3,000 failed asylum seekers have been removed from the United Kingdom in the first six months of 1998. The White Paper Fairer, faster and firmer: a modern approach to immigration and asylum published yesterday includes measures to minimise further the scope for abuse of the asylum system and to increase our ability to remove those who have no basis of stay in the United Kingdom.

Lord Renton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply and for what he is doing in trying to deal with this problem. Bearing in mind that tyranny has greatly increased in the world in recent years and that a very high proportion of asylum seekers prefer to come here rather than to spread themselves elsewhere, perhaps even to other countries within the European Union, has not the time come to renegotiate the 1951 convention on refugees?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, tyranny has certainly spread and that means that the victims of tyranny have increased substantially. One of the reasons that people seek to come to this country is that they hope they will receive a civilised reception. Certainly I bear in mind carefully what the noble Lord said. His namesake made the same point a few days ago. The 1951 convention is now historic but it still has a good deal of underlying validity.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the proportion of refugees attempting to enter Germany continues to be substantially higher than in this country; and that proportionately, the number seeking to enter Holland--a country considerably smaller in population terms--is higher than in this country? Does he agree that the central dilemma for the Home Office is to distinguish between those seeking to enter this country for entirely economic reasons and those who have great cause to seek asylum because of the positions they have taken in fighting tyranny?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is certainly right to observe that Germany and Holland bear an enormous burden of refugees. In many ways, they have discharged their burden admirably. It is a mistake to concentrate always on the pressures on the United Kingdom.

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The noble Baroness identifies the dilemma absolutely correctly. We must say no to economic migrants. We have treaty obligations and, I dare say, moral commitments to behave properly to those who are genuinely in need of asylum.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that everyone in this House will welcome the steps which the Government are taking to deal with bogus asylum seekers? But will he recognise this country's honourable and ancient tradition of providing asylum for people who are in real danger? Will he give the House an assurance that every step will be taken to try to preserve their right to seek asylum in this land?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I confirm that. Quite apart from treaty and moral obligations, I believe that this country--and many in your Lordships' House are testimony to it--has benefited infinitely from giving an open, generous welcome to refugees, not least in the years before 1939. It is a difficult dilemma. Those who abuse the system, or try to, are causing great damage and distress, which is avoidable damage and distress, for those who have genuine claims.

Earl Russell: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is no litmus test which makes it possible to distinguish between a bogus asylum seeker and a genuine refugee before their claims are heard? Therefore, will he agree further that the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is one to which neither he nor anyone else can possibly know the answer?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not believe that the absolutist nature of the noble Earl's proposition is absolutely right in every conceivable circumstance. I can think of some instances--I have seen them myself--when it is obvious that people are not coming here on the basis of genuine asylum claims. In some circumstances, one can detect the bogus quite easily. But that is not so in all cases, which is why we must have a regime such as the Home Secretary is about constructing.

Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, in the context of the encouraging White Paper published yesterday, it becomes imperative to encourage all those handling detained asylum seekers to remember the overriding commitment at all times to preserve their dignity and to respect their potential rights and not to fall into the trap of being afraid of public opinion whipped up by the use of words like "bogus"?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, my noble friend makes an extremely important point. Case working is an extremely difficult job. It deserves the admiration of us all. Everyone who works in this area needs to be aware that people are frightened; they come from different cultural backgrounds; they are unhappy in a foreign land; and, very often, their linguistic skills are limited. That is a constant theme of training which the Home Office encourages.

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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, does the Minister accept that many of us who have spoken in this House in the past about the need for provision for asylum seekers to be a national responsibility are delighted that the White Paper is now taking away the burden from particular centres such as London which were carrying that burden? I am pleased to see that there will be one offer of accommodation for people. At present, Westminster Council and other councils arrange for people to go to, for example, Liverpool and Great Yarmouth. Many people who have extremely desirable accommodation arranged for them simply vanish. Only a very small number arrive at their destination or they arrive, and then vanish. How do the Government propose to deal with that problem?


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