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Baroness Ludford: My Lords, is it not a fact that the Government's promise of a fairer, firmer and faster asylum policy is in tatters, with the combination of a huge backlog of cases and the unworkable voucher system? It is a bureaucratic mess which is unfair on applicants, more expensive than it need be for taxpayers, and mean towards destitute asylum seekers. Will the Government change their mind on the Immigration and Asylum Bill which incorporates some of the worst features of the existing system?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the Immigration and Asylum Bill has not yet become law. The Government's policy is not in tatters. The White Paper was generally well received as a long-overdue, fundamental review of a system which is presently a shambles. We want to be firmer, fairer and faster. I believe that when that Bill passes through your Lordships' House--to general acclaim, I dare say--we shall have an asylum and immigration system which is capable of working fairly, firmly and efficiently.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, with reference to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, can the Minister remind the House what percentage of applicants are found to deserve the right of asylum, what percentage are found to deserve the right of exceptional leave to remain and therefore, by subtraction, what numbers of applications are at best unfounded and at worst simply bogus?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, perhaps I may continue. I have given those figures on previous occasions. I shall write again to the noble Lord so that he may have the satisfaction of making such point as has merit.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, is it not the case that although the Minister was accurate in what he said about the penalty clause in response to the question from the noble Countess, Lady Mar, Siemens will be paid mainly by reference to the savings to the department in question, when those savings are made? As well as the computer problems to which reference has already been made, are there not also simultaneous and enormous problems arising from the decision, which incidentally was taken after the election, I believe, to move some hundreds of thousands of files to Croydon, many of which were lost on the way, which is why documents
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, Siemens Business Services has certainly incurred higher costs as a consequence of what happened with regard to the computer programme delivery and it has received less income than would otherwise have been the case. The noble Lord is right that the problems are not limited only to asylum cases. I tried to subdivide the figures earlier to make it plain that there is no such limitation. The noble Lord is also right that about 1,000 staff and 150,000 files were subsequently physically relocated. In conjunction with the computer problems, I say again (for perhaps the fourth or fifth time) that that relocation caused serious problems which should never have been allowed to come about.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, no applicant will be disadvantaged by the changes that we are in the process of making. I made that plain in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. Any asylum seeker, or anyone who has a right to the assistance of the state, will continue to benefit, irrespective of the problems that I have described.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, will the Government publish a comprehensive reply to the report by the Comptroller and Auditor-General? In the meantime, have they anything to say about the recommendation that the Government should consider whether awarding such very large contracts in one lump (amounting to £77 million, I think) is a sensible policy, and whether the department had sufficient resources to manage a project of that magnitude? As so many large contracts entered into by government for the provision of computer services come unstuck--this is the latest of about five such instances--does not the noble Lord think that that recommendation should be taken particularly seriously?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, speaking for myself and for the department, I believe that any comments, criticisms or recommendations made by the National Audit Office should be given the most careful and scrupulous attention. Indeed, the great benefit of that report was that it sought to draw out lessons for future private finance initiatives. I believe that there are lessons to be learned. It is foolish to pretend the opposite. I hope that we shall endeavour to learn those lessons.
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, is it the Government's intention to move more hearings for asylum seekers outside London and, if so, will that not cause many problems for legal advisers and the asylum seekers themselves? Will it not slow up the whole process?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it should not slow up the process. If one looks at the way it works at the moment, on some occasions the lists may be overfull in the London area, but with spare adjudication capacity outside London. If one has spare capacity and one wants speedy, efficient and fair determination, one ought to use that spare capacity.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, may I assist the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, by asking whether he is aware that, if my memory holds correct--and it may well not--of 100 applicants for asylum only about 17 are shown to be proper and appropriate applications and not the majority, as his noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis suggested?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, bearing in mind the consistently cordial relationship that the noble Earl and I have, I know that he was intending to be helpful. I know that his memory is infallible and therefore he may well be right. However, I do not have the figures in front of me and it would be wrong of me to pretend that I have them.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, in considering the National Audit Office report, should not noble Lords bear in mind that it found that the procurement was managed in a businesslike way at the start and that the contract still offers high net benefits?
Lord Carter: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Leader of the House I beg to move the Motion standing in her name on the Order Paper. In doing so I hope that the House will find it helpful to know that the
Moved, That Standing Order 38 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) is dispensed with so far as is necessary to enable the Motion standing in the name of the Lord Gilbert to be taken after the Third Reading of the Health Bill.--(Lord Carter.)
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, the House will know that on Monday and Tuesday of next week we are dealing with the Second Reading of the Bill to reform your Lordships' House. Before there is a howl of protest from noble Lords opposite, this is not a ploy to delay the passage of the Bill. The date of the first day in Committee has already been fixed.
Before coming into the Chamber I checked on the number of speakers. There are now about 180 Members of your Lordships' House who wish to play a part in the debate. Furthermore, it has been announced that there is to be a Statement on Monday afternoon on a report on the Berlin summit. There is every possibility and likelihood of there being further government Statements including one on Kosovo.
It is also my understanding that the House should rise at 11 o'clock on Monday because the House sits at 11 o'clock on Tuesday morning. There is a convention that allows the staff who serve this House to have a 12-hour break between the two Sittings. In view of that fact it is unlikely that we shall be able to listen to more than 60 or 70 speakers on Monday. That means that even though we are starting the debate at about 11.30 on Tuesday, there will be between 110 and 120 speakers to be heard on Tuesday. We could be sitting into the small hours of Wednesday morning. Every extra minute that Peers speak will add another two hours to the debate.
It has also been brought to my attention that there is a very small number of speakers for the balloted debates on Wednesday. I would like to test the Government Chief Whip's mind and offer him two alternatives; either we sit again on Wednesday morning for two or three hours in order to complete the Second Reading; or the Government find an alternative time for the balloted debates when we return after Easter and devote that time to finishing the Second Reading.
I do this in a spirit of helpfulness and it is a genuine inquiry. I have been approached by many Members on my side of the House who wonder why we must sit so late on Tuesday when we can sit on Wednesday. As the House will know, many noble Lords have cleared their diaries for next week in order to deal with this particular issue. I very much hope that the Government Chief Whip can be helpful.
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