Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Earl Russell: My Lords, the Minister will admit what the White Paper says--that many provisions in the Bill are meant to deter. Is not that synonymous with what I said?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: Not really, my Lords. One can deal with people in a fair, decent and appropriate way that is not designed to make life unpleasant but is not saying that we have an open-door policy for economic migration. I have said in the past, and I shall repeat the point if your Lordships will allow me the indulgence, that I sympathise with everyone in the category of economic migrant. If any of your Lordships or I had children and dismal domestic circumstances, such as lack of

29 Jun 1999 : Column 250

work opportunities or other problems, we would want to move. We would want to follow the trail west, as many people did to the United States of America in the 19th century.

However, no government of whatever complexion would reintroduce the policy that once obtained to the eternal benefit of us all when, as she said, the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, came here as an Australian dentist--neither part of which I take as a term of reproach. We shall never be back in that situation and it is deeply unkind to pretend that we ever shall. The United States of America in the early and continuing years of the 19th century is not a model for what our society can ever want or hope to become. That means that decisions will be disagreeable and unpleasant, but the systems need be neither: they need to be fair and proportionate.

We have set ourselves targets to be achieved by April 2001, for most asylum decisions to be made within two months of receipt and, on average, for most appeals to take a further four months. If we can deliver that, we shall have done a considerable service for the people of this country and for those who apply for asylum and appeal. At the moment, average waiting times for appeals are below four months. To meet the two-month target--I am dealing specifically with the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, and I shall go into more detail subsequently--we are spending an extra £120 million on the IND over the next three years, including £60 million on case work. Hundreds more staff will be deployed as case workers, including 200 who are being actively recruited now. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, was quite right to say that that is a different figure from the 300 referred to by your Lordships earlier. Asylum decision-making at the moment is running at 900 per week. That is 160 per cent of the levels achieved before the new team-based system came into effect. Those are the facts.

In the new asylum support arrangements we want a coherent national system that serves asylum seekers and relieves the current burden on local authorities. No one is to be left destitute and the needs of families with children will be fully protected. It is our intention that families with children should receive broadly the same value of support as that which asylum seeker families with children currently receive on the emergency income support rate. I am aware of concerns about the level of provision for children and, as I mentioned when I introduced the Bill, I undertake to give that matter further consideration.

I have to deal with the points raised by several of your Lordships, not least by my noble friend Lord Sheppard. It is important to bear in mind what is being offered before a conclusion is reached about whether it is appropriately generous. The support arrangements will consist of free accommodation, which will be furnished. I stress that, because I have picked up the example mentioned by the right reverend Prelate of the Ugandan young woman who was left in difficult circumstances in unfurnished accommodation. That is not what we are providing.

29 Jun 1999 : Column 251

The accommodation will contain domestic utensils and equipment necessary for a decent level of existence, including linen, pots and pans, cutlery, crockery and so forth. In addition, council tax will be paid and the utilities--gas, electricity and water--will be paid also. The Family Expenditure Survey for 1997-98 shows that households in receipt of social security benefit spent, on fuel and power alone, some £13.12 a week. Those bills will all be paid in addition to the vouchers and cash. We will provide all those benefits--and I make no complaint about that. I simply wish to put the record straight, because there has been much public concern, based on misapprehension.

Vouchers and cash will be paid at a level equivalent to 70 per cent of the income support rate. Of that, as I have said, £10 per week per person will be in cash. We can fairly take the view that the package as a whole is broadly comparable to that which an asylum seeker family in receipt of social security benefits could expect to receive. I do not pretend that that is wealth untold, but it is not unreasonable for a relatively short time if we can deliver on the two-month and four-month targets.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, if it is broadly comparable with the benefits that are received already, what is the point in recruiting 300 extra staff to the Home Office to administer the system, when the social security system is already in place?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, we wanted to have a different system and the people who will run the support system under the control of the Home Office will not simply be concerned with the administration of the voucher scheme. They will also be concerned with support and assistance for those families. In my view, it is prudent to provide an alternative system. At the moment, as I have heard many representatives of London authorities complain, the south-east takes a disproportionate burden. I have already mentioned the social problems and the scarce accommodation resources in London. It is commonplace that units of accommodation are available outside London that are not under the same pressure--I take the noble Baroness's point--that London and other south-east local authorities have had to bear.

My noble friend Lord Sheppard asked whether we would consider all relevant issues before a person is removed from the United Kingdom. Yes, and the Immigration Rules will make it clear that it is the Secretary of State's duty to do so.

The noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Avebury, and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, who has had a continuing interest in the issue, raised the question of the detention of asylum seekers. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, said that in his judgment asylum seekers should only be detained when absolutely necessary. I agree. We have begun to take steps to ensure that those who are not convicted of crime are not kept in prison establishments. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned one scheme that is presently under way

29 Jun 1999 : Column 252

with a single institution ceasing to be used for prison custody purposes and being used for detention purposes.

Most asylum seekers are not detained. No one is detained just because he is an asylum seeker. It is the regrettable fact that we have found some people who will not comply with the terms of temporary admission or release. More than half of those given temporary admission, who would otherwise be liable to detention, simply abscond and that is one of the reasons why I cannot give satisfactory details about who these people are and where they are. For many of them we do not know. I do not think we can tolerate that if we can possibly avoid it.

We are introducing into the Bill--and I am not sure if anyone offered credit for this, so I shall again attribute it to myself--a presumption in favour of bail. That is a presumption in favour of freedom and, I believe, entirely consistent with ECHR and the principles which underpin it.

We have to recognise also that detention will be necessary to effect the removal of those whose claims have been rejected and who refuse to leave the country on a voluntary basis. My Lords, if anyone has a solution to that problem which does not involve detention, I would be most obliged to hear it.

We are going to have routine bail hearings. In using the word "routine" I do not for a moment disregard the importance of these hearings. "Routine" means that this is a protection for the individual. It means bail hearings within eight days after detention and again between 33 and 36 days. Those are important and I believe that if one has a system then one is more likely to be fair.

A question was raised about the opposition to bail hearings in detention centres and prisons. Our intention is to give the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor maximum flexibility in providing suitable facilities for hearings. Where there is a suitable magistrates' court which can cope and can provide proper custody facilities at the court, that will be used. Where that is not the case, we shall only consider using a detention centre or prison where there are discrete facilities provided, first of all to uphold the dignity and independence of the court and, secondly, to provide for public access. I have always thought that there was considerable virtue in at least considering bail applications in these circumstances: where you avoid the disruption of the day and where you avoid sometimes quite lengthy travel.

I stress that detention is used as a last resort. Two of your Lordships were good enough to say that at any one time the percentage is in fact very small. Some detainees have been kept for long periods. It gives me no pleasure to have to say that in the majority of those cases it is because there are last-minute appeals and representations against removal from the United Kingdom.

If one wants to manipulate the judicial review system in this country, it is not difficult to do so. That, pace the noble Earl, Lord Russell, is something which is well known to people and their advisers

29 Jun 1999 : Column 253

when they get to this country. If one looks at the timescale to obtain leave for judicial review and at the timescale which follows in what I will put in inverted commas as a "hearing with expedition", "expedition" in that context is not something which I would recognise as being expeditious. One can play the system perfectly easily.

We are going to provide additional places in purpose-designed centres. We do not want to continue the situation which I have personally witnessed at Rochester Prison, which I and my colleagues have always said is not satisfactory.

We propose to set out on the face of the Bill the exceptions to the presumptions of bail, which will in effect provide guidance to magistrates and adjudicators in the immigration service. The Bill makes provision for representation which we believe is appropriate.

My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis asked whether there would be support for asylum seekers pursuing judicial review. By that stage, they will generally have been considered by the Home Office and the independent immigration appellate authority. Destitute families will continue to be entitled to support under the new arrangements for as long as they remain in this country. Single people will not get support after they have received a negative decision, but we will be making financial provision for the voluntary sector to continue to support cases, where appropriate, where someone is waiting for judicial review.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, asked questions, echoed by others of your Lordships, relating to--he did not put it in this way but others did--burdens put on registrars and ministers of religion. I do not think there is any danger of discrimination here. The problem is confined to marriages after various preliminaries. We do not need to train registrars in immigration law; they simply have to report their suspicions. They have to do that fairly, of course, and their suspicions may relate to those with white skins as well as to those with black skins; but they do not need any particular training for that. It is not discriminatory to say that because the ecclesiastical preliminaries are different in the Church of England and the Church in Wales there is any feeling that those who seek marriages in registry offices are in any way second class or should be discriminated against. In specific answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, there are no new duties put on clergy or ministers.

The duties to report suspicious marriages are to be placed on registrars only. We intend to issue guidance on the relative factors for them to take into account. I am happy to be able to say to both the noble Baroness and to the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that the content of the guidance is being consulted upon with the CRE and with other representative bodies. I hope that is an earnest of our good faith.

Immigration officers who will be able to use the extended powers in Part VII of the Bill will have full comprehensive training before they can exercise them. They will be cautious and start with a small number of officers only.

29 Jun 1999 : Column 254

The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, posed a particular question about the need for the judicial intervention of a magistrate to provide a warrant for entry. That is provided for in the appropriate part of the Bill.

My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis asked about Article 31 of the Refugee Convention. That would be taken into account in deciding whether or not to prosecute; but I have to remind your Lordships that that provision applies only where a refugee has come directly from a country where his life or freedom is threatened. Most of the asylum seekers with whom we are concerned will have transited a safe country or safe third countries before they arrive here.

My Lords, I am most grateful for the courtesy of the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, in giving me notice of his question; that is, how much of the pre-1993 case backlog has been cleared? We have dealt with about 3,500 of the pre-1993 cases. We expect to have dealt with all those cases, now estimated at about 6,500 in total by the end of September. I have to agree that the process was slow initially, because of the need to contact the individuals concerned; that is not always easy with the passage of time. Well over 1,000 cases from the 1993 to 1995 backlog have also been cleared. We are now deciding more of those cases and clearing about 200 per week. I took the trouble to check that because I was about to sign a Written Answer on this question, and the backlog has since gone down even further, which is excellent news.

A question was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, about those who act for humanitarian reasons in assisting persons to enter this country. The extended offence of facilitating entry, Clause 23--about which I think the noble Lord was concerned--does not apply to those who are not acting for gain. It is designed to catch those who do it for commercial reasons, not humanitarian reasons.

Again arising out of the noble Lord's question, carriers' liability charges for carrying inadequately documented passengers are waived when there is a successful asylum claim.

The noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, also asked whether the existing asylum cases would be dealt with under the new or the old law. The asylum claims will continue to be considered in accordance with the 1951 convention. There is no change in that. The Bill does make important changes to some processes, however. An existing case which reaches the appeal stage after the Bill is enforced will therefore be dealt with on the new system, and we shall have to provide transitional arrangements.

The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, asked about monitoring entry clearance in the context of Clause 19. I have to say that the Government are very grateful to the Monitor, Dame Elizabeth Anson, for the wide-ranging manner in which she has carried out her work. We do not think that the clause needs to be amended to specify in any detail which detailed provisions the Monitor can comment on. I believe that my right honourable friend made that plain in another place. Doubtless the Monitor will want to comment on the proposed bond scheme in Clauses 12 and 13.

29 Jun 1999 : Column 255

I personally think that we should welcome such comments, which, judging from past experience, are likely to be constructive and helpful.

We are not undermining the Children Act. That is a very important point. It was necessary to consider this quite carefully because there were a number of concerns expressed, both in the House of Commons and outside. Indeed, much was said in the other place about families with children and we have responded. So Clause 113 imposes a new duty on the Home Secretary to meet the accommodation and essential living needs of destitute asylum seeker families with minor children. This will be comparable to what would otherwise be available in respect of accommodation and essential living needs under Section 17 of the Children Act. I need to stress that all the other safeguards for children contained in that Act will continue to apply. We will ensure that there is 24-hour cover so that families will always have somewhere to turn to in an emergency. As I said a little while ago--too long ago, I am afraid--I shall, as promised, give this particular aspect further consideration.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, asked whether we had paid sufficient attention to the children's charities and similar organisations. I repeat my willingness--indeed, my full willingness--to listen to anything that they have to say and to have such meetings as are thought appropriate.

The noble Countess, Lady Mar, asked whether we would be reluctant to use exceptional leave to remain. I can say that the Home Office is ready to grant ELTR in the sorts of cases mentioned by the noble Countess; for example, in Somali cases, which do not necessarily merit the grant of asylum, and in cases from countries like Algeria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, asked about Clause 87(3). This clause is needed as a fall-back because we may need to make some changes and that provision will be available as a facilitator. It is not intended to do away with Clauses 1 and 2, but simply to amend them if necessary.

I can tell noble Lords that we considered tagging, and we are still assessing the introduction of tagging in the criminal justice system. Home detention curfew tagging has been going since 28th January. To be candid, it is too early to know whether it would be useful in the immigration context. One of the problems is that tagging will tell the monitoring contractor where the person is not--namely, at home between 7 o'clock at night and 7 in the morning--but it does not help us to prevent absconding. At present, once the tag is removed, or the tag wearer has removed himself, it is not possible to trace him. The technology in this respect is certainly developing and we are considering it. However, I am not able to give a more positive assurance other than to say that we shall keep this very much in the forefront of our considerations.

Questions were asked by the noble Baronesses, Lady Ludford and Lady Gardner, about women who have suffered sexual indignity, including rape. Indeed,

29 Jun 1999 : Column 256

the noble Earl, Lord Russell, also mentioned this point. Certainly rape may be part of the evidence that an asylum applicant has been persecuted or is at risk of persecution. All the circumstances must be considered, including the allegation of rape. We are revising guidelines about how we deal with female asylum seekers--a point that was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford. We will revise the guidelines in consultation with outside bodies with an interest in this field. I entirely endorse what was said: women asylum seekers must be appropriately treated and appropriate treatment for men is not always appropriate for women.

Several questions were raised about the position of carriers. The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, asked a number of detailed questions. I should stress that I am more than happy to hold a meeting with officials and the noble Lord, who has a vast knowledge here. I have to say that even a cursory reading of Clause 27 indicates to me the availability of significant defences; for example, subsection (3) provides that the carrier,


    "did not know, and had no reasonable grounds for suspecting, that a clandestine entrant was, or might be, concealed [that he had] an effective system for preventing the carriage of clandestine entrants ... [and] that on the occasion in question the person or persons responsible for operating that system did so properly". I do not think that that is quite as draconian as was suggested on one or two occasions by a number of your Lordships. However, I am more than happy to revisit that area.

It seems rather a long time ago now, but the noble Lord, Lord Cope, asked a particular question about the Stoy Hayward team. My up-to-date information indicates that that report is being finalised this week. The team has identified some useful areas for improvement, which will help us to achieve our targets. There will not be government support for those pursuing a judicial review. However, as I said, we will provide funding to the voluntary sector.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, raised, with some interest, the prospect of his former colleagues in another place possibly being imprisoned because they had actually discharged their duty in a surgery by giving advice. I have to disappoint the noble Lord: Members of another place of any party will not be able to go to prison because they are not providing advice in the course of a business. To make it an offence, I am advised that it has to be done during the course of a business. That is dealt with under Clause 72(2).

On a more serious note, although there is little more serious than the prospect of Members of Parliament going to prison, citizens' advice bureaux will be able to seek exemption from registration under Clause 75(4). So those bona fide persons, if I may put them in that category, including MPs, will not be subject to criminal sanction.

Questions were raised about ECHR and whether or not an application for bail was a sufficient discharge of obligations under the convention. It is not in itself

29 Jun 1999 : Column 257

of necessity, but it would still be possible to bring judicial review or habeas corpus proceedings to review the legality or otherwise of detention.

My noble friend Lord Berkeley pointed out that trains are not included in Clause 25. They are not included because, at present, they are not subject to the civil penalty for carrying clandestines. Passenger trains are subject to carriers' liability under Clause 32. Having been kind enough to focus our attention on freight trains, I have to tell the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that, following his helpful intervention, we are now considering extending to freight trains the civil penalty for carrying clandestines. But I promise to consult him before that is done.

I believe that I have generally answered most of the questions that were raised. I think that the Bill is convention compliant. The mere fact that we are looking to improve it does not suggest the opposite. I repeat: although the speeches were relatively short in number, I do not think it could be said that anyone made a wasteful, partisan or negligible point. I stress that I entirely agree with what the noble Viscount said before sitting down; namely, that we all have a good deal of work to do. Indeed, he was echoing what all your Lordships said. We should all work at it co-operatively because it is an opportunity in regard to which we need to discharge our duties properly. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page