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Lord Renton: Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to intervene. If we take in 80,000 in 12 months, that is a generous absorption of people who are said to be suffering and who come to this country. It is a generous absorption on the part of the Government and the people of this country.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My point is that more people leave this country in the course of a year than come here. In the context of the many millions of people living in this country, we should see the contribution that immigrants and asylum seekers have made in the overall pattern of things. We cannot put shutters up around our nation. Indeed, if others put up shutters to prevent British nationals from settling or moving elsewhere, it would lead to a frustrated and claustrophobic world.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, put down a marker not to remove Clause 8, but to give us the opportunity to debate whether or not it should stand part of the Bill in its present form. If the amendments which he and his noble friends have been moving to this clause are accepted at Report stage, no doubt the clause will remain in the Bill.
The noble Lord is right to remind us that there are problems with the clause and I hope that when the Minister replies he will address some of those problems, not least the discriminatory nature of the appeals procedure. As I understand it, under Clause 55 the one-stop arrangements that will be made available to others will not be made available to overstayers. It will be far better if in the legislation we have one coherent set of criteria so that those who are not legitimately in this country may be seen to be dealt with fairly and justly under the arrangements.
I hope also that we will not discount the arguments about the need to show some sense of understanding of the individual circumstances of those who will be applying under the appeals procedure. Whether people are removed abruptly, arbitrarily, or whether they are removed after a relatively short procedure being invoked, if they have been here for more than seven years they will have many familial ties. They will have many ties connected with personal history which should be properly placed upon the record and properly adjudicated upon before any decisions are made on that person's behalf.
I will be interested to hear from the Minister when he replies to this debate how many people he estimates will be caught by the new arrangements. Are we dealing with hundreds of thousands, 80,000--the figure the noble Lord introduced into the debate a few minutes ago--hundreds of people or just handfuls of people? It would
Lord Clinton-Davis: I have some sympathy with the arguments adduced by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. What underlies this issue is whether we have a reputation for equitable and fair dealing when it comes to difficult matters. We have a situation where most people, whether or not they are ultimately found to be entitled to be here, are faced with a real dilemma. We need to be compassionate in the way in which we deal with people who face such a situation, even those who ultimately fail to satisfy the requirements of the law. That is the reputation of this country. When we are dealing with such situations it is folly to act capriciously.
That reputation has not always existed. I make a great generalisation. My grandparents and those who came to this country with them were not always treated with that degree of equity and fair dealing. The very first Committee in which I was involved was the asylum Bill of 1970. I looked up the debates that took place in 1905. There was not a reputation for fair dealing at that time. Some people sought to take advantage of the situation in which these people found themselves. They whipped up prejudice and so forth.
I know the noble Lord, Lord Renton, extremely well. I hope that he shares the view that everybody is entitled, in the consideration of the case that they seek to present, to a measure of understanding about that; and that they should have every opportunity to present that case. He is not there to scapegoat people. He is not there to take advantage of a situation by a capricious government. Serious arguments are being presented to the Committee as we deal with this issue of principle.
When I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Renton, my overwhelming view was that he would rather that asylum seekers do not come at all. That is to disregard the individual cases of a large number of people. They may not necessarily satisfy the requirement of the law, but it would be unjust to say that they have no right to come here and to act towards them with that degree of prejudice that I know the noble Lord would not want to adopt in relation to the application of the law in general--a law of whose reputation he is very jealous, having been involved in it for so long and served it with such distinction.
It was my privilege when I was in the United States to serve in a department, 25 per cent of whose members were refugees from Hitler. Those people were of extraordinary ability. The United States was extremely lucky to have them; so was my university and my department.
There is a considerable body of evidence--some of it addressed by my former tutor, Professor John Roberts, in his History of the World--that some of the most successful civilisations have been those that had within them a considerable mixture of races and cultures. The United States is an outstanding example. Our country is also an example, although not to the same extent. I would be sorry if it ceased to be so.
The noble Lord, Lord Renton, introduced the concept of "our own people". Especially in this partly hereditary House, that is a difficult concept. A small proportion of hereditary peers are hereditary English. Some of them came over with William the Conqueror. My own ancestors came in 1393 from Gascony. My first known ancestor was a Stephen Gascoigne, alias Russell. I admit to being relieved that I am not called Gascoigne. My ancestors left Bordeaux believing that it was about to be sold out by the English at the next peace treaty--a Hong Kong situation. They happened to be 60 years ahead of the game, but their foresight was correct.
When we think about who actually are "our own people", one realises that it is not as simple as one might think. Many of us have ancestors who arrived here unable to speak our language, just like the people mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Renton. That is no evidence of ability. It is evidence of upbringing. Many of our most distinguished people arrived here unable to speak our language. They have certainly made up for it since.
The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, recalled us to the real purpose of the Bill. We are dealing with individual applications. Justice is blind, so the question of whether or not an applicant's claim is just does not depend on our views on the general question. I testify to those views because I hold them with pride and conviction, but were they all wrong, the blindness of justice would remain a necessity--and ultimately our views would not be material to what the Bill should say.
Lord Renton: Before the noble Earl sits down, I have been trying to follow his argument. At one stage he seemed to be indicating that there should be no limit on the numbers, whatever the increase in the demand for immigration may be. Is the noble Earl saying that anyone should be allowed to come here as of right?
Lord Hylton: Later in the Bill, we shall come to the word "deception", but I notice that it occurs at line 22 of Clause 8. Can the Minister assure me that it must be serious or material deception and that the nature of the deception must be decided by either an adjudicator or a court before that part bites?
I note that under subsection (4), notices from the Secretary of State must be sent by first-class post--and that is all--to be valid. We all know that the general population move around frequently. People who have been immigrants or who have possibly overstayed probably circulate faster than the general population. It would be an improvement if the Bill stipulated the use of recorded delivery mail as a means of delivering notices.
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