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Lord Hylton: The intervention of the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, has reinforced the point I have tried to make on previous occasions. We are seeking the highest quality of decision at the first instance when a case is tested. If that can be achieved, it will bring with it considerable savings, not only in legal appeals and tribunal costs but also in social security support.
The Earl of Dartmouth: Of course; I do not have the noble Earl's felicity of phrase. I shall write to him when I have had a long time to think about it and have come up with a better and more accurate word.
Lord Dholakia: I do not want go down the same road as the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth. There are no ways in which we in this House can gauge the effect on taxpayers of what we do unless we promote a referendum of some kind on these matters. I remind the noble Earl that it was a Conservative government who undertook the obligation of admitting 28,000 Ugandan Asians to this country. They did not ask for a referendum; they did not ask the taxpayer; it was an act of compassion.
The Earl of Dartmouth: I must answer the noble Lord's point. The Ugandan Asians were genuine asylum seekers; we are talking here about bogus asylum seekers. That is the concern of people in this country. If the noble Lord had stood in an election recently he would know that.
Lord Dholakia: We are not talking about bogus asylum seekers; we are talking about genuine asylum seekers who are being persecuted, who need help, and who have come to this country for help. Those are the people we are talking about. The entire Bill is about how to help genuine asylum seekers to this country. My comments applied not only to the Ugandan Asians but also to the Vietnamese refugees, to people from Kosovo, as was mentioned, and to Hong Kong citizens, as my noble friend has just reminded me.
But let us not be diverted by that red herring. The Government indicated in the Commons that consideration would be given to making funds available to organisations which support asylum seekers who are granted leave to seek judicial review. Obviously, that is a welcome sign. However--perhaps the Minister can help me--the Legal Aid Board's recommendation to the Lord Chancellor suggests that legal aid will be available for applications for leave for judicial review, subject to strict merit and means tests. In cases where leave has been granted, legal aid should generally follow the eligible clients as a matter of course. Only those quality approved organisations with a contract will be able to apply for legal aid to seek leave. It is therefore unclear why asylum seekers who have been granted legal aid to apply for leave for judicial review should be denied subsistence support.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, this is an important issue. Let me make a preliminary point. Although one of the amendments refers to "dependent children", all of these amendments would affect only asylum seekers without dependent children. Under the provisions of subsection (5) of Clause 84, those asylum seekers who have dependent children will remain entitled to assistance under Part VI for as long as they remain in this country, even where their claims for asylum have been finally determined. So in this range of amendments, we are talking only about adults without dependants.
There are various gradations in the amendments. The most extreme--I do not put that in any pejorative way--is the one that says that support should be provided until the asylum seeker is removed from this country, irrespective of whether any kind of proceedings are continued and irrespective of whether the asylum seeker deliberately seeks to evade removal. The proposals then go down in gradations, seeking to cover various kinds of legal proceedings.
Perhaps I may briefly set out the policy. Under Clause 84, by the time an asylum seeker ceases to be eligible for support, he will have had his claim for asylum considered, first, by the Home Secretary. Assuming that that claim has been rejected, he will have had the opportunity to appeal to the immigration adjudicator, who is independent of the Home Secretary. If that has proved unsuccessful his case may be taken to the immigration appeals tribunal. And if that is unsuccessful, he may also take it to the Court of Appeal. I should say in parenthesis that some of the amendments refer to support being extended pending a hearing in the Court of Appeal. Support would continue in any event, whether there is an application to the Court of Appeal in respect of an appeal from the immigration appeals tribunal.
We are talking about a situation where an adult asylum seeker with no dependants has potentially had his claim heard by four separate executive bodies or independent tribunals: the Home Secretary; the appeals adjudicator; the immigration appeals tribunal; and the Court of Appeal. That is a fair and extensive judicial process for the consideration of a claim.
There may be a small number of cases where there is scope for further examination of the case by the court. I should add that no more than a quarter of applications for judicial review, which is one route that can be followed instead of the process to which I have referred, actually result in the granting of leave. However, I should make it clear that the Government recognise that there is a role for such a challenge. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, rightly pointed out, some of these challenges do succeed. They most often succeed not on the basis of the merits of the claim, but on the basis that there should be some reconsideration by one or other of the bodies to which I have referred.
We recognise the validity of this limited role for further challenge by making available funds to the voluntary sector to provide further support for hard cases who are still pursuing such applications. Indeed, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, might be a means of indicating which are such cases; for example, cases where leave has been granted, or cases where legal aid has been granted because the Legal Aid Board takes the view that there is merit in the application, although ultimately it must be a matter for the voluntary sector as to where it believes its money should be spent. I should make it clear that the power to give grants to the voluntary sector in what is now Clause 102 was extended in another place to cover support of former asylum seekers precisely to cater for such circumstances.
The concern of the noble Lord and the noble Baroness is to protect former asylum seekers who are seeking further recourse to the courts. The proposal would cover people who are continuing to make representations of any sort, and often without any merit. It would also extend to people whom the Secretary of State has simply not been able to remove for any reason. I remind the Committee that in many cases, sadly, the failure to remove someone reflects that person's lack of co-operation in the removal process.
It is a sad fact that about two-thirds of all applications for asylum are eventually found to be without merit. Some of those are applications by people who believe themselves to have a real claim for protection that ought to meet the criteria of the 1951 convention. Others are made by people who have reached this country in order to benefit from the better life that is available here without having any real expectation that a claim for asylum would be met.
To allow everyone who has made an application for asylum an entitlement to support for as long as they remain in this country--which is what the amendment would in effect do--would encourage such people to prolong their claims for as long as possible and by whatever means or representations they could make. It would encourage them not to co-operate in the removal process. The sums we are making available for the support of meritorious asylum claims is considerable. We do not wish to devote yet further resources to supporting former asylum seekers whose claims have proved to be without merit. In substance, we have made available a long, comprehensive and fair judicial system of dealing with these claims.
With great respect to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, he overstates the case dramatically and unfairly when he suggests that this is a matter where justice would not be done. He also suggests that the judges would be "tempted" to put natural justice before statute. Involuntary movements of my head on a previous occasion should not be taken in any way to indicate assent to any proposition that Parliament is not sovereign. The courts will always strive to ensure that the statutes are construed in accordance with natural justice. But there is no principle in this country that natural justice can overturn statutes. That appears to be what the noble Earl suggested.
The procedure laid down by the Bill, giving substantial rights of appeal and ensuring that there is money for the voluntary sector to deal with the hard case, is a well thought-out process. On the one hand, it makes sure that people can pursue their rights sensibly but, on the other, it does not provide a system where there is encouragement to people to apply again and again for leave to apply for judicial review or to make representation after representation to the Home Secretary to ensure that their support continues.
That is the effect of all the amendments put down by noble Lords. In all of them, the simple act of making an application for leave to apply for judicial review, or further representations to the Home Secretary, prolongs the right to assistance. I do not believe that the balance would be right.