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Baroness Hollis of Heigham: My Lords, I should love to but I have only 30 seconds. First, I should like to thank all noble Lords who took part. Whatever our views on this subject I think we would all agree that we have heard some deeply moving speeches which will remain in the memory and which may indeed remain to trouble us in the memory when we see what we fear will happen may come true.
Where we all agree is that this country, and we, have no obligation to support and finance economic migrants. We do not dispute that for a moment. All of us, I hope, and most of us, I believe, think that we should finance, help and support true asylum seekers. If that is the
The Government, in the shape of the Minister the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, following an intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, said that the way to distinguish between those two is that those who apply at the port of entry are true asylum seekers and obtain benefit status; but those who apply in-country are not true and therefore do not receive benefit. That is the distinction on which the Government are operating and on which these regulations are based; that is, that those who apply at port of entry receive benefit and those who apply subsequently do not. That is the way to distinguish between the real and the bogus asylum seeker.
However, as the Government know, that is not true. One is more likely to be granted asylum status or exceptional leave to remain not if one applies at the port of entry, but if one applies in-country. Therefore one is more likely to be a genuine asylum seeker if one applies in-country rather than at the port of entry. That is why we should take seriously the words of the Social Security Advisory Committee, which certainly ring true to me: that if I were in the position of a refugee seeking asylum, I would seek first the safety of a country; then I would seek the advice of an organisation to help me, and then I would apply for leave to remain. That is the safer way to proceed, as evidenced by the fact that on the Government's figures they accept that argument both for asylum seekers and for those granted exceptional leave to remain.
If it is invalid to distinguish between genuine applicants at port of entry and in-country on the basis of whether or not we allow them benefit, then how do we distinguish between economic migrants and the true asylum seekers? There is only one safe and just way to do that. The distinction is not made on the basis of where one applies; for instance, whether one buys a train ticket at the office or on the train. That is irrelevant. The only fair, right and just way to distinguish between the economic migrant and the asylum seeker is on the basis of a determination by the Home Office.
The answer to the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, as to how we cut the costs is simple. If we wish to cut the cost falling on the DSS then we require the Home Office to speed up the process of determination. The bill has mounted not because we are being swamped by immigrants, but because between 60,000 and 70,000 people are still waiting to have their initial determination processed. We are saying today that we are refusing asylum seekers social security money because our system is not speedy enough to offer them justice. That is what we are saying. We will refuse them money because we cannot offer them justice, and we will do so on the arbitrary distinction of where they apply--whether they apply at port of entry or in-country--even though we know that those who apply in-country, on the Government's figures, are likely to have a stronger case. That is not decent; that is not just; that is not fair; that is not humane. It will linger in our conscience for many years to come.
I regret that convention does not allow me to seek the opinion of the House on a statutory instrument. Therefore, though I believe the Government's case to be profoundly and morally wrong, I have no alternative but to beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Earl Russell rose to move to resolve, That this House calls on Her Majesty's Government, following the implementation of the Social Security (Persons From Abroad) Miscellaneous Amendments Regulations 1996 (S.I. 1996 No. 30), to ensure that asylum seekers pursuing appeals have visible legal means of support pending the conclusion of their appeals.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, I promised the Minister not to take more than two minutes. When I listened to him I was reminded of a remark by Sydney Smith: "I wish I were as sure of anything as Tom Macaulay is of everything".
The Minister relied heavily on the idea of the bogus asylum seeker. But these regulations make no attempt whatever to distinguish between the bogus and the genuine. They sweep them all up together and penalise the lot. They put the Minister in the position of Sherlock Holmes's Inspector Athelney Jones, who, wishing to find a murderer in the house, arrested the whole household. Holmes finally remarked, "I see, Inspector, you have one genuine fish in your large haul".
The noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara, challenged us in regard to treatment of bogus claims. That is a matter for individual examination, and improving individual examination is the only way to do it. Anything done by the regulations in relation to bogus claims is entirely wide of the question. The regulations are not relevant to that argument.
The Minister said that the right of appeal remained intact. So, in a formal sense, it does. But if one cannot live, if one cannot have an address, if one cannot eat and one cannot have papers served upon one, one's right of appeal is rendered nugatory.
The Minister wanted to withdraw an incentive to put forward unfounded appeals. But that argument applies against the whole of our criminal justice system. The argument does too much. I offered the Minister a sporting challenge to show what will happen to the people who are refused benefit. He most unsportingly ducked it. The Minister made a point in relation to the people whose appeals fail. But those people may legally be deported; they are not in the position of those people who can neither go nor stay. The Minister said that they come to enjoy our freedoms, not our benefits. I believe that our right to benefit is one of our freedoms. I beg to move.
Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.