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The Lord Bishop of Bristol: My Lords, in a century which may well be characterised by the unprecedented migration of hundreds of millions of people and at a time when it is thought that there are around 20 million refugees in the world we are talking about only 1 million in terms of western Europe. I thank the Minister for guaranteeing the principles upon which the Bill is based for those who seek asylum with integrity allied with protection of race relations. Noble Lords have begun to articulate the principles upon which the legislation is brought before us; I believe there are three major ones.
First, there is the moral imperative--not only of the Judaeo-Christian tradition but of many other religious traditions--of generous hospitality offered and safe havens provided to refugees and those seeking asylum. The language is about the stranger within our gates and the significant word is "generous". All speakers have spoken positively about that principle.
Secondly, there is a special responsibility laid upon those in government--perhaps it is the role of the Churches to remind them now and again--to defend, and speak for, the weakest and the poorest in our society and those who are without voice. That applies also to those who are strangers within our gates. There are many within those categories.
A further and much more subtle principle is the responsibility laid upon government to ensure that the numbers of strangers--refugees and those seeking asylum--are not so great that the very structures of peace and order are threatened leading to resentment, of which we have heard not a little, the possibility of scapegoating, where people have skins of a particular colour and possess inadequate English, and, ultimately, racial intolerance and the indignity of violence within our country.
The primary question to be answered by your Lordships' House is whether the situation is so dire that legislation of this nature is required to protect public well-being and order. It is a question of balancing the principles and a matter of proportionality. Your Lordships' House may come to believe that the evidence is such that the present legislation, in all its clauses, is a disproportionate response.
Many noble Lords and my friend, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon, have spoken about the three clauses at the beginning. I shall not repeat their arguments. I shall speak about one clause only and not particularly about the way in which it will affect those seeking asylum or immigration. Rather I shall speak about its effect upon those who belong to the ethnic
Allowing for the lack of clarity about those whom employers may not employ and the documentation to support such decisions, the effects of the clause go far beyond refugees and asylum seekers. I hope that the Minister will tell us what will be required. There is great need for clarity; its absence breeds suspicion. I suspect that it will cause us great difficulties.
Racial discrimination in Bristol has led in the past 15 years to two very serious riots. It is not surprising that many local people look very carefully at what is proposed in the Bill. A petition containing the signatures of over 1,100 ordinary, regular Sunday worshippers has been deposited in another place. I assure noble Lords that Bristol is not a hotbed of Christian radicalism. Oh, that it were! The petition, initially sharing concern for refugees and asylum seekers, goes on to state that,
In seeking to stop people with no immigration entitlement to work, the creation of a just and multiracial society is placed in jeopardy. The creation of equal opportunities so that racial discrimination can be overcome is put in jeopardy by Clause 8 as at present drafted.
Various voices have been raised, of which one is the Churches Commission for Racial Justice. The commission suggests that at the very least the clause should be redrafted to exclude small businesses from the sanctions for which the legislation provides. If the clause is unworkable, out of proportion, encouraging discrimination, undermining people's trust in each other and the society in which they live, then it should go or, at best, be radically redrafted.
In a multicultural city such as Bristol, in a multi-racial nation, racial harmony is vital and highly prized. It is in no way to be undervalued. I understand the issues before us and the hard decisions that must be made; I understand the principles I enunciated at the beginning and how we carry the proportion. I believe that Clause 8 goes beyond that and affects many other people. It is a dangerous development which I hope your Lordships' House will look at extremely carefully.
The Viscount of Oxfuird: My Lords, we have heard some remarkable facts and figures from all sides of the House this afternoon. Perhaps I can concentrate, not on numbers, but on a few specific issues that concern me.
Over the years I have travelled in over 75 different countries. During that time I have got to know the staffs of our High Commissions, Embassies and posts who have the responsibility for issuing passports or visas to those who wish to come to this country. They should be congratulated on the excellent job that they do. I remember in Bombay, even at half-past five in the morning the queue outside the High Commission numbered well over 50 people and there was no problem in India at that time.
The real problem is faced not by our diplomats overseas, but by members of our immigration department here at home. They are increasingly confronted by a huge volume of administration caused by the number of applications for asylum or immigration into this country. Sadly, a high percentage of those applications are unwarranted. It is that issue, coupled with the overall cost that it creates for this country, which the Bill seeks to address.
This is certainly not a case of playing party politics with race. All that the Bill seeks to do is to bring the United Kingdom broadly into line with all our other European partners in the rules that are applied to asylum seekers from other countries. Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain have all been quoted; they have all strengthened their asylum measures since 1993 and, by doing so, experienced a substantial fall in applications. In fact, the key asylum measures proposed in the Bill are measures which most other western European countries have already adopted.
It is no coincidence that the United Kingdom is the only western European country to have experienced a significant increase in asylum applications during 1995. There is no question, and never has been, of denying asylum to those suffering real persecution because of their political views, their religious beliefs or the colour of their skins. Such genuine refugees will always find a safe haven here in Britain.
As a number of noble Lords have already highlighted, this country has given free asylum to Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie, Karl Marx, Haile Selassie, to numberless Jewish, Czech and Polish refugees during the Second World War, to the Ugandan Asian community and, most recently, to many Bosnian refugees and others from the former Yugoslavia. Nothing in this Bill will prevent similar acts of humanity in the future--indeed, by discouraging the bogus applications, the applications from genuine refugees will be far easier to process.
As we have heard, because our rules are presently far more liberal than the rest of Europe, we have seen a relentless upsurge in asylum applications over the past few years while those to other European Union countries have declined. That is a problem that cannot just be swept under the carpet. It will not go away. The applications for asylum are rising so fast that they are outstripping our ability to deal with them. This
Two hundred years ago global travel was totally unrestricted; passports were unknown. Would that it could be so today. Unfortunately, that would be totally unrealistic. As our ability to move about the planet has increased, every country in the world has been forced to introduce some form of entry controls into its sovereign territory. This Bill is just a further refinement of that inevitable process here in the United Kingdom.
The Bill does have a moral dimension which is worth closer and more detailed examination. As I have indicated already, the Bill makes the immigration process for genuine asylum seekers much quicker and hence, by extension, more humane. Of itself that is surely a worthy aspiration, but it does beg the question: what about the 90 per cent. plus of claimants who are refused asylum?
It seems to me that responsible governance in this area should be about attempting to offer those economic migrants the opportunity to fulfil their potential by supporting the development of a viable infrastructure in their own country. In reality, perpetuating a flawed immigration system which seems increasingly to marginalise the economic migrant, is tantamount to tinkering with the symptoms of the problem rather than attacking the root cause. The real solution to the problem of the economic migrant lies in the work of the Overseas Development Agency. Only by helping to build the economies of the countries from which the economic migrants are coming--as the Overseas Development Agency does--can we aspire to achieve a real and lasting solution to the root cause of the problem.
I conclude with a special plea. Of course we must continue to offer sanctuary to those who genuinely need our help and protection, but we must face the fact that our ability to do so will be seriously impaired unless we take practical measures to turn away bogus asylum seekers. I urge your Lordships to support the Bill.
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