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Lord Wolfson: My Lords, I should welcome guidance from my noble friend the Minister on two matters. First, can he give adequate assurances that no one will be sent back to a country with a bad human rights record? Secondly--this point was raised also by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby--will prominent notices be displayed in a variety of languages, and will interpreters be available, at ports of entry to point out to people the requirements of what will soon be the Asylum and Immigration Act?
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, it is late in the day and I shall be brief. But many people outside the Chamber, as well as inside, believe that this House has both a duty and an opportunity to put right what has been left undone by another place. Like other noble Lords, I believe that this is a reasonable, simple, honest and courteous amendment. It does not seek to upset the Government, only to present in a new way an argument which has already found favour with the majority in your Lordships' House.
This is not an amendment which fully reflects the views of that majority. We would have preferred our amendment in its original form. This is a fall-back position. Nonetheless, it is important: first, because it shows the strength of feeling in this House; secondly, because it meets the Government's principal objections; and, finally, because it shows genuine asylum seekers that this House, after all the speeches that have been made and all the votes that have been cast, still demonstrates the concern which the nation should reasonably expect of its Parliament. I say "concern" because I do not believe that we have yet reached the point of compassion which the Minister mentioned and, for lack of any further government support, the Churches and voluntary agencies may again be left to pick up the pieces.
If the amendment is not passed, I do not see how we can face genuine asylum seekers who seek our protection under a UN convention. I do not see how we can face the vast number of people in the voluntary sector who have supported, and campaigned for, genuine asylum seekers. I do not see how, hand on heart, we can say to them that we have achieved substantial changes to the Bill.
As your Lordships know, the amendment has all-party support--and not only in this House. Senior Members of the Conservative Party in another place want to see some of the improvements that have been made to the Bill carried forward to its enactment, including some made by this House, such as this amendment. I am not sure whether the Minister is supporting the amendment, but he may well plead that the Government are trying to be realistic and that they cannot afford to be charitable when they are perched between the cliffs of the Treasury on the one side and the deep blue sea of the general election on the other.
I remind the House that good housekeeping and charity are one thing; justice is another. This is an occasion when the Government could yet salvage some credit, and possibly some Conservative votes, from a Bill which has already tarnished Britain's generally good race relations and harmed its international reputation. I sincerely hope that the House will consider the wider implications and vote for the amendment.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, we have heard the case made for the amendment which would return the issue to the Commons for its further deliberation. I was slightly intrigued and not a bit amused that one of the arguments made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, was that he wanted to give the other place the opportunity to have a much better debate. I found that a bit insulting to those of his
Before I turn to the detail of the amendment, perhaps I may say a word about the EU resolution because the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, made quite a lot of it. It is a non-binding resolution. It requires unanimity. I am sorry to disappoint noble Lords, but we shall not be agreeing to anything which is not compatible with this country's arrangements, and that includes our benefit arrangements in relation to asylum seekers.
The amendment would extend the right to benefit from those who apply on arrival to those who apply within three days of arrival. The matter has been argued almost entirely on the grounds that it is unfair to expect a genuine asylum seeker to apply on arrival. That point was made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool. The whole case has been predicated on disturbing descriptions of an asylum seeker's state of mind and the manner in which he is greeted on his arrival in this country.
Today, as at other stages, a picture has been painted for your Lordships of the manner in which genuine asylum seekers are greeted. I am sure that your Lordships have a pretty frightening mental picture of people in uniform, probably with guns, facing queues of frightened, traumatised people who are unable to think straight or even to speak--
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, what I can do is to tell the noble Earl, as I have told him on a number of occasions, that most other countries in Europe--in fact, all other countries in Europe--have seen a decline in asylum applications while we have seen a considerable increase. We have to deal with the situation that confronts us. Other countries have chosen to cut down on immigration in other ways. We are doing it by this means. I believe that it is the right means.
Lord Carr of Hadley: My Lords, I am sorry to have to interrupt my noble friend, but I was the noble Lord who referred to conditions at airports. I said that I had visited them. I went out of my way to paint exactly the opposite picture to the one that my noble friend has just mentioned and I resent his remarks greatly.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, if my noble friend had waited just a second, he would have realised that I was about to turn to what he said. I was not referring to what my noble friend said, but to the picture that I have heard painted over many weeks whenever the subject has been discussed. My noble friend rightly painted a different picture because he has been there--although not recently. I can advise my noble friend that I made such a visit last week because I found it difficult to listen to the accusations that were being made without being able to say from the Dispatch Box that I had been to see for myself. I do not know where my noble friend Lord Carr went. I went to Heathrow Terminal 3, which is quite a busy entry point into the United Kingdom from all corners of the globe. I did not see any uniforms, perhaps apart from a few aircrew passing from their aircraft through the special channel into the UK. I certainly did not see any guns. I saw lots of people dressed in various costumes from the four corners of the world. I saw people on business, holiday and visits.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, today nobody has. However, a certain picture has been painted. Noble Lords do not like it when they get some of it back. I have listened to suggestions about how awful it is for somebody from abroad when he meets immigration staff. I am attempting to explain to your Lordships what it is actually like. Some of your Lordships may not like it, but here it is. Lots of people who pass through Heathrow come to visit or are in transit to other parts of the world. The atmosphere is quite relaxed; the queues are orderly. When one reaches the top of the queue two young ladies direct one to the next free desk in a long line of desks. The people behind those desks look ordinary. On a warm summer's evening last week the men were in shirt sleeves; the women wore summer dresses. From looking down the list of officers it was clear that a few had their origins in the very parts of the world from which the people coming off the aircraft had come. There was nothing in any way frightening about it.
Passports and landing cards are asked for. While the officer checks the passport and the name against his computer he asks two basic questions. He may ask other questions but he asks two basic questions: "How long are you here for?" and "What is the purpose of your visit?". He listens to the answers, and perhaps asks some more questions. It was for this reason that I intervened in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. I asked what the young man had said in reply to those
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