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On the question of overload, I understand that staff in London dealing with Africa have been cut by a third in the past 10 years. The noble Lord rightly said that those difficulties will not all be overcome by introducing more expertise or looking at gender balance. They will be overcome by ensuring that there are more desk officers; that is to say, more people working, as it were, at the coal-face on these issues. That is the point that my right honourable friend is addressing when he says that he has been looking at strengthening the Africa Command in order to ensure that there are more desk officers working in what is, after all, a very difficult part of the world given the degree of crises and instability which, sadly, from time to time arise there.
Of course it is important that accurate information about any UN arms embargo and any Orders in Council is circulated properly and unequivocally. That is undoubtedly one of the lessons that emerge clearly from the Legg Report. I assure the noble Lord and the House that that lesson is now well understood.
Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, perhaps I may ask a general question. I remembered that the blanket refusal to supply arms to Spain was of the greatest possible help to Franco, because he obtained arms from the fascist countries. It cannot be said that the blanket refusal in relation to Bosnia was a great help. Apparently, governments at home refused to supply help or arms to both the virtuous and the wicked. Is that generally a good thing?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I do not know whether blanket refusals over the supply of arms are a good thing. I know that in this particular case it was felt that it was the right thing to do. I now understand that to be the judgment that was reached and that it might be very difficult to ensure that weapons sent reached the right hands in what is a very confused part of the world and where there was a possibility that any weapon sent there might fall into the wrong hands. All these issues in relation to arms have to be dealt with on their merit at the time. To say anything more than that would be to provide a hostage to fortune.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, what is happening to Mr. Penfold? How is it that the hero of the hour--hymned by the Prime Minister, the man at the centre of the great policy triumph, as the noble Baroness the Minister described the whole affair,--is so excoriated in the report? How is it that in the Statement, when it comes to his alleged misdemeanours he is named, but when it comes to his undoubted triumphs his name is absent?
The Foreign Secretary has also had to look at the undoubted criticisms of Mr. Penfold in the report. The noble Lord would be furious if I had airbrushed out the criticisms. I am sure that all noble Lords, when they have the opportunity of reading this fairly lengthy but clear report from Sir Thomas Legg, will see the criticisms of Mr. Penfold in their proper context; namely, Mr. Penfold undoubtedly behaved with enormous courage, but he made mistakes. Those mistakes are not being dealt with in a heavy-handed way. They are being dealt with entirely appropriately. He will be written to by the Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office, who will point out the criticisms made of him in the report. I believe that that should be the end of it.
The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, I pay tribute to Mr. Penfold. Will the Minister inform the House as to whether he had access throughout that time to a defence attache or military attache? In the light of cuts to the Foreign Office, which the noble Baroness informs us she is putting right, will she also examine the defence and military attache network to see whether that can be improved so that these kinds of problems can be avoided in future?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his well-made point. Let us not forget that, over the time in question, Mr. Penfold was not working in an office in Sierra Leone. He was not surrounded by the usual paraphernalia of high commissioners. Mr. Penfold was in exile in Conakry, working out of a hotel bedroom. He was making his contacts using one telephone, as I understand it, and one fax machine. He had none of the usual diplomatic support. His position must be seen in that context. Within the limitations imposed on him in those very difficult circumstances, he tried to take part in the normal processes of dialogue with the FCO in London and to be part of the policy making. It must be remembered that that highly courageous man was operating in extraordinarily difficult circumstances. I remind the House that Sir Thomas Legg and Sir Robin Ibbs find that all concerned,
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Home Affairs in another place. The Statement is as follows:
"I am today publishing a White Paper entitled Fairer, faster and firmer--A Modern Approach to Immigration and Asylum. This follows a wide-ranging examination undertaken as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review. The White Paper sets out a new integrated strategy to deliver the Government's commitment to a fairer, faster and firmer system of immigration control.
"There are few more complex and sensitive responsibilities of government than this. But the system has been subject to piecemeal and ill-considered changes which have failed to tackle the real problems. Indeed the changes often made the problems worse. The arrangements for supporting asylum seekers are a shambles. Huge backlogs have been allowed to develop. Additional complexity and regulation have made the system unwieldy to operate. Despite the dedication and professionalism of immigration staff at all levels, genuine applicants have suffered, while abusive claimants and racketeers have exploited delays in the system. It is time for a new approach.
"The volume of passenger traffic arriving at our ports of entry has grown very fast in recent years--from 55 million arrivals in 1992-93 to 80 million in 1997-98--and is projected to reach nearly 100 million passengers in two years' time. We wish to welcome genuine visitors to our shores, and provide them and British citizens who travel abroad, with a fast and efficient service.
"Our immigration policy will continue to support family life by admitting the spouses and minor dependent children of those already settled in the United Kingdom. It must also sustain and promote race equality. It is particularly important for us to acknowledge the enormous contribution which immigrants and their descendants have made to our society in all walks of life.
"The Government have already begun to put in place a system which is fairer and more efficient. As promised in our manifesto, last June we abolished the primary purpose rule. But fairness is not well served by a system of decision-making which labours under huge backlogs and out-dated methods of working.
"We also intend to integrate the overseas entry clearance operation with the other elements of the control. A core feature of this new approach will be a single management structure, drawn from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office, to manage the overseas operation. We will use new technology and more flexible legislation to the best advantage.
"Visitor appeals: many people resident in this country want their relatives to visit them for important family and other occasions. The previous government were wrong to remove the right of appeal to those refused a visit visa in such circumstances. It provided an element of independent oversight of what are bound to be very difficult and emotive decisions. Honouring our manifesto commitment, we therefore propose to introduce a streamlined right of appeal for those refused a visa to visit a family member in this country. We shall also be testing a financial bond scheme for visitors.
"Many problems and much confusion are caused by passengers arriving in the United Kingdom without required visas, or in some cases without any passport at all. We shall adopt a tough approach to deterring and preventing the arrival of inadequately documented passengers. One of the best ways of achieving this is through the use of airline liaison officers. We already have five officers placed overseas working with carriers and the relevant authorities to combat document and other frauds. We intend to increase this network to about 20 officers in total.
"In future there will be a single right of appeal for those lawfully present in the United Kingdom at the time of their application. We recently published a consultation document on this. The aim is to create an appeals system which will provide a fair opportunity to review decisions, but do so quickly, and to minimise the scope for manipulation of the system.
"Unscrupulous advisers: in our manifesto we said we would 'control unscrupulous immigration advisers'. As many honourable Members know from their constituency casework, there is a significant minority of such immigration advisers who abuse the system and exploit their clients. We have consulted widely about this and we will introduce a statutory scheme to regulate immigration advisers, which may include those who are legally qualified.
"Asylum: the United Kingdom has traditionally given shelter to those fleeing persecution from other parts of the world. We will continue scrupulously to observe our international obligations to protect genuine refugees. Those who are accepted as refugees or given exceptional leave to remain should be helped to integrate into local communities. To aid integration
"The numbers seeking asylum have increased eightfold in the last 10 years from 4,000 to 32,000. The reasons for that are many, including political instability, but there is no doubt that the asylum system is being abused. About three-quarters of asylum applications are refused outright because they do not meet the requirements for refugee status or exceptional leave to remain. The vast majority of such failed applicants appeal, but only 6 per cent. of these appeals are successful. Of course a failed asylum application does not necessarily mean that the applicant has abused the system. But many claims for asylum are made by those seeking to migrate for purely economic reasons or as a means of prolonging a stay in the United Kingdom without legitimate reason.
"This places substantial pressure on a system which is already under severe strain. It is unfair to genuine refugees who have to wait long periods in the system for a decision on their claim to refugee status. At the end of May this year there was a backlog of 52,000 asylum applications on which not even an initial decision had been taken. Of these applications, 10,000 were over five years old. On the same date there was a backlog of 32,000 immigration appeals waiting to be heard, of which over 70 per cent. were asylum cases.
"Backlog: modernising the controls and simplifying and speeding up the procedures will help to tackle these problems but we cannot create the faster system without clearing existing backlogs. We are strengthening immigration control and there will be no amnesty either now or in the future for any applicant. We will instead allocate additional resources to deal with this inheritance. We will also adopt a practical approach in respect of the application backlog where an initial decision has been outstanding for some years, and ensure that the effect of long delays is properly taken into account, but in ways which will not outweigh other factors such as serious abuse.
"Speeding up initial decisions: the package of measures I am announcing today will ensure that new applications can be dealt with more quickly. As part of that process of strengthening our control I am announcing that from today the period allowed for asylum seekers to submit further representations after interview will be reduced from 28 to five days in port cases. It is already five days for in-country applicants. No one intent on exploiting the system should be under any illusion that these measures to clear the backlog will benefit them.
"We shall also be taking further enforcement measures to ensure that asylum seekers who are refused leave to enter or remain are returned quickly to their country of origin. We have previously undertaken special exercises to tackle sudden increases in applications, and we will not hesitate to do so again.
"We shall not hesitate to use detention where necessary to ensure the integrity of immigration control. We have, however, decided that detainees should be given written reasons for their detention and that subject to legislation there will be judicial oversight of the process.
"Support for asylum seekers: the current support arrangements for asylum seekers are a shambles. They are the product of ill-considered legislation which then required the intervention of the courts. The 1996 Act imposed a burden on local authority social services departments which was unplanned for, is inappropriate and cannot be allowed to continue. Action must be taken to contain costs and relieve the burden which has fallen heavily on London authorities in particular and more recently on the local authorities of Dover and Kent.
"In opposition I said that, in a civilised society, genuine asylum seekers could not be left destitute. I am honouring that commitment today. We need a system which reduces the incentive to economic migration and which recognises that what the genuine asylum seeker needs is food and shelter, not a giro cheque. Support will, therefore, be separated from the main social security benefits system and will principally be provided in kind and not in cash. Where accommodation is needed, it will normally be provided directly, with no choice about location. We will also consider the extent to which support for food and other basic needs can be provided by vouchers or other non-cash means. In general, support will not extend beyond the point at which the application has been decided and all appeal rights have been exhausted.
"Single budget: support on this basis will require new national machinery to plan and co-ordinate provision. There will be a single budget for asylum seeker support costs. This will be managed by the Home Office alongside the costs of the process for considering asylum cases, thus enabling a more flexible use of resources to reduce costs overall. New central machinery will be created, also under Home Office management, to contract with a range of providers to obtain accommodation; these will include the private sector, voluntary bodies, housing associations and local authorities. The intention will be to develop a national approach making use of support from existing communities and voluntary groups to relieve the current over-concentration on London and one or two other areas which is creating some severe problems there. The Government will consult widely on the detailed arrangements. In taking this work forward, we will ensure that the needs of children, whether unaccompanied or members of families, are fully protected.
"The measures described in this White Paper provide a much clearer framework for what our immigration control should be. They should also provide the staff of the Immigration and Nationality Directorate with a workable system. Bureaucracy, over-complexity, delays and backlogs often frustrate the best efforts of staff to give effect to the law and the policies of Ministers. Despite those difficulties, staff throughout IND have consistently achieved impressive results. I take this opportunity to thank them for their hard work. A clear framework and better tools for the job will enable everyone to take a fresh and more purposeful view of what they can and should achieve.
"The White Paper sets out a comprehensive and integrated strategy for immigration control. It tackles the failings of the current system and addresses the challenges we will face in the future. The Government will introduce legislation to implement the White Paper as soon as parliamentary time allows. This legislation may be a good candidate for consideration by a Special Standing Committee of this House. Britain requires an immigration and asylum system appropriate to the demands of the 21st century. The system in place today is simply not up to the job. We need radical change to deliver a modern and efficient system which is fairer, faster and firmer. I commend the White Paper to the House".
Baroness Anelay of St. Johns: My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement made in another place a short while ago by his right honourable friend the Home Secretary. I begin by making it clear that I welcome the efforts announced today to ensure that the system for processing claims for asylum and refuge is as fast, firm and, I hope, as fair as possible.
My questions stem from two major concerns. Are the proposals workable and fair? Have they been costed effectively. I am not demanding that the Government should spend even more money. I seek to find out if they have properly costed the plans announced today. Those questions are right and proper for any Opposition Member to ask. I recognise that the White Paper covers a great deal of ground. I shall therefore restrict the number of my questions today in the expectation that we shall give it much greater examination on future occasions, not least perhaps tomorrow when my noble friend Lord Renton asks a Question on the matter at Question Time.
I watched the interview given by the Home Secretary yesterday on BBC TV. He made it clear that the firmer and faster aspects of the policy will be part of the approach to processing claims and that the fairer part of the policy applied only to the stage post-determination of claim. Will the Minister agree with me that there is
The signs in the White Paper are that detention will be used more, not less, from the moment of application. Chapter 12 states that around half of those currently detained are held in prison establishments. Most of those--350--are held in the specially dedicated immigration units at Haslar and Rochester. The White Paper states that the Government are considering a need for an increase in the detention estate. Can the Minister tell the House where the Comprehensive Spending Review provides for the building of extra purpose-built detention places or whether there are extra resources over and above those announced today to cover such costs?
How many extra detention places does the Home Office intend to provide? What are its targets in such provision as a proportion of the total people held in detention? By what date do the Government expect to reduce the proportion to be held in prison as a proportion of the whole of the detainees?
Can the Minister also tell the House why it has been decided that, for immigration detainees, there will be no presumption in favour of bail? The Minister has sat in a judicial capacity and I in a minor one as a magistrate have done so also. I am sure that all noble Lords recognise that presumption in favour of bail has always been considered vital. I would be interested to hear what reasons swayed the Government against such a course in this case.
I note that the number of adjudicators and Home Office presenting officers will be substantially increased in order to speed up applications. I welcome that measure. But will there also be assistance available to the applicants in order to obtain representation in this speedier and, to those for whom English may not be their first language, more difficult process of application? I am aware of course that legal aid is not currently available for representation at tribunals. Can the Minister say whether that will continue when we then move on to block contracts on legal aid?
The White Paper proposes to transfer welfare payments from local authorities to the Home Office budget and create an asylum-seekers' allowance. On that basis, I can only assume that it would give the Home Office a vested interest in getting people off the asylum-seekers' allowance. At present, as the Minister explained, local authorities have a duty under the National Assistance Act to provide food vouchers and accommodation. The Statement refers to new, national machinery to plan and co-ordinate provision and that there will also be new central machinery created under Home Office management.
What kind of bureaucracy do the Government anticipate creating in practice? Will they simply replicate the DSS? What measures will require their involvement in reaching decisions? Presumably there will be detailed means-testing for every applicant--always a complicated and costly measure if done properly. Who will be recruited to do that work? Will
In the meantime, what body provisionally do the Government have in mind to do that work? Will the asylum-seekers' allowance only be for those who have proper documentation, as Ministers trailed in advance of the Statement today? It is true that some people destroy their passports simply to hide information. But there are others who are fleeing from corrupt authoritarian regimes who may never have been allowed access to official documents to enable them to travel. What happens to them? Will they still be subject to local authority payments under the National Assistance Act? If so, where is that costing in the Comprehensive Spending Review, or is it not in that review at all? Are the local authorities not to be allowed off the hook after all?
Does the new system fully recognise the potential costs of applications? I believe that there will be more applications for judicial review as a result of some of the measures announced today. We are told that the new system will process applications within six months from the making of the claim to the announcement of the decision, a laudable objective which I welcome. I may be mistaken, and I welcome correction from the Minister, but it appears from the Statement that only two months is available for the production of evidence. I wonder therefore whether there could be an increase in the number of applications for judicial review on the basis, first of all, that evidence has come to light subsequently about which the applicant could have had no knowledge within the period allowed for the production of information. There might also be the allegation that a Minister has not properly taken evidence into account within the shortened period of consideration of information.
Another policy which has been trailed in advance and announced today is the reintroduction of the right of appeal for refused visitors. I understand that the visitors will have to pay for the administration of the appeal if they are refused entry. That may well be a worthy aim of saving the taxpayer money, but I question how it will work in practice. This is not a question critical of the government but a practical one. Can the Government confirm that it is anticipated that there will be two methods of appeal process: the first, a short one, which will be heard on papers only; the second an oral hearing? I understand that Ministers have referred to the cost of the appeal as being "high". What are the estimates of these costs to each individual applicant under each of those two different types of appeal? It would be extraordinary if the Labour Government were to give preferential treatment, in effect, to wealthy applicants.
I began by saying that I would pose questions which I believed were proper for the Opposition to ask the Government. They are particularly relevant for me to ask given my background in welfare advice over the past 22 years. I have always posed such questions whatever the party in government. I remember posing a question at the time when the government were headed by the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan. It is a question of how we achieve a balance of fairness between the individual and the taxpayer, a question which goes to the very heart of government. A government of whatever party will always say that of course they have got the balance right. On this occasion I hope so. Our task will be to examine the reality as the policy bites.
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