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Earl Russell: My Lords, can the noble Lord explain to the House why, from a similar sample of refugees, the proportion recognised as legitimate in Canada is so dramatically different from what it is in this country?
Lord Warner: My Lords, I cannot explain what has gone on in Canada. I have not studied the situation there. I sought to demonstrate the contrast between what has happened in relation to applications from particular countries and what has happened in relation to Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia. From those three countries we accepted as refugees over 90 per cent of the applications. I suggest that those statistics make it clear that we are able to recognise genuine asylum seekers and distinguish them from those whose claims are not well founded. We must face up to the fact that a large proportion of applications for asylum are not well founded and that we need robust systems that deter--I do not shrink from using that word--the growth of such applications.
Much has been made of the fact that the Government will not restore entitlement to social security benefits for asylum seekers while their applications are being determined. Social security benefits are for those who have established a right to be here, which applicants for asylum clearly have not. That seems to me a principled position and one that most taxpayers, who fund non-contributory social security benefits, can understand. Nearly nine out of 10 asylum seekers are single people without dependants; over three-quarters are male; and two-thirds are aged between 21 and 34. Making social security cash benefits available as of right to asylum seekers in that group will act as a considerable pull factor. We cannot run away from that fact. The evidence when the Conservatives changed the benefit rules demonstrated that. We shall simply collect more unfounded applications and that will make it more difficult for us to deal with genuine asylum seekers, especially those with families. We shall also give encouragement to those who operate internationally to organise the trade in human cargo.
I believe that the Government had no option but radically to reform the system of support for asylum seekers. Councils such as Kent and the London boroughs have been left with an unfair burden. There have been considerable disparities in the treatment of asylum seekers according to where they have ended up. In addition, we have seen the indigenous homeless of some London boroughs dispersed from London because all the spare accommodation has been taken up by asylum seekers. Social unrest has reared its head in some areas as a result of tensions between new arrivals and the home population.
Dispersing asylum seekers out of London in cluster areas where they can be properly accommodated and supported has to be the right policy. There is more spare accommodation outside London and we should make use of it. It will be impossible to make a dispersal policy stick if people can simply drift back to London without
Like many others, I have been uneasy about some of the arrangements proposed for accompanied children. I have never been a particular fan of vouchers, whether for disposing of beef mountains or for use in connection with asylum seekers. There is a strong counter-argument that, used with single people, they can deter unfounded asylum applications. I welcome the decision of the Home Secretary to increase the balance between cash payments and vouchers, especially for families with children. As my noble friend the Minister indicated, we now have a situation in which a family of two adults with two children will receive cash payments of £40 a week alongside £50 in vouchers, as well as--and this has often been lost sight of--the asylum support directorate paying for accommodation, water, heating, lighting, cooking, furnishing and domestic equipment and travel to asylum interviews. Those are much better arrangements than now, especially in the context of the new fast-track processing arrangements proposed by the Home Secretary from April 2000 under which initial decisions on families with children will be made within two months and the changes will not be introduced until those targets have been achieved, as the Minister indicated. We shall have to monitor closely how the new arrangements work in practice. But we should not be afraid to grasp this opportunity to seek improvements.
Finally, I welcome the decision of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to introduce amendments to make it clear that he will be under a duty to meet the accommodation and essential living needs of destitute families in a way that is comparable with the duty on local authorities under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. That is a significant safeguard, which many people concerned with the welfare of children wanted to see.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, Britain has a long-standing practice of receiving people from all parts of the world at times of crisis. That tradition of help for those in need has saved many lives over the centuries. Although refuge has been given without thought of return, it has not been an unrewarded generosity. This country has benefited from the different skills, energies and ideas that have been brought here by different cultural groups over the years.
The time was when Britain had open doors--I arrived as a typical Australian dentist, in the 1950s. I came for six months. I am still here. There are many residents in the United Kingdom today in just the same position. Because of when we came, we have a right of abode and are not affected by changing immigration laws. Although I personally am not directly affected, my
I welcome the introduction in Clause 1, under the rubric "Leave to enter", of subsection (2)(b) which anticipates new technological developments and would allow the use of smart cards. It is my hope that such a system might be able to make some special concession for a small group of Commonwealth citizens who feel, I believe justifiably, that the contribution that they have made is not valued. I am referring to World War II veterans, who were most upset by having to get visas to visit the VE Day celebrations. In letters to me they emphasised that they were now an ageing group and did not feel that it would be easy for them to wait in queues for clearance at the airport. I contacted the Home Office at the time, and special arrangements were made to ease their entry. They later sent notes of appreciation, but the resentment lingers. They were prepared to give their lives for Britain: surely there could be some easier access when they wish to visit.
As I said, they are a declining number and many of them will never come again, but I mention this at the beginning of my speech because that is where it arises in the Bill. I am hoping that the smart card technique might be able to do something for that very small number of veterans.
Long before I took my seat in your Lordships' House in 1981, I took a keen interest in each immigration or nationality Act and for this reason I am very aware of the genuine anxieties raised in the minds of those who are new to this country or who wish to come here. I was a member of my local community relations committee and I heard about, and shared, many of these worries. As time passed, it became clear that many of the alarms were false alarms. Anxieties caused by scaremonger tactics are very unfair. I hope that the Government will make every effort to allay unnecessary worries and be very clear as to what the Bill is intended to do.
There are a number of very genuine anxieties and, as a woman, I must draw the Minister's attention to the need to recognise rape as a legitimate reason for women to seek asylum. Women who have been raped have been victims of violence in one of its most terrifying forms. As UK representative on the UN Status of Women Commission, I was one of a small group studying confidential communications. Violence against women, particularly sexual violence, in detention and at times of armed conflict was the most common complaint to that commission from all parts of the world. This should be acknowledged and not ignored.
Another genuine anxiety is that an asylum seeker's application will be prejudiced by a health problem. There have always been powers to have medical checks carried out and I think it is important that these should be done, wherever there is any question. I recall, as a local authority health committee chairman, that a new
There is huge resentment in this country as regards illegal immigrants and overstayers, and rightly so. I think it is a good provision in the Bill that appeal for extension will only be applied within the legal period in the United Kingdom. Presumably some time will be allowed for existing overstayers to come forward, and information should be made widely available to enable them to do that, so they would be within any time limit to apply for consideration of their cases. An Australian journalist told me that there are an estimated 40,000 Australian overstayers here. There must be even greater numbers from many other countries with larger populations.
I welcome the clampdown on unscrupulous immigration advisers and those trafficking in human misery, charging people their life savings, and more, to bring them here illegally and thus condemning them to living in the shadows in this country. I also welcome the restrictions on judicial review which have been so abused in their use as a delaying tactic.
The bond scheme for family visitors is a good one and I wonder whether, in terms of those cases where detention might apply--not family visitors but other cases of detention--the Minister has considered the possible use of a tagging system in lieu of detention. Would this be appropriate? I heard the Minister say that finger-printing is not new as it was introduced in 1993, which I had not appreciated.
However, I am strongly in favour of identity cards. I am convinced that they would remove many of the concerns and fears of discrimination that exist. This subject was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and really I think we should all have identity cards.
When we read in the press that so many surplus houses are available for sale in Salford, that the price is very low--£2,000 was quoted--it is clear that there is accommodation available in other parts of the country. If asylum seekers are placed in such homes, they will need to have the support of those who understand their cultural background and needs, but they could provide good homes and settled communities. I must make a plea here for one of the services to be provided to these people to be the teaching of English as a language. It is much easier for anyone to live in the United Kingdom if he or she has at least some knowledge of the language. I am quite amazed at the number of housing benefit cases there are--people who have lived in this country for years without any employment, without any occupation, and yet they have never attempted to learn a single word of English.
We must avoid the drift back to London which has caused such pressure on local authorities in the capital. I think that subsections (1) and (2) of Clause 87 are very clear and good. I support them, but I am rather upset by Clause 87(3), which seems to wriggle out of subsections (1) and (2) because it says that by order everything in subsections (1) and (2) could be amended. As I say, I thoroughly applaud subsections (1) and (2). I am worried about subsection (3) and I hope that the Minister can reassure me that the first two subsections will not be thrown out.
As I say, we must avoid the drift back to London, which has caused such pressure on local authorities in the capital. How can that be done? ID cards would be one answer. Another would be to have a number of compatriots in the area so that people would not feel alone and would want to stay in the place they had gone to. We all oppose "ghettoisation", but newcomers to a country find comfort and reassurance in being with others of the same background. I have never lived in Earls Court, but it used to be "kangaroo valley". Before that it was "little Poland". As a dentist, I worked in Aldgate East, which was then intensely Jewish. Now it is Bangladeshi, and indeed the kosher restaurant has gone.
Past records show that not all asylum seekers need help or are genuine and it is essential that the help we give is given to the genuine asylum seekers. It is important to identify bogus claimants. Local London authorities have continuing worries about matters that are not clear in the Bill. Those matters are: what is the position of asylum applicants already accommodated by London local authorities? What is the long-term resettlement position of such people? The biggest problem is that one-third of them are now drifting back to London. What is the position with regard to asylum seekers who have exhausted all appeals? The greatest concern of all relates to the cost and care implications with regard to unaccompanied children and young adults because of the ongoing responsibility until they reach
Lord Avebury: My Lords, it may be a good Bill, but it is certainly a large and complex Bill, as the Minister said, and it needs your Lordships' careful attention. That is particularly so given that at the end of Report stage in another place the Government tabled a whole raft of amendments which were guillotined and not discussed at all. That is wholly unprecedented on such a major piece of immigration legislation. Therefore, we have a special duty to pay close attention, as the Minister put it, to the provisions in the Bill and especially to those amendments which were introduced at the very last moment in another place and those which, even now, have not seen the light of day.
My noble friend Lord Dholakia referred to those amendments. They include the promise to consider extending the role of the independent monitor appointed to monitor refusals of entry where there is no right of appeal, so that he or she could also look at broader issues such as the operation of the bond scheme and compliance with race relations legislation. My noble friend did not mention the undertaking to bring forward an amendment to bring what are now Clauses 8 and 55 into operation at the same time, so that a person who is to be removed without right of appeal can challenge the removal as unlawful under the Human Rights Act. There are three important promises about bail, with which I shall deal in a moment.
We all agree with the objectives set out in the White Paper, Fairer, Faster and Firmer, and that we should seek, among other things, to ensure that asylum seekers have their applications reviewed promptly, fairly and efficiently, so that people who are escaping from persecution and tyranny have the opportunity to start a new life as soon as possible, and to refuse equally promptly those who are simply using the asylum system to come here and enjoy the economic benefits of life in Britain.
As the Minister mentioned, a large number of people do come here and apply for asylum, and not all of them are properly qualified. There has to be a system for examining claims, and testing them against the criteria of the refugee convention. Only a small proportion of the applicants are detained, but even so, hundreds are being kept in prison because there is not enough accommodation for them in the detention centres provided for the purpose. That is the aspect of the problem on which I should like to concentrate.
I have suggested on previous occasions that the law should be amended to allow deportation orders to be served, objections to be lodged and appeals to be disposed of within the currency of longer prison sentences, so that in the small number of cases involved, the persons do not have to be detained after the expiry of their sentences. Perhaps the Minister could look again at that proposal. We have considered it previously, but it seems to fit in well with the Bill's objective of disposing of cases as expeditiously as we can.
At the end of April, there were 968 Immigration Act detainees, of whom 518 were in prison, most of whom were not charged with any criminal offence. I believe that all of the few who are considered to present a threat to security are held in Belmarsh. At the latest count, they accounted for only 11 of the 968, so it is quite a small problem.
Of the asylum seekers in custody at the end of March, 438 were awaiting initial decision, 186 were awaiting the result of an appeal, and 110 were awaiting the result of a further challenge, or awaiting the documentation for their removal. The Government have said that detention should be concentrated towards the end of the asylum process, but evidently that is not happening. The Minister must pay attention to that point because the Government's objectives are apparently not being achieved.
The Prison Service order on the management of Immigration Act detainees states that as far as possible they are to be accommodated in four main holding centres, but that any local prison may be required to hold detainees. According to the information that the Minister has been giving me in response to my request for statistics on month-end detainees, over 50 local prisons have been used to accommodate such people. It must be quite a burden for prisons that are not used to the special needs of these detainees, and which have to provide interpreters and translators; to ensure that detainees have access to aid agencies; to make suitable provision available for officers of the IND to conduct interviews and surgeries; to facilitate communication between detainees and their families, legal advisers and aid agencies, and to provide foreign language information packs in the languages understood by the detainees. It ought to be extremely rare for an applicant awaiting initial decision to be kept in prison at all, but to the extent that it is necessary, only a few specially designated prisons should be used, where the requirements that I have mentioned can be routinely satisfied.
Much of the debate concerning the detention of asylum seekers has focused on the absence of a statutory presumption in favour of liberty, as exists in criminal cases under the Bail Act 1976. As I understand it, that would put the onus on the IND to give substantial
In the very useful minutes of the Special Standing Committee in another place, close attention was given to the report of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which recommends that asylum seekers are detained only for reasons recognised as legitimate under international standards, and only when other measures will not suffice; that detention should be for the shortest possible period, and certainly not for the long periods of up to two years that are experienced currently.
I understand that the Government now accept that there should be a statutory presumption of bail, and the unanimous evidence of the agencies which gave evidence to the committee was effective in persuading them to change their minds, where Parliament alone might have been unable to do so. I hope that we shall see the criteria for detention set out, if not on the face of the Bill then at least in orders made under it, and that legal aid will be available for applicants at bail hearings.
The Minister in another place said--this may have been overtaken by the undertakings given later--that legal aid would only be provided by a combination of Section 23 of the 1971 Act and Clause 45 of the Bill, under which grants may be made to bodies such as the Refugee Legal Service and the IAS. Since those organisations are currently able to deal with only a small fraction of the cases, asylum seekers have been driven into the arms of unscrupulous and incompetent practitioners. I am glad that the Government are tackling that problem. However, nothing has been said about the level of grant to the IAS and the Refugee Legal Service in future years when the new bail provisions come into operation, yet if they are to cope, those organisations will obviously need more money.
As we still need to do all those things to ensure that we are not vulnerable to action under the Human Rights Act, and as the Government have now agreed to do them, I am surprised that the Minister felt able to sign the statement of compliance with the Human Rights Act on the front of the Bill.
As the Minister in another place pointed out, the impression of the working group was that a large majority of people were economic migrants and only a small percentage were genuine asylum seekers. There are no statistics published on this matter, but if one takes the figure of 10,000 people detained each year and assumes that three-quarters are asylum seekers, that can be compared with Amnesty International's evidence that of those detained in 1997, 89 went on to get refugee status and 132 were granted ELR. On those figures, only 3 per cent of the detainees were successful in getting leave to remain one way or the other, but that does not mean that all the remainder were properly detained or that all of them were economic migrants. It is not an either/or situation. Somebody who is an unsuccessful applicant for refugee status or ELR is not ipso facto an economic migrant. Many people with claims to come here, such as the Ugandan woman described by the right reverend Prelate, may not fall within the provisions of
For those who await the first decision, the question is not whether they have a right under the convention but whether they comply with any conditions imposed on their temporary entry while their applications are being considered. We need to go into that more thoroughly at Committee stage, because that does not seem to be the practice at the moment. The working group expressed concern that decisions on detention were being made on the basis of the availability of space in the detention estate rather than the objective merits of the case. Looking at the month-end figures, the variation since last August has been from only a minimum of 913 to a maximum of 989. It is very difficult to believe that that represents a true reflection of the objective need to detain.
It is a worry that by enlarging the detention estate we shall simply be encouraging the IND to detain even more people. I suggest that when Aldington is rebuilt the Prison Service should be made to reduce the number of places that it makes available to the IND by a corresponding amount. In that way one will not have an extra number of detainees corresponding to the accommodation available in Aldington.
Finally, the reduction in the numbers in detention--which is costing the taxpayer some £50 a year, plus the cost of keeping them in prison--depends critically on, among other things, the success of the PFI partnership project with Siemens on the IND's casework system. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, in a Written Answer on 19th May said that testing of the system was due to begin on 14th June and that it would be in full operation by early 2000. Has the Minister had any feedback from the testing so far, and can he give any more precise indication of when full operation will begin? The Minister said that as of 13th May over 76,000 asylum applications were waiting to be determined. That is an increase of 41 per cent on the numbers when the Government took office.
Can nothing be done to reduce the appalling backlog until the system is ready? It was not reassuring that Mr O'Brien could only tell my honourable friend Mr Richard Allan, who asked what would happen if there were further delays to the project:
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Immigration Appeal Tribunal. When I was first appointed in 1986, the main workload of the tribunal consisted of the determination of family cases from the Asian sub-continent. The introduction of genetic fingerprinting immediately resolved any questions of family relationships and the determination of primary purpose of marriage cases formed the bulk of the caseload.
From the early 1990s we began to see an increasing number of asylum cases. Most of the applicants came from north and west Africa, the Indian sub-continent and Sri Lanka, with some from Turkey and Iran. These claims were interspersed with a variety of applications for entry as visitors, students, dependent relatives or working holidaymakers, for example. In the past four years or so most of the applications to the tribunal have been claims for asylum, some as much as four or five years old.
From relatively simple beginnings since the 1971 Act immigration law has grown exponentially into a complex amalgam of UK primary and secondary legislation, European law and the 1951 United Nations convention relating to the status of refugees. Almost every asylum appeal to an adjudicator or the tribunal contains an element of definition. There is an urgent need to redefine the meaning of "refugee". For example, more and more often the situation of a single or widowed Moslem lady with no male member of the family to protect her has become a reason for a claim to asylum. I believe that to be a very valid reason.
As the Minister said, the Bill strengthens previous legislation that has not worked. I share the fears of many that this legislation will not necessarily solve the problems. What really makes the whole system chaotic is the overwhelming number of people who try to enter this country. The image of the dispossessed refugee fleeing tyranny in his or her homeland is a tragic icon and it is a state to which one can imagine no one aspiring, yet millions queue to join the ranks. The noble Lord, Lord Warner, gave some of the reasons. Something has gone fundamentally wrong.
The key to the problem is that, in the aftermath of the Second World War, the embarrassment and horror of genocide of the Jews, gypsies and the disabled led all right-thinking nations to sign up to the United Nations convention so that it should never happen again and refugees would always find someone to give them succour from tyranny. The drafters of the convention did not foresee the advent of easy international travel or satellite television. As the economic gap between the first and third world has widened, the poor of Asia, Africa and Latin America can see a better life portrayed daily on their screens. They come in their thousands, assisted by unscrupulous agents who have made a
My curiosity is increasingly aroused by the number of asylum seekers who tell us that they are brought into the UK by agents who appear to travel with impunity particularly between the airports of the Asian sub-continent and Heathrow. Presumably, they do not pass through immigration control at this end. Can nothing be done to prevent these agents from travelling freely and dumping their human cargo at immigration control at Heathrow?
I do not wish to give a false picture. There are people in desperate need of refugee status in certain regions of the world, for example Kurds in the Middle East, victims of tribal conflict in sub-Saharan Africa fleeing torture and execution, and both Albanians and Serbs fleeing the revenge in Kosovo. The problem is to identify this deserving minority, which would in itself number some hundreds or thousands a year, in a hopelessly under-resourced and appallingly managed immigration system overwhelmed by bogus claims, of which I understand there were about 50,000 in past year, corrupt agents and advisers, and political confusion.
Fundamental change is needed in our system of control at points of entry. Those seeking asylum must be interviewed promptly before they leave the port of arrival. All too often, essential evidence is not revealed until the case gets to a tribunal, possibly years later. All too often, by the time a case reaches a tribunal, an appellant has been thoroughly coached in his original story or has embellished it. This is when deciding upon credibility becomes a major factor.
It is vitally important that the interviewers are skilled. It should be made absolutely clear that this is the time for a full and open statement of facts, and that there is no need to be afraid of the authorities in this country on the basis that what is revealed may be passed to the authorities in the country of flight. Interviewing officers should have immediate access to accurate and up-to-date information on the current situation that pertains in the country from which the claimant has fled. Legal representation should be offered and independent medical reports should be prepared at this time.
The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, who is not in her place at the moment, raised the problem of women applicants. For women and children, both interpreter and interviewer should be women, especially when rape or other sexual assault is a possibility, simply because women from certain ethnic groups would not reveal for any reason whatever any such information to a man.
With the possible exception of those with young children, who should be offered special facilities, claimants should remain confined in humane, purpose built surroundings, not prisons, for reasons made clear by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, until a decision to grant or withhold refugee status has been made by the Home Secretary. That decision should be made within one week. Each case should be dealt with on its individual merits. Instead of the general-purpose refusal
Those who appeal should remain confined for a little longer, perhaps two or three months, as they are in some Nordic countries. They should also know that if their appeal fails they will be physically removed from the United Kingdom. The example of immigration control in some Nordic countries seems to work. The bogus claimant is deterred. The genuine refugee is in no way disadvantaged. Status would be recognised rapidly, enabling claimants to become integrated into our society and to rebuild their lives without a prolonged period of anxiety while their claims are decided. The economic migrant would be discouraged.
Government resources should be directed at providing the Home Office with effective means of entry control, accommodation for claimants, and deportation measures. Those resources may readily be found from the millions currently spent on income support and housing benefit for bogus asylum claimants who eventually disappear into the black economy.
There is absolutely no point in having an appeals system if there is not absolute certainty that those claimants whose appeals fail in the final court are not deported. Far too many failed asylum seekers and those in other immigration categories who have exhausted the system go to ground. In order to solve the problem of a perpetual backlog, the possibility of processing separately existing claims, and claims which arise after the enactment of this legislation, should be considered.
On a technical note, the Home Office appears to have been reluctant to use its powers to grant exceptional leave to remain, rather than full refugee status, to those with a credible short-term need to be out of their homeland; for example, where a civil war is likely to be temporary, or in the current circumstances in Algeria, or where a government have effectively ceased to exist and there is no practical way of the claimant returning, as in Somalia.
I believe that these are practical solutions to the present problem. They are a great deal more relevant than, for example, the appointment of a commissioner or the establishment of tribunals to determine grievances on matters of welfare and support, or the effectiveness of claimants' representatives--proposals of Kafkaesque irrelevance to the core of the problem. A system of recognition of non-legally qualified representatives is certainly needed, but it can be readily established under the Immigration Appeal Tribunal, which is effectively a court to be headed by a High Court judge. The same tribunal is in the best possible position to hear these appeals.
There has been a proliferation of legislation in this field in the past 20 years. It is a pity that the Government have not chosen to consolidate existing legislation in the Bill. The Bill is widely opposed by many working in the field of immigration for failing to get to the heart of the problem and for many of the draconian measures it
Baroness Uddin: My Lords, I support the Bill. I have spoken to a number of people both inside and outside this House. They agree that the Bill is the most fundamental reform of immigration and asylum law for many years. It is always controversial to deal with difficult issues of putting up borders to prevent outsiders entering, especially when all over the world many people in many countries face violent abuse of their human rights. It is a brave government who will take a fairer, firmer and consistent attitude to dealing with these issues and I believe that this Government are one.
For 20 years, we have struggled to get in place a balanced view and a practical policy for dealing with immigration and asylum often with a race bias. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the good work of many organisations, including the JCWI and the Refugee Council to name but two. I believe that the current intention is a definite and humane approach--the White Paper sets out an integrated strategy, which we have demanded for a number of years--alongside the Government's commitment to advance a multi-cultural, multi-racial and anti-racist agenda. That is an important aspect of the Bill. Surely, no one can doubt that this Government are committed to that agenda in the post-Lawrence era.
The current arrangements for supporting asylum seekers are inconsistent and unacceptable. Noble Lords in all parts of the House agree with that. Often, on arrival someone at the right destination would receive some or adequate support, but on arrival at another would be treated like a criminal waiting to be put away or thrown out. No one in their right mind would want to see that continue.
As a leading member of a local authority, I speak from some limited experience of dealing with the extra demands made on local authorities. I was sometimes unhappy with the services available to my own constituents, but as an officer of another authority I was in a politically sympathetic environment, able to provide adequate support using the Children Act and community care legislation. That is illustrated by this example of the social services department in my authority of Newham. We began to give cash to asylum seekers, which brought the department to a practical and financial collapse. It was subsequently decided to rely on vouchers alongside the provisions for housing and a daily cash allowance. We believe, and we were told, that a number of asylum seekers felt lucky to be in Newham. By contrast, Tower Hamlets, which is my borough of residence, and Westminster provided much more limited support.
There is no doubt in my mind that a caring government could not allow such discrepancy to continue. I endorse the contribution of my noble friend Lord Warner, who dealt with a number of points I wanted to raise. I shall not repeat them. I intend to restrict my comments to matters of principle rather than
I hope that the debate will ensure that the final legislation takes on board many of the concerns expressed here and in the other place. To that end I am reassured by the opening speech of my noble friend the Minister that he will consider amendments seriously.
I wish to draw attention to particular concerns expressed about this Bill by a number of my noble friends and honourable friends in another place, not necessarily in an official capacity but mainly in the corridor. I am also concerned about those who have talked to the media off the record to express their deep concerns about the Bill without feeling able to place them on record. I myself have deep faith in the parliamentary process and in the workings of this House to deliver a Bill which will have been amended in the usual way to take on board a number of those concerns.
During the passage of the Bill many of us have been asked to express our concerns in various outside meetings. The Floor of the House is the right place to air those concerns rather than media opportunities which are currently available and accessible. A number of us have been asked to appear on radio and television and share our concerns about the Bill. A number of honourable friends have suggested privately that if they speak out about the Bill they risk being assigned to the Back Benches for ever. I have reservations about this kind of method of opinion sharing because I believe that it has added to some of the anxieties outside in the community as well as in the media.
I urge my colleagues in the other place and in this House to state on record their real fears so that we can tackle them and redress the Bill with appropriate amendments so that we have something to which we can all sign up.
One other fundamental concern which we have all shared in contributing to this debate, both inside and outside the House, is that the Bill is governed by the premise that each application is bogus and that there is a racist connotation and undertone widespread in the country. It is my opinion that this Bill has been unjustifiably accused of reinforcing that stereotype and that agenda. However, it is a very serious allegation and it does not bode well for a government who have tried so bravely to tackle racism. I urge the Minister to take back to his colleagues in the Home Office the fact that we must place greater emphasis on ensuring that this point is put across to the community at large and is challenged at every turn.
In the spirit of my previous remarks, I wholeheartedly endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, in relation to the impact of the Bill being in danger of damaging race relations and support his call to the Government to take a very clear position. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, that the Bill will not achieve its objective. It is up to all of us to ensure that the Bill passes through this House amended appropriately so that we can agree to it. This is an opportunity.
This is the right place to acknowledge the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, who is not in her place, about women's applications, especially those who have been, or fear being, raped. I wholly endorse her comments that we need to take that on board. In addition I agree wholeheartedly with the comments of the noble Countess, Lady Mar, who talked about appropriate staff being available to deal with women's applications.
I belong to the all-party group on children. Deep concerns have been expressed by most of the children's organisations. I urge the Government to re-examine some of the issues raised by children's organisations, not because they have a monopoly over children's rights over and above the Government, but because, as a local government officer, I was for a long time and am still all too aware of papers and Bills being introduced by officers who could not always appreciate the political implications and the realities of implementation.
The current faster, fairer policy may be a new concept and I am not suggesting that in assisting us to legislate the Civil Service has not caught on to the new agenda. I am suggesting that we can look at some of the ways in which the Bill is proposed. We cannot struggle with yet another Bill that stands accused of missing the point. I believe that something is missing when the most caring government for many years are accused of this by its various publications despite their intention to be fairer and to administer a Bill that is consistent. This must be refuted and corrected if appropriate. I am assured by noble Lords that requests for serious amendments by children's organisations will be taken to the Home Secretary and I look forward to the Bill being amended to take on board some of their concerns.
I welcome the Bill. It has afforded us an opportunity to put in place a way forward. Let us correct that with which we are not happy. I do not take seriously Members on the Opposition Benches in the other place who decry those involved in the community or in national politics but who cannot have failed to notice the inertia of 18 years of government when individual authorities were left to their own devices, sometimes using blatantly divisive means to deal with immigration and asylum issues. I am ambitious and confident that once we have debated and amended the Bill we will have many of the desired amendments to make this Bill into something that cannot be associated with yet another attack on black and immigrant communities.
Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, the aspirations and intentions underlying this Bill are laudable, but a year ago, in July 1998, the Home Secretary, in his preface to the White Paper, described the situation then as a shambles. Is the situation any better now and do we really believe that the situation will be better soon?
For some time I have been concerned about the colossal backlog of cases of longstanding applicants for asylum, some of whom have been in this country for more than six years, without any indication of a decision, still less the award of the status of exceptional leave to remain, or any consideration whatever by the Home Office. Of course, any asylum seeker must be grateful for the refuge accorded by this country and the material support given. However, on 16th March last year in a Written Answer to a Question I tabled (WA102) the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, stated:
"an accurate breakdown ... could only be achieved at disproportionate cost by examination of individual case files. ... it is also not possible to establish accurately the number of undecided applications, if any, which were lodged prior to 1988". This is the world of Kafka. To have in this country applicants for asylum who have been kicking their heels for a decade, unable to settle their futures and at the expense of the British taxpayer, is absurd. Some of them are young people--perhaps I should say "were" young people--anxious to get some training and embark upon useful careers. But without some decision, if only exceptional leave to remain, they are denied access to the relevant training.
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