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Baroness Williams of Crosby: I believe it would be for the convenience of the Committee if I were to address all three amendments. They are very close to one another in the sense that all of them argue that support should be maintained until the end of the judicial process of appeal and review. That must be right. I was concerned at one stage that in an earlier draft of the Bill there was a suggestion that support would be removed when the process of appeal had been concluded short of judicial review. That cannot be right since an
I add one other point. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, has set out in great detail the arguments for this amendment. My own experience of the British citizen is perhaps somewhat different from that of the noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, in the sense that it has been the case over and over again that the British people have responded with extraordinary generosity when they have seen real need. Whether because of the hurricanes in Central America, the famine in Somalia or distress in Kosovo, time and time again the voluntary bodies and others have pointed to the astonishing level of response. I do not believe that most British citizens would wish to see those trying to get their rights within our judicial and legal process, of which we have every reason to be extremely proud, prevented from doing so by destitution.
As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has pointed out, destitution would be the situation of those for whom there was no support of any kind from any source and who were not entitled to work in order to keep body and soul together. These amendments must be right if we believe in our own system of justice, the fairness of our courts and the right of everyone--"the poorest he among us", as the Levellers would have said--to receive that justice.
I strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, and I would fully accept whichever of these amendments appears to be the best drafted and covers the widest range of possibilities. We would rejoice to see that amendment accepted. But it would be quite wrong to end the support system when the right of an asylum seeker to continue to pursue his rights under our legal system was still open to him. I strongly support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and present my own.
Earl Russell: The noble Earl, Lord Dartmouth, asked whether this amendment has the support of the British taxpayer. It certainly has the support of this one. The short answer is that the only way to find out would be to carry this amendment in the Lobbies and send it to another place to find out what it thinks about it. If the noble Earl is ready to co-operate in that endeavour I shall be happy to join him, although probably not tonight.
However, the argument goes a little wider. It is the obligation of any British government--and the duty of any king or queen of England before that--to do justice. That obligation goes back to Magna Carta and to the Coronation Oath. We think that this amendment is part of that obligation; and that obligation is one to which the British taxpayer has consented. It is indeed the very essential reason why he has a government. There is no point in having a government if it does not do justice.
If something like this amendment is not accepted, there is a real danger of refugees being forced back to their own countries where they have been at risk of persecution. In fact, there is a real danger of constructive refoulement, contrary to Article 33 of the UN convention. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, seems to have a doubt on that point. But if people cannot live where they are, they tend to go somewhere else at whatever risk. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, suggested, it is an alternative that they may live in a disorderly way. The threat to public order has long been recognised by Ministers of the Crown as one of the most important reasons for supporting the destitute, including over the centuries a great many who have come from other countries. Most of us have ancestors who have come here from other countries at some stage in their lives in a state of destitution, often as victims of persecution, and who have enjoyed the hospitality of this country. I think that we should pass on the generosity from which our ancestors benefited.
There is also a real risk of legal trouble if something of this sort is not done. I have spoken before about the potential conflict between the powers of statute and the principles of natural justice. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, indicated that he very much agreed with me that it is better for that not to be explored too thoroughly. I said that there were some things which one does not really want to find out, when dealing with the question of which of these has the superior authority. The noble and learned Lord nodded vigorously. I agree with him.
This Bill, seen from the perspective of the courts, might seem like an attempt to interfere with justice. I do not want the supremacy of statute or natural justice to have to be argued out; but we should not lead Her Majesty's judges into temptation. If this Bill is not amended, I think that Her Majesty's judges will be led into temptation. It is not for me to say whether or not they will resist it, but it is a risk that I do not think we ought to take. We ought not to interfere with the course of justice, as will be done if people are deprived of support while they have perfectly valid outstanding claims to a hearing. That is my central reason for supporting this group of amendments.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: Amendment No. 157 stands in my name and that of my noble friend, as well that of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby. It is a different drafting of a similar point to that expressed in Amendment No. 155 moved by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I prefer the drafting of our amendment and, until I have heard the Minister's response, I have no reason to change my mind as regards the detailed differences between the two formulations.
There is a point of principle behind what is proposed, but there is also an extremely practical point as to when the support will stop during the legal process. With due respect to the noble Earl, it is not a point which can be decided solely on the basis of our traditions in this country. Nevertheless, I sympathise with a great deal of what the noble Earl said.
However, the situation has changed in recent years. The world has become smaller and there are more economic migrants. As was said in our earlier debates, many of us would seek to be economic migrants if we did not have the good fortune to live in this or a comparable country. Nevertheless we have to distinguish between economic migrants and the genuine seekers of asylum who deserve it and whom we all wish to assist.
The Earl of Dartmouth: As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, pointed out, I have not attended the many days of discussion on this Bill. However, I feel flattered that a mere nine-word intervention from me should inspire paragraphs of the words of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and an entire speech from the noble Earl, Lord Russell, to be printed in Hansard. I am a tremendous admirer of the speaking abilities of the noble Earl, Lord Russell. I always enjoy his speeches. Therefore I feel even more flattered that a nine-word intervention from me should inspire an entire speech from him.
However, there is a serious point here. I asked whether the measure had the support of the British taxpayer. I infer from the lengthy address of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the eloquent speech of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that the short answer to that is "no". Although I have attended few of the proceedings during the passage of the Bill through this Chamber I was present when the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, introduced this Bill with his customary eloquence. However, he seemed to me to imply that he rather disagreed with that introduction. I do not have his words in front of me but he mentioned a large number of statistics which appear to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt to an objective person that there are a large number of bogus asylum seekers who have come here in order to live off the British taxpayer. That is what the statistics demonstrate.
Bogus asylum seekers abuse our hospitality and exploit our humanitarian feelings. That goes against the grain of British generosity and fair play which the noble Baroness so rightly mentioned. Many people have participated in debates on this Bill during its passage through the Chamber but it seems to me that the interests of the taxpayer have been under-represented.
I wish to make a point of detail on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I am not picking on him; it is just the way "the cards break". There is a logical fallacy at the heart of what he said. He said that 81 per cent of immigration applications are granted by judicial
As I heard the Minister introduce the Bill--that seems many months ago--it seemed to me that the Bill's intention was to rebalance the application of the law as between asylum seekers and the taxpayer. The Government's unexpected interest in the welfare of the taxpayer is very welcome. I urge the Government Front Bench to stand firm against these and other self-interested and unobjective amendments.
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