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Lord Filkin: My Lords, I appreciate the noble Lord's generally supportive words about the challenge facing not only this Government but any government in the current situation. I shall not engage in the debate to assign all blame to the courts and the lawyers. That is the downside of a positive. Although we probably have greater judicial activism and better protection in our courts than many European states, that does not come without problems. We would be foolish not to recognise that there occasionally are problems.
I also do not think that the objectives of the 1951 convention are the villain of the piece. During our consideration of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill, I never heard any noble Lord say that we should not offer asylum to those who genuinely need it. As I think most sides of the House will recognise, the problem is that, for understandable reasons, a very large proportion of those claiming asylum are truly economic migrants. It is not easy to tell one from the other. Consequently, with the support of the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, we passed that legislation.
That point raises another issue which I have previously mentioned. At some stage, this House may be able to debate and reflect on the elements of a better system. I think that such a debate would be worthwhile. I am talking not about throwing away the 1951 convention, but about how to build on those processes and fundamental principles while recognising the current reality of massive international movements of population and extensive criminal trafficking. We could discuss a better way of being fair and standing firm on the 1951 convention. It is currently very difficult to do that. It is very difficult to distinguish asylum seekers from the thousands who may not be.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, the Minister referred to the process of applications for asylum by Iraqis as a charade, by which he means that at the end of the day, after they have been through the appeal system, they are always allowed to remain here in view of the circumstances in their country of origin. What implications does that have for the people who are applying for asylum in this country and who are awaiting hearings before the adjudicator or the tribunal? Should they not also be given leave to remain without going through, as he has described it, the charade of the process?
Secondly, may I ask him what are the implications of having the border controls in northern France and, ultimately, in Belgium and Holland? Does it mean that, if somebody applies for asylum in the United Kingdom at one of these places and they are refused, the appeal process will also take place in those countries and that the adjudicators and tribunals will have to sit in northern France, Belgium and Holland?
Lord Filkin: My Lords, when I used the word charade what I meant was that I believe that the vast majority of the 1,000 or so Iraqis who will effectively be given a visa allowing them to work in this country had obtained what they wished. One could therefore see little purpose in their seeking also to apply for asylum, having got what they effectively wantedthe right to work in the United Kingdom and to be given the visa status which protected them in doing so.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, perhaps I may first of all congratulate my noble friend on what I think is a very satisfactory outcome to the best part of two years of serious problems at Sangatte. I declare an interest as Chairman of the Rail Freight Group.
Sangatte, as he said, is to some extent an illustration of a very serious problem for the people of Calais, but it has also been a major contribution to stopping rail freight and the Eurotunnel services for a time. Since the new fence has been erected and is working, the numbers have decreased very dramatically and services have greatly improved. That is one reason why it is now possible for the two governments to agree to close the Sangatte centre early.
My noble friend is aware that the problem is now migrating to other Channel ports. Therefore, will he also look at the problem of migration nearer the source, namely Italy? Many of us have been aware for some time that organised crime has certainly had a part to play in the flows of some of these people. Just this morning I heard that Her Majesty's Customs had organised a conference a week or two ago in Milan to warn shippers about the problems of drug smuggling, paedophiles, sex and people smuggling. I would ask my noble friend whether his department, the Immigration Service, could join with customs, and perhaps with the transport Ministers, to look at the problem of people climbing into trains in Italywhich is again clearly a case of organised crimeto close a further loophole in what otherwise is the opportunity to restart a very good service quite quickly.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Berkeley for his recognition of the achievement. I think that it is a truly significant achievement by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. Such agreements are not easily made. They require vision, leadership and an ability to strike a personal relationship with another interior Minister to make such things come about particularly when they cause pain for both sides in the short term, even though they will deliver significant benefits to both sides.
I take his point that we would be naIve to think that this problem would be ended by our making it significantly harder for illegal clandestines to get through the north coast ports. If they are earning substantial amounts of money from such trafficking, people will look for other routesand they will be doing so now, even though I believe that we have made very significant progress both with the French and
We will continue that sort of international co-operation, both with the French and with other European member states. This finds its reflection at a policy level in the Justice and Home Affairs Committee, but finds its true practical expression in some very good work, which has to continue, both through customs, immigration and police officials in each of the relevant member states.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, the noble Lord has mentioned the people in the Sangatte centre who have not claimed asylum in France. When the centre is closed, will the French Government be providing the United Kingdom Government with a list of people who have claimed asylum, so that anyone else can be properly screened when they arrive?
Lord Filkin: My Lords, the question posed by the noble Baroness is a good one and I will pursue it with the department. It certainly should be possible to make that much more foolproof than has been the case in the past, because EURODAC comes on line in the early part of next year. EURODAC, for those who do not thrill to some of these technicalities, is a computerised system which allows fingerprints to be digitised and therefore compared.
It would be highly desirable that the French entered anyone who claimed asylum in that way onto EURODAC as soon as possible, which would allow us the potential, when that comes on stream, to compare their fingerprints. It would avoid what I am afraid we do know happens, namely multiple asylum claims by some people in several countries at once.
Lord Monson: My Lords, can the Minister confirm or deny reports that would-be illegal immigrants are now moving to Cherbourg and other French and Belgian Channel ports, in order to try to smuggle themselves into this country?
Secondly, although the idea of temporary work permits is probably the least bad option in the circumstancesand to that extent I agree with the Governmentcould he confirm that those granted such permits will not automatically be given the right subsequently of permanent settlement in this country, still less full British citizenship? This would send out a signal that we are a soft touch, compared to the rest of Europe.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, in reply to the first question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Monson, about illegal immigrants, one of the benefits of the increased technological surveillance that is being installed on the continental side of the Channel ports is that it will not only identify people who would have come in and claimed asylum, but will also identify people who are clandestineswho do not wish to claim asylum but who want to enter and work incognito in the illicit
I touched on the issue of work permits earlier. If a person is effectively given a visa which allows them to work for four years and if everything else goes well, then at the end of that period they are entitled to apply for permanent residence. There is clearly still a discretion by the Home Secretary in that respect, but they are entitled to make an application if they so wish.
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