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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend who has had considerable experience in days past of the problems of the benefit system and how to control it.

We envisage that, once the system is up and running, we shall be making savings of the order of £200 million a year--the figure quoted by the noble Baroness. Those savings will not be made in the next financial year because of the generous transitional arrangements I outlined. The savings will be greater if we can reduce the number of migrants who come here; if we can reduce the number of bogus asylum seekers. They put costs onto local government; for example, through the education system and so forth. Therefore, while my £200 million saving relates to the benefit system alone--I am sure people will approve of that--there will

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be other savings. Fewer people will come here and further costs will not be imposed on local government services.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: My Lords, does the Minister realise that within the Churches there are many who share the anger and dismay expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell? Does he realise that we, too, object to the word "bogus" in relation to those applications that are rejected? It is not that the applications are bogus, but rather that those applicants have not been able to jump through specific hoops. That is the language that we would choose to use.

Furthermore, does the Minister realise that a considerable problem is being raised through the regulations? Voluntary agencies, the Churches among them, are attempting to respond. Does he realise, for instance, that the diocese of Southwark is attempting to respond to the situation? Are the Government prepared to put any resources towards the voluntary agencies that are attempting to meet the need?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I cannot agree with the right reverend Prelate that just because the applications have been refused I am somehow not allowed to come to the conclusion that the applications were not ill-founded in the beginning. If the right reverend Prelate takes a look at the countries from which many of those applicants come he will be hard put to explain how people could come from those countries, which most of us consider stable and democratic, and find themselves within the rules of being refugees.

We give money to various organisations. We give £1.4 million to the Refugee Council, we give £500,000 to Refugee Action and we give a number of other more regional bodies about £30,000 each in order to do the work they do. We are always happy to discuss with them the kind of problems which arise on this difficult question. I hope that the right reverend Prelate will look at the figures and also look at the rising trend which has led to an almost ten-fold increase in the number of people applying in this country over the past decade.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I should declare an interest in that until last June I was Director of the Refugee Council, to which the Minister has just referred. I put it to the Minister that if people are feeling emotional it is because there is genuine anger and dismay at what the Government have announced today. On the Minister's own figures, 24 per cent. of asylum seekers are allowed to stay in this country. Will he confirm that roughly the same proportion of in-country applicants as of port applicants are allowed to stay in this country? Twenty-four per cent. is a fairly large figure.

Secondly, as regards denying asylum seekers who are appealing against a refusal any income support while they are awaiting a decision, is that not tantamount to saying that there is no effective appeal system for such people? If they cannot afford to sustain themselves, they either have to beg or possibly go back to the dangers from which they have fled.

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Thirdly, the Minister referred to other European Union countries. Can he mention any European Union country which neither provides an adequate financial basis of support for asylum seekers nor provides accommodation and other subsistence for them? It seems to me that we are going to do neither one nor the other. That leaves asylum seekers begging on the streets.

Finally, there is an answer to the difficulties that he has been describing. The problem is, as my noble friend Lady Hollis said very clearly a few moments ago, that asylum seekers are having to wait sometimes years before a decision is made about their asylum claims. That is unfair to them and it is costly for the country. What we need is not systems for determining asylum claims which are unfair and unjust but enough staff in the Home Office so that decisions can be made fairly, properly and speedily. In that way, the Government would save the money that they are talking about. But it should not be done by forcing the victims of persecution the world over, a small number of whom seek safety in this country, from having any means to exist while they are waiting for a decision about their futures.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I shall not repeat the figures I mentioned earlier but I do think that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, whose interest in this subject I know well, should bear them in mind. As I said earlier, one of the problems which leads to delay for genuine asylum seekers--the 7 per cent.--is that so many come without a genuine reason for seeking asylum in this country. They simply clog up the system. We have put in more resources. We have put in £37 million more just recently. We have attempted to improve the system but it has simply been overwhelmed by more people deciding to come here. We are currently trying a fast-track system and as a result of the Asylum and Immigration Bill we will be making further improvements in trying to make the procedure very much quicker.

But there is the other problem which I mentioned when it comes to appeals. Almost everyone appeals. Few of them have real grounds for appeal, but almost everyone appeals because that keeps them in this country and on benefit for very many months. Many of them adjourn, adjourn and adjourn in order to draw out the process. That is part of the problem, which I fully accept is a serious one, when it comes to genuine asylum seekers.

With regard to denying support during the appeal, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State makes it clear in the Statement that it puts asylum seekers on all fours with United Kingdom citizens, who are not allowed benefit while they appeal. That is proper and right. What we want to able to do--I should like to think that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, would agree with us on this--is deal with the genuine asylum seeker quickly and expeditiously. The genuine asylum seeker will be able to apply at the port. He will get all the benefits while the Home Office officials decide on his case. I would hope that if we can somehow slim down the process so that the officials are not being overwhelmed by numbers they will be able to improve, if I may so call it, their decision at the first instance.

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In regard to other countries, many of our European colleagues have strengthened their asylum measures since 1993. They have taken steps along the same lines as our own. That has led to a fall in the number of asylum seekers in most of the countries of the European Union.

Baroness Elles: My Lords, with regard to what my noble friend has just said about asylum seekers in other European Union countries, can my noble friend confirm that the numbers have decreased dramatically and that the numbers in the United Kingdom applying for asylum are somewhere equal to the total number of asylum seekers in all other European Union countries? Can he further confirm that the measures taken by those countries both as to the treatment of asylum seekers at the port of entry and the kind of benefits that they are receiving show that we have been way ahead of any other European Union country in the way in which we have been treating asylum seekers up to now?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her support on this matter. As she has perhaps picked up in one of my previous answers, most of our European friends have taken steps in quite recent legislation to strengthen their asylum measures. It is difficult--the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, mentioned this--to make direct comparisons because Denmark, Germany and The Netherlands generally use reception centres and hostels. The French give benefit but only for 12 months. At the end of 12 months it stops. What is interesting is that all the steps they have taken mean that they have seen a decline in the number of applicants in the past year or two while we have seen an increase. A decade ago we were running at 3 or 4 per cent. of the total number of asylum seekers in the whole of Europe. In 1994 we were up to 13.2 per cent. A look at the figures will show that in most European countries over the past year or two, as a result of their tightening their legislation against economic migrants, the graph has turned down. Ours has gone into a steeper and steeper increase.

Lord Shaw of Northstead: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that our embassies abroad do a very good but difficult job in examining the applications that are made to them and that they give full warning to all applicants for visas as to the consequences, if those applicants are successful, of seeking to change at a later date their reason for coming to this country? If the consequences are not borne out in fact, will it not make the job of our embassies that much more difficult in the future?

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