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5.59 p.m.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I am afraid that I, too, must begin with an apology. There is much talking going on in London tonight. I have a speaking engagement that I made long before I expected to be a Member of this House and, therefore, I shall not be able to present at the conclusion of the debate. I am glad that I am able to speak in this debate because I spent three of the most formative years of my life teaching in Africa. There I saw at first hand the problems that lie at the root of this Bill; namely, political persecution and economic deprivation. Those problems are easy to analyse but solutions to them are hard to find. Listening to the debate this afternoon, I feel that there are issues on which we might have different interpretations, but we accept that they are the issues with which we have to deal. It is unanimously agreed in this House that we all want to provide refuge to genuine asylum seekers; that is, individuals who are suffering political persecution.

We all realise--although we might phrase it in different ways--that there are many economic migrants fleeing poverty and deprivation who pose as political asylum seekers. I think the right reverend Prelate was a little unfair to say it is greed that drives them. If one is not a right reverend Prelate, or a noble Lord, but a small farmer in East Africa, or on the sub-continent, or in Poland, Romania or Bulgaria, surprisingly western Europe seems a more attractive proposition. It is not a matter of greed but a genuine desire to find what they perceive to be a better life.

I agree with what some noble Lords said earlier; namely, that great benefit has come to this country from many who sought to flee economic deprivation. As a former high master of St. Paul's School in London, I can speak of the contribution of Jewish pupils from that school. I refer to uranium and the reactor. However, in spite of all that, we know that from the turn of this century every government in the developed world have put restrictions on the entry of economic migrants. The aliens Act of 1905 was the first such measure in England, but there were quotas in the United States and a whole series of legislative measures which followed the need to maintain social harmony by not allowing the free movement into a country of economic migrants.

We all realise that if we ignore what is happening in western Europe, more economic migrants will come to this country. I need not dwell on the many regulations that have been introduced in France, Germany, the Netherlands and so on. All of those are more restrictive than those that we have at present. There can be no doubt that if we ignore those rules, many more migrants will come to this country. We must in some sense bear in mind these rules. We cannot ignore them. Let me put it more crudely. I suggest that this House has had two solutions put before it this afternoon. One of those is the solution suggested in the Bill which was introduced by my noble friend the Minister. The other is the one that

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has been suggested by many noble Lords and the right reverend Prelate, which is to put more resources into the processing of immigration applications so that they can be processed more quickly.

Neither solution denies the facts that we shall have to reduce the number of immigrants and that many of them are here without cause. I suggest to the House that neither solution constitutes a perfect moral solution. Only the right reverend Prelate proposed something that approaches near moral perfection. His interpretation of political persecution would cover almost any discontent that human beings feel. If we followed his suggestion, the discontented carpenter in Nairobi would have as much validity as a political refugee amid Saddam Hussein's Iraq. But for the rest we have to face the fact that we are dealing with shades of grey, and neither of the options suggested will provide the perfect solution.

I need not add to the criticisms which many noble Lords have levelled at the Bill from a moral position. I refer to the right reverend Prelate and to many others. However, I suggest there is a moral dilemma as regards the solution which proposes an immense increase in the economic resources devoted to processing immigrants' asylum applications. We are in a society which is thin on resources. Such a policy would produce jealousy in our society. Human beings are like that. They would be jealous and, in a crude way, they would declare that resources are being given to people who only want to escape poverty in their own country, but that we have poverty in this country which should be tackled. I suggest that that jealousy would work against the interests of the people we are trying to help; namely, those seeking political asylum. In the popular mind the asylum seekers would be grouped with those whom the public regard--possibly wrongly--as scroungers on the state. Therefore the perfect moral state of admitting everyone and processing their applications more quickly might produce disadvantages for others. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, shakes his head. Perhaps he has a better knowledge of morals than the rest of us.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I certainly would not claim a better knowledge of morals than the noble Lord. However, the alternative to his proposition is not admitting everyone and processing their applications better; it is an alternative whereby one still keeps strict and firm controls, but reduces the incentive to apply for asylum in that an application for asylum automatically brings the right to stay during the period of the application and the appeal. That time is too long.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I can only say to that what I have said before. The noble Lord is ignoring what is happening in our neighbouring countries. Part of the problem is that we live in a world of imperfection. In a world of imperfection we face the impossibility of doing the ideal thing. What is right from one point of view is wrong from another. Pay Peter and you deprive Paul. In the end we seem to be left with only common sense with which to decide these complicated moral issues. Whatever we decide, it seems wrong in some way. Our decision may be good for someone but it may injure someone else. All we can try to do is to find the least hurtful solution. I suggest that

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this Bill offers the least hurtful solution. I cannot agree that to adopt processes which are less strict than those of our Continental neighbours will not produce jealousy among the people in England. The Bill attempts to help asylum seekers by reducing the flow of economic migrants into this country. If we try to process their applications more quickly and spend more money in doing so, that will result in jealousy among our own people.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Will he indicate which clause of the Bill distinguishes between genuine refugees and economic migrants, and how it does so?

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, there is not a clause in the Bill which makes that distinction, because, as has emerged in this debate, it is difficult to make that distinction. However, history shows us that a person suffering genuine political persecution will be accepted. I believe that genuine persecution will be revealed under the appeals procedure proposed in the Bill. Noble Lords will have noted the large numbers of asylum seekers who are arriving from the countries of eastern Europe in which there is little, if any, political persecution. I cite Poland as one example. I realise there is a problem in this area which this Bill is designed to try to tackle.

In 1905 Winston Churchill revised the aliens Act which had first been proposed in 1904. He was worried about this as he was a Member of a Liberal Administration, and Home Secretary in it. As noble Lords know, the aliens Act restricted the entry of immigrants from eastern Europe and demanded that they had economic resources to sustain them when they arrived in England. Winston Churchill addressed a Jewish delegation that arrived--I am sure my noble friend the Minister would do the same--and said,

    "As regards the present Act, its success depends on administration, whether it is an odious Act or one tempered with leniency".
I think that this Bill, administered with leniency, would solve many of the problems which trouble us at the moment.

6.9 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I listened with interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington of Oxenford, had to say. I began by agreeing very much with what he presented to the House. In particular, I thought that he deserved a great deal of attention from us in outlining the way in which many people have reasonable motives for being economic refugees, although I accept that this country, being densely crowded, cannot accept all those who are economic refugees.

However, I believe it is important to mention, in order to remedy a kind of demonisation of economic refugees, that the United States was built up almost entirely by economic refugees. The same is true of the new Australia. Therefore, we need to make a distinction when we talk about refugees and asylum seekers.

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Economic refugees are often the most enterprising members of their societies. Therefore, it is with some sorrow that I recognise that we cannot accept them.

There is a second group of refugees, to whom a number of noble Lords have referred. All of us know them, especially those of us who, like the Minister, have served at the Home Office. Those are the disreputable people who try to exploit the misery of others, who run rackets in order to try to bring in illegal immigrants, and who are in every possible sense those whom we should eschew from our company. We should certainly seek, in the Bill and its predecessors, to stop them from exploiting the good will and humanity of other people.

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