Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Renton: Before dealing with the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, I should like to refer to the Government's replacement of Clause 1 and say how much I welcome it. As it stands in the Bill, the present Clause 1 is a notorious example of legislation by reference. It would have taken hours to go through all the previous legislation and redraft the clause in our own mind. Attempting to understand amendments to it would have been formidable. I am grateful to my noble friend as, I am sure, are others.

As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh said, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, drafted a Keeling schedule which would have been extremely valuable. But of the two alternatives--the one the Government have chosen and the Keeling schedule--the Government's choice is the better.

Though I disagree with the amendments tabled to the new Clause 1, we are now able to understand them. We would have had an awful time disentangling their effects if the new clause had not been introduced. In the broad, what the grouped amendments seek to do is fairly straightforward. I draw attention to the fact that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, have different methods of dealing with the situation. I do not believe that there is much difference between their methods and that of the Government.

I was fascinated by the complaint of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, that there would be too much parliamentary consideration which may involve delay. It is unusual to hear the Opposition complaining that Parliament is being given too great an opportunity. I hope that, on consideration, he will not press that view.

I was rather surprised to hear the designated countries referred to as "white" countries; that could be misunderstood. However, if we are to have designated countries, we must give careful consideration as to which countries should be designated and which should

23 Apr 1996 : Column 1034

cease to be designated. The feelings not only of the governments, but also of the peoples in each of the countries concerned are extremely sensitive in relation to whether or not they are included on the list. We must not rush the issue.

I prefer the Government's method of dealing with the situation. It gives a certain flexibility and opportunity for quick action. Annulments can be obtained, if there is a will to expedite, without waiting 40 days, which is the maximum period allowed. That may give some consolation to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. However, on the whole question of allowing immigrants into this country perhaps I can make a broad point.

There are too many countries in this world in which there is too much oppression affecting not merely a few thousand people, but many hundreds of thousands of people and perhaps more. To say that we ourselves, among all the countries of the world, will be the most hospitable, the kindest and the most receptive of all those who are oppressed in their own countries, will lead to this country being flooded beyond what is reasonable for the people who already live here.

I address those remarks--with the deepest respect because I am a churchman--to the right reverend Prelates on the episcopal Bench. I understand their feelings as Christians. But we have a duty to be sensible in this matter and not to allow a flood of immigrants to deprive our own people of some of the government services and financial help to which they are entitled. That is what will happen if we are over-benign in this important matter.

Earl Russell: First, I join with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, in relation to the drafting of this clause. I also thank him for his remarks at Second Reading on that point, to which I believe the Government listened.

The changes which have been introduced are very much in the spirit of the Renton Report on the preparation of legislation, to which we are all indebted. Therefore, in thanking the Government, I thank the noble Lord also.

I am also happy to confirm what the noble Baroness said; that is, that the Government have adopted the changes recommended by the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, for which I thank them. I thank the committee also; we are always deeply in the debt of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. It does a job for which the House is very much the richer. I am happy to say that it is beginning to make us the envy of another place.

However, it is fair to say that there is no committee in the House with which any of us will agree on absolutely every point. The procedure that the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee has recommended for the first order referred to in the Bill is the affirmative procedure. The Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee is expert on procedure. However, inevitably, it cannot be deeply expert in the subject matter of every single Bill that comes before it. I say that without the least suggestion of criticism because it cannot possibly be otherwise.

23 Apr 1996 : Column 1035

The affirmative procedure which the Committee has recommended for the first order is appropriate for a case where there is doubt in the mind of the House as to how the powers will be used in a general procedural way. I think I am right in saying that there is very little doubt in the mind of the House on that point. It is all too clear exactly what it is intended these powers should do. The doubt which will arise in respect of orders under this clause is a rather different one. It is a doubt about the appropriateness of the Home Office's assessment of the country concerned.

Before I deal with that point I should like to refer to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, about numbers. It is not appreciated as widely as it should be that in the past year the number of people leaving this country exceeded those entering it by 5,000, and of those entering the country 30 per cent. were British subjects returning home. Therefore, the question of a flood of applicants--whatever one may think about it--for the time being must remain hypothetical.

4 p.m.

Lord Renton: I am reluctant to interrupt the noble Earl, but it is important to get this straight. The noble Earl is dealing with the situation as it is now; the amendments deal with the future and, potentially, will increase the number of people seeking asylum here by a very considerable amount. The comings and goings in the past are interesting, yes, but it is necessary to consider what will be the effect of these amendments on comings and goings.

Earl Russell: These amendments would extend the ability to make an application to what the Government believed to be appropriate in 1993. I do not believe that in 1993 the Government were quite as careless of this point as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, has suggested. He has, however, by his intervention, given me a moment to find some figures that I was trying to lay my hands on.

A Written Answer which I received from the noble Baroness last December gives the number of applicants per million of population. Those were: the United Kingdom, 1,000; the Netherlands, 1,900; Germany, 2,100. Therefore, it would be a mistake to suggest that if there is a flood we are in any way unique in being its recipients. There are others who are receiving, and indeed accepting, a great many more applicants than we are.

One can go too far on the hypothetical principle. It always used to cause my father intense panic that although we could know that the sun had not exploded seven minutes ago we could not know it had not exploded now. That always struck me as a little theoretical, and so, frankly, does that intervention.

We are concerned here with the Home Office's assessments of countries. Designations for the list--and I share the reservations of the noble Lord, Lord Renton about calling it a white list--will depend on the assessment of the Home Office as to how safe a particular country is. Since, also, in dealing with asylum claims, people are sometimes taken to be lying because they do not share the assessment of the Home Office about the safety of the country, it is important that there

23 Apr 1996 : Column 1036

should be parliamentary input into assessing the accuracy of the designation, especially as there are many people--some of them present in the Chamber now--who have a depth of knowledge of other countries to which the Home Office collectively does not aspire.

For example, in the case of Turkey the Home Office wrote in a refusal letter:

    "The Turkish Government is exploring ways of allowing greater expression to the Kurdish cultural identity".
That may cause great surprise to my noble friend Lord Avebury.

Take the case of Nigeria, to which my noble friend Lady Williams referred. Another Home Office refusal letter stated:

    "There have been no reports of persecution or atrocities against the civilian population".
I really must say, "tell that to the Prime Minister". The Prime Minister--and I heard him myself--described the death of Mr. Ken Saro-Wiwa as "murder committed with the sword of justice". I have listened in this Chamber to the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey, replying to a Private Notice Question from the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, that that was not the Foreign Office's assessment of Nigeria. I cannot help thinking that the Foreign Office is rather more competent to assess the safety of foreign countries than what is, by definition, a "home" office.

Take the case of Zaire. Another refusal letter states:

    "The Secretary of State is satisfied that these factors and the continuing inter-party negotiations strongly suggest that opposition parties are allowed to function freely".
That is not the account of Zaire that I hear from most quarters.

It is important that we in this House should discover what the assessments of countries are and should be able to give them critical scrutiny. For that reason I support these amendments.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page