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Baroness Seear: I believe that I am right in saying that until very recently, Germany had practically open immigration, so it is no wonder that it has tightened its rules.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am glad to hear that the noble Baroness does not approve of open immigration policies. But other countries in Europe are exactly the same. When we discussed this matter on 30th January, I told the House that the same downward trend applies in all the major countries in Europe while our trend continues to be an upward trend.

If it were an upward trend because people were genuine, then we should be seeing a quite different figure from the 5 per cent. granted refugee status by the Home Office which we are now seeing. It may be that the Members of the Committee contend that that is far too tight a test and that they wish to weaken the test and let through many more asylum seekers, including many who would not fulfil the tests which comply with our international obligations.

Therefore, in my view the position is perfectly clear. The number of people coming here is increasing. More important, a very large percentage--75 per cent. or 80 per cent.--are found after a very long procedure not to fulfil the qualifications for refugee status or indeed even to fulfil the qualifications for exceptional leave to remain.

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The noble Baroness usually uses the word "traumatised" when referring to people coming to this country and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, goes along the same track. They reach the port of entry which they consider to be a safe haven. After all, why have they come here if they do not believe that it is a safe haven? Why have they crossed other countries, including many of our European Union partners, to get here if they do not consider it to be a safe haven? They have gone to a lot of trouble to reach this country. They have arranged their journey carefully and have obtained papers, if they need them, whether they are genuine or false. They have planned their entry and have made up a story, true or false, to satisfy the immigration officers that only a visit is intended. They know what they are doing. If they are genuine asylum seekers, they are coming here because they believe that it is a safe country. If that is their belief, I cannot understand the argument that for some reason or other, they should not apply for asylum at the moment at which they arrive here.

If they do that, we shall consider them for all our benefits including income support, housing benefit and consideration under the homelessness legislation. That is the position for those who come into the country and appeal in-country. If they are genuine asylum seekers, they have the opportunity to apply when they get here.

I have heard the figures before. The noble Baroness says that 80 per cent. apply within a week. That was a very narrow study and looking at all the figures, as we do, Home Office figures show that 60 per cent. of people who apply for asylum after entry have not applied within a month of arrival, and 40 per cent. have not applied within three months of arrival. That underlines the point which I made earlier. Many of them come here and after a time they decide that the way to stay here is by applying for asylum. That is often done while being advised, aided and abetted by people who make quite a lot of money out of that business. That is the simple fact of the matter. The Government cannot turn a blind eye to that situation.

I do not like to contradict the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, but it is interesting to note that over the past few months there has been a decline in the numbers compared with the comparable month of the previous year. There is a variation month by month and we have seen a decline since January over the previous January, February and so on. Indeed, although the figures are only provisional, in April there was quite a dramatic decline in the numbers not only over last April but over the first three months of this year. I suggest that that may indicate that the people who are the links--and there are links--between this country and overseas countries, especially those countries from where the majority of asylum seekers come, are telling people that it is not nearly as easy to come here and when here to claim the benefits; to appeal when refused; to manage to spin out the amount of time which they are allowed in this country; and to be paid income support, housing benefit and so on.

I do not blame people who come from some countries for wanting to come here as economic migrants. It is sensible for them to want to do that. It is perfectly

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understandable, even if they only receive social security. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, always tells me that it is at a disgustingly low level although I do not believe that her party is making any promises that in the unlikely event of being elected, it will do anything to change the current level. It will then suddenly become an acceptable and proper level, given all the checks and balances which governments have to put in. Those people come here and, frankly, it is a good deal better than the countries from where they have come. I understand that. It would be nice if we could let many more of them in on that basis, but I do not believe that we can.

Earl Russell: I do not believe that the Minister was in the House on Thursday night when the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, asked us not to repeat ourselves. I have tried to take that advice. There are many amendments before us. Perhaps the Minister will also take that advice.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am happy to take that advice but the noble Earl has tabled an amendment which seeks to undo the work which we did on 30th January. Clearly the speech that I made then fell on deaf ears. I am sorry that I am repeating myself, but I do so in the hope of conveying what I believe--and on that occasion the House believed--was the perfectly sensible case which the Government were putting forward on the subject of changing the way in which the benefit system impacted on asylum seekers.

If the noble Earl does not wish to hear my case any more, I hope that he will take to heart his own advice for the rest of the evening and will not repeat himself, because during most of today I have heard nothing but repetition of the arguments put forward on 30th January. Just to show that I do take advice, I recommend to the Committee that the amendment be rejected. If it is not withdrawn, I urge my noble friends to join me in voting against it.

Earl Russell: I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Jenkin of Roding moved Amendment No. 123:

After Clause 9, insert the following new clause--

Report by the Secretary of State on the reimbursement of costs of local authorities

(". The Secretary of State shall, following consultation with local authorities, make an annual report to Parliament on his proposals for reimbursing the additional costs placed on local authorities as a result of their duties to refugees and asylum seekers under the Housing Acts 1985 and 1996, the Children Act 1989 and the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990.").

The noble Lord said: I can assure the Committee that I shall heed the advice just given by the noble Earl; indeed, I shall not repeat any of the arguments that I advanced when speaking to Amendment No. 110. The proposed new clause seeks an opportunity for Parliament to be informed and to have a chance to discuss the arrangements for the support of local authorities such as they may turn out to be.

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During the earlier debate my noble friend mentioned that that would be achieved by the device of a special report for local government grant. Of course, he would be entitled to say that that would provide the opportunity for Parliament to discuss whether the arrangements were working properly. However, I should like to make two remarks in that respect and then I shall sit down. First, it appears that the argument that they should be specific rather than special grants is being won and that, therefore, they will form part of the entire SSA settlement in normal years. With the enormous interest that always focuses on the aggregate figures and the effect that they are likely to have on the levels of council tax in different authorities, my guess is that Parliament would probably not spend too much time on discussing the rather narrower questions which have engaged the Committee tonight. Therefore, that is one reason for having a separate report; namely, to enable us to scrutinise the issue carefully.

Secondly, it has become apparent--and I do not believe that this is a matter for which anyone can be regarded as blameworthy--that there are considerable uncertainties as to what the effects will be. Mr. Curry informed the noble Earl, myself and my noble friend Lord Goold this morning that it is the view of the Treasury that the whole of the legislation will ultimately reduce local government expenditure because of the impact that it will have on the total numbers coming in and, therefore, on the demand for services. That may well be right. But it may not be right in the early stages, because the first three or four months have shown a significant increase in the expenditure of those authorities which are particularly affected.

However, given the fact that there is uncertainty and that there may well be some quite sharp trends both as regards the number of people applying for asylum and those not entitled to social security payments, housing benefit and so on and who will, therefore, be thrown on the resources of the local authorities, there are likely to be quite substantial variations. I believe it is appropriate that this Chamber should have an opportunity to look at the process.

If it is part of the normal rate support grant settlement, or whatever it is called these days, it will in fact be a matter only for debate in another place; indeed, such matters are not normally debated in this Chamber. If we had a report on the asylum provisions and the asylum effects of the sort suggested in the amendment, we would have an opportunity to discuss the matter. Therefore, for both those reasons--first, the variation and the uncertainty and the likely variability in the figures; and, secondly, the fact that I believe it is something which each place will want to look at as regards the effect of what is obviously controversial legislation--I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be prepared to consider whether such a subject should be put in an annual report to be placed before this Chamber each year so that we can follow its progress. I beg to move.

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