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Viscount Mountgarret: I wonder whether my noble friend on the Front Bench will be kind enough to clear up a point that has been troubling me for some time while I have been listening to the debate. I apologise to my noble friend for not having been here when he delivered his opening speech. I regret that my train was a little delayed.
The emotive issues posed by these amendments are very real and understandable. To many of us, including many of my noble friends--or at any rate some of them--it would appear that on the face of it we are being a little hard hearted and heavy handed. On the other hand, my noble friend said in answer to my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway that asylum seekers would be given benefit or help where appropriate and where necessary--from day one was what I understood--
Viscount Mountgarret: Perhaps I may just finish. The question that I want to ask my noble friend is this: if a person seeks asylum at a port of entry to this country, is he entitled to receive some assistance and benefit until his case has been considered by the Home Office? If that is so, I see little reason for the amendments. However, if that is not so, I personally feel a little uneasy. I wonder whether it would be possible for my noble friend to clarify that point, if only for myself. I apologise to noble Lords if I am wasting the Committee's time.
Perhaps I should add that a number of my grandparents were admitted to this country from Russia about a century ago. Naturally, I am most appreciative of a policy that permitted that to happen. Although they had very small resources, they were not a charge on the state but were supported by the Jewish communities in Glasgow and London.
Viscount Waverley: It seems to me that the intention of the Government is to address the tens of thousands of bogus applicants who in the interim benefit from our welfare system and, in so doing, to reduce the backlog of those waiting to hear the outcome of appeals. That will help to ensure the position of those with a genuine claim.
The effect of the legislation will leave no doubt as to the procedures that should be adopted when applying for asylum in this country. I believe that it is the lack of understanding of procedures which complicates matters and presents the ammunition with which to cry "Foul". The rules will be clear. When asked by an immigration officer about the purpose of a visit to the UK, asylum seekers must speak without fear of intimidation. The world knows that we in this country live by rules governing fair play. That is surely why asylum seekers select the United Kingdom in the first place. We must ensure, on the other hand, that we do not fall into the trap of being singled out as a country with procedures that can be manipulated by, for example, organised syndicates. Nevertheless, I believe that on balance the Government are moving in the right direction, although more needs to be done to accelerate the procedures.
The UN convention of 1951 was created to tackle issues arising from the Second World War. Times have changed and different circumstances must now be addressed. I give an example. The need to encourage refugees to return to their countries of origin when circumstances allow to assist in their future development is critical. The brain drain has a devastating effect and needs to be reversed.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I speak briefly to Amendment No. 12 which is in my name. The amendment would extend the right to benefit to those entering the country and claiming asylum up to seven days after the date of entry. It would also extend the period for those attempting to appeal against an initial decision to refuse asylum. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford gave several first-hand examples of those who appeared on every possible basis to be genuine refugees but who were not sufficiently well informed and failed to apply at the point of entry. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, gave several reasons why people did not necessarily apply at the point of entry but applied a matter of days afterwards. It is part of the human condition that those who enter the country will not be able, within a few minutes of getting off an
Amendment No. 6, which is being considered together with Amendment No. 12, is an extremely modest proposal. It proposes that an asylum seeker should have just three days in which to put together his case. My amendment goes a little further. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, gave his reasons for believing that the period should be slightly longer. He said that he would support a longer period than that proposed in Amendment No. 6. The same view was expressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln.
I shall give a couple of reasons why I believe the qualifying period in the amendment in my name is the minimum reasonable qualification that the Committee should support. Before doing so, I shall deal with two widespread misunderstandings. The first is summed up in a letter in today's edition of the Daily Telegraph. It is written by a very vigorous Russian refugee. He claims that there is no need for benefit to be extended to asylum seekers. He had sustained himself. He gives a long list of jobs. He refers to washing dishes, cleaning doorsteps and other ways in which traditionally, throughout the world, immigrants have sustained themselves before being able to get decent jobs. But he seems unable to understand that immigrants and asylum seekers have no right to seek work in this country. If they seek work within the first few months of their arrival they are outside the law. According to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, one is firmly instructed not to advise people to break the law, so such people cannot be advised to seek work. Frankly, the letter in the Daily Telegraph is beside the point.
Another misunderstanding is that this country has been specifically targeted by new waves of asylum seekers. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, made this point very forcefully in his initial statement. I give some figures which I believe to be the most recent ones. In Germany the number of asylum seekers rose from 165,400 in 1994 to 168,600 in 1995. Those figures are more than three times the numbers applying to this country for asylum. More to the point, Germany continues to sustain those people with hostel accommodation and a basic allowance of DM80 a week for every adult and DM40 a week for every child. To imply that the United Kingdom is uniquely generous and is uniquely targeted is not true. Holland is another country that has been named. That country provides basic means of life to asylum seekers. Admittedly, Holland has seen a fall in the number of people applying for asylum from 52,000 in 1994--about the same level as those applying to this country but the Netherlands is about a quarter of our size--to 29,300 in 1995. Because Holland is a quarter of our size the figure is proportionately twice the number who apply here.
I turn to a subject that has been forcefully argued by the right reverend Prelate. I need hardly add to it nor detain the Committee. I should like to place on record my immense respect the work of churches of all denominations, the Jewish faith and voluntary
I do not wish to cast doubt on the procedures, but there are some very troubling cases. At Report Stage I raised the case of Mr. Igbinidu from Nigeria. I believe that he is still waiting for his fate to be decided. In his case, no fewer than four of the leading medical experts at the University of Oxford have supported the validity of his case, yet he has still not been accepted for asylum. One asks oneself just what is demanded.
Finally, I turn to a number of points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch. By the by, I thank her for her kindness in making available to me the immigration rules and the amendments to those rules to enable me to take part in the discussion fully informed. I return to what she said at Committee stage on this Bill about an amendment passed by noble Lords on 23rd April. The subject was torture. My noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, referred to the intentions of Parliament. The intentions of Parliament were expressed by the amendment on torture. The noble Baroness responded in a very generous way:
How does one establish a claim of torture before one arrives in this country? How does one obtain medical evidence of torture if one comes from a country like Nigeria or Zaire where no doctor will put his life at risk by providing medical evidence which will tell against him when the individual concerned has left the country? How can one expect genuine asylum seekers who have been tortured to obtain, even in three days, the medical evidence they require to establish that fact, bearing in mind that it took Mr. Igbinidu, with the support of the University of Oxford, six or seven months to establish his right to stay in this country because he was held, on medical opinion, to have been tortured?
If the opinion of this Chamber and Parliament is to be treated with the seriousness it deserves--and with the seriousness with which we want the public at large to treat parliamentary procedures--I urge that this amendment, which enables Parliament's intention to be carried out, be passed. First, the amendment would extend the length of time during which an asylum seeker would have to establish the bona fides of his claim to seven days. Secondly, the right of appeal should be upheld and people should not be driven to destitution in an attempt to establish their right of appeal. The Home Office should speed up its own procedures rather
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