Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I have just been notified by the Public Bill Office that the Government at this moment have put down amendments to this amendment to be debated tomorrow. Three amendments have been put down in the name of the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, to Amendment No. 4, the new clause that we are now debating. What sort of procedure is that? We are being made fun of.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Perhaps I may help the noble Lord. We are debating Amendment No. 5 to my Amendment No. 4.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Amendment No. 6.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: It is Amendment No. 6, I am sorry. I forgot that Amendment No. 5 was withdrawn. I believe that I know the amendments that have been put down. They are to try to make clearer on the face of the Bill what is the intention, but they do not affect the principles in any shape or form. They were put down as soon as we could, because on Thursday the noble Lord was complaining that we were putting amendments down too late. The Third Reading is tomorrow. Would the noble Lord have preferred me to wait until towards the end of business today? Surely it was better to put down the amendments now so that the noble Lord has the opportunity to see them as soon as possible.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: No, I was not complaining that the Government were putting down amendments too late. I was objecting to the fact that we were debating amendments too early. That is exactly what is happening now. It would clearly be inappropriate to interrupt the proceedings now--

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone: Hear, hear!

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: If the noble and learned Lord will allow me, I suggest that the usual channels should take an urgent decision as to whether it is proper to proceed tomorrow with Third Reading of the latter part of the Bill.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: What is all this fuss about? If in the course of debate a point is made--I do not know what it was--that causes the Government to think that it might be a good point, why on earth should not the Government put down amendments? I cannot see that there is any objection. What is the objection?

Lord Mishcon: Will the Minister be kind enough to indicate to the Committee why a frank announcement was not made that that procedure was going to be adopted?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I did not think that that was necessary. I explained that the amendments had

1 Jul 1996 : Column 1252

been put down as soon as possible to give Members of the Committee as much time as we could give before Third Reading tomorrow. That is the complaint. I had a complaint last week that they were not put down quickly enough. I can assure the Committee that they have nothing to do with the amendment before us, to which, if the Committee will allow, I should like to reply. I should like to deal with the various points that have been made during the debate.

The debate has ranged a good deal wider than the narrow points in the amendments which suggest that in-country applicants should--in my shorthand--be considered to be at-port applicants or on-arrival applicants if they apply within three days or indeed within seven days. The debate has run a good deal wider than that.

My noble friend Lord Mountgarret had my sympathy when he asked a question, because I have occasionally asked the same question during the course of the debate. I asked myself, "Am I removing benefits from absolutely everybody who comes here for asylum?". Of course I am not. I am saying clearly that anyone who applies for asylum on arrival in this country will receive benefits until the application is considered in the fullness of time by the Home Office. I hope that that answers my noble friend's question.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon talked about choice. People have a choice. The choice is that they can apply on arrival. I failed to understand today, as I failed to understand on every previous occasion I heard it rehearsed, why people who come to this country seeking asylum, seeking our protection, should be so suspicious of us when they get to the port of entry that they continue to say that they want to come here for other reasons and that they will accommodate themselves and maintain themselves without recourse to public funds. I fail to answer that point.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: On the specific point that the Minister is making, in that case why is it that at least 12 per cent. of those who apply after port of entry are found to be genuine refugees? That is quite apart from those who are given extended leave to remain. It does not sound as if every genuine refugee is dealt with at the port of entry.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: That is because at the moment they have the choice of applying on arrival or of waiting until they get inside, whether they are genuine or not. The fact is that the great majority are not genuine. The facts are there. They speak for themselves: 77 per cent.--I was grateful to the noble Lord on the Cross-Benches for saying that I gave accurate figures, and indeed I use them again accurately--are found not to be justified.

If Members of the Committee had been listening to the debate without knowing those figures, they would have believed that the whole thing had been inverted: that 77 per cent. had been found to be justified and that only a very few had been found to be without justification. The facts are as I said. The figure is 77 per cent.

1 Jul 1996 : Column 1253

I do not see why people cannot apply at the port of entry. There is no reason for not doing so on arrival into this country. We have plenty of interpreters on hand to help them if they do not understand English. If we do not have an interpreter for the particular language because they come from a country from which very few come, their application is taken then and the interpreter is arranged as quickly as possible thereafter. They are still considered to be on-arrival applicants. There is no problem about that. Those people who come here as genuine refugees can have the benefits system come to their aid by merely applying at the port of entry.

Again, to listen to the debate one would think that hardly anyone applied at the port of entry. That is not true. A considerable number apply at the port of entry. The majority of those who apply at the port of entry come from those countries which I believe noble Lords and right reverend Prelates can easily quote as examples of where they are liable to persecution. They appear to be not so traumatised, not so out of their wits, that they do not realise, "At long last I have got to safety. I will say to these British officials, 'Please, I am here as an asylum seeker'"--because they have to say something to the British officials. It is not as if they can slip through quietly without a word.

Such people have either to say, "I am an asylum seeker", or, "I am here for up to six months, and I will not be a burden on the public purse". They have to say one or the other. It does not seem to me to present any difficulty that they are asked to say clearly at that point, "I am an asylum seeker".

The noble Baroness made much of the fact that such people may want in to get advice. She made much of the fact that they may, indeed, have been taken in by the people who had arranged their passage here and told to slip inside the country and then get advice. That seems to me to be a pretty false argument. Of course we know that there is an asylum industry. That is why so many people come here who do not turn out to be genuine. If you do slip in, there are people here who will help you ensure that you tell the right story. You might not do that if you are asked to do it on arrival at the port of entry.

Members of the Committee who have been listening to the debate should remember that anyone who comes here as a genuine asylum seeker can receive benefits if they apply at the port of entry. That is the logical place for people to apply, and not, as the statistics clearly show, some months after they have been in this country. The percentage is in the high 20s for those who apply after they have been here a year. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that, interestingly enough, they all have permission to visit for a maximum of six months. So we are talking about people who have already overstayed their welcome. Well over 30 per cent. do not apply until well over six months.

There may be genuine asylum seekers. I do not deny the figures. I have never made any attempt to argue my case on the principle that there are not some in-country applicants who are genuine. Indeed the provision that states that the Home Secretary can designate a country

1 Jul 1996 : Column 1254

as being a country that has suffered great upheaval since the person came underlines the fact that we accept that circumstances can change and that someone who is in country may well find that the position back home has changed dramatically and that they then need to claim asylum. If they do so in those circumstances and their country has been designated, they will receive the benefits and help of our system.

I believe that the statistics relating to the time people wait before they apply suggest that many of those people are applying fundamentally because they have come here and, in the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Donaldson, they like the look of the place. They have used it as a trump card in order to see whether they can stay here at least for a good few more months while the application and then the appeal are considered. That is the position.

I now turn to some of the other points made on the issue. First, perhaps I should make it perfectly clear that the court did not rule that the regulations were ultra vires the United Nations convention. That was not an issue before the court and so it made no ruling on it. Article 23 of the refugee convention applies to recognised refugees. These changes will ensure that genuine refugees will indeed receive their full entitlement. I am happy to recognise that a number of noble Lords appreciated the change that we made in backdating the benefits for those people who apply and are eventually found to be genuine; for example, those who apply in country or those whose appeal is upheld. Contrary to some of the extravagant language of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, the figure is only three in 100.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, suggested that the Home Office research showed that refugees gave up a higher standard of living to come here. Yes and no. The survey from which he quoted related to those granted asylum or exceptional leave to remain. However, as I have pointed out, only a small proportion of all the asylum seekers fulfil those two qualifications. The survey says nothing about those whose claims were not accepted for either category. Therefore, I am afraid that one cannot draw the conclusion that all the people who come here and seek asylum come from somewhere where they had a better standard of living.

The reality is that many come from somewhere where life is not easy and not good. I can understand economic migrants wanting to come to a country which will improve their position. That is sound common sense from their point of view. I fully appreciate it. It is just a pity that we cannot do more to help them. However, I do not believe that we can open the doors of this country and say, "If you just say, 'I want asylum', and the reasons are whatever we will take you in and give you benefit". I do not believe that that is a sustainable argument.

As regards the UN convention, we do not believe in any way that the new clause and schedule offend the UN convention. The Court of Appeal stated that no obligations arise under Article 24 of the 1951 convention unless the asylum seekers are recognised as refugees. The important thing is that they are recognised as refugees--

1 Jul 1996 : Column 1255

5.30 p.m.

Earl Russell: I must ask the Minister to read the judgment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Nolan, on the Khaboka case, Immigration AR 1993, 489. He stated:

    "The term 'refugee' means what it says. It will include someone who is only subsequently established as being a refugee".
That is the law.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page