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Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on her measured handling of this most emotive of Bills during several late nights, or should I say early mornings?

The Bill has made me realise just how fortunate we are to live here. Like my noble friend Lady Gardner, I was not born here. But this is a country to which so many people aspire. They wish to come to live here. Perhaps we should remember that when we succumb to the temptation of criticising everything about the United Kingdom. Of course we should like to be the good Samaritans to all but, as my noble friend Lord Renton said, we must be selective in order to hold faith with the taxpayers.

My noble friend dealt with a great many complex issues centred on the asylum part of the Bill, but she still found time to listen to representations on the equally important but less emotionally charged immigration element of the Bill; and I thank her for that. I am very

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grateful for the sympathetic hearing that I received and for the concession which my noble friend made in accepting that, while ferry companies and airlines must understand their obligations to ensure that they bring to this country the people who have the right to be here, the Government share that responsibility.

The government amendment to restrict responsibility for detention costs to 14 days has been warmly welcomed by the transport industry. I hope that that sense of fair play and partnership will continue and that my noble friend will ensure that penalties are imposed equitably. There are anomalies in the law and I know that my noble friend is well aware of that. Ferry companies and airlines accept that they must do the right thing but believe that it is time that the anomalies should be removed and the law applied equally to all.

My noble friend has indicated a willingness to discuss further ways in which to develop the partnership between government and those in the transport industry who take their responsibilities seriously. I am sure that the industry will be most grateful for that.

Having said that, I agree with previous speakers that the courtesy and forbearance shown has been exemplary. It is that which makes this House so civilised and so markedly a beacon of the highest standards of behaviour.

7.35 p.m.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I join with my noble friend Lord Renton and others in congratulating the Minister on the Bill. Many points have been covered many times during many hours of debate on the Bill and I shall not repeat the arguments.

However, I have been most dismayed by the amendments tabled by the two parties opposite, many of which sought to withdraw entire clauses from the Bill. One can only conclude from that they do not agree with the principle of the Bill and that they would demolish the Bill and render it ineffective. They have produced wrecking and delaying procedures throughout.

We have heard from the Liberal Democrats that they will repeal the Bill, but when I posed the question yesterday to the party opposite, answer came there none. Therefore, I can only assume that it too would include the repeal of the Bill in its manifesto.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness was here to hear me say that you do not threaten to repeal Bills. Politics is not like that. You move on.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I wonder whether the party opposite has costed the three extra days provision and has taken into account the more than £200 million of benefit which is needed to pay illegal asylum seekers. Have they cleared that with the Shadow Chancellor in the other place?

Earl Russell: My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Baroness could possibly withdraw the words "illegal", which was otiose to her argument.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, the savings planned in this Bill will then not be made and all costs would

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fall on the taxpayers. I am sure that taxpayers in this country really wish to see genuine asylum seekers attain legitimate refugee status as quickly as possible and do not want thousands of illegal applicants clogging the system. I support the new procedures in Clause 1 and the rest of the Bill.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I wish to dissociate myself from some of the rather more extreme partisan views which have just been expressed. Instead, I should like to concentrate on some practical measures which could be taken.

We understand that the number of people working within the Home Office and dealing with asylum seekers has increased from about 100 to 800. I am glad to hear that. But so far they have succeeded in making very little impression on the backlog of cases still outstanding, some of which date back to 1991. Therefore, I believe that there is scope both for increasing the numbers of staff and for improving their training and productivity.

While I am on that subject, perhaps I may point to the very great importance of having interpreters in a wide variety of languages to deal with asylum cases. In that regard also there is some scope for improving the understanding and sympathy with which interpreters deal with individual applicants.

Viscount Waverley: My Lords, this Bill has dealt with delicate and complex matters. In some ways, I am sad about how acrimonious some aspects have become but I recognise that there are emotive issues before us.

In my view the Government are to be commended for addressing the current situation. But it is clear that more needs to be done to reach the root cause of the problem. We have heard strong arguments on all sides. Procedures need to be overhauled but how do we devise a system which will stand the test of time and which does not abuse the United Kingdom's good intentions with early identification of genuine claims? I believe that we must find a just system which dispenses with the need--and I repeat the word "need"--for the right of appeal in the vast majority of cases.

I shall briefly flag the following for consideration in a spirit of "where do we go from here?" Thought might be given to introducing a system for countries other than the likes of Iran, Iraq and the Sudan, the claims being considered by a three-member adjudicating panel trained to handle regional specific claims. The panels might include one independent member, perhaps from UNHCR.

If the panel decided unanimously that the individual's case had no merit, there should be no right of appeal and immediate removal. On the other hand, there could be a right of appeal in most cases where there was a dissenting opinion. Similarly, where the panel considered unanimously that the applicant was a refugee, he would be granted status with no right of appeal by the Home Office. Applicants originating from a list of countries such as Iran, Iraq and the Sudan, drawn up by the Home Secretary in consultation with specialist bodies and Parliament, would have their

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applications handled using the fast-track procedure by one Home Office official only. That would take out of the system individuals most likely to have their claims accepted.

Marry all that with the three-day grace period decided on yesterday and we should have eliminated potentially two tiers of appeals process and the cause of so much uncertainty, cost and bureaucratic delay. Indeed, we might even find solutions in one shot and negate the problems surrounding benefits, leaving a system which is manifestly effective and fair.

7.40 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, it was not my intention to intervene in the debate, but I feel obliged to do so in response to some of the remarks that have been made. I shall be brief. I repeat: I had no intention whatever of taking part in this discussion; indeed, I thought that we had had enough discussion. Nevertheless, I must respond to some of the things that have been said as I regard them as being quite unacceptable.

Perhaps I may, first, congratulate the noble Lords who put forward such constructive suggestions. I have in mind the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, together with other Members on the Opposition Benches who, during the earlier stages, tried to put forward serious proposals for dealing with some of the problems. I should like to make reference to just one of those proposals; namely, the proposal for registering those who act as representatives for immigrants and who give them advice.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, proposed such a register. However, that was not acceptable to the other side. We were then accused of supporting racketeering. I regard that as an utterly disgraceful remark, and I am still waiting for the Minister to withdraw it because I believe that that is not a remark that anyone can be expected to accept in the light of the amendments that we moved.

I am disgusted by the way in which there has been an attempt to pave the way for what I can only describe as an election-type atmosphere. Quite apart from being accused of supporting racketeering, we have also been accused of wishing to introduce methods of immigration by deception. We have been accused of supporting those who are involved in assisting illegal immigrants knowing them to be illegal; and, in addition, we have been told many times that our proposals would waste taxpayers' money.

We restrain ourselves; indeed, we could go through a long litany from British Rail to building unnecessary ministries. I shall not do so. I understood that the atmosphere of this House was rather different from that. I find it extremely sad and disappointing that, during the last few minutes of the proceedings on this Bill where considerable restraint has been shown, we should see such an extraordinary deterioration to a level of electoral language that I, for one, did not expect to hear.

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I say again, I would not have intervened at this stage but I have been driven to do so by outrage. I simply had to make my position absolutely plain.

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