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Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will know. He may have details of the case that I do not have. He shakes his head happily. I also know that the decision finally was made in the young man's favour.
Perhaps I may continue with the arguments that I wish to put before the House. A further argument is that in some countries there is nowhere to apply for papers to enter this country. For example, for many months there was no British Embassy in Bosnia--yet Bosnia was one of the countries most afflicted by refugees seeking in some cases to flee from genocide.
Finally, I turn to one other issue which is extremely disturbing. Perhaps the Minister can throw some light on it. We understand that on 4th June 1996 a draft resolution was put forward by the steering committee of senior officials which serves the so-called K4 Committee of the third pillar--the pillar concerned with internal security. I remind the House that this is not within the European Union structure. It does not involve the European Commission. It is the intergovernmental structure on which the British Government insisted at the Maastricht discussions and under the Treaty of the European Union was protected as an intergovernmental structure within which individual governments were free to exercise a veto. It is not a European Community structure. That draft resolution, promulgated on 4th June, called upon all countries involved to ensure that full information was available at ports of entry and that a co-ordinator was appointed to concern himself or herself with procedures for asylum. The draft resolution indicated that there ought to be adequate maintenance--and I emphasise the phrase--for those seeking asylum status when they reach the country concerned. It also indicated that there should be information in all the most probable languages available to refugees.
That was a draft resolution, not a final resolution. To the best of my knowledge it has never been mentioned to either House in the course of our debates. It might conceivably have influenced our view, especially on the claim that Britain is in some sense a peculiarly soft touch, since it affected all the other countries of the European Union as well as ourselves. The resolution has never been part of the discussions in which we have
The amendment is the end of a long process of attempting to make the Bill more humane and compassionate. We believe that it richly deserves your Lordships' support, not only for the arguments behind it but also because noble Lords have repeatedly attempted to amend the Bill and draw the attention of another place to those attempts. The amendment should be supported not least because of the tremendous breadth of support far beyond this House for an attempt to qualify the more brutal and sharp-edged elements of the Bill. I support the amendment.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, I do not know whether the Minister has an answer to the two well argued speeches to which your Lordships have just listened. It seems to me that both the noble Lord opposite and the noble Baroness made a strong case for the amendment, although naturally I, and no doubt, many others will have to reserve a decision as to how we vote, if there is a Division, until we have heard my noble friend's answer. I warn him, however, that he has a strong case to answer. I wish him well.
Lord Jakobovits: My Lords, in the absence of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Runcie--I am sorry, I see that he is here, and I shall therefore re-phrase the remark, as the last claim I would ever make is to be able to replace or represent him. In the presence of the noble and right reverend Lord, I wish to say that it was thanks to the enormous kindness of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, at Third Reading of the Bill in this House, that I had an opportunity to give my general reflections more extensively in favour of the spirit of the amendment and of the Bill in general. Therefore, I can content myself with a few brief remarks.
Having either listened to the entire debates in both Houses or having read them in Hansard, I am deeply impressed at the degree of agreement between the two sides on the general thrust of the Bill. Both sides wish to favour the admission of genuine asylum seekers; both sides wish to exclude frauds. On that, there is a remarkable measure of agreement from all sides. The only remaining argument concerns the three days of grace--whether to have the cut-off at the moment of entry or three days later.
Surely, on a matter of such relatively limited consequence it is not worthwhile spoiling the national reputation that we have in this country for humanitarian attitudes. I fear that if the amendment is voted down, that is precisely the message we will send to the world; quite unnecessarily, because there is little difference of substance involved. It may be that the reason some people are so concerned or even disturbed over the policies favoured by the amendment is that we, as a nation, have never in our lifetime faced the need to be political refugees. Therefore, we do not know what it feels like. We should consider that large parts of the
Lord Runcie: My Lords, I do not wish to remain silent since I might otherwise be suspected of being a bogus amendment supporter. Since attention has been drawn to my presence, I wish to state that the point made by those proposing the amendment seems so precisely drawn that I would not wish to enter again into general arguments which I agree have been thoroughly rehearsed in this House. The Secretary of State in another place made some good points rejecting certain arguments that we advanced. However, he said quite precisely that if he had had more time and if the request for the benefit of three days had been more precisely drawn, he might have allowed it.
I believe that those who framed this amendment have met the reservations which the Secretary of State advanced. We have now drawn it very precisely in regard to meeting his arguments. Those who are closest to the suffering and the serious problems of a small but significant number of people are gravely disturbed. I mean Church groups, local community groups, voluntary societies and ethnic groups who know that there is a real problem. It has not been thoroughly tackled by the argument that if we clear away the bogus applications, the others will all receive fair treatment. There remains a problem which is not answered by the statement--which is reasonable and which I personally accept--that much of the help will be made easier to provide if bogus asylum seekers are dealt with firmly. But there remains a group of people that could be attended to by passing this amendment. It is up to us to treat the case on its merits, and treat the amendment on its merits. I ask the Government to think again.
Lord Carr of Hadley: My Lords, I urge my noble friends on the Front Bench to support this amendment. I say to them and to my colleagues on these Back Benches that I do not use this amendment as a back door through which to attack the whole principle of the Bill; nor, so far as I know, do other noble Lords who support it. I accept strongly and completely that the trends of asylum seeking in recent years have been such that any government would have felt compelled to take strong measures to bring it to order. I regret that that is so, but I believe it is. I wish that it were not necessary; but it is necessary. It is necessary to switch from our previous principle to the principle of saying that asylum seekers must declare themselves to immigration officers at the moment of entry, or almost at that moment. The point under debate is: "almost at that moment".
With respect, it is all very well for those of us who are sitting reasonably comfortably in this House to imagine that people can simply arrive, go to an immigration officer and say that they do or do not want to seek asylum. None of us would have any trouble.
I wonder, however, how many of us have been at the point of entry. I must confess that for some 22 or 23 years I have not. Things may have changed a lot in that time. However, when I was Home Secretary, on more than one occasion I deliberately visited our ports of entry when I received information that a large number of immigrants were due to arrive, to see what it was like. I do not for one moment criticise the actions and intentions of our immigration officers. At that time I was merely extremely glad that I was not one of them. You see those large numbers descending upon you. Some of them no doubt deliberately wish to take you in; but many are pretty helpless and incapable of explaining what they want, even in the simplest terms. All our human instincts tell us that we owe it to them to say that they ought to do it at the point of entry or almost at the point of entry. If this amendment referred to a period of three months, or even three weeks, I should not support it. But I believe we can tolerate three days.
I was disappointed when the Government and the other place decided not to accept your Lordships' amendment, which I supported a week or two ago. I accept that one or two potential loopholes in it were pointed out which I had not perceived at the time. However, the amendment as now drafted blocks those up. If my noble friends on the Front Bench say that it does not block them up and in some way they should be blocked up, all well and good. But I believe that we owe it to our own reputation to give a maximum of three days, with the added safeguards, including this amendment. I for one could not do anything but vote for it, although I hope that it will not come to a vote.
Lord Marsh: My Lords, I am conscious that I have sat through much of this debate without taking part in it. I have not spoken before. However, this is a rather special issue. I apologise for doing what I would not normally do and joining in at this point in the debate.
It is a tragic fact that for the vast majority of people in the world the lowest levels of social security in this country would be bliss. I think we are all agreed on that. Everybody on all sides accepts that there have to be controls. The only argument is an extraordinarily narrow one. It fascinates me, and it has been mentioned by several speakers. What we are discussing is whether we should give people this very small period of three days to sort themselves out, get over their confusion and declare themselves as seeking asylum.
The problem is not the failure to seek asylum. At every airport in the world you have to say why you are coming. It is not just a matter of stating that you are here on business--because the next questions, if you are a six-foot Aryan looking perfectly respectable, are: "What sort of business? How long do you propose to stay? Do you have a return air ticket?".
The alternative is to lie. I do not say that in a pejorative sense. I understand someone lying if he sees the possibility of a different life for himself and, later, for his family if he can introduce them. I should do so myself in that situation. But the fact is that that person would have to lie consistently over a number of areas.
I cannot believe that a person seeking asylum in a foreign country, where he has never lived before and where he will have to spend a great deal of money, does not have some idea of which country he is going to. I find it difficult to believe that in most cases such a person does not have some idea, from his associates for example, of the sort of questions that will be asked. He must have thought of nothing else on the aircraft or the ship but what he is going to say. Rightly or wrongly, when he arrives he has the choice of saying, "I seek asylum", or, "I am a student; a businessman; I am joining somebody or other; yes, I do have money; I won't be a charge on the state", and a whole pile of things which he knows perfectly well are not true.
What then happens if he goes away and is given three days to apply? I repeat that I do not criticise the man for doing that in the situation from which he no doubt comes and for the reasons he seeks to come to this country. But what does he do then? He does not book into a local hotel and leave his address; he goes underground.
A case can be made for saying that the method of entry into the country should be easier. That can be argued indefinitely. It can certainly be argued that more should be done: notices should put up; more people should be available; and a number of other measures should be taken. I find myself unable to accept with any degree of logic that it makes any sense to have controls and then to allow people who have demonstrably lied in order to get round those controls, albeit for the best of reasons, to have a three-day start on the authorities. It is something I do not understand. For me, it stretches credibility too far.
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