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Lord Geddes: My Lords, if I heard the noble Baroness correctly in her initial reply, I believe that she said that 250 replies were received. If that is correct, can the Minister advise the House what that represents in percentage terms and whether the Government are happy with such a seemingly very small response?
Baroness Flather: My Lords, does that figure include the £500,000 which has been made available to the United Kingdom Immigration Advisory Service for the past two years specifically to meet the needs of asylum seekers who had their right to income support withdrawn? Is the Minister aware that it is because of pressure from the noble Lord's Benches and the present Home Secretary when he was Shadow Home Secretary that this sum was specifically made available for that purpose? There are 5,000 appeals in the pipeline at the moment.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it does not include the £500,000 to which the noble Baroness referred. The £500,000-worth of extra grants was specifically given as spend-to-save grants. Both organisations were told that the grants were for that purpose. There is core funding of £5.9 million, which will be an increase of 3 per cent. on last year's core funding.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that 25 per cent. of asylum appeals conducted by the Immigration Advisory Service are successful, as against the national average of 6 per cent.? Does not that indicate the advantages of competent representation? If such appeals are not conducted by the IAS, can my noble friend suggest anywhere else where appellants can find competent representation? How would that accord with our obligations under the refugee convention?
Lord Henley: My Lords, while I accept that it is right that people should have some form of representation, legal or otherwise, at such appeals, does the noble Lord agree that the best way of reducing the costs and the number of appeals would be to reduce the number of those who seek asylum, bogus or otherwise? Will the Minister confirm that there has been a steady decline in the number of those seeking asylum since 1995, and that it has been even more marked since 1996 following the various reforms that were made to the social security system?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, one needs a decent balance--both words are important: "decency" and "balance"--between allowing fair consideration of a claim which may or may not be legitimate and clogging up the system and burdening this country with those who have no legitimate right to, or expectation of, asylum. I repeat that the Home Office's contribution is not unreasonable in all the circumstances.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the IAS referred to dealing with 4,000 extra cases in the years 1996-97 and 1997-98 on the basis of the extra £500,000 grant that it had received? Does the noble Lord accept that cutting that grant aid would result in at least 5,000 appeals not receiving the legal advice which is offered by the Immigration Advisory Service? How can the Minister reconcile that with his own party's manifesto which referred to asylum seekers being dealt with swiftly and fairly?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not think that there is any contradiction. The question relates to appeals. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, phrased her question precisely--deliberately so, I imagine. It refers to legal representation,
Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, is it correct that the report of the Government's comprehensive spending review into asylum seekers has been in the hands of Ministers since February but is not to be published until July? Does my noble friend agree that in this country's noble tradition of welcoming genuine asylum seekers it is wrong and unworthy that so many of them are having such a tough time and that they are not well represented when they should be? Will he
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not know when it is proposed to publish the conclusions of the comprehensive spending review. I do not think that it is right to say that those who prosecute appeals in the asylum system are not properly represented. Both organisations are well experienced. The Home Office is not legally represented. I would have thought that that represented reasonable equity.
On the more general point, I agree with the noble Lord that those who seek asylum must be treated decently. Equally, one must recognise that not all those who seek asylum, and not all appellants, are genuinely entitled to what they wish. I understand their desire and I sympathise with it, but that is not the regime that we operate in this country.
Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, given that the Government's review is awaited--we hope that it will be published in July and I am concerned by the suggestion that it might be even later--is not this a strange time to withdraw the special funding for the Immigration Advisory Service to which my noble friend Lady Flather referred? I am sure that we have no doubt about the Government's good intentions in this matter in general, but would it not be much wiser to maintain the funding until we have heard the results of the review, can debate it and take matters from there?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: No, my Lords. I repeat that the spend-to-save funding was specifically time limited. Both organisations were told its purpose; namely, spend to save. They understood that perfectly well. There was no ambiguity about the position. I repeat that the core funding will be increased by 3 per cent. over the 1997-98 levels.
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, will the Government at least accept that there is a feeling on all sides of the House that the conclusions of the spending review have been delayed for too long? Thousands of refugees are waiting for answers about their benefits. Will the Minister, through the Home Secretary, do his utmost to speed up the process?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I take the noble Earl's point, but I do not think that the date of the publication of the CSR has any direct or, indeed, other relationship with the benefits being looked for by asylum seekers. The Question relates to asylum appeals. I believe that we offer a decent service by the funding that we give.
Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Viscount of Falkland set down for today shall be limited to three hours and that in the name of the Earl Russell to one-and-a-half hours.--(Lord Richard.)
Clauses 1 and 2, Schedule 1, Clauses 3 to 22, Schedule 2, Clauses 23 to 29, Schedule 3, Clauses 30 to 75, Schedule 4, Clauses 76 to 106, Schedule 5, Clause 107, Schedule 6, Clauses 108 to 111, Schedule 7, Clauses 112 and 113, Schedule 8, Clauses 114 to 126, Schedule 9, Clauses 127 and 128, Schedule 10, Clause 129, Schedule 11, Clause 130, Schedule 12, Clauses 131 to 141, Schedule 13, Clauses 142 to 145, Schedule 14, Clauses 146 to 152, Schedule 15, Clauses 153 to 159.--(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)