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Earl Russell: My Lords, this Statement reminds me of an intriguing day I spent in the Public Record Office reading the original manuscript of the fundamental constitution of the Carolinas in which alternate words were written in the hands of John Locke and the Earl of Shaftesbury. In much the same way I hear two voices in the Statement. One is the voice of a new government who seriously want to put a lot of things right; the other is the same voice of the Home Office that we have been hearing unchanged for more years than I care to remember--in fact since the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, ceased to be its permanent secretary. We have a new broom but a great deal of dust.
Those two sentences cannot sit together. We cannot tell which asylum seekers are genuine victims of persecution and which are economic migrants until we hear their cases. A system which bites on one must bite equally on the other. A system which bites on both risks being in breach of our international legal obligations which the Government in this Statement give a very welcome commitment to honour. Until we drop the idea that we can deter asylum seekers by making conditions tougher for them without departing from our international legal obligations we have not even got started.
I understand that the flow of asylum seekers is very large, and that must cause concern to a great many countries. The way to reduce that flow is through the Foreign Office rather than through the Home Office--to do more to make it safe for them to remain in their countries of origin, as the Government are already attempting to do. If we are to deter asylum seekers from
I grant that the need for greater speed is immense. The chief obstacle to speed is the culture of disbelief inside the Home Office. The Minister once said to me at Question Time that there is no culture of disbelief inside the Home Office. That was a commendable loyalty to his own department. We do not take bets inside the Chamber, but I would be surprised if the Minister could find many people informed about the subject to agree with that view once he got beyond the boundaries of Queen Anne's Gate.
I received a letter only this afternoon--I shall be writing to Mr. O'Brien later tonight--about an Angolan asylum seeker in my borough of Brent. Formerly married to a high official of UNITA, she was therefore obviously likely to be in danger if she returned there. The adjudicator was not merely unaware that she had been married to this man--believing she had had only a casual relationship with him--but had not even asked her any questions before forming this conclusion.
The Minister may wish to say that this is an ex-parte statement. As the papers on the case have not yet reached him he is perfectly free to do so. Were this to prove an accurate story it would be all too familiar among those who have dealt with any number of asylum cases.
Disbelief causes delay. Disbelief causes further appeals. I am a little perturbed by the view that there are too many appeals. The Minister need only look at the correspondence he has been having with me in the past few weeks to realise that there may be perfectly genuine cases which have slipped through all the stages of the procedure through such things as their lawyers not appearing at hearings. He knows the cases to which I refer. I shall not go on.
There were many genuinely good things in the Statement. I was delighted to hear the Minister acknowledge the debt that this country owes to its immigrants. Coming from a Welsh Minister addressing a predominantly English audience that is an act of great generosity. I thank him for it. I was delighted to hear him say that a failed application need not necessarily be an example of abuse. That is a vital aid to interpreting statistics.
I was delighted by the provision on visitor appeals. I shall not soon forget the speech made by noble Baroness, Lady Flather, against that provision when it was introduced in 1993. It was one of the most moving speeches that I have heard in this Chamber. That provision is another example of the way in which further restriction leads to further delay. This will now make it unnecessary to take cases to the Minister, such as that which I took to Mr O'Brien on the subject last week, to which he responded with great generosity. I shall in future be able to save his time. If we are less incredulous, we get on a bit faster.
I am particularly grateful to the Minister (whose hand I think I see in this) for the provision on judicial oversight for the detention of asylum seekers. That is one of the very best features of the Statement--and I
I am delighted to hear that more resources are being made available. The whole of the asylum system is a good example of the principle that efficiency is not efficient. I am delighted that the Minister has adopted Sir David Ramsbotham's recommendations to give a statutory basis to rules in detention centres. I wonder whether the noble Lord can tell me whether that will cover transfers from detention centres to ordinary prisons.
On the other hand, there are things in the Statement which cause me considerable concern. I refer to paragraph 11 on deterring passengers from travelling with inadequate documentation. That appears to me to misunderstand the basic nature of being a refugee. It is the basic nature of the condition that you are not in a position before you leave to present yourself happily to the authorities in your own country and to ask for papers, saying, "Please, I want to run away from you. You are persecuting me". Tyrannical authorities tend not to like that sort of approach. I have not forgotten the problem of refugees from Mostar who were supposed to get a visa from the nearest British consulate, which happened to be in Zagreb, with large numbers of enemy troops between them and it.
The Government are committed to honouring their legal obligations. I am glad that they are. I hope that they will look again at whether paragraph 11 of the Statement is compatible with that obligation.
Most of all, I am worried by the provisions of paragraph 24. I should like the Minister to look carefully at Article 24 of the UN convention on refugees, which provides that refugees shall not be discriminated against in terms of social security, and I should like the Minister to ask himself whether he is confident that the Government's case on this will stand up in court.
I should also like the Minister to remember, when he attempts to justify provision in kind, President Clinton's first food drop to the Bosnian Moslems, which was 30 per cent. pork. People from other countries and people of other religions do not necessarily have the same dietary requirements as we do, and provision in kind may completely fail to meet the needs.
I am also extremely worried about the provision that asylum seekers shall have no choice of location. That comes somewhere in the area approaching house arrest. It is a restriction. It also raises the acute problem of what happens in the case of relationship breakdowns. Also, if we should have more trouble of the sort encountered in Eltham, it would, as it did in Lubeck, provide handy targets for those who wish to make the worst sort of trouble. That is not a satisfactory provision.
I am also unhappy about the provision for five days (instead of 25) for making representations, especially if the people concerned are detained at Heathrow and are unable to get access to support groups. That will work particularly severely in cases of torture.
The Government should look at what they have said about inadequate documentation and at Article 31 of the UN convention. Before the Government say that the convention does not apply, they should read Article 1, which defines refugees, and the explanation of it in the UNHCR handbook and ask themselves, "Is this statement schizophrenic and, if so, will it turn out"--as I hope that it will and as I am sure that it will if the Minister has anything to do with it--"that the better part will come out on top?" There is a lot of work still to do.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, indeed, there is. I do not think that anybody could possibly dissent from the fact that the process is presently a shambles. It has been built up by good ideas here and there over a period of many years, some of which have been a reaction to the pressures of the moment while some have related to ignoble pressures of longer than a moment. However, we are trying now to have a fundamental review of how we deal with the problem, recognising that we inherit enormous difficulties, and bearing in mind that substantial public funds will have to be found.
There is no contradiction between the first sentence and the second sentence. It is undoubtedly true that many people--I genuinely sympathise with them and I am sorry for them because the same impetus would drive me--want to change their country of residence because they want to better themselves financially. I repeat that I am sorry for that. In the 19th century, the United States offered them their remedy. We do not offer it as a remedy here, now. I do not mean to be harsh. I am simply stating the facts of life. Therefore, we need a system which reduces the incentive to economic migration. One way of dealing with that is to make sure that those in need receive food and shelter, not giro cheques. That has nothing to do with deterring genuine asylum seekers. It is merely to point out the inevitability that some people will always want to move simply to better themselves and that they do not fall within our regime. Whatever party may come to power later, I do not believe that any government in this country will ever be able to offer such an open door again.
The noble Earl asked some further questions about those who arrive without documentation. Generally, he made a good point, but paragraph 11 does not focus only on passengers with inadequate documentation. It states
I turn now to the question of location. One problem which will cause a Lubeck situation, to which the noble Earl referred, is an over-concentration of refugees in a very small number of locations. That adds to the burden faced by local authorities, many of which are very hard pressed. It also causes enormous resentment because of the concentration in one particular place of people with a different background and a different culture. No one is condemning anyone to house arrest. We are saying that we must consider the dispersal of some claimants and applicants out of the Greater London conurbation and Dover to different areas. Obviously, one would have to pay careful attention to the fact that people should not simply be dumped there. They should be accommodated with others from a similar background, whether religious--the noble Earl referred to adherence to Islam--or linguistic. We are not offering Mr. Clinton's pork dropped by parachute; we are trying to focus quite limited resources so that they are properly used.
The noble Earl was kind enough to refer to judicial intervention. I hope that that goes hand in hand with the fact that written reasons will be given. What we hope for by way of judicial intervention is not only the delivery of written reasons but an effective bail application within seven days. That kind of straitjacket is a very good one to impose because thereby one achieves a better outcome when one is dealing with bureaucracies.
The noble Baroness asked a number of questions, beginning with the proposal of Sir David Ramsbotham about the necessity for an increase in the detention estate. I do not believe that that was focused upon by most members of the public when they read his report on Campsfield House. The overwhelming majority of the recommendations were immediately accepted by Mr. Straw. The answers to the questions on finance are to be found on page 60 in the spending plans annex. One sees a vast amount of detail about outturns, plans and provisional plans going up to the year 2001/02. All of the information is set out there.
The noble Baroness asked a specific question about extra detention facilities. I repeat what my right honourable friend has said in the past. Extra detention places are important but they can be made available only as resources allow. As to additional assistance to be given to IND, that will receive another £124 million over three years. Of that, we envisage that about £100 million will be applied to speeding up the processing of claims, including clearing the backlog.
It is utterly indefensible that there should be 10,000 applications that have not even had a first determination and have been waiting since before the middle of 1993. The Home Secretary has made plain in this Statement that
The noble Baroness asked specifically about judicial review. Judicial review has been notoriously ill-used, if not abused, over the past years. Of those applicants who are given leave to apply for judicial review significantly less than 10 per cent. ever succeed. I make no apology for saying that judicial review has become a significant cottage industry. In the majority of cases the people who benefit from it are not those who apply but those who use funds provided at public expense in order to continue these appeals.
I believe that the last point raised by the noble Baroness related to visitors who were refused access to the country, always for short periods of time and mainly for family occasions such as funerals or weddings. Many people from the Indian sub-continent observe or celebrate these matters in a different way from us. They are much more important in terms of time and expense. We believe it is not unreasonable that if there is an appeal it should be paid for by the applicant. The figure given by the Home Secretary was of the order of £250. If one has saved to be self-sufficient in this country for six months and paid the fares from, say, the Indian sub-continent or parts of Africa, while that is a significant sum it should not be an absolute deterrent. Therefore, we have delivered on that. We have abolished primary purpose. We have set up a distinct Act to deal with the outcome of the Chahal case. The noble Earl believes that there is still a culture of disbelief in the Home Office. When I raised this matter this morning in preparing myself for these questions I was assured that there was no such culture in the Home Office. Who am I to disbelieve that assertion?
It will take some years to get this right. Delays must be reduced and there must be judicial control of those who are detained. People are entitled to written reasons. Equally, we have a general duty to the public to recognise that what we offer by way of asylum and refuge is precisely that. With the best will in the world, we do not and cannot provide an open door to everyone who wants to live here. This is a very attractive country in many ways but we cannot sustain an open door policy. What we can have is a policy that deals fairly with all. The noble Baroness is correct in saying that the correct policy is to achieve a delicate balance between what is quick and what is right. I do not believe that we are in disagreement as to what we look to.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, does my noble friend appreciate that the backlog in the hearing of appeals to which he has referred is concentrated largely in one or two centres where there is no room to appoint further adjudicators? Does he agree that in other locations resources are under-used? Is it proposed to show greater flexibility in the venues where appeals are to be heard, if
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