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The key is to ensure that we have an efficient, fast system, that we avoid the pollution of the system by manipulative delay and that we return failed asylum seekers promptly. In 1997, 7,000 failed seekers were removed. That is an increase of 50 per cent. on the previous year. Our intention is to increase that figure from 7,000 to 12,000 by the year 2001-02.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the small proportion of admissions may reflect either some baseless applications or the draconian character of the present admissions regime?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, no, I think not. In the past 12 months there were 33,080 decisions; 17 per cent. were grants of asylum; and 12 per cent. were given exceptional leave to remain. That means that after a system which includes an appeal and the possibility of judicial review, 71 per cent. of all decisions were refusals. That is a serious figure.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is to the everlasting credit of the government of Sir Edward Heath that he adopted a liberal and humane attitude to those who were fleeing from terror in East Africa. One does not need to be dictated to by figures. However, the figures are extremely large. We have to set out a system which is under judicial control but is nevertheless speedy, fair and efficient.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, of this year's applicants, is it the case that the great majority came from eight countries which had been torn by war or internal violence? Does the noble Lord agree that the current Refugee Week should do a great deal to dispel the prejudice and bias which has been displayed from some quarters against all asylum seekers?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the Refugee Week will do good work if it explains the true position. As I have said many times, part of the true position is that some people, for reasons we all well understand, want to come here to better their economic circumstances. We do not and cannot have an open door policy. We have to be absolutely fair and prompt in dealing with genuine asylum claims.
Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, while it is immensely important to deal firmly with bogus asylum seekers, this country has a great and honourable tradition of trying to help those who are genuine asylum seekers? The Government have to find a fair balance in the circumstances. Will my noble friend consider the policy--it is applied, I think, too often--of removing people during the period of consideration to areas away from their communities and families? That causes them grave misery and distress.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, we receive many representations which are soundly based and some of the large metropolitan authorities are not able to cope with the strain and burden. Our policy is to offer decent accommodation outside the great urban conurbations, bearing in mind that one does not wish to leave people isolated and it is preferable if they are with people of the same country of origin. We simply cannot use the great authorities as dumping grounds for people with whom they are not able to cope.
Lord Henley: My Lords, if 71 per cent. of those seeking asylum turn out to be bogus asylum seekers, and if the vast majority come from a limited number of countries, what are Her Majesty's Government doing to discourage those individuals from originally attempting to start the process? If they could be discouraged, the noble Lord might find it somewhat easier to get rid of the vast backlog of claims.
The Lord Bishop of Southwell: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the 29 per cent. who have been granted some form of asylum or leave of residence is a quite large percentage rather than the small percentage that has been implied? One of the problems of those seeking escape from an oppressive regime is that they have to secure false documentation in order to escape. Therefore there needs to be careful control of the airline liaison officer work and of the transport companies, with the increase of liability for carriers, in order that those people do not become judges of individuals who are in a perilous position.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate referred to the figures I gave earlier which reflect the point made by my noble friend Lord Janner. One has to have a decent, humane, scrupulous balance between treating people fairly who have a legitimate claim and dealing firmly, promptly and efficiently with those who do not. The figure of 71 per cent. is still an alarmingly high proportion.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the Minister agree that a high proportion of the people who have arrived in recent months have come from Kosovo? Will he accept that when people have suffered so intensely it is not a good idea to put them in prison when they arrive? Will he do something about the 30-odd people from Kosovo who are at present locked up in Rochester Prison and consider a more liberal policy granting temporary admission to those refugees?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, as I indicated earlier, one has floods of potential asylum-seekers from particular countries depending on the civil unrest. We do not want people to be imprisoned in the prison estate. I visited Rochester Prison and I know that enormous problems are caused for immigration detainees and also for those who are trying to run the prison in the mainstream.
As soon as Sir David Ramsbotham's report was published indicating that one ought to have a discrete detention estate, the Government accepted the proposal. As the noble Lord knows, I indicated in a Written Answer that we would give consideration to electronic tagging for refugees. That suggestion was met with
Lord Judd: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is arguably unfortunate to put too much emphasis on target figures for the numbers to be returned and that the priority, for public opinion within this country and for public information abroad, is to have a clear story of effective, judicious and convincing arrangements for dealing speedily with deciding whether an asylum-seeker is legitimate?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I absolutely agree and that is a very important theme of the White Paper. As my noble friend will know, we have undertaken to give written reasons for detention, which is extremely important. We want to have bail applications after seven days and 35 days respectively of initial detention. We want expansion of the immigration detention estate, as I indicated a moment ago. We want the procedure to be prompt both in terms of initial determination and appeals. However, if people fail in their appeals there is no alternative but to require them to leave.
Baroness Ludford: My Lords, is it not appropriate in this week of all weeks to strike a positive note about the contribution of refugees? Not only is it Refugee Week, but we are approaching the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On this day of all days--the 80th anniversary of the Armistice--should we not be remembering that war and conflict cause so much of the impetus for refugees to leave their homeland and that only a tiny minority of the 22 million refugees worldwide come to Europe. Constantly to talk of floods and invasions is somewhat inappropriate. Secondly--