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Viscount Astor: The noble Baroness said that she would deal with my points in relation to Amendment No. 28. With respect, I am not sure that that amendment is relevant. It relates to Clause 3(3), which is about the duties that are under the direction of the Secretary of State and which relate to this Bill. My point was somewhat different. It derived entirely from the letter from the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, in which he said that provision for the charging of fees,
The Earl of Northesk: Perhaps I should invite the noble Baroness to write to me in reply to my question, which she has singularly failed to address.
Baroness Blackstone: I shall respond first to the noble Viscount, Lord Astor. I think that we shall come to his point on Amendment No. 58. It would help the Committee if we were to raise questions under the appropriate clauses and the appropriate group of amendments that we are discussing. Otherwise we shall get into a dreadful muddle and will spend all afternoon dealing with Clause 1.
Revenues will be drawn from those who will be regulated. Meanwhile, the paving Bill will enable borrowing from the Secretary of State to be paid back later. Those who are regulated will eventually bear the cost of that regulation.
I am sorry if the noble Earl, Lord Northesk, did not think that I had responded to his question. Perhaps it was partly because I could not see what it had to do with Amendment No. 1. On information services, the White Paper sets out clearly what Ofcom should cover. Broadly speaking, coverage is the same as that for existing legislation on broadcasting, telecommunications and the management of the spectrum, so there is no change.
Viscount Astor: I do not wish to delay the Committee. The noble Baroness has finally answered my question, which she could perhaps have answered earlier. It is clear that this Bill does not provide powers to charge those who will be regulated. There will be a borrowing requirement, in effect, and the power to charge those who are regulated will be part of the main communications Bill. That is where the confusion arose. I hope that I have got it right and I am grateful to the noble Baroness for confirming that.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the discussion on Amendment No. 1. It forms a back-cloth for our debates on the remainder of the Bill. I always admire the contributions of my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil, but even more so today, as he managed again to introduce the Dome in a way that is relevant to our debate. One day I shall escape from discussions on the Dome, but not quite yet.
I was intrigued by some of the points made by my noble friend Lord Crickhowell about the deficiencies in the way in which this model will work. I need to consider carefully what he has said with regard to the setting up of the National Rivers Authority.
I was interested to hear some of the Minister's answers, and I am sure that we shall explore later some of the points. I was particularly intrigued by the questions posed by my noble friend Lord Northesk. I know that his questions usually have a particular technical content, and I shall have to consider them carefully.
I said from the start that it was a probing amendment, and in that spirit, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Davies of Oldham: I beg to move that the House do now resume.
Moved, accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Rooker): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:
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"This year is the 50th anniversary of the Geneva Convention on refugees. The UK is proud to be a signatory to the convention. We will uphold our fundamental moral obligation to protect those fleeing persecution, while protecting our national boundaries and integrity.
"The world is a very different place from that of 50 years ago. At the beginning of this year there were 12 million refugees worldwide.
"Such global movements are a challenge to all nations. Alongside our European partners, we must establish an asylum and immigration system which can respond effectively to the pressures that we face.
"Steps have already been taken, which I intend to extend, to root out the organised criminal gangs who are responsible for the barbaric trade of trafficking in people. The gross exploitation of those in greatest need is unacceptable.
"It is crucial that our approach leads to radical change at home, creating trust by the people of our country and a message that is clearly understood in the rest of the world. The message at home and abroad must be crystal clear, but tough. It must send a signal to people throughout the world that the United Kingdom is not a soft touch.
"Significant improvements have been made in recent years. Staff in the Immigration and Nationality Directorate have worked tirelessly to deal with the backlog of claims. In the past financial year, 132,000 decisions were made, surpassing the 79,000 applications received.
"The new civil penalties and carriers' liability have already cut back illegal entry into the United Kingdom. The substantial investment in new equipment for surveillance and border controls, which I announced last month, will reinforce this work.
"I wish to pay a warm tribute to my predecessor, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and his former ministerial team. They inherited a terrible mess and made huge improvements, but there is much more still to be done.
"That is why today I do not intend to tinker with the existing system but to bring about radical and fundamental reform.
"The reviews of voucher and dispersal policy which I am publishing today, and which are placed in the Vote Office and the Library, have demonstrated that the current system has suffered from real problems. It is too slow, vulnerable to fraud, and felt to be unfair by asylum seekers and local communities alike.
"There are many people who are working illegally, while claiming support or sub-letting their accommodation. There is accommodation which is paid for but unused.
"As the House is aware, there have been social tensions in neighbourhoods across the country and considerable pressure on local education, social and GP services.
"We need a seamless asylum service from initial decision through to appeal, integration or removal. It must be clear, fast and well administered.
"It is my intention to publish a White Paper and subsequent legislation which will provide a comprehensive approach to asylum, nationality and immigration.
"At the heart of my asylum proposal is the presumption that from the moment someone presents himself or herself, he or she will be tracked as well as supported. There will be three key elements to the structure: induction, accommodation and reporting, and fast-track removal or integration.
"The application process will be streamlined and integrated. We shall develop a small network of induction centres in which people will be accommodated after application to facilitate screening, health checks and identification processes.
"After induction, asylum seekers, whether or not they are receiving support, will have to make themselves regularly available at new style reporting centres. We shall phase in this process. Crucially, by the end of next year, a proportion of first-time asylum seekers will be offered a place in new accommodation centres, which are being trialled. We shall establish 3,000 places, offering full board, education and health facilities. Those in accommodation centres will receive a small cash allowance. Those refusing to take up such a place will disqualify themselves from support.
"Decisions about the long-term mix of facilities will be taken in the light of emerging evidence here and abroad about what works. Subject to that, our aim is to phase out the current system of support and dispersal.
"While the trial is being evaluated, those receiving support will be subject to a robust new regime. Instead of the standard acknowledgement letter that is used for identification, smart cards will be phased in from January to ensure entitlement. That will guarantee identification and tackle fraud. Using new biometric techniques, including fingerprinting and photographs, we shall provide both security and certainty.
"Further steps will be taken to improve the current voucher system. The value of voucher support will be uprated as soon as possible in line with the April 2001 income support increases for adults and the increase announced for children last week. Within the total of support available, the cash allowance will be increased from £10 to £14.
"We recognise that in revising the existing voucher system, we need to establish a long-term robust solution. Induction, accommodation and removal centres clearly remove the need for vouchers for those who are assigned a place.
"I can tell the House that once the new smart cards are introduced, the voucher system will be superseded. By the early autumn of next year we will
"While we are not reversing the principle of dispersal away from London and the South East, we will improve consultation with, and the involvement of, local authorities and others. It is crucial that private providers of housing give proper notice to local authorities when asylum seekers are due to be housed in an area. We will develop a stronger regional structure as part of a more devolved and decentralised process, and greater co-ordination with voluntary organisations.
"But none of those changes will work effectively unless we drastically speed up the system. I therefore intend to tackle head on the backlog, including those waiting for appeals. The Lord Chancellor and I therefore intend substantially to improve the throughput of appeals.
"First, we will cut out multiple opportunities for delay. Secondly, we will streamline any further right of appeal limited to a point of law. Thirdly, we will increase the capacity of the adjudication service by 50 per cent--from the current 4,000 to 6,000 cases a month. From next month the capacity will increase to 4,500 and by next November to 6,000.
"Where a claim to asylum is granted, we will improve the integration procedures. Where an appeal has failed, my intention is to streamline the process for removal. Those who have no right to stay must leave the country immediately.
"We currently have 1,900 detention places. By the spring of next year we will have increased that to 2,800. I intend that we should now expand the capacity by a further 40 per cent to 4,000 places. Those will become secure removal centres.
"But asylum seekers will no longer be held in mainstream prison places. I can confirm that from January next year that practice will cease.
"I announced earlier this month my proposals for sensible, controlled legal migration into this country. This will enable those with skills to enter our country legitimately to work. In addition, we will explore with the European Union and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees the establishment of agreed gateways to take nominated refugees from outside the country. This has been an anomaly for many years, leading to the scenes at ports and Eurotunnel facilities.
"We will also take action to root out illegal working. Those working in our country illegally are being exploited by unscrupulous gangmasters and employers, in conditions that undermine the minimum wage, fair conditions and, at the same time, defraud the tax and national insurance system.
"The Prime Minister recently announced a cross-departmental working group under the chairmanship of my right honourable friend Lord Rooker. He will bring forward proposals for
"I believe we can also do more to give practical help to those seeking to settle here, in addition to the men and women seeking refugee status. The White Paper will address their language needs together with education for citizenship. I will also be looking to announce the importance of naturalisation.
"Finally, I can also announce that a discussion paper on the review of family visitor appeals has been published today. A copy of this paper will be placed in the Vote Office and the Library.
"This is a substantial package of measures that will fundamentally overhaul our asylum and immigration policy. It is a rational approach to a rapidly changing situation. I believe that it will send a message to the rest of the world that this country is not open to abuse, but nor is it to be a fortress Britain. We are not rejecting economic migrants, refugees from persecution or those seeking to visit our shores.
"Implementation of my policies will take time; but in time they will work in the interests of us all".
Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement made by his right honourable friend in another place. It would be remarkable if every Member in this House did not have within their circle of acquaintances a relative or past beneficiary of the proper asylum policies run by this country. This country has benefited enormously from some of those fortunate accruals to our society. Therefore we all have a common ambition and purpose; that is, to assist the innocent victims of persecution. That is the mark of a civilised society.
However, at the same time, asylum should not work in such a way that it interferes with or cuts across the normal and proper systems of immigration which a country chooses to operate. We have been in some danger that in recent times our asylum system has done just that. Therefore I welcome the fact that in the near future we are to have a White Paper covering the whole of this field, with legislation to follow. Perhaps the Minister could be a little more precise than the Statement as to when that White Paper will arrive.
Today's Statement is welcome all the more so for its inconsistency with statements made by the Prime Minister and others; that is, that the asylum system was working and that the problems had been solved. That situation pertained until the present Home Secretary came to office and that was extremely welcome. However, it is a fact that numbers of asylum seekers rose from 26,000 in 1996 to 100,000 last year.
We welcome the principle of the introduction of accommodation centres. They are supposed to be voluntary, but those offered a place will not receive assistance unless they accept. The Statement mentions that in time there will be 3,000 such places. That is all very well. But at the moment the only such centre in existence is Oakington, which has nowhere near that number of places. Therefore what is to be done about the planning process to create those centres elsewhere in the country? In particular, what will be the public consultation process before the centres are introduced? If they are to be open centres situated in some of the more remote parts of the country, there will be anxiety among those who live in the immediate environment if there is no means of keeping the asylum seekers close to the centres.
We already have too much experience of asylum seekers coming to this country as economic migrants, who are not particularly worried about the support systems we wish to introduce. They disappear into the community and work.
Another aspect of the Statement which I welcome is the introduction of identity cards. They are being introduced for asylum seekers. The Statement talks about "biometric information", including photographs and fingerprints. But photographs and fingerprints do not provide sufficient information to ensure security. Any system which requires more detailed information to be put on the cards will mean that the card cannot be issued at the port of entry. If it cannot be issued at the port of entry immediately asylum is claimed, it leaves the gate open for an asylum seeker subsequently to disappear. That is potentially a considerable problem.
As a result of the Statement it appears that the country will be running three separate systems. One is the illicit system I have already described. The second system is that of accommodation centres. I ask the Minister to assure us that, where those are in place, they will be adequately resourced, particularly in relation to medical, advice, legal and language services. Without such services, the accommodation centres will not work. More importantly, they will not clear their customers through the centres rapidly. In addition, we are to have a system of reporting centres. We do not know how many there will be. We know that there are six at present. People who have their identity cards will be able to use them to receive support from the State and will have to report on a regular basis.
Can the Minister say anything further about the number of reporting centres, and give the same assurance with regard to resources? If such centres are to work and be useful to asylum seekers, all the facilities that I mentioned as regards accommodation centres will be required within them. Can the Minister tell the House at what point someone will try to make a judgment about which of the systems--two official and one unofficial--works? For the third system to be eliminated, the two official systems will need to work much better than anything so far put in place. The Statement may provide a route to a solution but I do not think that it provides a solution.
Lord McNally: My Lords, for my liking, the Statement contains the word "robust" too many times. It refers to a robust new regime; a robust long-term solution and a robust but less socially-divisive scheme. Words such as that usually get into Ministerial statements as a substitute for detailed policy.
However, I say at once that we on these Benches welcome the Statement and the number of proposals and approaches contained in it. Like the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, I believe that we are at the beginning of a process, not at the end. Following his comments, perhaps I may say that the McNallys certainly came to England 150 years ago as "economic refugees". My father could remember a phrase still used at the turn of the century; that is, "No Irish need apply". Therefore, some of the things we find now are not entirely new. Yet, I believe that this country has continued to retain a reputation for tolerance which at times has surprised our popular press and some politicians who thought that there were cheap votes to be had in exploiting fear and ignorance.
As I have said, we give a broad welcome to the Statement, not least because it has the marks and fingerprints of the present Home Secretary and the noble Lord, Lord Rooker. I suspect that both show a gut instinct for dealing with such problems, which was absent from either of their two predecessors. I was late coming into the Chamber because I was watching the performance in another place. I hope that the Statement marks a watershed in dealing with these problems, at least at this end of the Palace, as shown by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith.
There are no "flip" answers or easy solutions to the issues. It is no good taking up parliamentary time reminding each other of past Statements when one side was on one set of the Benches and the other side on another. The problem is like a Rubik's cube: we seem to have one part solved but, when we look round the corner, there is another difficulty.
I hope that the point-scoring lesson has been learnt. I also hope that this is the end of using bureaucracy as a hidden regulator. Building up long waiting lists will only increase and exacerbate the problem. We have learnt that neither dispersal nor vouchers prove to be easy solutions. Making things nastier and more uncomfortable will not dissuade people from seeking asylum. Such people come from places which are much worse.
With that general welcome for the Statement, I have a few questions. Are there any special measures for abandoned or non-supported children who have got into the system? There were disturbing reports recently about such children and concern about whether their needs are being adequately handled. Is this an end of the dispersal policy or will it still play some part in overall schemes?
We welcome the internationalisation of the problem. Can the Minister tell the House whether discussions are taking place with the French to ease problems which are specifically Franco-British? I have one anecdote. During the general election campaign I
In the past the Minister has been a little tetchy about lawyers and, in particular, solicitors. There is ample evidence of crooked solicitors exploiting the asylum system. Why are not the Government in discussion with the Law Society to root out the bad eggs in the profession and bar them from practising? Let us have sanctions against them. Likewise, I refer to employers who illegally employ people. Why are there not hefty fines for such people? We need to implement sanctions, as we are trying to do in connection with drugs and terrorism. Let us bite into the system at the financial end where people are profiting.
The Minister is the acknowledged expert on this matter. Therefore, unlike the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, I cannot resist asking whether we are seeing the first pilot scheme for an identity card in this country. I believe we would all like to know that. In general, we welcome the approach and the acceptance that in the past things may not have worked well. Within the terms of wanting to see the detail, we are able to promise the Minister co-operation in trying to put in place a genuinely civilised asylum and immigration system for this country.
Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am grateful for the tone of the responses by the noble Lords, Lord Dixon-Smith, and Lord McNally. I shall try to run through as many of the issues raised as possible. We clearly agree with the first point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, as I believe everyone would. In the past this country has benefited enormously from people who have come here as refugees. There is no question about that. Recent Home Office research indicated that those who had come to live and work in this country made a net contribution to the economy of £2.5 billion per year. There is no question of the positive impact made. However, there are those who seek to cheat and undermine the system to the disadvantage of genuine asylum seekers.
Much of the detail will be dealt with in the White Paper. I turn to the question of when that will be issued. If I say the turn of the year, I cannot be tied down to just before or just after Christmas. Legislation will then follow, with an asylum and immigration Bill. I cannot say when that will be but my guess would be this Session, round about springtime. One can see the pattern of consultation now to get right the details of the White Paper, which will be followed by the Bill.
Accommodation centres will not work unless they are properly resourced. We shall trial accommodation centres with a capacity of about 3,000, which may mean four to five centres. We know roughly the
The centres will be open in the sense that there will be a gate through which people can come and go. The people will be required to live at the centres on a full-board-and-lodging basis, but they will be open. We must also consider the security of those living in the centres. As the centres will be open, we must ensure that the wrong people do not walk in. They will not be detention centres, but there will have to be security.
Such centres will not be like Oakington. Oakington will remain a central plank of our fast-track system, subject to the results of the forthcoming appeal. None of these proposals will overturn Oakington. Oakington is a much smaller place with a capacity of 250 to 300.
Thirty per cent of asylum seekers, a substantial number, do not ask for any support in the form of housing or finance. Under this robust system of tracking, they will be tracked. We shall need more regular contact with such people as we shall have no need to contact them in order to send them vouchers. We would not necessarily know where they are living, as they may move around, and sometimes they may miss appointments for interviews and so on.
It will not be possible to introduce ID cards at the point of entry, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, because more than half asylum seekers do not appear at a point of entry. As people make "in-country" applications, and we do not know how they entered the country, it will not be possible to construct a system at the port of entry. The situation changes from month to month, but at the moment more people are turning up at Croydon making "in-country" applications than at Heathrow or Dover or Gatwick.
We shall have three systems running, but they will not be as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith. There will be a pre-1999 system, a 1999-2001 system and a 2001 system. We shall have to decide whether to integrate them or to manage them separately so that the trials are a success and we do not get them confused.
The dispersal policy will remain. What has been announced today cannot happen overnight. Even if we could fast-track and speed up decisions, as indicated in the Statement, the accommodation centres with 3,000 places will deal with only about 10 per cent of the inflow, so the present system must remain while we carry out the trials. There will be dispersal. We shall not continue the pressure on London and the South East, as before, but we shall manage the situation better, as noble Lords will see in the report on the review of dispersal which has been published today, with suggestions for improving the management of the dispersal system.
On vouchers--the means of delivering financial support--we have indicated that by this time next year--I believe we said early autumn--we shall have a different system of delivering the financial support, probably by a "smart card" arrangement.
On lawyers and commissions I have said some hard words. There is money to be made and lawyers benefit from the sloppiness in the system that we have managed unsuccessfully. They benefit from the repeated claims, delays and other such matters. Through the legislation and the flow of changed policies, we shall remove such opportunities for delay as far as we can. We shall not reduce people's right of appeal, but as the Statement makes clear, we shall curtail some of the rights that have been exploited by others.
A ministerial group is dealing with illegal employment and it is hoped that before Christmas it will bring forward proposals that we can put into legislation early next year. We have no overall plans to introduce ID cards, but that remains under constant discussion by Ministers. It is not done and dusted; nevertheless, we shall return to that issue in due course.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, while the Minister is right in saying that this is not an issue that should result in recrimination between political parties or other Members of your Lordships' House, does he recognise that in the past decade there have been four attempts at legislation? Looking at the debates in this House in 1998 will have some virtue and be of some benefit to Ministers. At that time Members of your Lordships' House moved amendments against the dispersal system and against the voucher system, pointing out that the voucher system would not be effective as a disincentive and that it would stigmatise people.
Perhaps the Minister would also look at a debate held in February of this year and at the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, who called for a "green card" system, with support from all sides of your Lordships' House. Does that not underline the need for a bipartisan approach, rather than this matter becoming a political punchbag? Before putative legislation is introduced, perhaps there should be a Select Committee of the House, through which we can proceed with some agreement, not least on the issue of citizenship, to which the Minister referred? Is it reasonable to expect that those who want to live in the United Kingdom should have a sense of loyalty to our institutions and to our shared values? Perhaps that should be a prerequisite of citizenship, as in the United States.
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