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Lord Clarke of Hampstead: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that a contributing factor to the relative success of neo-fascist parties in places such as Burnley, Blackburn and Halifax is the misleading and deliberate distortion of facts in those areas? Does he also agree that the Government's initiativesurban regeneration, neighbourhood renewal, local strategic partnershipsoffer a way for the nation to combat such wicked and evil people? Can the Minister give the House an assurance that the Government will do their best to get the truth out in areas that, unfortunately, have been neglected for decades?
Lord Filkin: My Lords, ensuring that conditions are in place that will allow all in our society to prosper is, undoubtedly, a part of any proper strategy for stopping the growth of racism, xenophobia or Islamophobia. I include poor white communities in that, as much as others. Such conditions are crucial, which is why the neighbourhood renewal, social exclusion and community cohesion work that is being done throughout government to strengthen capacity in such areas and promote dialogue and understanding is vital.
I also mark the importance of local leadership in that context. Without going into detail, I will say that particular local issues will always contribute to the results of such elections. That is not to take away from the responsibility of the Government and each of the major national political parties to consider again whether they give people confidence that mainstream politics can address their concerns.
Lord Waddington: My Lords, is it not likely that the BNP cashed in on the public perception that the Government have lost control of the asylum situation? Is there not a lesson for the Government to learn?
Lord Filkin: My Lords, there is a lesson for the Government to learn, and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has been clear, brave and courageous in acknowledging that we must put across to the public the fact that we are getting to grips with the asylum situation. I shall not go into detailI am happy to do so on another occasionabout the measures that are in place, following the legislation, to make entry harder and stamp out abuse.
At the same time, we do not aid community cohesion or create the sort of society that we want by extremismin this place or anywhere elsethat implies that all asylum seekers are terrorists or by creating that impression. At that level, the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, is correct: some of the extremist reporting that has taken place will, perhaps, have played into the BNP's hands.
Lord Lipsey: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, under any electoral system bar Britain's bizarre first-past-the-post system, the BNP would not have come within a country mile of winning that seat in Halifax? Will he change the system?
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I think that if I said that it would be done by Tuesday, the House would not believe me. So the answer is no. It is also noted that the contribution of independent parties in these elections was one of the products that led to the result. I shall say no more at this point.
Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I declare an interest as an elected Member of Calderdale Council, of which Halifax is part. Would the Minister agree that there are several lessons to be learnt from that result, and the disaffection that led to the result last Thursday? In particular, it is far from helpful that, because of our system of organising local government finance, the council has to consult on the 14 per cent council tax rise, for no discernible increase in services, at six or seven times the rate of inflation. Furthermore, Calderdale is one of only two metropolitan councils out of 36 that is denied benefit from neighbourhood renewal funding. Should not the criteria for that be looked at afresh?
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I am disappointed by that question. It implies that the result of that election was the product of the local government finance settlement by this Government. While we should take responsibility for many things, I do not think that is a reasonable or fair inference in this case. There will never be enough money for local government, in terms of what it wants; there will never be a system of local government finance distribution that commands universal support. Members opposite know that as well as we do on our Benches.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, unless I blinked at the wrong moment, I thought that during the past six months, in the legislation brought into this House from about June through to November, we could not have been clearer on that fact. The challenge to the Government, and to public policy generally, is to sort out one from the other. We must ensure that we do not encourage illegal migration to this country, while, at the same time, we should give refuge to those who are genuine migrants. We are clear on that issue and have put in place a range of measures which will make significant progress on closing that gap.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, I refer to the point made by my noble friend concerning the national press. Does the Minister not consider that the press complaints' system is entirely inadequate to deal with some of the racist comments that have appeared in certain newspapers and, in particular, the Sun? Will he refer these matters to the police so that they can investigate whether a criminal offence has been committed under the provisions regarding incitement to racial hatred?
Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the grave and very extensive concern that exists throughout the country about the volume of illegal immigrants? Can he explain why the Prime Minister has confessed that perhaps the measures referred to may not be altogether successful and why the European convention may need to be examined?
Lord Filkin: My Lords, yes, I would be blind if I had not noticed the strength of concern in the country about illegal immigration, while not for one second implying that legal migration does not play a valuable role in our economy and in our society, because it does. If one looks at the Prime Minister's comments on "Breakfast with Frost"the transcript is clearhe made absolutely clear his expectation that the measures taken in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act, combined with the measures we are undertaking with France and Belgium substantially to strengthen entry control physically, should make very considerable progress in terms of ensuring that we have staunched the problem.
In response to a specific question, the Prime Minister also recognised that there would be a need to think about how immigration asylum policy develops in the future. That is an issue on which we have
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would be particularly unfortunate if the right honourable gentleman the Prime Minister does anything along the lines that he was suggesting just at the moment when the Community is fighting really hard to obtain a unified policy on immigration which would be of great benefit to this country, because immigrants would have to be registered in the country where they first arrive in the Community?
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I am not certain that I totally seized the question; I shall be happy to give further thought subsequently. However, I am certain that what the Prime Minister said, and the leadership that he has given in both international and domestic issues, are absolutely appropriate for the circumstances that we are in. For the future, we must think about whether there are better ways of giving refuge to those people who need it under the 1951 convention but who currently do not get it. I can but instance what happened in Rwanda and in many places around the world. We must be concerned about the fact that operationally the current system does not help such people. Therefore, it requires fresh thinking.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to make new provision about sexual offences, their prevention and the protection of children from harm from other sexual acts, and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.