HL Deb 22 July 1996 vol 574 cc1176-216

3.14 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons reasons and amendments be now considered.

Moved, That the Commons reasons and amendments be now considered.—(Baroness Blatch.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


[The page and line refer to Bill (51) as first printed by the Lords.]


6 Clause 3, page 3, line 33, after ("under") insert ("Part II of the 1971 Act (appeals: general) or")

The Commons disagreed to the above amendment but propose the following amendment in lieu—

6A Page 3, line 33, leave out from 'under' to end of line 34 and insert

  1. '(i)Part II of the 1971 Act (appeals: general); or
  2. (ii) section 8 of the 1993 Act (appeals to special adjudicator on Convention grounds),
as respects matters arising before his removal from the United Kingdom'.

Baroness Blotch

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 6 to which the Commons have disagreed, and do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 6A in lieu thereof.

When a third country certificate is issued an applicant will, of course, have an appeal under Clause 3 of the Bill against the Secretary of State's third country certificate. In certain limited cases he might also seek to appeal on non-asylum grounds and we need to ensure that third country removals should not be delayed by unrelated appeals. Previously, the Bill provided that in third country cases an applicant could not bring an asylum appeal under Section 8 of the 1993 Act unless or until the third country certificate had been set aside by a special adjudicator.

The Government brought forward, and this House adopted, amendments which adjusted the Bill slightly to provide that an applicant could not bring either an asylum appeal under Section 8 of the 1993 Act or a non-asylum appeal under the 1971 Act unless or until the third country certificate had been set aside by a special adjudicator. However, it became apparent that Amendment No. 6 could be construed as preventing a person who has been removed under a third country certificate ever exercising an immigration right of appeal in the United Kingdom again. For instance, an asylum applicant who was removed to a third country might some years later obtain an entry clearance to come to the United Kingdom as a student. If the student was refused entry on arrival he would not be entitled to an appeal against that decision because the third country certificate had never been overturned.

It is arguable that Amendment No. 6 could not be construed as having such an extreme result, but we wish to make absolutely sure that the provision cannot be misinterpreted. We are, of course, seeking only to prevent applicants lodging non-asylum appeals against decisions made prior to removal which would have the effect of delaying or preventing removal. Therefore, the Government brought forward Amendment No. 6A in another place to make it clear that we are not removing immigration appeal rights for ever from applicants who are removed to a third country.

Moved, That the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 6 to which the Commons have disagreed, and do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 6A in lieu thereof.—(Baroness Blotch.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

3.15 p.m.


9 Clause 8, page 6, line 2, leave out ("subsection (3)") and insert ("subsections (2A) and (3)")

The Commons disagreed to this amendment for the following reason—

9A Because it does not address such problems as may be faced by domestic workers from overseas.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 9 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 9A.

The effect of Amendment No. 9, which together with Amendment No. 11 was successfully moved by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, would have been to exclude from the provisions of Clause 8 those employers who employed an overseas domestic worker in respect of whom a police officer, doctor or solicitor had certified that he or she had suffered substantial physical abuse or serious economic exploitation arising from what was described as "previous bonded employment". In practice, that would have meant that the second and any subsequent employer of a domestic worker who fell into that category could not commit the offence of employing someone not entitled to work here, yet the domestic workers themselves would still not be entitled to take the employment in question and they would either be working in breach of their immigration conditions or they would be overstayers.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, is a vigorous and respected campaigner on behalf of those domestic workers who are abused by their employers. I wish to put on record my admiration for the way in which he has doughtily supported the cause of those people, many of them very young.

However, the amendments would have done little to minimise the risk of abuse occurring in the first place, whether by the first or any subsequent employer. The amendments and the debates which were stimulated in your Lordships' House and in another place have served to highlight the plight of those who are abused. But the Government's view is that it is quite properly a matter to be dealt with by our criminal and employment laws, under which domestic workers, in common with all other employees, have full protection while they are in this country.

The right way to minimise the risk of abuse occurring in the first place is to sift out those cases where the arrangements fall short of the criteria which have been established for entry clearance in this capacity before they even come here. The Government have said, and I repeat it, that we will gladly consider any suggestions for further refinements to these pre-entry arrangements which might help to weed out unsatisfactory cases.

The Commons disagreed to these amendments because they did not address such problems as may be faced by domestic workers from overseas. I hope that in view of what I have said the House will take a similar view.

Moved, That the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 9 to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 9A.—(Baroness Blotch.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


11 Clause 8, page 6, line 12, at end insert— ("(2A) Nothing in this section applies to an employee who was employed as a domestic worker and in respect of whom a police officer, doctor or solicitor has certified that he has previously suffered substantial physical abuse or deprivation, or serious economic exploitation, arising from previous bonded employment.").

The Commons disagreed to this amendment for the following reason—

11A Because it does not address such problems as may be faced by domestic workers from overseas.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 11 to which the Commons have disagreed for the reason numbered 11A.

Moved, That the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 11 to which the Commons have disagreed for the reason numbered 11A.—(Baroness Blotch.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


24 After Clause 10, insert the following new clause—

Saving for social security regulations

(".—(1) Notwithstanding any enactment or rule of law, regulations may exclude from entitlement to any of the following benefits, namely—

  1. (a) income support, housing benefit and council tax benefit under the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992;
  2. (b) income support and housing benefit under the Social Security Contributions and Benefits (Northern Ireland) Act 1992; and
  3. (c) jobseeker's allowance under the Jobseekers Act 1995 or the Jobseekers (Northern Ireland) Order 1995,
any person who has made a claim for asylum other than on his arrival in the United Kingdom or within three working days of that arrival.

(2) Regulations may provide that, where such a person as is mentioned in subsection (1) above is subsequently recorded by the Secretary of State as a refugee within the meaning of the Convention—

  1. (a) that person may, within a prescribed period, claim the whole or any prescribed proportion of any income support, housing benefit or council tax benefit to which he would have been entitled had he been recorded as a refugee immediately after he made the claim for asylum; and
  2. (b) where he makes such a claim as is mentioned in paragraph (a) above in respect of housing benefit or council tax benefit having resided in the areas of two or more local authorities in Great Britain, 1180 the claim shall be investigated and determined, and any benefit awarded shall be paid or allowed, by such one of those authorities as may be prescribed.

(3) Regulations making such provision as is mentioned in subsection (2)(b) above may require the other authorities there mentioned to supply the prescribed authority with such information as it may reasonably require in connection with the exercise of its functions under the regulations.

(4) Schedule (Modifications of social security regulations) to this Act—

  1. (a) Part I of which modifies the Social Security (Persons from Abroad) Miscellaneous Amendments Regulations 1996; and
  2. (b) Part II of which modifies the Social Security (Persons from Abroad) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1996,
shall have effect.

(5) The Jobseeker's Allowance (Amendment) Regulations 1996 shall have effect as if they had been made on the day on which this Act is passed.

(6) In this section—

The Commons agreed to this amendment with the following amendment—

24A Line 3, after 'exclude' insert 'any person who has made a claim for asylum'.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 24A to Lords Amendment No. 24. At the same time, I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 24B, 24C, 28 and 28A and 28B.

We have discussed on a number of occasions the issue of benefits paid to asylum seekers and, in particular, the considerable and increasing numbers who are paid benefit and who turn out not to be genuine asylum seekers and not entitled to any money from the taxpayer. The Government remain convinced that it is right to clamp down on this abuse. We are also convinced that we should continue to oppose any weakening of the policy.

The policy was first announced in October last year. It was subject to a full public consultation through the Social Security Advisory Committee. It formed part of the social security uprating Statement given on 29th November to this House by me and to another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. Draft regulations embodying the policy were debated and agreed in this House and in the other place in January. The regulations were discussed in the other place on 23rd January and accepted by a clear majority of 279 to 264 votes.

Here in your Lordships' House there was a full and wide-ranging discussion on 30th January, and the House voted by majorities of 43 and 49 not to accept resolutions calling on the Government to consider alternative means to support asylum seekers.

The policy came into effect on 5th February and ran until the Court of Appeal decided on 21st June in a majority decision that these changes could only be introduced by primary and not by secondary legislation. In order to obey the judgment of the court, I announced to your Lordships' House on 24th June that I would introduce a new clause and schedule to the Asylum and Immigration Bill in order to place the policy in primary legislation. The party opposite divided the House on a procedural vote which the Government won by 135 to 100 votes. At the same time my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, Mr. Peter Lilley, made a Statement to the other place which was subject to the scrutiny and question that such Statements receive.

On recommitment and on Third Reading your Lordships discussed and voted on a number of amendments but agreed the main thrust of our policy. However, an amendment was carried by three votes which gave those who did not claim asylum on arrival three days to make an in-country application. It also provided for benefit entitlement right up until the end not only of the Home Office decision-making process but also to the end of any subsequent appeal, no matter how long and drawn out it was.

Last Monday the other place voted on your Lordships' amendment and rejected it by a majority of 21. There is no argument in favour of giving them a further opportunity to reconsider. Your Lordships will, I am sure, wish to reflect in the light of all the consideration and reconsideration already given to the issue whether this House wishes to continue to dispute this issue with the elected Chamber.

Perhaps I may remind your Lordships why we felt it necessary to restrict benefits in February, and why we felt it necessary, as a result of the Court of Appeal's decision, to incorporate the new clause and the new schedule into the Bill. Over the past two years claims across the main western European countries, have nearly halved—I repeat, nearly halved—but, here in this country, they have doubled. Ten years ago, as I have told your Lordships on a number of occasions, claims in the UK were running at a level of 4,000, 5,000 or 6,000; in the past two years they have been running at a level of 42,000 and 56,000 respectively. That is quite out of line with trends in the rest of Europe.

Over the same period, the proportion of those actually succeeding in their application fell from 21 per cent. to 5 per cent. Moreover, in 1995, as noble Lords will recall because I have said it many times before, out of every 100 applications for asylum considered, only seven were accepted as genuine refugees, either at the initial decision stage or on appeal. Indeed, 93 were found not to be refugees under the Geneva Convention. Some 16 of those 100 applicants (almost all of them from Bosnia, Somalia or Afghanistan) were granted exceptional leave to remain. That means that the vast majority of those who apply for asylum are not fleeing persecution but seeking to improve their economic circumstances.

Although there has been broad agreement, with some exceptions, that we have a problem here, the only solution that I have been offered by noble Lords who oppose the measures brought forward by the Government is that we should put more resources into the process of dealing with asylum applications in order to speed up the clearance times. However, we have already done that; indeed, we have taken a range of steps to speed up the asylum process. We are investing £37 million over three years in more caseworkers and adjudicators, and asylum staff are up eightfold since 1988. Those steps have produced results; for example, the number of decisions rose by 21,000 in 1994 to 27,000 in 1995, and we are on course to take over 37,000 decisions in the current financial year.

However, the simple fact of the matter is that, until the February regulations were introduced, any improvements in the asylum process were quickly swamped by the ever-growing tide of asylum applications that I have mentioned.

The February regulations removed benefits from three groups of asylum seekers: first, those who enter illegally or overstay their leave to remain, and apply for asylum; secondly, those who enter the country claiming to be business people, tourists or students giving assurances that they have the means to support themselves and that they will not rely on the British taxpayer but who later change their minds and claim asylum; and, thirdly, those who have already been found by the Home Office not to be refugees and who are appealing.

Our intention was to remove the incentive for economic migrants to come to our country and abuse our asylum system. As I explained three weeks ago to your Lordships, the policy has worked. Noble Lords may recall that, at the time, I was asked what had happened since February. I then explained the comparison between last year and this year, month by month. When comparing January 1995 with January 1996, we saw a 7 per cent. decline in the numbers. In February we saw a 6 per cent. decline and in March we saw a 5 per cent. reduction. However, in April we saw a 27 per cent. decline and, as your Lordships will recall, the figures that I had on the last occasion when we dealt with this matter were those for May which showed a decline of 49.16 per cent.—that is, 3,450 applications in May 1995, compared with 1,754 in May 1996. I can tell your Lordships today that the June figures follow exactly the same pattern; namely, 3,630 for June 1995 compared with 1,730 for June 1996, making a fall of 52 per cent.

Why have those figures fallen so dramatically? The only possible reason is the one that I have claimed all along. Very many asylum applications are in reality benefit applications: nothing more, nothing less. It is access to our benefit system which drives them and not a genuine fear of persecution. The genuine asylum seeker comes here not to get benefits but for safety and protection from persecution. It is not the genuine refugee who responds to economic incentives; it is the economic migrant masquerading as an asylum seeker who responds to such incentives.

The three-day amendment which your Lordships passed and which the Commons have overturned would reward those who entered this country claiming to be coming here on business, for a visit, on holiday, or to study. One, two or three days after giving an assurance that, while here, they would have no recourse to public funds, they would be able to change their story and gain immediate access to our benefits system and to the very public funds that they said they did not require.

The argument in favour of three days is that people are so frightened when they arrive at immigration that they do not tell the truth. They therefore require three days to calm down and make contact with friends and advisers who will help them claim for asylum.

That is the point made by Mr. John McCarthy in a letter which I and a number of your Lordships received at the weekend. But it is a misunderstanding of what the amendment is about. The amendment is about benefit claims, not claims for asylum. The idea that asylum seekers have to address the complex application procedure and reveal the full details of their circumstances on arrival is, quite simply, false. All they need to do is to say that they want to claim asylum. It is wrong to suggest, as John McCarthy does in his letter, that they will not have the opportunity to put their case later. I can assure your Lordships that they will be able to discuss their case after seeking the support and advice of friends or support agencies.

I have also checked the statistics. Your Lordships will recall that in 1995 out of every 100 applicants, only five were accepted by the Home Office as fulfilling the requirements for asylum. Moreover, the figure does not rise, as your Lordships might expect if the three day argument was sustainable, but actually falls to 3.5 in 100. Therefore, the number of bogus asylum seekers in the three day sub-set is actually greater than the total population of genuine asylum seekers.

As I have assured your Lordships on many occasions in the past, there is nothing—absolutely nothing—to stop, inhibit or frighten anyone who is asking for asylum the moment that they arrive on these shores.

So why do they delay? One reason is the influence of agents—particularly the racketeers of the asylum industry who advise that it is best to claim in-country. This is because those who claim in-country are much more difficult to remove at the end of the asylum process than are those who claim on arrival. Those who seek to abuse the asylum process as a means of prolonging their stay in the UK clearly have an incentive to delay their claim until they are already in this country.

Genuine refugees need no such incentive. They come to this country purely to seek asylum and can reasonably be expected to do so on their arrival here.

Your Lordships' House has considered this issue on six different occasions including today. The other place has considered the issue on four different occasions. There is neither the need nor the justification for your Lordships to take the highly unusual step of sending another amendment back to the other place. I commend the acceptance of the Commons' clearly arrived at decision not to accept your Lordships' three day amendment.

Moved, That this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 24A to Lords Amendment No. 24.—(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


24B Leave out lines 10 and 11.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 24B to Lords Amendment No. 24.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 24B to Lords Amendment No. 24.—(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)


24BA At end insert ("and insert—

"(1A) An asylum seeker (as defined in regulations) who—

  1. (a) makes a claim for asylum within three working days of the day of his arrival in the United Kingdom; and
  2. (b) is able to satisfy the Secretary of State as to the date of his arrival in the United Kingdom,
shall for all purposes be treated as if he had made a claim for asylum immediately upon his arrival in the United Kingdom."").

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I beg to move as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 24B, Amendment No. 24BA. The Minister, in addressing the first amendment in this group of amendments, told your Lordships that the matter has been before this House six times and before the House of Commons four times. That is stretching it a bit. The House will recall that the Government's intention to implement these changes by order was ruled to be unlawful by the Court of Appeal between the Report stage and Third Reading in this House, the Bill having already passed through all its stages in the House of Commons. Therefore, in order to make lawful what had been declared unlawful, the Government were obliged to bring amendments to the Bill in the form of a new clause, at Third Reading—in other words, at the last stage in the second Chamber.

Under pressure—and it was only under pressure—they agreed to a recommitment of this part of the Bill so that the matter could be discussed with rather more freedom than was possible at Third Reading. Under pressure—and only under pressure—they agreed that the Third Reading should not take place on the same day as the Committee on recommitment. Therefore, as far as the Government are concerned, these precise measures have been debated only once in your Lordships' House, and the Opposition succeeded in achieving a little more—a very modest amount more—flexibility. Of course, earlier versions of the regulations had been debated before by the House of Commons but these amendments were considered only once—on Monday last—on a consideration of a Lords amendment.

This is a revising chamber. In the classical expression of the duties of a revising chamber, it is the responsibility of this House to ask another place to think again. That is exactly what is proposed in the amendment before your Lordships today. The House of Commons has had only one opportunity to consider this matter. I seek to show—and believe I can show—that the basis of that debate was considerably mistaken and that a much better debate on the amendment which is now before the House can take place.

It is entirely proper—without in any way challenging the primary right of the elected Chamber to have its way in the end—to say to the House of Commons that on this occasion it is possible to do better, either than we did in our first amendments or than it did when it considered the matter for the first time on 15th July.

The whole basis upon which the Government are approaching this matter is based on a fallacy. The fallacy is that there is something more genuine about an asylum application at the port of entry rather than a subsequent application. We all know that there will be—as the Government persist in calling them—bogus applications. At any time there will be people who will seek economic rather than political asylum, but that can happen whether at the port of entry or later.

But the evidence of the success of applications for asylum goes, if anything, in the other direction. In the first four months of this year there were 775 successful applications for asylum, of which 610 were in-country applications—in other words, after the time of entry—and only 165 were made at the port of entry. It may be said that the first four months of this year were not typical, but in every single one of the past four years the proportion of in-country applicants who, in the end, are granted asylum or exceptional leave to remain is higher than the comparable proportion of applications at the port of entry.

It must be abundantly clear from the evidence that a comparison between in-country applications and port of entry applications does not in any way form a distinction between genuine and bogus applications.

What the Government are doing, at the very best, is a crude attempt to cut down on the number of applications by starving people out—that is what it comes to—without regard to the justice of those applications and without regard to the likelihood of them succeeding. The Secretary of State for Social Security, Mr. Lilley, was of course addressing a rather different amendment when he made his speech to the House of Commons last Monday. It is nevertheless necessary to consider in detail the arguments that he put and to consider the way in which they are answered by the amendment before your Lordships today.

The first point he made concerned illegal immigrants. He went on about illegal immigrants. In common parlance everyone knows what illegal immigrants are. Illegal immigrants are people who come in in small boats off the coast of Dorset, or in containers. The term used in immigration law is nothing to do with illegal immigrants; it is illegal entrants. The Secretary of State appears to mean people who say something different when they arrive to what they said before, or say subsequently.

The vast majority of people who reach this country at all—whether or not they tell the truth about being asylum applicants when they arrive here—have had to do something in order to reach our shores in the first place. They have had to tell lies to someone to get out of their countries and to obtain a visa for this country which gets them onto a plane or a ship and into the tender hands of our immigration officials at the port of entry. However, the Secretary of State seems to think there is something magical about the words "illegal immigrants" which applies only to those people who arrive in this country and do not immediately declare themselves to be asylum seekers. He also made the point—which was valid for the previous amendment—that there is no secure way of telling whether someone has arrived in this country within the relevant past three days. I acknowledge that point. It could have been amended by a further amendment in the House of Commons. It has been corrected by our amendment which requires that the asylum seeker, is able to satisfy the Secretary of State as to the date of his arrival in the United Kingdom". He could do that by means of a passport stamp, a travel document or other means, but it is the Secretary of State who has to be satisfied. The onus is entirely on the asylum seeker. If it is argued that there might be an appeal to the social security appeals tribunal—although I notice the Minister did not make that point—the appeal can only be made on a matter of fact. I remind the House that benefit is not payable while that appeal is awaiting decision.

The second point the Secretary of State made was that somehow the availability of immigration law appeal rights would stop the Government from returning an applicant to a safe third country. The amendment deals with that point by stating that the asylum seeker, shall for all purposes be treated as if he had made a claim for asylum immediately upon his arrival". In other words, he has no rights other than asylum rights. He certainly has no rights beyond those of any port of entry asylum seeker. It has been confirmed by learned counsel that this means that a claimant who takes advantage of this amendment could indeed be returned to a safe third country. The only right gained under this amendment is the right to benefit. That right to benefit is, of course, means tested. I shall return to that matter.

Mr. Lilley also said that the Government are not allowed to discriminate against illegal immigrants under the terms of the Geneva Convention. That is indeed the case. I remind the House that the Geneva Convention states specifically that unorthodox or even illegal means of exit or entry should not debar an applicant from the right to apply for asylum, or indeed to be given asylum. There is no distinction at all as regards discrimination against illegal immigrants or illegal applicants in the amendment as drafted.

Mr. Lilley made a point of referring to the availability of benefit throughout the appeal process as well as regarding the original application. Our amendment removed the discretion for the Government to apply regulations to make sure that that was not the case. It was never our intention that benefit should be paid throughout an appeal process. As Ministers made clear in response to a later amendment, that would have been an open invitation to everyone to appeal. Therefore the amendment before the House today describes an asylum seeker "as defined in regulations". In other words, it returns to the Secretary of State and the Government the power to insist that those who appeal against an adverse decision are not therefore entitled to benefit.

The Secretary of State—and the Minister today—talked about the means of support which an applicant may claim to have when he comes to this country and subsequently makes an asylum application. I remind the House that these benefits are means tested. Mr. Lilley confirmed that to the House of Commons last Monday. If the applicant has convinced immigration officials that he has adequate means of support, he will not obtain benefit when he comes to this country. If that is not the case, the investigation carried out by immigration officials at the port of entry is not detailed enough and is based on inadequate evidence. The benefit is based entirely on a means test and those who have means of support—and can show they have means of support—will not get benefit. Every single argument that the Government have put against our previous amendments is either not true or has been answered in the amendment which is before your Lordships today.

The Minister may point to the cost of these amendments. The figure has varied a great deal. It started at £80 million a year on the basis that it would include benefit while a rejected applicant was appealing. Therefore we can take off at least half of that and we are down to £40 million a year. We should consider the fact that only 5 per cent. of in-country applications are made within the first three days. I acknowledge that the number of applications made in the first three days would increase if this amendment were carried but we are still talking about a small proportion of the total number of applications. It may emerge on proper investigation that the figure would be £10 million a year. I think that is probably a high figure. I say without fear even of the spin doctors in Conservative Central Office when they come to write their election manifestos that if it costs £10 million a year for us to be a civilised society and to prevent people in our country living in destitution when they have done no wrong and have committed no crime, that is a price worth paying. It is up to the Government to make sure that the cost is as low as possible. It is up to us as civilised people to make sure that there are not destitute people in our society.

Moved, That Amendment No. 24BA, as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 24B, be agreed to.—(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

3.45 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. I make no apology to the House for returning to this subject. The Minister has pointed out that it is an issue which we have discussed on a number of occasions. However, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, emphasised, the specific amendment we are now considering has not been considered frequently in this House. Indeed it has been considered on only one previous occasion and in a somewhat different form.

I therefore make no apology for returning to this subject even though I recognise that the House has spent a great deal of time on it. I can think of few Bills with which I have been associated—either in this House or another place—where there has been such a wide sense of concern and disquiet and a real effort made to try to modify its terms. The opposition to the Bill goes far beyond the traditional parties who undertake that role. The opposition—the attempt to alter the Bill—includes almost all the Churches, large numbers of non-governmental organisations, large numbers of people directly concerned with the welfare of refugees and large numbers of members of the party opposite in both Houses of Parliament. This is not simply a normal party argument. It has elicited, I believe much to the credit of this country, a large degree of anxiety and concern. All the argument has in effect boiled down to the one amendment that we are considering this afternoon. I shall make my remarks brief but I hope to the point, supplementing what has already been said by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh.

First, those moving the amendment have attempted to meet the objections raised in another place by the Secretary of State for Social Security. The objections were, first, that there was no way of guaranteeing that we would know within three days that an asylum seeker had entered this country. We believe that we have met that argument by laying the burden of proof on the person seeking asylum. It will be up to him or her to show when he or she entered the country. If he is unable to do so, this amendment will not benefit him.

Secondly, it has been argued in another place that a further difficulty arose from the original amendment; namely, that those who made in-country applications would obtain a degree of additional protection which they would not receive if they applied at the port of entry. That has been dealt with precisely in the amendment. As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said, we have had the powerful advice of learned counsel that the amendment meets that difficulty.

When objecting to the amendment in another place, the Secretary of State for Social Security made two substantial arguments: first, that to distinguish between what he described as illegal immigrants and those whom we attempt to protect in the amendment would be contrary to the Geneva Convention of 1951. This very morning we have had a fax directly from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees giving its opinion that there is no such conflict.

The second objection related to the difficulty of people arriving at an airport not making an application at the airport or port of entry because they did not understand the specific procedures of this country. The simple case is that asylum seekers from countries with a long history of torture and of fighting against the human rights of their citizens are the least likely to have any idea about the procedures of this country. How are they supposed to learn what those procedures are? How are they supposed to read Hansard of the House of Commons of 15th July, since in most cases they do not even speak our language?

A question was raised in another place by the honourable Member for Finchley (at col. 850 of the Official Report) in the debate of 15th July 1996. The Member for Finchley asked how people who arrive in this country in a state of fear and trauma understand that they have to claim asylum at the airport. In responding to that simple and direct question, the Secretary of State for Social Security referred only—I repeat "only"—to the difficulties that might arise if an airport or a port of entry had no interpreter able to interpret the language of the person seeking asylum. He did not address the issue raised by the honourable Member for Finchley.

I hope that we may receive an assurance from the Government that notices will be put up in airports in the main languages of people seeking asylum—those include the tribal language of Rwanda and Burundi—telling them that they must make application immediately if they wish to have their case considered. I have seen no such notice in Heathrow and I do not believe such notices are available generally. As regards the first problem—of how the genuine asylum seeker is to be able to satisfy the rules now laid down—I suggest that we have had no satisfactory reply.

The distinction frequently made by Ministers between those who apply in-country and those who apply at the port of entry has been dealt with in part by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. He pointed out that out of 775 successful asylum seekers in the first four months of this year, no fewer than 615 made their claims from inside this country. The reason is plain. Most asylum seekers not knowing our procedures turn to a Church, a voluntary organisation or other members of their community for advice. To do so is the simplest thing in the world. But how do they seek that advice until they are able to get hold of a telephone in this country or an address? On common sense grounds, it is unreasonable not to give some time for people to be able to approach those organisations which can help them. We on this side of the House have continually insisted that we are only too happy to help in any way we can where there is reason to believe that there are improper or fraudulent organisations operating in this field, as indeed there are. There are also many outstanding and decent bodies.

Let me give a couple of examples of the kind of people who apply within three days but not at the port of entry. The examples are drawn from a refugee legal centre—a thoroughly resectable body which has public finance to assist it. One is an Angolan youngster under the age of 18 who applied two days after arriving in this country for the straightforward reason that he did not know what to do. The adjudicator found that it was wholly reasonable for a young person to seek advice before making an application and upheld his case.

The second example was a badly tortured Iranian. He had had his legs broken in torture in Iran for the reprehensible crime of supporting democracy in that country. In prison he had his crutches taken away from him so that he had to crawl everywhere. Having finally reached this country, after advice he made an application within three days.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, perhaps the noble Baroness will allow me to intervene. Can she tell the House what the young man told the immigration officers as he entered this country?

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will know. He may have details of the case that I do not have. He shakes his head happily. I also know that the decision finally was made in the young man's favour.

Perhaps I may continue with the arguments that I wish to put before the House. A further argument is that in some countries there is nowhere to apply for papers to enter this country. For example, for many months there was no British Embassy in Bosnia—yet Bosnia was one of the countries most afflicted by refugees seeking in some cases to flee from genocide.

Finally, I turn to one other issue which is extremely disturbing. Perhaps the Minister can throw some light on it. We understand that on 4th June 1996 a draft resolution was put forward by the steering committee of senior officials which serves the so-called K4 Committee of the third pillar—the pillar concerned with internal security. I remind the House that this is not within the European Union structure. It does not involve the European Commission. It is the intergovernmental structure on which the British Government insisted at the Maastricht discussions and under the Treaty of the European Union was protected as an intergovernmental structure within which individual governments were free to exercise a veto. It is not a European Community structure. That draft resolution, promulgated on 4th June, called upon all countries involved to ensure that full information was available at ports of entry and that a co-ordinator was appointed to concern himself or herself with procedures for asylum. The draft resolution indicated that there ought to be adequate maintenance—and I emphasise the phrase—for those seeking asylum status when they reach the country concerned. It also indicated that there should be information in all the most probable languages available to refugees.

That was a draft resolution, not a final resolution. To the best of my knowledge it has never been mentioned to either House in the course of our debates. It might conceivably have influenced our view, especially on the claim that Britain is in some sense a peculiarly soft touch, since it affected all the other countries of the European Union as well as ourselves. The resolution has never been part of the discussions in which we have been able to take part. In my view, in democratic terms it is disturbing that both this House and another place should not have been aware of that draft resolution. Our Government were clearly participants, as a member of the steering committee of senior officials.

The amendment is the end of a long process of attempting to make the Bill more humane and compassionate. We believe that it richly deserves your Lordships' support, not only for the arguments behind it but also because noble Lords have repeatedly attempted to amend the Bill and draw the attention of another place to those attempts. The amendment should be supported not least because of the tremendous breadth of support far beyond this House for an attempt to qualify the more brutal and sharp-edged elements of the Bill. I support the amendment.

4 p.m.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

My Lords, I do not know whether the Minister has an answer to the two well argued speeches to which your Lordships have just listened. It seems to me that both the noble Lord opposite and the noble Baroness made a strong case for the amendment, although naturally I, and no doubt, many others will have to reserve a decision as to how we vote, if there is a Division, until we have heard my noble friend's answer. I warn him, however, that he has a strong case to answer. I wish him well.

Lord Jakobovits

My Lords, in the absence of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Runcie—I am sorry, I see that he is here, and I shall therefore re-phrase the remark, as the last claim I would ever make is to be able to replace or represent him. In the presence of the noble and right reverend Lord, I wish to say that it was thanks to the enormous kindness of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, at Third Reading of the Bill in this House, that I had an opportunity to give my general reflections more extensively in favour of the spirit of the amendment and of the Bill in general. Therefore, I can content myself with a few brief remarks.

Having either listened to the entire debates in both Houses or having read them in Hansard, I am deeply impressed at the degree of agreement between the two sides on the general thrust of the Bill. Both sides wish to favour the admission of genuine asylum seekers; both sides wish to exclude frauds. On that, there is a remarkable measure of agreement from all sides. The only remaining argument concerns the three days of grace—whether to have the cut-off at the moment of entry or three days later.

Surely, on a matter of such relatively limited consequence it is not worthwhile spoiling the national reputation that we have in this country for humanitarian attitudes. I fear that if the amendment is voted down, that is precisely the message we will send to the world; quite unnecessarily, because there is little difference of substance involved. It may be that the reason some people are so concerned or even disturbed over the policies favoured by the amendment is that we, as a nation, have never in our lifetime faced the need to be political refugees. Therefore, we do not know what it feels like. We should consider that large parts of the world today are, alas, deeply afflicted; a few people, by chance, reach our shores and seek the normal courtesies of a welcome. Just in case they are genuine refugees, surely we should not wish to deny them the benefit of the doubt for three days. Therefore, I appeal to the Government not to allow the matter further to divide us and harm the reputation of our country throughout the world. I appeal to them to support the amendment, considerably modified as it now is, and allow it to pass without further Division in the House.

Lord Runcie

My Lords, I do not wish to remain silent since I might otherwise be suspected of being a bogus amendment supporter. Since attention has been drawn to my presence, I wish to state that the point made by those proposing the amendment seems so precisely drawn that I would not wish to enter again into general arguments which I agree have been thoroughly rehearsed in this House. The Secretary of State in another place made some good points rejecting certain arguments that we advanced. However, he said quite precisely that if he had had more time and if the request for the benefit of three days had been more precisely drawn, he might have allowed it.

I believe that those who framed this amendment have met the reservations which the Secretary of State advanced. We have now drawn it very precisely in regard to meeting his arguments. Those who are closest to the suffering and the serious problems of a small but significant number of people are gravely disturbed. I mean Church groups, local community groups, voluntary societies and ethnic groups who know that there is a real problem. It has not been thoroughly tackled by the argument that if we clear away the bogus applications, the others will all receive fair treatment. There remains a problem which is not answered by the statement—which is reasonable and which I personally accept—that much of the help will be made easier to provide if bogus asylum seekers are dealt with firmly. But there remains a group of people that could be attended to by passing this amendment. It is up to us to treat the case on its merits, and treat the amendment on its merits. I ask the Government to think again.

Lord Carr of Hadley

My Lords, I urge my noble friends on the Front Bench to support this amendment. I say to them and to my colleagues on these Back Benches that I do not use this amendment as a back door through which to attack the whole principle of the Bill; nor, so far as I know, do other noble Lords who support it. I accept strongly and completely that the trends of asylum seeking in recent years have been such that any government would have felt compelled to take strong measures to bring it to order. I regret that that is so, but I believe it is. I wish that it were not necessary; but it is necessary. It is necessary to switch from our previous principle to the principle of saying that asylum seekers must declare themselves to immigration officers at the moment of entry, or almost at that moment. The point under debate is: "almost at that moment".

With respect, it is all very well for those of us who are sitting reasonably comfortably in this House to imagine that people can simply arrive, go to an immigration officer and say that they do or do not want to seek asylum. None of us would have any trouble.

I wonder, however, how many of us have been at the point of entry. I must confess that for some 22 or 23 years I have not. Things may have changed a lot in that time. However, when I was Home Secretary, on more than one occasion I deliberately visited our ports of entry when I received information that a large number of immigrants were due to arrive, to see what it was like. I do not for one moment criticise the actions and intentions of our immigration officers. At that time I was merely extremely glad that I was not one of them. You see those large numbers descending upon you. Some of them no doubt deliberately wish to take you in; but many are pretty helpless and incapable of explaining what they want, even in the simplest terms. All our human instincts tell us that we owe it to them to say that they ought to do it at the point of entry or almost at the point of entry. If this amendment referred to a period of three months, or even three weeks, I should not support it. But I believe we can tolerate three days.

I was disappointed when the Government and the other place decided not to accept your Lordships' amendment, which I supported a week or two ago. I accept that one or two potential loopholes in it were pointed out which I had not perceived at the time. However, the amendment as now drafted blocks those up. If my noble friends on the Front Bench say that it does not block them up and in some way they should be blocked up, all well and good. But I believe that we owe it to our own reputation to give a maximum of three days, with the added safeguards, including this amendment. I for one could not do anything but vote for it, although I hope that it will not come to a vote.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Marsh

My Lords, I am conscious that I have sat through much of this debate without taking part in it. I have not spoken before. However, this is a rather special issue. I apologise for doing what I would not normally do and joining in at this point in the debate.

It is a tragic fact that for the vast majority of people in the world the lowest levels of social security in this country would be bliss. I think we are all agreed on that. Everybody on all sides accepts that there have to be controls. The only argument is an extraordinarily narrow one. It fascinates me, and it has been mentioned by several speakers. What we are discussing is whether we should give people this very small period of three days to sort themselves out, get over their confusion and declare themselves as seeking asylum.

The problem is not the failure to seek asylum. At every airport in the world you have to say why you are coming. It is not just a matter of stating that you are here on business—because the next questions, if you are a six-foot Aryan looking perfectly respectable, are: "What sort of business? How long do you propose to stay? Do you have a return air ticket?".

The alternative is to lie. I do not say that in a pejorative sense. I understand someone lying if he sees the possibility of a different life for himself and, later, for his family if he can introduce them. I should do so myself in that situation. But the fact is that that person would have to lie consistently over a number of areas.

I cannot believe that a person seeking asylum in a foreign country, where he has never lived before and where he will have to spend a great deal of money, does not have some idea of which country he is going to. I find it difficult to believe that in most cases such a person does not have some idea, from his associates for example, of the sort of questions that will be asked. He must have thought of nothing else on the aircraft or the ship but what he is going to say. Rightly or wrongly, when he arrives he has the choice of saying, "I seek asylum", or, "I am a student; a businessman; I am joining somebody or other; yes, I do have money; I won't be a charge on the state", and a whole pile of things which he knows perfectly well are not true.

What then happens if he goes away and is given three days to apply? I repeat that I do not criticise the man for doing that in the situation from which he no doubt comes and for the reasons he seeks to come to this country. But what does he do then? He does not book into a local hotel and leave his address; he goes underground.

A case can be made for saying that the method of entry into the country should be easier. That can be argued indefinitely. It can certainly be argued that more should be done: notices should put up; more people should be available; and a number of other measures should be taken. I find myself unable to accept with any degree of logic that it makes any sense to have controls and then to allow people who have demonstrably lied in order to get round those controls, albeit for the best of reasons, to have a three-day start on the authorities. It is something I do not understand. For me, it stretches credibility too far.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said, the question is whether we intend to ask another place to think again. That entitlement is very rarely used. This is a particularly sensitive time. The party opposite has certain proposals that will affect the ethos and independence of this House, and there are constitutional consequences which urge a degree of caution.

I am grateful to see the noble Earl, Lord Russell, in his place. I wish to refer to his letter in The Times today. The noble Earl says that to accede to this amendment and to ask another place to think again would be a mere exercise of executive control. It would be far more than that. Let us face it; in effect we should be running the gauntlet of confrontation with another place which has, in substance, already considered this argument and expressed its will.

Lord Renton

By a big majority.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

That does not matter, my Lords. It has expressed its will. The other place has expressed its will—at a sensitive time, in view of the policies of, I hesitate to say, destruction of your Lordships' House. This is a sensitive time when we should walk with care and caution.

The name of the game this afternoon is not ping-pong. It is much more akin to Russian roulette. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, seems to ignore all the sensitive constitutional considerations which must be taken into account in this matter. There is a paradox here. Perhaps, if I may say so without offence, it is an apparently somewhat cynical paradox. The party which, if it gets the chance, is moving towards a form of instant government without the Parliament Acts—

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, is the noble Lord accusing me of being cynical? He used the word "cynical" about what we are doing this afternoon.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

In my respectful opinion, my Lords, much as I respect the noble Lord, I feel that if he would open his mind to the situation, he might see that there is an appearance of cynicism behind this. Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to explain. What in effect is happening is that the party opposite, for which the noble Lord speaks presumably on this occasion, is committed—unlike the noble Earl, Lord Russell—to the formation of a form of instant government without the Parliament Acts, and on this occasion, he now has resort to the Parliament Acts to delay and defeat the will of the elected Chamber. If we were to accept this amendment, the effect could but be to add grist to the mill grinding away at our own delaying powers. So much for the constitutional position.

As to the merits of the argument, I totally accept what my noble friend the Minister said about the tide of applications, the abuse, the benefit applications by economic migrants and the racketeers. In a previous debate, with other noble Lords I supported the idea that there should be clear, precise, cautionary information given at all ports of entry. I believe that on that matter I join forces with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. But I oppose this amendment, which extends benefit rights so widely—indeed to illegal entrants. Every word that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, rings only too true to my ears.

Fewer than one in 10 have been found to be genuine asylum seekers. Only 3 per cent. of asylum appeal decisions result in the grant of refugee status. With the greatest respect and humility before the noble and right reverend Lord, I wonder whether in regard to constitutional consequences he truly knows what he does. He, of us all, will remember Ecclesiastes, Chapter III. Perhaps he may ponder on a time to insist and a time not to insist. I most respectfully suggest that this of all times is a time for restraint.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

My Lords, I think that it would be good if your Lordships' House came back to the subject of asylum seekers. I support the amendment. I believe that it is a genuine attempt—and the Government should recognise it as such—to meet the detailed objections that were made in another place to the amendment which was carried with support from all sides of your Lordships' House. Like other noble Lords, I have read Peter Lilley's letter to Julian Brazier, in which he set out his detailed reasons for opposing the amendment. Putting—as the amendment does—the onus of proof of date of arrival on the applicant would meet his main objections and the subsequent wording: shall for all purposes be treated as if he had made a claim for asylum immediately prevents the door from being opened more widely.

The Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, spoke of someone entering as a businessman being rewarded. Does he truly believe that someone would be admitted today as a businessman and successfully apply on Thursday as an asylum seeker? The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, rightly drew attention to the higher proportion of in-country applications. Noble Lords will see the force of that and the danger that genuine asylum seekers will be returned to countries where they are in great danger.

This is a very modest amendment which speaks of "within three working days". Do we have to speak all over again of people who may have been the victims of torture or have reason to flee for their lives, who come, not knowing the language, to a country which has, as the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said, regulations that are just as difficult as sheer language problems? Of course many are scared when they face officialdom again. The noble Lord, Lord Carr, made it clear that it is not a calm and easy situation. The Minister spoke logically and coolly, as though it were a calm and straightforward situation when someone is desperately hoping that he might be able to find a place of refuge. I regret that in his description he made no reference to the kind of situations from which asylum seekers may have come. Three days to take some advice does not mean a change in principle from applying at the port of entry.

I led an ecumenical delegation to see Mr. Howard last autumn. This withdrawal of benefit was still only an idea at that time but we questioned him about it. He told me that he believed that Britain was regarded as a soft touch. Perhaps he feels that something good has been achieved now that Britain is regarded as a brutal touch, and fewer asylum seekers, including fewer genuine asylum seekers, try to come here. I am dismayed that Britain is regarded as a brutal touch.

I am very disturbed to note that in the letter to which I have already referred from the Secretary of State for Social Security to Julian Brazier, a Minister of the Crown continues to use the loaded word "bogus"— I regret that the Minister used it again today—to describe those who do not qualify by the Home Office rules as asylum seekers. Ministers repeatedly quote the figures that 4 per cent. are granted the status of genuine asylum seekers and therefore 96 per cent. are bogus. It is a classic case of putting up a new set of hurdles and then declaring that anyone who fails to leap over them is bogus. We should stop using the word in that context.

The Government claim too that our fears of many genuine asylum seekers being made destitute by the withdrawal of benefit have proved to be exaggerated. The Refugee Council assisted over 1,000 asylum seekers who lost benefits. Together with other bishops, I wrote a letter to The Times in which we quoted a church in north London. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford visited that church, together with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester. Twelve asylum seekers were being given refuge at the time.

It interested me to discover that the Daily Mail ferreted out where the church was and sent a team to spend the day checking up on what we had said. No doubt it would have splashed the story across the paper if it could have disproved our letter. But it was just as we had said and the Daily Mail printed nothing. Do not let facts disturb a campaign!

I am thankful that non-governmental organisations and Church bodies are offering support to some of those distressed people. The minister of the United Reformed Church said: I simply cannot recognise the picture presented by the Government of the 'bogus' asylum seeker, the 'economic refugee' here to take advantage of our 'honeypot' of generous benefits, as in any way an accurate description of the people who have passed through our church. None of them would put up with the hardships, indignities and sheer discomfort of this situation purely voluntarily. Words fail me to describe the demeaning and humiliating experience undergone by these people, most of whom have left families, friends, homes, jobs and roots in order to endure this miserable existence". I hope people will see that it is not a change of the principle already agreed by the Government and will support the amendment.

4.30 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, it is an uncomfortable position in which to be as a Back-Bencher when one's head and one's heart pull in opposite directions. In private life one responds almost inevitably to the heart; in government affairs one must keep them in balance, and that is what we on the Back-Benches are seeking to do. I find the names subscribed to the correspondence about these amendments and some of the speakers to be people for whom I have an extremely high regard. But perhaps my noble friend the Minister can help some of us in our difficulties.

First, we must forget the issue of the economic refugee; compelling though it is, it is not the question before this House, as the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, rightly said. It is an emotive issue but it is not relevant to our present debate. We are discussing a relatively small number of people who come to this country in search of freedom from fear and persecution and who satisfy the criteria set, as I understand it, by the United Nations.

Is it the case that every airline is under a duty to secure that the passengers coming to this country have legitimate papers to gain them entry? If so, presumably those people had to go to a British diplomatic power based abroad in order to secure those papers. That is the first opportunity at which, without any stress or duress, the terms under which entry to this country is accepted can be made clear to them. It may be that because local people are employed by those embassies, the prospective refugees may feel that such a declaration of interest imperils them and will keep it to themselves.

Next, the prospective refugees board the aircraft and before they can land in this country they must complete a landing card. It is a simple document. Is that document—if not, can it be?—presented in such a way that it contains, in most of the languages likely to be spoken by refugees, a description of the process to the extent that either one declares one's hand at the port of entry or one loses one's chance? It is against that loss of chance that this amendment is directed.

We next come to the point of entry. It would be helpful to know what are the conditions there. My noble friend Lord Carr spoke of his sight of it many years ago. It would be helpful to know whether things are the same now and whether translation services are readily and easily available. That is the point at which those who have not declared their hand at the embassy, who obtained entry papers perhaps under false pretences to gain access to the aeroplane and who were not persuaded by the landing card that they should declare their hand at once may be retrieved.

Those are the safety nets. Another one was usefully made clear by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams; that is, appeals after entry against an unreasonable requirement to make a declaration. Two cases were cited which I should have thought exactly match the criteria which describe the people the amendment seeks to protect.

It seems to me that there are at least five levels of protection in existence. My noble friend the Minister must convince your Lordships that those levels of protection exist and work. I found the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, coming as he does from the Cross-Benches and not always a friend to the Government, to be a practical illustration of real life; and it is real life we are talking about and not the heart.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, I intervene briefly on the constitutional and parliamentary situation. Your Lordships heard the other considerations admirably and indeed movingly presented.

What has happened is that your Lordships carried an amendment. The other place disagreed with that amendment so that at the outset there is a collision. The Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, spoke of the elected Chamber as though election were the sole source of political legitimacy, particularly when the Chamber was elected many years ago and quite inconsequent of the issue before your Lordships.

The Minister suggested that the amendment was unprecedented. On the contrary, the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, would have been fully entitled to ask your Lordships to insist on the amendment passed last time, it having been only once considered by the other place. That is a generally accepted constitutional parliamentary precept, though it is not one which I am prepared to accept. I do not believe "the other place" is the right term. It is almost always "the Government".

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, put forward a compromise which meets the points made by the Secretary of State in the other place. That is entirely in accordance with precedent and with practice. The amendment seeks to narrow the difference between the two Houses, and I hope your Lordships will accept it in that spirit. It will be open to the Government, if they wish, to fine tune the difference still more, though it seems to me, as at present advised, that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, met the point that the Secretary of State made.

I repeat that what the amendment is doing is seeking to minimise and, in the end, to eliminate the difference between the two Houses. That is entirely in accordance with parliamentary propriety and with your Lordships' role in the constitution. On the contrary, if noble Lords were to accept that once the elected Chamber has expressed a view that is an end of the matter it would be an abnegation of your Lordships' role in the constitution; indeed, it would concede a good part of the argument that is at present being levelled against your Lordships' Chamber. For those various reasons as well as the powerful arguments that your Lordships have heard from the Front Benches on my right and from a former Home Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Carr, I hope that your Lordships will support this amendment.

The Lord Bishop of Coventry

My Lords, it was far more important that your Lordships should hear that magnificent contribution than anything from me. It is crucial to realise that the greater number of those whose applications for admission to asylum have been accepted are people who could not bring out the truth about their position at the point of entry. That is not because they are congenital liars. I know a number of these people; I have met them and many of the people working with them in the Churches and voluntary agencies. They will echo the minister from the United Reformed Church who was movingly quoted to us. It is absolutely clear that at that time they cannot properly articulate. They may even have prevaricated with a British embassy abroad in order to get here at all.

But numbers of those applying within three days have had their applications accepted. They have been recognised as genuine refugees who are absolutely within the terms of the Government's guidelines. It is extremely important to acknowledge that fear is a vastly paralysing and inhibiting emotion. Many people watching refugees arrive have seen the kind of state they are in. To criticise and cavil at them in those circumstances for not being totally honest is fatal. The three days provide precisely the kind of security which the right person will be able to use. They will be able to come to their senses and express their application properly within the time. That is the whole spirit of the amendment. Surely, most of us who have had anything to do with these people personally will eagerly accept the amendment.

4.45 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate has made a speech as valuable as that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. I have no higher praise. I say to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Runcie, and the right reverend Prelate, how deeply grateful I am to the Christian Churches for what they have contributed in this debate in helping to restore my pride in my country.

We have had a fascinating debate. I was particularly struck by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley. What he said is in effect the words of Article 31(1) of the UN convention: people should not be penalised for illegal entry if thereafter, without delay, they put in a claim for asylum. The noble Lord is able to produce agreement out of dispute. He is able to spot the point of reconciliation in argument. His speech illustrates why I still believe that politics is not merely a skill but an honourable profession. I am most grateful.

To the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, I shall quote the remark made in this House by the first Lord Shaftesbury in 1675: My Lords, if you grow useless, you will soon grow burdensome". I listened with care to the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, to restrict applications to the ports. But, regrettably, what the noble Lord is proposing is illegal under international law. It is illegal under Article 31(1) of the UN Convention on Refugees, which I quoted a moment ago.

Lord Elton

My Lords, perhaps I may clear the noble Earl's mind. I have not proposed anything except that the Minister shall make a clear exposition of certain points, which, I hope, cannot be illegal.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord. I am glad to hear that he was not in fact, as I imagined he was, proposing a restriction to the ports. That we cannot do not only because it is illegal, as incorporated in British law by Section 2 of the 1993 Act, but also because the Home Office, by its own admission, in speaking to the Social Security Advisory Committee, states that it is not able to keep a continuous 24-hour watch on all ports and airports. In those circumstances it is cruelty beyond compare to penalise people for not doing what the Home Office has not made it possible for them to do.

The Refugee Council found that 57 per cent. of people who did not benefit because they did not claim at the ports failed to do so out of ignorance. There are a great many other good reasons for not claiming at the ports. There is the need for advice, which has been touched on many times. The Refugee Legal Centre, representing people on appeal, says that its success rate is 20 per cent. compared with the normal rate of 3 per cent.—in other words, the chance of success is multiplied more than six-fold. That is one good reason for making an application in-country.

I heard the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, and I take the point he makes. But as my noble friend Lady Seear has told me many times, in politics one must choose the lesser of two evils. The noble Lord has drawn my attention to an evil, which I accept. However, I believe that starving innocent asylum seekers with a genuine claim is a worse evil. It is on that issue of priority that I take my stand.

The Minister made a great deal of the attraction of our benefits. He overrates them. There are two points here. The first is quantity and the second is access. In terms of quantity our benefits are now down to the mid-EU level, below the Netherlands and, to my surprise, I discovered, below those of Ireland. So people who come here because of the quantity of our benefits are misinformed. In terms of accessibility, refugees to this country now have worse access to benefits than in any other European country except Greece.

When the Minister boasts at having reduced the number of applications since January, he comes perilously close to appearing to admit the central contention of the Court of Appeal that the withdrawal of benefits threatens the right to seek asylum itself. That is a finding which the Government have not yet taken on board.

If, as the Minister claims, people who are deterred from seeking asylum here seek it in other countries in Europe, it means that we, by making ourselves less attractive and sending people to other countries, are not only performing a hostile act against those other countries but are also infringing the principle of the level playing field. The Minister knows how the European Union feels about that. My noble friend Lady Williams quoted a draft EU directive which would make illegal what the Government are now proposing to do. As things stand the Prime Minister needs another quarrel with the European Union as he needs a hole in the head.

Viscount Waverley

My Lords, I supported the Government last time with a heavy heart. I did not vote on the merits of the amendments in isolation but in the context of the Bill as a whole, balancing the Government's intentions overall. However, I recognise that the amendment that we are considering today has been restructured.

The Bill is to be applauded for getting to grips with the situation as it stands. However, the question is whether the root cause has been addressed. The unacceptable delays created by current procedures must disappear, preferably speedily. If that were done, I believe that it would greatly obviate the need for the benefits proposed in the amendment. However, I can reconcile myself to the backdating of claims in the event of a successful application. That is a good point. I have listened to the steps that are being taken to expedite current applications. However, I wish to press for further clarification. Are there any plans to introduce further procedural overhauls or is it considered that sufficient has been done? For my part, I do not want to see people on the streets as a result of cumbersome procedures. I should like those concerns to be allayed before I decide which Lobby to enter.

Lord Wolfson

My Lords, I should welcome guidance from my noble friend the Minister on two matters. First, can he give adequate assurances that no one will be sent back to a country with a bad human rights record? Secondly—this point was raised also by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby—will prominent notices be displayed in a variety of languages, and will interpreters be available, at ports of entry to point out to people the requirements of what will soon be the Asylum and Immigration Act?

The Earl of Sandwich

My Lords, it is late in the day and I shall be brief. But many people outside the Chamber, as well as inside, believe that this House has both a duty and an opportunity to put right what has been left undone by another place. Like other noble Lords, I believe that this is a reasonable, simple, honest and courteous amendment. It does not seek to upset the Government, only to present in a new way an argument which has already found favour with the majority in your Lordships' House.

This is not an amendment which fully reflects the views of that majority. We would have preferred our amendment in its original form. This is a fall-back position. Nonetheless, it is important: first, because it shows the strength of feeling in this House; secondly, because it meets the Government's principal objections; and, finally, because it shows genuine asylum seekers that this House, after all the speeches that have been made and all the votes that have been cast, still demonstrates the concern which the nation should reasonably expect of its Parliament. I say "concern" because I do not believe that we have yet reached the point of compassion which the Minister mentioned and, for lack of any further government support, the Churches and voluntary agencies may again be left to pick up the pieces.

If the amendment is not passed, I do not see how we can face genuine asylum seekers who seek our protection under a UN convention. I do not see how we can face the vast number of people in the voluntary sector who have supported, and campaigned for, genuine asylum seekers. I do not see how, hand on heart, we can say to them that we have achieved substantial changes to the Bill.

As your Lordships know, the amendment has all-party support—and not only in this House. Senior Members of the Conservative Party in another place want to see some of the improvements that have been made to the Bill carried forward to its enactment, including some made by this House, such as this amendment. I am not sure whether the Minister is supporting the amendment, but he may well plead that the Government are trying to be realistic and that they cannot afford to be charitable when they are perched between the cliffs of the Treasury on the one side and the deep blue sea of the general election on the other.

I remind the House that good housekeeping and charity are one thing; justice is another. This is an occasion when the Government could yet salvage some credit, and possibly some Conservative votes, from a Bill which has already tarnished Britain's generally good race relations and harmed its international reputation. I sincerely hope that the House will consider the wider implications and vote for the amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, we have heard the case made for the amendment which would return the issue to the Commons for its further deliberation. I was slightly intrigued and not a bit amused that one of the arguments made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, was that he wanted to give the other place the opportunity to have a much better debate. I found that a bit insulting to those of his right honourable and honourable friends who took part in the debate in another place. I listened to that debate and the other place seemed to go over all the issues and to debate all the ins and outs of the issue before arriving at its decision. I do not think that it is a good argument to say, "The other place did not have a very good debate last time; let's give honourable Members the opportunity of another debate." Although it is true that the House of Commons has considered this amendment only once, it has considered the policy on a number of occasions, going all the way back to the social security Statement of last November.

Before I turn to the detail of the amendment, perhaps I may say a word about the EU resolution because the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, made quite a lot of it. It is a non-binding resolution. It requires unanimity. I am sorry to disappoint noble Lords, but we shall not be agreeing to anything which is not compatible with this country's arrangements, and that includes our benefit arrangements in relation to asylum seekers.

The amendment would extend the right to benefit from those who apply on arrival to those who apply within three days of arrival. The matter has been argued almost entirely on the grounds that it is unfair to expect a genuine asylum seeker to apply on arrival. That point was made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool. The whole case has been predicated on disturbing descriptions of an asylum seeker's state of mind and the manner in which he is greeted on his arrival in this country.

Today, as at other stages, a picture has been painted for your Lordships of the manner in which genuine asylum seekers are greeted. I am sure that your Lordships have a pretty frightening mental picture of people in uniform, probably with guns, facing queues of frightened, traumatised people who are unable to think straight or even to speak—

Noble Lords


Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

Well, that is what your Lordships have been saying—

Noble Lords


Earl Russell

My Lords, can the Minister tell us any other country which has attempted to restrict in-country applications as we are now doing?

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, what I can do is to tell the noble Earl, as I have told him on a number of occasions, that most other countries in Europe—in fact, all other countries in Europe—have seen a decline in asylum applications while we have seen a considerable increase. We have to deal with the situation that confronts us. Other countries have chosen to cut down on immigration in other ways. We are doing it by this means. I believe that it is the right means.

Perhaps I may continue. That is the picture—

Lord Carr of Hadley

My Lords, I am sorry to have to interrupt my noble friend, but I was the noble Lord who referred to conditions at airports. I said that I had visited them. I went out of my way to paint exactly the opposite picture to the one that my noble friend has just mentioned and I resent his remarks greatly.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, if my noble friend had waited just a second, he would have realised that I was about to turn to what he said. I was not referring to what my noble friend said, but to the picture that I have heard painted over many weeks whenever the subject has been discussed. My noble friend rightly painted a different picture because he has been there—although not recently. I can advise my noble friend that I made such a visit last week because I found it difficult to listen to the accusations that were being made without being able to say from the Dispatch Box that I had been to see for myself. I do not know where my noble friend Lord Can went. I went to Heathrow Terminal 3, which is quite a busy entry point into the United Kingdom from all corners of the globe. I did not see any uniforms, perhaps apart from a few aircrew passing from their aircraft through the special channel into the UK. I certainly did not see any guns. I saw lots of people dressed in various costumes from the four corners of the world. I saw people on business, holiday and visits.

5 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister which noble Lord referred to guns.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, today nobody has. However, a certain picture has been painted. Noble Lords do not like it when they get some of it back. I have listened to suggestions about how awful it is for somebody from abroad when he meets immigration staff. I am attempting to explain to your Lordships what it is actually like. Some of your Lordships may not like it, but here it is. Lots of people who pass through Heathrow come to visit or are in transit to other parts of the world. The atmosphere is quite relaxed; the queues are orderly. When one reaches the top of the queue two young ladies direct one to the next free desk in a long line of desks. The people behind those desks look ordinary. On a warm summer's evening last week the men were in shirt sleeves; the women wore summer dresses. From looking down the list of officers it was clear that a few had their origins in the very parts of the world from which the people coming off the aircraft had come. There was nothing in any way frightening about it.

Passports and landing cards are asked for. While the officer checks the passport and the name against his computer he asks two basic questions. He may ask other questions but he asks two basic questions: "How long are you here for?" and "What is the purpose of your visit?". He listens to the answers, and perhaps asks some more questions. It was for this reason that I intervened in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. I asked what the young man had said in reply to those two questions and any others that he might have been asked. Clearly, if he was in a poor physical state he would be asked other questions. What did he say? That is the point at which the individual says that he is here to claim asylum. The noble Lord, Lord Marsh, in a very powerful intervention, highlighted those questions and others which were asked to elicit those facts.

Lord Mackie of Benshie

My Lords, I was the rapporteur of the Council of Europe committee that looked into this very point. It was found that many of the economic refugees who had been briefed by people who took money from them were absolutely pat in their answers to the questions that were asked. However, many of the genuine asylum seekers were confused and did not give the right answers.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, has, perhaps accidentally, made my case for me. If they are genuine refugees and are disturbed and have not been well briefed by agents—as the noble Lord rightly points out, many people who arrive at the immigration desk have been well briefed—it is the easiest thing in the world to tell the truth and say that they are here to seek asylum.

As the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, said, the discussion rather depends on how the questions and answers proceed. For example, one lady from Australia was here to visit for the first time since she had gone to Australia as a wartime bride. That came out in the discussion. Another man with a well-travelled passport worked for the International Planned Parenthood Organisation. Another couple were on their way to New York. They were here for a week and showed their onward tickets. There was nothing forbidding or frightening to prevent someone coming here for asylum from saying so, as indeed many do. Therefore, if the suggestion that they cannot do so is right, none would do so, but many do apply for asylum at the point of entry.

Another point that arises is the language difficulty. If an individual cannot speak English and there is no one immediately available in the line who can speak the relevant language the individual is taken to a special suite with a waiting room and a series of interview rooms. I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, that there is a well-oiled machine for finding an interpreter. Sometimes one is immediately available, because immigration authorities know those areas in the world from which people most commonly need the services of an interpreter. Sometimes it takes a few hours and the individual waits in the waiting room with a cup of coffee or whatever it may be, until an interpreter arrives. In a very few cases an interpreter cannot be found that day. In those circumstances, the person may be given temporary admission with an appointment to return to complete the formalities perhaps the next day. When the interview takes place, whether a few hours later or even the next day, with the interpreter present, the immigration officer can establish through the questions that I have already mentioned the length of stay and the reason for the visit. If the person is looking for asylum he or she can say so and the application is treated as an on-arrival application for benefit purposes. Even if the individual has to go away and return the next day because he does not speak English, or there is no one available who can speak his language, at that point it is still considered to be an at-port application and benefit will be granted.

I can stand at this Dispatch Box and say to those of your Lordships who are understandably concerned about genuine asylum seekers who pass through that hall at Heathrow that I saw absolutely nothing which would do anything other than reinforce in a genuine asylum seeker who had chosen this country as a safe haven his belief that he had indeed arrived in that safe country. Immigration officers are trained to look out for all kinds of people, including those who are fleeing. In particular, they want to help people who flee from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia, to name today's horror hot spots. They have probably heard more harrowing tales than most of us; and they told me a few.

One understands that people may have had to invent stories in order to leave their homeland, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, said, they do not need to repeat them when they arrive in this country.

Lord Dubs

My Lords, people who have had to tell lies to leave their country do not know that when they get here they will be treated differently.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, if they do not believe that they will be treated differently when they get here why do they seek to come here in the first place? That just proves my point. If these people have selected this country as a safe haven, surely they believe that when they arrive here they have arrived at a safe haven.

I underline that the issue before us does not actually concern asylum. Whether someone makes an application on' arrival or after he has been here for three days, three weeks, three months or even longer, or whether he has entered legally or illegally, his claim for asylum will be treated fairly and judged according to this country's international obligations. I can assure my noble friend Lord Wolfson that there is nothing in what we are discussing today that will send back someone who is a genuine asylum seeker. We are discussing solely access to the benefits system. I have said on a number of occasions that seven out of every 100 cases are found to be genuine asylum seekers and asylum is granted.

I can tell the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, that we want to improve the system. We have gone a long way to making considerable improvements. In 1994 there were 21,000 decisions; there were 27,000 in 1995; and we hope that there will be 37,000 this year. But if the numbers continue to rise the problem will become greater. We will have to run faster to stand still. Over the past six months there has been a considerable decline in the number of asylum seekers. We are beginning to make real progress with applications. That can only be to the benefit of genuine asylum seekers. In addition, we look sympathetically, in accordance with our long tradition as a safe haven, at those whose lives have been shattered by war and civil strife. Sixteen out of every 100 are so treated and are granted exceptional leave to remain. I am afraid that the remaining 77 have gained access to our benefits system on the back of the genuine few whom we all want to help.

The opposition amendment is presented as a modest change with limited consequences which will be of primary benefit to genuine refugees. I am afraid that that is not quite the case. While it remedies some of the defects of the amendment proposed three weeks ago by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham—I have rather missed her this afternoon as my normal sparring partner—it leaves a number of unresolved problems. It still rewards those who have entered illegally. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Mackintosh, that there is no distinction between an illegal entrant and an illegal immigrant, as he suggested had been implied in the speech of my right honourable friend Mr. Peter Lilley. In both cases people enter this country in breach of immigration law either because they avoid control completely or because they deceive the immigration officers at passport control by means of false passports or whatever it may be.

With the best will in the world, when dealing with such a group it is just not possible to establish the three-day period. We can hardly be expected to take the word of someone who has already deliberately and knowingly broken the law. The organised racketeers of the asylum industry—I am afraid that they do exist—would soon tap a new and lucrative trade, providing people with bogus papers, helping to back their claim to have entered the previous day or the day before that. Even scrupulous pressure groups and lawyers would find much to dispute and litigate in a three-day decision. In practice, the only watertight way of operating a three-day grace period would be to exclude all illegals by demanding a stamped passport as proof of entry. Even that, I can assure noble Lords after my visit to Heathrow Terminal 3, would require careful scrutiny because forged and tampered passports do exist.

I do not believe that people who genuinely tell immigration officers that they are here on a visit, on holiday, on business, to study and will have no recourse to public funds while they are here will within three days decide to claim asylum with genuine reasons. Things do not change that fast. The reality is that they have used those reasons to gain benefit and then they change their position.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool may be confused, because if you need permission to enter you must either claim asylum or satisfy the authorities that you are here on business, as a tourist, to study or whatever it may be. The great majority of in-country applicants—excluding those who are here illegally—have said that they here on business, as tourists, to study. They would not get in if they had not said that. So, as I have said before, they have said something to the immigration authorities which just is not true. We should be encouraging them to tell the truth at the point of entry.

My noble friend Lord Elton asked me what information is available. Posters have been placed airside at Heathrow and Gatwick by the Immigration Law Practitioners Association advising passengers of the importance of claiming asylum on arrival in order to secure benefit entitlement. My noble friend's suggestion—I believe that my noble friend Lord Wolfson also suggested it—that we should perhaps place warnings on landing cards merits further consideration, but landing cards are not issued to people claiming, as some do, to be EU nationals and who walk through the blue channel. Of course they are not issued to clandestine illegal entrants. The people who receive landing cards are those who come to the desk, as I have explained, and have a conversation with the immigration officer. It is at that point that they should claim asylum. My noble friend has made an interesting suggestion, and we should give it consideration.

I do not like disagreeing with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry but I have to say to him that the statistics do not bear out his statistics that the great majority of people who claim within three days are genuine asylum seekers. As I said in my original speech, in comparison to the five in every 100 who are granted asylum by the Home Office, it is 3.5 in every 100 in the three-day group. The right reverend Prelate shakes his head, but I am afraid that those are the statistics for granting asylum during this three-day period.

The amendment is designed to appeal to those of your Lordships who basically agree with me that our benefit system is being abused by bogus asylum seekers but who are still concerned to do the decent, charitable thing in line with our common Jewish and Christian traditions. The amendment creates a confused and disputed borderline. It would cost at least £30 million a year. It would be more if the three days were to recreate the incentive to economic migrants that we fear it would.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, said that he was quite prepared to pay £30 million if it would keep Britain's good name, but what he seems to miss out is that we are paying a good deal more than that in order to keep our good name—because, as I have explained, many of the people who will claim at the port will not be found to be genuine, nor will they be granted exceptional leave to remain. So a good deal of the roughly £140 million—perhaps £100 million—in benefit expenditure that we envisage we should continue to have to spend will still be going to people who turn out not to be genuine asylum seekers, nor people who merit exceptional leave to remain. I believe that £100 million is not a bad price—it is a good deal better than the £30 million that the noble Earl was prepared to pay. I am going three steps further than he is in being prepared to contemplate paying benefit to people who do not turn out to be genuine.

Our proposal creates a clear and distinct borderline as far as concerns the benefits system. It says clearly that those who apply for asylum when they arrive here do not have to go into detail; they do not have to give a great story; they just need to say, "I am applying for asylum", and they will be allowed in. Their story will come at a later stage. That is all they need to do. That gives a clear-cut borderline for people getting into the benefit system.

As I have explained from the evidence of my own eyes, there is nothing to prevent an asylum seeker at the immigration desk on his arrival in this country, saying, "I have arrived in a safe country. I have planned and schemed to get here. Here I am. I am here for asylum". There is no reason at all. There is nothing here to justify the amendment.

As I explained, the statistics tell us that those who apply within three days are less likely to be genuine. So there is nothing there to justify the amendment. Those who have entered the country illegally will still be able, through a bit more illegality, to gain access to and to abuse our benefits system. So there is nothing there to justify the amendment. Further, there is absolutely nothing here, and in the arguments that your Lordships have heard, to justify this House overturning the considered decision taken by the elected Chamber. If the amendment is put to the vote, as I suspect it will be, I hope that my noble friends and other noble Lords who are prepared to look at the arguments in an open-minded way, and look at the facts before us, will join me in the Lobby.

5.15 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful that in this long and keenly argued debate so much of the time has been spent on the merits of the issue rather than the proprieties of the relationship between this House and the other place. I am grateful that in the end the Minister himself conceded in his winding up speech that the issue of the three-day amendment had been before another place on only one occasion. He put into my mouth words about the quality of the debate which I do not think he will find when he looks in Hansard, because it would never be my intention to criticise the quality of debate in another place. I believe that we are in almost universal agreement—with the exception of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, who saved himself by accusing me only of an appearance of cynicism rather than cynicism—that it is entirely proper for us to do what we are doing today.

So let us turn then to the merits of the issue. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, described it as a potential conflict between the head and the heart. I hope that he will think that most of us have argued the case for the amendment on the grounds of the head rather than the heart. Of course there have been references, although relatively few, to individual hard cases. In particular, those on the Bishops Bench who know what happens to asylum seekers when they arrive in this country and are faced with destitution have made well-argued and convincing attempts to show noble Lords what destitution can mean and what it would mean if the system were allowed to continue for very much longer.

But I do not believe that the arguments of the head should be neglected, because they are fundamental. In opening the debate on the first amendment, the Minister sought to claim that the orders had been successful because the number of applications had gone down. He invited the House to draw the conclusion that they had gone down because the right to benefit had been taken away.

That raises a whole series of questions, which were best expressed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool when he talked about the difference between a soft touch and a brutal touch. When one changes regulations, in particular when entry conditions differ as between one country in the European Union and another, that will have an effect on the number of applications. After the passing of the 1993 Act the number of applications went down dramatically but then went up again.

The Minister has shown the House—and I do not dispute his figures—that in April, May and June the number of applications went down further. He is suggesting—and it may well be that it is a significant part of the argument—that that is because the possibility of benefit has or had been taken away. But surely it is not the number of applications which shows whether taking away benefits is right; it is the number of genuine refugees which matters. We simply do not yet know that. We do not know whether those who have been turned away or who have failed to apply for asylum are more or less likely than before to be genuine refugees and worthy of asylum in this country. Until we know that, surely, without being a soft touch, we ought to be pulling out all the stops that we can in order to avoid being the brutal touch in Europe. That is what we threaten to be. The test is not in the numbers; it is in the success rate.

We return to what are in almost all cases secondhand accounts of what happens at the points of entry. I pay tribute to the Minister for having gone to see what happens. That was the right thing to do and he was right to describe it to your Lordships. But, of course, what he saw was what happens everywhere at all points of entry. Ninety-nine out of every 100 people coming to this country needing landing cards—in other words, coming from outside the European Union—are genuine people who have genuinely obtained visas by telling the truth that they are coming here as visitors, tourists, students, business people or whatever. The 1 per cent., who are those in difficulty and those about whom we are talking are those who have to tell lies on their application forms for a visa, because they all come from countries which require visas. They then have to come to this country and say not only, "I am an asylum seeker" but also, "I told a lie when I stated on my visa application that I proposed to come here as a visitor", or a student or on business.

I do not know how many asylum applicants the Minister saw during his time at Heathrow's Terminal 3. But he and all noble Lords ought to put themselves in the position of people who, in order to leave their country, have to falsify some aspect of their relationship with their country of origin and the country to which they intended to go. That is the best answer that I can give to the noble Lord, Lord Marsh, who seemed to believe that it was a conscious and rational decision to tell a lie at the point of entry. I suggest to your Lordships that that is far from being the case.

I am confirmed in that view by a letter written only this morning by the representative for the United Kingdom and Ireland of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. He writes: UNHCR's general concerns over the withdrawal of welfare support for certain classes of asylum seekers have already been expressed in its comments to the Social Security Advisory Committee late last year. Notwithstanding these general observations, UNHCR is of the opinion that the present amendment", and he is speaking specifically about our amendment, ameliorates the hardships to some of those genuine asylum seekers who, for a variety of valid reasons, do not claim refugee status immediately upon arrival. At the same time, the amendment will not undermine the Government's legitimate endeavours to curtail procedural abuse from those who have no claim to refugee status. The amendment is not inconsistent with the United Nations' obligations under the 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees and UNHCR is supportive of it". What is being done by this part of the legislation, what is proposed by the Government, is to cut a swathe through our international obligations on the spurious claim that those who apply after arrival in this country are less likely to be genuine refugees than those that apply at the port of entry. The effect will be that we will exclude people who are genuine refugees. Our reputation as a civilised country cannot support that.

I had genuinely believed that we had gone so far in meeting the Government's arguments that it might be possible to reach agreement without a Division today. I wish that were so, if only by a pause. I can tell from the Minister's speech that it is hopeless for the Government to say that the differences between us are not that great and that we could retain our reputation as a civilised country at a relatively low cost and without compromising any of the principles which they seek to achieve by this legislation. I have no such response. I must seek the opinion of the House.

5.26 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (Amendment No. 24BA as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 24B) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 168; Not-Contents, 182.

Division No. 1
Ackner, L. Broadbridge, L.
Addington, L. Brooks of Tremorfa, L.
Annan, L. Bruce of Donington, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Callaghan of Cardiff, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L
Avebury, L. Carr of Hadley, L.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. Carter, L.
Barnett, L. Castle of Blackburn, B.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Chichester, Bp.
Beloff, L. Chorley, L.
Berkeley, L. Clancarty, E.
Birk, B. Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.
Birkett, L. Clinton-Davis, L.
Blackstone, B. Cobbold, L.
Borrie, L. Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Brentford, V. Cooke of Thorndon, L.
Briggs, L. Coventry, Bp.
Dacre of Glanton, L. McNair, L.
Dainton, L. Mallalieu, B.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Mar and Kellie, E.
David, B. Meston, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B. Molloy, L.
Desai, L. Monkswell, L.
Diamond, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Nicol, B.
Donoughue, L. Northbourne, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Ogmore, L.
Dubs, L. Oxford, Bp.
Eatwell, L. Palmer, L.
Elles, B. Park of Monmouth, B.
Ezra, L. Peston, L.
Falkender, B. Phillips of Ellesmere, L.
Falkland, V. Prys-Davies, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Rea, L.
Gallacher, L. Redesdale, L.
Gillmore of Thamesfield, L. Richard, L.
Gilmour of Craigmillar, L. Ripon, Bp.
Gladwin of Clee, L. Rippon of Hexham, L.
Glenamara, L. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.] Rix, L.
Greenhill of Harrow, L. Robson of Kiddington, B.
Gregson, L. Rochester, L.
Grey, E. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Halsbury, E. Runcie, L.
Hampton, L. Russell, E. [Teller.]
Hamwee, B. Ryder of Warsaw, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Sainsbury, L.
Haskel, L. Sandwich, E.
Hayman, B. Seear, B.
Headfort, M. Serota, B.
Healey, L. Shaughnessy, L.
Henniker, L. Shepherd, L.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Sherfield, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Simon, V.
Holme of Cheltenham, L. Simon of Glaisdale, L.
Howell, L. Southwark, Bp.
Hughes, L. Stallard, L.
Hunt, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Hunt of Tanworth, L. Strabolgi, L.
Hutchinson of Lullington, L. Strafford, E.
Inchyra, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Jakobovits, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Jay of Paddington, B. Thomas of Swynnerton, L.
Jeger, B. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Thurso, V.
Judd, L. Tonypandy, V.
Kennet, L. Tope, L.
Kilbracken, L. Tordoff, L.
Kilmarnock, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Kintore, R Wallace of Coslany, L.
Kirkhill, L. Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Kitchener, E. Warnock, B.
Lester of Herne Hill, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Listowel, E. White, B.
Liverpool, Bp. Wigoder, L.
Lockwood, B. Williams of Crosby, B.
Longford, E. Williams of Elvel, L.
Lovell-Davis, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
McCarthy, L. Wilson of Tillyorn, L.
McGregor of Durris, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E
McIntosh of Haringey, L. Wright of Richmond, L.
Mackie of Benshie, L. Young of Dartington, L.
Aberdare, L. Barber, L.
Ailsa, M. Barber of Tewkesbury, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Belhaven and Stenton, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Belstead, L.
Astor of Hever, L. Berners, B.
Attlee, E. Birdwood, L.
Blaker, L. Inglewood, L.
Blateh, B. Ironside, L.
Boardman, L. Jenkin of Roding, L.
Bowness, L. Johnston of Rockport, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Kenilworth, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Kimball, L.
Brain, L. Kinnoull, E.
Bridgeman, V. Laing of Dunphail, L.
Brigstocke, B. Lane of Horsell, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Lauderdale, E.
Buccleuch and Queensberry, D. Lindsay, E.
Burnham, L. Liverpool, E.
Butterworth, L. Long, V.
Cadman, L. Lucas, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Campbell of Cray, L. Lyell, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Carver, L. McConnell, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Chelmsford, V. Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord
Chesham, L. [Teller.] Chancellor.]
Clark of Kempston, L Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Cockfield, L. Mackintosh of Halifax, V.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. Macleod of Borve, B.
Courtown, E. Marlesford, L.
Craig of Radley, L. Marsh, L.
Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.] Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Crickhowell, L. Merrivale, L.
Cuckney, L. Mersey, V.
Cumberlege, B. Miller of Hendon, B.
Davidson, V. Milverton, L.
De Freyne, L. Monson, L.
De L'Isle, V. Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Dean of Harptree, L. Moore of Lower Marsh, L.
Deedes, L. Mountevans, L.
Demon of Wakefield, B. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Derwent, L. Moyne, L.
Dixon-Smith, L. Munster, E.
Downshire, M Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Dudley, E. Nelson, E.
Eccles of Moulton, B. Newall, L.
Eden of Winton, L. Nickson, L.
Ellenborough, L. Norrie, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Northesk, E.
Eme, E. O'Cathain, B.
Feldman, L. Oppenheim-Barnes, B.
Ferrers, E Orkney, E.
Finsberg, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Oxfuird, V.
Gainsborough, E. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Pender, L.
Geddes, L. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Glenarthur, L. Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Goold, L. Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
Goschen, V. Prentice, L.
Gray, L. Prior, L.
Gray of Contin, L. Quinton, L.
Greenway, L. Rankeillour, L.
Griffiths of Fforestfach, L. Rawlings, B.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Rees, L.
Hamilton of Dalzell, L. Renton, L.
Hanson, L. Renwick, L.
Harding of Petherton, L. Romney, E.
Harlech, L. Saint Albans, D.
Harmar-Nicholls, L. St. Davids, V.
Harmsworth, L. St John of Fawsley, L.
Harris of Peckham, L. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Henley, L. Seccombe, B.
Hesketh, L. Shannon, E.
Hindlip, L. Sharpies, B.
Hogg, B. Shaw of Northstead, L.
Holderness, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Hothfield, L. Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Howe, E. Stevens of Ludgate, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Strange, B.
Ilchester, E. Strathcarron, L.
Strathclyde, L. [Teller.] Trefgarne, L.
Strathmore and Kinghorne, E. Trumpington, B.
Sudeley, L. Ullswater, V.
Swinfen, L. Vivian, L.
Tebbit, L. Weatherill, L.
Teviot, L. Westbury, L.
Wilcox, B.
Thomas of Gwydir, L. Wise, L.
Tollemache, L. Wolfson, L.
Torrington, V. Wynford, L.

Resolved in the negative, and Amendment No. 24BA, as an amendment to Commons Amendment No. 24B, disagreed to accordingly.

On Question, Commons Amendment No. 24B, as an amendment to Lords Amendment No. 24, agreed to.


24C Line 12, leave out 'as is mentioned in subsection (1) above' and insert 'who is so excluded'.

5.37 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 24C to Lords Amendment No. 24 and to which I have already spoken.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 24C to Lords Amendment No. 24.—(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


28 Before Schedule 1, insert the following new schedule—





1. In this Part of this Schedule—

  1. (a) "the 1996 Regulations" means the Social Security (Persons from Abroad) Miscellaneous Amendments Regulations 1996; and
  2. (b) expressions which are used in the 1996 Regulations have the same meanings as in those Regulations.

Income support

2. In regulation 8 of the 1996 Regulations (amendment of the Income Support Regulations)—

  1. (a) paragraph (2) so far as relating to the sub-paragraph added to regulation 21(3) of the Income Support Regulations as sub-paragraph (j); and
  2. (b) paragraph (3)(c) and (d),
shall have effect as if the 1996 Regulations had been made, and had come into force, on the day on which this Act is passed.

Housing benefit

3. In regulation 7 of the 1996 Regulations (amendment of regulation 7A of the Housing Benefit Regulations)—

  1. (a) paragraph (a) so far as relating to the sub-paragraph added to regulation 7A(4) of the Housing Benefit Regulations as sub-paragraph (g);
  2. 1215
  3. (b) paragraph (b) so far as relating to sub-paragraphs (a) and (b) of the paragraph substituted for regulation 7A(5) of those Regulations; and
  4. (c) paragraph (c),
shall have effect as if the 1996 Regulations had been made, and had come into force, on the day on which this Act is passed.

Council tax benefit

4. In regulation 3 of the 1996 Regulations (amendment of regulation 4A of the Council Tax Benefit Regulations)—

  1. (a) paragraph (a) so far as relating to the sub-paragraph added to regulation 4A(4) of the Council Tax Benefit Regulations as sub-paragraph (g);
  2. (b) paragraph (b) so far as relating to sub-paragraphs (a) and (b) of the paragraph substituted for regulation 4A(5) of those Regulations; and
  3. (c) paragraph (c),
shall have effect as if the 1996 Regulations had been made, and had come into force, on the day on which this Act is passed. 46


5.—(1) Subject to sub-paragraph (2) below, any person who is excluded from entitlement to income support, housing benefit or council tax benefit by any of the provisions which are modified by the preceding provisions of this Part of this Schedule—

  1. (a) shall not be entitled to the benefit for any period beginning on or after the day on which this Act is passed; and
  2. (b) shall not be entitled to the benefit for any period beginning on or after 5th February 1996 except on a claim made before the day on which this Act is passed, or an application made before that day for the review of a decision.

(2) Nothing in this paragraph shall apply in any case where a person is entitled to the benefit in question either—

  1. (a) by virtue of regulation 12(1) of the 1996 Regulations (saving); or
  2. (b) by virtue of regulations making such provision as is mentioned in section (Saving for social security regulations)(2) of this Act.




6. In this Part of this Schedule "the 1996 Regulations" means the Social Security (Persons from Abroad) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1996.

Income support

7. In regulation 4 of the 1996 Regulations (amendment of the Income Support (General) Regulations)—

  1. (a) paragraph (2) so far as relating to the paragraph added to regulation 21(3) of the Income Support (General) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1987 as paragraph (j); and
  2. (b) paragraph (3)(b),
shall have effect as if the 1996 Regulations had been made, and had come into operation, on the day on which this Act is passed.

Housing benefit

8. In regulation 5 of the 1996 Regulations (amendment of the Housing Benefit (General) Regulations)—

  1. (a) paragraph (a) so far as relating to the sub-paragraph added to regulation 7A(4) of the Housing Benefit (General) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1987 as sub-paragraph (g);
  2. 1216
  3. (b) paragraph (b) so far as relating to sub-paragraphs (a) and (b) of the paragraph substituted for regulation 7A(5) of those Regulations; and
  4. (c) paragraph (c),
shall have effect as if the 1996 Regulations had been made, and had come into operation, on the day on which this Act is passed. 91


9.—(1) Subject to sub-paragraph (2) below, any person who is excluded from entitlement to income support or housing benefit by any of the provisions which are modified by the preceding provisions of this Part of this Schedule—

  1. (a) shall not be entitled to the benefit for any period beginning on or after the day on which this Act is passed; and
  2. (b) shall not be entitled to the benefit for any period beginning on or after 5th February 1996 except on a claim made before the day on which this Act is passed, or an application made before that day for the review of a decision.

(2) Nothing in this paragraph shall apply in any case where a person is entitled to the benefit in question either—

  1. (a) by virtue of regulation 11 (1) of the 1996 Regulations (saving); or
  2. (b) by virtue of regulations making such provision as is mentioned in section (Saving for social security regulations)(2) of this Act.").

The Commons agreed to this amendment with the following amendments—

28A Line 46, at end insert— '. Regulation 12(1) of the 1996 Regulations (saving) shall have effect as if after the words "shall continue to have effect" there were inserted the words "(both as regards him and as regards persons who are members of his family at the coming into force of these Regulations)".'.

28B Line 91, at end insert— '. Regulation 11(1) of the 1996 Regulations (saving) shall have effect as if after the words "shall have effect" there were inserted the words "(both as regards him and as regards persons who are members of his family at the coming into operation of these Regulations)".'.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 28A and 28B to Lords Amendment No. 28, to which I have already spoken.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 28A and 28B to Lords Amendment No. 28.—(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.