HL Deb 21 February 2000 vol 610 cc10-2

2.59 p.m.

Lord Rotherwick asked Her Majesty's Government:

How many asylum seekers were sent home by the Government in 1999 and whether the statistics quoted by Lord Rotherwick on 8th February (Official Report, cols. 512–13) were "fictional".

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton)

My Lords, provisional figures show that in 1999, 7,650 people who had at some time sought asylum in the United Kingdom were removed either to their country of origin or to a safe third country.

I understand that the figures quoted by the noble Lord on 8th February were published in the Daily Mail. The figures are drawn from data published by the Home Office, but they are not capable of bearing the statistical inference that he sought to place upon them.

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, I had hoped to be able to say that I was thankful to the noble Lord for his Answer. However, I am rather disappointed. If that was in effect his type of apology, then perhaps he could tell me so.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I was simply explaining that I could not possibly agree with the noble Lord's statistical inference in his original Question. The reasons are straightforward. The figures that he quoted related to the number of cases in which enforcement action had been initiated. One cannot simply abstract one from the other and conclude, as he did, that the rest have gone underground. Some will have claimed asylum; some will appeal; some will have won their appeal; some may have left without notifying the Immigration Service; and yes, some may have gone into hiding.

Lord Archer of Sandwell

My Lords, does my noble friend appreciate the dangers of becoming involved in an auction regarding the number of removals achieved? Does he accept that immigration officials are human and that, like all of us, they are susceptible to alarmist and populist pressures and that they need support in the form of effective training programmes, as recommended by the Council of Europe and by Amnesty International? Are such training programmes now in place, and what proportion of immigration officials have received training?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that thoughtful question. Unfortunately, I cannot provide that detail now. I am happy to provide it in writing and to place a copy of the letter in the Library.

The noble Lord is right in his comment about getting into an auction as regards the number of removals. We believe that there should be effective and efficient removals procedures. It is the case that last year there was a record number of removals: some 37,450 for asylum and non-asylum cases. That was the highest ever figure. We must have effective measures in place, and we must seek to treat people fairly and reasonably in all circumstances.

Lord Lamont of Lerwick

My Lords, will the Minister explain why, on 2nd February when we discussed Mr Tharcisse Muvunyi, the Rwandan, he refused to discuss the case on the grounds that one never discusses individual cases in the House of Lords; and when I asked the Minister in a Written Question to list all the cases that had been discussed in the House of Lords, he said that there were too many to list?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, that is not quite the case. It is my understanding—and it has always been the understanding of governments of both the major political parties—that we should not discuss the individual circumstances of each case. We are right to take that view. Discussion could possibly prejudice the outcome of appeals and judicial review. Those are the circumstances in which it is right and proper not to seek to discuss individual cases in this House.

Lord Dholakia

My Lords, do the figures given by the Minister relate simply to asylum seekers or do they include immigration overstayers? Now that doors are closed to asylum seekers entering this country, will the Minister indicate whether there is any way in which a genuine asylum seeker can enter the country and claim asylum?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, we always treat cases on merit. Genuine asylum seekers and others seeking asylum will have their cases properly assessed by the authorities as they should be. Yes, the figures do cover the other categories referred to by the noble Lord.

Baroness Whitaker

My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister aware that some London local authorities are having considerable difficulty in dealing with asylum applications?

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am aware that there are many pressures on London local authorities seeking to cope with the difficult issues arising from asylum applications. We are grateful to the Association of London Government and the LGA for the careful way in which they have worked with the Government to ensure that adequate, fair and reasonable procedures are in place for the dispersal of asylum applicants around the country generally.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, perhaps I may refer the Minister back to the original Question and to his Answer to my noble friend Lord Rotherwick on 8th February. My noble friend pointed out that 7,000 people had been sent home and 20,000 people had been served with notices to go home. Those figures are roughly correct to the nearest thousand. Why did the noble Lord say that they were "fictional statistics" if what he really meant to say was that my noble friend could not assume that the other 13,000 had all gone underground? Surely his reference to "fictional statistics" was simply a wrong answer.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I am happy to concede that perhaps I could have used—

Noble Lords


Lord Bassam of Brighton

And I have apologised to the noble Lord for that.

A noble Lord

In writing.

Lord Bassam of Brighton

My Lords, I have apologised to the noble Lord. He has received two items of correspondence from me. He has also had a meeting and discussion on the matter. I am happy to accept that the use of the term "fictional statistics" was perhaps unfair in the circumstances. However, I remind the House that statistics are the science of numerical inference. That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, in his correspondence with my noble friend the Leader of the House on 10th February. Statistical inference is what this is all about.