§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Lord Filkin
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
In October last year my right honourable friend the Home Secretary promised a comprehensive and radical reform of our nationality, immigration and asylum systems. The White Paper Secure Borders, Safe Haven and now this Bill, which has been constructively debated in another place, are major steps in taking the Government's commitment forward.
1088 Before I come to the contents of the Bill, I should like to put it into its wider context by just referring briefly to four issues: first, the contribution that legal and managed migration can make. We recognise that migrants bring significant benefits to this country in terms of their contribution to our economy and to the richness of our diverse culture. The White Paper outlined the Government's proposals for sensible, controlled avenues of migration to fill labour and skills gaps in the UK economy.
Our first priority remains, of course, getting the UK unemployed into work through Welfare to Work and New Deal policies. But managed migration can complement those domestic policies by providing legal avenues for entry to the UK for those with the skills required to contribute to our economy and society.
There are acknowledged recruitment difficulties at both the high and low skill end of the UK labour market. The number of work permits issued has doubled over recent years. Earlier this year we introduced the Highly Skilled Migrant Programme. That programme aims to attract those of very high calibre to the UK to look for work. We have also issued a consultation document on reviewing the Working Holidaymaker Scheme. At the low skilled, seasonal end, we are also reviewing the Seasonal Agricultural Workers' Scheme. We are looking at ways of building on the principles of that scheme to meet the demand for casual or seasonal workers in specific sectors of the economy.
Legitimate routes to enter and work in Britain are an essential part of a sane and comprehensive policy of managed migration and how we address asylum seeking. It is relatively early days for this policy, but we shall look to where and how it makes sense to go further and faster.
As we discussed last week, it makes sense to recognise the need to address the root causes of both asylum claimants and of economic migrants. That will require a medium term strategy over a number of years. We need to tackle the many pressures that force people to migrate or seek asylum. The Government are making a contribution to that through the work being done by DfID and others to help address the root cause of displacement in source countries by tackling poverty, reducing conflict, promoting good governance and helping countries to promote human rights. A good example is the reconstruction work in Afghanistan. Clearly, there is a need for the wealthy part of the world to recognise both the moral and the practical self-interest of more work to reduce the pressure for people to leave poor countries or those where they are threatened with civil strife to come to other parts of the world.
DfID is working hard to address the root causes of poverty, discrimination and lack of capacity to protect human rights that make people, particularly women and children, vulnerable to trafficking. It is supporting initiatives focused on tackling trafficking in the Balkans, West Africa and the Mekong region of 1089 South-East Asia. We provide support to civil society organisations such as Anti-Slavery International and Save the Children which work on these issues.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, before my noble friend continues, perhaps I may ask him something which I should have raised earlier. The other House considered this Bill, but large sections of what has been contemplated by the Government were introduced in such a way that no debate took place. Does my noble friend consider that that was a useful operation or not?
§ Lord Filkin
My Lords, if my noble friend has patience with me, I shall be coming shortly to other sections of the Bill. As regards the amendments introduced and signalled by the Government, quite clearly they will be one of the prime areas for scrutiny by this House. The Government would not have brought them forward at that relatively late stage in the Commons if they did not consider that there was a pressing reason for doing so. Therefore, the short answer is that I believe it was necessary although, as ever, it would have been desirable if more time had been available for them to be scrutinised in the other place.
The final point I wish to make about root causes concerns the resettlement schemes through UNHCR. We had a good debate on that subject last week. We recognised that this again is at an early stage. In programmes like that it is possible that people who are genuine refugees in remote parts of the world also have the opportunity to claim asylum in other countries rather than those who, through their geography, are proximate to a safe third country.
Also in this general context, I believe that the need for action in the European Union and world action has been well debated in our recent discussion on the Statement on Seville. It is quite clear that we cannot pursue in isolation from the rest of Europe our immigration and asylum policies that respond to the challenges and opportunities of increased migration. Both my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and I have recently reiterated to our partners in Europe that we need to take forward European-wide action founded on four common principles and values that we should be proud to uphold; namely, that the EU must clearly state that it opposes racism; that it should be recognised that the EU has benefited considerably from immigration in the past and is likely to do so in future; that it must ensure that migration is properly managed and not open to abuse; and that the EU needs clear and consistent policies on immigration and asylum.
Finally, in terms of the context, we should see the clear connection between the duty of the Government and society to seek to integrate people who make successful claims for asylum. Clearly, we signal that in the White Paper promoted by Barbara Roche last year. There should be a link between that and our policies on racism and perhaps through the Race Relations (Amendment) Act, social inclusion and by addressing community cohesion, particularly in some 1090 areas of our country where society is not yet as integrated as one would wish. Integration has to form a part of a positive policy to genuine asylum claimants just as managed migration has to economic migrants.
I turn now to the Bill. Part 1 and Schedules 1 and 2 contain proposals for a new approach to the acquisition of British citizenship to give it real meaning and to help new citizens to play a full part in our society. That includes a new citizenship ceremony and a pledge and regulations to specify how the requirement for naturalisation applicants to demonstrate knowledge of our society and sufficient command of English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic can be met. But there will be a waiver for both language and citizenship tests for the vulnerable to whom the requirement would make the acquisition of British citizenship impossible if too high a hurdle were set.
We should also be able to deprive of citizenship, in careful circumstances, those such as war criminals whom we are satisfied have obtained it by fraud, false information or concealment. Where possible, we will seek to take British citizenship away from terrorists and others who have engaged in conduct seriously prejudicial to the whole state. The Bill will enable us to do so.
Part 2 of the Bill includes measures that contribute to the Government's radical overhaul of the asylum system. Vouchers were replaced in April by cash, ahead of schedule. New application registration cards have been issued since January to help to ensure that only those entitled to support get it. The first induction centre is up and running in Dover.
Just to put the challenge we face from asylum applications into context, UNHCR estimated that there are 12 million refugees worldwide and 9 million more are stateless, displaced or of concern. For almost 40 years following the Second World War, the UK never received more than 4,500 asylum applications per year. That increased tenfold within two years and the increase in some European countries was even more dramatic.
The UK's share of those seeking to be recognised as refugees has doubled over the past 10 years, from around 30,000 to 71,700 in 2001. Around 9 per cent of applicants were granted asylum in 2001, with a further 17 per cent being granted exceptional leave to remain. A high proportion, 74 per cent, were refused on the ground that their claim was unfounded; that they were economic migrants rather than refugees. Of those whose claims were refused in 2001, 19 per cent of those who appealed, not of the total, successfully appealed against the decision. In 2001, there were 9,185 removals of principal applicant failed asylum seekers, including voluntary departures. That represents a large increase from the position in 1992, when 1,345 were removed. A point to make here is that 10,000 is a significantly smaller number than 70,000. If we are to succeed in reducing the attraction and the success of traffickers in extracting money from people who want to come here in pursuit of economic migration, we have to be more successful at returning those people who are not refugees to their source countries.
1091 In 2001, the UK accounted for 21 per cent of asylum applications in Europe and ranks eighth on the list of EU countries for applications per head of population, at 1.5 per 1,000.
Part 2 of the Bill takes us further in our reform of the asylum system by providing new accommodation centres for asylum seekers. Potential sites for the establishment of the trial centres were announced by my noble friend Lord Rooker on 14th May. The Home Office intends to apply for planning permission for each site where an accommodation centre is proposed. The House knows that government departments are required to use the Circular 18/84 procedure to submit planning notifications. The Home Office will submit the notifications using the ordinary, rather than the fast-track procedure, which mirrors the ordinary planning application process. Local authorities have eight weeks in which to respond.
Notifications in respect of the Bicester and Newton sites have already been submitted and decisions are expected shortly from the relevant local authorities. The Home Office intends to lodge appeals if the planning authorities object to the notifications.
Accommodation centres are a vital part of streamlining the asylum system, speeding it up and making it seamless. Such centres will ensure that asylum seekers are properly supported and accommodated during their claim. As agreed in the other place, we are considering placing a time limit on the time families with children spend in an accommodation centre and assessing children's needs when residence of six months in a centre is approaching.
In the trial centres, essential services will be provided on site to minimise the burden on local services and to create self-contained communities within the centres. We are looking actively at the feasibility of locating adjudicators on site and there will be access to legal advice. Those issues were both promoted vigorously in the other place.
Asylum seekers will not be detained in accommodation centres, but it is important for the whole system to work that asylum seekers can be tracked at all stages. Thus there will be some conditions of residence, to be set out in regulations, and sanctions if they are not met. Conditions will be the minimum necessary to ensure the smooth running of the centres.
As was indicated in the other place, we are also looking into the possibility of there being visiting committees and an inspection mechanism. We shall bring forward the necessary amendments at a later stage of the Bill's proceedings in this House.
Discussion is taking place in Europe on the draft Asylum Procedures Directive, which seeks to guarantee fair and efficient procedures across the EU, including access to national asylum procedures. At present, support for asylum seekers varies across Europe, with some countries providing compulsory access to accommodation and financial support, and some not doing so. Furthermore, there is wide variation in the level of financial support. In the 1092 majority of countries, applicants whose asylum claims are rejected have a right of appeal to an independent judicial body.
Part 3 and Schedule 3 contain provisions about other support and assistance for asylum seekers, including powers to make support conditional on regular reporting, and to require supported asylum seekers to live in accommodation provided for that purpose. I hope that noble Lords will be reassured by the fact that we will bring forward an amendment in Committee that the order for the withdrawal of the cash-only option will be subject to affirmative resolution.
We also want to ensure that we deal in a humanitarian way with all those who need our support. The Bill allows us to ensure that we are able to support those failed asylum seekers who are unable, for reasons beyond their control, to leave the country. We already work with the International Organisation for Migration to facilitate the return of those who are willing to leave at any stage during the asylum process. We are taking a power in the Bill to enable us to extend the support provided to meet the cost of their immediate arrival, reception and longer-term reintegration. As I mentioned previously, the Bill also gives us a power to fund a gateway for those refugees whose lives cannot be protected in their current place of asylum, which we will operate with the UNHCR.
Local authorities are facing increased pressure for support from those who have refugee status in or citizenship of other EU member states and seek to come here to gain residence and access to public funds. We are taking measures in the Bill to provide legal clarity of the obligations of local authorities and to ease the pressures on them. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is also pursuing these issues through negotiations with our European partners.
A necessary part of an end-to-end asylum system is removal and we intend to press ahead with the expansion of removal centres for those who will not co-operate with return, despite the events at Yarl's Wood. We shall of course take into account any lessons to be learnt from those.
If we are to speed up removals then we need to concentrate our resources. Among the provisions in Part 4, we are repealing the unimplemented provisions in the 1999 Act for routine bail hearings because they are no longer consistent with an expanded, properly functioning removals system. Existing arrangements by which bail can be sought remain in place.
It is not acceptable that those who have been granted refugee status but who have become a danger to our community by committing serious crimes should remain here. The Bill will allow us, in accordance with the Geneva Convention, to return to their own country those who are sentenced to two years' imprisonment or more.
For the asylum system to work effectively, procedures for appeal and judicial review have to be clear, fast and not open to abuse. The current system does not meet those criteria. Part 5 and Schedules 4 to 7 streamline and simplify the immigration appeals 1093 process as set out in Part IV of the 1999 Act. Most of the appeal rights will be unchanged, but practical and procedural problems are addressed.
We shall reduce the opportunity to frustrate removal by continually bringing new grounds of appeal and the Bill allows us to provide adjudicators with the power to set closure dates for appeal hearings to stop delays caused by multiple adjournments. The majority of appeals will still be suspensive; that is, appellants can remain in the UK while they are being considered. But some, including those where an asylum or human rights claim is clearly unfounded, will no longer be allowed to do so. We are also introducing a statutory review process to replace judicial review in some cases. Cases would be decided on the papers by a single High Court judge.
Among the procedural matters in Part 6 and Schedule 8, there is a power to charge for work permits, on which we are consulting, to cover the cost of the service and to help us to maintain the existing, exceptionally high service standards. In future, advice on work permit applications will be included within the regulatory scheme administered by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner. There are also powers to require local authorities, banks and employers to provide information about suspected immigration offenders.
There are measures to assist the smooth passage of those entering legally and the stay in this country of those here for legitimate purposes, thus allowing immigration officers to focus on tackling those who are seeking to enter illegally. These include an enabling power to require the provision of certain biometric data, such as iris scans, from those who are seeking to come to, enter or remain in the UK. The Bill also includes a power to develop an authority-to-carry scheme which would enable us to tackle potential security threats and immigration offenders before they set out for the UK.
We are addressing the findings of the Court of Appeal in the Roth judgment by amending the civil penalty and carriers' liability provisions of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. The new provisions will establish a more flexible penalty regime, introduce a statutory right of appeal and modify the provisions for the detention of transporters.
Part 7 introduces new offences and other measures aimed at tackling illegal working, facilitation of illegal entry and people trafficking. We are increasing the penalty for facilitating illegal entry from 10 years to 14 years to indicate that we view it as seriously as drug smuggling. We are committed to strengthening the law to clamp down on the evil crime of trafficking women and children for the purpose of sexual exploitation. We have acted quickly by including in the Bill measures to close the loopholes that allow foreign nationals and those from the EU to be brought into or through the UK for this purpose. We will do more in other legislation subsequently.
1094 We will combat illegal working by clarifying the range of documents that can be used to show entitlement to work. This will make it easier for employers to comply with the existing legislation. We will also make it easier for immigration officers to gather evidence about illegal working offences and, if appropriate, to bring prosecutions.
In conclusion, I reiterate that we should welcome legal migration and open up effective channels for those who fulfil skill shortages and employment needs in this country. We should combat racism and use the full force of the Government and the range of other measures that I have spoken to briefly against those who seek to use immigration or asylum pressures to promote racism in our country.
We must manage the asylum process fairly and vigorously in order to reassure our society that we are in control of the situation and that we stand firm on the values to which I have referred. We should manage it in a way that deters trafficking, smuggling, criminality and illegal economic entry. But, at the same time, we must continue to uphold the proud principle in our society of giving sanctuary to those who have a need for it. I commend the Bill to the House. I beg to move.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.(Lord Filkin.)
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Baroness Anelay of St Johns
My Lords, those of us who have witnessed, as I have, the lines of men, women and children wending their desultory way across the fields of northern France back to the warehouse known as Sangatte, or who have seen the attempts of those who stow away in lorries or ships to reach these shores, can be left in no doubt about the desperation felt by people who are so determined to seek a future in this country that they put themselves and their families at such risk.
We must take a system that is undeniably chaotic— I acknowledge that it was not in perfect working order in 1997, but it has got substantially worse since then—and turn it into an orderly system that achieves two vital objectives: first, the rapid, effective admission of refugees fleeing persecution; and, secondly, the equally rapid and effective removal of those seeking to use this method to get round the immigration rules rather than face up to them. It must balance the needs of people who are desperate with those of our nation to control the flow of immigration through proper and fair rules. It must be effective because if it is not the whole immigration system will be brought into disrepute and control over it will be lost.
I echo the words of the Minister that the great advance we have made is that there is now a general recognition that the issue needs to be addressed in a rational manner and that we need a system that is not only balanced but effective. The great majority of the measures in the Bill are welcome. That will be no surprise because we welcomed the White Paper on which the Bill is based in most respects. We support the naturalisation provision in Part 1 in general. My noble 1095 friend Lord Bridgeman will give our response to Part 1 in some detail later. I shall concentrate on a few of the other parts of the Bill.
Part 2 provides for the establishment of accommodation centres. We are broadly supportive of the concept. Again, that is hardly surprising as it strongly echoes the proposals we put forward before the last general election. But our welcome is for the concept and not always for the detail of the way the Government propose that the centres should operate. They are not currently structured in the way that we believe they need to be if we are to have rapid processing of claims so that those who are refugees and who, in so many cases, have fled from appalling persecution quickly find a home in this country and those who are misusing the asylum system are speedily dispatched from these shores.
Our objections are on three grounds: location, size and the facilities provided. In regard to location, we believe that the centres should not be sited in rural areas. That would be detrimental to the interests of asylum seekers and could cause concern and fear among local residents. They should be sited in locations which are suitable to the cultural and other needs of the residents. The accommodation should he near towns and cities and integrated with the local communities. After all, integration is crucial to preventing segregation, which would be detriment al to race relations and impede possible resettlement. I am disappointed to hear today that the Government appear determined to press ahead with their decision to notify the sites already listed. I hope that during the course of our debates on the Bill we shall be able to persuade the Government that they should seek other sites.
As to size, the Government plan to pilot the scheme with about 3.000 places in four accommodation centres, which means about 750 people in each centre. They have set themselves a target of clearing applications in about six months. So even my simple maths tells me that that means only about 6,000 of the 80,000 applications a year will be processed in the accommodation centres. That leaves an overwhelming number to be processed on the same basis as at present and with the same dispersal systems as we have now. Although the Government's changes on vouchers and the appeals process are welcome in the main, they are making no significant changes to the processing of most applications.
If the building of the accommodation centres goes ahead at full speed and there are no local planning problems, we are still likely to have to wait about three years before the centres are up and running. So this is not a major shift from chaos to order; it is an experiment about what might be a solution one day.
We believe that a large part of the chaos is caused by the paper chase and the people chase around the UK as appeals move people and paper from place to place. Our third objection, therefore, is that the Bill does not provide enough of the right facilities and services on site for the residents. What goes wrong at the start of 1096 the application process arises from there being not enough appropriate legal advice and not enough reliable, judicially accepted country risk assessments.
We should gather together in one place the relevant legal expertise that the Bill envisages, the relevant medical and interpretative expertise, the caseworkers who make the initial decisions and the adjudicators. Then we would really start to have a one-stop shop, not the half-built version that the Government propose.
When my honourable friend Mr Letwin sought to introduce a new clause on Report on 11 th June to ensure that adjudicators would make their decisions on site, the Home Secretary stated that he was prepared to consider an amendment in this House and that he would talk to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the chief adjudicator about the best way to organise it. We would welcome an effective amendment on this matter when it comes before your Lordships. I emphasise the word "effective.' because we shall wish to scrutinise the amendment.
To make the process work, we must also have a system of country risk assessments which carries weight and will stand the test of judicial challenge. How do we achieve that? By doing what the Refugee Council proposes—that is, by having a documentation centre independent of the Home Office which would be responsible for producing country risk assessments. Independent risk assessments would carry credibility because they would not be influenced by a desire to achieve a particular result in appeals.
On Report, the Government hinted that they would bring forward proposals soon. From what the Minister said today, I look forward to seeing the amendment. I also look forward to seeing an amendment in regard to visiting committees, to which the Minister referred, which reflects fully the concerns raised in an amendment in another place proposed by my honourable friend Mr Matins.
The one-stop shop that, we envisage would be able to achieve fair decisions in a much shorter time than envisaged in the Government's plans. We could process claims within weeks rather than months. That would be fairer to everyone. The longer the process takes, the more compelling becomes the argument to allow children to receive education in mainstream schools rather than on site, and to allow asylum seekers to work.
Our practical proposals would ensure that these problems will not arise as the processing of claims should take a maximum of 10 weeks. This target maximum of 10 weeks should appear on the face of the Bill. Without it, there is no incentive to get the whole system working properly for the residents.
Turning to other parts of the Bill, I can be briefer. We welcome Clause 126, which introduces new offences of people trafficking to fight the organised gangs that are currently making huge profits from the trade in human misery and exploitation. But we shall need to examine them to ensure that they are effective UK-wide.
1097 We support the consolidation and streamlining of the appeals process. There is no doubt that if people are able to make several different concurrent or serial appeals, the system will remain in chaos. It is right that the whole appeals system should be consolidated and in general we support those measures. But—and it is a big "but"—we shall need to examine the amendments which the Government introduced at a late stage in the other place. I anticipate that the House will rightly want to examine in some detail the issue of non-suspensive appeals.
We shall need to scrutinise carefully the matters that, I am sure, will be raised later today by the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. He was kind enough to copy to me the e-mail that he sent to the Minister giving notice of his intention. I am grateful to him for his courtesy and look forward to listening to him.
We were briefly reminded in an intervention by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, that a regrettable feature of the Bill is how much of it has not yet been scrutinised by Parliament. In another place, the Bill grew by a third in length due to government amendments. Yet many of these were not—and could never be—examined by another place. Over 120 government amendments, 12 new clauses and the new Schedule 8 on carriers' liability were guillotined in Committee and on Report. One-quarter of the Bill which left Standing Committee in another place was never discussed as a result of the operation of the timetable Motion.
It was constitutionally impossible for my honourable friend Mr Letwin to amend new Clauses 82 and 101, which were introduced in another place on Report as new Clauses 14 and 15. These provisions will not only deeply affect the lives and the sense of fair play of certain individuals; they are also highly contentious in respect of their compatibility with the Human Rights Act. We believe that some parts of Clauses 82 and 101 will have to be disentangled from the other provisions with which we agree in order to ensure that they work more fairly.
In conclusion, immigration and asylum are among the most emotive issues facing us today. That will continue to be so. As the representative of the UNHCR said at the briefing meeting on the Bill last week, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, an asylum system is more likely to be cost effective and work properly if it provides humane treatment with appropriate standards of care and fair procedures. We believe that much of Bill tries to achieve that, but not all. We look forward to improving it.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Lord Dholakia
My Lords, perhaps I may take this opportunity to thank the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, for arranging a meeting with Members of this House which was addressed by the deputy director-general of the immigration and nationality division, Dr Chris Mace. We found the meeting extremely helpful. We 1098 understand the problem that the Government are facing, but we do not necessarily subscribe to some of the solutions offered in the Bill.
Perhaps I may also welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, to her Front Bench duties. This particular task is not new to her. She has rightly identified some of the crucial areas for debate and we are in sympathy with the points that she has made. Let us hope that in Committee and at other stages we can co-operate to make the Bill better than it is at present. At the same time, perhaps I may say how sad we are to lose the services of the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, whose contribution and friendship are always valued.
I want to make one complaint about a matter which is not for the Minister but for the usual channels. Three consecutive days have been set aside for the Committee stage. That time limit makes it almost impossible. The Opposition Benches do not have the kind of resources that are available to the Government. To be able to deal with a substantial number of amendments in three days is an impossible task—bearing in mind the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, that the Bill hardly received the type of scrutiny that it should have received in the Commons, and we are possibly faced with the same position in this House. I hope that the usual channels will take note of this and that we shall never again be faced with such a situation.
I should also like to thank a large number of immigration agencies which have helped us in terms of providing briefing about the issues identified in the Bill.
This is the fourth Bill in 10 years. We do not dispute that the United Kingdom's asylum and immigration system requires radical reform. When the White Paper, Secure Borders, Safe Haven was published in February, we welcomed measures that were designed to provide a more holistic approach.
Immigration and asylum maters are fairly emotive, as has rightly been pointed out. Despite the nature and effects of all past and present legislative measures, the circumstances surrounding them remain fairly contentious. We do not dispute that immigration policy must protect our national interest. However, no country can remain static if it is to benefit from social and economic changes taking place in the world community. We must respond to that change.
There is a serious flaw at the heart of the Government's immigration and asylum legislation. Too often, fairness has been sacrificed in preference for a firmer policy. The heavy emphasis on excluding the ineligible rather than giving prompt attention to the rights of those who are eligible has led to administrative practices which result in particular adverse effects on genuine entrants to the United Kingdom; and it does not help when it seems central to the Government's thinking.
I repeat a point that I have made previously. Is it not a fact that the greater the emphasis on excluding the ineligible, the more extensive the legislative checks must be? The more complicated they are to administer, 1099 the greater is the delay and hardship for those who are eligible and the greater is the concern about their welfare.
Is it any surprise, if such measures are taken to extreme in matters which are not susceptible to documentary proof, as is the case with victims of torture and persecution, that our obligation under the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees must be questionable?
The history of immigration is littered with ill-conceived measures. Perhaps I may give an example. In the 1950s, the Labour government set up an interdepartmental committee to consider the possibility of legislative and administrative methods to deal with the matter of immigrants. So preoccupied were Ministers with the numbers entering the UK that the welfare and integration of the newcomers was not even discussed. In fact, at the time, the key policy recommendations were that:any solution depending on an apparent or concealed colour test would be so invidious as to be impossible of adoption. Never the less it has to be recognised that the use of any powers taken to restrict the free entry of British subjects to this country would, as a general rule, be more or less confined to coloured persons".I believe that a similar cycle is recurring.
Therefore, is it any surprise that all immigration and asylum legislation since the 1950s has been based on such exclusions? We rely more on the tabloid newspapers than on social research. We fail to appreciate that there are changes taking place throughout the world. We are now part of a global economy. Migration on an international scale has helped to contribute towards the prosperity of many of the western nations. Let us consider the huge economic benefits to the countries that have adapted to the change. America, Canada and some of the European countries are a case in point.
I want to deal with two broad areas where immigration has positively benefited the United Kingdom. The last available figures from the Labour Force Survey indicated a total of well over a million foreign nationals working legally in the UK. Therein lies one of the strengths of the financial services sector. It is estimated that one in seven City workers were born outside the United Kingdom.
The second point that we should never forget is that, for decades, there was substantial emigration—people moving out of the United Kingdom. Taken to its extreme, this has serious consequences, as I shall explain later.
It is evident that since the Immigration Act 1971, primary immigration to the United Kingdom is no longer possible. It has been cut to the bone. There is also confusion at the heart of the debate on this subject. A debate about what a modern immigration policy should look like needs to be defined. It needs to draw on complex and inter-related issues; and this must be backed by proper research. Instead, the message that we are fed, which permeates from the policy-makers, is that asylum seekers are bogus, devious and dishonest.
1100 Asylum matters require sensitive handling. The policy should focus on our moral and legal obligations. We should be less preoccupied with which political party has been most effective in adopting robust policies to deter people seeking refuge here. A start has to be made that clearly distinguishes our policy on three fronts: primary immigration, economic migrants and asylum seekers. If we clarify those areas, we are at least on the way to a rational debate on the issue. The Government have at least tried to do that in the Bill and I welcome that.
We uphold the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the right to seek political asylum. The 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees gave that right legal expression. We support that. Is it not a shame, therefore, that the convention is rendered meaningless if those in search of such protection and assistance are unable to reach the territories of state parties to the convention? While paying lip service to the convention, successive legislation has acted as a barrier to human rights protection, attempting to prevent those at risk of persecution from fleeing their persecutors.
We have seen dramatic footage of countries torn apart by war, terrorism, hunger and famine. We see images of masses of people on the run, carrying whatever possessions they can salvage. That vividly portrays the plight of destitute people. When the television cameras have gone, we no longer see the human suffering or the fear, grief and bewilderment, until we see some of them knocking on our doors. We then place them in detention—another prison, another confinement—with no guarantee that they can live here.
Asylum lasting only 10 years is a relatively new phenomenon. The entry of more than 70,000 people has skewed the debate on migration. Our aims should be not only about protecting our society and economy from external pressures. We need clarity about economic migrants and those in real fear of persecution. We need to manage the opportunities at a time when there are skills shortages in this country. We also have a declining and ageing population. Mismanaging immigration could have dire consequences for generations to come.
There is clearly no such thing as absolute control. It simply has not worked. I repeat that it will not work in the future. I was a member of the group that produced the Runnymede report on The Future of Multi-Ethnic Britain. There is a message here for politicians. First, the sense of panic that the issue instils and the subjectivity with which it is discussed lead to bad law, giving rise to challenges in the UK courts and among international human rights bodies. Secondly, it prevents or obstructs an objective and forward-looking examination of the need for the benefits of immigration. Thirdly, it undermines Britain's development as a cohesive but diverse society.
The White Paper, Secure Borders, Safe Haven. set out a number of encouraging proposals, included in the Bill, which we welcome. There is a recognition of the importance of migration to business development 1101 in particular. The work permit review has led to some welcome improvements. The Bill contains provision to amend British nationality legislation. We welcome provisions for citizenship ceremonies and for ensuring that applicants have sufficient knowledge about life in the United Kingdom before naturalisation.
I know of no one who objects to an oath or a pledge bearing allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. It is a reality that Commonwealth citizens respect Her Majesty the Queen more deeply than do some people born in this country.
However, a golden opportunity to redefine citizenship has been missed. No one will fail to give loyalty and respect the rights, freedoms and democratic values of their adopted homeland, but we have singularly failed to define what duties and obligations are all about. The confusion about Britishness and about multi-culturalism will continue unless we clearly define what citizenship is all about. It is more than signing a piece of paper pledging loyalty to an adopted homeland. Citizenship is all about interdependence, self-reliance, openness, liberty, diversity and pluralism. It is not about taking all the benefits without putting something back. It is about accepting new values and new culture, encompassing all that is good in our values and what is good in others.
Citizenship is a process determined not just by a stamp in our passport, but by values that enhance not only our status, but also the status of the country that is our adopted homeland. If, by the example of good citizenship, we contribute towards dignity, justice, fairness and equality for all our citizens, then Britishness would be less relevant. The periodic arguments about ethnicity and multi-culturalism would be also less relevant. Let us hope that Part 1 of the Bill is the first step in the right direction, but much more work is needed here.
We welcome the replacement of the voucher system with a cash system and the resettlement programme. We said that the voucher system would not work and we were proved right. However, we are concerned that reforms are outweighed by measures that will undermine the quality of protection afforded to victims of human rights violations. We are also concerned about depriving any British citizen—born, registered, or naturalized—of citizenship if the Secretary of State is satisfied that the person has done anything seriously prejudicial to the vital interest of the United Kingdom. That concern was endorsed by the Select Committee on the Constitution. We shall probe this in detail in Committee, because the principle goes to the heart of the constitution. Are we going to create a nation of refugees who have nowhere to go and no rights to enjoy? The condition of accepting British nationality is the renunciation of any other citizenship. How can a citizenship that has been renounced be restored? Equally, the dangers faced by persons of dual nationality cannot be underestimated. The Secretary of State should not be vested with such 1102 draconian powers. The courts have enough powers to deal with those who have done anything seriously prejudicial to the vital interest of the United Kingdom.
§ Lord Dubs
My Lords, I may not have heard the noble Lord correctly, but I thought that he said that a condition of taking up British citizenship was to renounce all other citizenships. I do not think that that is right. It is perfectly permissible to have more than one citizenship and to have a British passport.
§ Lord Dholakia
My Lords, I talked about dual nationality. Obviously, there is a serious problem for people with more than one nationality. However, in the majority of cases, people who take up British nationality are asked to renounce their existing citizenship. I shall be corrected if need be.
I shall refrain from commenting on the 17th report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. My noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill is a member of that committee and I look forward to his contribution on the report.
The Bill contains many proposals that affect children. At the heart of the debate must be the acceptance that refugee children are children first and refugees second. Should parents with children be housed in remote accommodation centres? Should they be denied a mainstream education? Why is the dispersal policy, which has worked in European countries, not working here? The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is the standard by which the UK's treatment of refugee children should be judged. The policy goes against the grain of our inclusive society. Going to school is a vital and integral part of helping refugees integrate from the date they arrive, even if it is for a short period. It should not be difficult to establish a dispersal policy that caters for education in schools rather than accommodation centres, removal centres or detention centres.
We are also concerned about plans to detain more people by increasing detention spaces from 2,700 to 4,000. The provision for automatic bail hearings in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 is to be repealed. If detention is to increase, there must be even more, not fewer safeguards. We have been heavily criticised by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the UNHCR and others, particularly for the lack of an independent judicial review of the decision to detain. More people are detained for longer and with less scrutiny in the United Kingdom than in any other European country. The detention process lacks natural justice. The former HM Chief Inspector of Prisons, Sir David Ramsbotham, stressed that,it is an important point of principle that when it is deemed necessary to deprive someone of his or her liberty, this should be overseen by the judicial process".It is for that reason that we supported the need for automatic bail hearings. That part of the 1999 Act was never implemented and is now to be repealed. Depriving asylum seekers of their liberty through an administrative decision made by an immigration official is unacceptable.
1103 Detention has to be justified in a court of law. Liberty of an individual is far too precious. No one should be detained indefinitely without charge and without having their decisions justified in court.
Let me take up the matter of appeal, which is contained in Part 5 of the Bill. It prohibits an asylum seeker from making an appeal while in the UK against refusal of asylum if the Secretary of State certifies their case as unfounded. It prevents an asylum seeker from appealing in the United Kingdom regardless of the merit of their claims. It is proposed that they can be removed to a third country that is considered safe.
There was no mention of that draconian measure in the White Paper. It has been pushed at a late stage of the Bill's passage through Parliament, giving the impression that once again there is a knee-jerk reaction to our overworked appeal system. It is a policy that is being made on the hoof without giving due attention to the problems that lie at the heart of the asylum system. That part of the Bill failed to receive detailed scrutiny in the Standing Committee in the other place; let us hope that we can put it right in Committee.
Finally, where do we stand on these issues? We want to make sure that, at their fourth attempt, the Government get the Bill right. We want to ensure that while recognising the right of a country to determine its immigration policy, it should never override the protection of those who are victims of torture and persecution. We want to ensure that those waiting for decisions on their claims must be supported with proper advice in a cost-effective way. We want the dispersal policy to work but it must never be exclusive so far as the development of children is concerned. We want to ensure that detention policies should contain more, not fewer, safeguards.
The new asylum package, which is not even part of the Bill, gives the game away. We shall certainly wait for further measures to be proposed in this regard. Above all, we need to raise the level of political debates on these issues. So far, we have failed to give a lead but there is still time to tackle poverty, disease, hunger, war and terrorism, which are at the root of the process of global migration. It requires a global solution and it simply will not go away.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Oxford
My Lords, we are all highly conscious that the issue that we are considering this afternoon is a very serious one, both because it involves the safety of genuine asylum seekers and because of the wider political background in this country and Europe. It is crucial that the public should have confidence in our asylum and immigration policies. It is therefore somewhat disturbing, as has already been indicated, that there have been four Bills in 10 years on this subject. It is vital that the Government get it right this time.
It is not only legitimate but essential that this country, like others, should have an immigration policy that is transparent, fair and non-racist. That policy could be based on the nation state as an economic entity. We need to and should value having 1104 a certain number of people who come every year to fill job vacancies and who wish to share our democratic way of life, whether they are professional or nonprofessional and skilled or non-skilled. The fact is that immigrants have made and continue to make a huge contribution to our economic life, as well as our life in other respects. It is also worth reminding ourselves that 150,000 British citizens emigrate every year.
I begin in this way because if we have an honourable immigration policy—one that is clear, fair and non racist and one that has a rational basis and which is supported by the general public—it is essential to that policy that illegal immigrants are deterred and that economic migrants, however much sympathy we can and do have for them, should not be allowed entry under the different category of "asylum seekers". I therefore understand and sympathise with the policy of this Government and previous governments in trying to achieve a system in which genuine asylum seekers are identified and supported and in which those whose asylum claims are unfounded should be returned to their own country. That makes for many sad and heartbreaking cases. But if it is clone humanely—against the background of a clear, fair and non-racist immigration policy—it is not a dishonourable policy.
I therefore support the general thrust of the Bill, which is to identify and support genuine asylum seekers and, as quickly and humanely as possible, to return those whose claims are not accepted to their country of origin.
Against the criteria of what is humane, I very much welcome the end of the voucher system. My concerns about the issues of accommodation and education of children will be raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans.
I want to focus on only two clauses in the Bill: those to do with bail provision and rights of appeal. Detention may be a regrettable necessity but it should be used only if it is strictly necessary. There should therefore be the maximum opportunity for people to live in the community on bail. The introduction of automatic bail hearing provisions in Part III of the 1990 Act was seen as a small step towards greater judicial oversight of detention. However, despite several implementation dates being announced, Part III was never implemented and is now to be repealed under Clause 57. That will mean that many asylum seekers will continue to be deprived of their liberty as a result of administrative decisions that are made by immigration officials and that do not have to be justified in any court.
Although asylum seekers will not be prevented from applying for bail for themselves, the proposed repeal of Part III is alarming for a number of reasons. First, asylum seekers may not know that they have the right to apply for bail. Secondly, asking asylum seekers to provide sureties is unrealistic. They have to find someone to guarantee that they will comply with asylum procedures and, in most cases, provide a cash sum that can run to several thousand pounds. Thirdly, lawyers often feel that the requirement for surety 1105 means that potential bail cases do not reach the merits threshold that is necessary for them to be publicly funded.
The Immigration Law Practitioners Association, for example, is very concerned about the large number of detainees who remain in detention purely because, as asylum seekers who are newly arrived in the United Kingdom, they do not know two people who are able to stand surety for them. The onus should remain on the Home Secretary to show why detention is necessary in any particular case.
The Medical Foundation views that repeal with equally grave concern. It argues that the implementation of those provisions in the 1999 Act is essential to ensure compliance with Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Government seek to justify repeal by stating that the number of asylum seekers being held in detention has increased substantially since 1999. That in no way justifies the abolition of a much-needed legal remedy against arbitrary detention; on the contrary, it reinforces its most urgent need.
So long as detention of asylum seekers is genuinely used in circumstances in which it is demonstrably necessary to ensure removal, there is no reason to believe that routine bail hearings, as provided for in Part III of the 1999 Act, would significantly interfere with the efficacy of the asylum determination and removal process. In Standing Committee E in the House of Commons, Ministers claimed that, with a detention estate of 4,000 places, implementation of Part III of the 1999 Act would result in the Immigration Appellate Authority having to deal with 37,200 bail hearings per year rather than with 12,000 per year under existing bail provisions. However, Ministers did not say how they arrived at the figure of 37,200 bail hearings per year. Some experts consider it to be open to serious doubt. If detention was used mainly at the later stages of the asylum determination process in order to ensure the removal of failed asylum seekers, it would be of relatively short duration and the necessary number of routine bail hearings would be reduced accordingly.
My other main concern is about the abolition or restriction of certain rights of appeal. Success at appeal for asylum seekers currently runs, I understand, at about 30 per cent. That is a very high percentage. But the legislation before us proposes removing the vital suspensive effect of an appeal in "clearly unfounded" cases and restricting the right to seek judicial review in the courts.
There is particular concern in relation to Clause 82. Subsection (2) prohibits an asylum seeker making an appeal against refusal of asylum while in the UK if the Secretary of State certifies his case as unfounded. Subsection (3) prevents an asylum seeker appealing in the UK, regardless of the merits of his claim, if it is proposed that he can be removed to a third country which is considered safe. But an appeal against failure to protect against persecution will clearly be meaningless if it is to be carried out from the very country where such threat to life or freedom occurs.
1106 An appeal against refusal from a third country outside the UK, such as a European state, will be equally meaningless. Removal to a third country will make it extremely difficult to appeal against unfair and arbitrary decision-making. What legal basis does an asylum seeker have to remain in, for example, France while pursuing an out-of-country appeal against unfair refusal of his claim in the United Kingdom? Even if an asylum seeker were to remain in a third country while pursuing an appeal against an unfair decision, he would be unable to access the necessary welfare entitlements or legal resources to pursue his appeal.
Finally, refusals of asylum revolve principally around the credibility of the applicant. Adjudicators require the presence of the applicant in order to make findings on credibility. Paper appeals generally fail as a result of that. Therefore, an appeal from outside the UK would usually fail automatically and be worthless, as indeed was the case before the introduction of the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993, which established an in-country right of appeal.
I recognise that government have a very difficult task. On the one hand, they must identify genuine asylum seekers and support them and, on the other, ensure that those whose claims are unfounded are dealt with as quickly and humanely as possible. But I do not believe that we can or should pursue the latter aim by dismantling or restricting safeguards which we regard as basic in other areas of law or by keeping people in detention a moment longer than is absolutely necessary. For those reasons, I should like to see regular bail hearings and the right of appeal restored to all asylum seekers, including those whose original application is judged to be "clearly unfounded".
§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, first, I apologise to the House because a tug-of-war is to take place between your Lordships' House and the House of Commons. I shall have to leave in order to do my duty on that front. Therefore, I hope that I shall be forgiven if I am not present for the debate later in the day.
I came to this country with a work permit 37 years ago. I hope that that will be considered to be an argument in favour of and not against work permits. My general point is that the policy on immigration and asylum followed not only by our country but by Europe is totally and utterly wrong. It makes no economic sense in the context of the long-term needs of Europe where the level of the population is falling and where, as we know, we shall have difficulty sustaining our pensions because we shall not have enough able-bodied people to work. As was shown in a UN report two or three years ago, Europe will need something like 150 million to 200 million extra people in order for the age distribution to be sustained to a point where pensions are easily affordable. That report had to be suppressed. I believe that, for obvious reasons, the EU asked the UN not to release it.
Therefore, in a sense, I believe that we are being active in the wrong way. The United States has always had a better policy on immigration and has therefore 1107 benefited from immigration, both legal and illegal, in a way that Europe has not. It is not that Europe is more crowded than America or that somehow we cannot afford immigration. It is simply that Europe is far more xenophobic—I shall not use the word "racist"—than America.
Many things that we take for granted about immigration are wrong; for example, that people who want to come to this country are absolutely unwelcome unless they can somehow prove they are completely destitute, in need of asylum and so on. In the context of the long-term needs of the economy, an ideal immigration policy would say that it makes far more sense for people to be admitted, trained and integrated. I do not believe that we are achieving that with our immigration policy. We are saying openly in the Bill that we shall welcome people in certain highly skilled categories. That is very good. We shall have a far more liberal work permit scheme. That should be welcomed. But we have arrived at that position too late.
However, it is not simply the case that the economy needs highly skilled people; it also needs unskilled people. It is a fallacy to believe that we need only software programmers and not plumbers or building workers. Perhaps not now but in the future, we should examine far more carefully the areas where there is need for more people. If a ready supply of people who want to come to this country is available, we should not ask ourselves why they are coming here; we should ask how we can get more to come.
It is a paradox of globalisation that we readily welcome the free movement of capital—indeed, we strongly urge other countries to adopt free movement of capital—but are very reluctant to adopt the free movement of labour. In my view, the reason is that a nation state is an enemy of the free movement of labour. Historically, we have afforded greater privileges to citizens than to foreigners. Because citizens receive welfare rights, we do not want any old foreigners, no matter how destitute, coming to this country and suddenly obtaining rights which we have earned over a long time.
Thereby hangs a paradox. We cannot admit to ourselves that some people can be admitted on a half ration, as it were. We do not want to do that. We admit people only on a full ration. But, given that we admit people only on a full ration, we do not want to admit them at all. That is the paradox.
In America, before I came to this country, I was eligible to apply for a green card before becoming a citizen. Having a green card made me eligible not to vote but to be drafted. That is when I left. The important point is that half the categories of people who are not yet full citizens and who are not yet fully entitled to rights can be placed in a kind of entrance hall. At that stage, one can say that certain citizenship duties must be fulfilled before a person can become a citizen.
Again, we are reluctant to do that, and that is why we get into a muddle. Ours are all-or-nothing policies. Either a person is fully a citizen or he is not: there are 1108 no categories in between. Therefore, we send back economic migrants who are perfectly rational creatures and who would help us if they came to our country. But we cannot admit economic migrants. We can admit only people who come here involuntarily because they are in trouble. Therefore, we discourage voluntary migration and encourage involuntary migration. That is a paradox which we should consider more carefully. I do not believe that very much will happen in the Bill with regard to that, but perhaps we shall all think a little more about how to separate out genuine asylum seekers from economic migrants. Having done that, we should not regard economic migrants as being below contempt and send them back to their countries as soon as possible. Instead, perhaps we could find half-way houses for them. We could provide them with temporary permits so that they could work here and eventually, after five years or so, return to their countries. If we did that, we would get more benefit from economic migration and less hassle than we have at present.
We have set impossible standards for ourselves. We insist that everyone we allow in has to be a full citizen, not a half-citizen. We must remember how valuable refugees can be and have been in the past. I should declare an interest as a member of the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics. As the council's recent paper shows, since 1933 it has supported 18 Nobel Laureates and over 100 members of the Royal Society and the British Academy. All those people came as refugees. However, because in the 1930s they came as refugees from European countries, we were much kinder to them than we are to refugees from non-European countries. We must examine our—
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for giving way. I have looked at the debates. In 1904 and 1905 the reception given to people who came here, largely from Russia and other countries, was appalling. Whether they were white did not matter. Does my noble friend recognise that since 1904 many of those people have made a real contribution to this country, like my noble friend?
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, I recognise that. I remember Tom Mann, who was a leading trade unionist, going to the dockside and saying to his people, "You are our brothers but I wish you had not come". But they came and made a good contribution. The fact that people are unwelcome at one time does not mean that they cannot make good contributions. Most short-term judgments are wrong in that respect.
We complain about people having to stay here pending appeal or about people who cannot be deported although their applications have not been accepted. It would be a good idea at some stage—I do not know how we can do it—to find a way of using such people in a productive way, which we have not done. Many of those people are no doubt talented. Many asylum seekers may be doctors, teachers" or other professionals. They are not all "ragged" people. We need to take a more positive attitude to migration and asylum.
1109 I have heard mention of biometric evidence. As a frequent flyer to New York I have a visa which allows me to go through much faster than anyone else because my palm print is on the record. Apparently, a palm print is a unique identifier and is much less intrusive than many other means of identification. If Americans can do it, we should be able to get it done properly. Therefore, people who apply for asylum should perhaps be asked to give a palm print, which could be stored.
The problem is that we are not willing to admit people because we do not want to give them full rights. When they come we cannot process them quickly. Therefore, we have a problem with delays building up. As delays build up, the press and various other racist opinion force us to treat those people very badly indeed. We should be able to have such people in some type of half-way house so that, first, while they are here, we know who they are and where they are so that they can be traced; and secondly, they can be used productively so that whether they stay or go, at least while they are here we can benefit from their presence and they can benefit from spending their time here in a productive way rather than in a sad way.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ Lord Best
My Lords, I want to raise the key issue mentioned by the Minister of the integration of those asylum seekers who are given leave to remain as refugees. My particular concern is about the housing of those who are dispersed away from London and the South, mostly to the conurbations of the North. When those asylum seekers hear the good news that they have been given refugee status, they are also informed that they will have only 28 days in which to move out of the accommodation which has been provided for them by the National Asylum Support Service (NASS).
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, of which I am director, is funding an asylum seekers and refugees housing network, organised for us by the Housing Associations' Charitable Trust. As a member of that network I have been able to meet a number of asylum seekers and refugees and learn about the housing difficulties which they face. In effect, a decision on their status, paradoxically, is also an eviction notice.
Of course, their new homes must be vacated when they become entitled to stay in this country to make way for another asylum-seeking household. But I suggest that the obligation to leave within 28 days is, for many, unreasonable. In particular, if those decisions are now expected to come through much more quickly, the timescale for those households to become in any way integrated in the locality—including in learning the English language—is too short. It can take several weeks after getting refugee status to get a national insurance number, without which formal work or any benefits cannot be obtained. Within the period of four weeks the household will also need to find accommodation and work their way through the incredible tangle of the housing benefit 1110 system. Although the nation has accepted them as residents in this country, the chances of integration, fitting into the community and getting a job, are slim with such a tight timetable.
For those of us concerned with overall housing shortages—the latest statistics show another rise in homelessness—that presents extra challenges. Although people have been dispersed as asylum seekers to areas of relatively low demand for housing, if they receive no help in staying there, it is likely that many will return very swiftly to London and the South East where they have contacts and networks. Families will then present themselves to the London Boroughs as homeless, and despite the pressures in London, those local authorities will have an obligation to find them housing. That is exactly the outcome which the policy of dispersal was intended to avoid.
I suggest two ways in which pressures on London and the South East can be eased, a further escalation in the homelessness crisis can be avoided and the families and individuals can be given a much greater chance of integrating into the local communities to which they have been sent. First, if the period for the notice to leave, currently 28 days, was extended to two months, a little more time would be bought for those households to obtain a national insurance number, receive the guidance they need and find the accommodation they require. The cost of an extra month's rent will not be high as the accommodation will not be in a high-priced area, but it could greatly increase the chance of the household staying in the neighbourhood to which they have been dispersed and settling there. There are promising signs in some places that the policy of dispersal is beginning to work and new communities are forming. That process could be much helped by giving those the right to remain another month before they are required to leave their home.
My second suggestion is that during the period of grace, before the refugee household is evicted, there should be an obligation on the Home Office to ensure that help and support are available. Currently what help is available comes haphazardly from the private sector housing providers, which are not paid to do this extra work, from local authorities, from excellent community refugee organisations, faith communities, housing associations and others. But there are no formal mechanisms for making certain that such help is given.
In the same way that the Homelessness Bill was amended by your Lordships to improve the service of advice and guidance which local authorities are obliged to give to those in severe housing need, so too an amendment to this Bill could help ensure that people obtain the support they need in form-filling, a search for a property, introductions to reputable landlords and the rest.
Without those two measures I fear escalating problems of homelessness which will exacerbate problems in London, undermine the policy of dispersal and sabotage the prospects of integration for many refugee households. I hope that the Minister will be able to make a reassuring statement on that issue.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Lord Judd
My Lords, I must declare an interest as the President of YMCA (England), which does work with refugees and asylum seekers, and as a member of the Oxfam Association.
I am concerned to learn that much of the Committee stage of this Bill will occur when I have to be in Russia and Chechnya on Council of Europe business. I regret that I shall not be here for those proceedings.
At the outset of my remarks I pay tribute to the many non-governmental organisations working in the front line of what this Bill is all about. Their insight and briefings are always invaluable.
In welcoming my noble friend to his first major Front- Bench assignment in his new ministerial role, we should not underestimate the burden he is carrying. He brings to the task a great deal of relevant professional experience. We wish him well. This whole realm of policy is extraordinarily complex and highly demanding; it is also emotionally charged. We should all have the humility to keep asking ourselves what we would be doing and what we would be advocating if we were in my noble friend's place. Our criticisms will therefore, I hope, be constructive.
Having said that, I hope that my noble friend, for his part, will avoid tilting at windmills as a distraction from recognising the validity of criticism that may be made. Nobody that I have heard in this House advocates an open-door policy. It is not on the agenda. It is not a practical possibility. On the other hand, everybody that I have heard recognises that there is a challenge which must be faced. The debate is about how to face it.
There is a good deal in the new policy to be welcomed; for example, the abolition of humiliating vouchers; the concept of positive resettlement programmes; and the attention to citizenship, even if that raises issues about how far those whose citizenship is established and unquestioned would always understand what we shall expect newcomers to understand. Meanwhile, the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, was right to raise anxieties about provisions for the removal of citizenship in certain circumstances.
But the context in which we approach legislation and the perceived motivation behind it are crucial to its success. If we are to give a lead in finding the right way forward based on firmness and justice in the protection of refugees, it is, for example, essential to be accurate about the dimensions of the challenge we face. We must not allow sensationalism in some less responsible quarters of the tabloid press to lead us by the nose into a world of hyped illusion. We must be clear about whether numbers are accelerating or declining and, whichever it is, by how much. We also need to be clear about total numbers. It is frankly disturbing, as we have said before in this House, that recent research demonstrates that many people in the United Kingdom believe the numbers involved here to be 10 times as large as they really are.
That does not mean that there is not a social challenge in immigration to be addressed. But it does mean that we must at all costs avoid inadvertently 1112 pandering to that exaggeration and allowing it to influence our actions. To do that would be particularly sad when there is also so much reliable evidence that the majority of people in the United Kingdom are well informed and deeply concerned about the pressures and persecution that force people to uproot and move. We should be building on that concern with far more information about the waves of immigration we have so well accommodated in our nation's past and about the great contribution made by those immigrants and their descendants—not least in government and Parliament—to the strength of the United Kingdom.
We must be careful at all times about language and the messages it sends. Nuances matter greatly. There is a significant difference between saying in effect, "While of course there are legitimate asylum seekers, our main preoccupation and priority is to repatriate bogus asylum seekers", and saying, "While of course there are those who are not legitimate asylum seekers, whatever the pressures that led them to move—and we must deal appropriately with that—our main preoccupation and priority remains to stand by and protect those whose need is real".
Similarly, to rename detention centres "removal centres" indicates a very clear primary preoccupation to refugees and the public alike. When claims are made about "success rates" achieved in repatriation, the implications are again obvious. The word "success", if it is to be used, should refer to success in protecting those at risk. What we should surely want to be able to claim is effectiveness in determining cases and ensuring the safe repatriation of those who do not qualify, always assuming that safe repatriation is indeed what we are achieving.
Meanwhile, however they originated, headlines about the Royal Air Force repatriating by the plane load those who do not qualify, hardly assists in encouraging support and positive public attitudes. To describe the 1951 convention as having been introduced in a different world and being in need of revision because of its current operational implications, can all too easily be open to the interpretation that, because of the scale of the refugee challenge, the principle enshrined in the convention has become inconvenient. That leads us into dangerous waters, if principles become seen as variable in the face of expediency. Again, this is why it is imperative constantly to keep clearly in mind the grim realities that compel people to leave their homes and move.
Clearly, effective international action which works is needed if the challenges are to be met. But in our approach to co-ordinated European Union action we must be careful not just to shove the burden on to those outside the European Union in Europe and beyond. Whatever the necessary immediate action, the international policies, if they are to prove effective, cannot simply be about controlling entry; they must also be about resources for economic and social development in deprived parts of the world; they must be about the fair trading system which enables the deprived meaningfully to join and benefit from global economic activity; they must be about environmental policies (global warming will yet dwarf our present migration difficulties); they must be about pre-emptive 1113 diplomacy, peacemaking, peace-keeping, conflict resolution and security sector, military and civil, reform. They must be about building and resourcing convincing systems of justice throughout the world. But they must also be about effective economic and social policies here in Europe, not least on housing. Too frequently the main burden of migration falls on those least well equipped to carry it—the relatively poor and disadvantaged. It is in a socially dynamic situation that integration will be most easily accomplished.
Without the matrix approach we shall be like bad doctors, frantically treating the symptoms but ignoring the causes of the illness. Candidly, I am far from relaxed about the distinctions drawn between refugees in general and asylum seekers, and indeed between them both and so-called economic refugees and migrants. The anxieties, stress, pressures and suffering which lead economic refugees or migrants to move can be appalling. Here in the United Kingdom if a steel mill or a car plant closes, the people thrown out of work who go off in search of a new life for themselves and family elsewhere in the country are seen as model citizens. Yet despite all our rhetoric about a globalised economy, the people who have no alternative but to do the same thing across frontiers are frequently regarded as pariahs—the very term "economic refugee" or "economic migrant" can be used to denigrate.
We have the free movement of capital across the world, but not of labour. So long as that imbalance remains unaddressed, there will be an inevitability about people-trafficking, fed by human need and economic forces as the market adjusts itself. Such a massive distortion in the global market makes the matrix of social and economic intervention polices to which I referred indispensable. There is no option. What is in effect our hypocrisy can at times be grotesque. We have rightly called for tough action against cynical and cruel traffickers, but at the same time we have enjoyed the menial low-paid services provided to the economy and to society by illegal immigrants.
On children, the Bill does not self-evidently reflect the spirit of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Indeed, it is distressing that the Government have entered a reservation on that convention as it applies to refugee children. As the British Refugee Council and others insist, children are children first and refugees second. Surely we all agree on that. It is unacceptable that innocent children should ever be compelled to be in detention. And the arrangements for education of children who will have endured great trauma should be convincing. Those arrangements should contribute to and in no way inhibit integration for children who, ultimately, will stay. That is why there is so much room for doubt about what is proposed in terms of segregated education. Access to nursery education in the community is perhaps one of the single most important contributions that can be made to effective integration.
1114 On support, the Bill leaves a good deal of room for anxiety. If in our general social welfare provisions for British citizens we have established a minimum standard below which people should never fall, what possible justification can there be for refugees being expected to survive below that level? Are they not people too? The prospect of the "support only" arrangements being withdrawn from any refugee is disquieting. The infirm may well understandably decide to stay on with family and friends, even if the authorities want them to leave. That could increase the burdens on the already socially hard-pressed.
The accommodation centres raise a number of questions. How will they be evaluated and by whom? What are the risks of institutionalisation, particularly if, despite good intentions, stays in them prove, for some at least, to be considerably longer than anticipated? Is there room for a legal maximum on the length of stay? Will the centres not prove to be too big and isolated? What about access to a meaningful range of services? Would smaller community-related centres be a better proposition? What of guaranteed access to legal advice? Has there been enough consideration of the well-being of single women in such centres? Of course, there is the issue of education. The creation of those centres seems to involve much effort and resources for what may be only 10 per cent of total numbers. Can we be certain that there is not an unhealthy element of public relations and tokenism governing policy in that respect, and could the resources be put to more convincing use?
Arguably, the greatest single area of doubt surrounds the legal dimensions of the Bill. Does my noble friend accept that experience repeatedly demonstrates that the constant availability from day one of good legal advice helps—not hinders—the administration of policy in that fraught sphere? Is not the absence of proper legal scrutiny of executive action always wrong? Why is there no general right of appeal or of judicial review while still in the United Kingdom? How can the removal of automatic bail hearings for those detained be justified? I know that it has been argued that the provision for such hearings can be used to frustrate the administrative process—that is a dubious argument in itself—but where is the evidence for that? As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford has pointed out, such hearings have not yet been introduced.
Again, as the right reverend Prelate argued, to enable appeals to be pursued from outside the United Kingdom after removal is hardly convincing. Is it really suggested that it makes sense for someone to be expected to appeal from their country of origin when that is the very country in which they claim to be in jeopardy? What about making an appeal from a third country? Can we be certain that the applicant will have the right to stay in the country during the appeal? To take just the European Union, the absence of harmonised interpretation of the convention is highly relevant; for example, some member countries accept the danger of persecution by non-state agents and others do not. Above all, as the right reverend Prelate 1115 argued, in the appeal procedure the credibility of the applicant is crucial, but the applicant will not be available.
Surely it is significant that currently one third of Home Office decisions are overturned and some experts believe that with good legal advice it would be more. What exactly is the Bill about in that respect? The qualifications and training of officials making what can be life and death decisions should also be taken more seriously. At present, the situation is far from consistently reassuring. Similarly, medical evidence, both physical and psychological, is still not always taken as seriously as it should be. There is then the worry about the list of so-called safe countries. Could we not now, as has already been suggested, take the opportunity of the Bill to introduce arrangements for independent assessment?
The great statesmen of the post-Second World War era had vision and determination. They had come through a terrible conflict. In the Declaration of Human Rights and the Refugee Convention, they crafted statements of what they knew to be essential if civilised values were to prevail and extremism of right, left or any other kind was to be defeated. They were not woolly people; they were tough realists. They had far fewer economic resources at their disposal than we have. I wonder how they would react to our current neurotic preoccupations, weighing deterrence against protection. One measure of the quality of our civilised values and of our compassion must surely be how we treat the most vulnerable in our midst.
As the Jubilee and many sporting occasions like the World Cup remind us, diversity is the joy of creation not a threat. It is something to be enjoyed and celebrated—not smothered. Positive approaches to immigration, refugees and asylum will make the outcome more successful. A negative culture surrounding the legislation, however important, will inevitably he self-fulfilling in making a cheerful self-confident, multi-cultural society with effective integration more difficult to achieve.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, when the Home Secretary introduced the Bill on 24th April he said that he hoped that there would be unanimity as to its contents. He assumed that any disagreement expressed at that time was simply due to misunderstanding and could easily be cleared up.
What has happened? We have just heard several speeches that must sound to the Minister—for whom I have the greatest compassion—rather unlike sweetness and light. During the past eight weeks, in the House of Commons large parts of the Bill have been re-written and expanded and a number of further amendments have been promised by the Home Secretary for introduction in this House.
Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights has produced a long report making a number of criticisms of the Bill on the grounds of human rights, and in particular in relation to the treatment of children. The House of Lords Select Committee on the 1116 Constitution has drawn attention to what it regards as a major change to our country's constitution to 'which the House should give serious attention. If the Bill as it stands becomes law, for the first time the Secretary of State will be able to deprive a British-born citizen of his or her citizenship if he or she has another citizenship as well. That is no small matter.
The Prime Minister has just returned from the European summit in Seville and has reported in a carefully spun way a number of impending changes to Europe's asylum arrangements, some of which are likely, directly or indirectly, to affect the Bill. He has agreed, as we heard earlier, contrary to the Government's stated intention, to go along with a European joint operation to police Europe's external borders, which presumably includes the United Kingdom's entire coastline, our ports and our airports, thus creating, without delay, harmonised border controls.
Will such impending harmonisation, along with other decisions taken at Seville, render parts of this Bill redundant or call for strengthening of some clauses or even new clauses? The truth of the matter is that in dealing with the Bill the House is aiming at a moving target. At the outset and in the original White Paper the Home Secretary said that we need a balanced approach. Of course, he is absolutely right.
The trouble is that the weights keep changing on each side of the scale. The balance involves so many people for whom the Bill is vital: those genuine and desperately seeking asylum under international law; those who seek a better life by emigrating legally or illegally to this country; and our own citizens, British born or naturalised, whose liberty and life chances Parliament exists to protect. We must never forget that.
If a proper balance is to be achieved, exceptionally careful and conscientious consideration will he demanded from all noble Lords on all sides of the House. From the speeches we have heard so far" the signs are that that will happen.
To save time in Committee, I should like to ask the Minister three questions at this stage: a general question on the Seville summit's effect on the Bill, and two questions about detailed provisions affecting Scotland. First, how do the Government see decisions in Seville broadly affecting the number of asylum seekers and aspiring immigrants—legal and illegal—who have to be dealt with in this country in the short and long term? The Prime Minister must have taken that issue into consideration in all his contributions to the debate in Seville. He must have had expectations which perhaps the Minister will give us.
Anticipated numbers are critical in considering many parts of the Bill: accommodation centres; the speed of processing; the follow up of refusals and so on. The Prime Minister was unable to persuade his colleagues that the European Union should withhold aid from countries that fail to co-operate in returning whence they came those found to be illegal immigrants and those who fail to be accepted as asylum seekers. Since our problems with illegal entry from France have 1117 not been catered for at Seville, is there likely to be an agreement soon with France, and if so, how soon? What will be the Seville summit's effects on the broad numbers to be catered for by the Bill? That is relevant and important.
Secondly, I ask about Clauses 126 and 127, which are the only clauses that do not apply to Scotland. I appreciate that they create a new offence for trafficking in prostitution and that, unlike the rest of the Bill, they are technically not concerned with matters reserved for Westminster. But the international promotion of prostitution in or from the UK is not going to stop south or north of the Scottish Border. People may be landed in Edinburgh with a view to their working in London, or landed in Hull with a view to working in Glasgow. If different legislation is enacted in the Scottish Parliament or already exists in Scottish law, or if the Scottish Parliament does not legislate at all, how will that affect Clauses 126 and 127? Has the Scottish Parliament ever considered the matter? I should be grateful if the Minister would answer that question, or if he would write to me. I realise that the issue is complicated, but it is important the House should get it right. It is a devolution matter and we must not make a mistake.
The third question is one of fact. Paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 deals with citizenship ceremonies, oaths and pledges. Paragraph 2 inserts into Schedule 5 to the British Nationality Act 1981 a requirement for aspiring United Kingdom citizens to swear an oath of allegiance to "Queen Elizabeth the Second". Scotland never had Elizabeth I as Queen. Therefore, the oath of allegiance in the United Kingdom Parliament in this House and another place is simply to Queen Elizabeth, not Queen Elizabeth II. That takes account of the facts of the United Kingdom.
I understand that an amendment was tabled in another place to bring the Bill into line, but it was not selected for discussion. The point has to be made by a Scots speaker. It is essential that the Bill be changed. Can I take it that the Government will table the necessary amendment? We should not take up the House's time with a long argument about whether the Queen is Elizabeth I or Elizabeth II. A slip-up has been made that should be corrected as soon as possible.
Much of the Bill is good. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, who said that we must all imagine what it is like to be the Minister, who has to put into practice policies that will work in a country where the balance of all those concerned must be maintained. I am sympathetic, and I expect other noble Lords on this side of the House are too. But it is a moving target and there is much work to be done in this House. I look forward to the Committee stage.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Baroness Uddin
My Lords, I too must excuse myself for not being here later. Sadly, I am not dressed for a tug-of-war like my noble friend Lord Desai, but I shall be attending a long-arranged meeting to discuss violence against women.
1118 I congratulate my right honourable friend the Home Secretary on changing in the White Paper the basis of immigration policy, founded on racist principles for the past 30 years or so, to one based on the UK's economic and social needs.
I fear that I cannot be so complimentary about some parts of the Bill or certain sections of the White Paper. I wish to begin by examining the damage that is done when asylum seekers are scapegoated, because it does not end there. Asylum seekers have become synonymous with illegal entrants, even though there is no legal route for entry. However, I applaud the Home Secretary's commitment to open up such a route. Illegal entrants in turn are regarded as back-door immigrants, and so the connection, however perverse, is made with those who have settled here lawfully for generations. I learn every week of British women and children who are attacked and told to "go back home".
Intolerance towards certain sections of the minority community has come full circle to the days of the "rivers of blood" speech. Even the most settled and longstanding British citizens are again feeling unsafe and unprotected by the state. Against that background, it was ill advised for the Home Secretary to allow into the White Paper the comment that the Government expect British citizens from ethnic minority communities increasingly to marry within the UK.
Unwise subsequent comments on the "isolationist behaviour" of certain communities feed the irrational frenzy of bigots and racists. They have rightly been met with understandable outrage from much of our community, which does not see the Home Secretary's responsibility as including telling members of one section of British society whom they should marry. It also demonstrates that even at the heart of the Government we allow the continued and unhelpful link to settled communities of the current issues of migration, immigration and nationality.
While I hear that such statements may have been an innocent forecasting of social trends, the impact of tying them with the plight of Asian women in Britain seriously undermines any good intention and directly gives out the unwelcoming message that they have never been accepted as part of society. That lack of sensitivity, in addition to the issues raised of citizenship, loyalty and language, is unwelcome in the context of nationality and immigration. Are we surprised that those messages are picked up in media attacks on asylum seekers and economic migrants, which many of us had hoped would be countered by firm leadership, direction and good example from the Government?
It has to be said: those who play with fire should not complain if they get burned. I must say to the Government that they should not tacitly expect the media to build up antipathy towards asylum seekers in order to deter them coming here and certainly should not be surprised at the impact on members of ethnic communities who have been British citizens for generations. We need leadership to state that such 1119 attacks against asylum seekers are unacceptable not least because of their knock-on effects on the streets of inner cities.
Secondly, together with a number of the national NGOs—the Immigration Advisory Service in particular—I am concerned at the proposal to deprive people of their British citizenship, which clearly impacts principally against those with dual citizenship. It cannot be implemented against those who would become stateless, many of whom are from ethnic communities. We do not know what "vital interests" mean. We are worried that on uncorroborated evidence of another country's intelligence services the Home Secretary could certify that the information should not be made public on grounds relating to matters of a political kind and that the appeal against deprivation should be heard in camera by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission. I note also that that has retrospective effect and will apply to existing British citizens. That will inevitably be seen as a threat to a certain section of the British community.
In that context, I am not convinced that the extension of the probationary period from one to two years for spouses is the right approach to deal with, in particular, sham marriages. Although many women's organisations have campaigned for this, I know that there are measures in place already to protect those who are abused. There may be police powers which could be used to deal with or to deport spouses where domestic violence has occurred. The Government have not explained their rationale or put forward any evidence of the nature of any supposed abuse. I think that we should know, for example, how many supposedly sham marriages have been reported under the 1999 Act by marriage registrars, and how many have been found to be proved.
I welcomed the abolition of the so-called and notorious primary purpose rule within a few weeks of the first Labour Government, as did many of us, in 1997. But surely the way to deal with alleged marriages—if they exist—is to examine the marriages at the time of application in greater detail.
I shall not comment on the Government's proposals to extend the working holidaymakers' scheme, as these appear in a separate consultation document and are not part of the Bill. But I hope that in the harmonisation of immigration policy, which is now central to the European Union, the Government will not allow any erosion of the special provisions which emanate from the historic links between the UK and Commonwealth countries. I seek some an assurance on that.
I now turn to the provisions in the Bill which have raised the greatest controversy. First, I wish to state that I do not believe that a policy of deterrence, which has as its consequence making life miserable for asylum seekers in this country, is either effective or humane. There are other ways in which we can make our procedures swifter and efficacious, such as those suggested to the Government by the Immigration Advisory Service. Those include an independent documentation centre on country of origin reports, 1120 giving early access to legal advice and a fast track to acceptance of those whom the Government will not remove in any event; greater use of reporting rather than detention; and a planned, assisted departure programme for those who are not entitled to remain. The Home Secretary has rightly claimed that the system must enjoy the confidence of the public. One does not achieve that by seeking to exclude fairness and judicial scrutiny from the actions of the executive. I am also worried that we should not rush into legislation without considering the loss of confidence if measures fail.
The proposal—inserted at the last moment in the Commons by the Government—to remove failed applicants before they can exercise a right of appeal is, I am advised, contrary to Article 32 of the UN convention relating to the status of refugees and, in any event, is likely to be unworkable in other than perhaps a few cases. Unless we have harmonisation across the European Union of the interpretation of the convention we shall not be able to return asylum seekers to countries which, for example, do not accept non-state agents of persecution. It is unlikely that any country will take back undocumented asylum seekers whom the Government allege have passed through their territory. Bearing in mind that a majority of asylum applicants in the UK are in the in-count ry with an existing immigration status, we should be told how many the Government think that will apply to. We know from the Home Office's own internal report on impediments to achieving its aims, the auditors VantagePoint advised scrapping Article 15 searches under the Dublin convention, which has already been discussed, on the basis that it applied to only 6 per cent of cases and the searches took some three months compared with the recommended one month. Are the new proposals another white elephant? I welcome the comments made earlier by my friend the Leader of the House that there may be a rethink on Dublin. I also welcome the moves towards a common policy agreed in Seville over the weekend as we need a strategic plan on these issues. That has been restated several times.
There is now widespread agreement that large-scale rural accommodation centres are not the best way forward. I share the view, not only of those 10 organisations who sent a letter from the Immigration Advisory Service to the Home Secretary but also others, including noble Lords who have made contributions, and the experience from other European countries that the need is for smaller units with access to mainstream facilities which, consequently, will not place an unbearable strain on them.
In such a short time, I cannot deal with many of the complexities such as language, the rights of children and the issue of citizenship, which require a great deal of attention. I shall just make a few more comments dealing broadly with the legal issues. First, although they should never have been introduced in the first place, I am delighted that the fees, which so marred the excellent initiative of the Government to bring in family visit appeals, have now been dropped from the Bill for ever. Already we have seen an increase in the 1121 number of family visit fast appeals, which were inhibited while the fees remained. It is sensible for judicial scrutiny, wherever possible, to be by adjudicators who are experts in immigration and asylum law. That is why I hope that, for example, centre manager decisions to exclude asylum seekers from accommodation centres can be appealed to adjudicators rather than on judicial review. That principle applies more widely in other parts of the Bill.
I cannot see how in Clause 89 the move to a review by a single judge on written representations only as against judicial review is a step forward. Will the Minister confirm that some two-thirds of all judicial review cases are successful and that, although many applications for judicial review are presently refused, very many are successfully admitted on renewed oral applications? If the single judge is unable to have the benefit of counsel arguing the case, is he or she not likely to give permission for judicial review in any event giving the benefit of the doubt to the applicant?
Perhaps I may conclude on a note on which I hope that the whole House will unite, including the Government. I should like to think that we could unite on implementing routine bail applications which the Government introduced in the 1999 Act but never implemented. I understand why Ministers state that these provisions would be administratively inconvenient—especially with an increased detention estate—but I do not see how the advice then tendered to the Government as to the need for such provisions in order to comply with the Human Rights Act has changed in the interim period. Surely, if anything, the need for routine external judicial scrutiny of decisions to detain is greater rather than less in such circumstances.
Even if I cannot persuade the Government on that issue, I hope at least to succeed on another fundamental issue that falls under Part III of the 1999 Act: namely, the presumption of liberty. That point has been reiterated by several speakers. I hope that my noble friend will rise in his place now to assure me that the Government will at least preserve that essential and inoffensive provision which does no more than afford to immigration detainees who are alleged to have committed no crime the safeguards afforded to criminals under the Bail Act 1976.
Although it has had a controversial start, with goodwill from all parts of the House the Bill can be so improved as to be seen to he a major step forward in nationality, immigration and asylum provision. Perhaps we can become some sort of role model for the rest of the world to follow, which is the hope of us all.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Lord Lester of Herne Hill
My Lords, my contribution to this debate is to draw attention to the concerns expressed by the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights, of which I am privileged to be a member, about the human rights implications of this controversial Bill. Our substantial concerns were expressed in the report published on Friday. I am glad 1122 to be speaking while the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, is in her place, she being an important member of our committee.
In a real sense, the committee has become Parliament's legal adviser on human rights. Our report is unanimous and transcends partisan party politics. Indeed, the chair of the committee is Jean Corston MP, who is also chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party. We hope that our report will result in significant improvements to the Bill during its passage, with the active co-operation of the Home Office. At the end of our report, we append a Home Office memorandum and submissions by non-governmental organisations reporting from the front line, as it were. I hope that my summary of the report will not be regarded as a substitute for reading the whole of it.
We observe at the outset of the report that,the way a state treats powerless and vulnerable people is an important indicator of the vitality of its human rights culture … Immigrants and asylum-seekers, lacking a political base in the United Kingdom, are particularly at risk of having their dignity and rights undervalued in the legislative process and subsequent administrative action".We also point out in paragraph 4 that the Home Office's failure to reply promptly to questions raised by the Select Committee,made it impossible for us to report on the Bill in time for our conclusions to be useful to the House of Commons".We recommend:In future, if a Department cannot meet the deadline for replying to our questions",about a Bill with important human rights implications,especially one which is programmed in the House of Commons, the Government's business managers should ensure that the Bill's timetable is set to give time for the Committee to Report".I gave notice to the Minister that I would raise the committee's concerns during this debate. We hope that he will be able to tell the House that the Government will respond positively to that point, as well as to our other human rights concerns. I bear in mind that the Minister has personally signed the Section 19 statement under the Human Rights Act 1998 that, in his view, he considers the provisions of the Bill to be compatible with the rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Currently, the Home Secretary is empowered to deprive of British citizenship only those who became British citizens by registration or naturalisation. There is at present no power to deprive a British citizen born in this country of the citizenship that is his or her birthright. Clause 4, which applies to all British citizens, would empower the Home Secretary to deprive any British citizen, including one born here, of citizenship if the Home Secretary was satisfied that the person,has done anything seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of … the United Kingdom, or … a British overseas territory",if he does not think that that would make the person stateless.
At paragraph 26, the committee draws attention to the serious consequences of depriving our fellow citizens of their citizenship. Those adverse consequences include, 1123loss of the right to a United Kingdom passport, which may affect people's ability to travel, especially if the other State of which a person is a citizen were to deny a passport to the person for political reasons. Inability to obtain a passport could make a person's alternative nationality little more than an empty shell. In addition, deprivation of British citizenship would entail loss of British diplomatic protection; loss of status; loss of the ability to participate in the democratic process in the United Kingdom; and serious damage to reputation and dignity".The Home Office points out that the real threat to human rights from that draconian power springs from subsequent decisions taken as part of immigration control, where there would be adequate opportunity to ensure that effect was given to convention rights. Certainly, the expatriation and banishment that could result from the exercise of this power is the most serious detriment—in effect a punishment that would be inflicted even though the person stripped of British citizenship had not been found guilty of any crime. Such a punishment for no established crime is surely offensive to cardinal principles for which our constitution stands, and on which the Constitution Committee has separately reported.
But the Joint Committee on Human Rights is also concerned about the wider consequences of loss of British citizenship. The Home Secretary is rightly concerned to promote a concept of equal citizenship and shared democratic values based upon allegiance to this country. That is a vital objective of public policy if we are to succeed in creating a plural and tolerant society. But the positive value and worth of British citizenship will be diminished if it can be so easily removed by a subjective ministerial decision without even an obligation for the Home Secretary to show that he has reasonable grounds for doing so.
I remind your Lordships that in 1968, a previous government gravely damaged British citizenship by removing the right to enter and live in this country from 200,000 British passport holders on racial grounds. I declare an interest as counsel who went to Strasbourg to have that held to be inherently degrading.
In paragraphs 29 and 30, we explain our reasons for disagreeing with the Home Office's argument as to why it is appropriate to dispense with any requirement for objective, reasonable grounds and why existing legal principles would not afford an adequate remedy against the abuse of that power. We hope that the House—and, indeed, the Home Secretary—will accept our conclusion that,it is a far more effective guarantee against arbitrariness, and a better way of assuring good administrative decision-making (as well as being far more compatible with the rule of law which underpins human rights), to require public authorities to justify the deprivation of a person's status to a standard of reasonableness, than to require the person subject to the decision to establish that it is wholly unreasonable".Next, we deal with the arrangements for making residents of asylum centres aware of their legal rights and for providing effective access to timely legal advice to those in asylum and removal centres. We deal with that important subject in paragraphs 43, 44 and 87 of the report, where we state that we would expect the Home Office to be able to inform Parliament, 1124of the steps which would be taken, in all accommodation centres, actively to discharge the responsibility to inform people of their rights and of the accessibility of appropriate legal advice".In her powerful speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, rightly emphasised the great importance of that aspect of the Bill.
In paragraphs 46 to 62, we criticise the Government's reluctance to undertake to take positive steps to secure the rights of children in accommodation centres under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. They include the right to be free from discrimination; the right to have their best interests treated as a primary consideration; the right to education on a non-discriminatory basis: and the right to participate in attention to some of those aspects.
We also draw attention, in paragraphs 66 to 74, to the right of destitute asylum seekers or their dependants, who have been required to leave accommodation centres without fault on their part, to a standard of accommodation and other support that is adequate to their needs. En paragraph 68, we refer to the extent to which the National Asylum Support Service can be relied upon to provide adequate support to asylum seekers in the community. We express concern at evidence of serious shortcomings in the ability of NASS to cope with the demands of assisting the asylum seekers dispersed around the country, a problem compounded by its inaccessibility to supported asylum seekers and their families.
In paragraph 76, we criticise the lack of clarity in the definition of the Home Secretary's powers to make regulations allowing assumptions to be made about a person's means when deciding whether he or she, or a dependant, is destitute. We draw attention to the need for careful parliamentary scrutiny of any regulations made under the Bill to withdraw the support-only option for assisting asylum seekers.
In paragraphs 78 to 79, we criticise the Government's reluctance to recognise the absolute nature of the obligation to avoid treating people in ways that amount to degrading treatment and are in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention. The Government's approach makes it sound as though it is a matter of administrative discretion, whereas the United Kingdom's duties under Article 3 are absolute, as every human rights lawyer or first-year law student ought to know. It is a matter of entitlement, not of discretion, and we hope that the Minister will accept that that is so.
In paragraph 80, we refer to the lack of flexibility and sensitivity to a person's circumstances in the proposal to limit the level of non-accommodation support to asylum seekers to only 70 per cent of income support. That may be unfairly discriminatory. We expect the level of support to be sufficiently flexible to take account of cases in which asylum seekers are not receiving accommodation as well as other support.
In paragraph 84, we draw attention to the possible ambiguity of the condition for authorising detention of a person who is liable to removal. We recommend that, because of the importance of the right to liberty— 1125 to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford so insistently and rightly drew attention—Clause 49 should be amended to limit the Home Secretary's powers to cases in which there are reasonable grounds for their use.
We emphasise, in paragraphs 88 to 89, the need for the best interests of children to be treated as a primary consideration in decisions whether to remove members of the family of someone whose removal has been ordered and whether to detain children. We emphasise again and again—in paragraphs 98, 99, 101, 104 and 108—the need, when the Home Secretary makes a certificate depriving someone of a right of appeal, to ensure that the individual is not removed from the UK before having an effective opportunity to seek the assistance of the courts in enforcing convention rights. That point was also emphasised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford and by the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin. In that context, I ask your Lordships to bear in mind what we wrote in paragraph 98 of our report. We concluded:In our view, it should not be possible to remove a person before he or she has had the opportunity to challenge, before an independent and impartial tribunal, the Secretary of State's certificate asserting that the person's claim to have had a Convention right violated is clearly unfounded. Removing a person in such circumstances might sometimes give rise to a violation of ECHR Article 13 (the right to an effective remedy … We draw this to the attention of each House".I hope that noble Lords will find that summary useful, as the House proceeds to examine the Bill in detail. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has not found it necessary to draw attention to so many serious issues affecting human rights in any of our previous reports. It is highly regrettable that, because of the inexcusable delay in the Home Office's reply to our questions, our report had to be published too late to inform the debates in the other place, so that detailed scrutiny can take place only in this House. My noble friend Lord Dholakia and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, rightly drew attention to that point in their criticism of the regrettable features of the Government's handling of the Bill in another place.
I hope that we may look forward to a positive response from the Minister on those concerns at the end of the debate and thereafter. We want him not simply to write to us but to deal with the points here and now and hereafter, so that we may know where we are. We have not been concerned with the many wider political and social aspects of the Bill, such as the right to bail issue, which we do not think, in itself, violates the European Convention. There are many other such issues, but we are concerned only with the human rights implications and with questions of legality.
§ Lord Mayhew of Twysden
My Lords, will the noble Lord kindly reflect on the provisions that give the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor the power to repeal by order even the curtailed right to judicial review given by Clause 89? Will the noble Lord speculate on the reasons that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor might advance for repealing 1126 that curtailed right, other, perhaps, than that an order would be subject only to a debate of an hour and a half and would not be subject to amendment?
§ Lord Lester of Herne Hill
My Lords, I share the noble and learned Lord's bewilderment about that. It is not a matter to which the committee drew attention, but I find it baffling. I must choose my words carefully, but, in some respects, the Bill calls to mind the words of Winston Churchill about a similar power—the power to detain without trial. As noble Lords will remember, he described it as being,in the highest degree odious".
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws
My Lords, many of us who take a close interest in asylum issues are saddened that the Government have been seduced by right-wing demagoguery into making the recent changes to the Bill. The Government seemed to be seeking to do something honourable and create a policy that was coherent, clear, fair and non-racist. The publication of the White Paper gave some hope that knowledgeable voices would be listened to, but it is clear that, despite submissions and warnings, those voices have not been heeded in any meaningful way. Research, even that conducted by the Home Office, has been ignored. Major parts of the Bill have gone undebated in the other place.
As the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, said, the other place did not have before it the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, because the Home Office had failed to meet the deadlines for its response. Many of us who are involved in human rights are concerned that the Bill has substantial implications for human rights. It seems to us indicative of an attitude of mind towards human rights that no account could be given to that report in the debates in the other place.
Many aspects of the Government's policy are deserving of support. I was one of the critics of the voucher system. I was really heartened by the decision to end it. I welcome the Government's tougher custodial sentences for vile trafficking in human beings, particularly of women and children for sexual purposes. I also applauded the opening up of legitimate channels of entry for economic migrants. I believe that it is clearly beneficial that there should be citizenship classes to encourage civic participation and enhance knowledge of our duties as citizens and the rights which citizenship bestow. It seems to me that it may be a project which could be expanded to embrace more systems.
I agree with the Home Secretary that some knowledge of English is hugely important if people are to enjoy a genuine sense of engagement and belonging in this country. I have seen far too often how women in immigrant communities can feel exiled and marooned because they cannot help their children with reading, cannot attend parent-teacher meetings, take control of their own healthcare needs or acquire skills for themselves. It sometimes leaves them at the mercy of 1127 over-controlling or abusive partners. Their isolation can sometimes lead to mental health problems. Statistically. Asian women commit suicide at a higher rate than any other section of the community. It is one of those unspoken scandals in our society.
However, while accepting some of the positive proposals coming from the Home Secretary, I share the view of many that asylum and immigration issues do not require many of the proposals contained in this Bill. It is wholly contradictory to espouse a policy of social inclusion, extolling the virtues of assimilation and citizenship, yet to put asylum seekers into detention camps.
It will not surprise noble Lords that one of my main concerns with this Bill is the way in which judicial scrutiny from the actions of the executive is, in certain circumstances, excluded. How can it possibly be just to expect people to conduct an effective appeal from another country? There is no guarantee that an asylum seeker, removed to a third country, would be allowed to remain there in order to exercise his or her right of appeal back in the UK. The British Government would no longer have any jurisdiction over what happens to them.
How does an adjudicator judge the credibility of an appellant when the appellant cannot give evidence? How will legal aid work? Will foreign lawyers be expected to fathom the complexities of UK law or will UK lawyers communicate by fax, e-mail or rotten telephone lines, if such wondrous technology is readily available to the applicant?
Refusal of asylum revolves principally around the credibility of the applicant. How fair would an appeal be when the appellant cannot give evidence in person on vital matters so that their credibility can be assessed and material facts verified? Just think of the problems which a woman has giving voice to experiences of rape and sexual humiliation, as many refugees have to do. On paper, an adjudicator has no sense of the reality of that violation.
It is important to consider the extremely poor and often arbitrary nature of Home Office decision-making on asylum claims. Frequently it is junior officials who certify that someone does not have a case for asylum. There is an absence of adequate training, staff supervision and internal quality control within the Home Office. A culture of disbelief informs initial decision-making, which is further compromised by poor and very adversarial interviewing techniques. Imagine what it feels like when you are a person who has come from an experience of torture and degradation to be questioned repeatedly by someone with little competence in that field. Many of these relatively inexperienced officials have little understanding of the countries or the cultures from which the asylum seekers come. Little attempt is made to ensure that the resulting decisions are checked by better qualified and more experienced staff.
So we have junior officials making life and death decisions which lead to the ejection of a refugee before he or she has the chance of a proper judicial review here in this country. It is a scandal and utterly 1128 shameful. It is no wonder that the Joint Committee of Human Rights was so critical of this Bill. I also share the concerns of many immigration lawyers about access to good legal advice. The enjoyment of due process depends on effective access to appropriate legal advice. Like many, I have little confidence in the current arrangements.
On the subject of accommodation centres, I wish to emphasise the position of women and children. Eighty-two per cent of asylum seekers are single men. That will not surprise us given the circumstances in which people flee. I am very concerned about t he well-being of women if placed in accommodation where they will be so hugely outnumbered. I do not have to remind the Minister that many of them are already very vulnerable women because of the experiences which have caused them to flee—rape, sexual assault at the hands of oppressors. Many single women, single parents and widows, could find themselves very exposed in such a male-dominated environment among men who are lonely and isolated and who have many problems of their own.
I mean no disparagement at all to asylum seekers: it is a fact of the human condition. But to place such women in accommodation centres and so hugely outnumbered, makes them a sitting target for physical and sexual abuse. Only 18 per cent of asylum seekers are families. Those comparatively small numbers of refugees who come with children could easily continue to be dispersed with access to mainstream education and social welfare, as at present. The numbers are really not large.
I, too, wish to remind the Government of their responsibilities under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Children's needs are very different from those of adults and our responsibilities are therefore the greater. To segregate refugee children from other children in mainstream education flies in the face of everything we are seeking to do to combat racism. There must be a way of alleviating pressures on schools without creating such a divisive system. What we should be talking about is the better management of dispersal and better resourcing of it.
This experiment of accommodation centres has huge risks attached to it. I sincerely hope that the Government have given some thought to the perils of the arrangement. It is my view, shared by many others who have experience on issues of domestic violence and sexual abuse, that such centres cannot he safe environments for women and children. But if such a scheme were to work it would mean creating separate facilities for single women and families with safeguards to protect women and children. So the cost will not be small. Would it not be better to divert it again into the management of dispersal. I issue a warning. I do hope that the Government realise what they are doing.
The issue of asylum is an issue of justice. Like so many, I have a great sense of pride that Britain has, on the whole, been a sanctuary for the persecuted. My own mother-in-law came here as a refugee in 1938, fleeing Nazism in Vienna. She was a doctor. From the 1129 beginnings of the National Health Service, when she had her qualifications recognised, she devoted herself unstintingly to the healthcare of her patients in a very under-privileged part of Birmingham. Our country has been hugely enriched by people like her who come to our shores. We should give no sustenance to those who disparage refugees; people who are driven by desperate measures to settle here.
I regret aspects of the Bill. It does no credit to us, particularly to a government committed to social justice. I hope, therefore, that Ministers will think again about what has been said in the course of the debate.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Lord Hylton
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Best, is no longer in his place. Nevertheless, I urge the Government to reflect carefully on the practical proposal that he put forward earlier today. I have known him for well over 35 years. I have always found him in various capacities to be extremely well informed.
After more than 30 years in your Lordships' House I have come to realise that it is not sufficient to say something once only. It seems that it requires copious repetition before a concept begins to sink into the official mind. I repeat, therefore, what I said at the Third Reading of the 1999 Bill and last Tuesday, 18th June, during the debate introduced by my noble friend Lord Sandwich. There are, I believe, three principles which should guide policy on immigration and refugees: knowledge of English; family reunion; and connection with Britain. I refer to Hansard for the reasoning behind this basic proposition which so far no one has questioned.
I turn to the current Bill and note that it is the fifth Bill on the subject in 11 years. I have taken part in debate on all of them and I wish that it had not been necessary. Although I once carried an amendment on a Division, thanks to an ambush kindly arranged by the noble Lord who is now Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard, I can imagine the groans that rose from many noble Lords when yet another White Paper and Bill came in sight. The sorry record under all recent governments shows that these matters cannot be solved by legislation alone but depend on common sense and good administration. Good administration, I am sorry to say, is something that neither the Home Office nor the National Asylum Support Service has been successful in providing. For those reasons I shall concentrate today on one aspect of this complex subject—an aspect which the Bill does not mention; namely, the quality of the initial decisions in application for refugee status and exceptional leave to remain.
At present the annual rate of applications plus the backlog of cases well exceeds 80,000 cases. In recent years the number of favourable decisions has been roughly doubled by successful appeals. It cannot be satisfactory that about half the initial decisions are later shown to be wrong. I suggest that this arises 1130 because the Home Office has consistently refused to listen to the views of refugee representatives and practitioners, and academics who have studied the subject.
Professor Goodwin-Gill, Professor of International Refugee Law at Oxford, wrote about the previous Bill in The Times of 28th October 1999:The Home Office maintains more or less exactly the procedure it had when I first dealt with the Asylum Unit at Croydon some 25 years ago".He continued:What is needed is a decentralisation of Home Office authority, a radically revised decision-making process, that puts applicants and their representatives face to face with those who decide their fate, and a better understanding of … human rights".He added:You can't judge credibility on the basis of someone's written reportThe first approach to better decisions is to provide adequate training at all levels, especially at the front line at ports and places of interview. Staff supervision and internal quality control within the Home Office come next. The "culture of disbelief" whereby field workers routinely disbelieve applicants' stories and accounts of their own countries should be ended. One official should oversee cases from start to finish. That is not the position at present. Decision makers should have to defend their decisions to appeal adjudicators. High quality interpreters should always be provided for applicants who may not understand official English or have difficulty in expressing themselves. As has been mentioned, decisions will always be better when applicants have been advised by lawyers or experienced practitioners. Such advice will also help to identify torture victims at an early stage. Applicants should not be expected to complete a 16-page form or to go to an important first interview without proper advice.
If these simple steps are taken, huge quantities of appeals will be avoided. The appeal and tribunal procedures come under the jurisdiction of the Lord Chancellor rather than the Home Office. I welcome the desire of the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, for better co-operation between the two departments and improvements in the appeal procedures.
Suggestions have been made for independent determination of status and for an independent documentation centre open to all parties containing factual information about countries of origin. Canada has both those facilities. They are desirable but far more important are immediate steps to improve the quality of initial decisions. I had planned to discuss such improvements with the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, before Second Reading but, alas, that had to be postponed. I commend the suggestions I have made to Her Majesty's Government and urge them to start on them tomorrow without waiting for the Bill eventually to become law. The need is urgent. There can, I suggest, be no reasons for delay.
§ 7.17 p.m.1131
My Lords, it may come as no surprise to noble Lords to hear me say that I shall confine my remarks to Schedule 8 on carriers' liability. It is a small part of the Bill but it affects the livelihood of a number of small and large businesses.
I was impressed with the way the Minister introduced the Bill by saying that we must manage the asylum process. That is good. It means that the Government are taking responsibility for what is necessarily a government responsibility; but it has not always been that way. The Government also have a duty to maintain the internal market trade routes. The Government have put on the SRA a duty to encourage cross-Channel rail transport—passenger and freight. I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group.
It has seemed sometimes in recent years that the Government's only concern was to turn transport operators—road, rail or sea operators—into unpaid frontier guards of fortress Britain, fining anyone who failed even if he or she were not at fault; and there was no real appeal. The Government lost on that point in the case of Roth in the Court of Appeal earlier this year. There were appeals against the fines on lorries and lorry drivers.
There is now a new code of practice with revisions. However, it was published on 11th June, less than two weeks ago. I do not believe that it has been considered in another place. There are strong arguments—they are supported by the Freight Transport Association—for changes in that code of practice and the schedule to the Bill. It is argued that CO2 checks on vehicles could constitute an automatic defence; that an independent ombudsman or tribunal should consider appeals; and that fines be per offence and not per illegal immigrant. The maximum fine is £4,000. On occasion 50 people have been found in a container. Whether it involves one or 50 people, it is either an offence or not an offence. However, the level of fine at 50 times £4,000 will put some operators into bankruptcy, whether or not they are guilty. A case can also be made for removing the fines associated with operator liability for the driver.
I turn now to more detailed points with regard to rail freight. Obviously I am concerned to ensure that companies and individuals are not fined unfairly for acts over which they have no control. This originated in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 under the definition of the "responsible person", referring to anyone who could possibly be blamed for bringing in illegal immigrants hidden in lorries or on trains. It was a very wide definition. Consultation was minimal and at the time there appeared to be little understanding of the contractual arrangements between the railway companies.
The matter reached an all-time low when the Home Office installed a man at the Dollands Moor yard near Folkestone. He counted all the people getting off the trains. On the basis of that number an invoice was sent daily to E WS charging £2,000 per person. The officials did not bother to catch the people; they let them run away into the countryside. However, the invoice was always sent.
1132 Occasionally people have chosen to take freight trains to go back to France. One person thought that it was the normal means to return for a family wedding. I do not know whether on that occasion the Home Office considered refunding the £2,000. That level of fines nearly killed the business because EWS had no powers to tell the French railway operators what to do. However, to some extent that was mitigated when in February this year the Home Office wrote to EWS confirming that it accepted that the company was not the "responsible person" within the definition.
That came about partly because last November SNCF stopped operating its train services because members of its staff were being attacked. At long last the two governments began to take the matter seriously. They accepted that prevention of the entry of illegal immigrants is a matter for governments. I suggest it is primarily the responsibility of the government wishing to keep people out. It is difficult to expect the French to take too seriously an operation to keep in their country people whom they probably do not want there in the first place. However, we are where we are and it is good that EWS has been told that it is no longer to be considered the "responsible person".
The new legislation suggests that at last the Government are listening to the industry. Amendments to the code and to the schedule appear to confirm that EWS, its customers, aggregators and consignors, together with SNCF, are not to be the "persons responsible" under their current contractual arrangements. I shall be grateful if my noble friend on the Front Bench could confirm that. Although it is still a matter of concern, the provisions in the Bill appear to be a great improvement on the previous code and schedule.
Finally, I turn to the question of repatriation. It is nice, if it is true, that EWS and other operators are no longer to be held liable for new fines for bringing people in, despite all their efforts to detect and prevent them. However, one has to ask the next question: why do such operators still have to pay the air fare home of those people not granted asylum? Noble Lords will have heard in times past that many people whom we define, rightly or wrongly, as economic migrants, are well instructed by those who arrange their journeys. Immigrants are told to destroy all sources of identity as they enter this country. Under the Dublin contention, they then cannot be sent back. That ensures that the Government cannot return them from Folkestone to Calais, but must arrange a flight to, for example, Romania.
However, during the processing of asylum applications, suddenly it becomes possible to identify where people have come from. At that point, carrying companies have to pay for their air fares home. It applies to airlines as well as to freight operators. Over the past three or four years, that has cost EWS Railways more than £200,000. It appears that the legislation of the 1971 Act is virtually the same as that set out in the 1999 Act. However, the Government lost their appeal in the Roth case because of 1133 incompatibility with Articles 1 and 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. I wonder whether my noble friend Lord Filkin would welcome an amendment to the 1971 Act to bring it into line with the new proposal on fines. The Government would not want to find themselves again in court under similar circumstances with regard to repatriation costs, given that they have already lost the case on imposing charges for bringing people in. I should be most interested to hear my noble friend's response to that point, as well as on the question of railway companies' liability.
§ 7.26 p.m.
§ Lord Beaumont of Whitley
My Lords, the first Bill I saw through all its stages in your Lordships' House was the 1968 Kenyan Asians Bill, as it was then called, and to which the noble Lord, Lord Lester, has already referred. At the time, when winding up the debate at Third Reading, I said that it was a national disgrace. In so saying for the first time in my life, but not for the last, I made the headlines of the Evening Standard. Since then we have seen a number of Bills on this subject. None has really done the trick or we would not be here today. None has been quite right. Things have moved on a little, however. I recall that the only party to stand against the 1968 Bill was the old Liberal Party, while the Front Benches of both other parties were vehemently in favour. Now we have a situation where great unhappiness has been expressed from the Back Benches of all three parties and the Front Benches of two.
I am sure that we shall have an interesting Committee stage on the Bill, although not nearly enough time has been allocated to debate the legislation—unless we are to sit until five or six o'clock in the morning. That goes against what the House wants to do and against what it does at all well. Noble Lords want to be able to consider sensibly matters that arise in Committee which were not debated carefully in another place. We need time to be able to do so. We need quite a long Committee stage. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, who is not in his place at the moment, commented that he would be away for part of the time, a matter which he very much regretted. I know the noble Lord to be a very truthful man, but although I, too, am going to be away, I do not regret it at all. I am rather glad that I shall not be in the House for those long sittings.
Perhaps I may mention a few of the issues that will need to be considered with great care in Committee. I turn first to the imposition of unworkable time limits. It is proposed that the paper application to the High Court be made within 10 days. That is much too short a period. Similarly, there is to be the imposition of costs sanctions, which will make it increasingly difficult to secure representation, as well as deterring practitioners from challenging the often erratic processes of adjudicators.
The Government have proposed a vast array of costs powers to be conferred on adjudicators and the Immigration Appeal Tribunal, with the objective of 1134 deterring appeals lodged against Home Office decisions. The powers are unnecessary as "quality control" in public-funded cases is already maintained by the Legal Services Commission and, additionally, the office of the Immigration Services Commissioner, the Law Society and the General Council of the Bar. All those institutions have oversight in these matters.
The proposals are a crude mechanism to make it increasingly difficult to get representation. This will be the inevitable consequence if representatives prove reluctant to argue an asylum seeker's case for fear of personal sanction. The reality is that most cases, win or lose, depend on an adjudicator's view of credibility. It is the duty of adjudicators, not advocates, to decide whether an asylum seeker's evidence is credible. It cannot be right to penalise those representing asylum seekers in such circumstances, not least when no parallel sanctions are proposed to deal with the Home Office's time wasting and inefficiency.
The rebranding of detention centres as removal centres obviously must be looked at very carefully. It is not a encouragement to people who are relying on British justice to be moved from a reception centre to an establishment which is actually called a "removal" centre before any decisions have been made.
The repeal of automatic bail hearings is a nasty, retrograde step. The provision for automatic bail hearings after seven and 35 days set out in Part III of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 would have provided some safeguards against indefinite detention resulting from administrative and procedural delays and errors. This is a requirement under Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Government accepted the need for automatic bail hearings in 1999 but the legislation was never implemented.
The current Bill suggests no alternative safeguards to those contained within Part III. This is alarming because the rights to apply for hail under existing legislation are inadequate and significant numbers of detainees do not have any access to the bail procedure currently available. We estimate that this affects some 60 per cent of those people who contact us for assistance.
Inadequacies in the rights to apply for bail under existing legislation are a problem. The merits test requires legal representatives to assess the potential for success. If they believe that there is a less than 50 per cent chance of success, they are prohibited from employing public funds to represent their clients in bail applications. The chances of success are often perceived to be less than 50 per cent, in many cases due to the requirement for sureties.
The White Paper, Secure Borders, Sale Haven, endorses the policy of detaining children in asylum-seeking families prior to removal and raises the option of detention in other circumstances. The Government have not said on what basis they deem this practice to be proportionate or necessary. The detention of children is incompatible with the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. I add my voice very strongly to those who are 1135 arguing for the right of children to be educated in mainstream schools in this country. This is often not only very good for the children, of whom we must think, but, as we have heard from the various schools which have testified on this issue, it is often very good for the schools themselves.
There are a very large number of issues involved. It will take us a long time to amend the Bill. I trust that we shall be able to do it. I hope that the Government will face up to the problems and help us with it. On the whole, I have not found the Government to be unreasonable when one makes a serious case for changing things. If they wish the Bill to go through containing most of the measures that they want, they will have to meet the objections put forward by people who are considerably more qualified than I.
I do not believe that this is a good Bill. It has one or two good points but, basically, it needs so much amendment that we might as well start from the beginning again. I shall do my bit in the demolition that will be necessary before we can start rebuilding
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Lord Greaves
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, referred to the Commonwealth Immigrants Bill 1968—the Kenyan Asians Bill. I remember catching the train from Manchester to join a demonstration in London against that measure. I remember marching side by side that day with Mr Peter Hain, who seems to be on the other side now. When I look at the present new Labour Government, I am not sure whether we who still believe what we believed 30 years ago are dinosaurs or men and women of principle. I suppose you choose which you think you are according to the position you hold.
It is true that these issues come back to haunt us time and time again. This being your Lordships' House, we shall have a civilised, rational debate about them and we will find noble Lords on the Government Front Bench being both civilised and rational. But we have to look at the overall political background from which this legislation is brought forward and at the moves taking place throughout Europe on immigration and asylum.
Throughout Europe, democratic politicians are running scared at what they perceive as the rise of the populist right. Some of its views are populist; some are downright racist; some are overtly fascist. The view is being put forward that, in order to counter the threat of these people—it is a very serious threat—we have to adopt sufficient of their policies, agenda and rhetoric to counter their challenge.
However, there are those of us who believe that this is a fundamentally flawed strategy. If one is fighting fascists and racists—which many of them are—or merely fighting the right-wing tabloid populism of the Daily Mail and the Daily Express in this country, the way to do it is to stand up and to argue rationally with them, to challenge them, to take on their argument, and to put forward rational and sensible policies. We should not assume that if this is what the focus group 1136 says, this is what we have to do. There are times when politicians have to provide leadership and educate the focus groups instead of simply listening to them.
For several years we have seen within Europe the tabloids, followed by the BBC and politicians, talking up the problem of asylum seekers. Not only is this issue being raised to a level completely out of context to the real problem, it is also distorting the argument about much more serious immigration problems, particularly the issues of people being brought into this country in bondage and being used as women prostitutes, child prostitutes, domestic slaves and in other ways which mean that they have no control of their own destiny.
At the same time, we have politicians raising expectations of what they will do as a short-term response to the public debate. We saw this at Seville. A week ago we were being told that the British Government would achieve this and achieve that. Now it turns out that they may have achieved about a quarter of it if they are lucky. There is a failure of political leadership which must be addressed. If it is not addressed, shifting onto the right-wing ground will not succeed.
But what do we see? We see the Home Secretary, Mr Blunkett, using a word which 20 or 30 years ago would have horrified everyone in democratic politics. He referred to schools being "swamped" by the children of asylum seekers. There may well he problems at a few schools in some inner cities, but no more than that. If there are such problems, it is the duty of all politicians not to use that kind of emotive language. It will only end up on the front page of the tabloids under banner headlines.
The Home Secretary puts forward proposals which may intrinsically be a good idea—for example, the idea that those who come to this country ought to learn sufficient English to be able to live and operate in this country. That is a perfectly sensible idea. Yet it was presented in such a way—it was done, as usual, through the "Today" programme—that it was seen as apportioning blame to those who did not have sufficient English in terms of the problems that had been occurring. Since we are basically talking about immigrant communities, particularly Muslim immigrant communities, immediately the link is made to the riots in Bradford, the disturbances in Birmingham, and so on.
The proposals for citizenship classes may well be sensible. But let us have a sensible debate about what such classes should consist of, and what British citizenship consists of in this modern era. Let us have a debate about the wording of the oath which it is suggested will be administered. Let us talk about what kind of oath it ought to be in a modern, democratic, multicultural society. Is it just one-sided, or are we saying that in a genuine multicultural society there have to be shifts of view on all sides?
The way in which the debate on arranged marriages has taken place has been an absolute disgrace. There is a perfectly sensible debate to be had —for example, whether a young Asian lass in Burnley should marry someone in Burnley or take a husband from the 1137 Punjab. That debate is taking place in a large number of Asian families and within the Asian community generally. But the way in which it was launched on the country was again a matter of blame. The approach was: here is a practice that is wrong and the blame for this lies with the Asian community; therefore, that is part of the reason why multiculturalism and integration are not working and why we have riots. That is the argument that comes across to people. It continues to be a blame culture, and many good ideas which could be debated in a sensible way are harmed.
This week, in relation to the meeting in Seville, the Foreign Secretary has spoken of "inoculating" Europe against the rise of the far right. That is a particularly unfortunate phrase to use. Often, when you are inoculated against a disease, you are inoculated with a mild or benign version of it, a non-toxic version, in order to ward off a worse version. There are no benign versions of racism and fascism. There are some things against which we must stand up and fight. They must be argued against in a sensible and rational way. You do not inoculate yourself against racism by taking in a small amount of racism yourself.
Therefore, it seems to me that the nature of the debate is wrong. The result—as we saw in the recent MORI opinion poll, which received a great deal of publicity—is that people associate the term "asylum seeker" with the term "illegal immigrant". The characteristics that they most associate with asylum seekers can be summed up in the words "desperate", "bogus" and "scroungers". Yet we know that of the people who come to this country and apply for asylum, about 45 to 50 per cent are eventually given permission to stay; about half are not bogus or scroungers—although some may be desperate. Even under what some of us consider to be a less than perfect system for assessing applications, they are being allowed to stay. Yet the same opinion poll suggests that people in this country think that we have a quarter of the world's refugees here. In fact, we have far fewer than many countries—Pakistan, for example. The truth is that we might have about 2 per cent.
It all comes back to an intellectual flaw, a schism, at the very heart of this country's policy, and that of all European countries, on asylum seeking. On the one hand the policy is: keep them out at all costs; do everything possible to keep them out; send EWS to the knacker's yard to keep them out; do whatever it is—and yet, once they manage to get here, despite all our efforts, we have to treat them in a civilised and decent way—I believe those were the words of the Leader of the House earlier today.
Putting it politely and mildly, there is a paradox at the heart of our policy. Unless and until that is sorted out, tackled and solved, all the other measures in the world simply will not work. People will keep finding ways to come here, and the Government will keep trying to find ways to stop them coming here; and, once they are here, we shall have to deal with their applications.
1138 I want to cover two brief points relating to the problems in the present operation of the asylum system. In my judgment—based on personal experience and on the experience of others—the National Asylum Support Service is as incompetent and inefficient as it has been since it was first set up. It has been operating for two years. Some parts of it may have improved, but others have got worse.
We still have instances in which a local authority—for example, Salford—does its best to come to arrangements with NASS as to the particular language group, ethnicity and nationality of those who will join its cluster. It will expect a bus carrying a particular national group, a particular language group. When people eventually turn up, they are completely different. That is typical. There are still many cases of people from the north of England being sent to Croydon for interview; at the same time, people in the south of England are being sent to Liverpool for interview. That is still happening. There is no sense in it.
We still have accommodation providers giving a far from adequate service. They are not supervised properly. They are getting away with murder and making big profits. Some of the accommodation providers in Lancashire which started out very badly—for example, Clearsprings received a great deal of bad publicity—are now doing quite well. They have got their act together and are employing people on the ground and are doing quite well. Another group, the Adelphi Hotels, from Hove, are probably worse than ever. All the local people would happily get rid of them.
The problem is that NASS has no grip on the situation and no control. It still has only one person in the North West. For three years, that person has had to carry out three different functions—struggling to keep control of the situation in the North West while everyone else, 300 or 400 staff, are based at the headquarters in Croydon. I believe that dispersal can work, but if it is to work NASS has to decentralise and has to base its staff in regions where this is happening.
My second point was made also by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, who is not in his place. It relates to the processing of claims and the system under which people's claims are being assessed. The quality of the decision-making leaves an enormous amount to be desired. I do not have a great deal of direct personal experience of accompanying people to interviews at the offices at Croydon, but I know that it is a horrific experience. Anyone who knows a group of asylum seekers and who has followed their fortunes over the past couple of years will know that the decision-making is erratic, to put it mildly. You wonder how on earth some people have got refugee status, whereas other people who clearly have a well-founded fear of persecution and all the rest of it struggle and struggle and then disappear somewhere in this country at the end of the process because they dare not go back. The whole process is inefficient. It does not work properly. The quality of decision-making is not very good. I join 1139 all those who say that if we want a system that will work and will happen quickly, improving the quality of decision-making must be top of the agenda.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Lord Ahmed
My Lords, the Government have taken many brave and wise actions to tackle immigration. The move to abolish the primary purpose rule when Labour first came to power has helped to reunite thousands of families, which would not have been possible under the previous government. Another courageous decision was to accept that the voucher system was not appropriate, because of the associated stigmatising and the difficulties caused. I am pleased that the Government have got rid of the voucher system.
I welcome the White Paper, Secure Borders, Safe Haven, which emphasises the importance of identifying human smugglers. Many illegal immigrants invest all they have in coming to this country in horrific conditions. While human traffickers get richer, the number of fatal accidents is increasing. That is a growing concern for the freight industry, referred to earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, as well as for the country in general.
When discussing these matters, we parliamentarians and the media must take care not to use negative language that harms race relations in this country. Terms such as "bogus claims" do not help the good cause of providing shelter for many genuine refugees. More importantly, they are affecting society in general. People do not differentiate between third generation British citizens from ethnic minorities and those who have more recently entered the country. The Sunday Times reported the head of the Crown Prosecution Service as saying that British society is racist. I disagree with him and hope that he will sort out the CPS rather than adjudicating on the nation.
The majority of British people are still largely seen as hospitable, kind and caring towards people, without prejudice. There are thousands of examples of people who came to this country not speaking a word of English and have gone on to take great pride in considering themselves to be British. This was instilled in them not through an oath of allegiance or any other form of ceremony or forced indoctrination, but through the compassion and warmth that the people of this country bestowed on them, regardless of their ethnic origin. A sense of belonging can come from being included fairly into the practices of society. My mother has lived in this country for many years. I would not expect her to go and learn English to prove that she lives here. She has chosen this country as her home. This decision has not been made because of a ceremony or courses that she may have attended on arrival in the United Kingdom. Will my noble friend the Minister tell us what provision is made for the many uneducated parents of British citizens who have the right to join their family and who cannot speak English?
I feel proud to know that I live in one of the most tolerant countries in the world, which leads the global community in accepting people without prejudice. 1140 I am delighted that my noble friend the Minister referred to that earlier. It is important that we British citizens realise that these new citizens have different cultures. We should welcome the added diversity that these people will bring. However, I fear that we will be posing as hypocrites by not practising what we preach if certain parts of the Bill are not amended.
Another point to consider is the position of women who are placed in accommodation centres with predominantly young, single males. Many of these single women, single parents and widows may find themselves sitting targets for physical and sexual abuse. How will they seek help from abusive partners who have been detained in the same centre? The Immigration Appellate Authority's asylum gender guidelines highlight the fact that women already face particular difficulties in making their cases to the authorities, especially when they have had experiences that are difficult and painful to describe, let alone to prove. Many activities will be in communal areas and there may be cultural clashes in an already tense atmosphere. I urge the Government to reconsider their plans.
I understand that the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association welcomes accommodation centres as an alternative to detention centres, but believes that integration should begin on arrival. The Refugee Council says that a six-month period risks leading to institutionalisation and dependency. There are also widespread concerns about the proposed size of these accommodation centres. I hope that the Government will take these points into consideration.
The most important change in the Bill is in relation to education. I am concerned about the Government's proposals to educate asylum-seeking children separately from other children and outside the framework and standards of LEAs and the national curriculum. I believe that the clauses concerning education should be removed, as they are not compatible with the customs and norms of British society. I am sure that the Government could provide help for schools. Section 11 has been important for many schools with children from new Commonwealth countries.
This discrimination in access to the right of education will have adverse effects not only on the education of asylum-seeking children, but also on their integration into British society. Before their arrival in the UK, refugee children have experienced the kind of trauma that even we as grown adults would find difficult to overcome. They need to lead a normal life, within a free society. Noble Lords have referred to this point earlier.
Article 28 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have the right to education,on the basis of equal opportunity".Not only does mainstream education enrich the educational experience of the local children by teaching them peace and tolerance and the richness of other cultures, the refugee children need this important phase of growing-up. Studying in a normal 1141 environment would give asylum-seeker children a chance to learn key social skills as well as learning to regain their trust in society. After leaving the sheltered life of an asylum camp, they will undoubtedly have difficulty relating to normal life. Local children may reflect the opinions of their parents. If the asylum camps are not accepted, the refugee children will be easy targets for bullying.
Britain is a multi-racial community. Both asylum seekers and local children can benefit from the integration of cultures and races. Asylum-seeker children can educate local children in the important life lessons of understanding, tolerance and harmony, which can not always be taught from text books, by explaining what it is like to be persecuted. British children should feel proud that they belong to a country that is seen as a sanctuary.
Another important matter that I should like the Government to consider is amending the British Nationality Act 1981. I have a particular concern about certificates of entitlement to the right of abode for a Commonwealth citizen who is married to a British citizen. Under the present arrangement, a Commonwealth citizen claiming the right of abode must satisfy the authorities that, immediately before the commencement of the British Nationality Act 1981, he or she was a Commonwealth citizen. That particularly applies to Pakistanis and to a limited number of South Africans. In the case of Pakistanis, the right that people had had from birth until Pakistan's brief departure from the Commonwealth was taken away from them for good in 1983. The immigration appeals service has found that that is an unfair breach of legitimate expectations and I hope that the Government will amend the law to ensure that women from Pakistan married to British citizens at any time before 1st January 1983 are given the right of abode.
Finally, Britain has been home to many communities seeking asylum from persecution. Those people have brought a wealth of knowledge and expertise with them. Life is harder for today's refugees. They come here to start a new life and we should not begrudge others the opportunities. It is important that our policies should not leave any group to be seen to be posing as impostors; rather, they should show that those people are human beings with feelings who need to be embraced into our community and not left isolated.
§ 8.1 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans
My Lords, it is clear that, whether one is in favour of completely free movement or of some kind of control, immigration and asylum represent one of the most difficult issues facing our country and western Europe. The diocese of which I have the privilege to be bishop—the diocese of St Albans—has close and growing links with three Roman Catholic dioceses in Italy: Pesaro, Urbino and Fano on the Adriatic coast. I have seen at first hand the remarkable work that those dioceses are doing in trying to provide social, pastoral and spiritual care to 1142 immigrants and asylum seekers. One only has to go to Loreto and look over the Adriatic across to the Balkan coast to realise how difficult it is to control, if one wishes to, the flow of immigrants. Those dioceses are now pushed to their limits in trying to cope.
In light of the earlier Statement on Seville, it would be enormously encouraging if the work of churches, faith communities and voluntary organisations throughout Europe on matters relating to immigration could be given a heightened role and due recognition. In saying that, I echo all that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said. He spoke up strongly and rightly for the role of voluntary organisations in this field.
It would be helpful in this debate if we saw the Bill not entirely through adult eyes but through the eyes of the children involved. Many of them have been uprooted from their own communities and taken vast distances, often in terrible conditions, and find themselves in a strange land. Physically, and spiritually, too, many are at risk. Many children have undergone traumas that might well scar them for life unless they receive appropriate and loving attention. The giving of attention to such children is of enormous significance. I echo much of what was said by the noble Lords, Lord Beaumont of Whitley and Lord Ahmed.
The proposal that those children should be educated for the time being in dispersed accommodation centres is bureaucratically understandable, although it raises huge questions. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, has already referred to that. Are Her Majesty's Government able to give any assurance that the spiritual and emotional needs of children will be taken seriously if they are sent to accommodation centres? If such centres will exist, will the teachers who are employed to look after those children receive significant training to ensure that the educational needs of those children are understood and met? Further, will chaplains representing all faith communities in our country be appointed to accommodation centres as part of what the Minister referred to as "essential services"? If the spiritual care of those children is not essential, I would dearly love to know what is. If chaplains are to be appointed, will they be given training and ongoing supervision? If they will not be appointed, why not? Would it not he a very serious infringement of the human rights of asylum-seeking children simply to have their spiritual wellbeing ignored?
Imagine yourself as one of the children in one of those centres and virtually unable to leave it. 1 commend to the House a most lovely children's novel published back in the 1970s called I am David by a Danish author, Anne Holm. It is a story of a child escaping from an internment camp in World War II who makes his way northwards to his home. He encounters beauty on that journey—a beauty that he met for the first time—and it brings a surge of joy to his heart.
I do not wish to appear sentimental but if the criterion of beauty is applied to the care of asylum-seeking children, will the clauses in the Bill stand up to such a test? I do not speak of beauty in a simple 1143 aesthetic sense; I refer to that kind of beauty that encompasses truth and ensures our profound wellbeing as human beings. That concept of course has to be fleshed out in good and just practice. Is it truly the case that placing traumatised children in accommodation centres will be in their best interests? Will normal child welfare provisions be put in place for them, in line with the Children Act or the Care Standards Act? Who will be their advocates? Who will given them a voice? And who will ensure that their deeply spiritual needs as children are seriously met?
I am very aware that such questions are easier to raise than to answer. I have the most serious sympathy and profound respect for all those who are trying to cope, not least the Minister, who is carrying an enormous burden. I hope that he will not mind my saying that our thoughts and, if I may say so, our prayers are with him as he tries to wrestle with the realities of this situation. If we could view the Bill through the eyes of a refugee child and frame our legislation accordingly, we might find that our understanding of justice would be broadened and deepened and that our claim to be civilised as a nation would be further enhanced.
1 turn to accommodation centres. I know that there is a distinction between removal centres and accommodation centres. In my diocese, there is a place called Yarl's Wood. I very much hope that we shall learn from the experience of such a place. I hope we shall learn that, both in preparing people for arrival at such centres and in helping with friendship and advocacy when they do, the role of voluntary organisations and faith communities will be taken with due seriousness. I hope, too, that the role of chaplaincy of all faith communities inside those centres, and the role of religious leaders of all faith communities outside, will also be given proper respect. Can we be assured that issues such as safety and fire risk in places which are bound by their nature to be emotionally volatile will he taken seriously?
Therefore, I ask the Government to assure not only this House but the local receiving communities that the lessons learnt from Yarl's Wood and other detention centres will, where appropriate, be applied to the accommodation centres which are being proposed. But, above all, it is my most earnest hope that we see those centres through the eyes of children. I hope that we look at the Bill and ask whether the centres will be in the best interests of the children, who will be the future citizens of our country and the world, and therefore whether the Bill stands up to proper moral scrutiny.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Lord Borrie
My Lords, Integration with diversity in modern Britain was the sub-title of the Government's White Paper published in February. Diversity of colour and ethnic origin is, of course, common in many, although not all, parts of Britain today. Indeed, because there are still some parts of Britain where someone who is visually different is a rarity, the 1144 diversity of background in London and in many of our major cities is even more noticeable than if diversity were spread more evenly through the country.
The idea that the United Kingdom benefits from diversity, as mentioned many times this afternoon, is becoming more widely accepted throughout the United Kingdom. I say that tentatively because we know that there are exceptions. But it is a relatively new concept that those who want to stay here permanently, particularly if they seek naturalisation as a British citizen, should be expected to make positive efforts to fit themselves for integration with the host community. What does "integration" mean in that context? Clearly it does not mean that the British citizen should transform himself into a caricature of a Scot or an Englishman, complete with bagpipes or furled umbrella, let alone that he should join, if I may say so to the right reverend Prelate, the established Church or shout for England in the World Cup.
It is possible to raise some cynical eyes at the requirements in the Bill for a sufficient knowledge of the English language and of life in the United Kingdom. It may even be a source of fun for the Government to suggest that there should be citizenship ceremonies, oaths and pledges. But I take it seriously, as it deserves, that if people are to live in close proximity in our towns and cities in peace and harmony, despite their varied ethnic or religious backgrounds—whether we like it or not, that basis of difference does cause difficulty for some people—they must share some values and attitudes to human rights. That includes acceptance of the rights of other diverse groups to live here as well.
New British citizens must be tolerant of other new British citizens. Of course, as the host country, we take it for granted that we must continue with our well-established policies to combat race discrimination. Perhaps we need to cover religious discrimination as well. But everyone, with few exceptions, who seeks British citizenship needs to acquire a good knowledge of our language, our common values of regard for others, the basic United Nations charter freedoms and our democratic institutions. I say "with few exceptions" to my noble friend Lord Ahmed because Clause 1 of the Bill, which refers to knowledge of the English language, allows for exceptions to be made under, I believe, a "waiver" from the Secretary of State. However, as a general principle, I believe that we should welcome the requirements for British citizenship. Personally, I welcome the thoughts expressed in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, earlier this afternoon.
As the White Paper puts it, new citizens need to be "committed" to British society. The Government have rightly placed an emphasis on promoting language proficiency and education for citizenship and on celebrating—I like that word—the acquisition of citizenship. I agree with all that, but I believe that we need to insist on an obligation on those who seek citizenship to qualify in those tests. I do not consider that the provision in the British Nationality Act 1981 about having a sufficient command of English was really enforced. But, when I listened to last 1145 Wednesday's debate on the Unstarred Question of the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said—I quote it tonight because I believe that it is apt, concise and neat—that,knowledge of English is the key to employability and integration into society".—[Official Report, 18/6/02; col. 715.]I would add only that I believe it is in the interests of everyone—of those concerned and of the rest of us—that that should be so.
When Mr Kenneth Baker—now the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking—introduced an asylum Bill in 1991, he said that that Bill had three main purposes. One was to accelerate the process of immigration control to cope with the growth in the number of asylum seekers; the second was to deal with—he used these words—the "great misuse" of asylum procedures; and the third was to extend rights of appeal. I have a feeling that the Minister, my noble friend Lord Filkin, may feel that some of his introduction today was on rather similar lines. It is certainly not the Minister's fault that, 10 or 11 years on, a Minister is having to say the same kind of thing.
As we all know, over the centuries this country has had a very good record generally on taking in those who may suffer from persecution, danger and torture in their own countries and who seek asylum here. Of course, it is in part because of that good record that many who are not genuine refugees, and who seek to improve their economic position, should try to enter by the asylum route. We all know the huge pressure that 70,000 plus applicants a year cause to our immigration services.
This country has various programmes for managed migration, especially the work permit scheme, from which my noble friend Lord Desai seemed to benefit years ago, and I am very glad that he did. However, he made the point that such programmes are important not only for skilled and professional people who come through these routes; there may well be need, and value, at particular times, including now, for unskilled people to come as well. Of course, if people are not skilled or professional and if, unfortunately, they pretend to seek refuge and to be genuine refugees, then they may encounter difficulties. But I suggest to the Minister that we want economic migrants, many of whom are welcome, and we want refugees who are genuine, and we want them admitted with reasonable speed. We also want those who are not welcome in either capacity to be dealt with speedily and fairly and then to be removed.
No one is likely to suggest, and no one has suggested today, that, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Judd, we have an "open door" policy. No one wants that but we need reasonable, humane, fair and proper procedures. I quoted the words spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, 10 years ago, which were similar to the words of the Minister today. I accept that we need to balance the fairness to applicants against the need to prevent abuse by those who are delaying by making multiple adjournments or in some other way. We cannot permit to go unchecked 1146 the exploitation of what are the essentially fair and tolerant procedures which we have, whether such exploitation is by applicants, their agents or advisers.
It is exceedingly difficult to achieve the right balance. No doubt we shall have considerable debate in Committee on such provisions as have been mentioned today by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, and others. I refer, for example, to Clause 84, which precludes an appeal where the Home Secretary certifies that the appeal is sought simply to delay removal from the UK. The Law Society has expressed concern about Clause 84 and about the substitution in Clause 89 of a statutory right of appeal on a point of law from the Immigration Appeal Tribunal for normal judicial review. It does not like this statutory right of appeal because it is to a single judge and because no oral argument is allowed. Nor does the Law Society like the provision in Clause 82 for removal of asylum seekers, whose cases are "clearly unfounded", to a safe country, and the fact that any appeal has to be made from outside the UK. They may be Committee points, but my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws made several valid, pragmatic and practical points on that score.
I shall not make any Committee points today. At present, the Law Society puts forward some good arguments. However, it does not do the balancing act. It does not balance the points it makes against the need to combat the abuse and delaying tactics of some asylum seekers. I would also say—this is my final word to the Minister—that I am not sure that the Home Office has made sufficient argument and chapter and verse of the events of the past 10 or 20 years to demonstrate the sufficiency of abuse to justify radically different procedures from the sort of fair procedure points put forward earlier today by what I might call the human rights lawyers such as my noble friend Lady Kennedy and the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill. We look forward to the Minister dealing with such points, if not today certainly in Committee when we debate those clauses concerning appeal.
§ 8.23 p.m.
§ Lord Mayhew of Twysden
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Borrie. He referred to one of the predecessor Bills to that we are debating today—the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, in 1991. The noble Lord referred to that as extending rights of appeal, among other things. He said that the Minister replying to the debate might reflect ruefully upon its similarity to the present Bill and the introduction he made. I am not sure that that is a valid point as regards extending rights of appeal. The significant part of this Bill is intended to restrict rights of appeal. That is a point to which I hope to return and echo something of what has been said by noble Lords.
I welcome the Government's determination to grapple yet again with the problems arising from the extraordinarily difficult issue of asylum. I am sorry to speak a little harshly. There is nothing personal in what I am about to say to the Minister. I deplore with 1147 equal fervour what I can only describe as the autocratic and dictatorial action of the Government in declining to allow substantial and important parts of the Bill even to be discussed in the other place. I listened to what was said by the Minister when that point was put to him in an intervention. His explanation—for which he had no responsibility—was that the Government had been listening and chose to introduce important amendments at a late stage. There is a perfectly proper and practical procedure for dealing with those circumstances. The Government should change the business, go back to Standing Committee stage and have those matters debated. I would have been ashamed of resorting to a guillotine Motion to secure the avoidance of any debate in those circumstances. I hope that the Minister will find time to add to his explanation of why the other place was given no opportunity to discuss important matters, leaving this House with the task of scrutinising them all the more carefully.
I share the view which the Government espouse along with everyone who has spoken that amid all the pressures generated by the extraordinary flow of people seeking asylum we must not forget the benefit that the reception of asylum seekers has brought to our country in past years. One or two moving illustrations have been given in the course of the debate. We must not forget that the same experience may well and in all probability will fall to us in future years. However, I agree with the Minister that we have to manage the asylum scene, and so we do.
The key to successful management can be found in two concepts. The first is justice and the second practicality. I believe that properly understood it will be seen that those two complement each other and do not conflict. Current and recurring pressures on our system bring high risks of injustice. First, there is injustice to asylum seekers if their claims are not dealt with expeditiously, which means legal advice being made available to them at the earliest opportunity; in practice, when they are accommodated, if they are, in the new accommodation centres. That is essential in terms of justice. The second area of injustice is to the taxpayer, the ordinary citizens of this country, if the system has such manifest deficiencies that the burden of supporting and supervising asylum seekers once here has to be carried unnecessarily month after month and sometimes year after year.
To add to that, the arrival of some 750 increasingly disaffected asylum seekers in accommodation centres proposed to be set up in rural areas with, I believe, a capacity of some 3,000, may well have a disruptive and, to put it no higher, expensive effect.
As regards injustice to applicants, we must never forget our duty or tradition of fairness. If we do that we undermine something essential to our tradition, to our history and to the moral basis of our government and our state. Our immigration law is now extremely complex and detailed. The Bill should not simply empower legal advice to be provided in the accommodation centres; it should be made a duty so that applicants know as early as practicable where they may stand and are not misled, as so many have been, 1148 into believing that the longer they slay in limbo the greater their chances ultimately of being allowed to stay for good. Legal advice, if enough people are to be available to give it when it is most needed—that is, early—will cost a lot of money. But it will save the cost of unnecessary, protracted accommodation further down the line. The Treasury must look further than the immediate bottom line on the first page of the papers.
Early determination is not only our duty to applicants; it is economically advantageous in one other respect. If it is properly provided and properly funded, it will allow for co-located appeal machinery. My noble friend Lady Anelay of St Johns referred to the one-stop shop in what was rightly described as a "powerful speech". The one-stop shop must be the ideal. I see no indication in this Bill that the Government share that ideal. The key to it is enough money to provide for the whole legal machinery—advice, decision and appeal—in the same place and within a short time of each other.
In opening, the Minister referred to bringing clarity to the position of local authorities. He said that the Government wanted to ease the pressures upon them. Perhaps I may be allowed to make a specific point at this time, if not a Committee point. It is extremely important that local authorities should have the pressures upon them eased, none more so than those which provide the gateways for persons seeking asylum or immigration in other respects.
For 23 years I represented a Kent constituency. I continue to live in it and therefore know something of the pressures that Kent County Council sustains. The Home Office provides grants to local authorities who, once they have received asylum seekers, place them with other local authorities, as they are not only allowed to do but are obliged to do if they do not have the resources, whether of cash or accommodation, to deal with them. In the case of Kent, absence of accommodation resources obliges the council to place elsewhere all children over 17. There are 750 of them in this country at the present time who came in through Kent. However, Kent remains responsible for them simply because Kent was their gateway into the United Kingdom and the grant is on a reimbursement basis only.
Perhaps the noble Lord can find time to deal with this point, if not tonight, then later in writing. Only last week I am told the Home Office gave notice that the administration costs undertaken by councils will no longer be eligible for grant. What can be the justification for that unless it is Treasury parsimony, insisting on targets of savings? Two changes are needed: first, the reversal of that decision; secondly, the receiving authority, when a child is placed outside the gateway area, assuming responsibility for the child.
I fear I have talked too long, but I want to make a point once more about justice, Clause 89 and judicial review. I believe the Minister will be able to answer this point because he had some notice of it. What are the possible circumstances in which the Lord Chancellor might wish to repeal the provisions in Clause 89 which themselves provide only for a curtailed right of appeal 1149 from the decision of an immigration tribunal? It is an extraordinary proposal. Here is a curtailment of the right to judicial review on a point of law only, and then in subsection (4) we see the provision that the Lord Chancellor may, by order—albeit by affirmative resolution—repeal those provisions. What are the possible circumstances that might lead him to do that and why is that included in the Bill at all?
I conclude with a general point based upon this factor. All governments seem to suffer from fatal inroads into the immune system that normally protects them against the charms of florid, executive autocracy when it comes to considering judicial review. All governments, in my experience, are outraged by judicial review, and their very outrage is itself a measure of its importance to the rule of law.
Clause 89 curtails the right to judicial review when it should not. In my view, in subsection (4), the Government propose a power for the Lord Chancellor to take away something he should never contemplate taking away? Why? We are not told and I hope that the Minister can answer. The reason is that precedents have a horrid way of being followed. If we do nothing else in the subsequent stages of this Bill, I trust that we shall get rid of subsection (4).
§ 8.36 p.m.
§ The Earl of Sandwich
My Lords, this is the third Bill in seven years in which I have taken part, so I feel I can welcome the Minister and the noble Baronesses, Lady Anelay and Lady Ludford, to this debate. I am relieved that the political climate has improved and that this time there is much more consensus. Confrontation seems to have given way to a degree of contrition because so many mistakes have been made by both governments.
The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, fairly and firmly reminded us of some of the Labour Government's U-turns. At the same time we appreciate that a huge effort has been made in the IN D to reduce the backlog accumulated under the Tories. I doubt whether a Liberal Democrat government could have done much better because events move so quickly and much law is being made on the hoof, as we see in this Bill.
However, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, and the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said, there was too little time for consultation on the White Paper and many of the concerns of the voluntary organisations have been wholly ignored. Some clauses were introduced at the last moment and were hardly discussed at all in the Commons.
The Government's response to questions from the Human Rights Joint Committee came so late that its report could be published only last Friday, missing the Commons stages altogether, which makes scrutiny in this House exceptionally important. The Joint Committee is to be commended on bringing out a report of such quality.
Many of us who wish to amend the Bill—for example, where it fails to recognise the rights of asylum seekers in accommodation centres, and in later clauses 1150 on detention or removal—will be grateful for this rigorous scrutiny of every clause in the light of the ECHR and the convention, which partly makes up for the lack of attention in the Commons and ensures that we shall be able to do our duty in Committee.
As always, there is considerable public alarm about the number of applicants and reasons for asylum, much of it ill-informed as a recent survey showed. It is important to see our asylum seekers in perspective, especially against the wider European background.
In this island we tend to forget the vast tides of migration which have occurred in Europe since the last war and even in the last decade. I have been reading Neal Ascherson's account of the Greek diaspora and the return of the surviving Pontine Greeks from their ex-Soviet Black Sea settlements, some of which go back to the time of Herodotus, which seems to put this into perspective. The poorest countries always seem to carry the heaviest responsibilities for crises, usually not of their making. I believe that the EU countries should help to address this problem. Equally, it should not all fall on the shoulders of the Pas de Calais and Kent.
Surely it is time for all of us to look outwards and recognise that the world moves on and that our asylum seekers, let alone our recognised refugees, are a tiny fraction of the 12 million received elsewhere. What is different is that we are among those states that are proud of setting high standards of reception and processing and we must not let those standards drop because of our own legislative failures.
Spain did well to put this subject at the top of the agenda at Seville, and it was unfortunate that aid conditionality became an issue, or to my mind a red herring. It is quite obvious that good governance, as a criterion of aid, is linked with asylum and migration, and the more we can do to work with and support countries of first asylum the more we shall be able to improve our asylum procedures. That will also help in the context of anti-terrorism.
We also need to persuade our EU neighbours that uniformed border patrols and management of external borders are really a defence mechanism and are not an adequate expression of a common asylum policy such as that agreed at Tampere. All the Home Office brief says on the matter is that negotiations are continuing on so many of the issues. We learn from the summit of last weekend that the common asylum system is, at last, slowly moving ahead on a common definition, on penalties and even on some integrated policies, although in some instances the UK will have to make progress on its own. The UN resettlement quota, which we discussed last week in Clause 50, is one example, and NGOs are genuinely pleased that the Government are determined to move forward on this. I have listened to the Minister in European Union Sub-Committee F and I have noticed that he wears a serene expression that suggests a liberal tendency, but it disguises a resolution not to give too much away too early. I shall watch this space!
In my view it will require a firmer unilateral move by the UK, along with Scandinavian countries, if we are to ensure that the EU as a whole develops a proper 1151 policy of resettlement which will create a meaningful gateway for genuine refugees. I also welcome the highly skilled migrants scheme that was announced today and the plan for seasonal migrants. I welcome the efforts of the Department for International Development to improve conditions in countries of origin and the measures in Clause 126 against the trafficking of women and children. I say that as a hoard member of Christian Aid and a council member of Anti-Slavery International. That together with the new arrangements for voluntary departures in Clause 49 are areas of the Bill on which we can move forward.
However, there are others where the Government are either wobbling or taking a distinctly backward step. The wobble is in the clauses on the pilot accommodation centres because the Government cannot decide what they are, or whether they will come into being. All the NGOs and local groups affected and consulted—for what that has been worth—say that they are far too large and that they would be better if they catered for 100 to 200 rather than 750. The whole concept is under attack, with the Refugee Council saying that the Government would do better to concentrate on improving their dispersal policy as those centres will cater for only one-tenth of asylum seekers. I strongly sympathise with that view.
As we have heard, there will be many amendments on the position of children. The Children's Consortium, especially Save the Children, is strongly opposed to children and families being included, arguing that that would be in breach of several articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It says that there should be more induction centres to help children to recover from trauma and upheaval. Today we have heard that only one is now open, so that will take a long time. Other NGOs like Asylum Aid have real concerns about protection for single women, as has also been mentioned. Of course, there should be proper access to appropriate legal advice.
Clause 31 will be hotly contested as it removes the duties of LEAs towards children in accommodation centres. The Refugee Council and many others are concerned about separate education. Obviously, newly arrived children cannot go straight into mainstream schools and provision will depend on the average length of stay. NGOs are quite rightly sceptical after the past few years that governments will keep their word and limit the time that asylum seekers spend in such centres. One can sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who mentioned the half-way house which, in practice, may mean half-way education. We cannot live with that concept.
There are parallel concerns about "residency restriction". NGOs are saying that under some clauses—Clause 23—non-compliance with regulations could affect their claims. Under Clauses 37 and 38 offers of accommodation will affect the rights of asylum seekers to support. In fact they would fail the basic eligibility test of destitution under the 1999 Act. f hope that the Minister will deny that today, although the citizens advice bureau and others are determined to have the clause deleted.
1152 In Part 3 the amount of support will again be challenged as after the abolition of vouchers, there will still be imbalances in a system, which is a deterrent, deliberately weighted against asylum seekers, as the noble Lord, Lord Lester, mentioned. Also in Parts 4 and 5 the Government are taking backward steps. Many question the notion in Clause 56 that detention can simply become removal at the wave of a wand. The number of detainees is to rise steeply. Repeal of automatic bail hearings in Clause 57(6) has caused deep disappointment and frustration among professionals who work alongside detainees. I declare an interest as a patron of the Haslar Visitors Group.
The Government say that the old Part 3 of the 1999 Act is incompatible with streamlining, but law practitioners respond that people could now be detained for much longer periods—more than in the European Union. Unless they are heard at specified points during their detention, they can simply disappear. Thousands have now been detained without any automatic access to judicial oversight. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, some very young children have been among them.
Bail for Immigration Detainees has quoted the case of "D" who was detained with her 18-month old child pending removal. A judicial review was lodged but no bail application was made and the mother and child were released only on health grounds after spending four months in detention.
The statutory review provisions in Clauses 70(1) onwards have NGOs literally up in arms because they appear to be a betrayal of this Government's own dearly-held human rights policies. Many noble Lords have emphasised that point. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford was the first and we heard the crystal-clear view of the Human Rights Joint Committee, expressed by the noble Lord. Lord Lester, when he quoted paragraph 98 of its report.
As I understand it, the new procedure will mean that any appeal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal in the UK against certification of "manifestly unfounded" cases will be refused and cannot be judicially reviewed. NGOs feel that that is a political move that runs against the principle of judicial review and that ironically it stems from the high success rate of appeals to date.
The alternative plan for appeals to be heard in a "safe" third country is seriously flawed, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. For one thing, there is little likelihood of such appeals ever taking place. The Dublin convention has failed to stop "asylum shopping" and there is the definition of a "safe country". Zimbabwe was safe, but Zimbabwean asylum seekers could have been removed to face death or imprisonment if there had not been a public outcry. On the positive side, there is a Home Office proposal for an independent country information centre support by the Refugee Council which will certainly bring more confidence.
In conclusion, the Government are understandably trying to speed up the process of assessment, re view and removal in response to strong, but misinformed, 1153 public feeling. I recognise that there is a problem of common standards among legal practitioners which is being addressed. The present system is undoubtedly cumbersome and I have heard one judge call it "procedurally heavy". In that respect the suggestions of my noble friend Lord Hylton are valuable in relation to the importance of initial decisions. The Government cannot expect to streamline procedures without the due legal process that they themselves have championed in previous legislation. Like others, I look forward eagerly to the Government's response today and during Committee. It will need to be both convincing and of high quality.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Earl Attlee
My Lords, before speaking in the debate I should declare an interest as president of the Heavy Transport Association, patron of the Road Rescue Recovery Association and of course as being well briefed by other trade associations.
I suspect that I am singing from the same song sheet as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. Unfortunately I missed part of his speech, but I know where he is coming from and I support him. My concerns centre around Clause 108 and Schedule 8 to the Bill and the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. These provisions make a civil penalty against transport operators who inadvertently bring clandestine immigrants into the country.
I did not take part in the debates on the 1999 Act because I had other Front Bench duties at the time. But I believed then that either the 1999 Act was not ECHR-compliant, or ECHR was so badly drafted that the Government could call a fine a "civil penalty" and therefore avoid the difficulties of taking a case to court under the Immigration Act 1971.
Let us imagine that Mr Mugabe signed up to the equivalent of ECHR and then legislated against certain types of parasite on farms and that there was an automatic fixed civil penalty—that is, a fine—for every incident of parasite infection, and let us suppose that the fine was big enough to make the farmer bankrupt. I suspect that your Lordships would be growing extremely excited.
I accept that transport operators may not be loved by many, but everyone is happy to take consumer goods that are moved around Europe by trucks or by the trains of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. I believe that noble Lords are not concerned about transport operators, perhaps because transport operators— particularly road transport operators—are based in Barking, Dagenham, Dartford and Salford, and not Islington or even Norfolk.
I understand the problem. Once a bogus or clandestine immigrant lands in the UK he has succeeded in his objective. But I find it peculiar that we have recently amended service discipline in the Armed Forces and interfered with our system of summary jurisdiction because it was felt that it might be slightly non-ECHR compliant, yet we introduced the 1999 Act, which provides that when clandestine immigrants 1154 are detected on a system of transport in the UK, the Secretary of State can impose a civil penalty—that is, a fine—of £2,000 per illegal immigrant. We are not talking about a £50 parking fine; it is £2,000 for each and every illegal immigrant. If there is an appeal, it is heard by the Secretary of State and the same group of officials is involved.
I accept that the Bill makes some welcome improvements, largely as a result of recent litigation to which noble Lords have referred, but I shall be tabling several amendments; first, to specify that if an operator uses independent CO2 screening facilities at a port he should be exempt from the civil penalty if clandestines still manage to enter the vehicle. Secondly, we must have an independent tribunal, preferably before imposing the civil penalty, but, failing that, it is essential to have a rapid independent appeal tribunal. Finally, as I explained, the basis on which the civil penalty is calculated is the number of clandestines detected and not the degree of negligence. I believe that that is wrong.
I shall leave my detailed arguments for Committee stage, but the Minister should be aware that the industry is deeply worried about this part of the Bill.
§ 8.54 p.m.
§ Lord Clinton-Davis
My Lords, I am afraid that I shall disappoint the House because I am not going to talk about transport. My noble friend Lord Filkin has a reputation in this place for having a soft tongue. On this occasion I fear that he has to balance it with a hard stick. I plead with him not to be too hard tonight and on subsequent occasions. I compliment him on the fact that—as well deserved as it may be—he is on the Front Bench. He was there before, but now he is a real Minister and he has real power. He is going to offer us all sorts of opportunities on future occasions to change the Bill. I have every faith in him.
There can be no more sensitive issues in our political life than those raised by this Bill. I sense that this House is deeply troubled by what it sees. There has hardly been a speech in the debate in praise of the Bill. Many voices with real authority have been raised: the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, a former Attorney-General and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, has been deeply troubled by what he has heard. My noble friend Lord Dubs, who was for a long time chief executive of the Refugee Council, of which I was chairman, is probably also deeply troubled.
Perhaps it is appropriate to say at the beginning of my contribution that my grandparents on both sides were refugees—or perhaps they may be termed economic migrants; that distinction was not made in the 19th century. They came here because they believed that they would be more welcome here than they were in their own country; the land of their birth. They also believed—perhaps they were being fanciful, I do not know—that they could change things and that their presence here, while not altogether welcomed by some, would be beneficial to the community.
1155 Life here was certainly better than that to which they had become accustomed. Work was desperately hard. Life, particularly for the menfolk, was often very short. Both my grandfathers died in their forties. I did not know them. When I look back and span my years in the House of Commons and the House of Lords, as well as four years in the European Commission, I think of the good fortune that has smiled on me compared with them and I honour those who have been rather less fortunate than myself. Is so much for which my grandparents battled now to be forfeited? Is all this to be done by the new Labour Government?
Last Thursday was World Refugee Day. Millions of people have been rescued from persecution all over the world when they sought asylum in more benign countries. Those who reach out for a better way of life are entitled to be treated with dignity, even if they cannot be rewarded with a permanent right of abode. That was the burden of the intervention made by the Leader of the House earlier today. I earnestly hope that his words will be adhered to in practice. Therefore, I pray that we can conduct these debates with an understanding of the motives of those who seek refuge here and of those who seek to protect them.
I mention those facts because they undoubtedly colour my attitude towards the Bill. There are certain parts of the Bill which I find extremely realistic and beneficial and others which I find rather dangerous and therefore unacceptable.
I say in passing that it is not good enough that certain important provisions of the Bill were not considered by another place. I refer to major new changes which were made. I entirely agree with the proposition advanced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, that the other place had the opportunity to consider them. Of course it may he that there ought to have been a re-commitment of the Bill. But, whatever the position, it will not be enough to fall from my noble friend's lips tonight that they did not have the chance. They did.
I turn to certain details of the Bill. Perhaps before I do that I ought to preface what I have to say by referring to the 330 representations which were made by various organisations in response to the Government. They were not even considered. It is an appalling slight upon my noble friends in the Government and in another place that that should happen. What do they think these organisations are for? Do they think that they are the enemies of the state? I cannot believe that. Their work is sometimes forsaken, but in the main it is advantageous to the people on whose behalf they speak out.
I believe, together with other noble Lords, that Clause 82 prevents an asylum seeker appealing against refusal of asylum by the Secretary of State while the asylum seeker is in the United Kingdom. That is unacceptable. Why should such a person be denied the right of appeal? Ordinary people charged with crime that I used to represent are entitled to be heard. Is an asylum seeker someone different—someone who is not entitled to exactly the same rights as an ordinary person charged with crime?
1156 It means, in effect, that an asylum seeker who fears death, torture or persecution cannot have his or her case judicially considered. I believe there has been totally inadequate consideration of this draconian provision by another place.
What value can one place on a decision taken in a country where torture or persecution, or worse, is enabled to take place? Or, similarly, where an appeal takes place in a third country, can we be sure that the essential points of the appeal will always be taken? Will they always be entitled to retain the legal resources or welfare entitlements to pursue their appeal? Judicial oversight of these procedures is absolutely essential. Does anyone really and convincingly assert that all officials who deal with those cases are properly trained or supervised? Do they always comprehend what is going on in the countries from which the asylum seeker comes?
I turn to legal representation. A point made by a number of noble Lords tonight is that there is absolutely no provision in the Bill to ensure that an asylum seeker and his witnesses should be paid for the cost of travel to see his legal representatives for advice and for preparation of his case. It is plainly unsatisfactory that a publicly-funded solicitor should go to his client for a lengthy visit, which is the only alternative.
Are bail hearings no longer necessary to comply with the Human Rights Act? That was the clear advice given to and accepted by Her Majesty's Government in 1999. I say once more: why should asylum seekers be treated worse than persons accused of crime?
I turn to legal aid, or some form of legal funding to enable legal representation at asylum support hearings and hearings before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, if indeed, they replace the system of judicial review, which I hope that they will not. Is not that a breach of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as may be the streamlining of appeal in the overriding interests of speed at the possible expense of justice?
So I am deeply concerned about many of the Bill's provisions. I do not have time to mention all of my concerns now, but the removal of applicants before their appeal is one that I mention specifically. I submit that the abolition of oral rather than written argument before judges is also a serious matter where issues of credibility arise or where the facts may he highly complex.
Let us remember that what is proposed is that officials and inferior tribunals should replace judicial scrutiny. It is noteworthy that the recent review of judicial procedure conducted by Sir Jeffery Bowman made no mention of any such steps.
To conclude, if ever it needed to be tested that Parliament should avail itself of the right to further scrutiny, it is on this Bill. The House of Lords has a clear duty in that regard.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Lord Bhatia
My Lords, this is the fourth time in the past 10 years that immigration and asylum legislation has been reviewed. I welcome that because it gives us an opportunity to amend some of the shortfalls of previous legislation and to make the Bill more of an enabling one.
I remind your Lordships that Britain is a signatory to various international conventions, most of which assert that the recognition of the inherent dignity of all members of the human family is the foundation of equal human rights. It is on the issue of equal human rights that I wish to share my thoughts with your Lordships. No doubt, we shall have the opportunity to propose amendments to the Bill's detail in Committee. A number of issues such as children and family relations, employment, race relations, and accommodation centres, need to be discussed with a view to amending the Bill.
As an immigrant myself, having come to this country about 30 years ago, I understand the feelings, fears and frustrations of an immigrant, be he an asylum seeker or a person seeking employment or citizenship. The Bill must be sensitive to those feelings, fears and frustrations. We must ask ourselves why people want to migrate to Britain.
As an immigrant, I asked myself the same question 30 years ago. I saw Britain as a fair and just society. It had a tradition of welcoming immigrants over the centuries. It was a tolerant, liberal and free country. Most importantly, it was the oldest democracy with equality and respect for human rights at its core. Those were the reasons that prompted me to come to Britain, and I have never regretted my decision. The fact that I stand before your Lordships today as a Member of the House bears testimony to my assertion that this country is fair, just and democratic, giving equal rights to all who live here.
So today, I want only to remind your Lordships of those principles of democracy that we all hold dear and, as we revise and review the Bill, to think about those who want to come to this country, whether fleeing persecution or even death or seeking employment or citizenship. That review should focus not on deterring or restricting immigrants but on considering them with compassion, generosity and fairness. We should also take the view that, based on our past experiences, immigrants can be contributors and an asset to this country.
I wish to submit that few people wish to leave their home and move to another country and another culture. Some migrate because they have been forced to leave their country—Uganda comes to mind as an example. Others move because they perceive danger coming their way and must leave ahead of being unlawfully arrested, tortured or even killed. When such people arrive on our shores, we must devise methods and processes for dealing with them that are humane and sensitive and not aggressive or confrontational. The success of our immigration officers should be based not on how many people they have turned back but on how many people have been allowed in. Over the years, I have observed the 1158 processes, and I have shared and understood the fears, frustrations, hurt and uncertainty that run through the minds of immigrants. I would not wish it on anyone, and, in legislating, we must understand the reasons why immigrants decide to come to Britain. We must frame rules that are fair and sensitive.
We have three choices when dealing with people who come to our door. First, we can refuse to open the door. Secondly, we can open the door and then slam it shut. Thirdly, we can open the door to allow the person to come in and listen to his reasons for entering the country. Traditionally, Britain has made the third choice. In the past 150 years of migration to this country, people of different nationalities, colours, creeds and languages have come in and made their contribution in a huge variety of occupations, trades and endeavours. It is one of the most remarkable success stories of this nation.
We have gained by encouraging immigration. One could easily prove that by considering the number of jobs created by Ugandans, the wealth that they have accumulated and created and the success that they have made out of the opportunity that we gave them when they arrived penniless 30 years ago. We welcomed them with understanding, and we gave them respect and equal rights to develop their full potential. The British people must not lose that attribute. The laws that we craft today should nurture that tradition of tolerance and fairness. A thread of human rights and justice should pass through every clause, every paragraph, every sentence and every word of the legislation. The legislation must reflect the history and the tradition of Britain. It must take into account the needs and frustrations of the migrants. I am deeply conscious that the migrants for whom we are legislating are not here to argue their case, so I wish to speak for them, as many others have done today and in the past.
On his retirement, a friend with whom I had worked in Oxfam for many years said to me, "Thank you for allowing me to touch and smell poverty. I had read about it, but it is different when you can touch and smell it". Similarly, the plight of those who come to these shores can be understood not by reading about it in the abstract but by gaining a full understanding of the issues and by learning from the past, when we opened our doors to those who were in distress and were fleeing from oppression and death.
In the ancient Vedas of India, it says:Our guests are our gods".We must consider those who come to our door as humans, if not as gods. If we do, we will have done our bit for global human society.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Lord Dubs
My Lords, I shall start by saying that, for the seven years up to 1995, I was head of the Refugee Council. That experience strongly influenced my attitudes to the issue. The way in which Europe and this country deal with asylum seekers will continue for many years to be a test of our commitment to human rights.
1159 When it is put to people in this country and all over Europe that we are talking about people with a well founded fear of persecution fleeing because they fear torture, imprisonment and even death, they accept that it is a human rights responsibility. However, the obscenity of people trafficking is a threat to the integrity of the human rights principles of the asylum system. It confuses public opinion, and people become critical and hostile, when they would otherwise be supportive and sympathetic. Most people realise that the asylum seekers who come to this country are highly motivated people who wish to get a job and contribute to society and their community in this country. But with people trafficking we have an entirely different process. Therefore, I welcome any moves to strengthen the provisions against people trafficking. I hope that those people will be caught and punished because they are playing havoc not just with the integrity of the asylum system but with lives, as many people die in the process of being part of the traffic to this country or Western Europe.
We should also be careful about the language we use when talking about asylum and refugees. It is all too easy to use emotive and prejudicial language. That is unhelpful. It simply inflames the more prejudiced elements of public opinion. It does not help towards the clarity of approach. I hope that everyone will continue to he very careful about how they describe asylum seekers and refugees.
There is a threat in Europe from the far Right. We have to understand the people who are susceptible to such influences even though not of the far Right politically. But such an understanding does not mean that we should pander to the views of the far Right, but be robust in the defence of our basic principles.
I believe it is right that we should move, if possible, to an Eli-wide approach to this matter for the reason that frontiers are easier to cross and so forth, provided that that approach is based on human rights principles and is not simply an attempt to close doors against people who have a proper and legitimate claim under the 1951 convention. Where people do not have such a claim it is vital that they should be removed if there are no other compassionate circumstances. The corollary is that we have to be robust in defending the right of people who have a claim under the 1951 convention.
Having said that, I believe that the pressure of asylum seekers and others is imposing enormous burdens on a liberal society such as ours. It is very hard for such a society to be as tough as it might wish with people who do not qualify under the 1951 convention. I have therefore come to the conclusion that, in parallel with an asylum policy, we need an immigration policy. I note that the Government have said something about that in the recent past. By an immigration policy I do not mean simply the work permit system which we have had for so many years, but a small quota of people who could qualify under what I might call a green card scheme. They would be people who have the skills which we need and who can apply from the countries in which they live to come here.
1160 I am not saying that it should be a large scheme, but if we had such a system it would enable us more robustly to say to people who do not qualify under the Geneva Convention, "Go back home; you can't jump the queue, but you have another way of getting to this country". I add that it would work much better if it were done Europe-wide so that there were not pressures in one EU country against another. That is the way in which we should move forward. If we do not, I believe that we shall continue to have legislation and try to respond to pressures, some of which are legitimate and some not. We may not get on top of the difficulties. I would like to see an immigration policy alongside an asylum policy.
Everybody agrees that there is a need for quick decisions provided the process is fair. What we should not do is throw fairness and integrity of procedure out of the window in the wish to have a quick decision. I have long been a supporter of quick decisions because that is the only way in which to treat people fairly and properly. If it takes years to arrive at a decision and people have already settled here, it is impossible to remove them. It is not even proper to do so.
I have long believed that the Geneva Refugee Convention should mean what it says, that people should seek asylum in the first safe country they reach. I do not mean if they are in transit at an airport. I f they have stayed any length of time in a country they should claim asylum there and be entitled to it, arid not be able to move on to where they want to go. There are two important qualifications. Where there are family links it is right that another country should accept an asylum seeker because of that link even if the first safe country reached was a different one. For example, if a person claims asylum in Germany and it is the first safe country to be reached, but that person has family in this country, it would be sensible if we said that it was proper for that person to come here and vice versa. If there are other links with this country, the system should be flexible enough to accommodate them. If an asylum seeker has been educated here, it may be more sensible for him or her to be given asylum in this country than in Italy, Spain or wherever. However, those are exceptions. In the main the principle has to be that people must seek asylum in the First safe country reached. That is the difficulty we have with Sangatte.
I have long believed that there should be accommodation facilities for newly-arrived people. It is a way of giving them stable accommodation for a period, advice, support and legal help so that they can proceed to make their asylum claim in calmer circumstances. I am worried about accommodation centres that will be located miles away from any of the support services. I refer to community groups which are very supportive of asylum seekers or those offering legal advice such as the Refugee Legal Centre and the Immigration Advisory Service. It is right that centres should be close enough for reasonable access.
If accommodation centres are large, arrangements will have to be made for schooling within the centres. But that is not an argument for large accommodation 1161 centres. It is an argument for small centres and a quick move into local schools. Yes, there will be extra burdens on local schools and help needs to be given to them. I accept that in the short term children who do not speak English can be taught English separately. But after that it is surely right that they should move into ordinary schooling. I think that that is the right way forward. That presupposes smaller accommodation centres in more accessible locations and such community support as possible.
We hear a great deal about the policy of dispersing asylum seekers. We have to be careful about how we do so. Of course, I am in favour of it in principle. When I was with the Refugee Council we were dealing with Bosnian asylum seekers under the Home Office scheme—those who had come out of Serb concentration camps, as I think they should be called. We sought to disperse people but in clusters so that there were enough people from the same background for mutual support; and local support could be provided. If one disperses asylum seekers in penny packets throughout the country, they will feel lonely and isolated and want to return to areas where they receive community support. I am in favour of dispersal but it must be done properly and sensibly.
We have to be careful about push-pull factors in Europe. I do not agree with many of the points made. We have a better system with regard to entitlement to work after six months in this country than do many other countries. It is proper, and represents human dignity, to say, "Yes, you have the right to work after six months here". But if we are one of the few European countries which allows that, there will be pressure to come here because people want to work. Asylum seekers do not want to live on benefits. In my experience, they are desperate to work and make their way. We should argue that there should be similar arrangements in other European countries as regards the right to work for asylum seekers. We should not make our system worse; other European countries should make theirs better.
I am concerned about detention on the arbitrary decision of an official. It goes against all our traditions of justice and rights for people. I am not sure that I fully understand the bail arrangements when asylum seekers are detained. I do not say that there are no circumstances in which someone may be detained. When a man or woman is being removed, it may be necessary to detain him or her. But when people come into the country there should be some safeguards against the say-so of an official. A simpler system would be to have the right to apply to an immigration tribunal and adjudicator. I am not sure that the bail system will be fast or flexible enough. I do not know what kind of bail system we shall have when the Bill goes through. I urge the Government to consider a straightforward, simple, quick system whereby the Home Office would have to demonstrate that there is a need to keep someone in detention; otherwise the presumption should be that he should not be detained and locked up.
1162 I should like to make two final points. First, along with many other noble Lords, I am concerned about applicants having to appeal against unfavourable decisions outside this country. Perhaps we could devise an arrangement within the European Union because the Union is a safe place. But to send asylum seekers to more distant countries where they would be totally out of the reach of legal advice and those who understand our laws, and who might be in danger in those countries, would be difficult. I am not happy about those arrangements as I understand them.
Secondly, on the proposal to learn the English language, I believe that it is highly desirable. Those people who have thrown in their lot with this country through the citizenship provisions should be able to speak the language. They cannot exercise their rights as citizens unless they do so. Therefore it is right and desirable to encourage immigrants to learn. Furthermore, they will be entitled to full civic, social and community rights in this country, which I believe is the only way for people to live happy and sensible lives. They must contribute on equal terms with others to life in this country.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ Baroness Ludford
My Lords, I should like to thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. The speeches have been instructive. I offer two further sets of thanks. The first goes to all those organisations that briefed us. We are fortunate in the remarkable strength and quality of the civil society bodies working in the area of justice and human rights. I welcome in particular the formation of the Asylum Coalition, comprising a number of distinguished and respected organisations. It we keep up the rate of introducing new asylum and immigration legislation every two years, those bodies will certainly have plenty of work to do.
Secondly, I thank all refugees and immigrants, including my noble friend Lord Dholakia and the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who, I understand, unfortunately was on the losing side in the tug-of-war contest. I thank not only all the doctors, nurses, engineers and IT specialists, but also the cleaners, minicab drivers, late night shop assistants and construction workers without whom this great city would not function. As the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, himself the descendant of refugees, noted, last Thursday's International Refugee Day should have reminded us both of our obligations and of the benefits of refugees.
Ministers have been given much to think about in the course of a well-informed debate. Many Members of this House have had a great deal of practice on previous immigration and asylum Bills but, in the words of the Refugee Council, we seem to be in the grip of a permanent revolution on this topic. We need to introduce some stability. Again, we are embarking on a search for a set of policies that will be, at long last, durable and workable; indeed, that are worthy of enduring. Are we finally going to get it right this time?
1163 That will be the task of this House over the next few weeks, but we shall manage it only if we change the orientation of the Bill away from its obsession with control, deterrence and restriction—concentrating on the enforcement of negative decisions—towards protection, sound decision-making, respect for human rights and justice, dignity and humanity through processes that are dispassionate, independent and fair. That point was also made by the noble Lord, Lord Bhatia.
I happen to believe that it does not help that the Horne Office views everything from a law and order perspective. It groups crime, immigration, race relations and integration all under one umbrella. The dominant culture in the Home Office is one of control rather than of protection or integration.
There is no call to demonise asylum seekers or economic migrants. We face a serious challenge on immigrants and asylum seekers, but we do not have a crisis. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, pointed out, we need to put things into perspective and not hype them up. The UNHCR has commented that a decade ago Europe had 650,000 asylum seekers in a year; last year the figure was 350,000. That compares to 22 million being hosted in poor countries. Last year the UK had 80,000 asylum seekers, representing one-tenth of I per cent of our population. We take less than 2 per cent of the world's refugees, not 25 per cent, as many Britons believe. The numbers do not bear out the insinuation that the overwhelming majority of cases are undeserving. Some 30 to 40 per cent of applicants are accepted.
I was disappointed a few weeks ago by something the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, said in a newspaper article. He was quoted as saying that economic migrants were abandoning their families. Evidence and reason suggest the opposite. Families will make what is, for them, a highly rational decision to invest in getting a young man out of danger or poverty so that he can earn money and send it back home to keep the remainder of his family alive.
Those who use derogatory language towards asylum seekers and immigrants—words such as "swamping", "soft touch", "scroungers", "cheats", "bogus'— never seem to make up their minds whether the charge they level concerns asylum seekers coming here to take our welfare benefits or our jobs. It cannot be both.
I am sorry that there is not more in the Bill about integration and preparation for work. Asylum seekers should have access to schemes such as the New Deal to increase their employability, as well as to EU funded schemes such as EQUAL. They should have the right to work after six months, although I accept the point of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that this should be on an EU basis. Refugees should have a great deal more help in converting their qualifications, which, for many people, particularly those in the medical field, is extremely difficult.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Desai, that we need a much more coherent overall framework for immigration and asylum policies and that this should 1164 be done at the EU level, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, also said. But it must be based on human rights principles.
I am delighted that the UK proposal to cut aid was defeated at Seville by an interesting—I hesitate to say "unholy" in the presence of the right reverend Prelates—alliance of Sweden and France. We must put much more effort into creating prosperity and democracy in developing countries in order that people are not forced to leave them through desperation but to leave them, as we would expect, through curiosity to see the world and to have new experiences.
The sad thing about the run-up to Seville was that the rhetoric about deterring migrants was not matched by militancy about tackling poverty and human rights abuses, the root causes that act as push factors for people to risk their lives in leaky boats and airtight containers or by clinging to cross-Channel trains. Why was there nothing in the Seville conclusions about the abolition of the protectionism of the CAP, to which the Government subscribe, and the outrageous subsidies for farm exports from the EU and US, which we dump on developed country markets? What about cutting arms exports? Two weeks ago, when the Government were preparing for the potential arrival of refugees from the Kashmir region, they refused to impose an arms embargo on India and Pakistan, as suggested by my colleague.
In the rhetoric on illegal immigration we detect similarities with the Dangerous Dogs Act scenario—that something must be done. I am concerned that this raising of the temperature, far from making Europeans feel more secure, will play into the hands of organisations on the far right by stealing their clothes, as my noble friend Lord. Greaves said. Generating a greater sense of fear and suspicion increases insecurity. We risk a war against illegal immigrants causing collateral damage to tolerance and race relations.
The noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, drew attention to the dangers of creating hostility towards asylum seekers—including an increase in racial attacks— which would place black and Asian British citizens at risk of discrimination.
Instead of raising the barriers of fortress Europe we need a rational strategy consisting of three strands: a common asylum system, a managed, legal migration policy, and policies to stop illegal immigration. If the emphasis is placed purely on deterrence we risk branding all asylum seekers as illegal immigrants. By creating such perceptions, Europe risks drifting into a lowering of its humanitarian obligations.
One problem is that illegal entry is becoming the only way that genuine refugees can gey here. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley and the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, referred to the problems for transport companies of the carrier liability provisions.
Three years ago at the Tampere summit, the heads of state agreed to progress a balancedl package on the three aspects I have mentioned. But, although all the proposals are on the table from the European Commission, very few have been agreed by Ministers.
1165 Ironically, the area in which several measures have been agreed is tackling illegal immigration, including people smuggling and trafficking. Indeed, I believe that the penalties in the Bill derive from the implementation of EU law, and that is a welcome element.
But if we take the commitment to a common asylum system, Ministers have agreed very little. The reform of the Dublin convention, for instance, which would help to solve the Sangatte situation by obliging France to take responsibility for those asylum claims is blocked in the Council by a French veto. The Seville summit set a deadline of the end of this year to agree it, but what chance there is without qualified majority voting I do not know. We need an EU asylum system to stop both forum-shopping and pass-the-parcel".
In the third area that the EU set itself—a policy on legal migration—there is an almost complete lack of progress. It does not help that the UK declines to opt into EU common action in this area. In particular, the EU is refusing to sign up to some liberal measures to give the 1.5 million long-term legal migrants in this country who do not have British passports—Indians, say, or Australians—the right to go on holiday or to get a job in another EU country without going through a lot of red tape. But beyond that, we need an EU blue card scheme.
The Bill does too little to open up legal channels of migration for the unskilled as well as the skilled. The Government have talked about this in recent months, but it has not fed through into these proposals. Anyone who wants an overview of the rather messy situation in EU immigration and asylum policy would do well to read Quentin Peel's article in today's Financial Times. It is a very good description.
Several speakers have emphasised the need for an orderly process. There is no rule of law if we cannot ensure that people who are physically here have a right to be here. But the means that we use are open to debate.
Similar points have been made today, as in relation to the previous Bill four years ago—for example, in order to have a more efficient and better-managed process we must front-load the initial decision-making system. We need the right staff and facilities for efficient and quick decisions; for example, a decent computer system. We need an independent country documentation and assessment centre. We need legal aid and advice from the earliest stage and throughout the procedure. But the commitment to that in the White Paper is not carried through in provisions in the Bill. Speeding up the system just by cutting appeal rights is likely to create both injustice and more delay. It is often the Home Office itself that seeks adjournments because it is not ready.
There are no proposals in the Bill to increase the quality and standard of initial decisions—a defect that has run as a theme through the debate. I agree with the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden.
1166 Representing London, as I do in my other capacity as a Member of the European Parliament, I listened carefully to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Best, who spoke from experience of the need for an effective dispersal system and for proper integration in the local community. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, also made sensible points about dispersal in clusters. There is a real problem of asylum seekers drifting back to London without the London boroughs having the necessary resources to cope with them. But removing the subsistence-only option would make that worse and would lead to a large number of destitute people in our city.
On accommodation centres, I share the view that the proposals need a great deal of change. There should be a time limit of six months on stays; such people should not be placed in rural areas; the centres should be much smaller than the 750 capacity, and by locating them in towns and cities, we can then integrate the children of asylum seekers in local schools. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, deprived local communities are not likely to be well disposed to further pressure on local resources, so we must invest in the communities that host asylum seekers.
I strongly agree with the numerous speakers, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, who have welcomed some aspects of the Bill, such as the abolition of vouchers, citizenship classes and language knowledge. As the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, all of us need citizenship training. I welcome the cooperation with UNHCR on the refugee resettlement programme so long as that is additional to the refugee convention obligation. As my noble friend Lady Williams said earlier, the Seville summit conclusions included a commitment that the EU asylum policy must comply with international conventions, principally the 1951 Geneva convention. I am not sure that we heard the Government say that they fully support that commitment.
The merits of the Bill have been outweighed by expressions of concern, especially from my noble friend Lord Lester, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, as well as the noble Lords, Lord Beaumont of Whitley and Lord Clinton-Davis. The concern is whether the Bill adequately respects human rights. The report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights is a damning indictment of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, referred to parts of the Bill being dangerous and unacceptable. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, said, many aspects of the Bill do no credit to a government committed to social justice. She raised concerns about women in accommodation centres and was rightly worried about detention, which is greatly extended by the Bill.
Time is running out and I need to finish, so I shall not repeat what has been said about all the problems relating to detention, particularly detention of families, the lack of judicial oversight or automatic bail hearings. The defects of those provisions have 1167 been much commented on. There are also restrictions on appeal and judicial review. I know that the Minister will have made good note of those issues.
The Minister has a lot to respond to. I hope that he can reassure us on many of the points that have been raised so that the Bill can be vastly improved and this country can genuinely hold up its head in respecting its international humanitarian obligations.
§ 9.47 p.m.
§ Viscount Bridgeman
My Lords, the hour is late. First, I echo the thanks expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, to every Member of your Lordships' House who has taken part in the debate and to a number of organisations that have given us very good briefing. I also echo the concern expressed from all parts of the House at the deplorable time treatment given to the Bill in another place. I particularly have in mind the strictures of my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew and the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis.
My noble friend Lady Anelay referred briefly to Part 1. I shall concentrate my remarks on that part. We agree with the main thrust of the Bill, which follows the Government's intentions set out in the White Paper, Secure Borders, Safe Haven. However, our support is not wholly uncritical and we shall raise a number of questions during our proceedings on the Bill. We certainly support in principle some form of examination of an applicant for citizenship to find out what they understand to be the British way of life and all that goes with it. Some questions have been raised about the phrase,sufficient knowledge about life in the United Kingdom".This is a subjective assessment. My honourable friend Mr Humfrey Matins drew attention to this in another place, in one of the few precious moments that he was permitted to debate. Is the "examination" to be the subject of an essay or will it be a series of tick-box questions? How much is oral and how much is written?
It is vital that we get this right. For many of the aspiring candidates for citizenship, this will be the most important and far-reaching decision of their life. Many will feel it a source of great pride and privilege to be accepted as a British citizen. We heard a heartwarming endorsement of citizenship of this country from the noble Lords, Lord Bhatia and Lord Ahmed. We owe it to these aspirants to produce a form of examination worthy of those aspirations, as well as satisfying critics in some quarters who claim that the idea reeks of condescension. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, has given us a succinct illustration of the problems faced by those trying to structure a meaningful examination.
It is also important that the regulations giving effect to what one might call the examination for citizenship exhibit due sensitivity to those who should be exempt from the examination requirements. New subsection (2) to be added to the British Nationality Act 1981 will empower the Secretary of State to waive the requirement that a person must have sufficient knowledge of life in the United Kingdom. Such 1168 requirements are likely to apply to young persons, to those arriving in the afternoon of their lives and to those with special needs. We welcome that power of waiver; it is most important that it is applied with sensitivity and common sense.
I turn to the question of the requirement for a certain basic understanding of English as a condition of the granting of citizenship, which is set out in Clause 1(2). That was well set out in the White Paper and has attracted much criticism, which we consider ill-founded. Remarks such as "linguistic colonialism", I suggest, are wide of the mark, although I have to say that the suggestion from a Labour Member of Parliament before the publication of the White Paper that prospective spouses coming to Britain for arranged marriages should be required to learn English was rightly criticised as being a case of the state dictating who was to marry whom.
The tradition of this country has been to welcome immigrants with their own linguistic culture and to permit them to continue it without hindrance and for those who wished to take out British citizenship to do so with very little formality; the ability to speak English was not a consideration. On the whole, it just happened. However, the position today is that many of the communities in which English, Scottish Gaelic or Welsh are not the mother tongue are very large in terms of population. It may well be possible and a temptation for a non-English speaker to get by, as it were, and to get lost in his or her community. However, it is the view on this side of the House that the gaining of British citizenship should require an awareness—albeit in many cases a nebulous awareness—of British civic values. There can be no question that that is made immensely easier by a knowledge of at least one of the native tongues of the United Kingdom. Added to that is the well-documented statistic that knowledge of English a rid, in appropriate localities, of Welsh or Scottish Gaelic, undoubtedly add to the chance of getting a job. That point was articulated by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, who was quoting the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, to another debate. We are persuaded of its necessity but it is important to stress that it is a new development in British mores. We must never forget that there are many loyal citizens of this country who have no English and, conversely, many who feel no affection or allegiance but whose English is excellent.
We welcome the proposal for a citizenship ceremony, which is a well-established procedure in several countries, notably Canada, Australia and the United States. In particular, we are pleased that there is an unequivocal statement of allegiance to Her Majesty the Queen. I am sure that the Minister will look into the question of rectifying the Scottish problems in that regard. The oath, taken with the pledge, are, in our view, an appropriate package for a new candidate for citizenship.
We have real concerns about Clause 4, which are shared by many noble Lords. Many will regard that clause as being contentious, involving as it does the deprivation of citizenship. It is vitally important that that clause is considered most carefully by your 1169 Lordships. Noble Lords will be aware that the Constitution Committee in its 6th report has drawn the House's attention to the fact that, whereas under the British Nationality Act 1981 the Secretary of State may under certain circumstances deprive of British citizenship a person who became a British citizen by registration, this power under the Bill is extended to all British citizens, including, that is, to British-born citizens. I grant that proposed new Clause 40(3) of the British Nationality Act provides that the Secretary of State may not exercise that power if it would thereby make a person stateless. The report goes on to say:This would no doubt remove the potential effect on most British Citizens but could affect such persons who have dual nationality".In other words, the opinion expressed in the report is one of reasonable expectations, but we feel that that requirement in primary legislation is not sufficient. Further elucidation about the way in which the clause, particularly as it affects British citizens, will operate in practice is needed. I hope that the Minister will respond to that point. We shall, if necessary, return to it in later stages of the Bill.
As I said, there are a number of aspects of the Bill with which we on these Benches are in agreement. For the most part, they give effect to the White Paper, which we have welcomed in principle, and in most cases they are sensible improvements on existing immigration legislation. They include the removal of the minimum age for registration, the removal of the previous distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children, and also two important clauses. Clause 10 tightens up the regulations relating to entitlement to the right of abode in the United Kingdom, and Clause 11 clarifies the meaning of "unlawful presence" in the United Kingdom.
Of the contributions made by several of my colleagues, I want to mention in particular that of my noble and learned friend Lord Mayhew. In a strong speech, he laid emphasis on fairness, on the saving of expense and on the basic practicalities of the Bill. If I may say so, he made a number of hits, and I hope that the Minister will rise to the occasion with some convincing replies.
As I said at the beginning, we agree with the general thrust of this part of the Bill. Any suggestions which we make for its improvement will, I hope, be constructive. However, I am aware that our general approval is not shared by many of tonight's speakers. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, left us in no doubt about that. Therefore, we look forward not only to the Minister's reply but also, during the later stages of the Bill, to an open debate on the concerns expressed by many noble Lords.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Lord Filkin
1: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate for their contributions. We have heard some thoughtful and deeply felt speeches. I am particularly grateful to those who managed to stay the course and waited to hear the response. Clearly, in the time that noble Lords will be prepared 1170 to stay, it will be impossible for me to answer all the points raised, but I shall try to address a fair number of them. We shall have an opportunity to go into others in more detail at later stages.
I was reminded both by my noble friend Lord Borrie and by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, of the seriousness of the challenge that any government will face in the situations before us. They are not insuperable challenges, nor ones that we should view as concerning issues that are out of control. Nevertheless, they are serious in that they relate to how one balances humanity with realism, or, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, better expressed it, justice with practicality. In a sense, that is the dilemma. There are pressures on government and we are trying to meet both those tests at the same time rather than believing that we must simply deal with one or the other.
I was reminded of when, as a housing officer, I sought to deal with homelessness applicants. One faced exactly the same problem. People said that certain applicants were exaggerating and telling stories or lies in order to obtain accommodation for the homeless. Sometimes that was true and such people deprived other people of accommodation. Again, one faced the challenge of balancing those two pressures.
I turn, first, to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and to the interesting part of it on the subject of citizenship. He spoke about the importance of an active debate. I very much share that view, and that issue is one of my responsibilities in the Home Office. There is not time to do it justice now, but I should like to talk to the noble Lord later about how, when and in what ways we can try to promote an effective debate on citizenship.
The negative side of that is the deprivation of citizenship, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and my noble friend Lady Uddin. They said that they believed that that matter should be subject to review by the judiciary. We recognise that deprivation of citizenship is a serious step and that it may have serious consequences. It will not be a routine act but will be confined to the most serious cases. Decisions will be subject to review by the judiciary. A full appeal will be available and we shall be able to review the merits of decision-making. As has been mentioned, one cannot deprive a person if, by so doing, it would render him stateless.
§ Lord Lester of Herne Hill
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Can he show us where the right to a full appeal on the merits for deprivation of citizenship appears in the Bill? I could find only some attenuated forms through judicial review on the basis of what are called "Wednesbury principles". Indeed, that criticism was made by the Human Rights Committee. I cannot see, although I may be wrong, that any part of the Bill gives a full right of appeal on the merits for a deprivation of citizenship.
§ Lord Filkin
My Lords, I shall seek to do so, but not tonight. Therefore, I shall write to the noble Lord. However, it is my understanding that there is that right.
1171 I turn to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Desai, about the value of economic migrants or of migration more generally, and to the contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, similarly about the positive benefits of legal migration. As I signalled when opening for the Government, that is right. The Government strongly share the view that managed migration needs to have a much stronger recognition in society.
As has been signalled, we are an ageing population. There will be a need for skills and labour in a variety of forms. Clearly, no one believes that that implies an open door policy. It is not possible or sane to so contemplate, and no one has suggested that. There is not just a need for the highly-skilled; there is a case for looking wider, going further and having a positive approach to legal migrants. However, that must be matched at the same time by the control of illegal immigration. Many of us who have considered the issues believe that one has to make progress on both those elements at the same time.
We should not mince our words. Not much has been said in the debate about illegal immigration or the dangers and damage which that does to individuals, which is slightly surprising. We have hardly mentioned the fact that that is major criminal activity, promoted internationally; that very large sums of money are being made by some people out of people who are relatively poor and who often may not be those in greatest need of refugee status or even of a job in the United Kingdom.
Clearly the House is aware, even though we have not spoken of it, of the damage to people having to work in the black economy because of illegal workers, and the potential for exploitation and abuse, and of health and safety protections not being afforded to them. For all of those reasons I am certain, though we have not discussed it, that the House would recognise that illegal immigration cannot be part of any sane policy, but that does not imply that there is not a strong policy for the development of managed migration more vigorously in the future.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, said quite rightly that economic migrants can be in severe hardship. He is right, but it is not realistic to think that we can solve poverty in the third world just by providing access to employment in this country to everyone who could benefit from it. It is a tragedy that we cannot, but it is not realistic to think that we can.
I turn to the thoughtful but trenchant questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, regarding accommodation centres. As was said in another place, both opposition parties in principle lend their support to or claim credit for inventing accommodation centres but perhaps were seeking to encourage the Government to get it right.
First, the question of "not in rural areas" was raised. The consideration of rural areas for the first few pilot accommodation centres was in recognition of the fact that most of the people who are currently supported by NASS, or by the Government through NASS, are in urban areas. Some 45,000 people are provided with 1172 accommodation through NASS. Looking at the schedule, very few of those are outside urban areas and are often within some of the more deprived communities in our society. That does not automatically mean that everything should be in rural areas. Nor did my right honourable friend David Blunkett so imply. However, this is a national challenge and there is no reason to think that the poorest in our society should face some of the responsibilities for addressing it.
The issue of speed was touched on by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. I agree with the noble Baroness and with the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that if we can have good government or good justice quickly rather than slowly, that is by definition better. Speed matters to the people who are in the system awaiting judgment and who are being supported by the state while that goes through. Therefore the potential, if we get it right—I believe we shall—is that accommodation centres, well-managed, could provide good standards of support and refuge to people who have asked for such refuge and support and, at the same time, so order our affairs to enable the consideration processes to be dealt with together.
In that context the challenge to the Government by a number of speakers—including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay—is to look positively at putting adjudicators on site in some way. Without going too far, that must make sense in principle. The question is whether in practice it is possible to achieve it. If vie can move the judicial process to the public or the appellants, rather than vice versa, one adds more humanity to it and, it is to be hoped, builds some expertise into the system. That could potentially work well.
The arguments against accommodation centres have sometimes been that they are not integrating people into society and that we ought to be doing that. I totally agree with that if we are talking about people who have been accepted for refugee status, whose asylum claim has been accepted. But that is not the people who are in accommodation centres. They are people who are being considered for refugee status but it has not yet been granted. As soon as a person is granted refugee status, they are free to leave the accommodation centre and go where they wish in Britain, with a leave to remain, and find accommodation one hopes with the support and follow-through that the Government signal may be necessary.
The issue then concerns the speed with which accommodation centres can deal with applicants. The current rate for the most recent cases of people who have applied for asylum is that 70 per cent or so are being dealt with within two months—not looking at the backlog. If we sustain that rate, then anyone who had a refugee status recognised on the initial interview would be able to leave the accommodation centre within two months. That seems to me to be good, right and proper.
1173 On the other hand, those who are not accepted but exercise their right to appeal clearly do not have refugee status and therefore continue to live in the accommodation centre until their case is determined, one hopes through an accelerated process such as that we have spoken about.
Obviously the rate of success of people who appeal, though there is success, is lower. Everybody who appeals does not necessarily succeed. So as the appeals process continues, the success rate shrinks. Therefore the argument for integration of people who will not be accepted as having a right of residence in the United Kingdom is a weak one. It does not benefit people who will be expected to leave the country that we half-integrate them into society. In the mean time, we have a duty to give them proper accommodation and shelter, and to ensure that their children are given the same rights and protection as our own children in terms of education, care and protection. That does not imply that they should be integrated if we are to disintegrate them later.
With regard to the "rural only" aspect, I should point out that we have already submitted planning applications in respect of two sites, and Pershore will follow shortly. If I gave the impression that that was under the fast-track procedure, I was wrong. I should have made clear it was under the ordinary procedure, which allows a full eight weeks for consideration of the application by the local authority. I shall not go into how the sites were evaluated. But we would be happy to consider and evaluate other sites that are brought to our attention. As David Blunkett indicated in another place, his mind is not closed on these issues.
We have made a commitment that there will be access to legal advice in the centres. The provision of that advice will depend on local circumstances. It could be an on-site lawyer, an out-reach service or through a solicitor in the local area. We are in discussion with the Legal Services Commission on what would be the best approach in each area or circumstance.
On education, I hope that we shall be able to come back in Committee to discuss that in more detail. But I believe that there is the potential for making a good and appropriate form of educational provision for children in accommodation centres. First, I shall mention a number of basic facts. The national curriculum will apply; Ofsted inspections will apply; and some LEA functions and responsibilities will still apply. As the noble Lord, Lord Lester, would be the first to point out, we have an obligation under the Human Rights Act to treat them no less well and fairly than our own children, even if they are to be in this country only for a limited number of months.
One also needs to recognise that potentially they will be moved, either to a permanent address in Britain because their refugee status has been accepted, or, unfortunately for them, out of the country. Therefore, an accommodation centre provides the potential to give some stability to their lives while that process goes through. We are committed to a proper and 1174 appropriate range of education provision, including nursery education, primary and secondary education, and some support for those aged 16 plus, although some may need to go out into the wider community for 16-plus education if they are there for any length of time. There is also the potential to provide some specialist support, recognising that such people could well have suffered trauma and that they could need additional English language tuition over and above what they would receive in a normal school.
The challenge to the Government is to demonstrate that in those circumstances children will benefit rather than suffer from the process. Clearly, they will not benefit more than ordinary British children, but taking their circumstances into account it will be a good and decent education. We intend to rise to that challenge.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, also raised the issue of single women in accommodation centres. He is right to say that we need to be aware of the issues for single women. As one would expect, they will have their own residential units. They will not be mixed up with single men or anything of that kind. The whole point is to provide a supportive environment and appropriate security for all asylum seekers in that situation.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, also raised questions about the evaluation of accommodation centres. Evaluation criteria are set out fairly clearly in the White Paper. It is most likely that the Home Office's research, development and statistics directorate would set up a process for evaluating the pilots. Clearly, one wants a fairly full evaluation, and one that is not too slow so that any beneficial lessons can be put into practice elsewhere if and when we decide to roll out accommodation centres more widely because we consider that they are a success.
The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked where we are on independent country assessment, which is an important matter. We have agreed to set up an advisory committee. On Report the Home Secretary said that such a committee would have to be open and transparent and prepared to have consultations with the Government and the two main Opposition parties as to its make-up. That work will commence as soon as possible. That is a clear commitment.
The noble Lord, Lord Lester, made one of the most powerful contributions to the debate in a fairly strongly contested field in terms of the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights to the Government. I shall touch on one or two of the points, but with regret, I shall not respond in full to all the points now out of respect for the work of the committee. It would not give adequate weight to the work that has been undertaken. Clearly, the Government respect the challenge placed by the Joint Committee. I thank the committee for its work. While I recognise the particular pressures on officials in the department at the time, I apologise for the fact that we were not as rapid as the committee would have liked in sending it our responses and evidence. I undertake to do better on future occasions.
§ Lord Dholakia
My Lords, can the Minister indicate the time within which he will respond to the concerns 1175 of my noble friend Lord Lester? Within less than two weeks the Committee stage will be upon us and we would like to propose legal amendments to the clauses concerned.
§ Lord Filkin
My Lords, I shall have to make a judgment with my colleagues in the department about which points it would be helpful and appropriate for the Government to respond to in writing prior to Committee stage and to which ones we feel we can respond only at Committee stage. Once I have had discussions in the department, I shall make direct contact with the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Lester, to try to indicate which points fall into which category, if that would be helpful.
§ Lord Lester of Herne Hill
My Lords, the Minister referred to the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the unfortunate handling of the matter, which reflects on the ability of the other place to debate human rights issues. I wonder whether I may raise a couple of points with him. Obviously, at this late hour it is pointless to go through each of the 14 points summarised in paragraph 112 of the report. First, will the Minister ask his colleagues in government to consider our proposal that in future the handling of human rights issues in terms of the business of the other place should be dealt with in a different way? That is a general point that goes beyond the Bill, to which the Minister obviously cannot respond tonight.
Secondly, the Minister was dealing with the important matter of the deprivation of citizenship, even of natural-born Britons. He mentioned to the House that he believed there was a full right of appeal. So that he can consider the matter properly, will he bear with me if I point out what I consider to be the problem without asking him to respond now? The citizenship appeal allows the Home Secretary to omit altogether political or other matters that he regards as being against the public interest to disclose. His decision is entirely subjective and he has no obligation to show objective reasonable grounds for taking away my citizenship as a natural-born Englishman, as it were.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights regards that point as objectionable. There is no remedy to those vices by way of full appeal. This is an important matter to which the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and the Constitution Committee have drawn attention. I am not asking the Minister to answer this evening, but I thought it helpful to clarify the point on the hoof.
§ Lord Filkin
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lester. It was helpful to spell out the nub of the issue. That will help us in our consideration. I shall see that the points about the proposed handling of human rights issues are brought to wide attention in the Government as well as in the Home Office.
I have a number of specific responses to the noble Lord, Lord Lester, but given the hour, with his tolerance it would be better if I did not go into the details now but came back in the way that I have indicated. I shall make one exception because the 1176 matter is to hand. On the face of it, the fact that NASS support looks like less than 71 per cent of income support is surprising to people, but in practice the NASS package of support includes fully-furnished accommodation with all utility bills and council tax paid and includes towels, crockery and everything else.
Therefore, claimants have to make no contribution towards those other revenue payments or towards the capital costs of providing their own furniture and other goods. In the Government's judgment, NASS support is roughly equivalent to the value of income support. Similarly, the level of support paid for children is identical to that provided for children in families on income support.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford raised a number of questions and challenges, saying that detainees do not know their rights of appeal and their rights to apply for hail. Every detainee should receive a written notice to give reasons for detention. The notice sets out the bail rights and how to contact, for example, the Immigration Advisory Service. The form will be explained by an immigration officer and interpreted if necessary.
If a bail application is heard by the adjudicator, the sureties, if any, will be set at an appropriate level. We need to consider financial disincentives to breaches of bail conditions. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford also raised the issue of non-suspensive appeals, about which I am sure we shall have vigorous debates in Committee. He asked on what legal basis an asylum seeker staying in a third country could pursue an appeal. The person will stay in a third country to pursue an appeal because there will be an agreement or arrangement with that country to enable him to do so. Quite clearly, one cannot export people to third countries unless they accept their reception.
We shall also need, therefore, to consider with that country what arrangements will be made for support, including access to legal advice. We shall no doubt pursue that issue in Committee.
With regard to repeal of routine bail provisions in Part III of the 1999 Act that have not been implemented, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford recognised that current rights to apply for bail in the 1971 Act will remain in place. There are legal remedies for challenging the lawfulness of detention, both judicial review or habeas corpus. Article 5.4 of the European convention does not require a right to apply for bail, it requires that a detainee should be able to take proceedings by which the lawfulness of his detention can be decided speedily by a court. That is satisfied we believe by the availability of judicial review and of habeas corpus.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford asked about the number of likely bail hearings. The Government's estimate on Report was of some 36,000, made up of about 1,000 per month under the existing arrangements and an estimate of a further 2,000 expected if Part 3 were implemented. That is a partial, if not a full, answer to his question. No doubt we can go further with more time.
1177 The noble Lord, Lord Best, as some noble Lords commented, asked some extremely interesting questions as to whether the process of integration of successful asylum seekers was appropriate. I stated in opening that effective integration had to be part of an effective policy. We should not be mealy-mouthed about that. However, on the face of it, I shall not immediately agree to his suggestions. In April of this year, for example, we doubled the period to 28 days. That was thought likely to be sufficient in the majority of cases to allow successful asylum seekers to find fresh accommodation. However, we recognise the need and will keep the matter under review. I shall deal with other points with the noble Lord subsequently.
My noble friend Lord Judd spoke about the success on removals. If people are failed asylum seekers but are found to be economic migrants, and if it is not possible to move them back to their country and they disappear into the black economy, that reinforces the traffickers and the smugglers in the belief that by actually getting into this country one can evade all processes and therefore sustain an unlawful presence in this country. I do not say that in a punitive spirit but one of facing the reality of what is happening.
The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, asked me to say what will happen tomorrow at the meeting between M. Sarkozy and the Home Secretary with regard to the agreement with France. As noble Lords would expect, I shall decline to do so. Obviously, we hope that over a series of meetings planned with him over the next few weeks we will build on the good relationship that he and David Blunkett formed at Luxembourg a couple of weeks of so ago.
On borders and returns, the two issues that I have marked as particularly important in terms of the Seville agreement are joint action to strengthen borders and joint action to try to promote returns. I take the point made by noble Baroness with regard to the status of Queen Elizabeth or her nomenclature in Scotland. I remember enough of my Jacobean history to recognise the point. We will take the matter away and look at it.
My noble friend Lady Uddin asked what evidence there is of bogus marriages. In the first year of operation of provisions in the 1999 Act for registrars to report suspicious marriages, there were 700 such reports. I am not saying that all of those were bogus, I just give what evidence registrars thought required investigation.
The position broadly on forced marriages—quite clearly part of being a British citizen would be to oppose them—is that the Government do not tolerate forced marriages while they recognise that arranged marriages, where there is no coercion, play a part in British society, as they have done in the past. There is a distinction between arranged and forced marriages, as one knows.
On the deprivation of citizenships, normal hearings will be in public because they are referred to an adjudicator, then a tribunal and then a court of appeal, all in the public domain. We have no figures to suggest 1178 that the deprivation procedures will target any particular group. They will only allow us to deprive people with dual nationality, for reasons we referred to previously, because by depriving a person with sole nationality—in other words only British—they would become stateless. That would not be possible.
I was asked—I think by my noble friend Lady Uddin—whether two-thirds of judicial review cases are successful. In 2001–02, 3,199 judicial review admission cases were dealt with—I think, although my brief does not state this, under the relevant provisions that we are discussing. Of those applications, 441 were granted: a success rate, on those figures, of 14 per cent.
My noble friend Lady Kennedy gave a typically forthright speech about the importance of not being seduced by Right-wing demagoguery. Who could not agree with that? She spoke of detention camps. I am not aware of any detention camps; I am aware of removal centres and of accommodation centres. The only places in which people will be detained will be removal centres; they will not be detained in accommodation centres. I think that she also raised the question of how adjudicators can judge the credibility of evidence when they cannot see an applicant. Virtually all asylum applicants do and will put their case in person to an adjudicator.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said that half of the initial decisions are shown to be wrong. I should like to have a little time to check that, but I believe that it may not be exactly accurate. With his permission, I shall write to him about that, as well as taking note of the many other points that he raised in his thoughtful speech.
The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, as ever, did an excellent job for the rail freight industry. To address his immediate concern, but not all of the others, because there was quite a pile of them, the definition of "responsible person" in relation to rail freight will be amended. The only responsible person for a clandestine entrant who arrives in the United Kingdom concealed in a freight wagon on a freight train will be the train operator that, at the train's last scheduled stop before arrival in the United Kingdom, was responsible for certifying it as fit to travel to the United Kingdom. English, Welsh and Scottish Railways does not currently fall within such a definition.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, spoke about the rise of the populist Right and the importance of giving leadership. Although I am not sure that he meant this, I believe that David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, is giving leadership in that respect. He could not have been clearer at Luxembourg and elsewhere about the values and principles on which asylum policy and practice should be based, in terms of anti-racism and rebutting racism or a racist link to those issues. On the other hand, he is right, as are the Government, to recognise that there are genuine concerns, not just about refugees but about the impact of illegal migrants on our society and the pressures that that can place on some of our communities.
1179 No one wants to be hysterical for a second, but neither does it do us justice to deny that anyone who has concerns—especially, perhaps, those people, not always people like me, who are living in more mixed communities—may sometimes feel under pressure. I do not necessarily say that that is right, but there are real human pressures out there that we must respect.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, referred to learning English, but learning English is necessary or desirable only for citizenship. People can come to this country as refugees and not know a word of English and be accepted as refugees, and so they should. If, five years on, they want to become citizens, as we hope that they would, it is right and proper that they should be encouraged and assisted to learn English.
The noble Lord also raised the issue of the power to award costs, but costs could apply to both the Home Office and the appellant. The immigration adjudicator will have power to penalise in appropriate cases and we want to discourage discreditable cases. Clearly, we are not claiming that most cases are disreputable, but some appear to be brought without much shadow of evidence to support them.
§ Lord Filkin
My Lords, my apologies. At this time of night, I shall not try to detect to whom I should be referring, but I shall do some homework with Hansard later.
My noble friend Lord Ahmed raised the right to equal quality of education. The national curriculum will apply, Ofsted standards will apply, and we believe that we will fully meet our obligations and duties in that regard. Good quality accommodation will be provided. My noble friend also raised the question of amending the British Nationality Act 1981. Parliament endorsed that Act, which introduced changes to the right of abode, confining it to those with the closest connection to the UK. We have no plans to change that.
My noble friend also asked what provision was made for uneducated relatives to become British citizens. There is provision in the Bill to waive the requirements for a knowledge of the language for those for whom it would make the acquisition of citizenship impossible. The discretion to waive the requirement is likely to be used in cases such as that of someone whose mental or physical disability or age might make it difficult. I hope that that will be seen to be fair and proper.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans sought to emphasise the importance of meeting the spiritual and emotional needs of people in accommodation centres. I am happy to agree with him. There will be facilities for religious observance, and it is intended that there will be a manager of religious affairs in each centre, as there is in existing removal centres. Officials are consulting a religious affairs advisory group on how best to take such issues forward.
1180 We note the point about Yarl's Wood. The Prison Service's head of security is conducting an overarching inquiry, and the Government will take into account any lessons to be learnt from that. The child welfare provisions of the Children Act 1989 will apply to children in accommodation centres, as they do to children elsewhere.
In a robust speech in which he addressed some of the realities, my noble friend Lord Borrie raised the question of statutory review and the curtailment of judicial review. The aim of statutory review is to reduce the delay in the system while providing the opportunity for High Court judicial scrutiny. I shall not go into more detail now but shall do so subsequently.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mayhew of Twysden, asked why the Government had not allowed more time for consideration of the Bill in another place. I gave one answer to that to my noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis. We believed that it was right to change the Bill and that the issues could not be left for a year or two. We also recognise that the House of Commons was unable to consider the whole Bill, but it did consider much of the Bill. Programming is a legitimate part of Bill management in the Commons to ensure that the Government can keep their legislative programme on track. I am certain that the noble and learned Lord will not be overwhelmed by that response, and I look forward to the challenge—and cost—of the additional scrutiny that will be carried out by this House. That is life.
Why does not the Bill say that legal advice will be provided in accommodation centres? Essentially, we do not need that power. We already have it, so there is no need to put it in the Bill. I have already spoken about co-located appeals machinery.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, spoke of the importance of doing more work with other countries. I accept that point. I share his view—if he implied it—that the border controls should be more concerned with raising standards than with designing uniforms and that the EU needs a proper policy on resettlement. We touched on some of those matters. I thank him again for the tone of his contribution tonight, which matched the tone of the thoughtful debate that we had last week. The noble Earl also said that there was pressure to speed up the system. That has been insufficiently said. It is in everyone's interest that we get the system working better, quicker.
The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked whether the sum of £2,000 per immigrant was fair and appropriate. I should like to give the noble Earl a fuller reply, but, given the lateness of the hour, I shall not. I shall come back to him.
The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, criticised us robustly. He said that 333 representations were not even considered. That is not so. They were considered in the department and I spent a fair proportion of my weekend reading a number of them. They have been considered by officials and they will be considered further by Ministers. They have not gone to waste.
1181 The noble Lord, Lord Bhatia, spoke about the contribution that Ugandan Asians had made to this society, which I believe most of us recognise. One can also recognise that it was not an easy decision to make at the time. There were dissenting voices asking why we should take in more people from outside. It was not easy to accept that we should do so. We did and it was right to do so.
This debate in part is about sustaining the support of the British people for taking decisions like that and not being swept away by a tide of public opinion which believes that governments have lost control of the asylum process.
The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, made a point about an EU-wide approach. That is absolutely right. He also mentioned the pressures imposed on a liberal society like ours. We have heard much in this debate from the liberal end of the pitch and that is right and proper. I refer to the liberals with a small "1" because that is where the challenge should come from. But we need to balance that with the need to get a grip on the situation and give confidence that the issue is being dealt with fairly and that quick decisions are taking place.
I agree with much of what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, about the reform of the Dublin Convention, the need for an EU asylum system and a policy on legal migration. I shall not go into it in more detail. I also agree that the activities of the UNHCR are additional rather than an alternative. I shall study with interest the thoughtful points made by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, about citizenship. I welcome his support as well as the criticisms which he raised.
I apologise to the House for speaking at some length. It was a full debate and I have not done justice to half of the speakers, which I regret. I shall seek to follow through relatively rapidly with further contacts, both oral and in writing, where appropriate. I look forward with some vigour, anticipation and trepidation to six days of Committee coming rapidly forward. I commend the Bill to the House.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the whole House.