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Lords Chamber

Volume 570: debated on Thursday 14 March 1996

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House Of Lords

Thursday, 14th March 1996.

The House met at three of the clock ( Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Ripon.): The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES on the Woolsack.

—Sat first in Parliament after the death of his brother.

Lone Parents: Benefit Costs

Further to Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish's Written Answer (9th January, WA14), what were the cost implications for the Department of Health identified in considering the proposals for lone parents announced in the social security uprating Statement and why they have assessed these costs as negligible.

My Lords, the most likely cost implication for the Department of Health could be on the NHS low income scheme covering free prescriptions, optical and dental charges. However, as the benefit changes announced would have virtually no effect on the numbers eligible for the low income scheme, we have assessed those costs as negligible.

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how great are the costs he regards as negligible?

My Lords, that is a good question. I suppose that the answer is that negligible costs are regarded as negligible. When it is difficult to see what numbers could be affected, as in this case, the costs must be considered negligible.

My Lords, given that the Rowntree study indicates that the level of nutrition of families in poverty—specifically, one-fifth of all single-parent families—is so low that they incur a much higher incidence of illness, especially cancer and ailments associated with the bone and with the bodily development of children, can the Minister say whether that factor has been taken into account?

My Lords, we do not believe that there is any reason why people on income support should not be able to follow a normal, healthy diet.

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that lone parents and their children are the poorest group in our society but that the Government's latest social security uprating froze the lone-parent benefit and premium to align it with the two-parent benefit? Given that lone parents are much worse off, do the Government really believe that to make marriage stronger they have to make the children of those parents poorer?

My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Baroness in her broad-brush assessment that all lone parents are somehow the poorest in society. We are trying to ensure that the benefit system does not work in the perverse way that it can work, which is to make a married couple with a child worse off than a lone parent with a child. We believe that that is wrong and that they should be placed on an all-square basis. We also believe that the way to help lone parents is to encourage them into work and to improve the position so that the father—there always is a father—pays his due maintenance. As I said, we want to treat lone parents equally with married couples.

My Lords, on the Government's definition of what they consider to be negligible expenditure, and in an endeavour to assist the Minister when replying to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, may I ask the noble Lord whether he is aware that from time to time, when the circumstances suit them, the Government regard the expenditure of £2.5 billion in Europe as negligible?

My Lords, I would never regard expenditure of £2.5 billion—or even of £2.5 million—in Europe or anywhere else as negligible.

My Lords, can the Minister say whether the all-party Health Committee's recommendations in 1992 that what was then the Department of Health and Social Security should undertake research into the food-buying patterns of pregnant women—a matter which is important not only for the mother, but for the beginning of life—have been implemented because, as far as I am aware, they have not?

My Lords, talking about particular research projects is a little wide of the Question, but people tend to eat different diets whatever their income. Some quite well-off people eat inadequate diets. Plenty of food is available at reasonable cost and people can thus maintain a reasonable and sensible diet. Although we believe that that is the case, I shall certainly look into the research project which the noble Baroness suggests.

My Lords, it was suggested by the all-party Health Committee in 1992.

My Lords, when the Department of Social Security assessed the costs of cuttling lone-parent benefit, did it take into account the survey by the National Children's Home and the Maternity Alliance which showed that 66 per cent. of babies born to parents on income support had a low birth weight? Did it take into account the research carried out by the Medical Research Council on the ongoing costs of low birth weight in the next generation?

My Lords, we attempt, with other departments, to take all factors into account. I suggest that the noble Earl looks at the research which shows clearly that one of the main reasons for low birth weight is the mother smoking during pregnancy.

My Lords, as I said, we take all matters into account in our discussions with the Department of Health. I am afraid that I cannot answer a specific question about whether that particular research project was taken into account by the Department of Health. There are many research projects. The point I made remains important. Other than in very premature births, the principal cause of low birth weight is smoking in pregnancy.

War Widows' Pensions

3.8 p.m.

What percentage of claims received for the War Widows' Pensions reinstated last July by the Pensions Act 1995 have now been approved and paid, and whether interest is added to the initial payment of claims which were delayed due to a shortage of staff in the War Pensions Agency.

My Lords, decisions have been made in almost 90 per cent. of the completed claims received and in almost 50 per cent. of these cases war widows' pensions have been put into payment together with appropriate arrears. It is anticipated that the large majority of pensions will be in payment by the end of March. At its peak we employed 58 staff on this additional work. There is no justification for the adding of interest to the initial payment.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer although it is disappointing on the subject of interest. Did not the War Pensions Agency estimate over a year ago that there would be about 16,500 reinstated awards? Indeed, your Lordships agreed the appropriate amendment during the Report stage of that legislation exactly a year ago today. Is it not the case that fewer than 12,000 claims have been received, which is less than 70 per cent. of the workload estimated by the War Pensions Agency? With all that warning time and less work than expected, has there not been some maladministration leading to prolonged delay in processing and paying the claims? The Inland Revenue is now quick to charge interest on tax which is paid late. Will the Government reconsider the position on interest on those payments?

My Lords, no, we will not reconsider paying interest on those payments. The position for the department in total is that discretionary special payments are allowed in payment of compensation for loss of money where the benefit has been delayed by official error or misdirection for a period of at least 12 months. In this case, the Act did not come into force until July, which was rather earlier than we thought. We have put a considerable number of staff on to the work. We have done the job quickly, and many of the widows concerned are receiving £148 a week tax-free more than they were receiving before. Rather than be criticised I should have thought we should be congratulated on the way we have proceeded on this matter.

My Lords, while the Royal British Legion acknowledges the Minister's endeavours and appreciates his efforts, will he please write to me with the detail of what he said in his reply? I wish to reiterate once again that we appreciate the endeavours he has made on our behalf.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. He will be able to read what I said in Hansard tomorrow. As I said, the position is that as at 5.30 p.m. last night about 12,148 decisions have been made; 12,046 have been notified; 6,617 are already in payment; and we expect the bulk of the remainder to be in payment by the end of the month.

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister has given some interesting figures. Will he assure the House as to their accuracy?

My Lords, absolutely. I can indeed assure my noble friend that as at 5.30 p.m. last night those were the figures supplied to me by the division in the War Pensions Agency which is dealing with this issue.

My Lords, will the Minister explain why in some cases pension books were withdrawn before the new pension books were issued? In some cases there was a gap of several weeks. Does the Minister understand that some of these ladies are among the most vulnerable of our society, and that even a gap of one week made difficulties for them? Can he explain how it happened?

My Lords, of course I cannot explain a particular case, but in general terms, because of the book system that we operate in the DSS, if there is a change in the payment the book has to be withdrawn and a new or amended book issued. That causes a problem over the whole of the department. It is one of the issues which will be finally resolved when we move over to a plastic payment card, because then there will be no need to make that return and there will be no interruption in the payment.

My Lords, there have been reports in the media and elsewhere of war widows in receipt of reinstated pensions having their benefit payments reduced by local authorities. Have the Government received any evidence of that? Does the Minister agree that there could be cases of giving with one hand and taking away with another?

My Lords, we have discussed this issue on a number of occasions. I believe that the noble Viscount is referring to housing benefit and council tax benefit. Out of their £148 a week tax-free, war widows are allowed to retain £60, all but a few pence, without it being taken into account. That is disregarded when it comes to the calculation. However, local authorities have the ability and discretion to make a bigger disregard, and indeed a total disregard. Many do and some do not.

My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House why there has been a gap between the clearing for payment of pensions at Norcross, where there may have been problems finding the original records, and actual payment from Newcastle where those problems did not exist?

My Lords, the situation with this benefit, as with all other benefits, is that when a decision is taken that the person is eligible for a benefit—the war widow in this case—that then has to be sent to Newcastle to check against the other benefits which she may be receiving. Both benefits have to be matched together, because in some cases—for example, if she receives £148 free of tax—if the person is also on income support, the new benefit (the war widows pension) will mean a reduction in her income support. We have to ensure that people are being paid the proper amounts from all the directions from which they come before we put the pension into payment.

Newbury Bypass Works: Protesters

3.15 p.m.

Whether the Prime Minister will visit the bypass works at Newbury.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport
(Viscount Goschen)

My Lords, the Prime Minister has no plans to do so.

My Lords, will the Minister convey the suggestion to him? Should he not, as Prime Minister, witness the death throes of an impossible transport policy—hundreds of policemen, private security men and bailiffs, trying by force to evict the people who have chosen to camp in the friendly trees to protect them, and the gigantic machines waiting to uproot the trees, all in favour of juggernauts carrying nothing more important than frozen food from another country?

My Lords, many people think that frozen food and other economic products are of extreme benefit to this country. The ability to move freight and people around in the best and quickest manner possible is of extreme importance to our economy. The statutory processes have been gone through. We have the legal right to build the road. The vast majority of local people want the road built. The protesters are interfering with our legal right to do so.

My Lords, are the effluents from the protesters' squalid camps and treehouses polluting the nearby river—fortuitously the River Kennet, as it happens? And has Greenpeace, or any similar group, volunteered to do a clean-up of the mess being made by those camps?

My Lords, all sorts of answers spring to mind on the question of the protesters' effluent; but I shall resist all temptation and merely say that my noble friend is right—in so many cases these protesters cause a great deal of damage by their very presence at the site.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that many of us, while defending the right of people to protest peacefully, are appalled by some of the activities of the demonstrators at Newbury? Is he aware that there have been public inquiries over a period of time, and that the democratically-elected representatives of the people of Newbury are firmly in favour of the bypass? That being so, it is unacceptable to allow a gross waste of public money on police expenditure in circumstances of this kind.

My Lords, of course there are so many better uses that this considerable sum of money could be put to rather than to stop people interfering with the due processes of the law. I believe that the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord reflect the sentiments of this House and another place.

My Lords, will my noble friend ask his colleagues to consider whether a claim could he made against Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, and other wealthy organisations which have stimulated this kind of protest?

My Lords, that is an interesting idea, and one which requires reflection, if my noble friend will allow me. Legal action has been taken. We believe that the best method of clearing these protesters is through civil action in the courts and by using the offices of the sheriff. That is how we have taken the process forward. As a result of the protests, some 500 arrests have been made.

My Lords, irrespective of the supplementary questions which have flowed from this Question, I should like to ask my noble friend the Leader of the House to consider whether it is a proper one for your Lordships' Order Paper.

My Lords, the Question has been accepted, and it is for the appropriate Minister to answer as best he can.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the Newbury bypass is being built at a time when there is great disillusionment with huge road building programmes. There is evidence to show that unless the entrances and exits to and from the bypass are carefully planned it merely provides a quicker route into the already congested city. Many bypasses merely bring people into the cities more quickly. Will the Minister assure the House that the Newbury bypass will be one of the last of the massive road schemes that we have seen during the past few years?

My Lords, road infrastructure is of considerable importance and can bring real environmental benefits. The town of Newbury is chronically congested because the main road goes through it. Real and demonstrable traffic and environmental benefits are to be gained from the construction of this much needed bypass.

Clinical Waste Disposal 320 Pm

Whether they will tighten the law on the disposal of clinical waste, following the allegations in the Sunday Times of 10th March about the dumping of medical waste in lay-bys, car parks and warehouses across the country.

My Lords, Part II of the Environmental Protection Act provides stringent controls on the management and disposal of all controlled waste, including clinical waste. It is illegal to dispose of waste without a waste management licence or in a way which causes pollution or harm to human health.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Would it not be a good idea to strengthen the duty of care so that waste producers, such as hospitals, have a duty to inform themselves of the ultimate legal destination of waste, not merely the proximate destination? When will the Government issue the final text of the waste management paper, which I understand to have been in preparation for several years?

My Lords, it is not necessary to strengthen the duty of care. That was done in the Environmental Protection Act 1990, which lays a responsibility for waste material to be taken, and to be known to where it is being taken, from the cradle to the grave, as it is said. That is done in a way which does not pollute or cause harm. Under the duty of care, waste should be transferred to someone who is legally authorised to accept it with a transfer note. There is no question that when the waste is removed its passage is known from collection to the location of the incinerator.

With regard to the second part of the noble Lord's question, I shall ascertain the precise date of publication and shall write to him.

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House whether the story in the Sunday Times was true or false? If it were true, is there a way in which the authorities could check the rubbish to discover who perpetrated the offence?

My Lords, it is always dangerous to say that something which appears in the press is true, but it is based on fact. The facts have been known since last November and are under investigation by the Hertfordshire waste regulation authority. The authority has three people investigating the matter full time with a view to prosecution.

My Lords, do the Government believe that the existing maximum penalties for those convicted of such a deplorable crime are adequate? Indeed, what are the existing maximum penalties?

My Lords, I believe that the existing maximum penalties are adequate. If one disposes of waste without a waste management licence, one is subject to an unlimited fine, which could have a deterring effect, or to imprisonment, which could have an even more deterring effect. For breach of the duty of care there is an unlimited fine. The transport of waste by someone who is not registered as a carrier is subject to a fine of £5,000.

My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that hospitals are well aware of the proper ways of disposing of clinical waste? If not, can that be remedied?

My Lords, hospitals are well aware of the correct method of disposal. They dispose of the waste to a carrier who is registered by a local authority. In this case, the hospitals concerned correctly handed over the waste to the carrier. I understand that waste was taken from about 20 hospitals on behalf of Green Environmental, which is alleged to have contracted with the carriers to incinerate waste in a new incinerator in Cambridge. However, the incinerator was not then complete and the company was alleged to have satisfied the waste carriers, under the duty of care, about its intention to deal with the waste properly by suggesting that it went on to Cannon Hygiene at Enfield. False documents showing that the waste had been properly dealt with were produced. The regulations are adequate. One cannot prevent people breaking the law, but one can discover when they do so and punish them appropriately.

My Lords, the Minister said that the facts in the Sunday Times' article were correct. Is it the case that investigators now believe that up to 400 tonnes of clinical waste may still be missing? Is it also the case that clinical waste is defined by the British Medical Association as human or animal tissue, blood or any other body fluids, excretions, swabs, dressings and needles and other sharp instruments, and that the British Medical Association warns that such waste may cause infection to any person coming into contact with it? If those are the facts, this is a very serious matter which goes way beyond Hertfordshire. What action are the Government taking to ensure that the law, which as the Minister said is perfectly clear, is being enforced?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Elvel, inadvertently misconstrued what I said. I did not say that the facts were correct; I said that it was based on facts. The noble Lord the Opposition Chief Whip laughs—

My Lords, that is even worse. It must have been one of disbelief, which I regard as very offensive! There are facts which newspapers can embellish as they wish. The article was based on facts. I understand that a number of tonnes of waste have been missing but I cannot tell the noble Lord how many because the matter is under investigation and is being dealt with correctly. Three bodies can prosecute: the police, the waste regulation authorities and the Health and Safety Executive. Until matters have been investigated properly it is impossible to say who or how many people will be prosecuted.

The noble Lord referred to the BMA's description of clinical waste, which is similar to a description that I have seen. The materials are very toxic, and in this case random samples of the waste were tested at the public health laboratories and were found to be an extreme risk to any person coming into contact with them. I can only assure the House that the greatest effort is being made to discover why things went wrong and who were the wrongdoers.

My Lords, did the private contractor which received the contract for disposing of the waste obtain the contract through compulsory competitive tendering, or competitive tendering, compulsory or otherwise?

My Lords, it is up to the hospitals to make arrangements as regards the removal of their infected and highly dangerous material. I understand that in this case it was given to a perfectly legitimate carrier who had a perfectly legitimate carrier's licence. He took the waste to where he believed was a perfectly legitimate incineration station. The incineration station had not by then been built and at that stage the incinerator operators were responsible for what happened thereafter.

My Lords, can the noble Earl confirm one of the facts on which this article is based: that up to 400 tonnes of waste is still believed by investigators to be missing? Is another of the facts correct on which the article is based; namely, that the investigation has since spread to Manchester and Wales, where more waste is believed to be hidden? Are inquiries also being made in London, Essex, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, and the West Country?

My Lords, I cannot confirm the facts contained in the article until a thorough investigation has been carried out. Whether or not it is 400 tonnes, I am not in a position to say. Certainly other investigations have been taking place in, for example, Wales and Manchester as a result of what has been said.

My Lords, if the incinerators have not yet been built, how can the site have been a legitimate site to which to take the waste?

My Lords, the firm to which the carriers were undertaking their responsibilities for carrying waste was called Green Environmental which had built or was building an incinerator. It was not ready at the time that the waste was delivered. The noble Lord looks querulous and I do not blame him. But the carriers of the waste were then told to take it to Enfield in Middlesex, which is a site operated by Cannon Hygiene. They were told that that was where the waste would be incinerated properly. There were false documents to show that the waste had been incinerated when it had not been.


3.31 p.m.

My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., my noble friend Lord Lindsay will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is to be made in another place on the Dunblane incident. I should add that if the Statement is not received from another place before my noble friend Lady Blatch rises to move the Second Reading of the Asylum and Immigration Bill, then we shall break into that debate after the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill.

I understand that the Statement has already begun in another place. Therefore, I am rather hoping that my noble friend Lord Lindsay will arrive in your Lordships' House so that we may take the Statement before the start of the Second Reading on the Asylum and Immigration Bill.

Since standing at this Dispatch Box, I have looked to see whether my noble friend is in the process of arriving before your Lordships. He may well have come to the conclusion that we are not to have the Statement until after the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, and he may be working on his notes.

My Lords, I saw the noble Earl only a few moments ago and I cannot believe that he would be working on notes which were prepared for him some time ago. I imagine that he would prefer to take the Statement now. On the other hand, we are ready to observe the wishes of the Government Chief Whip. I see that the noble Earl is now just about to take his place. After he has got his breath back, I am absolutely certain that this is the right lime at which to take the Statement.

Dunblane School Tragedy

3.34 p.m.

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement on the Dunblane incident which is being made in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Statement is as follows:

"It is with profound sadness that I have to report on the tragic event that took place at Dunblane, which is within my constituency, yesterday. Honourable Members will understand the deep shock and distress afflicting the people of Dunblane. Our first thoughts must be with the families of those who have been killed and injured. Our deepest sympathies go out to them at this terrible time.

"The House will appreciate that police inquiries into the matter are continuing and therefore I shall confine my remarks to the facts surrounding the incident so far as they have been established. At approximately 9.15 a.m. on Wednesday, 13th March, an armed man, identified by police as Thomas Hamilton, entered Dunblane Primary School and opened fire on children and staff who were in the school gymnasium. Fifteen of the children who were shot and their teacher died within the school. One child died later in hospital. Three adults and 12 other children were wounded. The gunman shot himself and died within the school.

"As soon as I was informed of this dreadful event, accompanied by the honourable Member for Hamilton I went to Dunblane where we were joined by my honourable friend the Member for Aberdeen South. What we witnessed there encompassed both the worst and the best of which humanity is capable. In contrast to the stark evil of the crime, doctors, teachers, police, ambulance personnel and other caring professionals, Church leaders and volunteers worked unsparingly to save life and console the bereaved.

"In particular, I want to pay the highest possible tribute to Mr. Ron Taylor, headmaster of Dunblane Primary, for his heroic efforts to save the lives of his dying pupils in circumstances too harrowing to be recounted in detail. Honourable Members will wish to join me also in a tribute to Mrs. Gwen Mayor, the dedicated teacher who was gunned down in the midst of her charges. Mrs. Mayor was an exceptionally gifted teacher who had given 10 years' service to the school. Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to her husband Rodney and their two daughters. I would also like to extend the sympathy of the House to Aileen Harrild, the PE teacher, and to the teaching assistants, Mary Blake and Gwen Tweddle, who were all injured. Our teachers carry the immeasurable responsibility of moulding the character of the next generation. In this tragic case a teacher lost her life in the course of fulfilling that responsibility.

"I would also pay tribute to the Chief Constable of Central Scotland Police, William Wilson, and his officers, to the procurator fiscal at Stirling and to the medical teams supervised by Dr. Jack Beattie, as well as the staff in the hospitals at Stirling, Falkirk and Yorkhill who carried out their duties superbly in the most distressing circumstances. All the public services involved deserve the praise of the House and our recognition of the trauma that will continue to live with them.

"The Lord Advocate and I believe that this terrible tragedy should be fully investigated. We believe that it is desirable and necessary that an inquiry should be undertaken by a senator of the College of Justice, a senior Scottish judge. Lord Cullen, who conducted the public inquiry into the "Piper Alpha" disaster, has agreed to undertake this responsibility. The Lord Advocate plans to meet him and the Lord President of the Court of Session tomorrow to discuss the procedures the inquiry should follow.

"Her Majesty the Queen yesterday sent her condolences to all those affected by this unspeakable deed. The Queen and the Princess Royal have both expressed a wish to visit Dunblane as soon as circumstances make this appropriate and I can tell the House that they will be going there on Monday.

"Honourable Members will share my sense of the inadequacy of any attempt we in this House might make to offer consolation to the families devastated by this vile crime. The cold-blooded slaughter of tiny children is beyond atrocity. I know that I speak for the whole House when I say to the stricken families of Dunblane: our deepest sympathy and our prayers are with you and for you. You have the support of countless people around the world in your grief.

"Tomorrow night, the people of Dunblane will be holding a vigil for their dead, their injured, and their bereaved. I know I speak for the whole House when I say that the prayers and thoughts of all honourable Members will be with them. The whole nation mourns".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

3.39 p.m.

My Lords, the House will be aware that this is one of the saddest moments we have had in this House. I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement that was made in another place. We on these Benches and, I am sure, noble Lords on all sides of the House wish to endorse all that the Minister said in his words of sympathy to the people of Dunblane and in particular to the families bereaved by this appalling and evil event.

All of us who watched the coverage on television and who have read the reports in the newspapers would also wish to pay very special tribute to the emergency services—that is, the police, the ambulance service, the doctors and nurses—from all over central Scotland and beyond, and, indeed, to the people of Dunblane themselves and the staff at the school. It is appropriate that the Secretary of State should mention in particular the work of the headmaster of the school, Mr. Ron Taylor, in directing the efforts of the teachers.

All Scotland will await the outcome of the inquiry announced in the Statement. There will be general approval of the choice of Lord Cullen who has a very good reputation in such matters. We shall await the result with the devout hope that something can be learned from the horror of yesterday morning which will make it less likely that such a senseless and wickedly irrational massacre will ever he repeated.

My Lords, we on these Benches thank the noble Earl for repeating the Statement. We share all the deeply sincere feelings expressed in it. It is always a sad matter when people are killed in such a manner; indeed, it is a sad moment when any child dies. The horror felt throughout the United Kingdom is very clear.

The facts of this terrible event are not yet fully known. It would therefore be inappropriate to speculate before a full inquiry has taken place. However, we do know that Dunblane is an area in which people seek to live. It is not generally a dangerous or inner city area with noted problems, so even greater is the shock of such a terrible event.

We know that those who are mourning today will find it even more difficult to carry through the normal processes of grief because, as has happened on other occasions where someone has killed a number of people, the person concerned turned the gun upon himself. Therefore the normal grieving process is made more difficult. I say that because when, for example, a child is knocked over by a lorry or a truck it is natural for people to feel resentment against the person responsible. In this case, the parents are deprived of that, and that further complicates the mourning process.

We know so little about crime, especially about this kind of awful event and what triggers people who are fragile in their personalities and who are driven to commit such awful crimes. All I can do is say again that we share in the terrible sorrow that follows the crime. When we know more about the event, we hope that we shall he able to concentrate on some of the things which become clear—for example, where guns are widely held in our society and where security is often lacking in places, not only where children gather but also in hospitals and so on. However, it would be inappropriate for me to follow that path now. It is a sorry day. Not only the people of Dunblane but also the people of the United Kingdom will be sad and grieving for many weeks to come.

My Lords, I thank both speakers for the thoughts they have expressed. I should like especially to thank the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, for the attention that he drew, like myself, to the many different emergency and caring services involved. I reiterate the point that I made in the Statement. When events such as this bring out the worst in humanity, we also see, at the other end of the scale, some of the most superb acts of consideration and humanity.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, also for his welcome of the appointment of Lord Cullen, the High Court judge who will lead the inquiry. He is of undoubted calibre and has a proven track record in delivering decisions and conclusions on awkward issues; so we have faith in him.

Both the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, and the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, suggested that lessons could well be learned. We agree. It would be fatal for those of us in this House or those beyond to jump to conclusions based on speculation and on unconfirmed evidence. But, through the good and skilled hands of Lord Cullen, we hope that what lessons there are to be taken on board will be identified as quickly as is sensible and that we will thus gain from them in that sense.

The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, described some of the complicated human emotions which are left behind by such an event. Indeed, even in the 24 hours since the event there has been ample evidence of the emotional carnage which can follow. The devastation to that community, and to all those who are left behind and who have either been helping or who have felt helpless, is really quite considerable.

It may be of some comfort to noble Lords if I stress that the social work department and the police have set up teams to support and counsel each family individually and that a crisis centre has been established for the community as a whole. Moreover, social work and psychology staff will be available for anyone in the town, or connected with the event. I should also point out that the Churches in Dunblane enjoy a healthy and energetic following. There is an overt faith which runs through the Dunblane community which is not seen in all communities. We hope that that will also provide the people of Dunblane with some of the strength that they will need.

3.47 p.m.

My Lords. I should, first, declare an interest as I am chairman of the Firearms Consultative Committee. With the leave of the House, it may be of further assistance to your Lordships if I repeat a statement which my committee released at lunch time today. The statement reads:

"Our first thoughts today are for the bereaved parents and families in Dunblane and for all those who have been injured in this awful incident. We offer them our profound sympathy and support. We understand that the Crown Office in Scotland has instructed that a fatal accident inquiry should take place into the whole circumstances surrounding this incident. It would be inappropriate for the Firearms Consultative Committee (FCC) to express any views on these events in advance of the determination of that inquiry.

"Once the whole facts have been established they will be scrutinised by the FCC to determine if and where there is a need for amendment to firearms legislation or practice. The FCC was established by the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 and its statutory function is to review the provisions of the Firearms Act and to make recommendations for improving their working. Some of the committee's recommendations have been enacted as legislation and other recommendations have been able to be put into effect without legislation".

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Shrewsbury for repeating that statement. Indeed, I believe that we are all grateful for the work that the Firearms Consultative Committee carries out in advising the Government on the progress of firearms legislation and any proposals for change that might be relevant.

My Lords, we have all been profoundly affected by the horrifying and tragic event at Dunblane. Our first thoughts of deep compassion must be for the families who have been bereaved; for the children who have been wounded and their families; for the school and its staff who have suffered in this grievous way; and, indeed, for the whole community of Dunblane. The whole nation shares in a sense of profound shock. Throughout the Churches we will be praying for the families and the community of Dunblane.

Many vivid images stay in our minds from this event. I try to imagine what it must have been like for the headmaster to come into a gymnasium and to find his primary class scattered, dead or dying. What an incredibly horrifying moment that must have been for him. Or, again, I think of the young mother outside the gate of the school crying out her daughter's name, not knowing at that time that her daughter was to be among those who had died. Those are searing and terrible images that will remain with us. We are left with a sense of young lives suddenly cut short, of the unexpectedness of death for those children and for their community, and a sense of waste. We are left struggling with questions of why, and the mystery of evil at the heart of our lives and our society. In the end all we can do is to pray that the God of infinite compassion and mercy will be with, and among, the people of Dunblane in their tragedy and grief. Will the Minister be willing to convey the profound sympathy of all Members of this House to the community of Dunblane and to the families who have suffered so grievously?

My Lords, indeed I shall convey that message, as expressed by the right reverend Prelate. I thank him for the way he articulated the emotions of all of us. He mentioned the profound shock that we all feel. I can only reiterate that the slaughter of innocent children, as in Dunblane yesterday, is a brutal tragedy.

My Lords, we on the Cross Benches ally ourselves with the sentiments expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, and the right reverend Prelate. We, too, wish to convey our unbounded sympathy to the families of the children and the teachers who lost their lives or were wounded in this terrible incident. Particularly those of us who have children and grandchildren identify ourselves very much with them in their distress. We also convey our deep appreciation to all the public services whose members have risen so gallantly to the occasion at this sad time.

My Lords, I am grateful for the sympathy and appreciation expressed by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun. I agree that for those with children and grandchildren there is an especial pain in such an event, but I suggest that there are few, either within or beyond this House, who, if not parents or grandparents, are not uncles or aunts, or are not in some way connected with children.

My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that all of us welcome the fact that there is to be a judicial inquiry into the circumstances of this incident? Is he also aware that none of us would take the view that it is sensible to reach any quick decisions on what changes of policy there should be consequent upon this tragic situation? Following what the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, said, is the Minister aware that there have been discussions between the Home Office—I am glad to see the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, here—and the Association of Chief Police Officers on the question of psychologically damaged people who possess firearms? Is the Minister aware that all of us hope that the discussions which have been taking place will proceed with the utmost speed?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for underlining the most important message of all, namely, that we do not rush into instant judgments until all the details and facts are known. As regards the second point, the Government are well aware of the discussions regarding the holding of firearms by those who may have a record of either psychological weakness or some criminal event in their lives which is not unconnected with that. This is a difficult and complicated area but the Home Office and other departments, and those with whom they are consulting, are seeking a solution to it.

My Lords, can my noble friend say whether or not the firearms used by Hamilton were legally registered on a firearms certificate? On the assumption that they were, given that Hamilton had been refused membership of a gun club, why, then, was he issued with a firearms certificate?

My Lords, the best course for all such detailed questions is to forward them to Lord Cullen who will consider them with the patience and the time that is required.

Asylum And Immigration Bill

3.55 p.m.

My Lords, I beg to move that the Asylum and Immigration Bill be read a second time.

The Government attach the highest priority to maintaining good race relations. As my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and Home Secretary have emphasised on many occasions, we believe in a tolerant society; in equal rights for all those who are lawfully present; and in respect for their diverse cultures and backgrounds.

It has consistently been our view that effective immigration control is a necessary condition for achieving that aim, and that this entails a readiness to deal with abuses and to operate a fair and objective system. We are determined to honour our obligations under the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees and the 1981 Convention on Torture and Cruel or Inhuman Treatment. We do not, and will not, remove people to countries where they have a well-founded fear of persecution or where there are substantial grounds for believing that they would be tortured. Those are the principles underlying this Bill. I must also stress that nothing in the Bill will change the immigration status of anyone who currently has the right to come to this country to live.

The Bill has three objectives: first, to strengthen our asylum procedures so that abusive claims and appeals can be dealt with more quickly; secondly, to combat immigration racketeering through stronger powers, new offences and higher penalties; and, thirdly, to reduce economic incentives which attract people to come to this country in breach of our immigration laws. The Bill would erect a stronger defence against unauthorised employment and provide powers to restrict entitlement to housing and child benefit.

Britain has a long and honourable tradition of giving refuge to those genuinely fleeing persecution. But our asylum procedures are becoming increasingly clogged up with abusive claims. Last year only 5 per cent. of applicants were granted asylum. Even allowing for those not qualifying for asylum but granted exceptional leave to remain on compassionate grounds, 79 per cent. were refused. Only 3 per cent. of appeals to adjudicators against refusal of asylum were allowed. In 1994, it was 4 per cent.

Claims have been rising sharply for two years. Last year we received nearly double the number of asylum claims that were made in 1993, when the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act was passed. As a result, the number of applicants awaiting a decision or appeal has now reached 84,000. On average, a new applicant can expect to wait 18 months for the completion of his case. Delays and backlogs of this magnitude undermine immigration control. Merely by uttering the word "asylum", an applicant who does not meet our immigration rules can fend off removal and secure a sometimes prolonged stay in this country. The longer the delays, the more attractive it is to make an abusive asylum claim. But the greater the number of claims received, the greater the delays incurred.

We would have been in an even more difficult position without the 1993 Act. The Act permitted significant improvements and streamlining. Average decision times for new claims are still only half what they were before the Act. But the scale of abuse and the near doubling of claims since 1993 make further legislation unavoidable, and urgent.

Critics of the Bill have suggested that the Government should increase resources and efficiency rather than introducing stricter procedures. The truth is that we need to do both, and that we are doing both. There has been a massive increase in resources. The number of asylum caseworkers has been increased eightfold, from 100 in 1988 to nearly 800. We are now investing an additional £37 million over three years in even more caseworkers and adjudicators. We have also improved efficiency.

As a result, the number of decisions taken has been increased from 21,000 in 1994 to 27,000 last year. In the coming financial year we expect to take over 37,000 decisions. The output of the appeal system has more than doubled in the last year.

These are dramatic improvements. However, they have still been outstripped by applications. Last year the number of new claims reached 44,000. The problem cannot be solved by resources and efficiency alone. Further strengthening of the legislation is needed. We must send a clear message that abusive claims will be dealt with robustly.

The recent experience of our European neighbours supports that view. Most of them have already introduced measures similar to the ones we are proposing. Germany and the Netherlands are examples of countries where stricter procedures since 1993 have been followed by substantial reductions. Over the past two years, the number of claims has more than halved in the main western European countries, but in this country it has nearly doubled. The Government are not prepared to allow this country to become a soft target for those intent on abusing asylum procedures.

The House will wish to know how we shall achieve that. First, we need to extend the mechanism for sifting out manifestly unfounded claims. Parliament has already endorsed that principle. The 1993 Act enables certain claims to be certified as "without foundation". That triggers an accelerated appeal. If the adjudicator upholds the certificate there is no secondary appeal to the Immigration Tribunal. However, case law has largely limited the use of the special appeal procedure to cases where we intend to remove a person to a safe third country. The Bill therefore introduces wider criteria for its use.

Clause 1 will allow the Secretary of State to certify a claim when refusing it if the grounds cited do not fall within the terms of the 1951 convention; where the claim is manifestly untrue or the evidence fraudulent; where the grounds cited no longer apply; and where asylum is only claimed after refusal of leave to enter or commencement of removal action. The existing "frivolous or vexatious" category would be retained.

There is no question of the Bill's enabling us to certify every claim we refuse. Examples of cases which would fall within the criteria are claims openly based on poverty or unemployment at home rather than fear of persecution; claims based on events or facts which are shown to be untrue; the large group of Pakistanis who claimed asylum because of membership of the Pakistan People's Party and who appealed against refusal even though that party had since become the Government of Pakistan; or immigration offenders who make no claim for asylum until action is taken to remove them.

Growing numbers of asylum applicants arrive undocumented, having destroyed or disposed of the passports on which they travelled. That makes it more difficult to assess their claims, to identify those who have travelled via a safe third country and to effect removal if asylum is refused. The immigration rules already make clear that destruction of documents damages credibility. Clause I will enable such claims to he certified unless a reasonable explanation has been offered. Those who travel on fake papers will not be adversely affected provided they declare them on arrival, but failure to do so would attract a certificate.

Clause I will also enable the Secretary of State to designate countries of origin in which it appears to him that there is in general no serious risk of persecution. Some countries generate large numbers of asylum claims but few, if any, genuine refugees. We see no reason why refugees from say Iran or Iraq should have to wait longer for a decision because we have to give equal time and weight to the thousands of unfounded claims from countries such as India and Poland.

Caseworkers and adjudicators would be able to take account of the fact that the applicant was a national of a designated country. Claims by such nationals would attract the accelerated appeal procedure and, if the adjudicator upholds the Secretary of State's decision, the appellant would not have an avenue to the immigration tribunal. Designation would not however amount to a blanket ban on asylum claims. Each case would still be considered, and those refused would still have an appeal.

We would designate countries which generate significant numbers of claims and from which a very high proportion of claims prove to be unfounded. Designation would not amount to a declaration that we necessarily regard countries to be universally safe or to have political and judicial institutions that function to western standards. That would be unnecessary and unrealistic. We could not possibly accept an obligation to apply such standards, and no such obligation exists in international law. We propose to make a judgment as to whether the general level of risk to people living in a country is sufficiently low to warrant designation. The words
"in general no serious risk of persecution"
convey that policy objective.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary would of course liaise closely with my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The countries they currently regard as suitable for designation are Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ghana, India, Pakistan, Poland and Romania. Last year the refusal rate for those nationalities was 97 per cent. or more.

Designation orders would be laid before Parliament. I am grateful to the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee for its report of today, recommending the affirmative rather than negative procedure for designation orders. Discussions in another place did not convince us that that was appropriate. Nevertheless, I shall reflect on the report. We shall provide Parliament with our assessment of conditions in each candidate country. The Bill will enable us to cancel designation if conditions in a country deteriorate, or add a new country to the list if conditions improve.

The Government have consistently taken the view that asylum seekers should claim asylum in the first safe country they reach. It is our policy to return asylum seekers to safe third countries if they have travelled here through such countries, or if there is evidence that the third country will admit them. Parliament has endorsed that policy, because it is written into the immigration rules.

However, the right to appeal before removal often makes it impossible to apply the safe third country principle effectively. By the time the appeal has been completed the third country is often no longer prepared to re-admit the appellant.

Clauses 2 and 3 would therefore make appeals against removal to certain third countries exercisable only after removal. Under a government amendment adopted in another place that will now only apply to third countries within the European Union. Cases involving European Union member states account for 95 per cent. of third country refusals. Over 80 per cent. relate to France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. It is unacceptable that removal should be delayed while applicants seek to dispute the safety of such countries.

There is nothing unusual in requiring immigration appeals to be exercised from abroad. It has long been the case, for example, that a person refused leave to enter because he does not have the necessary entry clearance can appeal only after departure or removal.

We propose an order-making power to enable other safe third countries to be added to the list in due course. Such an order would be laid before Parliament. Countries such as Canada, the USA and Switzerland, which have proven safe asylum procedures, would be candidates for designation as safe third countries.

Where removal is to a third country not in the European Union or not designated in an order, the applicant would, as now, have a suspensive in-country appeal before removal could take place. Other obstacles to the effective operation of our asylum procedures would be removed by Schedule 2.

Clauses 4 to 7 are designed to help the general enforcement of the immigration control, and in particular to tackle the growing problem posed by immigration facilitators and racketeers. It is encouraging to note that this part of the Bill attracted almost universal support when it was considered in another place. Differences were concerned with detail rather than with the principle of the proposals.

By facilitators or racketeers I mean those who assist others to evade the immigration control. They are motivated solely by personal gain, for which they target groups of people who, as a consequence of limited education, poverty and social circumstances, are little equipped to resist their promises or to afford their expensive services. But once caught these people and their families are liable to exploitation for fear of being exposed to the authorities; so the evil can be a continuing one.

The sole weapon currently available is the offence of facilitating the entry of an illegal entrant. The limits of that offence were exposed by two judgments in this House in 1993 which held that action could be taken against the racketeer only where the people whose passage and entry he had facilitated were treated as illegal entrants. If they are not treated as illegal entrants there is no case to answer under the existing legislation. The situation after entry is even worse, as there is no existing offence which deals with facilitating the acquisition of leave to remain.

Clause 4 creates a new offence of obtaining leave to remain by deception. Clause 5 provides two new offences. The first is an offence of facilitating the entry of an asylum claimant. Seeking asylum is not now, and will not become, a criminal act. But we believe that steps must be taken to deter those who exploit asylum seekers. To protect those who genuinely assist refugees, specific defences have been included in Clause 5(2) to target it firmly at profit-seeking racketeers. The new offence will not arise where there is no personal gain or where the assistance has been provided as a consequence of employment by a bona fide organisation whose purpose is to assist refugees.

Secondly, Clause 5 creates an after entry facilitation offence. It will allow for speedier and more successful prosecution of racketeers such as proprietors of bogus educational establishments and organisers of marriage rackets. It will also enable us to combat those who deal in the provision of falsified asylum applications and with forged documentation.

The Bill has been amended in another place to exclude from the offences in Clause 5 anyone advising an immigration applicant who is not a party to any deception of our immigration control which may be being practised. Thus bona fide legal advisers or others will be specifically exempted. But anyone who is party to a deception will be caught by the new offence, and I think rightly so.

The Bill makes other provisions to strengthen immigration enforcement powers. It also extends bail rights so that all detained illegal entrants would be able to apply for bail.

Clause 8 addresses the problem of illegal working. We take the view which was shared by many respondents to our consultation document that illegal working cannot be condoned or ignored. It takes away jobs which would otherwise be available to people with a right to work here, from whatever ethnic background. The ethnic minority communities have nothing to fear from Clause 8. On the contrary, they stand to gain—as does everyone legally living and working in Britain.

The Government do not accept that the scale of illegal working is insignificant. In 1994 the Immigration Service detected more than 10,000 people working here illegally. This is obviously not the full picture. We cannot, because of its very nature, determine the full size of the problem. But we do not believe that it can be viewed with complacency.

Concern about illegal working is shared by most of our European partners. They already have measures in place which aim to address it. We are undoubtedly vulnerable if we do not attempt to control illegal working when other countries do.

Our proposals focus on the role of employers—because employers control access to the labour market. But we want to keep the burden on employers to a minimum. This has generally been acknowledged and welcomed by employers and by employers' organisations.

Our proposal is to create a new summary offence. An employer will be guilty of an offence if he employs an immigrant aged 16 or over if that immigrant does not have valid and subsisting leave to remain in the United Kingdom—or if his leave prohibits him from taking the employment in question.

If that were all we were proposing then employers would have real cause for concern. However, we are proposing that employers should be safe from conviction—and in practice from prosecution—if they have taken one of a number of steps before taking on a new employee.

In many cases the defence would be made out without an employer having to do anything which is not already done as a matter of routine. In other cases employers might need to see and copy evidence of a national insurance number; and in a proportion of cases employers might need to see and copy passports or other documents.

A number of people have expressed some concern about the possibility that our proposals would or could lead to some employers deciding to "play safe.' when recruiting new staff. We take those concerns seriously. But we believe that the fears are without foundation.

The proposals are straightforward. Employers will be able, very easily in most cases, to satisfy themselves that they will not be liable to conviction. Nor is there any incentive for employers to discriminate on racial grounds. We expect all employees to be treated equally. Members of ethnic minorities will continue to be able to compete for jobs on merit alone.

It will be important for employers to have appropriate guidance and advice about what they will need to do under these arrangements. This is a point which was reinforced by many of those who responded to the consultation document. A crucial part of that advice will clearly concern the avoidance of recruitment practices which are discriminatory, or which might appear to be so. The Commission for Racial Equality has agreed to provide its assistance with the drawing up of such guidance. We are very grateful to the commission for that. We will be starting to discuss what will be required very shortly. However, I can say now that ensuring that checks are made on all new employees will represent an important safeguard in this respect.

Clause 9 enables us to restrict entitlement to accommodation under the homelessness legislation and the allocation of a council tenancy.

Following restrictions in benefit entitlement of persons from abroad, which were introduced by the Social Security (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 1996 last month, and earlier benefit changes in April 1994, there is now an imbalance between entitlement to benefits and entitlement to housing assistance. This places an unacceptable burden on local housing authorities. Clause 9 addresses that imbalance. Our broad purpose is to ensure that any person who requires leave to enter or remain, under the 1971 Immigration Act and who does not have entitlement to housing benefit, should also be denied access to housing assistance.

We have tabled information about the groups of immigrants who will be affected. The main ones are those who are present without leave, or who have limited leave granted on the understanding that they will not have recourse to public funds. Asylum seekers who claim after entry or whose applications have been refused by the Home Office will no longer have entitlement to housing assistance. Asylum seekers will be ineligible for council housing.

Clause 10 restricts entitlement to child benefit. The same reasoning applies. We need to bring child benefit into line with the other non-contributory benefits such as family credit, access to which by people from abroad was restricted last month under the Social Security Amendment Regulations. Those benefits are now limited to people who are resident or settled in this country. They are no longer available to those who have been given limited leave on the understanding that they will not claim public funds, to those who are present without valid leave, or to asylum seekers.

There is no justification for treating child benefit any differently. In order to align it we need primary powers, which Clause 10 provides. The Delegated Powers Committee has asked how those powers will be used. I have just given an outline of this but we will table a draft statutory instrument to assist the House.

There has, outside Parliament and in another place, been some very unbalanced criticism of this Bill. There is absolutely nothing improper in strengthening our asylum procedures against the current very high level of abuse; in declaring the evident fact that some of the main countries of origin do not give rise to a serious risk of persecution; in expecting asylum seekers to pursue their claims elsewhere if there is a safe third country for them to go to; in protecting employment opportunities for people entitled to live and work here: in taking tougher action against immigration racketeers.

This country has a good record on race relations, and a tradition of harbouring people who have fled here from real persecution abroad. This Bill is not only consistent with those principles. It is essential if we are to continue to implement them effectively. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Blatch.)

4.19 p.m.

My Lords, I thank the Minister, as is proper, for her detailed exposition of the contents of the Bill.

It is a small Bill, and your Lordships will be grateful for that, but it is in its structure and content a complex Bill. It is complex in structure because it largely consists of amendments to the Immigration Act 1971 and to the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993. Many noble Lords will remember the detailed debates on that Bill. They are engraved on my heart.

Although the Bill is short, I warn your Lordships that we shall criticise virtually every clause, either because we disagree with the purpose or because we believe that it is badly drafted—in many cases both. It is a small Bill but one that is full of poison. It is full of unjustified and ill-conceived prejudice against many people who come to the country and enrich our life. They have done so for 1,000, 2,000 and probably more years. Our life blood in this country has been immigration. Of course, it has to be controlled. There must be rules about asylum and immigration. But I suggest that in many respects the legislation goes too far.

The origins of the Bill are not auspicious. Only three years ago we debated a Bill put forward not by this Minister but by the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, as being a final tidying up of immigration and asylum procedures. He assured the House that when that was done the difficulties which had been identified in the preceding years would be overcome and we could look forward to the calm uplands of immigration and asylum policy. It is clear now not only that that was false but that the Government did not believe it at the time. Almost immediately after the Act was passed, KPMG was invited to undertake a thorough review of immigration procedures and in 1994 it made recommendations. Many of them are part of the legislation before us today.

Although Ministers in this House and in the other place have not referred to the fact, it is interesting that a great deal has been going on within the European Union about immigration and asylum policy. I was interested that in referring to the specific phrases, "manifestly unfounded" and "in general no serious risk of persecution", the Minister did not say that those phrases are not found for the first time in the Bill. They are found in resolutions of the European Union which were signed by the present and previous Home Secretaries as members of the Justice and Home Affairs Councils in recent years. The whole concept of a white list does not come from the British Government but from Steering Group 1 (Asylum and Immigration) which reports to the K4 Committee which is responsible for co-ordination of policy within the Third Pillar on Justice and Home Affairs. That resulted in the European Union resolution on "Manifestly Unfounded Applications for Asylum", and another European Union conclusion on "Countries in which there is generally no serious risk of persecution". The resolution and conclusion were signed by Mr. Kenneth Clarke as Home Secretary at the Justice and Home Affairs Council in London in December 1992.

Clause 3 concerns the concept of a safe country. We find that there is a European resolution on "Minimum Guarantees for Asylum Procedures". That was signed by the present Home Secretary at the Justice and Home Affairs Council in Luxembourg in June 1995. The Home Secretary said to the Conservative Party conference last year that immigration policy would be made in Britain not in Brussels. That is only half true because one of the European meetings took place in London. The truth is that despite their protestations to the contrary the Government have ceded their control of asylum policy to the European Union Council of Ministers. They have done so without any reference to Parliament, any debate in Parliament, or any approval by Parliament. The first time that it comes before your Lordships is in the Bill and it comes without any recognition of the European origin of Clauses 1 to 3.

The second general point that I wish to make before I deal with individual clauses concerns what is now called by the Minister "abusive claims". I do not know whether that phrase is any better than the suggestion which the Home Secretary made when he called them all "bogus claims". I suppose that to a tiny extent it is less abusive than using the word "bogus", but it is still not true. The basic reason our asylum procedures do not work and why so many people apply for asylum is net that the claims are abusive or bogus but because of the delays that still exist. That is fundamentally the reason for the large numbers. The Minister gave figures, carefully selecting the years she chose to quote, for the rise in applications and in the number of determinations. When she mentioned determinations in the past two years she did not record the fact that the number had decreased from the two previous years.

The primary reason within our control for the large number of asylum applications is that anyone who applies for asylum knows that on average there will be a nine-month delay in determining the application. Then, if an appeal is made, there will be a further four-month delay in determining the appeal. It means that during that period the applicant has the right to remain in the country. Instead of tackling the real cause—the delay—the Bill seeks to penalise those who take advantage of it. That is what is happening with the Bill. The claims are called abusive and it is made more difficult for them to succeed but the real cause of delay in dealing with applications is not tackled at all in the Bill. The Minister gave figures for the rise in the number of staff since 1988. It is clear that the increase is not enough.

A third and final general point before I turn to the detail of the Bill concerns the use of the word "immigrant". I remind your Lordships that the word "immigrant" is defined in Clause 12 as,
"a person who under the 1971 Act requires leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom (whether or not such leave has been given)".
That means that we have a new classification of resident in the country: someone who is a perfectly legal resident who has been given the right to remain, who is able to work, who pays taxes, who may—if he comes from a Commonwealth country—also be allowed to vote. He is now described for the purpose of legislation as an "immigrant".

When we consider Clauses 8, 9 and 10 in detail we see that they have serious effects on the civil rights and the right to social security benefits to which a person, if he is an illegal immigrant, will have contributed. So far as I can see, a new category of second-class citizen is created in this country. I believe that that is neither necessary nor in any way acceptable.

The Commission for Racial Equality says that 25 per cent. of people from ethnic minorities resident in Britain will fall within the category of "immigrant" under Clause 12. We cannot allow that to happen. We cannot have second-class citizens in our country.

I turn to the individual clauses. I shall have to refer to almost all of them in turn, for which I apologise. Clause 1 is the worst drafted and worst presented clause I have ever seen in legislation. It rewrites paragraph 5 of Schedule 2 to the 1993 Act. It does so, not by saying, "Paragraph 5 shall not have effect, but in its place there shall be a new paragraph which gives effect to the intentions of Clause 1". No. It takes each little bit and changes wording here and there. Of the six sub-paragraphs, it takes out two, seriously amends three and leaves only one unimportant one. As a result, it is virtually impossible to comprehend. Why cannot the Government just take out the paragraph and replace it by what they mean to say. This invites more work from the Law Commission when it comes to consolidate immigration legislation.

I have referred to the phrase,
"in general no serious risk of persecution",
and I have talked about its origin. But let us think about the meaning of those words. The phrase defines persecution by a country as a whole rather than an individual case. That is not in conformity with the 1951 convention. The convention states specifically that it is the individual who has to be taken into account. The phrase used is,
"a well founded fear of persecution".
Indeed, Section 2 of the 1993 Act states that nothing in the immigration rules—that includes the rules that will no doubt be changed as a result of this Bill—shall have precedence over the 1951 convention. That is a very valuable precaution. I seriously wonder whether this Bill does not break the provisions of Section 2 of the 1993 Act.

So we are moving from a judgment about an individual case of persecution to one about what happens in a country in general. In Nazi Germany it could not be said that there was in general no well founded fear of persecution. There was a well founded fear of persecution for Jews, homosexuals, gypsies and so on, but not for other people. Would Nazi Germany have achieved the white list on the definition we have been given? If there had been a high number of applications, it would have.

Let us look at the list of seven countries that the Minister named, although I notice she did not name the other three—Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, given in a leaked memorandum in the Guardian last month. It will be interesting if the Minister chooses to deny it, because it will make life difficult for her when they have to be added. There were 115 successful applications from India, Pakistan, Romania and Ghana. Those applications, which have been found successful even under our tough rules on asylum, would no longer have the same consideration or right of appeal as would have been provided before this Bill.

The whole business of "fast track" appeals in which five days are allowed for a case to be presented, regardless of difficulties in finding interpreters or getting documentation, is an open invitation to something that has already started; namely, the tendency for there to be a greater requirement for judicial review. I suggest that that will be a greater expense rather than a lesser expense. It will cost more in legal aid and it will extend judicial review, which ought not to be extended if Parliament can possibly avoid it.

The Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee said that there should be affirmative resolution on the original list. We agree, and I have no doubt that the Government, as usual, will conform to it. But surely there should be affirmative resolution also on additions to the list. There does not need to be any parliamentary procedure for removals from the list, but additions to the list ought to be subject to the same affirmative resolution. We shall be tabling amendments to secure that. Clause 1 has so many defects, not just in drafting, but in purpose, that it will need the most serious attention.

Clauses 2 and 3, the "safe country" clauses, go very much wider than the white list. In 1994, Amnesty International carried out a survey of 60 fast track cases, of which 25 per cent. went to judicial review and 75 per cent. were referred back to the Secretary of State. The Minister said, and repeated today, that this applies to countries in the European Union, to member states. It does. But it also applies to those designated in an order. And there is no suggestion of parliamentary approval for the order. The provision that it should be member states has no security whatever. It could be changed by the Secretary of State of his own volition.

In the nine months between November 1994 and August 1995, the special adjudicators declared EU countries unsafe in 199 cases, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Under these clauses, in-country appeals, of which, in the past, 40 per cent. were successful when they were appeals against a designation certificate by the Secretary of State as to a safe third country, will be replaced by appeals from abroad. The question that has to be asked is whether that is in conformity with the European Convention on Human Rights. Is it in conformity with Article 13? Is a right of appeal that can be exercised only from outside the country what the European convention calls "an effective remedy"? Here again, the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee called for affirmative resolution procedures, and we shall support that. But the whole principle of in-country appeals needs to be protected.

We certainly agree with the objectives of Clause 4 on deception. Also, it is better since the words "by him" were added. I make only a minor comment. Deception could lead to criminal prosecution. We should consider whether or not the PACE rules, which would involve the taping of interviews by immigration officers, ought not to be applied in those circumstances.

Again, the objectives of Clause 5 are sound. If they are to deal with racketeering, we support them. However, the clause seems to he very seriously flawed. It seems still to include those who are paid to give entirely honourable advice to immigrants, such as lawyers, paid airline staff and so on. I seriously wonder why the Government rejected amendments, including that from one of their own Back-Benchers, Mr. Niranjan Deva, seeking the regulation of immigration advisers. Perhaps some such regulation should be under the control of the Lord Chancellor, but it is needed and this clause will not be effective until it is achieved.

Clause 7 refers to the arrest and search powers in immigration cases. It makes them comparable to the powers under "a serious arrestable offence". A serious arrestable offence is treason, murder, manslaughter, rape or kidnapping, an offence that attracts a life sentence or 15 years. Is the power provided in the clause really the appropriate level of investigative power of forcible entry? It is not even "reasonable" force. Would it not allow forcible entry into the homes of friends, family, employers, schools or places of worship? I ask those questions with the intention of tabling at least probing amendments.

The Minister gave some detail of Clause 8, the employment clause. This is the first clause where the word "immigrant" appears. Apart from very bad drafting, including a sort of Richard Scott type double negative in subsections (1) and (2), it is true that an immigrant for the purposes of this clause excludes one who,
"has been granted leave to enter or remain"
under Clause 8(2)(a).

If that can be done in Clause 8, why is it not done in Clauses 9 and 10, which simply state that an immigrant who loses housing benefit or child benefit is, within the meaning of Clause 12, either as in Clause 9,
"of a class specified in an order by the Secretary of State",
or in Clause 10,
"unless he satisfies prescribed conditions".
I am not very happy about the wording of Clause 8. I feel that employers will find it very difficult to understand. Surely, the provisions in Clauses 9 and 10, which the Minister of State in another place said did not mean what they appeared to say on the face of the Bill, are entirely unsatisfactory. I do not have time to go into the objections in detail. The Federation of Small Businesses has said it all about whether it is the job of an employer to check immigration status. In practice, apart from the effect on race relations, I do not think the measure will work. It does not cover the self-employed, freelance workers or home workers. It will lead to an increase in the black economy. Those marginal employers who are most likely to employ illegal immigrants and who already break the law on tax and insurance will break this law too.

Because of the shortness of time, we can skip over Clause 9. It will be repealed in the 1996 Housing Bill which is before another place. It does not deserve our serious attention. The Government are wrapped in contradiction. They keep saying that this is done to save money but they have now had to admit that they will pay 80 per cent. of the additional costs incurred by local authorities. The benefit bill, which is claimed as £200 million, would only have been £30 million if the 1993 deadlines had been met. Again, child benefit is the reverse of common sense and economy. Benefits cost £100 a week at most. The cost of a child in care resulting from this measure would be £870 a week.

The Bill is defective. It does not address the real issues of asylum. We wish to see asylum claims properly dealt with in accordance with international law. We wish to see them justly dealt with and genuinely abusive claims dismissed. We wish to see asylum restricted to those with well-founded fears of persecution. This Government attack the applicants rather than their own procedures. We do not accept the withdrawal of benefit from those who live in this country. We believe that that is profoundly uncivilised. Do we want to be like Italy, which has withdrawn benefits and as a result has squatter camps, which are centres of crime, around some of its major cities? Is that the kind of result we want?

We must look again at whether our immigration laws are effective. We have one of the highest levels in Europe for detention of applicants. Why is that so? Is there not some way to reduce that expensive and cruel form of punishment? It is indeed punishment. As I said, we need to look again at the whole of the provisions for trafficking. We need to concentrate on those traffickers who encourage illegal immigration. We must also make sure that the legislation does not affect genuine advisers.

I do not have time to deal with the problem of unaccompanied children. That was supposed to have been dealt with by the 1993 Act. Since that Act, 50 children have been held in detention in contravention of international conventions to which we subscribe. We need to provide specifically for the victims of torture, as did Mr. David Alton in a well argued amendment in another place. Finally, we need to take off the face of the Bill the word "immigrant" as defined in Clause 12.

I said at the beginning that the Bill was full of poison. That implies intent and I do not wish so to imply. For the purposes of our consideration of the Bill at Committee and Report stages, I prefer to think of the Government as stumbling rather than poisonous. That is the spirit in which we will seek to make major changes to the Bill.

4.44 p.m.

My Lords, your Lordships have listened with great attention to two very full and detailed speeches and the House will be grateful for both of them. I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I speak rather more briefly and focus on principles. Also, I shall try to speak, so far as I can, not as a lawyer. I may fail, but I shall do my best.

The Bill is the latest in the long line of legislative measures on immigration and asylum. Some of those measures, which were strongly contested at the time, are now accepted as necessary. Some are unsightly measures which are or should be unacceptable in a democratic society concerned with promoting what my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead memorably defined 30 years ago as a national goal:
"equal opportunity, accompanied by cultural diversity, in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance".
In that same defining speech, the noble Lord, then Home Secretary, recognised, as we all do, the duty
"to control the flow of immigrants within the economic and social capacity of the country to absorb them".
As he recalled, for centuries past this and every other country which has played a part in the mainstream of world events has benefited immensely from its immigrants. Those who came were always made unwelcome by some people, whether out of political opportunism or personal inadequacy. But Britain's newcomers rarely failed to make a positive contribution out of proportion to their numbers in founding and rejuvenating firms, in contributing to our national welfare and prosperity and in enriching our universities and cultural centres.

The Government apparently share those enlightened ideals, as the noble Baroness the Minister indicated at the outset of her speech. The Government recently informed the rather obscure body, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, that they aim:
"to enable members of ethnic minorities to participate freely and fully in the economic, social and public life of the nation … whilst still being able to maintain their own culture, traditions, language and values. Government action is directed towards addressing problems of [racial] discrimination and disadvantage".
That statement is most welcome. I only wish that it could have been made by the Home Secretary, not only in a little read report to a specialised UN human rights body, or for that matter in a welcome passage of a speech in this Chamber, but also in a major speech in the glare of mass publicity to the annual conference of his party.

The Government see no contradiction between their vision of a multi-ethnic plural society and the present Bill. I accept that, as a matter of pure logic, there is no inherent contradiction. It is entirely possible to pursue the twin goals of racial equality and of firm but fair control over immigration and asylum. But that is only possible if there is an equal commitment to both goals and a willingness to resist the political temptation to exploit racial anxiety and prejudice in the pursuit of the popular vote, especially at election time. No political party has a monopoly of virtue or vice. The temptation is always there in the pursuit of political power, whether by those who already have power or those who seek it.

Perhaps my noble friends on the other Benches will forgive me for saying that it was a Labour Government which introduced the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968, which took away from British Asian passport-holders from East Africa their right of entry to and residence in this country, which was their only country of citizenship. Their numbers were relatively small but public hostility was whipped up against them and Parliament was persuaded to pass what amounted to emergency legislation to take away what had been promised to them by a Conservative Government; namely, a right of refuge in this country. The European Commission on Human Rights, in a test case in which I was advocate, found that the racial discrimination to which those British Asians had been publicly subjected constituted an interference with their human dignity, amounting to degrading treatment in breach of the convention. That was an example of an unsightly measure for which a Labour Government was responsible. By contrast, in 1972, when the noble Lord, Lord Carr of Hadley, was Home Secretary, Sir Edward Heath's Administration swiftly and honourably accepted 25,000 Ugandan Asian refugees expelled by Idi Amin.

As for my own party, although it has an honourable tradition of promoting racial justice and equality, there have been some—happily a small minority—who have not resisted the temptation to play the race card, in thinly coded language. Two years ago, together with my noble friend Lord Tope and other colleagues, I had the unhappy task of inquiring into allegations of racism made against local Liberal Democrats in Tower Hamlets in the wake of a by-election victory by the BNP. Sadly, we found some of those allegations to be well-founded.

I say that because it shows that immigration, race relations and politics do not mix well. I therefore approach the present Bill with a degree of scepticism about the political imperative for its introduction; I approach it with anxiety about the way in which the Bill and its passage will increase insecurity and alienation, whatever the noble Baroness the Minister may say, in minority communities; and I approach it with concern about the way in which the Bill's critics, including myself—though that does not matter—will be falsely and outrageously portrayed at the hustings as supporting an open-door policy on asylum and immigration which is wholly untrue.

I accept that the Government's stated aims in introducing the Bill are entirely legitimate; namely, strengthening our asylum procedures to deal more quickly with bogus claims and appeals, combating immigration racketeering and reducing the economic incentives which attract people to come to this country in breach of our immigration laws. But the means chosen to achieve those aims are manifestly unfair and excessive, lacking, in my view, any proper sense of proportion or fair play. The Bill is a tightly-meshed net designed to filter out illegal immigrants, but its cumulative measures will also catch genuine refugees.

It is less than three years since the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act became law. Why, I ask myself, do we need these further measures so soon? Why do we need them without any further evidence of any sufficient mischief to justify such harsh measures? The Government claim that we are overwhelmed by bogus applications. But, according to a Home Office memorandum placed in the Library as a result of a Question I asked, applications by asylum seekers peaked in 1991. The Home Office claims that because only 4 per cent. of applicants are deemed to be genuine refugees and only 4 per cent. of appeals to special adjudicators are upheld, the majority of applicants must be fraudulent and so the law should be further tightened. That takes no account whatever of the obvious difficulties which genuine asylum seekers face in proving their claims. It also takes no account of the fact that an additional 19 per cent. of applicants are, as the Minister indicated, given exceptional leave to remain on humanitarian grounds.

Last year the Government announced that £37 million would be spent on extra asylum case-workers and adjudicators over the next three years. Devoting increasing resources to processing claims expeditiously is most welcome. But I wonder why, then, the Government are introducing legislation before the results of that very welcome initiative in clearing the vast backlog have become clear. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, that the real problem, the real mischief, is the enormous mountain of applications and the massive delay in dealing with appeals, and that the victims of this Bill are not responsible for the administrative errors which led to the creation of that enormous delay.

The Bill extends the fast-track appeals procedure for what are called claims "without foundation", so as to include claims by applicants from a so-called "safe" country of origin and by those who arrive in the UK without a valid passport. That, I suggest, is unfair and unjust. Claims by applicants from so-called "safe" countries are not necessarily unfounded. The last thing on a refugee's mind as he flees from a country in fear of his life may be whether his papers are in order.

The Bill requires a higher standard of proof of asylum seekers escaping from so-called white list countries when seeking to prove the merits of their claims. Because of the pressures of time and resources upon hard-pressed immigration officers, it will be a short step, in my judgment, from presumption to prejudgment on the basis of a general designation of the country of origin. That will certainly breach Article 3 of the Refugee Convention which forbids discrimination based on country of origin. The Government argue that there will be no blanket prejudgment. I am bound to say that I doubt whether it will be avoided in practice.

In view of the effect of listing a country as "safe" on the rights and freedoms of the individual, I, like the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, applaud the advice given to the House by the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee that affirmative procedure should be required for the initial designation of countries on the list. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, also that, when other countries are added in future, the same procedure should surely apply. I hope that the Minister will, in due course, introduce an appropriate amendment on that basis.

Inevitably the extension of the fast-track procedure will lead to more appeals to adjudicators in cases where the merits have not been properly examined. That will increase the heavy burdens already placed on the shoulders of our hard-pressed adjudicators. Most unfortunately, applicants in those cases will have no right of appeal to the Immigration Appeals Tribunal. One of the most unfortunate aspects of that is that it will undoubtedly increase the number of applications for judicial review when a sensible policy would be to diminish the use of judicial review by expanding the role of the specialist appeal tribunal. Without taking time on this matter, in Australia they have realised the wisdom of a specialist administrative appeals system as a way of diminishing the much more costly and inefficient processes of judicial review.

The Government seek to remove the suspensive effect of appeals against removal where asylum seekers are removed to a member state of the European Union or to other countries deemed to be "safe". The right of appeal will continue to be available in theory, but Clause 3 is likely to render it inaccessible and ineffective in practice, even elsewhere in the European Union, because of the formidable difficulties in preparing appeals from abroad or, for that matter, seeking to apply for judicial review from overseas. In my judgment that again is manifestly not fair.

An applicant in the process of trying to bring an appeal in the UK may end up being shuttlecocked from country to country, possibly even ending up in the country of the regime from which he originally fled, in violation of the internationally guaranteed obligation of "non refoulement". The fact that, in some cases, his ultimate destination will be a country on the Home Secretary's white list is unlikely to be of much comfort to him.

Those applicants who do not find themselves sent to a third country may well come to wish that they had been, as a result of Clauses 9 and 10 of the Bill and the withdrawal of social security benefits from many asylum seekers and their families. Instead of taking effective administrative measures to clear the enormous backlog of applications by asylum seekers, the Government have introduced legislative measures which are likely to force refugees and illegal immigrants alike into conditions of poverty.

The restrictions on employment imposed by Clause 8 are as unwelcome to employers as they are to immigrant employees. Employers are not trained to act as immigration or police officers. It would be understandable, if unlawful, if many employers chose to exclude non-white staff or those with foreign-sounding names to minimise the risk of committing a criminal offence. I know that the noble Baroness the Minister thinks that unlikely, but the Government speak quite often and rightly of the burdens on small firms. Frankly, looking at the risks to which this Bill gives rise and the obligations imposed on employers, it is not fanciful to think that at any rate bad employers may decide to take the easy way out and to discriminate on the basis of race, colour or origin.

The proposal will have only a small compliance cost for the Government, but the burdens on employers, especially small businesses, will be great. It may or may not be effective in reducing the number of illegal immigrants in employment in the United Kingdom, yet for this uncertain outcome, the Bill risks disproportionately damaging race relations in this country and creating a culture of suspicion between employer and employed, including those who are black British-born, British citizens, and those who are lawfully settled in this country—the inadvertent innocent victims of such an outcome.

A system of control over asylum seekers and immigrants should be firm and effective, but it should also be fair and humane. It should ensure that those in genuine need of protection receive it, and that those who, after a full and fair hearing and appeal, have had their claims refused are swiftly removed from the United Kingdom. The Bill approaches the problem of economic migration in a piecemeal way which may make it at least as difficult for genuine refugees to enter the process as illegal immigrants. It will encourage refugees to work illegally if they are to survive. It will jeopardise good race relations. It will flout traditional principles of fair play and tolerance in which we as a nation have traditionally taken pride. I wish that it had not been introduced.

5.2 p.m.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the clear and able way in which she introduced the Bill and I thank her also for the announcement of further resources that are to be put into the asylum determination process. I recently heard a briefing from the chief adjudicator of the immigration appellate authority in which he spoke of the way in which these resources were in part to be used. I wish also to congratulate the noble Baroness on avoiding the use of the word "bogus" in relation to refugees, although she used it in other references. Perhaps, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, pointed out, the word "abusive" is not much better.

I should like to take as my starting point the whole perspective that we may have on the Bill because I believe that that determines the way in which we think about it. Broadly, there are two views about those who seek asylum in this country. One group of people, among whom I number myself, believes that large numbers of people seek asylum in this country because in their own countries there is violence, oppression and torture and they are fleeing for reasons of genuine fear. There is another view that many people from overseas want to share the good life of our country and they are driven by greed to come and use the asylum procedures in order to attain that aim.

The use of the word "bogus" in reference to refugees is one we need to examine very carefully. Although the noble Baroness avoided the use of the word, her department continues to use it. I have a news release dated 7th March 1996 which refers to the requirement to impose visa regulations on Kenyan nationals. The press release says:
"The action has been taken to stem the increasing number of bogus asylum claims from Kenyan nationals".
When one reads further down the press release it becomes quite clear that the increasing number is in fact very recent. In the first 10 months of 1995, 400 Kenyans claimed asylum at ports. Since November a further 833 people have done so. None of those 833 people will have yet had their cases determined. So how is it possible to say that they are bogus claims? The claims have not been heard and probably will not be heard for some months.

When I read the news release it occurred to me that there were perhaps other reasons for an increasing number of Kenyans to be coming to this country, so I went to find out something about the situation in Kenya. I discovered a document from Human Rights Watch which referred to the way in which in the early part of 1995 the human rights situation notably deteriorated in Kenya as the government launched a crackdown against human rights activists, opposition politicians and internally displaced persons. I then went to a document from the United States Department of State where I found a sentence saying:
"The government's human rights record in Kenya worsened in 1995. The police committed several extra judicial killings and tortured and beat detainees".
It seems much more probable that the reason for the increase in the number of applications from Kenya is the situation in that country. That is an obvious prima facie understanding of the case. But that is not my chief point. My chief point is: how can it he known at this stage, when the determinations have not been made, what is the motive and reason for the increase in applications? I should like to ask the noble Baroness whether she would be prepared to reconsider the use of the word "bogus", particularly in the case to which I have just referred.

This is obviously part of a much larger argument about the reasons for people applying for asylum in this country. It would seem to me that probably we need some research on what motivates people to come to this country. An initial look at the evidence once again makes it seem probable that they come because they are driven by fear. Of the UK applications in 1995, more than half came from countries with the most serious human rights records, such as Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Algeria and Nigeria. A further 20 per cent. came from countries that have high scores in the index of rights' abuse. That does not mean that all these applicants are necessarily genuine but it suggests that many of them have experienced persecution or harassment, and it is out of a fear of that that they have fled from their own countries.

Furthermore, the evidence from the presentation of asylum cases indicates that economic motives do not necessarily stand high for a majority of asylum seekers. Home Office presenting officers, when they submit cases, frequently submit that an appellant had an economic motive, but it is very rare for a special adjudicator to make a finding that a failed asylum seeker had economic motives. If special adjudicators saw clear evidence of an economic motive, it is likely that they would record that. In fact, on rare occasions they do so. But on the majority of occasions they do not.

Moreover, Home Office research shows that a large proportion of refugees were highly qualified and from professional occupations in their home countries. That makes sense because those are the people most likely to be protesting against regimes in their own countries. They are the ones most likely to be articulate and to be involved in the political process. So it seems that the initial evidence indicates that people flee and then seek asylum not from greed but from fear.

I do not want to go through the Bill in detail. I believe that it will make accurate, clear, fair and just determination of asylum seekers' cases more problematic. I wish also to make the point that the Government's claim that so many asylum seekers are bogus overlooks the fact that many of those whose claims are not recognised in this country may well have good reasons for wanting to flee their own country.

I was recently in Colombo at the time when the bombs were going off. I was sitting in the study of a young Tamil priest. He was telling me about having to go to the local police station as all young Tamil men in Colombo at that time were being rounded up and interrogated. He was able to release some of them, those whom he knew, but others had to remain for further interrogation. I said to him, "Do you feel secure in this country?" and he said "Well, I cannot travel to visit my parents, but at the moment I feel secure. However, if it reached the stage when my children were under threat, I should have to leave". As I understand it, there is no way in which that man would be treated as an asylum refugee in this country, but that is not to say that if he applied for asylum, he could be regarded as bogus. It is simply that the determinations are successful for only a fairly small, tight group of people.

I do not want to make detailed comments on the clauses, but I should like to refer particularly to Clause 1. My right reverend friend the Bishop of Bristol will be referring to Clause 8. I should like to make two points on Clause 1. The first relates to the list of white countries. I notice that the Minister included Pakistan. What matters to those who seek asylum in this country is not what other people think about their country; it is how secure they feel there. It is perfectly possible for somebody to come here from, say, Pakistan, and find that people say, "Isn't Pakistan a perfectly safe and reasonable country?" The reply may be, "Yes, of course it is—for most of the people who live there, but it is not safe for me". The asylum seeker will then say why that is the case. It may be that he is an Ahmadi, a group who are under particular threat. That person has the right to have his case determined.

The task of the asylum procedure is to determine the degree of risk for an individual in relation to his or her circumstances and in relation to the country from which he or she comes. An asylum seeker has the right to have that determination made in respect of his or her own circumstances. To put people into a group and to say that those from a particular country are unlikely to have a genuine case is to ignore their right to individual determination.

I should like to make one other point in relation to Clause 1. I should be grateful for some help from the Minister on this. I understand that one of the effects of Clause 1 is to remove the right of special adjudicators to refer a case back to the Secretary of State. It was under that power that the chief adjudicator, Judge David Pearl, referred the case of Dr. Mohammed Al-Mass' ari back to the Home Secretary. I do not hold any brief for the politics or movement represented by Dr. Al-Mass'ari, but I do believe that he has the right to have his case determined. I was interviewed on the nine o'clock News on the matter and made precisely that point. I was therefore glad to read the determination of the chief adjudicator, who stated:
"It is my view that the only way I can ensure 'the highest standards of fairness'…is to 'refer the case to the Secretary of State for reconsideration—.
The important sentence is this:
"Simply allowing the appeal would leave both the appellant and the respondent in a 'limbo' situation which I do not consider to be in the interests of the appellant or indeed in the public interest".
Can the Minister confirm that under Clause 1 that right would be removed and that in that particular case the adjudicator would either have had to make a determination that that person could not be removed to the Dominican Republic or would presumably have been allowed to consider his substantive case? We have already seen the difficulty of the "limbo" situation which arises if we simply accept the general appeal, but if the substantive case is considered, surely it will lay further responsibilities on the adjudicators who, in any case, would not have sufficient access to the information to allow them to make an entirely fair adjudication? Surely that would slow down a process which we all think needs to be speeded up.

I have detailed criticisms of other aspects of the Bill, but I finish by making a general point which has already been made by the noble Lords, Lord McIntosh of Haringey and Lord Lester of Herne Hill. What is needed is a speeding up of the determination process. A long period of determination is not helpful to asylum seekers. They want a quick determination of their case. It is helpful to those—and there may be some—who are abusing the system and who want to be allowed to remain in this country. It is in everybody's interest that the determination procedure should be as short as possible. I believe that that is the way forward, not this Bill.

5.15 p.m.

My Lords, I am always glad to find the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon among us because he was once a much loved and highly respected vicar in my former constituency and I have always admired his sincerity. However, if I may say so, his arguments today seem somewhat unrealistic.

The right reverend Prelate congratulated my noble friend Lady Blatch on not using the word "bogus". was surprised that she did not use it. Perhaps I may explain to the right reverend Prelate that in 1995 nearly 44,000 people applied to remain in this country as seekers of asylum, as refugees. That figure compares with nearly 33,000 in 1994 and with about 22,000 in 1993. The significant point is this: in 1995 and 1994 only one-third of the applicants applied on arrival at the port, the rest did it as an afterthought. When their cases were heard, a very high proportion of those who did it as an afterthought were not granted leave to remain and only 3 per cent. of their appeals were allowed. I am sorry to have to say to the right reverend Prelate and your Lordships that a very high proportion of those cases were bogus cases.

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord is aware that more of those who applied in-country rather than at a port were granted asylum.

My Lords, their numbers were very much greater. That is partly the answer. If there is a further answer, I have no doubt that my noble friend Lady Blatch will be happy to give it either now or in Committee.

I am strongly in favour of the Bill. Perhaps I should confess that it brings back memories to me because as long ago as 1962 I had the responsibility of helping my kite noble friend Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, when he was Home Secretary and in another place, with the piloting through another place of the first of the Commonwealth Immigrants Acts. Indeed, the 1971 Act is mainly a consolidation measure.

It is interesting to look back at the performance of the Labour Party in these matters because Labour Members voted 42 times against the 1962 Act and we all thought that they would either repeal it or considerably soften it, but they did not. Eventually, in the: 1968 Act, they strengthened it and allowed the provisions to remain. We hear the party opposite, as it always does in opposition, complaining about any kind of immigration control.

My Lords, will Ihe noble Lord withdraw the words "the party opposite"? They are not merely inaccurate, they are unfair to the Cross-Benches and to the spirit of the House.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl for that correction. He was fully justified in making the point. I started by saying "the Labour Party" then I carelessly referred to it as "the party opposite". There is a party opposite with which I have rather more sympathy. Indeed I have to say that I was born a Liberal, but, like the great Sir Winston Churchill, I eventually became a Conservative.

After listening to the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord McIntosh of Haringey and Lord Lester of Herne Hill, one realises that they will nearly always oppose this type of legislation, however much we may think it is in the public interest, and it is.

The Bill is necessary. I am glad to say that in this country we have, since earlier times, had a magnanimous policy, which has been referred to, of giving hospitality to people persecuted elsewhere, even though it may not always have been in the interests of our own people to admit them. We should bear in mind that it often costs money to have them here; it adds to unemployment, the housing problem and education problems. We cannot get away from that.

However, as I see it, the trouble now is twofold. First, there is so much persecution in so much of the world that the number of people trying to settle here has increased greatly. Hence the applications that 1 mentioned—nearly 44,000 last year.

The second reason is that some people come either from those countries where there is oppression or from harmless countries, who, for personal or economic reasons, want to get away from them. It is well known that immigrants sometimes come here to escape domestic or criminal liability in their own countries. They are refugees in that sense. That is well known.

Another factor is that, if people want to get away from their own countries for a genuine reason or another reason, they know that our country is the easiest country in the world in which to obtain asylum. Hence the numbers! Other Western European countries have, in recent years, tightened their asylum controls. Germany, Belgium, Holland, Denmark and Spain have all done so. As my noble friend the Minister demonstrated in her speech, the Government have a duty towards the people of our country to ensure that our immigration control is not abused. We also have to face the problem of public expenditure, and the Bill attempts to deal with that.

To my mind, the Bill's provisions are inevitable and workable. I do not want to go into a great deal of detail. We will have to do that in Committee. But I must confess to some agreement with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, about the drafting of Clause 1. In my 50 years in Parliament I do not believe that I have seen a major Bill start in quite the way this Bill does in Clause 1. It will be so easy for my noble friend the Minister to ask the draftsman to have paragraph (5) of Schedule 2 of the 1993 Act rewritten so that we can all read it; so that the people who have to obey it can read it; and the people who have to administer it can read it. I hope that we shall have that matter put right in Committee.

The increased penalties in Clause 6 are done, admittedly by reference, in a way which is now conventional and acceptable. I do not believe that there is anything wrong with the drafting of Clause 6. Nor do I believe that there is anything wrong with its substance, because as time goes on, despite the Government's splendid efforts to control inflation, we have to adjust the penalties to the change in the value of money.

In my opinion the new criminal offences created by Clauses 4, 5, 7 and 8 are inevitable if the control of illegal immigrants who wish to seek asylum is to become effective. In the past 50 years, our country has generously admitted large numbers of immigrants—at least 3 million of them—and they and their descendants now form about 5 per cent. to 6 per cent. of our total population. At the same time, we are told that there must be 27 new towns of 40,000 people each, taking up more of our lovely countryside, making England even more urbanised than it is already. That is not so true of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

One could go on, and in Committee we shall have to go into these matters in detail. In my opinion the Bill is necessary. I hope that the Government succeed in getting it through your Lordships' House in a form in which it will be effective.

5.27 p.m.

My Lords, in a previous incarnation I was a great admirer of brevity. I do not intend to be inconsistent today. I must, first, declare an interest as the chairman of—I hastily add—a small international airline. That may be a tangential interest, but it is one that I think I should declare to your Lordships' House. Of course, as your Lordships will be aware, all carriers, by land, sea and air, are subject to the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 which introduced a fine of £1,000 per passenger, raised in 1991 by order to £2,000 per passenger.

I have no argument with the Act, apart from the odd small anomaly. What is more important is that the legislation was supposed to help reduce the numbers. The numbers mentioned today indicate that they have inexorably risen. Whether they would have risen even more had there not been the legislation is, I suspect, a moot point. Having declared that interest and having tried merely to add some of the background, I should like to make it absolutely clear that I believe that in this House today, or any other day, we would never find a proponent for opposing political asylum.

The large increase in the number of applications is driven, I suspect, by three or four different events, one of which I believe has been referred to. The introduction of legislation in other countries which would have been an attractive alternative to the United Kingdom merely forced people towards the UK. It was not due to any event which occurred within the UK itself.

I fear that from the evidence I have seen that that it is a growing industry operating on an international basis. I know also from what I have seen that although there has been an increase in vigilance, there has also been an increase in criminality. That probably indicates that there is an increased economic attraction in encouraging people. There has also been an increase in the quality of forged documents. All those events make for a depressing tale.

The Government have introduced this Bill in order to keep under control a problem that might otherwise get out of control. I have only two questions to ask my noble friend. I propose to use as few facts as possible. I am sure that the debate will suffer from the surfeit of facts common to most good arguments.

Perhaps I may take a simple round figure rather than saying 3,292 as against 7,500. During the past six years the annual average number of applications, which I have downsized, has been 30,000. There have been up to 2,000 grants of application, leaving a differential of some 28,000. Taking those rough figures, my first question to the Minister is: are those applications representative of individuals or do they include the dependants? What proportion do they represent? In other words, does the annual figure represent the total number of individuals or the total number of applications?

My second question relates to the relationship between applications and what is the story at the end of the application process. In other words, how many people go home or return to the location from which they travelled to this country? I have seen no figures but I am informed that last year the figure was about 4,000. Obviously, there are many different cases, the facets of which change, that one would have to examine over a longer period of time. That is why I have taken the annual average figure of 30,000 over the past six years. An anomaly appears to exist which must be answered. That could perhaps remove some of the arguments made against the Government.

As regards the generality of the Bill, I have seen some figures that worry me. I believe that if we do not achieve a balance with other civilised countries and deal on an equal basis we will be in a position that is intolerable not only to the people of this country but to those who have come here. Furthermore, there will be intolerable conditions for people who try to come to this country. I say that because my experience is that each time an airline has to increase vigilance as regards inspecting tickets, travel documents, passports and visas, on many occasions great unhappiness and inequality are imposed on customers who arc trying to travel. Those people have not been mentioned in the debate. I support the Bill.

5.33 p.m.

My Lords, I have a long-standing speaking engagement tonight which I have postponed until as late as possible. However, it may well be that I must leave before the end of the debate and I apologise to the House and to the Minister. I shall read carefully the report of the debate in Hansard tomorrow. When we debated three Motions regarding asylum seekers on 30th January I spoke of my personal experience as an immigrant. I do not wish to cover that ground again. I mention it only because it explains my concern about the matter. It has become obvious from that debate, and today's, that concern and compassion for asylum seekers is not limited to any one side of the House. Neither is the wish to save taxpayers' money the prerogative of any one side of the House, nor the wish to exclude economic migrants. What divides us is the way in which we distinguish between genuine asylum seekers and others.

It is not an easy matter. Apart from the problems of language and culture, immigration officers have to deal with devious people who are really economic migrants. They may be glib and articulate and have learnt how to operate the system. They may be of an industry about which the noble Lord, Lord Hesketh, spoke. On the other hand, there are deeply traumatised people who have suffered terribly. They are inarticulate, terrified of officialdom and desperate. Not surprisingly, their education and background has not prepared them nor given them the resources needed to cope with this situation. Added to that are the distressing cases of unaccompanied children seeking asylum—incidentally, they are detained with adults, contrary to the Children Act—and they demand our special concern.

Dealing with people is very imperfect and therefore my hope was that the new regulation and the Bill would enable the authorities to find out the truth with the least possible chance of error in refusing entry to genuine asylum seekers. However, the main purpose of the Bill is to deal with abusive claims quickly but not necessarily to differentiate between genuine and abusive claims. My concern, therefore, is with the first part of the Bill regarding entry, specifically Clauses 1, 2 and 3 which deal with the fast track mechanism and the rights of appeal.

I shall not deal with the other matters concerning refugees once they are here; for instance, the difficulties which people have in supporting themselves, the risk of criminalising those who give legitimate advice, or the members of the family community or Churches who give support. Neither shall I deal with those who employ immigrants but are unable to verify whether or not they are illegal. All that would undoubtedly damage race relations, in spite of the proposed procedure mentioned by the Minister.

I welcome the Government's intention to reduce the time taken to resolve appeals because those applying for asylum, in order to circumvent immigration controls, are far less likely to do so if an appeal can be resolved in one or two months instead of up to 19 or 20 months, which has been the case in the past. As the Minister said, of course it is much more difficult to expel people after all that time.

However, I too have a number of concerns about the speeded-up appeals procedure. First, will the asylum seeker have the facilities to organise an appeal? I understand that there are large numbers of bogus advisers but I do not understand why the Minister will not introduce a registration scheme. Sadly, it is impossible for us to judge the procedure because no draft of the actual rules has been published. I wonder why the Government will not publish those rules. None of us wishes to be in the position where we have approved tighter regulations yet removed the safeguards which result in genuine refugees being refused admission; and this reduction in numbers is, in turn, taken by the Government as proof of the success of the new system.

Yet, under the existing rules, a fast track appeal has to be lodged within 10 working days and the hearing must be within seven working days. That is fine. If those limits are in the new rules, will the facilities announced by the Minister be of a sufficiently high standard for both the asylum seeker and the Government to resolve appeals in that short time? It may be necessary to spend even more money on the fast track system in order to reduce the time that people spend here. Are the Government willing to do that? I hole that they are. Eliminating the safeguards by speeding up the system but denying the asylum seeker the means of using it would be a gross denial of natural justice.

My next concern is the white list. The Minister will have seen the briefing from Conservative Central Office dated 21st February. It suggests that there should be three criteria for a country being on the list: first, that it generates a significant number of asylum applications; secondly, that a very high proportion of applications from that country proved to be unfounded; and thirdly, in general there is no serious risk of persecution.

First, the order is wrong. The number of cases generated by a country is irrelevant. What is relevant is the human rights situation in that country. As my noble friend Lord McIntosh implied, one does not have to be a professor of history like the noble Earl, Lord Russell, to know that persecution or denial of human rights is never general; it is usually particular. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon told us that persecution is directed at specific minority groups—ethnic, social or political enemies. All that may be going on in the absence of general persecution. Those criteria seem to be most inappropriate. Will the Minister tell us what the criteria will be?

Then there are the safeguards concerning an applicant who arrives via a transit country. Asylum seekers do not travel like businessmen. They are not in a position to take a convenient, direct flight. Indeed, I should be suspicious of an asylum seeker who had done so. However, Clause 3 allows an immigration officer to return an asylum seeker to a third country provided that it is deemed safe and any appeal is then made from that country.

If an out-of-country appeal is successful, does that give an automatic right to enter the United Kingdom? That is unclear. If it does not, that is all rather meaningless. We can all imagine the practical problems of appealing from a third country, even if it is a European Union country. I should like the Minister to tell the House what safeguards exist to ensure that that third country rule will not be used as an easy option just to keep down the numbers.

It is obvious that a large part of the Bill is designed to keep down the numbers. Certainly, some of the asylum applications are designed to circumvent immigration controls or, indeed, avoid deportation. But the Government must acknowledge that much of that results from the delays in processing. I welcome the speeding up of the process to improve the efficiency but not by removing safeguards. As the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees noted, regarding the new measures in Europe:
"these new measures make it as difficult for genuine refugees to enter the process as those who are not".
It is our duty to see that every safeguard possible is in place because refusing entry to a genuine asylum seeker is rather like capital punishment: there may be no opportunity to rectify the mistake.

5.43 p.m.

My Lords, I believe that it is agreed on all sides of the House that our country has a long-standing reputation for harbouring those who have been or are in danger of being persecuted in their countries of origin. We all agree with that. That is not in doubt. I believe that that reputation cannot be tainted by the provisions of the Bill before your Lordships.

Our race relations, both in policy and in practice, are held in very high regard by our fellow Europeans and I should like to mention that in debates and reports which come before the European Parliament, the United Kingdom has always been singled out as one of those countries with the highest reputation for the best treatment of all those who are legally within the jurisdiction of the United Kingdom.

The provisions of the Bill in no way undermine that view. The Government have produced legislation which must be seen to be fair—and it is—and to improve and ensure effective immigration control and to speed up the procedures. I have no doubt that during the later stages of the Bill, there will be discussion on the detailed provisions of the Bill which my noble friend Lady Blatch explained so ably to the House this afternoon.

But governments have duties and obligations to their citizens, whatever their colour or race, to control public expenditure and to cut it where it is excessive or inappropriate. That is a duty on any government, whichever party is in power. Of course, we must also observe our international legal obligations. Again, that applies to any party in government. The noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, has already outlined some of the earlier provisions in regard to, in particular, human rights aspects of immigration control during the past 30 or 40 years. I am grateful to him for that.

One of the problems to be faced is the excessive number of asylum seekers of whom a good many applications are apparently manifestly unfounded and are doing harm and impeding fair treatment for those who are genuine asylum seekers. That is one reason why I support the Bill and for that reason alone, the Bill is justified. I understand that there are still more than 80,000 asylum seekers who have not yet had their cases decided. Probably at least one half of those will not be genuine. I know that sometimes the Government's figures are questioned but I should like to quote some figures that I have dated 3rd February from Agence Europ with which, I am sure your Lordships will agree, the Government have no close interconnection. Page 9 of that edition states:
"The number of asylum seekers registered in the European Union in the first nine months of 1995 continued to decline after the 1994 drop in all member states except in the United Kingdom".
Those figures are from the EC Statistics Office, from EUROSTAT, and are in a document entitled Population and Social Conditions No. 1 1996. Therefore, those figures do not come from a government department.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. Does she agree that it is a rather unusual argument to say that the fact that there are so many applications or appeals pending is an argument for taking away rights? After all, there are many other areas of life, including applications for judicial review, where there is an absolute mountain of cases which is increasing all the time, but no one suggests that it would be fair to limit the rights of those who then become eligible.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that intervention because I do not agree with him that human rights are being removed from asylum seekers. The point of the Bill is to enable the cases of genuine asylum seekers to be dealt with more quickly.

I have given notice to my noble friend that I should be raising this matter. If it is practical or possible, we should increase the figure of £37 million for extra staff to enable the backlog of cases to be dealt with even more speedily. I believe that the provisions of the Bill are absolutely necessary but I believe that we need more financing and a more speedy settlement of the procedures which we shall be debating in the next few weeks.

If the Government could find that money to pay more staff—and if they can find adequately trained people to do that specialist work—there would be an advantage in financial terms, although that is not the only criterion to be considered. It would lead to greater economies in relation to expenditure on benefits, use of public services including health, education and other services.

I know that the Government have a duty to cut public expenditure. But in this particular regard, I believe that it is a case of being penny wise and pound foolish. If more money could be found now, future expenditure would be considerably less.

Secondly, it is also the task of the Government to ensure that justice is done to whoever is within the United Kingdom jurisdiction, even in the case of approving a white list of countries in the procedures set out in the Bill. There cannot be collective expulsions or deportations but each case must be considered on its merits in accordance with the provisions of the UN convention on the status of refugees. Will my noble friend confirm that each case is dealt with individually? Some noble Lords have sought to criticise the Bill but I believe that they may misread Clause 1. I believe that my noble friend should explain that when she winds up the debate.

In view of the criticisms of the policy in relation to asylum seekers who are not genuine asylum seekers and who delay their appeal for asylum several months after being in the United Kingdom, it is worth recalling that Article 31 of the UN convention on the status of refugees states quite clearly:
"The Contracting States shall not impose penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees who, coming directly from a territory where their life or freedom was threatened in the sense of article 1, enter or are present in their territory without authorisation provided"—
and I emphasise the word "provided"—
"they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry or presence".
That is one of the problems that has been faced by the Government. So many of the so-called manifestly unfounded asylum seekers are claiming to have been, say, students for six months or have come in through racketeer procedures to do all sorts of things. Then, after a considerable time, they make an appeal for asylum. Of course, I quite understand the situation in certain countries where there has been a change as regards the government's dealing with certain individuals or groups of people. I believe that that is provided for in the Bill. Where someone has come from a safe country where the change has taken place with the behaviour of the government or, as I say, the authorities, then that case will be considered in a different light.

Thirdly, legitimate concern has been expressed about the provisions of Clause 8 which lays a responsibility on employers to identify illegal immigrants. In a letter received today from the CBI it is understood that it would not be opposed to the measures proposed if,
"no more than an initial check is required on documents containing national insurance numbers, and that appropriate guidance is given to employers".
In any case, is that not the procedure required for any new employee? It is also hoped that those inspectors called upon to check the role of employers will take an understanding and helpful attitude and not act in a way which could impose such strictures on employers which could imperil good race relations in their firms. The way that enforcement procedures are handled is most important. Indeed, sometimes the attitudes are more important than the actual legislation.

I wonder whether my noble friend the Minister could confirm the truth or otherwise—and I have given my noble friend notice of this question; and it was raised in another place—of the claim that there are 20 million excessive insurance numbers available which could lead people to believe that they are forgeries or false documents. Can my noble friend give some indication as to the truth of that and, indeed, say how such a problem would be dealt with?

Fourthly, there is a need for close co-operation with other European Union member states to deal with a problem which has been overwhelming most states. Many have already adopted stricter provisions and procedures to deal with increasing numbers of asylum seekers. Measures have been aimed to reduce the number of asylum applications to be considered by the introduction of new procedures for the receivability of new applications. Measures have also aimed at reducing the time needed for the examination of asylum applications, including rapid procedure for manifestly unfounded applications and the implementation of the third country principle. As the noble Lord, Lord Lester, knows better than anyone else, all those countries are in fact high contracting parties of the European Convention on Human Rights. I believe that all the rapid procedures that have been introduced are in accordance with the human rights provisions both in the convention and in the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees. It may be of interest to your Lordships to know that even citizens from other European Union member states do not have an unqualified right to reside in another member state as and when they wish to do so. That was apparent from a recent case reported in The Times.

I should also like to comment briefly on the Dublin Convention. The United Kingdom was one of the first signatories to that convention which determines the state responsible for examining appeals. Most states have already introduced the necessary legislation even before the entry into force of the convention. The convention asserts the general principle which I know the Government support—indeed, as one of the signatories, they were bound to do so—that the first country of asylum should normally be responsible for considering an asylum seeker's claim. There is nothing in that particular provision which constitutes a violation of human rights of any individual. The convention was drawn up for the benefit of all the member states of the Community. As I said, they are all high contracting parties to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The examination of applications for asylum is the exclusive responsibility of the authorities of the member states, as well as the determination of "safe third countries". That was a reply from the Commission to a recent question posed by a member of the European Parliament which is worth remembering.

I was rather surprised by the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. I was going to say somewhat "acid" remarks, but that is not a very polite word. I should perhaps use a more triumphant word as used by the noble Lord when he said that many of the provisions come from the European Union. Of course they do. Under Title VI covering Justice and Home Affairs of the Maastricht Treaty, asylum and immigration is one of the subjects on which member states should co-operate. I welcome the fact that the Government have seen fit to work with other member states of the European Union when dealing precisely with the problem, which is a European problem and one which cannot be confined only to our country. I see that the noble Lord wishes to respond. I give way.

My Lords, I am much obliged. I was not objecting to any of that. I was objecting to the secrecy with which it was done; the fact that it is not acknowledged in the way in which the Bill has been introduced; and the fact that the Home Secretary claims to his party that those policies are being made in Britain and not in Brussels.

My Lords, I should be delighted if they are made in this country and not in Brussels. Surely that co-operation is one to which the United Kingdom has contributed. Further, as the noble Lord mentioned, all the provisions that he chose to single out are contained in resolutions and recommendations and are not legally binding. It is the Government who have decided to put in this Bill, in this House and in this Parliament provisions which they have agreed to but which are not legally binding on any of the other member states. However, in their common interest and their common purpose, they have also seen fit to ensure that they are useful and helpful provisions which do not violate the human rights of people who are seeking asylum in the countries within the European Union. I am extremely grateful to my noble friend and to the Government for the fact that they have adopted those provisions and put them in the Bill.

Another point which has been extremely helpful is the recommendation by European Union member states for having a proper definition of a refugee. That has been agreed as being,
"a person with a well-founded fear of persecution".
I believe that we all agree to that definition. Indeed, we should be grateful for the fact that it will be adopted in United Kingdom law as it will also be adopted in the law of other member states.

Those are the people whose rights and interests this Bill is determined to protect. The Bill will also identify those who benefit from protection and benefits when they are not entitled to do so. So far as concerns legal immigrants, the protection of their human rights is guaranteed. In fact, the UN Declaration on the rights of non-citizens adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1985 was largely based on a draft proposal prepared by a Conservative Government in 1973. Perhaps I may say that I was proud enough to be the special rapporteur on that subject and introduced that declaration to the UN General Assembly in December 1985.

The Labour Party considers that the Bill will, or could, harm race relations. I believe that that is totally unjustified. Those in the Labour Party know that they have no valid argument against the proposed provisions. They could possibly as regards the detail; but the principle must be accepted. They know that, if they were ever to be in government, they would be faced with the same problem and that they would either have to introduce similar if not identical provisions, especially as some of them are shared with our European Union member state neighbours, or else allow a massive influx of illegal immigrants. That would do infinite harm to those who, over the years, we have welcomed to this country and who have made their own valuable contribution to our general well-being and prosperity.

5.59 p.m.

My Lords, I am afraid that I, too, must begin with an apology. There is much talking going on in London tonight. I have a speaking engagement that I made long before I expected to be a Member of this House and, therefore, I shall not be able to present at the conclusion of the debate. I am glad that I am able to speak in this debate because I spent three of the most formative years of my life teaching in Africa. There I saw at first hand the problems that lie at the root of this Bill; namely, political persecution and economic deprivation. Those problems are easy to analyse but solutions to them are hard to find. Listening to the debate this afternoon, I feel that there are issues on which we might have different interpretations, but we accept that they are the issues with which we have to deal. It is unanimously agreed in this House that we all want to provide refuge to genuine asylum seekers; that is, individuals who are suffering political persecution.

We all realise—although we might phrase it in different ways—that there are many economic migrants fleeing poverty and deprivation who pose as political asylum seekers. I think the right reverend Prelate was a little unfair to say it is greed that drives them. If one is not a right reverend Prelate, or a noble Lord, but a small farmer in East Africa, or on the sub-continent, or in Poland, Romania or Bulgaria, surprisingly western Europe seems a more attractive proposition. It is not a matter of greed but a genuine desire to find what they perceive to be a better life.

I agree with what some noble Lords said earlier; namely, that great benefit has come to this country from many who sought to flee economic deprivation. As a former high master of St. Paul's School in London, I can speak of the contribution of Jewish pupils from that school. I refer to uranium and the reactor. However, in spite of all that, we know that from the turn of this century every government in the developed world have put restrictions on the entry of economic migrants. The aliens Act of 1905 was the first such measure in England, but there were quotas in the United States and a whole series of legislative measures which followed the need to maintain social harmony by not allowing the free movement into a country of economic migrants.

We all realise that if we ignore what is happening in western Europe, more economic migrants will come to this country. I need not dwell on the many regulations that have been introduced in France, Germany, the Netherlands and so on. All of those are more restrictive than those that we have at present. There can be no doubt that if we ignore those rules, many more migrants will come to this country. We must in some sense hear in mind these rules. We cannot ignore them. Let me put it more crudely. I suggest that this House has had two solutions put before it this afternoon. One of those is the solution suggested in the Bill which was introduced by my noble friend the Minister. The other is the one that has been suggested by many noble Lords and the right reverend Prelate, which is to put more resources into the processing of immigration applications so that they can be processed more quickly.

Neither solution denies the facts that we shall have to reduce the number of immigrants and that many of them are here without cause. I suggest to the House that neither solution constitutes a perfect moral solution. Only the right reverend Prelate proposed something that approaches near moral perfection. His interpretation of political persecution would cover almost any discontent that human beings feel. If we followed his suggestion, the discontented carpenter in Nairobi would have as much validity as a political refugee amid Saddam Hussein's Iraq. But for the rest we have to face the fact that we are dealing with shades of grey, and neither of the options suggested will provide the perfect solution.

I need not add to the criticisms which many noble Lords have levelled at the Bill from a moral position. I refer to the right reverend Prelate and to many others. However, I suggest there is a moral dilemma as regards the solution which proposes an immense increase in the economic resources devoted to processing immigrants' asylum applications. We are in a society which is thin on resources. Such a policy would produce jealousy in our society. Human beings are like that. They would be jealous and, in a crude way, they would declare that resources are being given to people who only want to escape poverty in their own country, but that we have poverty in this country which should he tackled. I suggest that that jealousy would work against the interests of the people we are trying to help; namely, those seeking political asylum. In the popular mind the asylum seekers would be grouped with those whom the public regard—possibly wrongly—as scroungers on the state. Therefore the perfect moral state of admitting everyone and processing their applications more quickly might produce disadvantages for others. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, shakes his head. Perhaps he has a better knowledge of morals than the rest of us.

My Lords, I certainly would not claim a better knowledge of morals than the noble Lord. However, the alternative to his proposition is not admitting everyone and processing their applications better; it is an alternative whereby one still keeps strict and firm controls, but reduces the incentive to apply for asylum in that an application for asylum automatically brings the right to stay during the period of the application and the appeal. That time is too long.

My Lords, I can only say to that what I have said before. The noble Lord is ignoring what is happening in our neighbouring countries. Part of the problem is that we live in a world of imperfection. In a world of imperfection we face the impossibility of doing the ideal thing. What is right from one point of view is wrong from another. Pay Peter and you deprive Paul. In the end we seem to be left with only common sense with which to decide these complicated moral issues. Whatever we decide, it seems wrong in some way. Our decision may be good for someone but it may injure someone else. All we can try to do is to find the least hurtful solution. I suggest that this Bill offers the least hurtful solution. I cannot agree that to adopt processes which are less strict than those of our Continental neighbours will not produce jealousy among the people in England. The Bill attempts to help asylum seekers by reducing the flow of economic migrants into this country. If we try to process their applications more quickly and spend more money in doing so, that will result in jealousy among our own people.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Will he indicate which clause of the Bill distinguishes between genuine refugees and economic migrants, and how it does so?

My Lords, there is not a clause in the Bill which makes that distinction, because, as has emerged in this debate, it is difficult to make that distinction. However, history shows us that a person suffering genuine political persecution will be accepted. I believe that genuine persecution will be revealed under the appeals procedure proposed in the Bill. Noble Lords will have noted the large numbers of asylum seekers who are arriving from the countries of eastern Europe in which there is little, if any, political persecution. I cite Poland as one example. I realise there is a problem in this area which this Bill is designed to try to tackle.

In 1905 Winston Churchill revised the aliens Act which had first been proposed in 1904. He was worried about this as he was a Member of a Liberal Administration, and Home Secretary in it. As noble Lords know, the aliens Act restricted the entry of immigrants from eastern Europe and demanded that they had economic resources to sustain them when they arrived in England. Winston Churchill addressed a Jewish delegation that arrived—I am sure my noble friend the Minister would do the same—and said,
"As regards the present Act, its success depends on administration, whether it is an odious Act or one tempered with leniency".
I think that this Bill, administered with leniency, would solve many of the problems which trouble us at the moment.

6.9 p.m.

My Lords, I listened with interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington of Oxenford, had to say. I began by agreeing very much with what he presented to the House. In particular, I thought that he deserved a great deal of attention from us in outlining the way in which many people have reasonable motives for being economic refugees, although I accept that this country, being densely crowded, cannot accept all those who are economic refugees.

However, I believe it is important to mention, in order to remedy a kind of demonisation of economic refugees, that the United States was built up almost entirely by economic refugees. The same is true of the new Australia. Therefore, we need to make a distinction when we talk about refugees and asylum seekers. Economic refugees are often the most enterprising members of their societies. Therefore, it is with some sorrow that I recognise that we cannot accept them.

There is a second group of refugees, to whom a number of noble Lords have referred. All of us know them, especially those of us who, like the Minister, have served at the Home Office. Those are the disreputable people who try to exploit the misery of others, who run rackets in order to try to bring in illegal immigrants, and who are in every possible sense those whom we should eschew from our company. We should certainly seek, in the Bill and its predecessors, to stop them from exploiting the good will and humanity of other people.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. As I understand it, the Bill deals only with those seeking asylum on political grounds. It does not prohibit the entry of economic refugees. I agree entirely that our country has benefited enormously from refugees who have come here for economic reasons. Perhaps my noble friend will confirm the point when she winds up, but I can find nothing in the Bill which prohibits economic refugees from coming to this country.

My Lords, I respond to the noble Baroness by saying that in my earlier remarks I did not refer only to the Bill but to the whole corpus of immigration legislation. That clearly indicates that there is a limit on the number of vouchers which are made available for those seeking work in this country and whom I broadly define as economic refugees. I accept the distinction, but I did not make that remark in relation to this Bill.

I turn now to the third group of refugees, for whom I believe this House has the gravest responsibility. I refer to those who are surely among the people we should most honour, respect and attempt to protect. Those are the people who seek asylum because, in their own countries, they have attempted to uphold democratic institutions, opposed the exploitation of minorities and attempted to live by those very ideals and principles that we in this House hold dear and which this country has traditionally always attempted to uphold. It is precisely because many of us on these Benches fear a confusion between those refugees and those who should rightly be barred that we are looking at this Bill with such care. I fear that the Bill runs together those two sets of asylum seekers and refugees in ways which are, to me at least, very disturbing.

I say that, again, in the light of what the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, said about the considerable debt that this country owes to its refugees. All of us who were brought up in my generation or the generation of my parents have to live with a sense of guilt about the Jewish refugees whom we did not accept. I have to live with a sense of guilt about the decision of a Government of which I was a Member not to accept the East African refugees who were threatened with the loss of their property and possible death by someone we now know to have been a paranoic dictator, Idi Amin. My noble friend Lord Lester referred to that. It is precisely such cases to which we must be sensitive, or all of us will live with the shame of having failed to take the steps which are necessary to protect such people.

It is people such as those who are currently refugees from Nigeria, many of whom are suffering because of their insistence on worshipping in the Christian religion, or because they insist that democracy should come to Nigeria, whom we have to consider as genuine, not bogus, refugees. This morning I was at a meeting chaired by Senator Mitchell, the former Speaker of the US Senate. One of the issues that we considered at that meeting was the growing number of out-of-hand executions now taking place in Nigeria without any previous trial, and the growing evidence of torture in that country.

Therefore, when considering the Bill in Committee, I hope that we shall make that distinction, in order to protect those who are genuine refugees and asylum seekers and who try very hard to uphold the ideals which we claim are closest to our heart.

I should like to say a few words about one or two of the clauses and say why I share the anxiety of my noble friend Lord Lester and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, about some of the issues. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, will help us by responding to those questions and others raised by many other noble Lords.

My first point concerns the white list. I have worked in both Romania and Bulgaria as recently as last year, attempting to help to build democratic institutions on behalf of an institution based at Harvard University called Project Liberty, of which I am director. Incidentally, from time to time it has the support, among others, of our own Overseas Development Administration.

It would be difficult to say that Romania is a safe country. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon, said, it is a safe country for those who belong to the majority community. It is a profoundly unsafe country for those who belong to the Roma minority, many of whom have been detained and even tortured in modern Romania. The same could be said, with perhaps a little less force, about Bulgaria.

The right reverend Prelate referred to Pakistan, where as well as the Ahmadi people, many Christian worshippers suffer considerable persecution. Regrettably, the same could be said about the treatment of some Kashmiris by the Government of India, a government which in many respects I hold in high esteem for maintaining democracy against such odds. As many noble Lords will concede, in Kashmir the treatment of some activists who are not involved in any violent or illegal activities, which in my book puts them in a different category, has been very hard to regard as compatible with what we consider to be basic human rights. I say that with regret, because I have the greatest respect for the Republic of India in many ways.

I believe that the white list should be subject to the affirmative procedure. Speaking for myself, I should feel much happier if that affirmative procedure were extended to any substantial additions to that white list, not merely once but on subsequent occasions, for I fear what could happen.

Secondly, I am extremely worried about the special fast-track procedure applied to those who arrive without passports. Indeed, as one or two noble Lords have already pointed out, in the worst countries of all in terms of outrages against human rights one simply cannot hope to get legal papers in order to escape from them. I am sorry to return to Nigeria, but trying to get legal papers to leave Nigeria, if one happens to be one of those who have raised their voices against the excesses of the present government, is absolutely hopeless. It would be putting one's head straight into a noose to try to do so. We must be realistic. I am sure that noble Lords will agree with me about these matters. Not travelling with a passport is often a sign, not of dishonesty, but of being in the most extreme conditions of all.

Thirdly, I share the concern of noble Lords, not least the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, about the criminalisation of three new areas. We are all concerned about the level of crime but one of the most dangerous ways to increase it is to criminalise activities by decent citizens. Three such activities concern me. The first is employers who fail to make apparently adequate checks of their employees. That might often include employers who, with the greatest good will, are willing to give a chance to those who are down on their luck. I hope that the Government will be much more explicit than the Bill about exactly what employers are required to do. Incidentally, it would be strongly in line with their own views and policies to do so.

The second activity I am troubled about is the criminalisation, under Clause 5, of those who give advice to people seeking asylum. Again, in the world of reality we know that if you are a confused and tortured human being who does not speak English well your only hope of understanding how Home Office procedures work is by turning to someone who can, in good faith, give advice. I have already said that I have no time for crooked advisers who exploit immigrants, but those from genuine legal firms, from the Churches and other organisations, must be permitted to do their job legally. At present, the Bill's language is fuzzy. For example, would a partner in a legal firm be covered because he or she is not strictly an employee? May we have a list of bona fide organisations so that men and women working for the Churches or bodies like the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants know that they are accepted as behaving legally by the government of the day? That is the minimum requirement for decent people who try to help others who desperately need that help.

The third point of deep concern is the substantial additional extension of the Home Secretary's powers to act by order. As I have come to appreciate, it is particularly true of this House that we all hold as profoundly precious the basic concept of the accountability of the Executive to Parliament and, through Parliament, to the people. Yet in the Bill there is the power by order to extend the group of so-called immigrants, or others, who will not be affected by the employment provisions. That is to be done by order. I believe subject only to negative resolution. In the Bill there is the power by order of the Home Secretary to decide what are the prescribed conditions for child benefit and what are not. That is an issue of extreme importance and accountability to the Houses of Parliament. There is the power by order on the part of the Home Secretary to decide what assistance, if any, shall be given to the homeless.

It is no reflection on either this Home Secretary or his predecessors that the steadily extending powers of the Executive to act by prerogative and without full discussion and consultation with Parliament are a disturbing feature of our unwritten constitution and the way in which it is being eroded at present.

I conclude by asking the Minister a series of questions. I do not expect her to respond tonight because I fully understand that it would be too much to ask. Like other noble Lords, I shall have to be away from the House for an hour or two. I have already told those at my unbreakable engagement, "You've got to get the fastest car possible to get me back in time to hear the wind-up speeches". I cannot promise to make it but I intend to try.

I believe that this is one of the most significant and important Bills we are likely to discuss in this Session of Parliament. It is the most significant and important, not because it will affect more citizens than any other Bill but because, as Winston Churchill once said about the test of a society: society is tested by how it treats those who are the most deprived and disadvantaged within it. By that test, we shall be judged.

6.24 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in support of the Bill. Britain has for centuries been a safe haven for those genuinely fleeing persecution, torture or worse in their own countries. In the 16th century we gave refuge to the Huguenots fleeing persecution in France. In the 19th century and in the earlier part of this century Jews from eastern Europe came to Britain to escape first the pogroms and then the Nazis. More recently, Britain was the first European Union country to respond to the UN's latest call to take in more Bosnian refugees fleeing murder, rape and torture in the former Yugoslavia.

Members of this House are well aware of our nation's proud tradition of providing a haven for those fleeing persecution. Indeed, we glean much satisfaction from it. Genuine refugees come to Britain because it is a beacon of liberty and because our democratic institutions respect human life and dignity. I am sure that the Government will do nothing to jeopardise that proud tradition. The question, however, is how we go about it and how we ensure that our asylum procedures are fair and not hindered by widespread abuse. The number of asylum claims in this country is fast rising and there is a great deal of evidence that the system is being abused by undeserving claimants. Perhaps I may refer to the figures again. Last year, 43,965 applications were made for asylum in this country compared with 32,830 in 1994. That is an increase of 34 pent.

Even if all the applications were genuine—which is certainly not the case—it would be a considerable problem. But the fact is that the vast majority of asylum seekers are bogus. They have not come to Britain in search of sanctuary from persecution, but in pursuit of a materially better life. That is by nobody's definition suitable grounds for granting asylum. Last year the Home Office found only 5 per cent. of claimants to he genuine refugees. It deemed 79 per cent. of cases bogus.

Abuse of the system not only harms the efficiency of the immigration department to process claims quickly; it is flagrantly unfair to genuine refugees who have to wait in line with the undeserving because their claims are clogged up in the system. Genuine refugees often arrive in a traumatised state. They have undergone a great deal of anguish and suffering. The last thing they need when they arrive here is to have to wait for months on end in a bureaucratic log jam as claims are dealt with by overworked officials.

Our present asylum system is wide open to abuse. Many asylum seekers enter Britain as students, tourists and businessmen on the understanding that they can support themselves while they are here. They claim asylum often just before their visas expire or before they are about to be deported. One example I wish to bring to your Lordships' attention is the case of a Ghanaian who arrived in the UK as a visitor in 1988. He stayed on long after his initial visitor's visa had expired and was served with a deportation order in August 1994 from which he absconded. The day before he was due to be removed, in June 1995, he claimed asylum.

In 1994, 3,800 asylum seekers arrived in Britain without documents. I understand what the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, said. However, some applicants destroyed their documents and then claimed that they were from more dangerous countries than was actually the case in order to increase their chances of success. I welcome the Bill's proposal to fast-track the appeals of asylum applicants who, without a reasonable explanation, come here lacking a genuine passport.

Last year, 1,800 Ghanaians applied for asylum here, 99 per cent. of whom were rejected outright. In 1994 the immigration department rejected 99 per cent. of cases from Poland and Romania. It is clear therefore that some countries where there is no serious risk of persecution produce vast numbers of bogus asylum claims.

I welcome the fact that Clause I will allow the Home Secretary to do as Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland have done and designate certain countries where no serious risk of persecution arises. It is only right that claimants from countries on the designated list should face a rebuttable presumption that they are undeserving cases.

The Opposition parties have refused to look objectively at the issue of rising asylum claims. They find it difficult even to accept that there is a problem of abuse in our asylum system. By refusing to support the Bill, they signal that they are unwilling to take firm action to deal with the difficulties in our asylum system.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness allow me to intervene? I hope she will forgive me but her last remarks seem a little unfair. On this side we have repeated that we recognise that there are problems and that some people try to come in improperly and illegally. We simply plead that there are also very genuine cases which need to be taken into account in the Bill.

My Lords, I accept what the noble Baroness says. But the message that comes over both in this House and in the other place is that the Opposition parties do not face up to the facts. I am delighted to hear what the noble Baroness says.

Critics of the Bill accuse the Government of playing the policies of race for electoral purposes. That is not only wrong; it is offensive. The Government are tackling a legitimate problem. If we were to leave the abuses of our immigration and asylum system unchecked, the numbers of asylum seekers would continue to grow at an unmanageable rate. That would be both extremely costly to the British taxpayer and detrimental to harmonious race relations.

Throughout western Europe, asylum procedures have been tightened. As a result asylum applications have fallen. Last year, as we heard from my noble friend Lady Elles, asylum claims fell by 10 per cent. in western Europe but rose in Britain by 33 per cent. I do not hear allegations against formerly socialist Spain, social democrat Denmark and Finland or Christian Democrat Germany or Holland that by tightening their immigration rules they are practising the politics of race. The German Government, to take one example, have not introduced a designated list in order to win votes. They introduced the list so that German immigration officials could sift out asylum seekers abusing the system more effectively and tackle what has been an immense problem for Germany.

Britain has good race relations. We on this side of the House will do nothing to jeopardise those good relations. However, when there are high levels of immigration and increasing numbers of bogus asylum seekers or indeed illegal immigrants are working without a permit, all that is fostered is resentment and prejudice. If you have been on a waiting list for a council house for months, and sometimes years, and a bogus asylum seeker gets a council property before you do, you naturally feel unfairly treated.

The lesson from Europe is clear. Soft immigration policies and consequent rising immigration have led to the growth of nasty, far Right parties, such as Le Pen's National Front in France, Hitler's Freedom Party in Austria or—

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness's remark about nasty, far Right parties. But does she agree that nasty, far Right parties are not dealt with by appeasement?

My Lords, I agree completely. That is why the Government want to do something about the illegal abuse of our asylum laws.

Over the past 17 years we in Britain have consistently had a firm but fair immigration policy. That has served to keep immigration within manageable limits and has preserved good social relations within ethnic groups.

I commend the Bill to the House. I believe it will give immigration officials the powers they need to tackle the abuse in the system. It will benefit genuine refugees and serve to keep our race relations harmonious. For those reasons, I support the Bill.

6.35 p.m.

My Lords, it seems to me to be a disproportionate outlay of bureaucratic effort and public money for 800 officials to be at work processing the applications of asylum seekers for what has been estimated as up to £500 million a year to be spent in benefits on those waiting for their cases to be heard when only 1 per cent. will be accepted, as in the case of Poland and Romania, 2 per cent., as in the case of Ghana, and well under 10 per cent. overall, including successful appeals.

It is not as if a wave of persecution had swept across the world. On the contrary, one of history's greatest persecutors, the Communist Party, has only recently been swept from power in dozens of countries, including many from whom today's asylum seekers are now for the first time free to come to Britain and make implicit accusations against the governments of their home countries which are probably for the first time in decades unjustified.

I have no doubt at all that something needs to be done. Indeed, Mr. Jack Straw, the Shadow Home Secretary, stated at Third Reading in another place that no one doubted the need to tackle the problem of bogus asylum seekers and what was at issue was how it should be done.

Despite the 1993 Act, the problem, as my noble friend the Minister explained to the House, gets worse. There is a rising backlog of cases awaiting determination, now standing at 84,000. At the rate decisions were taken in the last year for which we have figures-25,000 in a year—they would take over three years to process. With benefits available, the longer the queue the greater the attraction for many applicants. The fact that other countries in the same position as ourselves—France, Germany and the Netherlands—have taken corrective action, intensifies the attractions of the country that has not.

And those attractions may be added to by the substantial, though falling, number of those seeking asylum who are granted exceptional leave to remain. For that, in some eyes, will add to the success rate of asylum seekers. It may be the case that, if the Government succeed in bringing down the number in the queue, there will be less need in many cases to grant exceptional leave to remain. I shall be grateful if my noble friend the Minister, in winding up, finds herself able to comment on that speculation.

The measures the Government are taking are very selective and discriminating. The Government have tried with great care to deal with the identified problem without offending the principles and our traditions of hospitality and humanity. But the judgment is very difficult to make, as the fact that we have to have this Act so soon after the 1993 Act proves. Time will show whether these measures are adequate.

From some quarters the Government have been accused of being too eager to legislate. If anything, they have been too reluctant. This country has acted late, after other countries; and our first efforts have not been strong enough.

Of course we should play our part, as so many noble Lords said, when there is persecution abroad, as we did when persecution took place in the France of Catharine de Medici and Louis XIV, in late 19th century Czarist Russia and in Hitler's Germany.

I have heard it asserted that the Government have been mean-spirited in their immigration policy, for example in the numbers that we have taken from the former Yugoslavia compared to those taken by other countries.

We all have our special ties and responsibilities. For example, we never closed our open frontier with the Republic of Ireland when that country became independent, even after we had introduced the first controls on Commonwealth immigration in 1962. It was a remarkable phenomenon reflecting our unique relationship with that country. In 1966, not long before both our countries joined the European Community, there were three-quarters of a million people resident in this country who had been born in Ireland.

Our special ties with the Commonwealth are also strongly reflected in our immigration record. By the time restrictions came to be imposed under the 1962 Commonwealth Immigration Act, around three-quarters of a million new Commonwealth immigrants had arrived in this country. Still today some 50 per cent. of acceptances for settlement come from Commonwealth—predominantly new Commonwealth—countries. Also of course, there is the shadow of Hong Kong for whose population or elements of it we may find ourselves at any time having to make some form of special arrangement.

We are not free to take in everyone or anyone, even those who we think would be the greatest asset to our country. We are bound by obligations which derive from our past.

I do not expect that any possible future Labour Government would repeal this legislation, despite what the Labour Party says today. Like my noble friend Lord Renton, I look back for evidence on the way in which the Labour Government accepted and then extended the 1962 Commonwealth Immigration Act. In a similar way, the Liberal Government which came to power in 1906 (one has to go further back to find an example of similar behaviour by a Liberal Government), having violently objected to the Balfour Government's aliens Act of the previous year, referred to by my noble friend Lord Pilkington of Oxenford—an Act which for the first time brought to an end the open door liberal policies on immigration which had persisted for most of the 19th century—once in power, not simply kept the legislation but extended it, eventually, when the 1914 war came, introducing in a draconian manner controls on alien immigration which have largely survived to this day. So I do not believe that any party behaves much worse than any other or even very differently from another, once it finds itself in power and having to deal with the kind of problems which the Government face today.

The Bill cannot hope to foresee every eventuality. We shall keep returning to the subject, I have no doubt. Certainly I do not believe that any final tidying up is possible. As I said, I hope that we shall always maintain our tradition of asylum. I certainly do not believe that either our tradition or our reputation has been put under any threat by this cautious, necessary and responsible Bill.

6.42 p.m.

My Lords, in a century which may well be characterised by the unprecedented migration of hundreds of millions of people and at a time when it is thought that there are around 20 million refugees in the world we are talking about only 1 million in terms of western Europe. I thank the Minister for guaranteeing the principles upon which the Bill is based for those who seek asylum with integrity allied with protection of race relations. Noble Lords have begun to articulate the principles upon which the legislation is brought before us; I believe there are three major ones.

First, there is the moral imperative—not only of the Judaeo-Christian tradition but of many other religious traditions—of generous hospitality offered and safe havens provided to refugees and those seeking asylum. The language is about the stranger within our gates and the significant word is "generous". All speakers have spoken positively about that principle.

Secondly, there is a special responsibility laid upon those in government—perhaps it is the role of the Churches to remind them now and again—to defend, and speak for, the weakest and the poorest in our society and those who are without voice. That applies also to those who are strangers within our gates. There are many within those categories.

A further and much more subtle principle is the responsibility laid upon government to ensure that the numbers of strangers—refugees and those seeking asylum—are not so great that the very structures of peace and order are threatened leading to resentment, of which we have heard not a little, the possibility of scapegoating, where people have skins of a particular colour and possess inadequate English, and, ultimately, racial intolerance and the indignity of violence within our country.

The primary question to be answered by your Lordships' House is whether the situation is so dire that legislation of this nature is required to protect public well-being and order. It is a question of balancing the principles and a matter of proportionality. Your Lordships' House may come to believe that the evidence is such that the present legislation, in all its clauses, is a disproportionate response.

Many noble Lords and my friend, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon, have spoken about the three clauses at the beginning. I shall not repeat their arguments. I shall speak about one clause only and not particularly about the way in which it will affect those seeking asylum or immigration. Rather I shall speak about its effect upon those who belong to the ethnic minorities, who are part and parcel of our country and those born and bred here who are part of our community.

Clause 8 provides that employers will become guilty of a new crime of employing—well, whom? That is the rub. Subsection (2),
"applies to an immigrant if he satisfies such other conditions as may be specified in an order made by the Secretary of State".
Allowing for the lack of clarity about those whom employers may not employ and the documentation to support such decisions, the effects of the clause go far beyond refugees and asylum seekers. I hope that the Minister will tell us what will be required. There is great need for clarity; its absence breeds suspicion. I suspect that it will cause us great difficulties.

Racial discrimination in Bristol has led in the past 15 years to two very serious riots. It is not surprising that many local people look very carefully at what is proposed in the Bill. A petition containing the signatures of over 1,100 ordinary, regular Sunday worshippers has been deposited in another place. I assure noble Lords that Bristol is not a hotbed of Christian radicalism. Oh, that it were! The petition, initially sharing concern for refugees and asylum seekers, goes on to state that,
"the introduction of sanctions on employers will increase racial discrimination in employment and lead to a worsening of race relations in this country".
When ordinary decent non-political people are joined by the CBI, the Institute of Directors, the TUC, the British Chambers of Commerce and the Industrial Society, your Lordships' House may feel that we should pause and consider the effects of the legislation before us. As I said at the beginning of my speech, I welcome the Minister's claim that the intention is not to undermine race relations. I must ask whether that will in fact be achieved. I believe that the principle of proportion applies.

In seeking to stop people with no immigration entitlement to work, the creation of a just and multiracial society is placed in jeopardy. The creation of equal opportunities so that racial discrimination can be overcome is put in jeopardy by Clause 8 as at present drafted.

Various voices have been raised, of which one is the Churches Commission for Racial Justice. The commission suggests that at the very least the clause should be redrafted to exclude small businesses from the sanctions for which the legislation provides. If the clause is unworkable, out of proportion, encouraging discrimination, undermining people's trust in each other and the society in which they live, then it should go or, at best, be radically redrafted.

In a multicultural city such as Bristol, in a multi-racial nation, racial harmony is vital and highly prized. It is in no way to be undervalued. I understand the issues before us and the hard decisions that must be made; I understand the principles I enunciated at the beginning and how we carry the proportion. I believe that Clause 8 goes beyond that and affects many other people. It is a dangerous development which I hope your Lordships' House will look at extremely carefully.

6.50 p.m.

My Lords, we have heard some remarkable facts and figures from all sides of the House this afternoon. Perhaps I can concentrate, not on numbers, but on a few specific issues that concern me.

Over the years I have travelled in over 75 different countries. During that time I have got to know the staffs of our High Commissions, Embassies and posts who have the responsibility for issuing passports or visas to those who wish to come to this country. They should be congratulated on the excellent job that they do. I remember in Bombay, even at half-past five in the morning the queue outside the High Commission numbered well over 50 people and there was no problem in India at that time.

The real problem is faced not by our diplomats overseas, but by members of our immigration department here at home. They are increasingly confronted by a huge volume of administration caused by the number of applications for asylum or immigration into this country. Sadly, a high percentage of those applications are unwarranted. It is that issue, coupled with the overall cost that it creates for this country, which the Bill seeks to address.

This is certainly not a case of playing party politics with race. All that the Bill seeks to do is to bring the United Kingdom broadly into line with all our other European partners in the rules that are applied to asylum seekers from other countries. Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands and Spain have all been quoted; they have all strengthened their asylum measures since 1993 and, by doing so, experienced a substantial fall in applications. In fact, the key asylum measures proposed in the Bill are measures which most other western European countries have already adopted.

It is no coincidence that the United Kingdom is the only western European country to have experienced a significant increase in asylum applications during 1995. There is no question, and never has been, of denying asylum to those suffering real persecution because of their political views, their religious beliefs or the colour of their skins. Such genuine refugees will always find a safe haven here in Britain.

As a number of noble Lords have already highlighted, this country has given free asylum to Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie, Karl Marx, Haile Selassie, to numberless Jewish, Czech and Polish refugees during the Second World War, to the Ugandan Asian community and, most recently, to many Bosnian refugees and others from the former Yugoslavia. Nothing in this Bill will prevent similar acts of humanity in the future—indeed, by discouraging the bogus applications, the applications from genuine refugees will be far easier to process.

As we have heard, because our rules are presently far more liberal than the rest of Europe, we have seen a relentless upsurge in asylum applications over the past few years while those to other European Union countries have declined. That is a problem that cannot just be swept under the carpet. It will not go away. The applications for asylum are rising so fast that they are outstripping our ability to deal with them. This Government or, indeed, any other government, would be gravely neglecting their duty if they did not take firm action—and firm action now.

Two hundred years ago global travel was totally unrestricted; passports were unknown. Would that it could be so today. Unfortunately, that would he totally unrealistic. As our ability to move about the planet has increased, every country in the world has been forced to introduce some form of entry controls into its sovereign territory. This Bill is just a further refinement of that inevitable process here in the United Kingdom.

The Bill does have a moral dimension which is worth closer and more detailed examination. As I have indicated already, the Bill makes the immigration process for genuine asylum seekers much quicker and hence, by extension, more humane. Of itself that is surely a worthy aspiration, but it does beg the question: what about the 90 per cent. plus of claimants who are refused asylum?

It seems to me that responsible governance in this area should be about attempting to offer those economic migrants the opportunity to fulfil their potential by supporting the development of a viable infrastructure in their own country. In reality, perpetuating a flawed immigration system which seems increasingly to marginalise the economic migrant, is tantamount to tinkering with the symptoms of the problem rather than attacking the root cause. The real solution to the problem of the economic migrant lies in the work of the Overseas Development Agency. Only by helping to build the economies of the countries from which the economic migrants are coming—as the Overseas Development Agency does—can we aspire to achieve a real and lasting solution to the root cause of the problem.

I conclude with a special plea. Of course we must continue to offer sanctuary to those who genuinely need our help and protection, but we must face the fact that our ability to do so will be seriously impaired unless we take practical measures to turn away bogus asylum seekers. I urge your Lordships to support the Bill.

6.59 p.m.

My Lords, this Bill is to be welcomed, not only because it should eliminate much of the abuse—fraud, in effect—which causes much disenchantment throughout the country, but also because it aims to protect the rights of the innocent and underpin the long and worthy tradition of this country of generosity towards fellow human beings regardless of race, creed and colour.

It was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, when he referred to previous legislation, that once legislation is in place, it does not really need to be examined every so often to see whether it needs to be revised, amended, or added to. This, I fear, is unrealistic. The world changes and the truth is that other countries have so tightened up their legislation that we are now in danger of being overwhelmed by those who cannot meet the conditions of other countries' immigration Acts. Hence it is most important that we look at our existing legislation to ensure that we are not being unfairly targeted by people who are not genuine asylum seekers but rather economic migrants. I am sure that economic migrants are the real reason for the backlog of dealing with the genuine asylum seekers, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe said.

I applaud the motives of the Bill, and I support it. However, as occurs with so much proposed legislation, I find that costs could fall on innocent employers and others. During progress of the Bill we must ensure that those costs are kept to a minimum without losing sight of the admirable objectives.

Costs of proposed measures are not always immediately apparent. In the case of this Bill, I believe that that is so. For example, only this morning I received a six-monthly update from a charity for the homeless with which I am associated. Reading through the report of the director, I came across the words:
"Changes in legislation in regard to Benefits for Asylum Seekers are threatening to us. However it is too soon to say what the effects could be overall. Our principal concern is that our ethos is to offer help first, and ask questions later. We may now be forced into a position of asking questions first, and restricting help to those without means of support".
In other words, the work of the charity will be increased as the staff will be taking on the work of the law and order or immigration authorities. That will not only be a difficult task for them, but will also cost money in terms of time and effort. It is a small point but it illustrates the problems that we can build up by aiming for an honourable objective without due cognisance of the possible consequent burdens on people not necessarily in the "front line".

The Bill has very wide scope; and looking at it ! wonder whether it offers a chance to put right two particular pieces of legislation under which shipping companies and airlines currently incur huge costs—in my opinion, unjustifiably so.

At this point, I must declare an interest. Like my noble friend Lord Hesketh I am involved in the air transport industry, being a director of British Airways plc. The legislation to which I refer is the Immigration Act 1971 under which all transport carriers—on land, sea and air—are liable for the first 72 hours of detention costs for people detained by Immigration, even when they have a passport and visa.

The second piece of legislation is the Immigration (Carriers Liability) Act 1987 under which the carriers are "fined" for bringing in someone who does not have documents but whom Immigration decides to let in.

Perhaps I may crave the indulgence of the House to explain this a little more fully. Some months ago, under the Immigration (Carriers Liability) Act 1987, British Airways was fined £2,000 for flying an incorrectly documented passenger to Heathrow. The passenger was flying with her mother who had the correct documentation. But that did not matter. Nor did the fact that the passenger in question was a babe in arms.

If that sounds crazy, it is because the situation is crazy. While some noble Lords might find this argument somewhat marginal to the core concerns raised by the Bill, I would urge them to consider the very real cost to our transport carriers of the inflexibility of the immigration system in creating this sort of problem.

Quite properly, the current system protects bona fide immigrants and identifies some illegal travellers. But, quite understandably, carriers find it hard to swallow the small number of quite iniquities injustices and I believe that it is now time to ease them. This Bill, I suggest, gives us that opportunity.

All transport carriers have the responsibility to make sure that their passengers entering the UK carry a valid passport and visa. But they do not feel that their check-in agents around the world—they are often young and frequently not employed by them because local monopolies dictate that the monopolies employ their own staff at check-ins—should have to act as unpaid immigration officials with all the responsibility but no authority.

Forgeries, expired visas, and people arriving at Heathrow, or at ports, having destroyed their documents on board their aircraft or ship, cost the carriers many millions of pounds every year. For airlines alone it is reckoned to be just under £10 million. But the carriers acknowledge that when they get it wrong, they have to accept the costs.

However, the carriers are also charged when they do not get it wrong. Recently a passenger arrived at Gatwick from the Caribbean with correct documents and a valid and paid for return ticket. The return portion of the ticket was "open" allowing the passenger flexibility as regards the date he wished to fly home. When he was stopped at Immigration, it was discovered that he had very little money on him and he did not show any pressing hurry to decide there and then when he was likely to return home. For three days he was kept at the immigration centre, and then repatriated. The airline was obliged under the current provisions of the Immigration Act 1971 to pick up the Bill of £400 for detention costs and to provide a seat back to the Caribbean on a fully booked flight which resulted in further cost and embarrassment for the poor unfortunate other passenger who was "bumped" in order to make space for the deportee.

The airline industry in this country pays almost £1 million a year in detention costs and there is absolutely nothing the airlines can do to stop it. How can they second-guess whether an immigration officer will question the deeper motives of an apparently innocent traveller? Alternatively, should the airline always ask passengers to empty their pockets, wallets and purses before they are accepted for a flight to ensure that they are bona fide travellers?

In this Bill we have an opportunity to consider alleviating the burden of costs relating to the detention of passengers for reasons beyond the operators' control.

Perhaps I may refer again to the babe-in-arms story. The story had a happy ending for her. The babe was given leave to enter the UK with her mother. However, the airline did not share the happy ending. It had to pay a £2,000 fine under the Immigration (Carriers Liability) Act. I defy anyone to explain the logic of that.

If the passenger is actually let in, why should the shippers and airlines have to pay a fine? The only party to benefit from the leniency of the immigration authorities in the case of the babe-in-arms was the passenger who got the airline into the situation in the first place.

I am not getting at the immigration authorities. I greatly admire and respect the work that they do. It is an unenviable job. I also admire and respect the work done by our airlines, who carry millions of people. But we must not impose too onerous a burden on carriers which are demonstrably careful; and through the Bill we have an opportunity to address some of those aspects.

I refer to the Bill in the terms of the costs that it creates. If we wish to be highly competitive not only as regards our charities, which do not need additional costs, but also in our transportation, we should address this issue. Other than that, I believe that it is a good Bill, and I commend it.

7.9 p.m.

My Lords, the Bill before us is overdue and should stand the test of time. The message from the United Kingdom is clear. Genuine asylum seekers are welcome to seek refuge here, but if they are coming to abuse the system, and are unable to substantiate a claim, this country, with regret, is unable to facilitate.

The Bill is not racist, as some commentators would have us believe. I would be the first to say if it is. The need for employers to check credentials is appropriate personnel department housekeeping which also happens to be in the interests of this nation for a number of differing reasons. However, I look forward to hearing more on issues relating to the withdrawal of certain benefits and on how that would impact on current asylum seekers and their families.

Additionally, I believe it behoves the Government to eliminate any confusion surrounding the new regulations. Racketeering and bogus advisers are a menace and should be dealt with firmly. The problem is as much abroad as here. Lack of procedural understanding makes people vulnerable. So called experts who purport to offer "fix-it" strategies at normally great cost are a root problem. What could our posts do to help sort out this problem?

The Home Secretary's criteria for selecting those countries considered not giving rise to a serious risk of persecution are clear, and seem perfectly sensible. I accept the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee's findings that initial selection by affirmative resolution is preferable.

On a related matter, perhaps I may ask the Minister what has happened to the numbers of asylum applications from those countries since January this year, when the legislation received widespread publicity.

Before my concluding remarks, perhaps I may identify myself with much of what the noble Viscount, Lord Oxfuird, had to say and take his vision one step further. If only a mechanism could be found to encourage asylum applicants to return home to help the development of their country when conditions permit.

Finally, the Prime Minister has just returned from an anti-terrorism conference in Cairo.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for that correction. But it was certainly in Egypt. Were any points raised that Ministers feel appropriate to include in the legislation before us today? If not, can the Minister say any thing about the future introduction of a conspiracy law that will put a halt to the exploitation of the United Kingdom as a centre for organising terrorist activities abroad?

7.12 p.m.

My Lords, some years ago I became infuriated by a development that took place in a well known department store chain. It was the introduction of foods' retailing in an open plan sort of way—no supervised entry system and, once in, no supervised exit system. You could walk through the store, from clothing through food to exits, and vice versa. No doubt retail advisers to the chain would say that the system gives an inviting rather than threatening or suppressive feeling to the likely customer, an openness that induces them in. The customer is trusted to go to a check-out which is totally offset to the general flow of customers—no long corridors monitored by simple set cameras but shelving set in high squares making it more easy to conceal, to shoplift or even to pick up and eat a sandwich on the way through; and, my Lords, I have seen that done. I was not surprised in the least to gather that theft from the chain was on the increase. You see, my Lords, it was becoming a soft touch.

I asked myself why their policy was not changed. I believe it is because turnover has increased and the overwhelming reliance on trust is engraved in the fact that the vast majority of people from all walks of life in this country who use the store are honest; not the vast majority of so-called asylum seekers who are proven by the records taken to have dubious intentions and are therefore dubious, possibly abusive and possibly bogus. Make no mistake, I have nothing whatever against any bona fide refugee or asylum seeker. I am, however, dissatisfied with the way that, increasingly, this country, like my chain store example, has been and is being drained as a soft touch; and it is well time that changes were made.

I commend my noble friend the Minister on her efforts to amend and supplement the 1971 Act and the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 and to make further provisions. Noble Lords opposite—I say "opposite" happily—have spoken about idle backlog of applications. I should like to put them into perspective. While applications for asylum in 1995 were roughly 44,000—an increase of 34 per cent.—it should be borne in mind that, of the applications outstanding on 31st December, the increase was a more modest 6 per cent. higher than the previous year. The cost of processing the 79 per cent. of soft-touch applicants that were refused in 1995 was around £9 million. The number of bona fide refugees has remained remarkably constant compared with the huge increase in soft-touch applications.

In 1991, 505 applicants were granted asylum; in 1992, 1,115; in 1993, 1,590; in 1994, 825—that fall was due to a ministerial announcement in 1993 that exceptional leave would be granted only in cases where there were genuine humanitarian or compassionate grounds to allow a failed asylum seeker to remain in this country—and in 1995, the number of successful applicants was 1,295.

With regard to illegal working and race relations, it must be obvious that illegal working takes away jobs which would otherwise be available to people with a right to work here, from whatever community they come. It is a fact also that racketeers exploit illegal immigrants. They prey on them because they know that they can always threaten to expose them to the authorities. No longer should racketeers be entirely immune from action.

Having spent some years in Spain, and having gathered many of the problems regarding automatic rights of entry, I was interested to see what would happen after legislation was introduced in 1994-95 ending automatic right of entry. While applications rose from 4,000 in 1988 to 12,600 in 1993, applicant numbers have fallen significantly following the introduction of new legislation in 1994–95. There were under 2,500 during the first six months of 1995 compared with 10,200 in the whole of 1994.

One of the key features of the Spanish asylum system is the special procedure for sifting out and dealing quickly with the manifestly unfounded claims. Clause 1 of the Asylum and Immigration Bill will extend the categories of claims which may be certified by the Secretary of State as without foundation and therefore subject to the special accelerated appeals procedure. Late claims made purely to fend off removal and repeat applications fall into the Spanish accelerated procedure and are comparable with some of the new categories included in Clause 1 of the Bill. This similar system is working in Spain to the benefit of the true asylum seeker.

My noble friend Lady O'Cathain has touched on my last point. A growing problem is the undocumented asylum seeker. There were more than 4,000 such cases at Heathrow, Gatwick and Dover last year. By disposing of the passport before arrival the asylum seeker prevents the authorities from determining his true nationality. Some try to pass themselves off as nationals of countries with higher asylum success rates. Destroying the passport may conceal the fact that the applicant arrived via a safe third country such as France. An undocumented asylum seeker is also more difficult to remove after refusal because his country of origin may not take him back without evidence that he is one of its nationals. If we accept in principle that a refugee may need to use false papers to flee his country, so the Bill will not penalise asylum seekers who present a false passport on arrival provided they declare it as such. One cannot be fairer than that. However, if they try to gain entry under a false identity, the Bill will enable the Secretary of State to certify the claim when he refuses it. I support the Bill.

7.20 p.m.

My Lords, by this stage of the debate most of the arguments have been well rehearsed and I shall not repeat that which has already been said. However, it is worth making one introductory point. Underlying the whole of our discussion on asylum seeking, but largely unremarked in the debate, is the fact that this country has a complex and elaborate system of immigration control, which has been built up over many years, which has been progressively tightened by parties of all political complexions, and which now offers the people here—both those who have been born here and those who have come here as immigrants and possibly as asylum seekers—the assurance that one of the most crowded countries of the world has effective immigration controls. I have always supported the argument that you cannot have harmonious race relations in a country like ours unless everybody can be reassured that we are not going to be subject to massive immigration which will lead to the stresses and problems that have been widely recognised.

I am sorry that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol is not in his place, and I am sorry that he made a great deal of the petition that he has received from a number of sources in Bristol. Bristol is par excellence the kind of city likely to face serious problems if we had unlimited immigration. That is what is behind the Bill. Under our system, asylum has always been seen as a side gate. It is the final protection. Yes, we have a tight immigration system, but because of our deep, cherished humanitarian principles going back centuries, and because of our clear international obligations, our immigration legislation has always preserved the rights of asylum seekers. That is the background to the Bill, and it needs to be borne in mind.

I turn now to the asylum figures. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, gave a classic example of an extraordinary refusal to face the facts. I refer to the facts about the growing number of asylum seekers, facts which this country's Government and the governments of other countries have faced. I refer particularly to the growing number of asylum seekers who fail to prove any well-founded fear of persecution. It is worth repeating the figures: 95 per cent. of cases last year were rejected by the Home Office and 97 per cent. of appeals were dismissed.

My Lords, does the noble Lord take into account those who have been given exceptional leave to remain because it would be unsafe and positively dangerous for them to be returned home?

My Lords, I take the point that there is, as it were, another escape hatch, and the noble Lord is perfectly entitled to mention it. However, those are the figures for asylum seekers.

As my noble friend Lady O'Cathain said forcefully, other countries have tightened their procedures with the result that in western Europe, where almost every other country has introduced legislation, the numbers of applicants are falling. There were 180,000 fewer in 1994 than in 1993—that is a 40 per cent. reduction in one year. In Britain over the two years 1993-95, the number of applicants doubled from about 22,000 to 44,000.

I come now to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, who says that that is because of the long delays and that people come here because that delay will give them the opportunity to enjoy the standard of living in this country. The noble Lord seems to argue that if only the Government poured more resources and more money into this and had more civil servants applying the rules, the number of applicants would somehow be reduced because the procedure would be shortened. That defies belief. What happens when you reduce the numbers going through is that you reduce the number of applicants. One has to say that the argument which the noble Lord constructed at the beginning of his speech is a cop-out because it somehow excuses the Labour Party—to some extent, the Liberal Democrats are the same—of facing up to the question of whether they want to reduce the number of applicants. They seem to think that they can evade that question by using the argument about delay. That has been their principal argument against the Bill both here and in another place.

We shall discuss matters of detail in Committee, but it is simply not true to say that by increasing the resources, you will reduce the number of people going through the system. One can see that because Belgium, Finland and Germany introduced asylum legislation in 1993 and saw a reduction of between 45 per cent. and 60 per cent. in the number of applications in 1994. Apart from the United Kingdom, the only country where applications rose was the Netherlands. Its figures rose in 1994. However, in that year the Dutch tightened their asylum legislation and in 1995 the numbers fell by 40 per cent.

Frankly, the idea that you can somehow reduce the number of applications simply by reducing the time taken to process them, by pouring in more resources and without any tightening of the regulations is incredible. It is a cop-out—and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, because he is a decent man with a sense of shame, knows that it is a cop-out.

I support the Bill, but I have given my noble friend notice that I should like to draw one issue to her attention. My noble friend may prefer to deal with the matter briefly now or she may prefer to leave it to Committee when my noble friend Lord Mackay of ,Ardbrecknish may be at her side to help. I refer to the impact of this legislation and the regulations on local authorities. I declare an interest in that I am a joint president of the Association of London Government, representing the 32 London boroughs and the City of London. As many applicants come in through Heathrow and Gatwick, arriving at Victoria, London's authorities have to cope with a very high proportion of this country's asylum seekers.

As the Government have properly acknowledged, there is no doubt that the social security regulations will impose additional costs on local authorities, which will continue to be responsible for supporting vulnerable groups under the housing legislation, under the Children Act 1989 and under the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990. In terms of housing, the boroughs will still be under a duty to secure accommodation for asylum seekers who are homeless and in priority need although those affected by the regulation changes will no longer be entitled to housing benefit. That means that the boroughs will have to cover 100 per cent. of the housing costs of that group—at least until Clause 9 comes into effect. However, there is a problem in the meantime because it will be some time before the Bill becomes law.

Under the Children Act 1989, local authorities are responsible for providing support to the children of asylum seekers who may have had their entitlement to benefit removed. In many cases, local authorities may prefer to support and house a whole family rather than putting the child into special accommodation.

Under the 1990 National Health Service and Community Care Act, boroughs are also responsible for caring for vulnerable individuals who are affected by the changes to the benefit regulations. Such individuals will comprise the elderly and infirm, those who are mentally ill and those who have been the victims of torture. Those are the current responsibilities of the authorities—and the burden falls on relatively few of them. There has been a good deal of pressure, not least from the Association of London Government and refugee groups. The Government have recognised the extra costs that local authorities would face.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Security made a Statement in the other place on 11th January. He said:
"The Government also propose to assist local authorities with any unavoidable additional costs arising under the homelessness legislation or the Children Act 1989. My right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Health and for the Environment will discuss the details with local authority associations shortly".— [Official Report Commons, 11/1/95; co1.332.]
That Statement was greatly welcomed.

However, the promises so far fall somewhat short of what appeared to be offered there in general terms. For homelessness, expenditure based on 80 per cent. of the housing benefit subsidy forgone by local authorities in respect of asylum seekers and other persons from abroad housed under the homelessness legislation is all that is being offered. Again, with children, it is 80 per cent. of social services' unavoidable expenditure above a certain threshold.

So far there is no suggestion that there will be any special grant arising out of a local authority's responsibilities under the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990. There is one other point that I mention now. Much of the support for asylum seekers comes from the extremely worthy voluntary bodies which raise charitable funds and provide help to people in those circumstances. The loss of housing benefit means that those bodies will have to find extra money, and so far I do not believe that my noble friends have made any suggestion as to how they may he helped as a result of the withdrawal of benefit.

I have some questions for my noble friend. When can we expect the full details of the grants and thresholds to be announced? Councils are already incurring expenditure. The benefits have already been withdrawn, under the regulations which we passed in this House with a substantial majority at the end of January. They need to know the full details of the level of support they can expect.

Secondly, why is it only 80 per cent. of their costs above the minimum threshold? They point out that the costs are incurred because of a saving being effected by the DSS. They cannot understand why it cannot be 100 per cent. The Government's answer is that that will encourage them to extravagance. But on housing benefit they are already subject to a 5 per cent. withholding to ensure efficiency. So it is difficult to see why there should be another 20 per cent. reduction. Why is there no recognition of the extra costs arising from the National Health Service and Community Care Act 1990? They will have to provide support. It will have to be found entirely by council tax payers.

There is then a point which may sound technical but which is of some importance. The Government propose that there should be special grants made under Section 88B of the Local Government Finance Act 1988. That means that the grants will have to be approved by an affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament every year if it is proposed to make the grants. That is fine if we have a one-off grant. I pay my council tax in the country to the district council of Uttlesford in whose territory is Stansted Airport.

There was a celebrated case about three years ago when a jumbo jet arrived at Stansted full, I think, of Rwandan refugees. The leader of the Stansted Council just said that without money there was no way he would be able to do anything for them and that they could stay at the airport without any support. That was right, because it is a small council with a tiny budget. Most of it seems to be mine, but that is by the way. I am in Band H, or whatever it is. The Government very properly came up with, I think, 100 per cent. grant paid under that Act, because that was appropriate for a one-off payment.

What the London boroughs feel about that is that it does not seem to be the appropriate way of dealing with what will be a continuing series of payments, year after year, which will become, as it were, an integral part of the support. It will be some special and specific grant. The system is full of special and specific grants. It was in my day, and I suspect that it still is. The problem of special grants for one year is that there could be immediate political difficulties. If we do not get it, then it is the poor council tax payers who will pay the whole thing. We have had no debate on that issue today. In a sense, I am giving my noble friend notice that this is a matter that we shall have to explore.

It may be that the Association of London Government is exaggerating the problem. I do not know, but it feels the point keenly. It affects particular authorities. I shall not talk about personal social services, but particular authorities face heavy expenditure. Hillingdon, Kensington and Chelsea and Westminster seem to have a problem. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, has a problem in Haringey. I know that there are some problems in the London Borough of Waltham Forest. My NHS trust has to provide Somali interpreters for Somali refugees. So it is a problem. The Government have shown a willingness to recognise it, but they have not yet met it. I hope that my noble friend will be able to give us some comfort.

7.36 p.m.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, on highlighting the social impact of current policies. They will bear with great harshness on a limited number of local authorities. He was right to point them out. They will bear also on particular neighbourhoods, for example, Bayswater.

I shall do my best to nail the hoary old legend that this country is being swamped by immigration. In the 11 years from 1984 to 1994 inclusive, just over 2.3 million people left—

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I rise simply to take issue with the loaded and rather dramatic description of the country being swamped with immigrants. Nothing I have said, and nothing any noble Lord has said, during the debate justifies that kind of expression.

My Lords, the Minister is blameless. I should be the last person to accuse her or to place any imputation upon her words. Nevertheless, some extreme language has been used throughout the country. I am entitled to respond to it as I see fit.

As I was saying, 2.3 million people have left the UK during the past 11 years. They have left permanently. During those same years, 570,000 people were accepted here for permanent settlement. There has therefore been a net outflow of 1.7 million people. That pattern can be traced back much further than the years I mentioned.

Since 1971, immigration control has been firmed. Here I concur wholeheartedly with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. I draw from those facts the conclusion that now is the time to be generous. There should he an early amnesty for those whose immigration status is irregular if they have been here for five years or more, have no criminal record and no taxes outstanding and if they are considering British citizenship in due course—especially if they have children born in this country. They should be allowed to remain here. Such a proposal has, I understand, been made by the Council of Churches for Britain and Ireland. I am happy to support it.

The Bill also gives us an opportunity to help two distinct groups, both of which have suffered severely. I hope that it will be possible to draft an amendment protecting domestic workers who have come to England under the Home Office concession of 1981. All too often these people have been physically abused and financially exploited. Some have been starved and imprisoned on their employer's premises. Many have worked excessive hours in wretched conditions. Your Lordships have debated the scandal on several occasions.

Despite some positive palliative measures by Her Majesty's Government, serious cases still occur. I trust that Clause 8 will provide scope for an amendment to help those who left their first employer, who have no money to return home, and who are often supporting families in their home countries. It is hard to imagine a more deserving category.

Secondly, the Bill should make it possible to improve arrangements for genuine victims of torture at the hands of many brutal and despotic governments overseas and the wars, civil wars and repression caused by them. Here I must pay tribute to the excellent work done by the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. I am sure that the foundation would wish to salute many serving and retired members of the National Health Service who have given generously of their time and skill to support and rehabilitate these most genuine of asylum seekers.

Since 1986 the Medical Foundation has seen more than 8,000 survivors of torture. In 1995 alone it provided services to 1,600 people from 65 different countries. That work is a shining beacon for Europe and its influence is already benefiting countries as varied as Uganda and Israel. Yet the foundation has not shrunk from expressing its concern at the possible consequences of this legislation.

I am therefore grateful to Home Office Ministers for receiving a large delegation from both Houses of Parliament, of several parties and none, on Tuesday this week. Further meetings will follow between experts from the foundation and from the department. I trust that it will be possible to devise arrangements which will avoid and prevent three things. Genuine victims of torture need to be identified so that they are not subject to the fast-track procedure, returned to a transit country which is presumed safe, or detained in a prison or detention centre. If there are doubts about their cases they should be afforded the maximum possible help to put forward a well-considered application.

I turn to the general run of asylum seekers. I seek to persuade Ministers that genuine asylum seekers are here to find acceptance. They may have arrived by irregular or illicit means but they have every reason to conform to our regulations. It is not in their interest to abscond, unlike those facing a deportation order. That is a quite different category of person. At this moment, several hundred asylum seekers are imprisoned or detained, often far from the specialised solicitors and advisers they need.

I call on Her Majesty's Government to substantiate their repeated claim that detention is used sparingly and as a last resort. Much greater use should be made of voluntary organisations, housing associations and conditions requiring reporting to the police. I mentioned those on 30th January (Official Report, col. 342) and I repeat what I then said about allowing asylum seekers to take up work in this country during their first six months here. I emphasise that asylum seekers, when entitled to social benefits, should receive the full rate and not the 90 per cent. rate which was imposed until recently.

I have said that the Bill may contain some potential for good. I have tried to be as constructive as I can and to thank Ministers where thanks are due. However, in fairness I am obliged to say that much is lacking in the Government's approach to immigrants and to asylum seekers in particular. The Home Secretary and some of his colleagues, followed in your Lordships' House by the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, and the noble Lord, Lord Reay, have mounted a bogus campaign which is not remotely justified by the available official statistics. They have instigated a culture of disbelief with harmful effects. It must be wrong to use far-fetched arguments to contest every sentence in an asylum application. What is the Government's reply to the charge that an arbitrary ceiling has been imposed on refugee status and exceptional leave to remain, the combination of which is about 20 per cent. of the total applications? What do they say to the claim that 5 per cent. or less is their administrative target for refugee status?

When the Bill was being drafted, were Her Majesty's Government even aware that it potentially contravenes some four international human rights conventions? Will they remedy that situation by accepting an amendment that the Act should be interpreted in accordance with the European Convention on Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees? After all, the latter document was written into the 1993 Act, so the precedent clearly exists. Will Her Majesty's Government, even at this stage, heed the advice given to them by their own appointed bodies; for example, the Social Security Advisory Committee, the Commission for Racial Equality and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants? If they would do that and, above all, if they would allocate extra resources—as has been done for many years in the Netherlands and Germany—so as to cut the 84,000 backlog of asylum cases and the eight-month or more decision period, we can have some reasonable hope that an acceptable and humane Bill will emerge from this consideration.

7.47 p.m.

My Lords, there is no doubt in my mind that there is an urgent need for this Asylum and Immigration Bill if the chronic abuse of claiming asylum under existing legislation is to cease. In my contribution I shall touch on some of the proposals which, if agreed, would overcome that abuse and the illegal employment of immigrants. I should also like to consider one or two anxieties that have already been expressed about some of the proposals in the Bill. I shall not speak about the benefits issues because that was addressed in your Lordships' House on 30th January in a debate in which I took part.

I apologise to your Lordships if I repeat some of the major issues that have been addressed today but they are important matters and I believe that they are sufficiently important to be emphasised again. I shall not labour the figures for asylum seekers, except to remind your Lordships that out of some 44,000 applications only 5 per cent. of those claiming asylum last year were genuine and just 3 per cent. of the appeals were upheld by independent adjudicators.

However, despite all the improvements to the speed of the asylum system, some 80,000 cases are still outstanding. From what I have said it can be seen that even after the increase of staff, about which we have heard, amounting to about 800 and an injection of about £37 million to spend on extra asylum case workers and adjudicators during the next three years, the number of cases is increasing in an alarming way.

Asylum applications are rising in this country while falling in the rest of western Europe as a result of other European countries having taken action to strengthen their asylum and immigration laws. For instance, in western Europe the numbers claiming asylum fell from more than half a million in 1993 to 320,000 in 1994. As a result of recent legislation in the Netherlands, the number of people seeking asylum fell substantially in 1995.

There is an urgent need to process asylum claims more quickly and this Bill will tighten and strengthen existing legislation; otherwise, we shall risk being caught in a vicious circle of growing delays attracting more abusive claims. The increase in the number of asylum seekers contributes to the delay in dealing with asylum applications. That leads to a higher benefits bill and greater costs to the taxpayer.

I should now like to focus on some of the proposals which I believe will help to prevent bogus asylum claims and stop illegal employment of immigrants. I cannot comment on the drafting of Clause 1 which has already been mentioned this afternoon, but I am glad to see that Clause 1 will widen the definition of "without foundation" cases. What that will include has been stated already by the Minister and I shall not repeat it.

I am glad to see also that Clause 1 will extend the accelerated appeals procedure to all "without foundation" cases and no longer restrict them to those who claim asylum on arrival and those who are liable to be removed or deported.

Clause 1 will also enable my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to designate certain countries as not giving rise to a serious risk of persecution. Claimants from those countries would not be automatically refused but they would face a rebuttable presumption against their claims. Those people who are unable to rebut that presumption would still be able to appeal to an independent adjudicator but would have no secondary appeal to the immigration tribunal.

Any country on that list will need to meet three criteria which seem most reasonable: first, the country concerned generates significant numbers of asylum applications; secondly, a very high proportion of applications from that country have to be unfounded; and, thirdly, in general there is no serious risk of persecution.

Germany and the Netherlands have already taken similar steps along those lines. On Second Reading in another place, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Poland, Romania, Ghana, India and Pakistan were regarded as countries meeting those criteria. It may be that that may need further investigation in view of what has been said in your Lordships' House this afternoon.

In view of the fact that 98 per cent. of claims from Poland, Romania and Ghana are rejected, that action should reduce the number of people claiming asylum, knowing that they do not qualify for it as they are not fleeing persecution but are simply coming here to seek a better standard of life. Some people have said that to have a designated list of countries is racist. I submit that there is nothing racist about designating countries where people are unlikely to be persecuted and which produce large numbers of unfounded asylum cases. The list is as likely to include countries from eastern Europe, which are producing increasing numbers of largely bogus claims, as it is countries from Africa. There is no question of a blanket ban on asylum applications from the countries on the list. Claims will continue to be decided on a case-by-case basis.

I welcome the fact it will become a criminal offence to help people gain further leave to stay in the United Kingdom by deception—for example, by arranging bogus marriages—and to employ someone who is not entitled to work in this country. Other European Union countries have recognised those problems and have responded. Britain and Ireland are the only two countries which do not have such controls in place. I do not regard checking that a prospective employee has a national insurance number as a burden in any way. By that action, an employer would safeguard himself from any prosecution.

Indeed, the CBI as well as the Government do not believe that proposals of that nature would impose significant burdens on employers. The Bill's provisions on illegal employment will not lead to racial discrimination, as the Government will consult the Commission for Racial Equality to make sure that the advice and guidance given to employers will not encourage racial discrimination in any way. The new measures in this Bill do not provide any excuse for racial discrimination. Any employers who discriminate on grounds of race will have to answer complaints of unlawful racial discrimination before industrial tribunals.

In conclusion, we need urgent action and, at the very least, our asylum and immigration laws should be no weaker than those of our European partners and I should prefer that they were stronger. The United Kingdom must not be seen to be a soft option. We must strengthen our legislation to streamline our decision-making and appeals processes and deter the horrific number of rising bogus asylum claims and prevent illegal employment.

This is not a racist Bill. It is a Bill which has been introduced to tackle those genuine problems. The Government have always believed that a firm but fair immigration policy is a prerequisite for harmonious race relations. The Asylum and Immigration Bill before us now is both firm and fair and its provisions should overcome the existing abuse of current legislation and illegal employment. I strongly support the Bill.

7.55 p.m.

My Lords, we have had, as the other place has had, a debate in which a vast amount of evidence has been brought forward from both sides of the House. Very little movement of mind has taken place. That is the sort of situation in which we all need, on both sides of the House, to start thinking about our underlying assumptions because if debate is worth anything, it must, even if it does not make us agree, make us understand exactly what it is about which we disagree.

I shall begin by putting a few cards on the table and I hope that, before we are through the Bill, a few more people will do the same. About three weeks ago, I was walking round my local supermarket and I saw a couple. The man was in his seventies and the girl was about eight. Quite obviously, from the sort of double-vision effect of watching their faces, gestures and movements, they were blood relations. I took them to be grandfather and granddaughter. As I got closer to them and could hear them and see them better, I observed that one of them was German and the other was Indian. I stopped and thought that that is exactly what being British is all about. I agree with Lord Peter Wimsey that you must be British; there is no other nation that boasts of being mongrel.

Therefore, when I talk about the people of our country, I do it with that sort of assumption behind me. After all, in this House, we have the privilege of tracing our ancestry rather further back than many people are able to do. Therefore, we know that we are practically all descended from immigrants. In my case, that is from 1393; we were Bordeaux wine merchants. Even the most ancient of the aristocracy normally came over with the Conqueror, if not later.

There is one Hereditary Peer in this House who can trace his ancestry back on the continuous occupation of an estate to before the Norman Conquest; that is my noble kinsman Lord Stanley of Alderley. I hope that he is not about to dismiss the rest of us as immigrants because if he did, the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, might do that to the whole lot of us.

Therefore, when we talk about tolerance for immigrants, we are asking only to give to others the benefit which our ancestors have enjoyed in the past. I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, said about the use of the word "immigrant". I wonder why, in the definition of the word "immigrant", especially in relation to Clause 10, those who have exceptional leave to remain, who have in fact cleared all the hurdles, are still saddled with that stigma of being immigrant. I do not see what useful purpose that provision serves in relation to the stated purposes of the Bill. I would be most interested to hear an explanation in that respect.

I also believe that our obligation to those with a well-founded fear of persecution is like the obligation to pick up survivors at sea: a very strong obligation indeed. I therefore feel as I do about the case of innocent or guilty; namely, that the burden of proof on anyone who alleges that an asylum-seeker is not genuine is a very heavy one. I really would rather take the risk—and that is as high as I put it—that a number of people who are not genuine are accepted rather than one who is genuine should get sent back. That is one of my priorities. I give way to the noble Lord.

My Lords, I am much obliged. I wonder whether the noble Earl would draw a distinction between those who before they come here, and while in their own countries, somehow claim asylum and those who do so on arrival at port and who are therefore very genuine. Is the noble Earl putting those who make an application as an afterthought in the same category as the genuine ones?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving me the opportunity to cover a point that I thought I would not have time to mention. First, one cannot apply for asylum from one's own country because it is practically true that, by definition, if you can, you do not need it. Secondly, the phrase "afterthought" was one that I nearly rose to intervene about when the noble Lord used it in his speech. It is very often not an afterthought; indeed, it is very often a considered decision. If I were advising anyone coming into this country, I would not necessarily advise them to claim asylum at the port. That is partly because it can be extremely difficult to do so without the aid of professional advice. Further, it can be extremely difficult to tell one's story if one has, for example, been a victim of torture.

I once had the very dubious privilege of being in the position of trying to persuade a rape victim to go to the police. I was not successful. I soon came to the realisation that I would cause her considerable mental harm if I continued to press her, so I did not. I imagine that the position of victims of torture is very much like that; and, indeed, in some cases, identical to it. So, no, I do not accept the noble Lord's use of the word "afterthought". I would be prepared to consider a time limit after entry, but those who wish to obtain professional advice before making their claims should, I believe, have every right to do so. I would not distinguish in the way suggested by the noble Lord.

We have heard a great deal this evening about numbers. The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, pointed out that the numbers of people leaving this country are greater than the numbers entering it. One might add that one-third of the people entering this country are British people returning from abroad. Therefore, in the light of the habitual residence test, one begins to wonder whether they, too, will soon be classified as foreigners.

Our country has benefited immensely from its immigrants. I have in mind the Ugandan Asians about whom we have heard a good deal tonight. I happen to live in the borough which has the largest concentration of Ugandan Asians in the British Isles. Therefore, I can abundantly confirm that the decision taken by a Conservative Government to let them in has been greatly to the benefit of this country. I am very glad that they took that decision.

On the evidence at present available, I honestly do not know the scale of the problem, but that is not for lack of trying. The word "bogus", as it has been used from the Government Benches in the debate, means "outside the scope" or "appearing to be outside the scope" of the present law. But anyone who is in this House when we debated the 1993 Bill will know that I am not happy with the present positioning of the goal posts. Therefore, a shot which is wide of the present goal posts does not necessarily appear to me to be a bad shot.

Similarly, I cannot automatically assume that everyone at present refused under the existing procedures deserves to be refused. Some of the refusal letters which have come from the Home Office give rise to a certain amount of surprise. There was one recent letter regarding a man from Zaire which said, "Since by your own testimony the soldiers who broke into your house were shooting wildly in all directions, I cannot accept that they had a deliberate intention of shooting your brother. Claim rejected". If someone was shooting wildly into my house, I would have a fear of persecution that was well founded.

The Minister may wish to intervene during the course of what I propose to say now. If she does, I hope that she will be kind enough to wait until I have finished. I refer to a case from Northern Cyprus where a man had a hundred severe scars across his back. A surgeon testified that, so far as he could see, those scars could have resulted from no other cause than torture. The Home Office letter of refusal said that it was believed that they had been inflicted deliberately at his request as part of a cynical conspiracy to gain entry into the country.

I said that the Minister might wish to intervene, but I should point out that I have heard her honourable friend Miss Widdecombe—and indeed, I am most grateful to her—making an apology for that particular letter of refusal. I do not hold Ministers responsible for the wording of the letter. However, it has been proved for centuries that whenever governments adopt a policy they have people under them who pursue that policy with a more injudicious enthusiasm than the government intend. That is a risk any restrictive policy runs. Indeed, it is a risk that this policy will also run. So long as that is there, I cannot identify the number of refusals with the number of bogus applicants.

Further, I cannot see any way in which the Bill will be more severe on applicants who are bogus than on those who are genuine. To my mind, that is the biggest condemnation of the Bill. Our legal obligation is to consider cases on an individual basis. But there is a potential divergence—and I shall put it no higher than that—between considering cases on an individual basis and developing a formula by which they should be considered.

That is true in relation to Clause 1. The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, described it as creating a rebuttable presumption. I believe that we can agree on that. But when one is facing obstacles which are already so heavy, the addition of a rebuttable presumption may be like facing an opponent who is playing with loaded dice. There is at least a divergence between that rebuttal presumption and the requirement of individual examination. Where there is a divergence at the head of the river, there may be a very wide divergence further down. Applying the same principle that policies are administered more injudiciously than they are conceived, I believe that the dangers here are very real.

The weasel words "in general" in Clause 1 are also words, no matter where they come from, which conflict with the requirement of individual examination. I say that because people are not persecuted in general; they are persecuted in person. My noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby referred to the case of the Roma from Eastern Europe, many of whom had been quite viciously persecuted.

I also wonder whether the Government's diplomatic and consular resources are great enough to pick up a change in any of those countries on the white list when, perhaps, things shift and people do come to be, in general, in fear of persecution. If my party should catch the noble Baroness's party out in that respect, it will not be the first time. When the Bulgarian atrocities began, Disraeli tried to find out why he had been caught short. He concluded that it was because they had happened in August when the ambassadors were not at their posts, and so they had not warned him. He said, "The ambassador returned to Vienna three days ago; the rest are at God knows what waters, probably Lethe". I believe that the Government need to be very sure that they will be alerted in time to changes.

As regards Clauses 2 and 3, I listened with care to what the noble Baroness said, but let me ask her to imagine the situation in reverse. Let us think the unthinkable and imagine that this country has become one from which the noble Baroness needs to escape because she has a well-founded fear of persecution. Let us suppose she has a son or daughter in Australia and wants to go there. It would, I think, be a quite unwarrantable interference to require her to stop for ever in Dubai because it was the first safe country in which her plane touched down. I think this measure will also have the effect of discouraging people from allowing planes to touch down if they come from countries where people have a well-founded fear of persecution. We shall have a real game of pass the parcel going on among the airlines. I also do not see how an appeal can well be pursued from another country.

In Clause 4, deception is of the very essence of claiming asylum. It is—if a claim is genuine—vitally necessary. In this context I simply cannot share the Government's condemnation of it. It is no more immoral than I and my contemporaries used to think it was to climb into college after midnight. Clause 7 revives the sus laws. I know that the Home Secretary was not yet involved in politics in 1981, but there are plenty who were who can tell him what the sus laws led to. He ought to listen.

I now turn to Clause 8. The noble Baroness, Lady Elles, quoted part of the advice from the CBI which is not quite as favourable in whole as it is in part. The CBI would be,
"opposed to provisions which would require employers to verify the authenticity of documents. This would transfer the primary obligation for immigration control to employers and would place a wholly unreasonable burden on business".
British Airways will understand those remarks. The CBI also warned that,
"delays may be encountered in waiting for documents showing a national insurance number to be obtained, thus stalling the recruitment process. It is therefore essential that, wherever this proves necessary, individuals can quickly obtain other documentation from the relevant Government agencies for transmission to the employer".
That is a warning that needs heeding. The CBI also refers to one point on which I hope the noble Baroness will be able to promise action before this Bill is completed. The Data Protection Registrar has taken the view that national insurance numbers should,
"not be used by employers for purposes other than tax and national insurance contributions. Since the proposals clearly envisage the use of this information for another purpose, the data protection implications should be clarified".
As regards the social security clauses of this Bill, in my view if the people are entitled to be here they are entitled to the same social protection as the rest of us. I really do not agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, that because of the fear of the actions of Right-wing parties we should therefore treat these people differently from others. I do not think the noble Baroness said we should treat them differently from our own people, but she used a phrase with a slightly similar implication.

I said that we have all been immigrants once. After the Conquest the Normans so much feared the disruption they had caused that they levied a collective fine on the hundred every time one of them was found dead in suspicious circumstances. We, as heirs of those people, really cannot countenance the idea that one gives in to intolerance like this. If we are to keep the peace—which I think we agree comes first—we must insist that all those who are entitled to live here are entitled to be treated equally. I do not see that that is compatible with these clauses.

I do not see, either, how we are to keep up the principle of universality of child benefit combined with Clause 10. If Clause 10 goes on to the statute book, I shall expect to see the abolition of universal child benefit in the next Conservative manifesto, and I shall say so at every convenient opportunity. There is a great deal more wrong with this Bill than I can say at this time of night. I hope to say some of it before the Bill is through.

8.15 p.m.

My Lords, I first declare an interest in that until last June I was director of the Refugee Council and therefore I had six or seven years' direct experience of working with and on behalf of asylum seekers and refugees. It is therefore hardly a surprise that I approach this Bill without enthusiasm, and in fact with a high degree of dismay.

I wish, first, to say a few words about some of the general issues that have emerged from this debate, before I discuss more specific aspects of the Bill. I believe that every European country—and many others beyond Europe—are wrestling with the issue of how to deal with asylum seekers and refugees. The way we deal with it will be an indication of our commitment to human rights, and it will test our commitment to human rights not only in the next two or three years but well into the next millennium.

I fully accept that the issue of asylum seekers and refugees is one with which it is difficult for a liberal democracy to deal because there will always be difficult and hard cases and there will always be pain and anguish in terms of how a particular asylum application is dealt with. My bottom line is that what we need above all is a fair system for determining individual claims which ensures natural justice for the claimant; which ensures that the claimant has reasonable help by way of professional legal advice and interpreters; and a system which allows appeals in-country, and which does not prejudge the result of an application until that application has been considered. It is on that test of natural justice that I find parts of this Bill wanting, and indeed parts of our existing approach to asylum seekers and refugees wanting.

We have talked about figures and I shall comment on statistics later. Few of the world's asylum seekers and refugees reach western Europe, and few of those reach this country. Therefore we are dealing with what, in global terms, is a large number—I believe 20 million was the figure that was given, but I believe that it is higher—but a relatively small number in terms of western Europe, and a smaller number still in terms of this country. We need openness and accountability. My noble friend Lord McIntosh referred to some of the decision-making in Brussels which is undertaken not through the machinery of the European Parliament and the European Commission, but through the more secret discussions which take place in the Council of Ministers. Although some of those discussions have resulted in provisions in this Bill and in other measures in recent years, other decisions of the Council of Ministers are, unfortunately, not revealed to us at all.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. As regards the provisions in the Bill, there is a list which is published periodically which contains every single resolution and recommendation emanating from those in the Council of Ministers when they meet with representatives of other governments. Under Title 6 of the Maastricht Treaty these are listed and the texts are available, if one wishes to obtain them.

My Lords, I understand that quite a few of those texts are available. I do not wish to take up the time of the House this evening in arguing about the niceties of Brussels decision-making except to say I am satisfied that a number of decisions made by the Council of Ministers do not see the light of day. As I have said, I accept that some of the decisions are published in the way that the noble Baroness has just mentioned, but I do not believe that holds good for all the decisions.

I have often wondered about Conservative Central Office hand-outs. Just occasionally they are found on photocopiers. I have not seen any documents on a photocopier on this matter. I hope that I am not being unduly suspicious if I suspect that I have heard one or two Central Office handouts read this evening. I shall read Hansard tomorrow to confirm that.

I should like to mention my experience in relation to in-country and port applications, which are a key feature of the Government's approach. I remember meeting Bosnians who had come to this country under the government scheme. They did not come as in-country or port applicants. However, the point at issue holds good for others. Some of them had been through the most appalling experiences, yet many were unable to say anything about it for days or weeks afterwards, and some never did. Others wanted to talk. We may ask ourselves why people do not say at the port of entry "I am an asylum seeker and these are my experiences". That is not a realistic way to consider the matter. If people have been through the most appalling and brutal experiences under some of the most oppressive regimes of the world it is not surprising, and it is a normal human reaction, that they do not wish to talk about those experiences. They may never want to explain what happened to them, or may not do so for years. That is one of the reasons I believe that in-country and port applications are in favour of people claiming after they have entered the country.

I have always believed that the concept of an asylum seeker and a refugee is different in a very principled way from that of a migrant who claims immigrant status. That is because the concept of a refugee stems directly from the 1951 United Nations Geneva Convention, an instrument that we have signed, along with all other west European countries and many other countries. It is that that should determine why we approach refugees and asylum seekers differently from people who seek to migrate for economic reasons. Economic reasons for migration are not unworthy, but usually they happen not to qualify one to enter this country or most other west European countries.

Because the definition of a refugee is linked to an instrument that we have signed under the auspices of the United Nations, it requires a particular and separate approach. For that reason I regret that we link asylum seekers and immigration in the Title of the Bill. That is why the debate today has ranged from one to the other in a way which does not pay full regard to the concept of human rights.

I should like to take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, as well as praise him. I shall take issue with him first. He belittled the argument of my noble friend Lord McIntosh that the way to deal with the difficulty that we face is to have a quicker system for determining asylum claims. I should like to reject what the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said.

If anybody can come to this country in the knowledge that it can take months, if not years, to reach a decision about an asylum claim, that itself is surely an incentive for some people to make such a claim. That can be done in the knowledge that it will take a very long time before anything is done about the claim and the person is refused entry. I do not say that that is the case in respect of all claims; far from it. However, it seems to be a serious weakness in our system that we have a large number of outstanding claims. I thought that the figure was 66,000, but I now understand that it is 84,000. The fact that there are so many outstanding claims provides some incentive to some asylum seekers.

In a more fundamental sense, that undermines the integrity of our asylum determination process. If people are in this country for a long time it is surely far more difficult for us to remove them if they fail the test of the Geneva Convention. That is bound to be the case, and it was one of the reasons given by the Government some years ago for trying to speed up the process.

I understand that in Germany some years ago they came to the conclusion that they had to tackle the backlog of asylum claims. They did so dramatically by appointing a large number of individuals. Some noble Lords said that that would be a costly enterprise. I think that it probably would not. If the majority of asylum claimants receive income support and other help, it does not take very much arithmetic to see that a quicker, but fair, determination of asylum claims would, in anything other than the very short term, save substantial sums of money. It would also provide a better basis for our approach to dealing with asylum seekers and be consistent with human rights. I give way to the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for giving way. His argument falls. Throughout the debate we have referred, and he did so himself, to the growing number of economic migrants all over the world. I do not believe that people come here because they can live on benefits for nine months or a year. They come here because they think that they will eventually be able to stay.

The more you have a process for people to go through, the more people will come, if you do not at the same time limit the numbers who come in the way that is suggested in the Bill. The figures I quoted from other European countries which have done that prove that it works.

My Lords, I have to reject the noble Lord's argument. If he examines the records of other European countries he will see that those which have speeded up the process of asylum determination have managed things better than those which have long periods of delay.

I should have thought that it was incontrovertible that a period of perhaps two years' delay before a decision is made, allowing time for an appeal, is bound to undermine a proper system of asylum determination.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. It seems a pertinent moment to intervene on that particular point.

What do the noble Lords opposite intend to do about the delays that are not due to administrative processes? A great deal is being done both to improve efficiency and to deal with more applications. What will they do about the delays which are caused by applicants? Applicants often contrive delays, for example, where they are being advised, their papers are not ready, they ask for more time, the solicitors and others advising them plead for more time. If the noble Lords will take no measures at all and do not support the Bill, what will they do about those delays? Much of the delay in the system is due to that kind of problem.

My Lords, I am not sure that my noble friend Lord McIntosh is yet in a position to determine our policy. However, I understand that the Minister concedes that that will soon be the case.

It seems to me that if there are such long delays on the Home Office side in determining asylum claims, then it is not surprising that on the other side people also seek to delay the process, for the very reason that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, rejects; namely, that people want more time. If there are delays caused by the Government, it is not surprising that there are delays on the other side. However, it is not appropriate for me to take up more of the time of the House in trying to determine how one deals with all of those delays.

I accept as a principle that asylum claims should be determined quickly. I do not believe that it is just or fair that they are protracted, whether the delay is caused by Home Office officials or by applicants. I accept that all sides of the process should be speeded up.

I turn now to the question of safe third countries and limitations on in-country appeals. If it were the case that anyone removed to a safe third country—for example, one of the European Union countries—were removed on the assurance that that country would allow the individual to enter into the asylum procedures there, I would not mind so much. The difficulty is that there is no such safeguard and the Government can remove somebody to another country without considering the individual's claim here and without having any assurance that that person's claim will, in turn, be considered in the country to which he is removed. That country may in turn apply the same principles and remove the individual further down the line, until in the end the individual ends up in a country where he may be in danger. That is my concern about these removals. People are being removed to third countries not because they have spent several months in France, Belgium, the Netherlands or Germany, but because they may have been in transit at Charles de Gaulle Airport. They may have spent two or three hours driving across northern France to Calais and on to Dover. Such brief periods of time are not the basis on which we should say, "You cannot have your claim considered here. Go and find another country which will consider your claim".

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, referred very properly to the difficulties of detention; and the use of detention for asylum seekers. Perhaps I may say this about the policy. It seems to me wrong in principle that we should detain people, deny them their liberty, without any judicial process, but simply on the decision of an official.

I said that I would praise something that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said. I have much sympathy with the point he made about the burden that would be placed on local authorities as a consequence of the social security and other provisions passed a few weeks ago in both Houses. They are also contained under the heading of child benefit and housing in the Bill. It is a sorry situation that we as a country use the threat of poverty, homelessness and sleeping in the streets, with children subjected to those conditions, to deter people from coming to this country. That is not a policy of which we can be proud. If voluntary organisations cannot make provision, the only alternative is for local authorities to find the resources to make emergency arrangements. That is surely an undesirable situation.

I do not like the idea that people arrive without documentation because they have destroyed it. That is undesirable. I regret that in all too many instances, racketeers who have, as it were, tried to facilitate the arrival of people here have encouraged people to destroy their documents so that the racketeers cannot be identified. I understand that that is one of the explanations. However, it does not mean that people do not have a proper basis for a claim even if they were helped to escape from their country by a person trying to raise money.

I consider Clause 4—it refers to gaining entry by deception—with a great deal of concern. Although we have had some verbal assurances, as the Bill stands someone using a forged passport as the only way of escaping from an oppressive regime could well he accused of having gained entry by deception. The Government state that that is not the intention, but my fear is that it sounds as though it is.

I should like to see a registration scheme for people who give immigration and asylum advice. That provision is not in the Bill; I believe that it should be. I hope that some amendments will achieve that aim.

Perhaps I may quote some statistics, and compare the figures for 1990—it is well before the 1993 Act—with the most recent figures for 1995. In 1990 the number of people given refugee status was 22.8 per cent. In 1995 it was 4.7 per cent. plus some who gained such status on appeal. But the dramatic difference was the fall in the number who gained exceptional leave to remain. In 1990 the figure was nearly 60 per cent. By 1995 the figure had fallen to 16 per cent. ELR is not a status covered by statute; it is a grace and favour status given by the Government—and a necessary one. But part of the large increase in the number of refusals stems from the Government's deliberate decision to reduce the number of people being given exceptional leave to remain. Nevertheless, we are still talking about some 20 per cent. in all who are allowed to stay either under ELR or refugee status.

There is no time to deal with European Union comparisons, some of which were cited. Perhaps I may say this. If this country makes one mistake in determining an asylum claim, we are liable to send back to danger an individual who may face a future too horrible to contemplate. People have been returned to countries when it had been argued that they should be allowed to stay. People have been returned to countries—Zaire is an obvious example, but there are others—where they have disappeared as soon as they were a mile or two from the airport. It is because of the awful consequences for someone who has a well-founded fear of persecution under the 1951 convention that we have to be so careful about all the details whereby an asylum claim is determined.

8.35 p.m.

My Lords, it has been an interesting debate. It is fair to say that there has been a healthy and useful exploration of the different aspects of the Bill. There have been times also when I wondered not only whether people understood the Bill but whether they had listened to my speech at the outset such has been the misunderstanding not only before I came to the Chamber but in the course of many speeches.

The answer of noble Lords opposite, in particular of the party represented by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, is simply to employ more staff and to provide a great deal more money. Numbers of applicants would indeed rise inexorably because we would have the most relaxed procedures in Europe. The delays, which the noble Lord claims would be dealt with by even more adjudicators and assessors, are frequently caused, as I said a moment ago, by applicants who can resort to many ways of delaying the appeal process. While those cases were being delayed, all benefits would be paid and many would be treated more favourably than citizens of this country and legal settlers here.

It will be difficult to respond to all the points made in the debate. I shall do what I can. If I do not reply tonight, I shall do so fully in writing and I shall place all copies of my letters in the Library for the availability of all Members of the House.

The first point made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, was about detention of asylum seekers. Only 1 per cent. of asylum seekers are currently detained. Detention is used only when there are real concerns that an applicant would abscond. Most detained asylum applicants have had their claims refused. Children are detained only rarely. It is only in exceptional circumstances and for only very short periods, usually just before deportation. Unlike many of our European neighbours, we do not require asylum seekers to live in application or reception centres.

Children are detained under Immigration Act powers only in the most exceptional circumstances. Authority at a minimum of inspector level is required for the detention of children under 18 and is reviewed by an assistant director within 24 hours. Unaccompanied young persons may be detained at around the age of 16 or 17 years. But in a large number of cases the true age may he the subject of dispute. Children younger than that will normally be held in detention centres only as part of a family unit. In those circumstances, the children may not be detained but accommodated with the detained parent or parents with their agreement. In those circumstances, the detention would be for a very short period only prior to removal of the family unit. We do not believe that our arrangements represent any breach of the United Kingdom's international obligations.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to some statistics. He mentioned 115 successful applicants from India, Pakistan, Bulgaria, Poland, Ghana and Cyprus. Only 17 applicants from the seven countries currently considered suitable for designation were granted asylum in 1995. Over 6,500 decisions were made in cases from the nationals of the seven candidate countries. Refusal rates for Bulgaria were 99 per cent., Cyprus 100 per cent., Poland 100 per cent., Romania 98 per cent., Ghana 99 per cent., India 98 per cent. and Pakistan 98 per cent. All claims will still be considered. This has to be said again and again because it is clearly not accepted by many noble Lords. Everyone will still have an appeal to an independent adjudicator.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, also referred to European Union resolutions. The United Kingdom's asylum policy is decided in Westminster, not in Brussels. That is the whole purpose of our considering the Bill before the House. In developing the asylum package, we have drawn extensively on the experience of other European countries and on work in international fora. But our proposals are our own. It is ludicrous to talk of toeing the Brussels line. The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has a smile on his face at the moment but I must say to him that under the United Kingdom's successful presidency in 1992—he referred to it but he did not say that it was the UK presidency—a resolution was adopted on,
"Countries in which there is generally no serious risk of persecution".
Again, a resolution was adopted on,
"Manifestly unfounded applications for asylum".
Under the United Kingdom's presidency, the sensible, non-binding resolutions, as my noble friend Lady Elles, said, are public documents. Asylum policy is a matter for intergovernmental co-operation under the Maastricht Treaty. It is subject to unanimity. We should not hesitate to veto any EU asylum measures which do not conform to the United Kingdom's interests.

Of course I will take away the report of the scrutiny committee which was published today and give serious consideration to its recommendations. It is worth noting that with the order-making powers following the powers under the relevant benefit legislation, the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee approved the negative procedure. However, that does not prejudice consideration between now and Committee stage.

As regards employers, the Home Secretary's power is to exempt employers from the requirement to check in certain cases. So it will remove a burden rather than add one. The negative procedure is appropriate here, as the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee found.

My noble friend Lord Renton and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, referred to the drafting of Clause 1. I noted what they said and I am conscious that Clause 1 and some other clauses operate by amending previous statutes. It is not practicable always to proceed by re-enacting the old provisions in a revised form, although I recognise that it can make a Bill easier and more straightforward. I shall consider the points made about drafting between now and Committee stage.

My Lords, will my noble friend give way? There is a halfway house. She could add to the Bill a Keeling schedule which repeats in a schedule what the Bill would he after the amendments had been carried. It is a useful device.

My Lords, I shall take all helpful suggestions and reflect upon them between now and the Committee stage. Reference was made to third country appeals; 40 per cent. of appeals succeed in those cases. Ninety-six per cent. of third country refusals concern people who have entered the United Kingdom from a member state of the European Union. It is absurd that applicants should be able to delay removal by arguing at appeal about the inherent safety of another European Union country as a safe haven for asylum seekers. The great majority of findings by adjudicators support the Home Office view that countries like France and Germany are safe. The evidence does not support the claim that 40 per cent. of asylum appeals are successful. That was suggested by the Refuge Legal Centre. On the contrary, 61 per cent. of third country appeals arc dismissed and 22 per cent. are referred back, for reasons other than doubts about the inherent safety of the third country. The evidence also supports our assessment that doubts about admissibility owing to the passage of time are a major factor in referrals. Our assessment is that that has now become the most common reason for referral. Such delays are seldom attributable to the Home Office which decides safe third country cases within one-and-a-half days on average. The cases are not successful appeals; they are part of the problem which the legislation is intended to remedy.

It is a growing problem. For example, France, the safe third country to which we most commonly seek to return applicants, has recently stopped allowing extensions to the time limit for returning applicants specified in our agreement with that country. We believe that it is unacceptable that return to a safe third country such as France should be prevented in a significant number of cases simply because of the time taken on the appeal procedure.

The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said that the 1993 Act was supposed to be the last Act. During the passage of what became the 1993 Act, the then Home Secretary was clear that there would continue to be pressures in the future and that there was no room for complacency. Since then, we have seen the sharp rise in applications which occurred in 1994 and 1995—a near doubling since the 1993 Act. The level of asylum applications is inevitably volatile and difficult to predict. It is unrealistic to imagine that legislation in that area can be set in stone, particularly when other European countries have tightened their legislation. Any responsible government would adjust the system further in the light of the sustained sharp rise in applications we have experienced.

Reference was made by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, to the Home Office intending to designate Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania. My right honourable friend made clear the list of countries that we currently regard as meeting criteria for designation. Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania are not on the list. However, as the noble Lord knows, the Bill will allow countries to he added to the designation list if circumstances in the countries improve. Equally, we will not hesitate to remove a country from the list if conditions in it deteriorate.

Much was made of the benefit system. The previous benefit regulations were an open invitation to people from abroad to gain access to benefit by making bogus asylum claims. Asylum seekers will still be eligible for benefit provided they declare themselves on arrival. People who gain admission on the basis that they can support themselves should be held to that requirement, whether or not they claim asylum. That point was made by my noble friend Lord Renton. He referred to those people as "after in-country seekers". They will, after all, have had to obtain leave to enter from an immigration officer and in most cases also obtain a visa from an entry clearance officer before travelling here. They will have had to satisfy the officer about their ability to support themselves without recourse to public funds. Nevertheless, there is provision in the benefit regulations so that those who claim asylum after entry can receive benefit if they are genuinely trapped here by an upheaval which took place in their country of origin after their arrival.

Under the new regulations, benefit entitlement ends when asylum is refused by the Home Office. People do not retain entitlement while appealing against a benefit decision and the same principle will now apply to asylum appeals. We do not believe that it is reasonable to expect the taxpayers to go on supporting an asylum seeker after his claim has been duly considered and rejected, especially bearing in mind the very low success rate at appeal.

I was asked why the numbers of Home Office decisions fell dramatically from 34,900 in 1992 to 23,000 in 1993. Comparisons with output figures for 1992 are misleading. Thirty-eight per cent. of refusals were on non-compliance grounds, mainly refusals related to fraudulent multiple applications. Fifty-one per cent. of all decisions were grants of exceptional leave, mostly taken on pragmatic grounds. Productivity levels in the asylum division have increased by 160 per cent. since the 1993 Act was implemented and the policy of granting exceptional leave on pragmatic grounds was ended. The number of outright refusals—the most difficult and time-consuming decisions—is higher than it has ever been and over twice the number for 1993. The 27,000 decisions taken in 1995 exceed the annual intake that was anticipated when the 1993 Act came into force.

In January, the Home Office, for the first time, took over 3,000 decisions in a month. We arc well on course to meet our target of at least 37,000 decisions. At the moment, that will still not keep up with the number of applications. Productivity improvements and the additional resources already ploughed into the system are essential, but they are not enough. Controlling the intake of new applications is crucial to reducing the backlog of undecided applications and keeping pace with current applications.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon referred to Home Office research. That research was a survey of people who had been granted asylum. That tells us nothing about asylum seekers. Only a small proportion of asylum seekers are granted asylum. Since the vast majority of claims are not valid, applicants must have other motives. Given the vast differences in average incomes, it is a logical conclusion that economic motives are indeed a major factor.

The right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said that it was necessary to have a quick determination process, to which I referred. In May last year we introduced a new short procedure for considering straightforward asylum applications. It is an accelerated determination process that allows us to reach decisions within four or five weeks, compared with nine months for other cases. All cases are considered fully and appeal rights are not affected. Even within that fast-track procedure, if in the course of examining an individual application it is thought inappropriate for the fast-track procedure, it is taken out and considered in the normal way.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and my noble friend Lord Renton referred to after-entry applicants. More applications made after entry are refused outright than port cases, which is contrary to what was said. In 1994, 70 per cent. of port applicants were refused outright, compared with 82 per cent. of after-entry applicants. In 1995, 75 per cent. of port applicants were refused, compared with 79 per cent. of after-entry applicants.

In relation to benefits, the important point is that people who claim after entry have been admitted on the basis that they will support and accommodate themselves in this country without recourse to public funds. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon referred to the Al-Mass'ari case. If he will forgive me, it is not appropriate for me to refer to that case in particular. On the general point, however, Clause 1 removes the adjudicator's power to refer cases back to the Secretary of State and is concerned only with cases that are unfounded other than on safe third country grounds. Clauses 2 and 3 deal with safe country cases. So there is no need for a reference back under Clause 1, because all cases to which it applies will have been considered substantively. If the special adjudicator disagrees with the Secretary of State, he allows the appeal and refugee status is recognised.

The right reverend Prelate also made reference to Kenya. In 1994 the refusal rate for applicants from Kenya was 100 per cent. We do not have figures for 1995 as a whole; but in November 1995, for example, all applicants from Kenya were refused, and a visa regime was imposed on Kenyan nationals last week. The number of asylum applications from Kenya has dramatically increased, as indeed the right reverend Prelate said. We believe that many of those coming here were driven primarily by economic motives—hence the need, regrettably, for a visa regime. There was no intention to prejudice the consideration of individual asylum applications. That will still take place. The visa position does not affect it.

The right reverend Prelate suggested that everyone's claim should be considered individually. Even when an applicant comes from a country that has been designated generally safe, his claim will still be considered on its individual merits. Designation relates to the Secretary of State's view of the position in the country overall, not in relation to any individual or group of individuals.

The Bill reduces asylum seekers' access to legal rights, legal representation and speed of process. That was suggested, again by the right reverend Prelate, and by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel. The Bill does not lead to automatic refusal of any asylum claim. It does not detract from the requirements on the Secretary of State to consider all claims. It does not remove the right of appeal from any asylum seeker, although it makes the appeal non-suspensive where removal is to a third country within the European Union. It does remove the right to an in-country (that is, suspensive) appeal before removal to the country of origin. And it does not in any way detract from existing arrangements for free legal advice and representation.

The accelerated appeal procedure is nothing new. Parliament agreed its introduction when it approved the 1993 Act. This Bill merely extends its use to more manifestly unfounded claims.

The noble Lord, Lord Lester, referred to an increase in judicial review. The provisions in Clause 1 do not deny a right of appeal. They simply provide that people falling into certain categories have no appeal to the tribunal from the adjudicator. Appeal to the tribunal is already "only with leave", so it is not automatic. Most cases are refused leave and already seek judicial review of their refusal. So there is no reason to think that these proposals will result in a significant increase in judicial review applications. We believe that the chief adjudicator, Judge Pearl, shares that view.

Another point was that asylum seekers will not have time to check documents in order to claim. The provision allows appeals to be fast-track as without foundation when an applicant fails to produce a passport without giving a reasonable explanation, or fails to disclose, once he is in the United Kingdom, that his documents are false. That does not affect those who flee without documents or using false documents, only those who do not give an explanation or continue to rely on those documents once they have arrived in the United Kingdom.

The noble Lord, Lord Lester, said that proposals in Clause 1 breach Article 3 of the refugee convention. Article 3 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of nationality in relation to the application of the convention. The convention says nothing about appeal procedures. So identifying particular nationalities for different treatment under Clause 1 cannot infringe Article 3 of the refugee convention.

I see that I am out of time, with a very large number of items yet to be discussed. Therefore, I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I resort to writing to them. I shall deposit letters in the Library so that all noble Lords can see both the points made and my response to them.

The Bill is predicated on the Government's longstanding commitment to maintain effective immigration control. Illegal working, racketeering and growing abuse of asylum procedures pose very real threats to that control. No responsible government could ignore them. Effective procedures and sanctions, whether on asylum or other aspects of immigration control, do not damage race relations. On the contrary, they are a necessary condition for preserving the good race relations that this country has enjoyed and, we hope, will continue to enjoy.

The Government remain totally committed to fair and non-discriminatory asylum and immigration procedures. We are determined to honour this country's well-known tradition of harbouring those who flee here in genuine fear of persecution. We intend to continue complying with our obligations under the 1951 convention. We believe that the Bill is not only compatible with those aims but essential if they are to be achieved. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Contracting Out (Functions In Relationto The Provision Of Guardians Ad Litemand Reporting Officers Panels)Order 1996

8.57 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health
(Baroness Cumberlege)

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 61.h February be approved [9th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this order is made under the powers of Section 70 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. It enables local authorities to contract out the provision of the guardian ad litem and reporting officer service under the Guardians Ad Litem and Reporting Officers (Panels) Regulations 1991. The order-making power is subject to affirmative resolution.

Guardians ad litem and reporting officers, usually referred to by the rather unattractive acronym, GALROs, are appointed by courts under the Children Act 1989. Their functions are to report to the court on the child's wishes and feelings, to instruct a solicitor to act on behalf of the child and to examine the powers available to the court that will best promote the child's welfare. In adoption proceedings there is a similar duty on guardians to report to the court on matters relating to the application.

A particular feature of the GALRO service is that it has to operate at arm's length from the local authority. It has to be seen by the families and the court as offering impartial and independent professional advice. Courts may appoint only GALROs who are panel members. The proposed order does not alter who may act as guardians, only how the GALRO service is organised. There are restrictions on who can practise as a guardian. There are about 920 guardians in England. They work exclusively on guardian matters and the court rules debar them from acting in the case if they have been directly concerned in arrangements relating to the care, accommodation or welfare of the child during the five years prior to the commencement of the proceedings.

Nearly 13,000 cases involving nearly 19,000 children were dealt with by the GALRO service in England in 1994–95.

The GALRO service in England is administered through 54 panels. In some areas a single local authority or a consortium of local authorities has arranged for the GALRO service to be provided by a voluntary organisation. There are five panels and between them they cover 30 local authorities in England. However, these arrangements appear in some instances to exceed the legal powers in the Local Government Act 1972. In effect, the local authorities have entered into a contract of service and have delegated the local authority responsibility beyond what is legally permissible. I should perhaps stress that there is no criticism of the voluntary childcare organisations currently involved. All are held in high regard. Guidance issued in 1991 by the Department of Health may have been misleading in s6 far as it could be read to suggest. that all such arrangements were legally permissible.

This statutory instrument enables local authorities to contract out the GALRO service. The instrument also modifies the 1991 panel regulations, so that where the local authority has contracted out any of its functions under these regulations, the membership of the complaints board for that authority is modified. It cannot include the person to whom the function has been contracted out or an employee of that person. Under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, local authorities retain the responsibility for ensuring that the GALRO service is provided, even where the service is contracted out. The effect of the order Rill be to extend the choice available to local authorities in the provision of the service.

It will be entirely up to the local authority to decide which type of arrangements it wishes to have in place. The order enables the local authority to contract out to a voluntary organisation or other organisation which the authority considers appropriate. If it chooses to contract out, it may determine the extent to which some or all of the functions under the panel regulations are retained or contracted out.

Local authorities are responsible for the costs of the GALRO service, which, in 1994–95, were estimated at …18.6 million. Since 1992, there has been a specific grant administered by the Department of Health. That is …6.2 million in the current year. Any contracted-out arrangements will be paid for by the local authorities from within their existing financial resources. The specific grant will continue to be paid to local authorities for as long as the specific grant continues.

Under the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, the proposals have to be the subject of consultation. The Association of Directors of Social Services, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Association of County Councils have each confirmed that they are content with this proposal. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 6th February be approved [ 9th Report from the Joint Committee].—( Baroness Cumberlege.)

My Lords, the noble Baroness explained very clearly the purpose of the order. As she said, it is an enabling procedure, giving a legal framework to a practice which is already in operation and, in general, so far as I am aware, functioning effectively. I am pleased that in her final sentence she mentioned that the Association of Directors of Social Services, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Association of County Councils are happy with the order.I am quite sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, if she were with us, would, for once, vote with the Government on this measure.

One could say that the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Association of County Councils were happy with the order. They would he, wouldn't they? It endorses what they already do. For the sake of speed, I shall call the subject of the order GALROs, even though it is not a very nice word, as the noble Baroness said. They are very important people who need wisdom and tact to do their job well. Can the noble Baroness tell the House whether she is satisfied that enough people of the right calibre are coming forward? They are appointed by the responsible local authority social services department in most cases, but are they able to be sufficiently independent to criticise that authority if need be?

I wonder whether the Minister could expand a little on whether the order will change anything in financial terms. That is not quite clear to me. If she can help me with those few points, we on this side of the House will have no objection to what is, in effect, a tidying up piece of legislation.

My Lords, we too would like to thank the noble Baroness for her explanation of the order. Concern can be caused by a brief order such as this one, with an even briefer explanatory note, providing for contracting out the provision of something so important as a panel of guardians ad litem. The noble Baroness provided some reassurance.

One of the major improvements brought about by the Children Act 1989 was the enhancement of the role of the guardian ad litem in a variety of cases. The guardian provides objectivity, critical analysis and appraisal when dealing with sometimes very hurt and bewildered children. More recently, the guardian ad litem may also be required to co-ordinate expert evidence for pending litigation. I understand that the order is intended in part to regularise what happens in practice with the use by local authorities of the voluntary sector, and there can be no possible objection to that.

So far as the order may allow for contracting out the provision of panels as more conventionally provided by local authorities, I am not aware of any particular disquiet, although at first sight it may appear to cause some concern. My observation in practice is that guardians, while having a good working relationship with local authority social services, are anxious to assert their independence and detachment from the local authority. That is quite right, not just because the guardian provides independent representation for children but also because of the weight usually given by the court to the guardian's views.

The only concern, therefore, that one might have about how the order may work in practice is that there should be machinery to maintain standards. What responsibility in practice will local authorities retain over contracted-out panels and what monitoring in practice will there be to ensure that standards are maintained?

My Lords, I am grateful to both the noble Lords, Lord Rea and Lord Meston, for their support for the modest proposal that is before us. Perhaps I may just pick up one or two points that were made by the noble Lord, Lord Rea. He was concerned that the right calibre of people should come forward for the very difficult role played by guardians. We know that in nearly all parts of the country at least 90 per cent. of guardians can be appointed within 24 hours of a request from a court. We believe therefore that there are sufficient numbers around.

Independence is a very important point. Indeed, courts throughout the country have expressed complete satisfaction with that aspect of the guardian service. Most social services departments have also found that guardians were able to form an independent judgment and report to the court accordingly. However, I know that research published in 1994 by the Family Rights Group and around the same time by the socio-legal centre in Bristol, showed that certain parents may perceive guardians as not being independent. In their view, all social workers stick together. All those criticisms of a guardian's perceived lack of independence must be balanced by the same research by parents who came to the opposite conclusion. Our conclusions therefore are that they do a good job and remain independent.

The financial aspect of the new proposals is something that local authorities will need to take into consideration when looking at bids for contracting out. It is difficult for us at the moment to quantify the possible savings or perhaps additional costs which can separately be attributed to whether or not the guardian service is contracted out. Most costs will be the same because they relate to the number of cases referred by the courts which require a guardian and the length and complexity of each case. There may be some marginal savings in senior management time in the local authority, which will be less involved in the service. But those too will need to be set against any cost of setting up and monitoring of the contract.

The noble Lord, Lord Meston, was anxious to know that the contracts will be properly monitored. I am sure that they will. Local authorities will want to ensure, as they still hold that responsibility, that it is being carried out appropriately. Indeed, the legal responsibility on guardians remains the same. The framework and national standards of the guardian service were published in October 1995. That also continues to apply, however the service is organised locally.

We believe that it is a good service and that the proposals before your Lordships tonight will give a little more choice to local authorities. The service enjoys a high reputation for skilled and effective work in the courts and the order offers sensible clarification of legal powers to contract out the provision which, as the noble Lord, Lord Rea, was saying, many local authorities are already doing. It increases the choice of options available to local authorities which wish to provide the service to a high standard and in as economical a way as possible. I commend the order to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Contracting Out (Functions In Relationto The Welfare Food Scheme) Order 1996

9.6 p.m.

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 19th February be approved [11th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this order is made under the powers at Section 69 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994. Its purpose is to streamline and improve procedures for the reimbursement of milk suppliers under the GB health departments' welfare food scheme by allowing the departments' contractor to undertake the whole reimbursement process. Beneficiaries themselves will not be affected in any way.

The welfare food scheme provides a nutritional benefit in kind rather than in cash. One of its main provisions is that families in receipt of income support receive a milk token each week for each child under the age of five. That can be exchanged for seven pints of cows' milk. The token can he exchanged for milk with any milk retailer who chooses to take part in the scheme. Having accepted the token in "payment" for the milk supplied, the supplier gets reimbursed for the token by sending it to the Welfare Food Reimbursement Unit. Until 1993, that reimbursement work was carried out by civil servants in two separate locations.

During 1989–1991, a value-for-money initiative focused on the welfare food scheme. One key recommendation was for reimbursement to be centralised at one site. As part of the Government's Competing for Quality initiative it was also decided to market test the reimbursement function in 1993 so as to improve value for money through competition and private section involvement.

The contract was awarded in 1994 to NCH (Nielsen's Clearing House Ltd). NCH has been successfully running the reimbursement operation on behalf of G13 health departments since then. It runs an efficient operation using modern technology. But we have not been able to gain full advantage of the contractor's services. We are limited by the requirements of the Social Security Act 1988 which reserves the reimbursement function for the Secretary of State or his officials. It cannot be carried out solely by a private contractor. As a result, contracting out of reimbursement has been less efficient than it could be. DH officials have had formally to approve and authorise around 1,000 claims daily as well as requesting any proof necessary.

Section 69 of the Deregulation and Contracting out Act enables a Minister to make an order contracting out the reimbursement functions, subject to the assent of Parliament. That is the purpose of this order. Once the order has come into effect, a Minister may then issue an authorisation to the department's contractor. This will enable the contractor to carry out the reimbursement. It will also allow us to authorise the contractor to ask for the necessary documentary advice to support the claims.

The use of this procedure will enable us to gain the maximum benefits. It will speed up the reimbursement process providing a more efficient service to milk suppliers. It will also avoid duplication of effort and release officials' time to devote to core health business.

I should like to reassure your Lordships that this will not affect the benefit delivered or welfare food beneficiaries themselves in any way. It is purely an administrative matter. There will be no dilution of standards being applied to welfare food reimbursement claims. We have ensured that the contractor's systems offer robust safeguards for the reimbursement process and for the public purse. Checks by the DH staff, by the DH's internal auditors and by the National Audit Office will continue to subject the system to regular scrutiny.

The order before the House is therefore a straightforward provision enabling us to improve the efficiency of the administration of the welfare food scheme with no detriment to beneficiaries. I commend the order to the House.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 19th February be approved [ 11th Report from the Joint Committee].—( Baroness Cumberlege.)

9.15 p.m.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for explaining the order. It authorises the claims by retailers for reimbursement under the scheme to be handled by Nielsen's Clearing House Limited through the whole process, part of which until now has occupied the equivalent of one member of the administrative staff of the Department of Health. If the order is passed—I have no intention of opposing it—that function will be left entirely in the hands of the contractor. What I feel we should be sure about is whether the department will still have sufficient evidence to ensure that the process is being carried out to acceptable standards. After all, the taxpayer foots the Bill. Can we be sure that a contractor will not be able at some time in the future to falsify claims?

The welfare food scheme is still, sadly, very necessary, as became clear during exchanges on the Starred Question in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, earlier this afternoon. Children from low-income families often do not get adequate quantities of some nutrients and get too much of others which are less desirable—fat and sugar—so that welfare foods, which in this case consist of liquid milk, are still very important. I hope the noble Baroness can reaffirm that the smooth operation of the scheme will in no way be adversely affected by the order.

My Lords, I can give the noble Lord all the reassurances that he seeks. There will still be weekly checks in the system, the internal auditors and the National Audit Office will still be involved, but we think that under the new system we will get speedier payments. The noble Lord is right to say that there will be savings—of one person's time—but the job is a fairly mindless and soul-destroying job in that it involves checking all the returns that are made—1,000 a day. It is a huge and boring task.

It is right that the House should pass the order. I can assure the noble Lord that we are satisfied that there will be no dilution of standards being applied to the claims and that the contractor system offers robust safeguards for the reimbursement process.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Slavery: Legacy

9.18 p.m.

rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make appropriate reparation to African nations and to the descendants of Africans for the damage caused by the slave trade and the practice of slavery.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Question raises an issue which is being debated with increasing vigour and intensity by African people around the world; and by African people I mean people of African descent, wherever they live, whether in Africa itself, in the United States, in Great Britain or in the Caribbean, where I now live and practise law.

The issue is this. The under-development and poverty which affect the majority of countries in Africa and in the Caribbean, as well as the ghetto conditions in which many black people live in the United States and elsewhere, are not, speaking in general terms, the result of laziness, incompetence or corruption of African people or their governments. They are in a very large measure the consequences—the legacy—of one of the most massive and terrible criminal enterprises in recorded human history; that is, the transatlantic slave trade and the institution of slavery.

The thesis that I advance tonight is that in accordance with international law and with basic human morality, measures of atonement and reparation are due from the successors of those who instigated and carried out the trade and who profited massively from it, to the descendants of the victims of the criminal enterprise who still suffer in many different ways from the effects of the crime.

The horrendous nature of the enterprise of African slavery is well known and documented. Around 20 million young people were kidnapped, taken in chains across the Atlantic and sold into slavery in the plantations of the New World. Millions more died in transit in the dungeons of the castles such as Goree, Elmina and Cape Coast, or in the hell holes under the decks of the slave ships. It was without doubt, in the fullest sense of the term, a crime against humanity.

A vast proportion of sub-Saharan Africa from Senegal right round to Angola and on the other side from Mozambique into Malawi and Tanzania was depopulated. Its young men and women were taken away. Population estimates show that Africa's population remained static at around 100 million between 1650 and 1850 while in the same period the populations of Europe and Asia increased between twofold and threefold. It is small wonder that the great kingdoms of Africa such as Mali, Songhai and Ghana fell into decline while the slave-trading nations prospered mightily. Whole cities such as Liverpool and Bristol grew wealthy on the triangular trade of manufactured goods going to Africa, slaves going from Africa to the colonies, and sugar coming back from the colonies to Britain. No calculations can measure the loss suffered by the African continent from that massive depopulation of its young people, for which no compensation was ever paid.

African governments today, who have tried to rectify the under-development which they have inherited from history, have borrowed from the financial institutions of the West and are now in a virtually uncontrollable spiral of debt. In reality—and in morality—I suggest that it is the West which is in debt to Africa, not Africa which is debt to the West.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the African captives were cut off from their families, their land and their language. They were forced to be owned as chattels and to work as beasts of burden. When, finally, emancipation day came—in the British colonies, in 1838—the ex-slaves received nothing. It was the ex-slave owners who were compensated for the loss of their property.

The slavery experience has left a bitter legacy which endures to this day in terms of family breakdown, landlessness, under-development and a longing among many to return to the motherland from which their ancestors were taken. Once again, in the Caribbean the need to finance development programmes has bound Caribbean governments and peoples in fresh shackles, the shackles of debt. In Jamaica, where I live, between 40 per cent. and 50 per cent. of the national budget has had to be paid out in debt servicing over the past 10 years. In many African countries, the proportion is much higher. The effects are crippling in that every public service, such as schools, health facilities, transport and roads, prisons and justice systems, is so squeezed that it is failing to deliver at even a minimum standard.

As well as the consequences in Africa and the Caribbean, there is a further element in the legacy of the slave trade, which is the damage done within Britain, within the United States and other Western societies. The inhuman philosophy of white supremacy and black inferiority was inculcated into European peoples to justify the atrocities which were being committed by a Christian people upon fellow human beings. That philosophy continues to poison our society today.

On one short visit back to Britain this month, I come across reports of racism in the Armed Forces and the police. Equal rights legislation has not been enough. It is necessary to look more deeply, to understand why the crimes of the past are poisoning the present for all people, white and black, and then to do something effective to repair the wrong. That will assist both African and European, black and white, to lance the poison and to heal the wounds.

The concept that reparations are payable where a crime against humanity has been committed by one people against another is well established in international law and practice. Germany paid reparations to Israel for the crimes of the Nazi Holocaust. Indeed, the very creation of the State of Israel can be seen as a massive act of reparation for centuries of dispossession and persecution directed against Jews.

Japan apologised only last year, 50 years on, for its wartime atrocities and is still being urged, rightly, to pay compensation to the victims. The USA made apology and restitution for the internment of Japanese Americans during the Second World War. Going further back into history, Her Majesty the Queen, only last November in New Zealand, personally signed the Royal Assent to the Waikato-Raupatu Claims Settlement Bill through which the New Zealand Government paid substantial compensation in land and in money for the seizure of Maori lands by British settlers in 1863. She apologised for the crime and recognised a long-standing grievance of the Maori people. Other indigenous peoples have similar just claims for the dispossession which their ancestors suffered.

African people, too, have a massive and long-standing grievance. It is no use saying that it all happened a long time ago, and we should just forget about it. The period of colonialism which succeeded the period of slavery, continued the exploitation of Africa and the Caribbean in new ways. Further acts of brutality were committed, and the peoples of those regions, until recently, were denied the status of sovereignty and independence with which alone they could themselves demand the redress of the wrongs which were done.

But the wrongs have not been forgotten. The peoples of Africa and the Caribbean live with their consequences still. A group of eminent Africans under the auspices of the Organisation of African Unity is beginning to articulate the claim for reparation.

What is meant by the claim for reparations? The details of a reparations settlement would have to be negotiated with an appropriate body of representatives of African people around the world. I would anticipate that some of the elements of an appropriate package would be, first, as with other precedents, an apology at the highest level for the criminal acts committed against millions of Africans over the centuries of the slave trade. His Holiness the Pope set the example when he visited the slave dungeons of Goree in Senegal in February 1992 when he said:

"From this African sanctuary of black pain, we implore forgiveness from Heaven".

Secondly, there would be the cancellation of the intolerable burden of debt, which has overloaded the economies of Africa and the Caribbean. There are powerful economic and social argurnents for debt cancellation which were most recently deployed by former President Kaunda of Zambia during a visit to Scotland in February 1996. He said of the present state of Africa:

"It is a human tragedy. People are dying by their thousands every day, children are dying. These things bring social disorder to countries".

Thirdly, there would be the return of treasures and works of art which come from the African continent, many of which are to be found in Britain's museums as a result of acts of theft and robbery. I refer, for instance, to the Benin Bronzes in the Museum of Mankind. Fourthly, there would be measures to facilitate the repatriation and resettlement of those who wish to return to Africa. The word "repatriation" has an ugly ring in the mouth of racists who want to drive black people out of Britain. However, it expresses, too, a yearning among many descendants of Africans which is as powerful as was the yearning of the Jewish people for the Promised Land.

Fifthly, there would be a reparations settlement which would involve programmes of development, without strings attached, in Africa, the Caribbean, Brazil and elsewhere, including programmes to promote equal rights and justice within the countries of the West.

As we move to the next millennium, none of us can deny that there is a growing divide between north and south, between black and white, across frontiers and within frontiers. It is in the interests of all of us to recognise that the reasons for that divide lie in a shameful past. If we realise that, we will be on the way to doing something to repair the wrong which was done, even though it may cost heavily in terms of pride and revenue. The steps to be taken will bring a happier world for all our children.

In asking this Question on an issue which may be new and difficult for many of your Lordships, I ask the Government and the Opposition parties for a positive and open-minded response. I believe that this issue will remain with us and will gather momentum. Today's governments and parties are not guilty of fostering the slave trade but they would be responsible if they did nothing to remedy the injustice, the suffering, the poverty and the racism which the slave trade and the institution of slavery inevitably engendered into the present day.

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he tell the House which country first stopped the slave trade?

My Lords, after carrying it on and profiting massively from it, the slave trade was stopped by the nations of Europe. I pay tribute to the ancestor of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce, who played a leading part in stopping the trade. However, no compensation was paid when it was stopped and the unredressed grievance remains with us today.

9.33 p.m.

My Lords, I fear that seldom have so few people come together to do so little. I respect the noble Lord's concern and no doubt your Lordships were enlightened by his exposé of the slave trade, albeit slightly coloured by his attitude to the Question. However, I too wish to point out to the House that Britain was the first country in Europe to stop the slave trade 30 years before it was stopped in America. It is not remotely realistic to start talking about reparations at this stage. Reparations can be dangerous; one only has to think of the Versailles Treaty to realise what reparations brought in their wake. Reparations breed envy and distrust and stir up hatred. Far better is what we have done, which is to give aid to help countries to rebuild their prosperity and future.

Britain has a good record in relation to aid to sub-Saharan African countries. I have looked up some of the figures. I am able to tell the noble Lord that between 1979 and 1995 Great Britain paid out 11,610,000,000 dollars to sub-Saharan Africa. Even the noble Lord, Lord Judd, might agree that that is not just small change; it is a considerable sum of money. Even if a regrettable amount of that goes into the pockets of neo-Marxist military dictators, it is to be hoped that some of it is properly administered and will help the developing countries in Africa.

If the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, is concerned about slavery, perhaps I may suggest that he should direct his energies towards the countries which are still practising slavery today. A number of countries are doing that, including countries which are more developed; for example, India and China.

While I am on the subject of money, as a fully paid-up member of the taxpayers' club, I wonder whether the Minister will tell me how much it has cost to research the answer to this Question which seems to me to be slightly irrelevant in terms of reality. I respect the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Gifford. But is it realistic to talk about reparations when so much has been done by this country and other countries to help Africa? I do not believe that it is. I should like to hear what the noble Lord has to say about that.

I had not intended to thank the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, for asking this Question but I am indebted to him because, looking at the clock, I find that I have missed my train home and I shall claim appropriate reparations by way of an overnight allowance.

9.37 p.m.

My Lords, I am grateful, as no doubt are other noble Lords, for this opportunity to ascertain something of the Government's views on slavery, the slave trade and its consequences, even though I have difficulty with some of the tenor of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gifford.

I declare at once an interest in this subject as a joint president of Anti-Slavery International. I agree with the noble Lord that, in principle, one cannot object to the idea of the concept of compensation to individuals for wrongs which they have suffered. There is certainly no wrong more grievous, after the wronged loss of life, than loss of liberty. There is no doubt that compensation has been paid in certain circumstances to individuals who suffered ascertained wrongs. The noble Lord referred rightly to the compensation to the Jews and the Jewish nation which was directed by Chancellor Adenauer and to the compensation paid by sections of German industry to individual Jewish persons and refugees.

There are other cases. The noble Lord mentioned some. One could mention the situation of the Sudeten Germans who have been individually thought to be entitled to compensation. On the Japanese side, it is true, I believe, that Japanese prostitutes in the course of the war have received compensation for the wrongs they endured.

However, in all those cases one finds unquestioned guilt and unquestionable responsibility of a particular person. In the case of the Jews, it was the German state. There are identifiable victims of the wrong and direct and assessable consequences. I do not find that those conditions are satisfied, or anywhere near satisfied, in the present case.

Of course, there is still slavery in Africa. One notices that the Question refers specifically to compensation to African nations and compensation to be paid by the British Government, but not international compensation to a whole mass of people all over the world.

We know that slavery still exists in Africa and that there is still slave trading in the area. But for neither of those things can the responsibility realistically, fairly or properly be laid on Her Majesty's Government. On the contrary, as the noble Lord, Lord Willoughby de Broke indicated, ever since 1833 when slavery was abolished in the British Empire (which covered a great many of the states of Africa), British governments have striven by law, by force, by use of their navy, by influence and by the expenditure of money, to have slavery abolished in African countries, to stop the trade in human beings, and to mitigate the consequences. The difficulty of assessing the consequences and reparation were adverted to by the previous speaker. I feel sure that the Minister will deal with that view of the matter supported by facts. I am quite happy to leave that aspect of the matter to him.

However, I believe that we should carry the case a little further. For that I believe we are indebted to the noble Lord who tabled the Question. We can perhaps look wider than the precise narrow point outlined by the noble Lord. I shall put my main point very shortly. However good our historical record may be—and I believe it to be a very good one—however much direct responsibility for the existence of slavery and of the slave trade may rest now upon independent states in Africa and elsewhere, however difficult, indeed impossible, it is to assess compensation or reparation, we nevertheless—and this also applies to other western and first world countries—have a very strong moral responsibility now and always to do two things; first, to bring about as far as possible the abolition of slavery wherever it still exists, and, secondly, to do whatever we can both practically and realistically to alleviate the consequences.

On the first task, we know that slavery exists in Africa. There are the known examples of the Sudan, Mauritania and probably Mozambique. It is worth underlining again, with reference to the noble Lord's Question, that, in the case of Mozambique, responsibility there is entirely that of the Portuguese who ruled the country until 1974. We have no conceivable responsibility either directly or indirectly. On the other hand, our duty is a strictly humanitarian one., owed by man to man.

What we have to do and what we can do as regards abolishing slavery is, first, to establish beyond doubt where it exists and in what countries. That means supporting with money directly and indirectly those organisations, of which ASI is one, which are able to do so. We must support the United Nations with influence and money, particularly its working groups and reporters who are charged with ascertaining the facts. Again, we must support with influence and, if necessary, money, the higher organisations in the United Nations which are able to bring about change. For example, in Mauritania slavery still exists, although it was abolished by law in 1980. However, we know that that is not the end of the matter; indeed, it is only the beginning of the story. What is needed to make progress is land reform, education and a new labour system based on liberty, all of which need strong international support and someone to give a lead. I believe that we can fairly look to Her Majesty's Government in that respect.

Above all, we must press—this is something we can do and which we do do—all countries which have not done so to ratify the supplementary convention of 1956. There are many African countries among the non-signatories. So much, very briefly, for taking action to abolish slavery where it still exists. I have rather confined myself to Africa because that was the tenor of the noble Lord's Question.

We have a moral responsibility—I go along entirely with the noble Lord to that extent—to do what we can to mitigate the consequences of slavery, either of pre-existing slavery, as in 19th century economic slavery, or of existing slavery, as it has been in our time. The main consequences which we can identify and which we are in a position to do something about are well known. They are low prices for commodities and the burden of debt, which is itself a form of slavery. This has been referred to, and the noble Lord, Lord Judd, made a persuasive point at Question Time yesterday. The proportion of income from exports that is now needed to pay for debts is impossibly large and is bringing about what is, in effect, a state of economic slavery in many areas. There is also the question of unfair trading, which can be attacked through application of the Uruguay Round. Civil wars which have existed in so many countries, and which still exist in Africa, bring about, inevitably, conditions of slavery, and the consequences of that. I need only mention the Sudan in that connection.

We all know that these consequences of slavery occur. We can see them. I believe that Her Majesty's Government use their influence internationally to mitigate those consequences. I hope that the Minister will comment on the possibility of action to combat those consequences. Often this matter is discussed in the context of self-interest. It is argued that if we attack forms of slavery, that will bring prosperity to us. I have no objection to the argument of self-interest being used; any argument which helps in this connection is welcome. However, I still believe that the case is basically a moral one based on the history of the western powers and their development—if I may use that colourless word—of Africa and its resources in the past. I believe that the case rests on the drawing of boundaries by the western powers which has led inevitably to stress, wars, poverty and under-development. That point was touched on by the noble Lord who tabled the Question.

I wish to reaffirm that I believe that the case for action and any sort of compensation should not be based on guilt, nor on an expedient expenditure of money. We should base the case for giving help on morality. That is entirely in line with the beliefs of the original great reformers. Just west of this House, in Westminster Abbey, there is a bust of Zachary Macaulay, one of the original strong abolitionists. As your Lordships' know, he was governor of Sierra Leone—a colony of freed slaves. The bust is dedicated to a man,
"who during 40 successive years rescued Africa from the woes, and the British Empire from the guilt of slavery and the slave trade".
The case now is not one of guilt but of morality. I commend it as such to your Lordships.

9.48 p.m.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, painted a moving picture of the slave trade, and one cannot argue with the picture he painted. Slavery is an age-old matter. It goes back to the Greeks and the Romans who had slaves on their galleys. Slavery has existed on all continents for as far back as can be recorded. Some people were enslaved by press gangs, or were enslaved after being captured in wars. Others were enslaved as a form of punishment. One must not forget that many slaves were sold into slavery by their parents or by the chiefs of their villages. There is the case of the blacks in the sugar plantations but, as has already been mentioned, slavery has occurred in many countries and people were enslaved in Europe during the past war. It is a phenomenon which is far from confined to the black nations.

As regards compensation, therefore, one has to ask how far it would be proposed to go back in time. The noble Lord suggests that we go back 300 years to the slave trade, and the descendants of those involved. Why not go back 1,000 years to the descendants of the Greeks? Where would it stop? And who would pay compensation? Almost every country was responsible for slavery in those days, including the French, the Spanish and the blacks themselves. Therefore, it is absurd to ask Her Majesty's Government to make reparations for the slave trade.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for giving way. Of course I recognise that if there were a positive answer to this Question that would give a lead to the other European governments which profited similarly. It would be a joint international venture.

My Lords, I appreciate that. However, the suggestion is particularly rich because, as has already been mentioned, the British led the anti-slavery campaign. We can read about Gordon, whose object was entirely anti-slavery. Then there was the struggle for central Africa in the 1880s. Again that was a matter of Europeans going into Africa, and often fighting the Arab slavers who ran the slave trade. A new book entitled The Scramble for Africa paints the whole picture.

The purpose of my speaking was not to go into history but to reinforce the remarks about modern day slavery. We cannot do much about the slavery of old, but we can and we must do something about the slavery that is going on at the moment.

There was a television documentary the other day which showed that, for example, Filipinos were going to Saudi Arabia, having been promised wages. However, when they reached Saudi Arabia their employers took their passports away and they were not paid. If they attempted to escape they were accused of theft, with the obvious consequences if they were found guilty. Slavery of Filipinos in Saudi Arabia is rampant. That is only one example. There are many examples in other countries, which have already been mentioned.

The General Assembly of the United Nations issued a declaration in 1948 about the abolition of slavery, which was fully agreed. However, it has not been implemented by many countries in Africa and in Asia.

All possible action must be taken by the Government to try to stop slavery now. Aid should be restricted to countries where slavery takes place. The Government should bring great pressure on every country where slavery is known to take place even though it may not be legal. It is unacceptable for slavery to be so widespread in 1996.

9.53 p.m.

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, for giving us the opportunity today to speak on a very complicated subject. I agree broadly with a good deal of what the noble Lord said. I agree also with the noble and learned Lord, but I part company with him to some extent on the tone of his speech, and in particular some of the phrases that he used and the way that he ran some of the issues together, although, in view of the constraints of time, I understand why he did that.

I made my maiden speech in this House some 12 years ago, late at night about this time, on the subject of the problems in sub-Saharan Africa. That is a subject about which I know something because for 10 years I had done a good deal of work in East Africa. In that debate I had the great privilege to have as fellow speakers some very distinguished noble Lords, many of whom are not with us today. One in particular, who became a particular friend of mine in this House, was the late and great Lord Pitt of Hampstead. If the noble Lord had been alive today, I am sure that he would have spoken in the debate. He himself was the descendant of a slave. He came from the island of Grenada. My father lived in Grenada for some years. Like many of the inhabitants of that island, Lord Pitt had a particular charm and an easy going nature, but underneath a firm resolve to deal with problems of racism and those of sub-Saharan Africa in which he took a close interest.

I have always taken an interest in history and I knew a certain amount about slavery at that time. However, Lord Pitt introduced me to the works of Eric Williams, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago and perhaps the greatest West Indian historian of his period.

Slavery is a fascinating and at the same time horrifying subject. Apart from the fact of our mercantile growth through slavery over a period of a century or more, one of the great shames is that subsequently in our education in schools so little attention has been paid to slavery as a factor governing the development of this country as we now know it. Barbados was the jewel in the colonial crown at the beginning of the 17th century. One can make a quite clear link between the first importing of slaves from the coast of West Africa into the Caribbean islands, in particular Barbados, and the growth of our mercantile trade and our struggles with other countries which sought to outdo us, through financing the Industrial Revolution to where we find ourselves today. To that degree, I agree absolutely with what the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, said. Where I part company with him is the way in which he has somewhat abbreviated and compressed history.

I agree absolutely that racism has been one of the legacies of slavery. It was not racism that caused slavery, it was economic necessity. Before slaves were taken to Barbados, other West Indian islands and certain colonies in the United States, we used other forms of labour. That has been referred to by other noble Lords. We used petty criminals who had not been condemned for capital offences. We press-ganged—if that is the right word; I believe that it was called "Barbadosing"— vagrants and others who seemed superfluous in our society and bundled them off in ships to the islands where they were to all intents and purposes slaves. Those people were probably treated worse than the slaves themselves because they were there for a limited time and not until perpetuity. The flogging and the misery were suffered as much by those of European origin as by slaves later.

The reason that slavery suddenly developed in our islands was through our race against other nations to develop agricultural products. The great prize of expansion was to replace minerals. There was a great race to develop the sugar crop. Sugar has been and is still the great evil. I have given it up for Lent. Sugar is the crop that perhaps has created the most misery and degradation of all the agricultural crops. It was a luxury product which then became a common product in more advanced countries for sweetening tea and coffee.

The cane sugar plant originally came from Polynesia. It was tried by the Portuguese who first used slaves in Madeira and the Cape Verde Islands. It was then taken by he British to Barbados but it could only be produced in economic quantities with a supply of labour which was robust and relatively docile. The West Africans filled that bill and thus the great triangular trade began which has been accurately referred to by other noble Lords. There was the movement of goods from Britain, Manchester, down to the west coast of Africa, then slaves to the West Indies and then back again with products. That resulted in about 12 million slaves—I am not sure of the figures—in that trade in the 18th century going from West Africa.

I pay tribute to the great reformers. Presumably one of them was the direct ancestor of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce. I must include the Quakers who were persistent opponents of slavery in these islands: the great Joseph Sturge whose descendant, the noble Baroness, Lady Eccles of Moulton, sits in this House today. He was a great and popular Quaker reformer in Bristol.

My Lords, the noble Viscount is interesting and erudite in his history, but I am sure he will accept that it was the Danes who were the first European nation legally to abolish the slave trade. We followed them six years later.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, as I am sure are other noble Lords, for answering a point which was put to him. I do not wish to sound cynical but I am sure that there were reasons other than philanthropic ones for abolishing slavery in this country. When it was abolished, the sugar islands became uneconomic. We hastened the end of slavery because we did not wish competitors to continue in the islands which they held which were still marginally fertile. I agree that it was a hideous crime against humanity which was used for economic reasons. A great deal of wealth was created which had a well-known effect on our history.

Reparation was the main drift of the noble Lord's speech. Whether it is appropriate I do not pretend to know. I look forward with anticipation to what the Minister will tell us. Even having heard the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, it seems to me a complicated area. How does one judge whether reparations are appropriate? How much should they be? What mitigating factors should be taken into account? It has not yet been mentioned that the end of slavery in West Africa caused a great deal of upheaval among African native slave traders and the kingdoms because they made a good deal of profit from the trade. In particular, what is now southern Nigeria and the Bight of Benin, a highly populated part of West Africa, found themselves in a position where they had to go back to old and barbaric ways of thinning out their populations. They were paid compensation by the British in many cases for their loss of revenue from the slave trade. I believe that the experiment in palm oil was an agricultural activity promoted—rather like our groundnut scheme centuries later—in order in some way to try to compensate.

That is a different matter from the reparations to which the noble Lord refers. The way we viewed it was that our reparations should be to compensate those who had helped us. That is where I part company with the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, when he referred to kidnapping. It would have to be taken into account. If we considered reparations, we would have to calculate the amount of co-operation that took place at that time with the African states.

I shall say no more about the history of slavery. I absolutely agree that it is an appalling episode in the history of the world. It can be explained. It is well documented. I do not like to confuse what we were discussing on that night in 1984—namely the proper support of sub-Saharan countries, with the debt that it is proposed we owe either African nations or others for the slavery period. The need for us to take a completely new, more positive and more constructive look at the need to help the development of Africa stands on its own feet.

The situation facing us in 1984 which we all rightly foresaw, of great famines in Africa which have taken place with horrifying consequences and misery to countless numbers of men, women and children, still exists. The only problem now, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, well knows and may mention, is that, since the world has changed and the great imperatives of East-West confrontation have disappeared, the African problem has become somewhat marginalised. The attention of the world has been turned towards central Europe and the Far East. I am much concerned about the development of southern Africa, except of course for the enormously encouraging events that have taken place in South Africa.

There is another reason why I do not absolutely go along with the noble Lord, Lord Gifford. I have worked for a long time in central and eastern Africa. We have the evidence of what has happened with President Mandela, and before him President Kenyatta. In my experience, the African people are immensely forgiving. They have forgiven the indignities that they suffered in recent times. To encourage the kind of attitude of fervent desire for reparation suggested here would go against the grain, certainly among Africans, because it is not in their nature. What we owe to Africans is a renewed and more energetic attitude, and a greater amount of material, constructive and well thought-out aid for sub-Saharan Africa. Perhaps I may also say that that is true for the Caribbean islands as well. There are slightly different problems there.

I see the issues as quite separate. The issues of slavery need to be open and need to be discussed. We need more debates like this. More children need to know more about the history of their country, about what is good and what is bad. They need to face that appalling period.

I still believe, as did Lord Pitt, in a multi-racial society in this country. It is one of the great tragedies of my life that we have not achieved it. Whether we can achieve it going down the road suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, I do not know. I remain to be persuaded.

10.9 p.m.

My Lords, all of us should certainly be grateful to my noble friend Lord Gifford for the opportunity of this short debate this evening. It has been a good little debate. When we are debating slavery we all particularly value the thoughts of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wilberforce.

My noble friend has always championed human rights and colonial freedom. I recall serving under his chairmanship on the British committee for freedom in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea before the revolution against tyranny in Portugal itself, in the days when Portugal was seen by many in this House and the other place as a NATO ally under no circumstances to be criticised and thereby, paradoxically, provoking the extension of Communist influence among those struggling for their freedom in Africa.

My noble friend speaks in the tradition of George Fox, Glanville, Sharp, William Wilberforce, Josiah Wedgwood, Thomas Clarkson and the other determined Quakers, evangelicals and people of principle and vision who achieved the abolition of the slave trade in the Act of 1807 and the abolition of slavery itself in British colonies between 1834 and 1840.

It was a tough, demanding struggle which required unyielding consistency and integrity. Coupled with the courage of those who sought to emancipate the grotesquely exploited working classes, who, although not categorised as slaves, suffered acutely and enjoyed precious little freedom in our own society, it is a powerful lesson to all of us in the age of sound-bite, spin-doctor politics. We should never forget those who devoted themselves to those struggles. More importantly, we should never forget the appalling plight of the slaves and the exploited themselves. The story of slavery goes back for perhaps 10,000 years to the origins of farming itself and the use of prisoners of war on the land; and, as we have been reminded this evening, it continues in many parts of the world today, together with the associated evil of racism, to which my noble friend so powerfully referred.

We should never be tempted to romanticise. Between the 1500s and 1800s, Europeans shipped about 12 million black slaves in hellish conditions from Africa to the western hemisphere. As my noble friend reminded us, nearly 2 million died in transit. Those who survived to reach the United States and other destinations played a major part in economic development, clearing wildernesses, building canals, roads and railways and, to use the term with meaning, slaving away in cotton and sugar plantations, usually more than 16 hours a day.

I hope that I shall be forgiven if, at this point, I quote from Josiah Henson, who wrote of his experience as a field hand. He said that:
"our dress was of tow-cloth … and a pair of coarse shoes once a year. We lodged in log huts … Wooden floors were an unknown luxury. In a single room were huddled, like cattle, ten or a dozen persons, men, women and children … There were neither bedsteads nor furniture … Our beds were collections of straw and old rags … The wind whistled and the rain and snow blew in through the cracks, and the damp earth soaked in the moisture till the floor was miry as a pig-sty".
Slavery was only legally abolished in the United States as a whole in 1865 and in Latin America some 20 years later. I agree with my noble friend; it is sad that there has never been proper reparation for that cruel evil by the exploiters and their advantaged descendants.

If, on all sides of the House, we take an opportunity to pause and reflect on the sober realities and lessons of history, it is not only slavery but colonialism and indeed its aftermath that we have to examine. In some cases, the colonial period fuelled the growth of ethnic tension from which we are still reaping the results today. In Rwanda, for example, under first the Germans and then the Belgians, the minority Tutsi were favoured in terms of education and posts in the colonial administration over the majority Hutu. At independence, the Belgians switched support to the majority Hutu government. Both those factors have been cited by the interesting and somewhat disturbing multi-agency Rwanda evaluation study that is just being published as contributory factors, among many others, which led to the build up of ethnic hatred and the 1994 genocide.

Following their so-called independence, assistance to African countries was often based on Cold War loyalties, with few questions asked about the governance record of the country in question on the basis, I believe, that "It doesn't matter if he is a bastard, provided he is our bastard". Consequently, large amounts of money were "invested" in propping up some fairly dubious regimes. In retrospect, long-term British assistance to the Banda regime in Malawi was almost certainly one such example, although latterly, greatly to the credit of the noble Baroness, the Minister, we froze aid when it became clear just how cruel and repressive that tyranny had become.

It is, frankly, grimly ironic that, in historic terms, so soon after the age of direct or indirect colonialism, we should see freedom again set aside with ruthless unrepresentative oppressive governments in countries like Sudan, Nigeria, the Gambia and, until now, Sierra Leone—though we all pray that in the case of Sierra Leone the elections and peace negotiations may help to pave the way to a better future.

I am sure we would all agree that the thoughts of the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, were particularly interesting. Indeed, he is right. Since the end of the Cold War, sub-Saharan Africa has been of much less strategic importance in the West and, given its limited economic importance, it is increasingly falling off the map of world concern. Declining aid budgets in the United States, Canada, Italy and the United Kingdom reflect declining political support for the principle of development co-operation.

While the Overseas Development Administration's fundamental expenditure review claims to address the problem by proposing to focus 85 per cent. of the bilateral programme on 20 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, I hope the noble Lord opposite will forgive me if I say that there is inevitably strong scepticism—cynicism even—lest that is little more than a smokescreen for managing decline. The Overseas Development Administration's figures demonstrate that, even if the Government moved from 69 per cent. To 85 per cent. being spent in the priority 20 countries over the next two or three years, because country programmes are anyway scheduled to decline over that period the Government would only be able to maintain existing assistance to those 20 countries in cash terms rather than holding it in real terms, let alone increasing it.

In the Caribbean the situation with regard to aid is even worse. The fundamental expenditure review makes it clear that the Caribbean is a non-priority area, despite our historical debt to those islands underlined by the purpose of the debate this evening. The economies of many of those countries are already in peril. Some, having been encouraged by their colonial powers to live off the proceeds of growing a single crop—bananas—now find themselves threatened by the single European market which opens them up to competition from cheaper bananas produced in Latin America. In the face of that, at a time when Britain, as a former colonial power, clearly has a moral duty to assist with diversification, it appears that instead we shall be turning our backs.

The colonial legacy for many African and Caribbean countries has been that the traditional, balanced self-sufficiency, with well-tried coping mechanisms for hard times, has been replaced by over-dependence on a single commodity making them extremely vulnerable to fluctuations in commodity prices on the world market. In sub-Saharan Africa commodities account for 80 per cent. of exports. Between 1980 and 1993 prices for non-oil commodities fell by more than half relative to prices for manufactured goods. The estimated loss to developing countries over that period was 100 billion US dollars—more than twice the total flow of aid in 1990.

Again, Rwanda is a pertinent example. Rwanda is heavily dependent on coffee and the slump in world coffee prices, combined with other factors such as bad weather and economic policies, led to a per capita fall in incomes of 40 per cent. between 1989 and 1993. That hit the Rwandan peasantry particularly hard, increasing social and economic pressure within society—another factor quoted by the multi-agency evaluation report as contributing to the tragic events of 1994.

The conclusion of the last Uruguay Round was held as a triumph which would benefit everyone; everyone, that is, apart from sub-Saharan Africa which, on the basis of OECD figures, will be the only region to be a net loser under the terms of the agreement. Indeed, if we are talking about reparations, what about some compensation to sub-Saharan Africa for what it is going to lose out on under the Uruguay Round?

While no one should deny that adjustment is necessary, the fact remains that the social costs of adjustment in many African countries have been high. Cuts in public expenditure have encouraged the introduction of user fees for basic health and education services, putting them beyond the reach of the poorest sections of society. During the 1980s real per capita spending on education in Africa fell by one-third while two-thirds of the countries in the region also reduced spending on health. Surely it is imperative for essential social spending to be protected in countries undergoing structural adjustment. It is unforgivable that the innocent should be confronted with the bill for the transgressions of irresponsible—frequently selfish—leaders and equally irresponsible lenders in the past. The poor have no access to those foreign bank accounts.

My noble friend emphasised debt. Perhaps nowhere is our legacy to Africa more apparent than in the spiralling debt burdens under which many countries in sub-Saharan Africa are labouring. Uganda spends 17 dollars per person on debt for every three dollars it is able to spend on health. Zambia spent 37 million dollars on primary education from 1990 to 1993 while it spent 1.3 billion dollars on debt repayments. Tanzania spends twice as much on debt as it spends on access to clean water. The human costs of debt are enormous and existing debt release initiatives have done little to solve the problem. Today's report in the .Financial Times about a new initiative, if true, is encouraging. The IMF/World Bank meeting in April really must end the misery by agreeing a comprehensive solution to the debt crisis incorporating bilateral, multilateral and commercial debt suitably funded from within the multilateral institutions themselves, including the use of World Bank reserves and IMF gold stock and special drawing rights aimed at restoring debt repayments to sustainable levels by the year 2000.

Slavery was abolished as the result of inspired and tireless efforts by the campaigners coupled with a growing doubt about its material economic advantages, a point to which the noble Viscount referred. Similarly, I hope that the efforts of those like my noble friend Lord Gifford—and others like him whom we are able to hear more regularly in this House and the other place—coupled with a growing realisation of the unproductive madness of diverting as much as £3 billion annually, directly or indirectly, from bilateral aid programmes intended to promote sustainable long-term development into debt servicing of multilateral debt, will encourage the Government to work relentlessly for a comprehensive strategy for debt reduction at the forthcoming meeting in April of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. That, I believe, would be a practical first step in the direction so powerfully advocated by my noble friend.

10.23 p.m.

My Lords, we all agree that slavery was shameful. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, speaking in Cape Town in September 1994, described slavery as a moral outrage. No one can feel proud about the traffic in human beings, a traffic which is still taking place today, as many noble Lords have said, in various parts of the world, including Africa. Indeed, one of the worst aspects of the slavery of which we read today is the encompassment of child prostitution with it. The Government totally deplore that slavery. I can assure the noble and learned Lord,Lord Wilberforce, and my noble friend Lord Gisborough that the Government are doing whatever they can to see that it is stopped wherever it occurs.

I turn now to the Atlantic slave trade. Attributing responsibility for that is difficult; it is not straightforward. Slavery existed in Africa for centuries before outsiders began to engage in the trade, and continued after they had stopped. Far more people were enslaved internally in Africa than were ever exported across the Atlantic. The first outside slave traders were in fact North African Arabs, plying across the Sahara. That took place at least some seven or eight centuries before the first Europeans began to practise the trade. The Atlantic trade first began by tapping that long-standing trans-Saharan slave trade to North Africa. In East Africa, the trade was almost entirely in the hands of Arabs from Oman and the Gulf. Nor, as has been mentioned, is slavery a monopoly of Africa: it existed in the Greek and Roman empires, and in many other parts of the world.

At the height of the transatlantic slave trade, considerable numbers of African slavers and middlemen were involved. African rulers could open and close the market at will, at a time when European penetration of Africa was limited. Traders made their own arrangements with African rulers for slaves, supplied by fellow Africans, and had to pay gifts and taxes to various African rulers along the West African coast. African societies often had control of the slaves until they were loaded on to European ships. That is supported by a large body of academic research.

To claim that the Atlantic slave trade was imposed by Western nations on powerless African communities is to deny Africa's political history. African leaders were themselves active participants with the capacity to determine how trade with Europe developed. Many of the highly impressive African kingdoms and empires in West Africa were built on the foundations of slavery, such as the Asante kingdom in present-day Ghana.

Africans, Arabs and Europeans participated in the slave trade. Responsibility for British involvement in the transatlantic slave trade does not rest on the shoulders of the British Government. British participation in the trade was not conducted by the Government but by individual traders and companies. After the abolition of the slave trade in 1807, the Royal Navy played an honourable part in suppressing the transatlantic slave trade by maintaining naval patrols off the West African coast. British also drew up anti-slavery treaties with African leaders in an attempt to suppress the slave trade. As was written in the Chronicle of Abuju, written in Hausa by the two brothers of the Emir of Abuja in 1945,
"when the British came, those men who had been earning a rich living by this trade saw their prosperity vanish, and they became poor men".
The case for reparations for slavery rests on the premise that the effects of slavery are still being felt on Africans now living in Africa and the Diaspora. There is no evidence of that. Current historical research has revised the thinking on the numbers involved in the Atlantic trade and its effects on demography and depopulation. The main areas of slaving, for example, in the Niger delta and Benin, are now among the most densely populated parts of Africa. The majority of slaves exported were male and not female, and this has less impact on demography due to the widespread practice of polygamy. A comparison with Europe illustrates that the economic long-term effects of the Atlantic slave trade are often exaggerated. Emigration from southern Europe, particularly from Italy, to the New World between 1880 and 1914 is estimated at about 30 million. The total of the Atlantic slave trade over a far greater period is now generally accepted to number between 20 million and 25 million.

Mention has been made of the growing support for the campaign for reparations for slavery. However, African leaders increasingly accept that many of the economic problems have arisen from policies pursued since independence. As former Nigerian head of state General Obasanjo said in 1991 at the Africa Leadership Forum Conference in Nigeria:
"the major responsibility of our present impasse must be placed squarely on the shoulders of our leaders".
General Obasanjo is currently detained in Nigeria.

Many noble Lords have mentioned the problem of racism, which is an undoubted evil. No one condones it. Any manifestation needs to be fought. To attribute racism to slavery is too simplistic. Racism occurs not just between black and white, but between different ethnic groups all over the world. It is not just a pure black and white problem.

Much has been said about debt relief. We see no linkage between the debts owed by African countries and the legacy of the slave trade. Any practical claim for reparations may serve to undermine the good and widely recognised arguments for reducing Africa's debt burden. The British Government have been active in promoting debt relief for African countries, because such debts constitute a serious obstacle to development.

The British Government have written off the aid debts of 31 of the world's poorest countries to the total value of £1.2 billion. That includes 18 countries in Africa. Additionally, and exceedingly helpfully, for many years all new aid to the poorest countries has been on grant terms so as not to increase their debt burden. The British Government have taken the lead in pressing for solutions to the official bilateral and multilateral debt burdens of the poorest and most indebted countries. At the Paris Club of government creditors, 14 countries benefited from Naples terms' rescheduling.

The British Government have taken the lead also in pressing for action on multilateral debt. At last year's annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank, the Chancellor called upon all international financial institutions to examine further measures to deal with the problems of multilateral debt for the poorest most indebted countries, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. That work is currently under way, and we expect firm proposals at the April 1996 meetings of the World Bank and IMF.

I touched earlier on the responsibility for slavery. I wish to return to that. Arabs, Europeans, Americans and Africans were all directly involved in the trade, but even if it could be decided to whom the bill should be sent, to whom should any proceeds go? Which Africans would benefit and how? Which descendants of slaves living in America, the Caribbean, or the UK should benefit? To whom, incidentally, should the UK send the bill for the naval squadrons that patrolled the waters of West Africa for half a century to prevent the Spaniards, Brazilians and others from slaving long after we had abolished it?

We should remember also the large percentage of slaves who were prisoners of war in ethnic clashes who would otherwise just have been killed.

I return to the subject of aid: 40 per cent. of our bilateral aid (over £386 million in 1994–95) went to countries in sub-Saharan Africa. We also make a substantial contribution through multilateral aid. The EU's aid programme to sub-Saharan Africa from 1990 to 1995 was the equivalent of £7.6 billion. The UK's share of that was £1.25 billion. However, we are quite aware that the poorest countries of sub-Saharan Africa will continue to require substantial amounts of aid. These countries have been, and will continue to be, a high priority for British aid. Many have embarked on structural re-adjustment and policy reform programmes which take time to bear fruit. Their external funding needs are substantial in order to reconstruct their economies and to provide better living standards.

Comment has been made about international precedents. In May 1991 in Lagos Chief Anyaoku, Secretary General of the Commonwealth, devoted an entire speech to the legacy of slavery. However, he stated that, although the moral case was strong, there was no precedent for reparations outside the post-war settlement. The fact that reparations for war crimes have been paid in this century—for example, Germany, Japan and Iraq—is a red herring. It provides no historic parallel. They were among the terms for peace imposed at once by victors in the wars upon vanquished governments and could be precisely catalogued.

The noble Lord, Lord Gifford, mentioned the Queen's apology to the Maoris. Her Majesty's apology to a New Zealand Maori tribe for the killings and seizure of land that it suffered under Queen Victoria was at the instigation of her New Zealand Ministers; in other words, the New Zealand Government, which is constitutionally distinct from the British Government. It was not a personal apology from the Queen. It was an acknowledgement of the breach of the treaty signed in 1840. The situation is therefore entirely different. It was not a question of slavery but one of the possession of land resulting from war.

The noble Lord, Lord Judd, surprisingly mentioned the fundamental expenditure review. He is aware, as are all noble Lords, that every government must balance the many public expenditure priorities and demands. The ODA's job is to ensure that the resources allocated to development are spent well and make a real difference to the lives of poorer people. The FER concluded that development assistance has, by and large, been effective and there is a continuing need for Britain to provide concessional aid. It reaffirmed both the moral argument for this country being involved in the development effort and that of enlightened self interest. The Government agree.

Lord Judd : My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. If he is drawing on the substance of the fundamental expenditure review, would he not agree that virtually in words of one syllable the authors of that review questioned whether the resources of our aid programme were now sufficient to meet the commitments which have been undertaken?