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Refugees

– in the House of Lords at 7:57 pm on 18th June 2002.

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Photo of The Earl of Sandwich The Earl of Sandwich Crossbench 7:57 pm, 18th June 2002

My Lords, I am grateful to the House for allowing time for this debate and I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box.

This short debate, which falls in refugee week, is not intended to be a rehearsal for Monday's Second Reading of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill. I shall address only one aspect of that Bill: the intended overseas gateway for genuine refugees. The prospects for the genuine refugee have become progressively worse than they were seven years ago—before the previous two asylum Acts. That is both despite and because of improvements that make us now one of the fairest asylum regimes in the world.

The genuine refugee—in case anyone has lost sight of that unfortunate person—is someone who has suffered persecution under the terms of the 1951 convention and is therefore entitled to claim asylum in the countries that are signatories. We know that the number of asylum seekers has increased drastically since then, mainly because of conflict, globalisation and trafficking. That has meant more congestion in the courts, more competition at the port of entry—Sangatte being the latest nightmare for all concerned—and, worst of all, a more hostile environment for refugees. In the words of writer Jeremy Harding:

"Refugees have begun to look like beggars at the gate, or even thieves".

That is a terrible indictment. In the media and on the street, genuine refugees are now accused of all sorts of crimes that they have not committed. Cases of assault, theft, fraud and violence committed in our cities are being laid at the door of refugees. I know personally of a case in which a criminal gang from Europe routinely comes over to break into cashpoints.

So the old question remains: how can we distinguish the genuine refugees from the bogus one, and especially from young migrants—known to be mainly in their 20s and 30s—who are genuinely seeking a new life but see a new opportunity as asylum seekers which both this Government and the previous one have provided.

There are many grey areas. There are asylum seekers with genuine claims entering illegally via Sangatte, often because they are in the hands of agents or they have succumbed to trafficking. We can all understand the motivation of migrants who claim asylum. Anyone in Zimbabwe without a UK passport, for instance, who has no direct evidence of persecution is in precisely that situation. But we cannot support that under asylum legislation.

This is not a contentious subject. All of us would like to find ways of distinguishing refugees from illegal immigrants right at the outset of their journey. Indeed, the Government have recognised this in the new Bill. During the Standing Committee, Mrs Angela Eagle expressed a general concern that at the moment people cannot enter the country legally to claim asylum.

Accordingly, the Bill is making a modest start by means of the new Clause 47, which is the proposal for a resettlement programme. While I welcome this, it is still far too modest a scheme and looks suspiciously like window dressing. This is why we must scrutinise what the Government are doing. Instead, we need a more vigorous approach which demonstrates the Government's determination to identify the genuine refugee. At present, Ministers are pointing at the "gateway" rather like the stable door after the horse has bolted. We need this approach urgently, and we need it now.

The gateway schemes are usually linked with Jack Straw's speech as Home Secretary during the Lisbon conference of 16th June 2000, when he said:

"It is unacceptable for genuine refugees to have to wait years for a decision. And it is unacceptable for taxpayers to have to bear for a prolonged period the cost of supporting asylum applicants who do not qualify for refugee status".

He then went on to stress the need to move towards the common system agreed in Tampere. He listed the shortcomings of the 1951 convention, arguing that any EU harmonisation is bound to lead to a new interpretation of the convention, although he said that this must be done without jeopardising its core principles. We would all support that.

Other noble Lords may wish to take up the European question during Second Reading. In the past two years there has been little progress and many are becoming exasperated and calling for a bilateral agreement with France. I cannot see how this week's meeting in Seville will achieve very much more, but I hope that I am wrong and that the Minister will put me right.

I am concerned now, however, with the last part of Jack Straw's speech, when it came to his world view of migration—a view which is hardly ever heard from a Home Secretary in a national or even a European context. This is why I am recalling it today. He acknowledged that the "burden" of asylum—which is a contentious phrase—falls more heavily on developing countries. He went on to say:

"We should therefore approach the issue from a world, and not an exclusively northern hemisphere perspective. We need to do all that we can, through the United Nations and more directly, to bolster and support states around the world who receive these major influxes—dealing with them, whenever possible, primarily as regional problems . . . And we need to look more deeply at the underlying causes of migration . . . Could we not find a more rational approach to providing protection? I believe the time has come for an international debate".

Two years have passed. I wonder whether the present Foreign Secretary still holds these optimistic views, let alone the present Home Secretary, or whether he believes that this international debate is really taking place. Perhaps the Minister will say what has happened to the EU High Level Working Group, for example, which was to examine all the dimensions of migration and of which much was expected two years ago. There is a real risk that the world—or Europe at least—is turning inwards and looking to its own frontiers, stemming the tide of asylum more like the Dutch boy in the dyke than the statesmen of Europe.

But let us look at the positive side, the gateways, starting with the plan to resettle refugees in the UK. The idea of resettlement quotas has been around for decades. I remember discussing it with NGOs and embassies in Hong Kong and Bangkok at the time of the Vietnamese boat people. The scheme proposed in Clause 47 has been used for many years by the United States and Canada—which received significant numbers—and the Scandinavian countries.

When do the Government plan to start this scheme, which is long overdue? What numbers will be involved? It should not be a token number like 500, as we see in White Paper; it should be a recognised EU gateway for the tens of thousands already processed by the UNHCR. It is easy now to forget the time when encouragement of refugees was a right and a necessity rather than a luxury. Could not this scheme's success send a positive message to all asylum seekers who have Sangatte luggage labels, or do the Government fear, as some do, that the scheme may be too successful and that the gateway will too quickly be seen as the more legitimate route to asylum?

When I first read the Lisbon speech two years ago I was under the impression that there would be regional gateways to Britain all over the world. Is it too much to hope that the embassies will be able to interview asylum seekers in the care of the United Nations who might otherwise face the appalling risks and costs of a journey to the port of entry? After all, we are now going to see gateways for skilled migrants for agreed periods, with welcome signs in Delhi or Islamabad saying "Doctors this way", and advertisements in Kampala and Nairobi saying, "Accountants are needed". Why not refugees? They have skills.

Do the Government deliberately intend to attract genuine refugees within their managed migration policy, or are they to wait in their own long queue which, in the end, leads to despair, to frustration and, quite possibly, as I have already mentioned, to crime? I am not describing periods of emergency where there is a perceived aim of temporary resettlement, as happened successfully in Kosovo. I am referring to acute personal situations where there is a recognised need for evacuation and resettlement, probably on a permanent basis.

Jack Straw's speech went even wider than this. It referred to the identification of countries and ethnic groups "facing a high level of persecution", in contrast to "safe countries". The Home Office has run into trouble over white lists and safe countries already and may not wish to pursue this, but I should be grateful if the Minister could say how far this idea has progressed. My noble friend Lord Listowel will ask about the precise role of the Department for International Development in supporting countries of first asylum.

There are many questions which I know the Government cannot yet answer. It is to their credit that they are exploring them, but we do need the answers. I know that they want to restore confidence in the asylum system. I wish them well in their efforts this week to achieve a European solution. But I believe that one way forward is to place greater emphasis on applications from genuine cases well beyond the gateways of Europe. I hope that the Minister will show how this is being done as a matter of urgency.

Photo of Lord Judd Lord Judd Labour 8:08 pm, 18th June 2002

My Lords, I am sure I speak for others in congratulating the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, on initiating this important debate and on the way in which he introduced it. It is characteristic of his contributions to the House.

The debate is timely because next week the Second Reading of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill will take place. I am extremely frustrated because it clashes with a sitting of the Procedure Committee at which I shall have to be present. Ten days or two weeks later we shall then have the Committee stage, and again I shall be frustrated because my responsibilities in the Council of Europe mean that I shall probably be in Chechnya. There is a big problem in Chechnya with those who are, if not technically and legally refugees, displaced people, with which the Council of Europe is trying to grapple.

It is also timely because, as the noble Earl reminded us, this is refugee week. Today, the Refugee Council has brought out an extremely interesting publication, Credit to the Nation. We might well have taken as our text for the debate today a quotation contained in that publication from the Conservative MP, Lord Malmesbury, in 1852, who said:

"I can well conceive the pleasure and happiness of a refugee, hunted from his native land, on approaching the shores of England, the joy with which he first catches sight of them; but they are not greater than the pleasure and happiness every Englishman feels on knowing that his country affords the refugee a home and safety".

That is a telling text for our deliberations this evening.

In its publication the Refugee Council very effectively tells the story of the immense cultural and economic contribution that waves of refugees have made to this country. As regards numbers, the report contains some interesting statistics. It talks, for example, of the 150,000 Protestant refugees who came from the Spanish Netherlands and France between 1560 and 1700. It talks about the 200,000 Jewish refugees who came from Poland, Russia, Austria and Rumania between 1880 and 1914. It talks about the Belgians during the Second World War; the refugees in the run-up to the Second World War from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia; Basque refugee children; Polish refugees; the refugees fleeing Nazism; refugees from Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Rumania during the Cold War, and so on. All this helps to put our present preoccupations very much in perspective.

The point that I want to make in the brief time available is that it is important to have a perspective and to see our present situation against the historical background. As I have said, this has resulted in very important contributions to the well-being of this country, and indeed has led to refugees and their offspring playing an important part in the other place and in this House.

I want to dwell for a moment on public attitudes. Notwithstanding the sensationalism of the press, there is a great deal of research to suggest that the general public in Britain are infinitely more enlightened about refugees and what causes people to become refugees than the popular press might suggest. They understand persecution, war, suffering and torture.

The one issue on which the general public is extraordinarily ill informed is the numbers. These have somehow been inflated in the public perception beyond all reality, sometimes by a factor of 10. It seems to me that this places a heavy responsibility on government information to ensure that the facts regarding the numbers are understood—just as it places a heavy responsibility on the media: how can a free society and democracy work if the media, which are the lifeblood of the democratic system in terms of the quality of information available, are deliberately and sensationally distorting the realities?

Whether we are talking about immigration in general—and one cannot disentangle the refugee situation from the general challenges of immigration—we must recognise that it is impossible for the United Kingdom to solve the problem on its own. There must be effective international agreements. But they must be global agreements. For example, there is much talk about the need for a European Union policy. But do we ask ourselves what a European Union policy will do for countries immediately outside the European Union which may find their challenges and their problems greatly accentuated by the "fortress European Union" approach? The responsibility must be global in the way we approach this matter.

Finally, as with immigration policy in general, I fear that in refugee policy we are too concerned about the dangers from the extreme Right. We are told that we have to listen to people; we must be seen firmly to be managing a situation because people are anxious. But I put it to the House that one of the reasons for the upsurge of the extreme Right has been a failure of leadership and a failure of determination to present the challenges. We cannot do it all ourselves. But there is world of difference between seeing refugees and the whole issue of human rights associated with refugees as an unfortunate inheritance from a post-Second World War era—an approach that we want to try to minimise in its implications for us practically—and seeing them as a challenge which we are determined to do our best to answer, together with other nations which share our philosophy.

Photo of Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Conservative 8:14 pm, 18th June 2002

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Judd—whom I thank for his moving quotation from Lord Malmesbury—I, too, am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for tabling this Unstarred Question for purposes of clarification of a subject that we do not often have the chance to discuss in measured tones.

I must confess to the House that when I believed that this debate would take place in the dinner hour I arranged for a guest to arrive to dine with me at 8.30. I shall seek to stay to the end of the debate, but I ask your Lordships' forbearance if I have to leave the Chamber at 8.30 to organise my guest's welfare.

I shall deal with resettlement first, as it seems more germane as a vehicle for genuine refugees than managed migration. I do of course realise that some genuine refugees, as the noble Earl suggested, may still make use of the latter method referred to in his Question.

I have my own understanding of how Her Majesty's Government propose internationally to run their resettlement programme with the co-operation of the UNHCR, and it seems at first blush thorough. I understand that the admirable purposes that it is intended to fulfil are both positive in the interests of individual refugees and defensive against the traffickers.

The Government have provided an assurance that the programme will be additional to current asylum procedures, and there only remains the question adduced by Oxfam, the Refugee Council and the Commission for Racial Equality as to whether there is any possibility of refugees seeking asylum by other means being differently regarded, as I fear may be the case with Afghans in Australia. I did myself once see an Afghan in Broken Hill in 1959, but he had of course come in to Australia through 19th century managed migration long before there was a white Australia policy. I hope that shall hear a firm statement on this aspect from the Minister when he replies.

I also welcome the fact that the Refugee Council looks forward to contributing to more detailed proposals by drawing on its extensive experience of previous refugee programmes, including Chile, Vietnam, Bosnia and Kosovo.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, managed migration seems more marginal towards genuine refugees, but I have three questions after I have welcomed, first, the creation of a one-stop shop in the OLS to stamp passports for in-house applications and, secondly, the pilot scheme for multinational companies to issue their own permits for senior employees transferring to the UK from within their own organisations. From long experience as a constituency MP, I can say that these are good modifications or concessions.

My first question on managed migration arises from the fact that 67,000 work permits were granted in 2000, which rose to 104,000 in 2001—a rise of more than 50 per cent in a year. What kind of scale of future rise do the Government envisage, especially given that the maximum length of a work permit is rising from four years to five?

My second question, which I infer a priori does not relate to genuine refugees, is the practice to which the Professional Contractors Group has drawn attention, of firms circulating skilled people through this country on a six-month cycle in order to save employment obligations. In other words, they are not so much responding to skills shortages as effecting skills replacements.

My final question has a global implication. It relates to the precise rules concerning students not returning home after their studies—which strikes me as being inherently unfriendly to their country of origin given the terms on which their student visa was originally granted.

Photo of The Bishop of Hereford The Bishop of Hereford Bishop 8:18 pm, 18th June 2002

My Lords, I, too, want to express my thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for introducing the debate. Generally speaking, I welcome the Government's White Paper—it is a qualified welcome perhaps, but in general terms a welcome—and I am sorry that I shall be unable to be present for the Second Reading on Monday.

The terms of the Unstarred Question invite comment on the notion of managed migration and the notion of genuine refugees and on the background issues that we have to bear in mind. Managed migration can bring considerable benefits to the United Kingdom, as the White Paper states, including improvements in economic growth and productivity, as well as cultural enrichment and diversity. But to quote the White Paper, "managing" migration properly means having an orderly, organised and enforceable system of entry. It also means managing post-entry integration and inclusion in the economy and society, helping migrants to find their feet and enabling members of the existing population to welcome them into their communities. Those are big issues.

"Managed migration" by definition is primarily work-related, but it also needs to provide for asylum-related migration, which is by definition unpredictable and demands flexibility, imagination, compassion and a willingness to act quickly when circumstances demand that.

Among the background issues to this whole sphere of debate are enormously changed global patterns of migration, which the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, mentioned. Perhaps we ought also to look forward to the time when, certainly within two generations if not within one, there will be millions of ecological migrants caused by rising sea levels and the effects of climate change. These are issues to do with migration that have hardly begun to impinge on people in the northern hemisphere.

There are important issues to do with the relationship between good management of migration policy and the need for responsible policies of deterrence for those who are simply frivolous or self-interested or who have sadly fallen into the hands of unscrupulous traffickers.

There is the role of the private sector, particularly in connection with integration, of the voluntary agencies and of the faith communities. I hope that the faith communities will not simply be used in an ambulance role, as has been the case in certain instances in the recent past.

There is considerable need for managed migration to include provision not only for those with specific skills which we need and want in this country, but also for those prepared to undertake unskilled work where chronic vacancies exist in our economic system.

There is the problem of the Home Office assessment of countries from which genuine refugees are coming. It is still a very hit and miss process, and it is often not very quick to spot changes that are coming to pass in other countries—notably, for example, in recent times in Zimbabwe.

Generally speaking, however, the Board for Social Responsibility of the Church of England welcomes the Government's intention to establish legitimate forms of economic migration into the United Kingdom and believes that such a system will actually help to reduce the number of those seeking to come into this country by illegal means. We shall have to bear in mind and monitor carefully what any highly skilled migration programme will mean for the countries from which migrants come.

The White Paper highlights overseas remittances as a benefit of economic migration for developing countries, and of course that it true. However, Clare Short, the Secretary of State for International Development, recently said that it would be,

"outrageous if countries like the UK just go out unselectively to recruit the skilled people they need regardless of the need of the country concerned".

I am not quite sure how we will manage that aspect of managed migration. However, there is clearly a need to balance the needs of the country of origin, the individual's professional and personal aspirations and the needs of the country to which they hope to come.

The Board for Social Responsibility of the Church of England is very glad to see in the White Paper proposals to establish a national refugee integration forum, which through its working groups could assist in identifying practical solutions to enabling successful applicants to rebuild their lives and play a full part within the community, and recognises that that type of rebuilding and integration will need to take place with partnership. The board therefore hopes very much that the Government will bear in mind the extensive networks belonging to the Churches and the faith communities which could be effectively deployed to help integration schemes such as the mentoring scheme outlined in the White Paper.

The most important point the Churches would want to make in relation to this brief debate is that, warmly as we welcome a more coherent scheme of management for clearly defined categories of immigrants—I have tried to say that I think that those will be very different categories—we underline the need for a readiness to act quickly and compassionately in response to urgent and unpredictable demands for asylum by genuine refugees, and that this action may well be quite different from anything that can be provided by even the most wise and carefully laid management plan.

Photo of Lord Parekh Lord Parekh Labour 8:24 pm, 18th June 2002

My Lords, following the noble Lords before me, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for initiating this extremely important debate. He has an excellent record of work in this area and we are all indebted to him for it.

Given the current state of the world, it is obvious that more and more people from the poorer and war-stricken parts of the world should be desperate to enter the affluent parts of the West. Some want to escape persecution; others want to escape acute poverty. As all research shows, really poor people generally do not migrate; they simply do not have the resources, or the resourcefulness, or the contacts. As for the skilled professional classes, they either do not need to migrate because their countries can look after them, or they are eagerly sought after by the affluent West.

The potential pool of migrants generally consists of young people with some skill—but not very high skills—and some resourcefulness who see no hope for themselves in their countries. Although their number is large, it is not too large and too unmanageable. Obviously we cannot take them all in and need to develop a sensible and humane policy. The Government are beginning to move in the right direction, but I think that they need to go a little further. I suggest that we need to develop a humane and just immigration and asylum policy based on the following four principles.

First, I greatly welcome the Government's programme for highly skilled migrants. We desperately need such people. I also welcome the working holidaymakers scheme and the plan to open it up to non-white immigrants from the Commonwealth countries. About 40,000 people are admitted under it, and they are allowed to work in Britain for up to two years. I also welcome the plans to expand the seasonal agricultural workers scheme and to extend it to other parts of agricultural industry and to other non-agricultural industries such as hospitality and construction. This should increase the current number of workers from about 20,000 to almost double that number. All this should open up more routes to those who want to come to work here.

Secondly, when determining the claims of asylum seekers, we need to take into account not only the likelihood of persecution but also desperate economic circumstances. People die when they are tortured as well as when they starve. There is nothing wrong in being an economic migrant. Many of us who are now happily settled here in Britain were once economic migrants. Thousands whom we have accepted in the past were economic migrants and the country has greatly benefited from them. I suggest therefore that we should operate with a wider set of criteria than we seem to do at present. Individuals may not be physically persecuted, but deliberately starved or denied jobs or denied means of survival. These are all forms of persecution, although they are indirect in nature, and their victims have a legitimate claim to our help.

Thirdly, when people come to our doorstep they deserve to be treated humanely and their basic human rights must be respected. That is the point that we have constantly made on the Select Committee on Human Rights, and our report on the government Bill points out where there is a danger of these human rights being violated. We are obligated to respect human rights because of our treaty obligations as well as because we are signatories to international human rights conventions.

If the claims of asylum seekers turn out to be untenable, they should certainly be sent back; on this there can be no compromise. Nor can we allow criminal gangs to traffic in human beings. They must be tracked and smashed. However, it is extremely important that when asylum seekers come to our doorstep their claims should be fairly assessed and they should have a proper right of appeal. They have basic human rights and these can never be forfeited even if their claims turn out to be untenable. If some of them have untenable claims, we should not treat them as a dangerous nuisance to be quickly jettisoned. If they cannot be returned to a safe country, we should take a humane view of them. If they have stayed here long enough or have friends and ethnic support, we should take this into account. We should not in any case put them up in places unfit for human beings or which are likely to be sources of violence and disorder.

Finally, just as we cannot deal with terrorism without tackling the deeper economic and political causes of terrorism, we cannot tackle unwanted migration without addressing its deeper and real causes. Those causes are undeveloped economies and political instability. We must therefore make sure that we do nothing, consciously or subconsciously, that destabilises poor societies or foments ethnic strife. I am afraid that in that respect our best record has not always been honourable.

Above all, we should increase aid to those countries, offer them better trade agreements than we have done so far, build up their economic infrastructures, and not use the IMF and World Bank to impose untenable and unworkable programmes of economic reforms, many of which are partly responsible for causing a flux of asylum seekers. My own limited research suggests that at least a quarter of asylum seekers come from countries for whose sorry plight we bear at least some responsibility.

In short, our immigration and asylum policies should be guided by three fundamental principles: first, national interest; secondly, moral obligations to those who have not done as well as we have; and, thirdly, the spirit of humanity and respect for human rights. In other words, we want a morally tempered but realistic immigration and asylum policy, administered in a spirit of charity.

Photo of Lord Hylton Lord Hylton Crossbench 8:31 pm, 18th June 2002

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Sandwich for giving us the opportunity to have this debate. I trust that the Government will give us a very positive reply and not just say that managed migration and resettlement, in conjunction with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, depends, first, on new legislation and, secondly, on the provision of extra funds.

If joint plans for reception can be made with the UNHCR, this country will be seen to be taking, or at least trying to take, a fair share of the world's refugees. We will also receive genuine refugees, who have been pre-assessed. That will avoid the need for elaborate and costly assessments and appeals in the United Kingdom. Such a method would save much time and expense. If it could be applied, for example, to France—let us say in Paris—and there the UNHCR could shortlist genuine refugees who have good reasons for wanting to settle in England, many attempts at illegal entry through the tunnel or in small boats, with consequential deaths and disruption to freight traffic, might be prevented.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, I mention three principles that should guide us in considering both immigration and asylum. They are knowledge of the English language, close family relationships and connection with Britain.

It goes without saying that knowledge of English is the key to employability and integration into society. In the case of fiancees and spouses wishing to join people already settled here, priority could be given to English speakers. Provided that they have enrolled on an English course, grants might be made to those who do not speak English but are nevertheless admitted. A special situation would arise for people applying to enter in order to become leaders of religious communities. They will need to understand the local contexts in which they have to work and be able to communicate with other communities and authorities. For those reasons, it should be a condition of entry that they have at least a working knowledge of spoken English. Looking now to cases of asylum and exceptional leave to remain, a knowledge of English could be the deciding factor in borderline cases, and there are bound to be such cases.

Already, for many years the great majority of non-citizens admitted from overseas have been close family relatives. That is absolutely right and proper. It strengthens family units, which is declared government policy, and accords with the European Convention on Human Rights. I should like to see family reunion written into the new Bill, perhaps on the lines of the existing Canadian legislation of 1978. The principle of family reunion will, of course, embrace both ordinary immigration and asylum issues.

The third principle, which I mentioned earlier, is in connection with this country. That concept goes much wider than family ties. Some individuals may have spent time here, thus acquiring friends, or they may have been educated here. Alternatively, they may now be able to point to the existence of an ethnic, religious or linguistic community in this country that is able to give support and acceptance to the newly-arrived immigrant or asylum seeker. Community support of that kind can make an otherwise painful reorientation very much easier. We have seen that process in action with Irish, Indian, African and Kurdish communities, to name but a few.

I commend these principles to the Government. I wish the Government well in their efforts to achieve a common European definition of a refugee and a real improvement on the existing Dublin Convention. I urge them to be bold with the new domestic legislation and, above all, to present both immigration and asylum to the public in the positive light that it deserves.

In conclusion, I pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. Will the Government, even at this late stage, give a lead that counters the vicious prejudices that have dominated the tabloid press for so long?

Photo of Lord Taylor of Warwick Lord Taylor of Warwick Conservative 8:36 pm, 18th June 2002

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for initiating this debate.

It was Samuel Taylor Coleridge—sadly, not a relative—who said,

"In politics, what begins in fear usually ends in folly".

Much of the political rhetoric concerning asylum and immigration has historically been motivated by fear—fear of the foreigner, fear of those who look or sound different. But, in principle, I view these proposals as a mature, albeit modest, step forward. They appear to recognise the basic fact that the United Kingdom has a skills shortage and needs to attract, rather than repel, migration. Of course, the success of this policy will depend on the detail.

I also welcome the more constructive tone now adopted on these issues by the Conservative Party, in particular by Mr Oliver Letwin, the shadow Home Secretary. His intelligent comments have brought light rather than heat to the ongoing debate.

The mood of the nation has recently been lifted by two events. The Queen's Golden Jubilee and the World Cup festivities have caused a resurgence of the Union flag and the Cross of St. George. For some years, those national emblems have been hijacked by the far Right. I am delighted that the nation has reclaimed those symbols for its proper use.

It is also an inspiration to see black Englishmen, such as Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole, Emile Heskey, Trevor Sinclair, Darius Vassell, Kieron Dyer, David James and Wes Brown all helping the England soccer team to glory in the World Cup—not forgetting Nasser Hussain, captain of the victorious England cricket team, and thousands more from the ethnic minority communities who are not famous but who contribute to the nation's prosperity.

With regard to the proposals themselves, I have to declare an interest. One of the companies that I chair, Warwick Communications, advises private and public sector organisations on diversity issues. Racial diversity opens a window to the world. Through migration, the United Kingdom can continue to compete in the global market place. Managed migration will help to build bridges, not walls, between races.

There is little evidence that host workers suffer by losing jobs to migrants. On the contrary, migrants create new business and fill labour market gaps. However, migration must never become a substitute for other policies concerning skills, education and training. Moreover, it seems sensible that migrants should be proficient in English and have some understanding of our constitution.

As to the principle of refugee resettlement into the United Kingdom, that is also a positive step. But I agree with organisations such as Oxfam, the Refugee Council and the Commission for Racial Equality that resettlement must not be used as a way of undermining the rights of many asylum seekers who claim protection from persecution under the current asylum procedure. Resettlement should be additional to, not a replacement of, the asylum procedures. The asylum system itself must be improved by resolving cases far more quickly. Justice delayed is justice denied. I am not convinced that large camps in rural areas are the answer.

There is also an important ethical point. Taking skilled workers such as doctors and nurses may harm the development of poorer countries. That must increase the moral obligation of richer nations like ours to tackle issues such as third world debt and international trade, including the arms trade.

The information superhighway can transport facts, ideas and opinions across all racial and cultural divides within seconds. The only barrier it cannot penetrate is the closed heart. Those who totally oppose—and there are some—a sensible migration and resettlement policy need to understand one thing: the same fence that they would use to shut others out will shut them in.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench 8:41 pm, 18th June 2002

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Sandwich for providing us with the opportunity to debate managed migration. I shall concentrate my remarks on Jack Straw's speech in Lisbon two years ago and his comments on the need to improve conditions in the regions of origin. But before I do so, I should like to say a word or two about genuine refugees.

Through UNICEF and Centrepoint I have had the privilege of making the acquaintance of a few young people; for example, a young woman from Sierra Leone whose sister had been murdered by the rebel armies and a young man from Sierra Leone who had been abducted and kept in the jungle for several months. I have met other young people; for example, a young man from Afghanistan who had taken a photograph, I believe at the age of 14, of two members of the Taliban bullying an elderly woman. He was then knocked to the ground by the butts of their rifles. When they went to his home they found more film of a similar kind. It is important to bear in mind such young people.

I had the pleasure over several months of getting to know a young man from Kosovo. He exhibited quite clearly vulnerability, the potential to make a real contribution to a society and also the stress that asylum seekers can put on our overstretched services in London and the South East. He was an extraordinary young man. When we used to play chess together he usually beat me. At the end of the game he knew exactly what to say to make me feel better about losing. He usually said something along the lines of, "I so enjoyed playing with you". That did not in the least come across as patronising as it was so genuine coming from him. He was always immaculately turned out and well coiffed. He lived in a hostel.

There is a shortage of accommodation—and was particularly at that time—for these young people. Consequently, that young man lived in an emergency hostel for at least two months when the normal stay was about 10 days. He found it difficult to sleep at night. There was no quiet place in the hostel. The television room and the dining room were noisy. The young people were not allowed into the bedrooms until shortly before the bedtime hour. However, he was always polite towards me and always generous towards his fellow residents in the hostel. He had a mobile phone which he was happy to lend to other residents to play games on. The young man's father was a teacher in his home country. Perhaps he blurs into an economic migrant. I am not sure what were his reasons for coming to this country in the first place. He had extended leave to remain. But perhaps by the end of his stay he could have returned to his home country. However, I believe that he very much wanted to establish a family in this country and to train to work with computers. I know that if he did so, he would be a great contributor to our society.

Such young people are vulnerable. They are alone and young in this country. They are susceptible to other people, perhaps in the hostel, who are not perhaps the best influence, and to other asylum seekers who are not perhaps the best influence. They are separated from their families and susceptible to those people. I hope that it is helpful to remember the genuine refugees.

I should like to discuss now trying to tackle the roots of the problem, as many other speakers have done, and of looking with vision to the global issues beyond our immediate concerns in this country. I should like to give an example. I have an information briefing paper from DfID on what it has been doing over the past four years in the Balkans. The document states:

"UK bilateral assistance to the Balkans over the last four years has been £153 million humanitarian aid and £62 million technical and financial assistance. The UK share of EC assistance over the same period was £1 billion".

United Kingdom assistance has been central in levering up an international aid effort in the Balkans that has had significant impact on stabilising the region, meeting immediate needs and laying the foundations for longer-term development.

The document continues by stating that four years ago,

"Kosovo was under federal military control and Kosovar Albanians were excluded from government and public service . . . There were 600,000 displaced persons and refugees across the region".

The document further states that two years later,

"750,000 Kosovar Albanians had resettled in Kosovo after being forcibly expelled in March 1999".

I see that I have come to the end of the time that is allotted to me to speak. That document provides a good example of what can be achieved with the right intervention. I should be grateful if the Minister could say what more DfID is doing on those lines.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 8:48 pm, 18th June 2002

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, on introducing the debate. It has been fascinating listening to so many experts in this field. I am not an expert on immigration. I became interested in the subject as a result of the problems of what might be called clandestines, asylum seekers or illegal immigrants that arise at Calais with regard to Channel Tunnel rail freight. I am afraid that I have on occasions bored your Lordships with that subject. I declare an interest as chairman of the Rail Freight Group.

Progress has been made as regards Channel Tunnel rail freight after the French elections and there are grounds for hope for rail freight. However, I have concerns about the effect on genuine refugees which I should like to explore. The biggest problem at Calais, and that with the highest profile, has been caused by those who might be called economic migrants who are generally organised by gangs who arrange their passage flexibly and fast. They encourage their "customers" to seek out any chink in the armour surrounding the British Isles, usually at a cost of several thousand pounds. The migrants are told to tear up any documentation or identification they have on the way across so that they cannot immediately be returned to France under the terms of the Dublin Convention. Most of them have the phone number of a human rights lawyer and one or two are actually accompanied by them in case they get into any trouble. Of course, as your Lordships know, many hundreds enter the country every week. That has had a disastrous effect on Channel Tunnel rail freight, but one should not forget the appalling effect that it has also had on the communities around Calais, Folkestone and Dover.

My concern is that the welcome attempt of the two Governments to deal with the problem may not take into account sufficiently the needs of the genuine asylum seeker. I am no great expert on the business of seeking asylum under the Geneva Convention, but I have listened with interest to many debates in your Lordships' House. However, I do not believe that many such asylum seekers have the money to pay gangs several thousand pounds to come here or that they have a friendly British Embassy in which they can claim asylum and not be attacked on their way out. Can one imagine that occurring in Harare recently if someone had happened to oppose Mr Mugabe? The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has just given us some moving examples of such cases in other countries. Those people would probably be beaten up if they got out at all.

My question is: realistically how can people apply for asylum without entering this country apparently illegally? My concern is that, by stopping the economic migrants, which, to a large extent, I consider to be necessary, the genuine asylum seekers will not be able to enter the country and will not know how to do so. I believe that there needs to be a more equitable process for fulfilling our humanitarian and legal obligations in relation to this category of people while keeping out those whom we may not want.

One suggestion would be to arrange some type of processing in a third, safe, country, which, in my limited experience, might be France. It does not have to take place at Sangatte; it could occur elsewhere. But I hope that at least there would be a way of dealing with people fairly and humanely and without taking too long about it. As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, said, they are not supplicants or beggars, and I believe that we need to deal with them humanely.

We need a flexible policy which is capable of dealing with the ever-changing ruses of these human traffickers—and they do change frequently. If the problems relating to the Channel Tunnel and rail freight are sorted out, we should not expect the asylum seekers to go away. They will go to the next port up and down the Continent and will enter the country a different way. That must be tackled in a humane way while making it reasonably easy and practical for genuine asylum seekers to be treated fairly and speedily and to be allowed in.

Where managed migration comes into this, I am not sure, but I hope that it will not be done on a cost-benefit basis. There is a need to allow asylum seekers to be processed in a place where they are not constantly being attacked and in a manner in which they do not have to try to enter this country illegally.

Photo of Lord Chan Lord Chan Crossbench 8:53 pm, 18th June 2002

My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, on securing this debate, which, significantly, is taking place during Refugee Week. It is therefore appropriate for your Lordships' House to dispel some myths about refugees.

Refugees are generally people who have no intention of leaving their homeland until a catastrophe occurs. As a result, they come unprepared to Europe and the United Kingdom. They are unlikely to be brought here by illegal gangs.

Negative attitudes towards refugees continue to receive press coverage, in spite of the finding of a new public opinion poll, published yesterday, carried out by MORI Social Research Institute. That new research found that the British public are broadly four times more sympathetic than hostile towards asylum seekers and refugees. It also showed that young people overestimate by 10 times the number of the world's refugees and asylum seekers present in the United Kingdom. There is a popular but unfounded assertion that refugees in the United Kingdom are attracted here by our social benefits system because they are poorly educated and unskilled. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I quote from the Society for the Protection of Science and Learning. The society lists as refugees 17 Nobel laureates, 71 fellows or foreign members of the Royal Society, and 50 fellows or corresponding fellows of the British Academy. Some of Britain's wealthiest entrepreneurs are refugees, such as the late Lord Hamlyn, publisher of Reed International Books, and Mr Rolf Schild of Huntleigh Engineering.

Migrants, on the other hand, are not refugees because they make a conscious choice to leave their country. Migrants are able to plan their departure from their homeland. Many people living in the United States of America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are migrants. Those countries accepted them because they possessed the skills needed.

Our Government only recently—on 28th January—launched their Highly Skilled Migrant Programme. It allows individuals to seek entry to work in the United Kingdom without a prior offer of employment. People with skills and experience required by the United Kingdom to compete in the global economy can migrate through the programme.

Among those we need are doctors, nurses and other professionals required in the National Health Service. Some refugees in the United Kingdom have the skills that we require, and they should therefore be given the opportunity to apply for settlement through the migrant programme. Some 2,000 refugee doctors in the United Kingdom are just beginning to obtain help to re-enter medical practice through a little-known programme of the Department of Health. I welcome that programme.

One disadvantage of the Government's Highly Skilled Migrant Programme is the adverse effect that it might have on developing countries were we to employ their skilled professionals. The resulting brain-drain of talent from less developed countries to the United Kingdom may not be morally acceptable. But it gives individuals the choice of migrating to a country that gives them better opportunities for improving themselves.

Therefore, while congratulating and supporting the Government on their Highly Skilled Migrant Programme, I ask Ministers to monitor the flow of migrants under the programme according to country of origin. Regular reviews of the programme will help the Government to adjust the intake of skilled people according to our employment needs. I hope that the spectrum of skills will be widened to include chefs and cooks for our restaurants, as well as computer engineers.

Finally, the Government now have the opportunity, through managed migration and resettlement, to reclaim leadership of this important and sensitive issue in order to achieve harmony in our multi-ethnic society.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Party Chair, Liberal Democrats 8:58 pm, 18th June 2002

My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for initiating this debate. It comes at a time when the Government are in the process of introducing another Bill dealing with national, immigration and asylum matters. Its Second Reading is to take place next Monday in your Lordships' House. That demonstrates that the previous three measures have not been effective and that we are still not at ease with some of these matters.

I recall discussing in the middle of the night some of the contentious issues of that time with the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, whom I see in his place. We said that the voucher system would not work, and it did not. We said that fining lorry drivers and impounding the lorries would not work, and it did not. And we said that the unplanned dispersal of people would not work. Again, that was the case. I hope that the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, will listen very carefully not only to the arguments that are put forward here but also to some of the suggestions made during the Second Reading of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill. On that basis, I hope that some consensus will be reached in dealing with this issue.

There is a contradiction in the way that asylum matters are being handled. We pay lip service to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees. This is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes a right to seek political asylum. However, many of the policies pursued by the Government are based on toughness rather than the principles of compassion and humanity on which the convention is based.

Last year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the UN convention. We have a proud history of offering shelter to those fleeing persecution. Yet the emphasis that we give to that obligation has changed out of all recognition. Much of the tabloid coverage is negative. The noble Earl is right that asylum seekers are often branded as cheats, scroungers and beggars. It is frightening and a shame that some politicians give credence to such generalisation.

There is a concern that the current system is failing many refugees. There is little acceptance that migration is now a world-wide phenomenon. It is not just western countries which are affected. Developing and third world countries probably cater for the largest number of displaced persons.

We need to address three issues: immigration in a global economy; economic migrants; and refugees and asylum seekers. A debate about what a modern and effective immigration policy should look like needs to be defined. It should not be a reaction to emotional outpourings of tabloid newspapers or a knee-jerk reaction to political pointscoring. We need to draw on many complex and inter-related issues.

I have a fundamental disagreement with the way in which the Government have set out their objectives on immigration policy. The government paper refers to,

"Regulation of entry to and settlement in the United Kingdom in the interest of stability and economic growth and facilitation of travel by UK citizens".

That is a simplistic statement on immigration and asylum matters. Immigration should be looked at on the basis of potentially huge economic benefits for Britain if it is able to adapt to the new environment of global economy. Its aim should not be restricted to protecting our society and economy from external pressures. We also need to manage the opportunities at a time when we have a skilled labour shortage, a declining population and an ageing population. The cost of mismanaging immigration could have dire economic consequences for generations to come. If we fail to produce wealth, then we cannot sustain health, education, pensions and service provisions for the future generation. That is the stark reality and countries like the US, Canada and Germany have realised that.

The process of asylum over the past 10 years is a relatively new phenomenon. The entry of over 70,000 people has skewed the debate on migration. There is a lack of clarity about the process of economic migration and primary migration to the United Kingdom has virtually come to a halt.

So what are the issues? They are the need to identify genuine refugees as quickly as possible, but speed should not sacrifice fairness. Migration is not simply about economics. We all benefit by the enrichment of our social and cultural lives. The whole area of immigration cries out for more research. What brings people here? What are their skills? How do they settle in their new environment? Does migration interact with social stability? How do we raise the level of political debate? How do we challenge many of the assumptions which are made? What are the factors which pull and push people to different parts of the world?

Immigration and asylum matters go beyond national boundaries. We now require international solutions. A Europe-wide policy must be a starting point. But, first, we need to look at conditions that bring despair and trigger the process of migration. Poverty, disease and safety are their main concerns. Not everyone travels across continents. Most find shelter on the other side of the national boundaries.

Secondly, the balance between money spent in assessing applications, estimated at about £10 billion, is out of all proportion to money spent in the protection of displaced persons. Thirdly, there is a clear need for the UNHCR to enlarge its resettlement programme. A logical solution must be a common EU asylum system: a UNHCR clearing house which will identify genuine asylum seekers in their own homelands and involve European countries in their resettlement. Why have we not progressed in assessing asylum claims overseas?

The rhetoric about the new asylum package sounds hollow and is designed to placate those with Little Englander attitudes. Using overseas aid as a lever to deport failed applicants, a rapid reaction multi-national border guard or the use of the RAF or Royal Navy to tackle seaborne illegal immigrants will simply not work. Asylum is now an international issue. We need leadership which acknowledges the vast contribution made by refugees all over the world. We wait for the Government to give a lead; so far they have failed.

Photo of Lord Dixon-Smith Lord Dixon-Smith Conservative 9:04 pm, 18th June 2002

My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, has every right to feel pleased with the debate today. The subject is topical. It is a difficult subject which fits with my philosophy of life: an endless Grand National. Every time you cross a fence there is another one before you; and when you cross that there is another one. And when we are all gone, our successors will be crossing those fences all over again.

I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Taylor of Warwick and the noble Lord, Lord Chan, who in completely different ways put in clear perspective the great benefit this country has gained in the past from migrants. As I am sure do other Member of this House, I know many people who are members of families who years ago would have been refugees and who now regard themselves as British and nothing but British because they are a part of our society. One sees them in academic fields, across the world of business, throughout the arts and so on. Let there be no doubt about the benefits that this country has enjoyed in the past and I have no doubt will continue to enjoy in the future.

However, we need to recognise that there are problems of definition. I have great difficulty in trying to make a distinction between a refugee and an asylum seeker. It seems to me that by definition an asylum seeker is a refugee. The circumstances which have forced a genuine applicant to this country are not voluntary. These are people who through force of circumstances are obliged to leave the country from which they come. Those people should enjoy every sympathy and assistance. I like to think that we are still able to deal with them in that way.

The problem is that the situation is no longer straightforward. The world has changed. In many ways the change is good; in some ways it is bad. The past century has seen an enormous expansion of rich people in the world. We are fortunate in this country to be able to include ourselves in that category. The reciprocal of that has been an enormous expansion in poverty in the world. I believe that will always be a problem that we have to face. In any event, poverty is a relative term. What is meant by poverty in this country would be seen in many other countries of the world as extreme riches. We need to bear that in mind.

The fact of the matter is that, of those trying to enter this country today, there are many very genuine and real refugees who deserve asylum, but regrettably at the present time, and partly because of the change that has taken place in global transport systems and other aspects of globalisation, there are many people who are not genuine applicants. Indeed, the Government are doing sterling work in trying to sort out the real from the unreal, if I may put it that way. Their research seems to suggest—taking the present level of asylum seekers at about 80,000 a year—that about 10,000 are genuine applicants and the rest should return.

We have a problem because the vast majority who ought to be returned, regrettably, are not being sent back. That is really muddying the pond, if I may use a very blunt phrase in the vernacular. The Bill which the Government are going to bring before us in the near future is designed to help. If we build the three asylum reception centres which are now spoken about, with a total capacity of 3,000, they will not be functioning in much less than two years. On the current government targets there will be a throughput of about 6,000 refugees a year, with the intention of dealing with them in six months.

There is a total input into this country of 80,000 refugees a year, so processing 6,000 is playing with the problem. If we have 14 centres I acknowledge that we will do rather better. But if we are going to sort out this problem in the interests of this country and of the refugees who genuinely need help, we need a far greater concentration on producing results through the system than any suggestion I have yet seen coming from the Government for tackling this issue. To make a real dent in the problem we need to deal with these people in six weeks and not six months.

Returning to the question of managed migration, only when we have solved the present crisis will we be able to deal properly with that question. The noble Lord, Lord Chan, touched on another very fundamental issue, which is the ethical difficulty of removing the professional expertise of people from countries where it is desperately needed. This has been a very good debate and I look forward to the Minister's reply.

Photo of Lord Filkin Lord Filkin Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 9:11 pm, 18th June 2002

My Lords, I genuinely want to thank the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for initiating this debate and for the thoughtful and sober tone in which it has been conducted. It is well timed as a prelude to some of our other discussions next week. Its timing as regards Refugee Week could not be better.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, challenged me to speak positively about immigration and asylum. I am well pleased to do so, particularly in Refugee Week. Immigrants have made a remarkable contribution to this country. We are a nation of immigrants and anyone who thinks otherwise does not know our history. Similarly, although not perfect, our record as a nation for taking in asylum seekers who have been in dire circumstances, such as the Huguenots and a sequence of cases in the past century, has been very good generally and it is something of which we should be rightly proud and from which we should not seek to resile.

As noble Lords have clearly put it, the problem is not whether we should in any way compromise our stance on our responsibility to refugees or the refugee convention of1951, but how one faces the fact that there is mass pressure, because of global wealth inequalities, for economic migration which is putting enormous pressure on the system and that people are using the asylum route to try to enter the country to better themselves, for understandable reasons. The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, spoke clearly, powerfully and accurately on that.

As noble Lords know, the Government's strategy is to seek not to resile for a moment from our commitment in the 1951 Geneva Convention, although this debate has illustrated the importance of the review of that convention 50 years later. It was designed for a different world and although its principles and tenets are still sound, its mechanisms are open to question.

The importance of managed migration has been slightly underplayed. The Government have clearly stated that attracting a variety of workers to this country is to be welcomed. A variety of schemes that contribute to their personal wealth and to our economic wealth are to be celebrated, welcomed and managed.

We clearly need to rise to the enormous challenge of how to sustain the principles of fairness, of fair hearings, of appeals, and of giving welfare support to people who claim asylum when they may have been economic migrants. We also need to ensure that everyone is given a fair hearing, as the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said. That raises an enormous challenge, given the volumes being faced, and not to face up to that will not do justice to the reality of the situation.

The interesting challenge that Jack Straw faced in his speech about two years ago was to look more effectively at what is happening to migration, how it is putting almost unsustainable pressures on the conventional method of handling asylum claimants and how all countries in Europe and elsewhere in the world are struggling to balance those two forces that operate at the same time.

The desire to establish a quota resettlement programme should enable refugees to travel safely to the UK. Therefore, as many noble Lords have said, that is to be welcomed in principle. The then Home Secretary set out how we would seek to evolve such a scheme. It is an important humanitarian tool and clearly in the past we have had a recognition of a moral responsibility to make contributions to major crises in the world and to seek to play our part fully.

I am pleased to recognise that the EU is examining the feasibility of introducing a Europe-wide scheme. Last week I was in Luxembourg and listened to a commissioner speaking about his commitment to explore that. It will not be simple and it will not be quick, but it has common sense. If genuine refugees want to come into Europe one has to consider whether it is possible to ensure that there are some common principles and processes that evaluate them and a reasonably equal distribution of responsibility for handling them. Those words are easy to say but I would be deluding the House if I said that fulfilling them in practice could be done within two or three years. I do not believe that we should run away from that as a goal because the fact that some countries take more, as we do, because they have a well-developed system of welfare and legal support, appears not be a sensible way to proceed in the long term.

Therefore, building on the speech of Jack Straw, we want to expand the provisions of resettlement from some of our relatively smaller, informal schemes—the mandate refugee programme and the 10 or more plans. I have spoken previously about mass resettlements to the UK and I do not need to repeat the details of 300,000 Poles, or the quarter of a million plus Ugandan Asians, or the Chileans, the Vietnamese, the Bosnians or the Kosovans who have come here.

I hope that this country will always respond to such crises with an open generosity, as we have in the past. I hope that the spirit of the nation will recognise that we have responsibilities to support genuine refugees who are in crisis through no fault of their own. But I do not believe that we would be wise to consider that it is axiomatic or that it is automatic if governments are seen as being out of control on how they address economic migration which comes through the refugee door. It is naive to pretend that there is not a serious problem facing the liberalism of many European countries in the face of those pressures.

If we have any doubt on that, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, spoke with his usual blunt wisdom and fairly trenchantly about some of the realities. Many European countries are faced with gangs of international criminals who seek to do well out of the relative, if not the worst, poverty of some people. Many people who present themselves as refugees have come through those criminal networks. That does not automatically mean that they are not genuine asylum seekers, but they are people who have paid £10,000 or £15,000 to get into this country. In many cases they have been advised to tear up their documents and advised on how best to play the system.

That does not mean that Britain should not address her responsibilities for treating them fairly, give support and sustenance when they have made a claim and consider how to do that efficiently. We also have to be able to process those claims effectively, rapidly and fairly. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that we should try to achieve a higher success rate at returning those who are not genuine refugees.

The facts are not usually well publicised, but perhaps I may give our latest figures. About 70,000 or 80,000 asylum claimants enter Britain each year. Of those, about 11 per cent are granted asylum after they have been through a usually sophisticated and thorough appeals system with legal aid rightly paid for by the British taxpayer. About another 12 per cent are given exceptional leave to remain. Noble Lords will know broadly what that means without my going into detail.

So some 23 per cent of claimants come through the system as genuine asylum seekers. Yet there is great difficulty returning the rest to their countries of origin for a variety of reasons that I shall not go into now. We are trying to improve our success factors. The problem is that if you have paid £10,000 or £15,000 to a gangmaster to try to get you into the country, you have taken a gamble, but if you find that your success rate is likely to be high, because people play the system and it is difficult for us to return them, it makes it extremely difficult for us to refute the argument that it is money well spent. Therefore, we must face up to the realities of what is going on out there in the real world, while at the same time not reneging on the values and principles we hold dear and on which this country has built its—I hope—proud history.

Unusually, I disagree with my noble friend Lord Judd on this issue. I believe that the public is tolerant of genuine refugees and I hope it will continue to be so. We should not assume that it will continue to be so if we fail to manage the economic migrant who wants to get in at the same time. I do not believe that the public are as tolerant of economic migration, nor is there support in the country for an open-door policy; nor do I hear any noble Lord arguing for it.

The challenge is to manage the short-term crisis while recognising the global forces at work. Noble Lords have pointed out that the people with whom we deal as asylum seekers may not be the most needy. Logic says that that is the case, because unless you can finance your route through that network you are not able to present. That is why UNHCR's programme, although small-scale at this stage, is important.

I shall have to race now because I am being encouraged to be brief. We are committed to rolling out these provisions as soon as we can. UNHCR is advising us not to go too quickly; to get the system right and to ensure that it is not another route to profiteering and criminality; to ensure that it works well and that we can therefore build credibility on it. There is also, as ever, the realistic touch of ensuring we have the funding through the CSR 2002 process. I hope that we are able to launch this scheme and that we are able to start the consultation with NGOs this summer.

It is a major issue to ensure more collective processes for dealing with genuine refugees sourced in-country, and to deal with the problem on a more collective basis across the world. While we should do our part—and we shall do our part on pioneering the scheme, as may the EU—we cannot pretend that we can do so in isolation. Such a system can be operated only if over time we can persuade a significant number of countries that this is a responsible and moral way of addressing the issue. Some countries are already there: the United States and Australia already use such measures.

There is a balance between experimenting and being Pollyanna-ish and thinking that in some way we will have such a system in two to three years' time—we will not, even though it is right to pursue and explore that approach positively. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that this scheme should not be seen as in any way undermining genuine refugees who come to us by other means.

How do we address global economic inequalities? We know at heart that that is what drives some, if not all, of the economic migration that is such a problem to us. While I disagree by thinking that we should take into account and re-house people whose economic plight is severe, I do not believe that that is realistic in terms of the nation that we are: we are not Canada, nor are we Australia. We are a small nation. We cannot just open the door to everyone who is poor. Indeed, arguably, it is not the most efficient way of doing so. We must have more realistic ways of addressing wealth development in the countries from where the migration is coming.

Therefore, the UNHCR's global consultation on the 1951 convention on refugees has called on states, NGOs and international bodies to take concerted action at all levels to solve protracted refugee situations, and to look at how we stabilise governance, legal systems, and put in place better prospects for economic growth in those countries. Again, we must not fool ourselves that this will be quick. However, it is an essential part of dealing responsibly with economic migration that comes to us in the form of asylum seeking.

I was also asked about the EU High Level Working Group, which is developing a voluntary return programme to Afghanistan to encourage return and to help in the reconstruction of the country. The UNHCR was consulted when this plan was developed, and it is projected that 200 returns could well go forward when it is considered safe to do so. At present, there are also action plans developed for Iraq, Morocco, Albania, Somalia and Sri Lanka. It is in our interests at least to see whether we can pilot some of those collective mechanisms and resettlement programmes through the EU mechanism, which is slightly smaller, rather than seeking initially to obtain instant action on a global basis. If my recent experience is anything to go by, it does not always seem too simple in the European Union.

DfID has a clear role to play in this process. The department is undertaking a considerable amount of work in terms of refugee camps and as regards its wider programme of work on economic development. Regrettably, time will not allow me to say more than that this evening.

I turn, finally, to managed migration. I hope that I have made it clear that this is an important part of our policy. We realise that we should be welcoming migrants who can make a contribution, and that we should do so without weakening the economies or societies of fragile countries because that would be irresponsible. Yes, the number of work permits that we have issued has, for example, doubled since 1998. I cannot give a forecast as to how many there will be in the future; that will depend on the demand that is made from employers in the United Kingdom. However, I would expect the number to continue to rise—so it should, if there are needs that we cannot source locally.

In conclusion, I warmly thank the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, for initiating this debate. It has given us a good opportunity to focus some initial consideration at a wider level on the forces that are at work, before we get into the important detail of scrutinising the Government's Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill.

House adjourned at twenty-eight minutes past nine o'clock.