JOHN HUMPHRYS: But that was last week,
what about this week. Well, the Government's new Asylum Bill is facing
trouble. It started out being fairly uncontroversial, but when it got
to the House of Lords for their approval the Government added hundreds
of amendments - changed the whole character of the original Bill. The
Lords weren't having that and the Government lost a whole series of votes
on the Bill. On Tuesday, it comes back to the Commons and the Government
say they will reverse all those defeats. But, this session of Parliament
comes to an end on Thursday, so unless someone compromises, they risk losing
the whole thing. And this is an important piece of legislation. The Minister
in the Lords responsible for it is Lord Filkin. Good afternoon.
LORD FILKIN: Good afternoon.
HUMPHRYS: A serious risk of losing
this Bill, isn't there?
FILKIN: I don't think so. I think
that most of the key measures have been approved by the Lords, including
most of the major changes that we made following the summer to deal with
some of the growing problems that we'd had from certain countries. However,
there are a number of measures that were defeated on Thursday, some of
those are absolutely fundamental to the success of the Bill and I find
it utterly...ultimately, I think unbelievable that the Lords would not
see the sense of those measures when we seek to make that case back to
them again next week.
HUMPHRYS: Well, maybe they will,
but probably they won't. You know what they can be like, you're one of
them yourself. So it's not a question of whether you compromise, but how
FILKIN: I think our mind is open
on some issues as to whether with common sense and goodwill there are different
ways of expressing some issues, but at least a couple of the issues, they
are so fundamental to what we are seeking to do that I think that they
have to be in the Bill and the Government had a very clear mandate for
these reforms. There's a very clear mandate in the country for recognising
we want as a nation to give asylum to those who justify it, but to stop
the abuse, to stop the high numbers of people who use the asylum system
as a way of getting to Britain to work.
HUMPHRYS: Let me just pick out
a couple of the things that seem very important to most people. Certainly
the question of these massive asylum centres opposed by people on both
the right and the left here because some people say would destroy - we
are talking about seven hundred people in one centre - it will destroy
the village, the whole area in which we live. Other people say we absolutely
don't want asylum seekers to be treated like this, their children treated
as pariahs, kept in this centre not being able to go to other schools.
That's something where you will have to compromise, isn't it?
FILKIN: The case for asylum centres
is very clear and strong. It's basically saying that we have to be quicker
at processing asylum claims whilst we give people the support that they
have asked us to. People in asylum, in accommodation centers, are basically
people who said they want asylum but they also want the State to support
them whilst their asylum claim is being processed. By giving people the
support in high quality accommodation centres, we will be able to considerably
increase the speed of processing right through to the final decision.
HUMPRHYS: It's the question of
the size of these places, though, isn't it. I mean a centre of seven hundred
and fifty people, that changes the whole character of the area in which
it's placed, doesn't it?
FILKIN: Well, one could frivolously
say that Eton School is about, I think, eleven hundred residents.
HUMPHRYS: That would be being frivolous,
FILKIN: Well, nevertheless, the
key thing about accommodation centres is also not just the speed of processing
but having in there high quality support and facilities. For example, having
good education facilities, good health care facilities, good translation
facilities, having the legal processing there, good legal support and therefore
having all those things there both gives the support and enables us to
deal with cases and sort out the genuine cases quickly.
HUMPHRYS: So, no compromise on
the size of those accommodation centres, they're going to be big and that's
FILKIN: I think that our minds
are reflecting on the range of needs and circumstances in which we think
accommodation centres will be used.
HUMPHRYS: Ah, so a possible compromise
FILKIN: I don't think we would
compromise from the key principles which is basically...
HUMPHRYS: No, no, it's the size
of the thing I am talking about.
FILKIN: The support should be in
the centre and secondly we should reduce the burden on local facilities
and thirdly we should ensure we get the speed through.
HUMPHRYS: If that can be done with
a much smaller centre, then so be it?
FILKIN: I think that there will
always be a need for some accommodation centres of the size that you have
been talking about.
FILKIN: The debate will be whether
there's a need for others of different sizes and forms as well.
HUMPHRYS: Let's look at another
bit of the Bill which is upsetting a lot of people. This bizarrely called
Henry the Eighth clause and as I understand it, correct me if I am wrong
this is a very, very important one because what it means to many people
is that you cannot only change the Bill as it's going through but once
it's finished, once it's become an Act, once it's had the Royal assent,
you can then say, well actually, this is what Henry Eighth, this is why
it's named after him, we don't like that particular bit now, so we will
change it and you would have the power to do that.
FILKIN: Yes, but only on very minor,
small technical issues. There's a lot of political posturing going on
about this. This sort of measure has been in at least two or three other
Bills this session, it was a process that the Conservative Party, the Conservative
Government invented themselves and it's essentially, in essence it's when
you've got a very complicated Bill like this is, it's crucial that it's
made to work properly and the lawyers can't always spot every single consequential...
HUMPHRYS: So will it be written
into this clause then, into the Bill that you would only be able to change
the minutiae of it, in other words you wouldn't for instance, I mean let
us assume that you agreed a compromise on the size of accommodation centres
for instance and you weren't actually terribly happy with that compromise,
you would not, absolutely not be able to go back to that, to revisit it
after the Bill had become law and say we will now change that back again?
FILKIN: You are absolutely correct.
It only deals with the minutiae, almost the legal bits and pieces that
you may not, the lawyers may not always have spotted. Secondly, any use
of that power that would effect the enactments in the Bill would have to
be approved by Parliament, this is nothing unusual whatsoever. But it is
being talked up, puffed up, I would say, so I think we can have one or
two speeches in the House of Commons next week, perhaps by Oliver Letwin.
HUMPHRYS: David Blunkett described
people who are opposed to the Bill as engaging in silliness. Whether that's
true or not and many people would argue that it is not true, these are
very important issues here indeed. Surely, you have now got to be conciliatory
in your approach rather than aggressive and take them all and punch them
on the nose. You've got to say look, we all want this Bill to go through
because the Tories want it to go through as well, they want a Bill. Have
you not got to be conciliatory and say, yeah we can see the problems you've
got, we'll go along with you.
FILKIN: Well, let's wait and see
what we do in the Commons on Tuesday. Clearly we are reflecting on these
issues, we think it's fundamental that we have Bill in the legislation,
so does as you say, most sane people. But it's crucial that we have the
fundamentals there and we don't compromise on those fundamentals.
HUMPHRYS: But ultimately the choice
is between a compromised Bill or no Bill isn't it.
FILKIN: I'd be extremely surprised
if we didn't have the Bill fundamentally intact on its key measures and
that that had support from my colleagues in the Lords when it comes back
to it, from the Commons next week.
HUMPHRYS: Lord Filkin, many thanks
for joining us.
FILKIN: Thank you.