Lilley attempts to reverse asylum ruling

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The Independent Online
The Government will be forced to mount an operation to mobilise hereditary peers in the House of Lords next week to reverse the Court of Appeal ruling that the withdrawal of benefits from asylum seekers was unlawful.

Peter Lilley, Secretary of State for Social Security, announced yesterday that he would bring in last-minute amendments to the Asylum and Immigration Bill, just completing its final stages in the Lords. He said that if last Friday's ruling were allowed to stand it would cost the taxpayer pounds 300m a year. Lord Justice Simon Brown struck down regulations brought in in February to deny state benefits to people waiting to hear the outcome of appeals on asylum applications.

Mr Lilley told the Commons that paying benefits was an incentive for people to appeal against refusal of asylum, and that 97 per cent of appeals were rejected. The Government would table amendments to restore the effect of the regulations, which were approved by both Houses of Parliament, "to ensure that this country remains a safe haven and not a soft touch".

But Chris Smith, Labour's social security spokesman, attacked the "inhumanity and injustice" of the proposals. He contested Mr Lilley's claim of savings, saying there would be "extra costs to be incurred by local authorities, especially where children are involved. The real answer is to speed up the processing of applications."

The Government faces a tough battle to get the amendments through the Lords on Monday. The issue unites two of the more potent ingredients of Lords rebellions: the prerogatives of judges and an issue of social compassion.

Lord Justice Simon Brown threw down an explicit challenge to Parliament in his judgment. He said the withdrawal of benefits could cause "destitution" among asylum applicants which no civilised state could tolerate, and that if the Government wanted to achieve "that sorry state of affairs" it would have to bring in primary legislation, rather than rely on regulations.

As a sweetener, Mr Lilley said asylum seekers whose claims were approved on appeal would have their benefits backdated to the date of their first application.

A Labour move to delay the Asylum Bill failed yesterday by 135 votes to 100, but a Labour source said that the Government would "have to work hard" to win the vote on Monday.

"There is always the danger for them that, if they wheel in all their hereditary peers, they will listen to the arguments proposed by Patricia Hollis [Labour's social security spokeswoman] and change their minds," the source said.