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Baroness Elles: 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.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: 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
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
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.
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