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The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): The amendment proposed is to leave out Clause 1 and insert the new clause as printed on the Marshalled List. I call Amendment No. 2, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, and Lord McIntosh of Haringey.
Lord Renton: I wonder whether it would be better if we were to follow what my noble friend Lady Blatch indicated and obtain agreement about the replacement of Clause 1 in the way that she proposed, before we consider any amendments that we might make to the replacement clause.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I should like to support that suggestion. We do not wish to take a final decision on Amendment No. 1, as clearly that cannot be done until Amendments Nos. 2 to 30 have been considered and decided upon one way or another. Particular amendments have been grouped with Amendment No. 1 because they refer to the only substantive changes which the Government have made to the clause in the course of the redrafting exercise. If it were for the convenience of the Committee, I should like to speak to my amendments which have been grouped with Amendment No. 1 before going on to propose Amendment No. 2.
The Chairman of Committees: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. Perhaps I should just indicate, for the convenience of the Committee, that it would be the normal procedure to deal with the amendment in the way in which I have just put the Question. But, as always, it is in the hands of the Committee and, if it is for the better convenience of the Committee to deal with it in that way, of course it is not for the Chairman to stand in the way of such a proposal.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am grateful to the noble Lord, the Chairman, for that observation. Clearly, I only speak to the grouped amendments rather than move them. They will be reached in due course.
I am grateful to the Government for taking account of the objections which the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and I, and others, raised to the drafting of Clause 1. I was so confused--I will not say incensed--by Clause 1 as drafted that I went away immediately and redrafted it in the terms which have now appeared on the Marshalled List. I am glad to see that, apart from a minor question of numbering, my interpretation of what Clause 1 did to paragraph 5 of Schedule 2 of the 1993 Act was correct. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, had also taken the initiative of preparing a new version of Clause 1 as a Keeling schedule which was, I have no doubt, a more appropriate way of dealing with it than the way in which I dealt with it.
This is an opportunity to refer to the substantive change which the Government have made by way of subsections (7) and (8) of Amendment No. 1. The Committee will recall that the original Clause 1 provided that the order designating countries under what is commonly called the white list should come into effect using the negative resolution procedure. The Committee will also recall that, as was referred to on Second Reading, the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee criticised the procedure and said that the affirmative resolution procedure was more appropriate.
I am glad to see that the Government have taken some account of that and that they have continued their welcome practice of taking serious note of what the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee says and, on the whole, of incorporating its conclusions into legislation. However, they have not applied the affirmative resolution procedure to all orders under this clause, but only to the first order made under the paragraph. Subsequent orders are to be made by annulment; in other words, by the negative resolution procedure.
The procedure that is proposed is unsatisfactory in two ways. First, it is unsatisfactory that only the first order should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. It is a terrible temptation for any government to use the first order only to put on the list those countries, if there are any, about which there is no controversy and to leave the more controversial countries to subsequent orders, which will have a lesser level of parliamentary scrutiny. There are some indications from leaked documents that that may be the case, so the status of countries added to the list is surely no different whether they are added now or later.
Secondly, the Government's proposals are too prescriptive. They allow for too much parliamentary scrutiny in uncontroversial cases involving when a country might be removed from the list. A country might be removed from the list when, for example, through a coup d'etat, other internal disturbances or any serious, changed political circumstances, such as the outbreak of civil war or anything of that sort, it suddenly becomes dangerous, so that applications for asylum might justifiably be made and be made very quickly.
The proposed amendment to the clause is unsatisfactory in two ways. It does not provide for enough parliamentary scrutiny where parliamentary scrutiny is needed, and it provides for too much scrutiny when the prime need is for direct action. It is for those reasons that we are not satisfied with this amendment to the clause which has been made in the course of the redrafting. We hope that the Government will reconsider the way in which they have approached this issue.
Baroness Blatch: The noble Lord gave the impression that we have not gone as far as the Scrutiny Committee invited. We have fully accepted the recommendations of the Scrutiny Committee; putting to its members the case why there should not be affirmative resolution of subsequent additions; they accepted our case and we have accepted their recommendation in full.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: These amendments were originally tabled in my name. They were intended, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said, as an attempt to involve the affirmative resolution procedure for every order--not just for the first order, but for all subsequent orders also. May I briefly add to what has already been said about the reasons for these amendments?
We know that the Bill suggests that people who satisfy certain conditions shall be subject to a fast-track procedure. One of those conditions is that they come from a country which, in general, is not likely to persecute them. There are certain other conditions that we shall be discussing later in today's debate which concern, for example, the lack of a passport, or possession of an invalid passport or invalid papers, or other factors which suggest that an appeal for asylum status might be fraudulent.
I turn now to the provisions on the so-called white list. The Government are suggesting that those who come from countries on the white list, countries not normally associated with persecution, will be subjected to a fast-track procedure which is a very fast-track procedure indeed. It would involve 10 days in total for the consideration of an application and seven days for its preparation.
What is more troubling is that that might be associated with what is called "the immediate arrival procedure", which means that in future asylum seekers may be interviewed on the day of their arrival.
I do not want to make much reference to countries on the so-called white list because many of them are countries in the Commonwealth, but I am obliged to refer to two, one on the white list and one not. The country on the white list at the present time to which I am referring is Pakistan, a close friend of this country and a country with many things to its credit, but one of the things not to its credit is its record on human rights. There is a great deal of evidence most recently from Amnesty International's report on Pakistan for 1994-95 to say that torture and other forms of inhuman treatment are still quite frequently used in Pakistan. Amnesty International documents 67 cases in 1994 through to the end of that year.
In addition, there is a specific level of persecution directed at those who have a religion other than that of mainstream Islam; namely, Awami Moslems and Christians. Awami Moslems and Christians in certain areas of Pakistan are subject to considerable persecution, sometimes amounting to torture and other inhuman behaviour, and yet that country is on the white list at the present time. Frankly, once a country is on the white list it is not easy to take it off, though it raises difficult diplomatic problems for our Government which would be clearly overcome if the matter was subject to Parliament. It is easier for this House or another place to raise questions about the white list status of another country than it is for Her Majesty's Government to do so because it does not arouse the same diplomatic problems.
The other country to which I want to refer briefly is no longer on the white list. There were rumours that it might have been. The noble Baroness may tell us that that is not so, in which case I do not want to suggest it. I am referring to Nigeria where, currently, people who worship as Christians are under the most extreme forms of pressure and persecution, as many right reverend Prelates in this Chamber will know. Most recently the case arose of a man who, while attempting to conduct a church service, was seized, taken into custody, so seriously beaten that he was almost unable to retain his reason afterwards and only with a great deal of difficulty and by bribery was able to leave the country. In the past
Because I do not want to delay the Committee, let me say that the purpose of Amendments Nos. 24A and 25A--amendments which will make all orders subject to affirmative procedure--is to allow this Chamber to consider with care and in detail the case for putting countries on the so-called white list. The arguments in relation to the other sub-paragraphs which relate to invalid passports and fraudulent papers are subject to being upheld.
It is my concluding thought that it is one of the fundamental obligations of this place in upholding the traditions of this country as a beacon of liberty throughout the world to ensure that every last man or woman who wishes to worship freely, who wishes to stand up for freedom in his or her own country, is treated as genuine. We should therefore have procedures which do not allow us to negate their appeal if they are among those who deserve to be asylum seekers; they are heroes in their own country and we should respect them.
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