Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Earl Russell: I am very sorry that the noble Baroness thinks that I have played with figures, since the figure on which I relied most heavily was supplied by herself.

Baroness Blatch: What I was saying was that the noble Lord used figures in a context which I believe was quite different from the context in which my noble friend Lord Renton used them. My noble friend Lord Renton said that we have a problem. My noble friend Lord Renton, in the way in which he used the figures, said that the numbers were escalating and that it was causing a problem. That is why we have a Bill before the House. If the noble Lord is taking issue with the fact that the asylum applications are running at around about 43,000, 44,000 or 45,000 applications a year at this moment, then I would be pleased to hear his evidence for that.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness for a little illumination. My understanding is that a case has to be prepared and dealt with within 17 days of receiving the Home Office notice of refusal of an application. If that is incorrect, would the noble Baroness tell me on exactly what grounds it is incorrect? That is the information I have received from a number of quarters.

Baroness Blatch: I am saying that the Home Office, in that sense, will be dealing with them. Under the new system, the first substantive appeal will be heard, and people, on arrival, as I have said, will have their cases heard and they will be given a month to provide the information before their cases are properly, fully considered. Then the timetable starts, and if they go into the accelerated procedure, then the time table starts to count; and if they go into the other part of the procedure then of course the accelerated time table will not apply.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: For the clarification of the Committee, perhaps I may say that the understanding is that the 30 days to which the noble Baroness was referring apply from the moment when somebody first attempts to get asylum. The 17 days that I was referring to are when the procedure for appeal starts. I just want to make it clear that I believe there was a misunderstanding between us. I was not deliberately using an inaccuracy; I would not wish to do

23 Apr 1996 : Column 1045

that, and it would be inaccurate and impolite to the noble Baroness to do that. I hope that I have not done that.

Baroness Blatch: The noble Baroness is talking about the appeal stage, and I am talking about the fact that there will be a substantive consideration of the case following arrival and, in preparation of that case, they will be given a month in which to provide information in relation to that case. Then of course it goes, if it is appropriate, into the accelerated appeal procedure. In speaking to the amendment, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said that the designated list would be a matter for the opinion of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. It will not be a matter for his opinion. He may well have a view that a country should be added to the list but whether or not it is added will be a matter for Parliament.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and his committee took into consideration the fact that we intend to put together all those countries which we consider to be potential candidates at the first stage under the affirmative resolution procedure. Therefore, it is highly probable that following that, single countries will come forward for consideration.

Earl Russell: I am most grateful to the noble Baroness. Perhaps I may ask her for some clarification. She said that the decision about countries will be a matter for Parliament and I am very grateful to her for that. She then went on to say that all the countries will be dealt with together in one order. How then could Parliament exclude one country but not another?

Baroness Blatch: I have given the names of the countries which we are considering at the moment as candidates for the affirmative resolution procedures following Royal Assent of the Bill. The order will then come before this Chamber and another place. If either House then has very serious reservations about the case being made for any one of those countries, so serious that there is grave concern about the whole package being allowed to go through, although it is not normal and usual I suggest that the House should think seriously about its power to reject the list until it comes forward in a form which is acceptable to Parliament.

It is open to Parliament to do that. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is right to say that it will not be possible to cherry-pick off the list and say, "We do not like this", or, "We do not like that", but it will be possible to say that the list is not acceptable to Parliament until something is done in relation to the country which Parliament finds is an unacceptable entry on the list.

Earl Russell: Before the noble Baroness sits down, I thank her very warmly indeed for those remarks.

Baroness Blatch: I reinforce the point that it will not be a subjective matter for my right honourable friend to make a decision as to whether or not a country is added to the list.

It would appear, certainly in the minds of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that they believe that somehow or other the Home

23 Apr 1996 : Column 1046

Office is not liaising effectively with the Foreign Office. That liaison goes on all the time. Certainly in the course of drawing up the list, we have liaised with the Foreign Office. I have named the current candidates for the list. Earlier candidates which were also considered for the list were Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia, all of which have been dropped from it. I should put on the record that Nigeria, Algeria, Sri Lanka and Turkey have never been considered for that list. Using the expertise, information and intelligence of the Foreign Office, we shall update continually our views on those countries. Therefore, if it is proposed to add a country on to the list following the initial group of countries that Parliament will be invited to agree, it will be important that the Home Secretary puts to Parliament written assessments of those countries which in his opinion are suitable candidates for addition to the list.

I advise the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that we are liaising very closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about the very complex situation in Turkey.

In conclusion, perhaps I may read from the report of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. I was privileged in that a Bill which I took through Parliament was the first candidate for the services of that committee. I have always found it hugely helpful, as I am sure does the House, to have the benefit of its work. Page five of its report states:

    "We believe that in order to ensure the maximum flexibility, only the first exercise of such powers should be subject to affirmative resolution. Subsequent uses of the powers should be subject to negative procedure".

The next part is very important and I am extremely happy to respond to it. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has made the point that it is the House which is being informed about these matters. The report continues:

    "The House may wish to seek an assurance from the Minister that the first list of countries under each power (which alone will, if our recommendation is adopted, be subject to affirmative resolution) will be as comprehensive as possible, so as to facilitate debate on the principles governing the compilation of the list. Subsequent negative procedure would allow the House to debate the issues again when necessary".
That is a very important point which I take extremely seriously. When the first list is brought before Parliament, we shall debate all the issues and present information to Parliament to try to persuade it that countries should be added to the list. The criteria and principles which underlie our reasons for compiling the list in the first place will be an important pointer in relation to any subsequent additions to the list. I hope that the Committee will not accept Amendments Nos. 24A, 25A and 26.

4.45 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, Amendment No. 2:

Line 7, after ("if") insert ("individual consideration has been given by the Secretary of State to the merits of the person's claim for asylum and")

The noble Lord said: I preface my remarks on this amendment by saying how grateful I am to the Minister for the way in which she wound up the debate on the original amendment, in particular, for her comments on

23 Apr 1996 : Column 1047

the possibility of finding an accelerated procedure for removing countries from the list and, indeed, if I heard her correctly, for her suggestions about the way in which this Chamber may wish to consider individual countries within the affirmative resolution procedure.

Amendment No. 2 returns to the substantive clause as now redrafted and refers to a particular point which is not covered elsewhere. I am not sure that it was dealt with during consideration of the Bill in the Commons. In my later amendment, Amendment No. 4, which refers to the possibilities of persecution in one part of a country, we criticise the use of the words "in general" as a criterion for inclusion in the designated list. Of course, other considerations are included in the Immigration Rules which we must make sure are included in the consideration of each individual case.

I remind the Committee that the Immigration Rules, which have been published and debated in this Chamber, are, according to the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993, required to be in conformity with the 1951 convention. Therefore, any question of changes to the Immigration Rules must be taken very seriously. They are not statutory, but they have an independent authority which makes it impossible for the Government to change them if there is any conflict with the 1951 convention.

In addition to referring to the possibility of persecution in one part of a country, the Immigration Rules refer also to the need for consideration of age, beliefs, way of life and/or medical condition. The important point is that the Immigration Rules require that the particular facts of the individual case should be taken into account.

Our concern throughout the whole of the consideration of Clause 1, with its fast-track procedures, designated list of countries and the vast extension of what used to be the definition of applications which are without foundation, is that it is not possible for there to be individual consideration of particular cases or the particular facts of the case.

The Immigration Rules provide that the consideration of an application should take into account the practicalities of an individual case. Account should be taken of the fact that persecution may not simply be carried out by the government in the originating country but could be carried out by forces which that government cannot control. That could happen, for example, in Kashmir; it is certainly happening in Liberia at the moment, and probably in a large number of other countries. Therefore it is essential that we should not have the criterion, which is implied in the whole concept of the designated list, of general political stability, but that there should be the option of consideration of the particular facts of the case. Amendment No. 2 states that we have to be sure that,

    "individual consideration has been given by the Secretary of State to the merits of the person's claim for asylum".
I do not believe that is covered in any other amendment. I do not believe that it has been considered before, but I believe that it is an essential safeguard for the individual consideration which is a requirement of the 1951 convention and is indeed an essential element in a

23 Apr 1996 : Column 1048

civilised and humane policy for the consideration of asylum appeals. I beg to move, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, Amendment No. 2.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page