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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, asked a question about the second part of the amendment; namely, where these people would be if the amendment were passed. The answer is that there would still be very good protection to make sure that only genuine applicants for asylum are accepted into this country. All the amendment states is that the procedures in Schedule 2 to the 1993 Act, which extend the range of fast track procedures, would no longer apply to such people. Therefore I do not think that the noble Baroness's intervention in any way diminishes the case that has been made for this amendment.
The Duke of Norfolk: There is no need to go into matters such as scars and the medical evidence of torture. When I served with a group of Soviet forces in East Germany a well-known torture was to stand the
There is nothing between ourselves and the supporters of these amendments on what the object of our policy should be. The Government attach very great importance to ensuring that victims of torture who come here for refuge should receive protection. Moreover, such people engage our international obligations. That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. Torture is almost by definition a form of persecution and a person who has a well-founded fear of torture is very likely to qualify for asylum under the terms of the 1951 convention. If, exceptionally, he does not meet those criteria, he may well engage our obligations under other instruments, such as the European Convention on Human Rights. In short, a person who has a well-founded fear of torture is granted either asylum or exceptional leave.
Amendment No. 3 relates to Clause 1. We do not believe that it will help to identify and deal speedily with genuine victims of torture. But we do believe that it could be widely exploited by people seeking to evade the accelerated appeal procedure.
Amendment No. 3 would prevent a certificate from being issued if the country of origin has a recently documented record of torture. But what does a "recently documented record of torture" actually mean? There are, for example, very few countries indeed where there are not from time to time allegations of brutality by members of law enforcement agencies. But that is very different from saying that torture is systematic and widespread, or that a particular asylum seeker would be at any risk of torture if removed. On the face of it, that part of the amendment alone would suffice to prevent the issue of a Clause 1 certificate in a high proportion of cases and without any real basis in a substantial risk to the applicant.
The amendment would also prevent a certificate being issued if the applicant "shows a reasonable claim" that he has been tortured. The meaning of these words is very unclear. We believe that that formula would open up a claim of torture to exploitation by the unscrupulous, in the same way as our asylum procedures in general are at present exploited by those whose claims are not genuine. For example, asylum seekers from designated countries would have an incentive to include a claim of torture in their application as a mechanism for circumventing Clause 1, and that would considerably reduce its effectiveness.
I turn to Amendment No. 16. Sub-paragraph 4(a) allows a certificate to be issued under Clause 1 if a claim does not show a fear of persecution on one of the grounds specified in the 1951 convention. The amendment would prevent a certificate under sub-paragraph 4(a) if the claim showed a fear of torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment. We agree that a person who claims a fear of torture will normally have
It is important to remind the Committee that the Bill deals with asylum procedures. It is quite true that if people do not qualify under the asylum procedures, we still have an obligation to conform under other international obligations.
Baroness Seear: Is the noble Baroness saying that under other rules in the proposed legislation tortured people will be adequately covered? Have we not received abundant evidence of people who have quite clearly been tortured but who have been sent back to their own countries? In the light of all that evidence, it is surely not sufficient to say that the provisions here will be adequate.
Baroness Blatch: We want to do everything possible to make sure that genuine applications are properly considered. Indeed, one of the problems that we have at the moment is that many applications are not genuine from the very beginning. Such applications make it difficult to give time to genuine victims of torture.
Much has been said during the course of this debate about people who simply cannot express their claim of torture. If they do not, or will not, express it, it is impossible to consider it. Unless a claim of torture is made, it cannot be properly considered. We are trying to arrive at a situation whereby a genuine claim of torture is properly considered and, if genuine, is well-founded at the first stage of consideration. A substantive claim will then go on either to receive asylum or to be considered if it does not conform precisely to the 1951 convention.
That was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who is attempting to transport other international obligations into the Bill to widen the criteria of the Bill itself. We want to keep the criteria of the Bill totally and absolutely consistent with the 1951 United Nations Convention, so that exceptional leave to remain or other international obligations are invoked if the case does not fit entirely within the asylum procedures. The intention is that genuine victims of torture should be picked up by the system. I hope that nothing I have said detracts from our genuine desire to see that such cases are properly considered.
All sides are agreed about the aims of the policy. We all agree that the objective must be to identify genuine victims of torture. Achieving that objective depends on having in place proper practices and effective training for our caseworkers and our interviewers. We need to concentrate on these practical issues rather than on legislative measures.
In my written response to the Second Reading debate I referred to the very great importance and weight which is attached to any evidence of torture, especially when supported by a medical certificate. Caseworkers already have access to the guidelines for the examination of survivors of torture which have been prepared by the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. But we want to be absolutely sure that our arrangements are as effective as we can make them and that they attract confidence.
That is why, following a meeting between my honourable friend the Minister of State at the Home Office and a cross-party group of parliamentarians, we asked officials to meet the Medical Foundation to discuss ways in which our procedures may be further improved. The meeting which took place recently was constructive. We are following up a number of suggestions made by the foundation, and I hope that we shall be able to report more fruitfully at a later date. The Government believe this to be the right response to concerns of this nature, and one which will achieve the results we all desire.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool talked about the Glidewell Report and referred to a lack of belief. First of all, I do not accept what the right reverend Prelate says. The fall in the recognition rate in the late 1980s, which was referred to, and in the early 1990s, coincided with a massive rise in the level of exploitation of the asylum system by people who were not refugees. The level of claims rose from 4,000 in 1988 to 45,000 in 1991. Since 1992, the recognition rate has remained reasonably stable at between 3 per cent. and 7 per cent. But the number of cases granted asylum in 1995 was more than double the number granted in 1979--1,295 compared with 525. And the number of cases granted asylum or exceptional leave in 1995 was 5,705--the fourth highest annual figure ever recorded.
It would be equally wrong to suggest that we have tightened up our interpretation of the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees which, in any event, is determined ultimately by the courts, not by the Home Office. We also use a discretionary grant of exceptional leave where the convention criteria is not met in individual cases but where there are compelling compassionate circumstances to justify leave to remain outside of the normal immigration rules. In 1995 16 per cent. of all decisions were grants of exceptional leave to remain.
Other reference was made to time constraints. The time constraints only come into play after there has been substantive consideration of the claim when time is given to gather evidence and to collect evidence such as medical certificates. The concerns expressed could be an argument: what does one do if somebody does not talk, does not make the claim for torture or does not explain why they believe they have been tortured? If they do not do it, the concerns expressed could be an argument for never reaching a final decision, never actually coming to a decision in a case for a refused asylum seeker, just in case, at some time in the future, when they do feel more at ease, they are able to reveal that they had been a victim of torture.
I have to suggest that that particular suggestion and that particular system would be unworkable given the number of people who claim a fear of torture and a fear of persecution, and those who have a well-founded fear of it once the substantive case is heard and it is heard again at appeal.
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