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Baroness Williams of Crosby: I thank the Minister for giving way. Can we, between now and the Report stage, look at the specific issue I raised? I take the point that we cannot ensure that every individual would be free of persecution--that would not be true of any country in the world--and I also take the point about the general level of persecution, but the particular cases I mentioned concern groups which are targeted specifically and individuals who are part of such groups. That is to say, it is not really individuals but a specific minority that is at risk. Will the Minister give some further consideration to that issue because it is a special case? It is not the same as a case of a country which has a generally good record but there may be one or two individuals who have been unfairly treated.
Baroness Blatch: I was going to give an example to address that point. Without pre-empting too much of the debate which may come later, I intended to use India as an example because it was mentioned by the noble Baroness.
India is an established, pluralist democracy--as the noble Baroness would agree--with well-developed legal institutions. Most of India is generally peaceful and there is no evidence of significant persecution or abuse as defined in the United Nations convention. In 1995, 98 per cent. of asylum applications from Indian nationals were refused. We accept that two particular areas of India--the Punjab and Kashmir--have experienced human rights abuses. However, militant
Applications from Kashmiris in this country are rare. Moreover, there are signs of improvement in Kashmir. The Indian Government intends to hold elections in the state, militant leaders have been released from prison, and the International Red Cross has now begun its first substantive visit to detention centres. India has a national Human Rights Commission to investigate allegations of human rights abuses.
So it is the case that generally the country is peaceful, it has democratic institutions in place, but within that great country there are groups of people who, for one reason or another, are subject to human rights abuses. I like to think that the way in which we have approached that question answers, in part, the point raised by the noble Baroness.
Reference was again made to the Glidewell Report, and to comments made by Judge Pearl, by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. Judge Pearl is reported to have told the Glidewell panel that the intake of the appellate authority currently exceeds its output, and that while this remains the position the need to give priority to increased numbers of certified cases will lead to longer waiting lists for other appeals.
We listen very carefully to the Chief Adjudicator's advice. The Chief Adjudicator has presided over a remarkable expansion of capacity and output since his appointment, with the assistance of a major investment of resources, which is continuing. It is not the Government's position that wider use of the accelerated appeal procedure will of itself reduce overall delays, but we are convinced that it is a necessary part of a wider programme of measures. The package also includes major additional resources now being invested in the appeal system and the improved procedural rules on which the Lord Chancellor has just published proposals after consulting the Chief Adjudicator.
It is important to send, as a deterrent, a signal that unfounded claims will be dealt with speedily--fairly, but speedily--and if fewer such claims are thereby made overall delays will be reduced and genuine refugees will then receive asylum more quickly.
It has to be said that Judge Pearl also told the Glidewell panel that the number of special adjudicators was being increased substantially, that the number of hearing rooms was being increased, that the asylum appeal procedure rules were being strengthened, and that there were government proposals that the adjudicator should be given important new powers to determine preliminary issues and issue procedural directions. These new measures were welcomed by Judge Pearl, and Clause 1 must be seen in the context of a wider package of measures.
I hope that I have given an explanation of the importance of the words "in general", of how we arrive at the view that countries should go on to the designated list, and some of the factors that we take into account. We also recognise the existence of the examples given by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. But underpinning all of
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: As to the last point that the Minister made about the evidence of Judge Pearl, as I said earlier, I was there and I heard his evidence, and I can confirm that what she said is right. He reported to the panel on the increase in the resources being made available to him, both in terms of numbers of adjudicators and space, and his hopes for improvement in the procedural rules. All that is true; it is very valuable and we welcome it.
That leads me to say, however, that it is a pity that, as that session was so helpful, Ministers and officials of the Home Office--presumably on the instruction of Ministers--declined the invitation to appear before or provide written evidence to the Glidewell panel. The quality of our consideration of the Bill--certainly my consideration of the Bill--would have been better if Ministers had participated in what, after all, was a very effective and, as we shall see in the course of our debate, a very persuasive consideration of the issues raised by this Bill.
It still does not really answer the fundamental questions. The Minister's answers are summed up by her remark that the Bill deals with the level of the risk--and I interpret that as in a given country--rather than the risk to an individual. That is the key. It is a risk to an individual that we are concerned with.
Although of course the Minister is technically right in saying that every individual case will be considered, there is and must be a difference in the quality of the consideration between those under the fast track procedure and those under the normal procedure. That must be the case. If more time and effort is spent on determining whether the application or the appeal is justified, then there must be a higher quality of consideration.
Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to the noble Lord. There is absolutely no distinction whatsoever in the quality of the consideration of the substantive case. The distinction arises in the length of the appeal process once a determination as to whether somebody qualifies for asylum or refugee status has been made. But the distinction is not there at all; every single asylum application is considered substantively in exactly the same way, whether the applicant comes from a designated or non-designated country. It is only following the decision resulting from that substantive consideration that there is a distinction in the appeals system.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: In that case it is very difficult to see what is being gained. We have to distinguish between the original application and the appeal. It is true that everybody is still entitled to an appeal--and we will come on to the issue of the further appeal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal in later amendments.
In the case of an individual applicant, the whole process, as far as that applicant is concerned, consists of the way in which the application is considered and the way in which any appeal is considered. Taking those two together, there is a difference--and there must be a difference--in the quality of consideration.
The Minister did not answer my questions about what was meant by "in general". She did not say whether it meant that the minorities were isolated, or that it related to individuals rather than groups. She did not say whether it was concerned with the severity of the persecution. None of that was answered, either in her general response to what I said or in her response to the particular issues which other noble Lords raised.
The words "in general" are designed not to clarify but to obfuscate the issue. They are designed to make the distinction between the countries which are on the list and those which are not easier to manipulate rather than more just.
The Minister went so far as to say that the words "in general" were needed in order to justify the designation. If that is the case, it is the classic circular argument. If one has decided to have a designation and then one decides to make a distinction between countries which are designated or not, then one has to find a form of words which justifies making a distinction. I listened to what the Minister said about the general political considerations. I understand them and, to some extent, I respect them, but she has not justified the words "in general". Those words are dangerous for individual applicants because they generalise the position in individual countries and they should be got rid of. I seek the opinion of the Committee on this amendment.