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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: That was a very short reply. I believe there were two critical words in the Minister's reply, the first of which was "exhaustive". I certainly did not claim that the Secretary of State could produce an exhaustive list of grounds for application which would be included in a designated list. Even if it were exhaustive at one time, it would not be exhaustive over a period of time. Anything which improves on the blanket consideration--one is either in or out of the country--is better than the existing situation, or the situation as proposed by the Bill. The second significant word used by the Minister was "spurious". The noble Baroness said that it would be easy for an appellant to put forward a spurious ground because of knowledge of the list which had been produced by the Government in relation to that country. If one devises a scheme entirely on the basis that people will tell lies, either one needs an extremely simple system which excludes everybody or a rather complicated one which attempts to anticipate the lies and deal with them. I suggest to the Minister that the word "spurious" does not mean that anybody can just claim anything that he likes on a spurious basis and expect to get away with it. That would not be possible. It would be possible immediately to identify that the ground specified by the appellant did not bear any relation to reality. The Secretary of State could then genuinely refuse a certificate. I am not convinced by the answer.

Baroness Blatch: I am grateful to the noble Lord. The noble Lord is wrong about that. If an applicant, whether it applied to him or not, could find a reason that was not specified by the Home Secretary, then he could claim that reason. It would mean that he could not be given a certificate. So the reason could be used, and the scope for using it would be considerable, because it actually by-passes and short-circuits the system.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I find that answer to be in conflict with what the Minister said in her first reply about the protection which already exists under the 1951 convention. This is an issue which is relatively close to that which the Committee has already decided. So I do not believe that it is appropriate to seek the opinion of the Committee. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 5, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Avebury moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, Amendment No. 6:


Line 16, at end insert (", but no such order shall include Bulgaria").

The noble Lord said: I had rather hoped to cut this discussion short by speaking about Bulgaria on the earlier amendment, but, since the noble Baroness did not so much as mention Bulgaria in her reply to that amendment to leave out the words "in general", I shall

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have, not to repeat what I have already said, but to underline some of the points that I was making and show how they conflict with the answer that she gave on that occasion.

I would remind the Members of the Committee that this is the only occasion we have for discussing individual countries, because, when the first designation order comes before the House, we will have to vote on them altogether, even though we might make speeches which are directed towards the inclusion on the list of particular countries. One way of cutting short the next sequence of debates would be for the Minister to say that, instead of having an omnibus designation order when the time comes, the Secretary of State will introduce individual designation orders country by country, even if they are all tabled for debate on one occasion. That would be a way in which the Members of the Committee would be able to vote against the inclusion of a particular country on the list, something which otherwise will not be possible.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, the Minister gave some general criteria which would be applied in deciding whether to include a country on the list. Two of them that I noted particularly were: adherence to international obligations and the availability of avenues of redress. In the case of international obligations, I should like to draw the attention of Members of the Committee to the OSCE's Copenhagen Declaration which goes beyond conferring individual rights on members of minorities and actually places a positive obligation on the participating states of the OSCE to promote the identity of their minorities, to allow them to form associations, to link up with corresponding minorities of other countries, to create institutions, and so on. None of that happens in the case of Bulgaria. I mentioned the disallowance of the religious registration of a number of sects--a point which the Minister has not yet covered--and, in particular, the persecution of adherence of the original chief mufti, Fikri Sali and his replacement by a person who was a stooge of the old communist regime.

I do not know whether the Home Office is aware of that, because it seemed to be a matter that was not familiar to the Foreign Office. As my noble friend Lady Williams said on an earlier amendment, there seems to be some lack of communication between the Foreign Office and the Home Office, whatever the Minister may have replied to that point. In the case of Bulgaria, there was a distinct ignorance about the state of affairs of the minorities, not just of the Roma, who have been at the centre of attention so far. They do not actually know about the position of the religious minorities, or of the others, such as the Turks and the Sinti, who are equally subject to persecution.

On the question of the availability of avenues of redress, specifically, the former chief mufti, Fikri Sali, did go to the Supreme Court. His application for restoration to his position was rejected on the ground that the creation of the new Supreme Council and the appointment of a chief mufti by the government was a matter within the discretion of the government and was not a matter for the Moslem community to settle on its own.

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The criteria described by the Minister have been seriously violated in the case of Bulgaria, and it ought not to appear on any list. As this is the only opportunity we shall have to debate the matters specifically, in distinction from any other country that may appear on the list, I venture to suggest that the Committee should take the opportunity of striking it off the list at this stage. I beg to move.

6.45 p.m.

Earl Russell: Anyone who considers Bulgaria in the context of this Bill will almost immediately think of the Bulgarian atrocities. Of course, the point is that now the boot is on the other foot, but that does illustrate that there are some very long-term tensions in Bulgaria--long-term tensions on a level such that one does not expect them to disappear instantly. One hopes to see them diminish, but it is perfectly possible to imagine a situation in which Bulgarian Turks could have a well-founded fear of persecution, even if there might be, in general, no well-founded fear of persecution in Bulgaria as a whole.

My noble friend was quite right to draw attention to the relevance of this case to the misguidedness of the words "in general". I am glad that he has tabled the amendment, and I hope that it will receive attention.

Lord Dubs: I am a little puzzled about something that the Minister said in reply to an earlier amendment, but it is equally relevant to this one. What I have in front of me is a Home Office document called Asylum and Immigration Bill Background Notes by the Home Office. The Minister said that even if people are on a fast-track procedure, their case is still considered in the same detail--I am not sure that those were her exact words--as people who are not on the fast-track procedure. That is the substance of what the Minister said. Obviously, it is as relevant to this amendment as to others. I am therefore puzzled that, in this background paper by the Home Office, it says in the paragraph headed, "Introduction":


    "Applications for asylum from citizens of designated countries would be subject to streamlined substantive consideration and to an accelerated appeals process".

I am puzzled as to what the words, "streamlined substantive consideration" mean. I should have thought that they mean that, in some way, the consideration on that basis is less thorough than for other cases; otherwise, there would be no point in using those three words, and there would have been no point in putting them into this particular paper. I say that I am puzzled because the Minister suggested that it was only the subsequent stages that were speeded up under the fast-track procedure, and it was not the way in which the full case would be considered. I hope that we can have some comment from the Minister as to whether I am right in saying that there is an inconsistency between what she said earlier and what the document says.

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Baroness Rawlings: Bulgaria is a civilised country. It is civilised enough to have been accepted as a member of the Council of Europe. We should not forget that. After all, there are many minority problems and we cannot be the conscience of the world.

Baroness Blatch: The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, wishes to prohibit the Secretary of State from designating certain countries. We think that that is wrong in principle and because we disagree with his assessment of the four countries concerned. We have heard about Bulgaria and, no doubt, we shall hear later of the other countries.

I have to say, as somebody handling the Bill, that I have had something like five different sets of groupings for the amendments today. I find it extremely difficult that only part-way through the proceedings this afternoon did I know that we were going to deal with these amendments singly.


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