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Lord Winston: Does the Minister regard separation from one's children unreasonably as being torture? Would that be regarded as being discrimination on the basis of gender? I should like clarification on that point.

Baroness Blatch: I should need to know all the circumstances. That is a broad scenario. It would depend upon why they were separated; what were the conditions of separation; and, frankly, whether it was a man separated from his family or a woman separated from her family. If the degree of persecution were such that it came within the convention, then it would be properly considered as a case within the broad parameters of the convention.

The convention refers to social groups, and I have given some indication that there is considerable interpretation of what constitutes a social group. It is a degree of persecution that would be proper in that case. Without more detail, it is impossible for me to answer that question specifically.

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To finish on the point as to whether the list is exhaustive, yes, it is exhaustive. But as I have said, and I hope that I have convinced the Committee, gender can be taken into account where it is relevant to the degree of persecution.

Earl Russell: Before my noble friend replies, perhaps I may thank the Minister for that reply. Perhaps I may say that an amendment may sometimes be unnecessary because it has been moved when, had it not been moved, it might be very necessary indeed.

Baroness Blatch: The debate on the amendment has been most helpful because the issue has concerned all Members of the Committee. I hope that I have been able to convince my noble friend that the issue of gender will be subsumed within the confined restraints of the 1951 convention. The debate has been useful on two counts; first, in explaining that the amendment is defective and, secondly, in trying to assure the Committee that such cases can be taken into account under the criteria set out in the convention.

Baroness Seear: I believe that the Minister said that "social group" could be applied to "gender group", either men or women. If that is so everyone is covered one way or another. What is the real interpretation of "social group"? Does it refer only to women or only to men?

Baroness Blatch: I said that it depends on the case. Someone may claim to have been persecuted and may have a well-founded fear of persecution. The example was given of a woman who refused to wear a veil being deemed a prostitute. The consequence of being a prostitute is that she may lose her life on that ground alone. It could be that a group of people who fall into that category could be constituted as a group. It would depend on the particular case, the particular degree of persecution and the social group; whether they are women or men, whether they belong to a particular group of women or men, or to a particular group of men or women who are persecuted and hounded simply because they are who they are or because they hold certain beliefs.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: I am grateful to the Minister for that full reply. I wish to clarify only one matter. She said that she needed to know exactly what case one might have in mind; perhaps I may give an example. I am somewhat haunted by my visit to the refugee camps in Croatia when evidence first emerged that there was systematic use of rape as an instrument of war. The Minister will remember that the Warburton Report was published soon afterwards. Would it be possible under the Bill to regard, for example, women subjected to repeated rape, in particular women under the age of maturity, by an enemy group as falling within the special social group definition? I was most anxious about the provision because the list appeared to be exclusive. Unless such women qualify as a special social group they will not

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be covered. That is one of the main reasons why I moved the amendment. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that final point.

Baroness Blatch: I understand that as regards the particular scenario set out by the noble Baroness the answer is yes. Perhaps I may read from Article 33 of the convention. It states:

    "No Contracting State shall expel or return a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom",

which is the whole purpose of applying for asylum,

    "would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion".

Those are the parameters of the convention and all the examples given by the noble Baroness will fall within them. What would fall to be judged is the degree of the fear of persecution.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: In case there is a Division, perhaps I may assure the noble Baroness that if women are treated in the way she said they were, that would, within my concept, totally come within fear of persecution. My intervention, which was not intended to be discourteous, was based upon some such assumption.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 17 not moved.]

The Chairman of Committees: I must point out to the Committee that if Amendment No. 18 is agreed to I cannot call Amendments Nos. 19 or 20.

Lord Dubs moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, Amendment No. 18:

Leave out lines 31 to 39.

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 18 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 19 and 20. Amendments Nos. 18 and 20 increase the rights of asylum seekers who have been recommended for deportation or for removal from this country. Amendment No. 19 is concerned with the rights of asylum seekers who are refused admission to this country at the airports or the seaports. Although the issues are similar there are some differences between them.

Perhaps I may deal first with the issues concerning deportation or removal of asylum seekers and the rights that they would lose under the Bill but would have if the amendments were passed. The problem is that persons living illegally in this country may at some point be recommended for deportation or the Government may wish to remove them. If that happens and the individual is in fear of persecution in his country he loses the right to have his case considered fully and properly because he will be certificated and therefore fast tracked as a result of the process I have described: the individual will have failed to apply for asylum before the deportation or removal proceedings are commenced.

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The difficulty is that the individual may have an impeccable claim that he will be persecuted in his own country. Yet he will lose the right to have his case considered as fairly and properly as would have happened had he made an asylum claim before the deportation or removal procedures were initiated.

It is a well established fact that people may be deported for significant or relatively insignificant reasons. I do not condone any criminal offence, but a fairly minor criminal offence may lead to deportation proceedings starting. An individual will then have a lesser right to claim asylum or to have an asylum claim properly considered. That can be most alarming. Let us suppose that the asylum seeker was convicted in his country of the theft of a loaf of bread. I do not condone for one moment theft or criminal behaviour of any kind. However, one must set against that act what might be the most appalling outcome for that individual if he is returned to his own country. The amendment is tabled in order to ensure that such people have the maximum safeguards in terms of being able to exercise their full rights of appeal.

Amendment No. 19 is somewhat different and is concerned with people who arrive in this country and seek admission. If they do not claim asylum at the port of entry they too may be fast tracked. The amendment seeks to add the words "without reasonable explanation".

People arrive at British ports not knowing the detail of our procedures. If they have a visa to enter the country they may believe that that is sufficient and may intend to apply for asylum after admission. That is normal behaviour. Indeed, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees issued a statement to that effect in relation to the 1992 Bill in which it was stated:

    "No conclusion with respect to an asylum-seeker's credibility--be it positive or negative--can be drawn from the fact that he has failed to apply forthwith upon arrival to a country".

However, the Bill seeks to draw precisely such a conclusion. It seeks to suggest that the asylum seeker's credibility is less and therefore his rights in terms of appeal procedures and time to deal with the various stages of the appeal will be reduced if there was a failure to apply immediately on reaching the port in this country. Indeed, asylum seekers may be apprehensive that if they claim asylum on arriving at Heathrow or Dover, the authorities might remove them immediately from the country. There is then the danger that they may be returned in stages to the country from which they fled and, therefore, face danger.

In that case, they have had the trauma of escaping from a country where they were facing persecution. They are relieved that they have arrived in Britain. They feel that they want first to get into the country. Therefore, with those worries, it is not surprising that people do not make the claim at the point of entry when they meet immigration officials.

Indeed, I have an unreported decision from an Immigration Appeal Tribunal case, Latif Mohammed v. Secretary of State on 1st February 1991. The judgment stated:

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    "It seems to us entirely understandable that a potential refugee would think it far preferable to obtain admission before applying for asylum than applying for asylum at the airport".

It is to protect the rights of asylum seekers in those two situations that I have spoken to the amendments. I beg to move Amendment No. 18.

4 p.m.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: This amendment creates some severe practical problems. Surely if you have a genuine, real, important fear of persecution, either because you have been persecuted or tortured--and you know jolly well how serious that is--or because you are a member of a social group which has been subjected to such treatment, and you wish to claim asylum, in the ordinary way you should do so on arrival in this country.

The noble Lord quoted an unreported decision. There are all sorts of unreported decisions and all sorts of reported decisions. Some of them make sense and some do not. To my mind, the decision which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, quoted makes no sense at all. I take the noble Lord's point that the procedures, certainly if they change, may well not be known. But surely that problem can be met in an administrative fashion by drawing to the attention of those who enter their position as regards claiming asylum if they wish to do so. Forms could be produced. There are various ways in which that can be done.

The noble Lord said that credibility is lessened if the claim is made after the person has come in rather than at the time of entry. Inevitably that is so. That is inevitable because if there is an urgent, genuine fear, in the ordinary way you state that when you reach this country.

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