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Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, because Rockall is important for the United Kingdom and there are claims on it from at least three other countries, it is surprising that that has not already been dealt with, if Rockall is the problem. I have a special interest because I was the Secretary of State who put the Bill through Parliament which became the Rockall Act nearly 25 years ago, confirming and declaring that Rockall is part of Scotland.

Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I know that my noble friend worked extremely hard on that. However, while there is so much uncertainty around this is not the time to amend unilaterally the British fisheries limits, which would obviously be required if we were to bring them into line with UNCLOS. My noble friend will be well aware that that is the reason.

London Local Authorities Bill [H.L.]

3.33 p.m.

Read a third time, and passed, and sent to the Commons.

University College London Bill

Read a third time.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(The Chairman of Committees.)

Lord Annan: My Lords, perhaps I can just say how glad I am that the Royal Free Hospital Medical School is now to be part of the University College. It was recommended 30 or more years ago by Lord Todd, endorsed by my noble friend Lord Flowers 15 years ago and at last it has come to pass. If universities were able to reform a little more quickly, they might receive more sympathy today when they are in a very bad way.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, having listened to the last comment I should like to make clear that I consider this to be an equal merger of the two medical schools. In no way is the Royal Free Hospital to be submerged.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and my noble friend

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Lady Gardner of Parkes will forgive me if I do not respond to their helpful contributions. I know that some noble Lords are less familiar than others with the practice and procedure of your Lordships' House where Private Bills are concerned. Perhaps in defence of your Lordships I should explain that, if points are to be raised, notice is given and a sponsor appointed from the Back Benches to respond to any helpful contributions that may be made.

I am sure that if that line had been pursued and the sponsor appointed, he or she would have responded in a most welcoming way to both the contributions which have been made. I commend the Bill to the House.

On Question, Bill passed.

Offensive Weapons Bill

The Earl of Lauderdale: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Moved, That the order of commitment be discharged.--(The Earl of Lauderdale.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Trading Schemes Bill

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Therefore, unless any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.

Moved, That the order of commitment be discharged.--(Lord Astor of Hever.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Asylum and Immigration Bill

3.38 p.m.

Report received.

Lord Dubs moved Amendment No. 1:

Before Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

Powers of detention

(". In sub-paragraph (1) of paragraph 16 of Schedule 2 of the 1971 Act (detention of persons liable to examination or removal) for the words "under the authority of an immigration officer" there shall be substituted the words--
"(a) for a period of up to seven days, under the authority of an immigration officer ; or
(b) for any other period, under the authority of an adjudicator upon application by an immigration officer,"").

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, in any democratic country that believes in and practises the rule of law it is an extreme step to deny anyone their liberty. That is why Parliament has always been concerned to ensure that there are adequate safeguards before anyone is kept in a prison or detention centre, thus losing their freedom. Yet there is one group of people--asylum seekers--who are detained without any judicial process and lose their liberty simply on the decision of a Home Office official. Those are people against whom there are no criminal charges and who are therefore completely innocent.

Locking up such people as an administrative act without a judicial safeguard cannot be right. At any point in time there are between 600 and 700 people detained under the Immigration Act powers, the majority being asylum seekers. However, the total number detained may reach several thousand. It is not pleasant being detained. Judge Tumim, when he inspected Campsfield House Detention Centre in February 1995, was quite shocked and said in his report,

    "Detention without a time limit, no matter how reasonable the physical conditions, is extremely stressful. When combined with an uncertain future, language difficulties, a perceived or real lack of information and the fact that some detainees appeared to be terrified at the prospect of being deported, the stress increases".

I remind your Lordships of how we treat other people in Britain who are detained in prisons or other places, such as police stations. Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, which is the main legislation in this area, the longest period that anyone can be detained without charge is 96 hours. Even then the police must obtain the approval of the court for the detention to continue beyond 36 hours and again beyond 72 hours.

I turn to the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Here the maximum time that anyone can be detained without charge is seven days. In contrast, asylum seekers can be detained indefinitely with no prospect of a charge at all. In practice, their detention may vary from a few weeks to a year or longer. What options do those people have at the moment? They can return to their country of origin, which is a potentially dangerous process if they are liable to face persecution. Small wonder that several have committed suicide rather than face the risk of returning. An alternative is that they can apply for bail. At first sight that would seem to be the answer, but in practice very few bail applications succeed when taken up by asylum seekers. The reason is, I understand, that the sums demanded average about £2,000 and that is quite beyond the reach of asylum seekers and their friends. That means that in practice there is no effective bail system for asylum seekers. But even if there were, I suggest that that would be no substitute for having a proper judicial process to determine that detention is appropriate.

I turn briefly to what happens in other countries. Thanks to the efforts of the Refugee Council which did some research on the practice in nine European countries, I can say that there is a judicial process determining the detention in each one of those countries. Perhaps I may take a moment to give a few examples. In the Netherlands an appeal against a decision to detain may be taken to the district court. In Italy an asylum seeker can appeal to the relevant tribunal. In Denmark

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any foreign detainee is brought before a judge within three days of detention and the court will decide the length of time that the asylum seeker will be detained. In Belgium a judicial appeal can be brought against a decision to detain. In Finland any decision to detain must be reviewed by a court within five days. In Sweden there must be a review of the decision to detain after two weeks. In Portugal any decision to detain must be confirmed by a judge within 48 hours and similarly in France, Germany and Spain.

Each one of those countries has a judicial safeguard as regards detaining innocent people against whom there are no charges and who happen to be asylum seekers. But I argue that what we do in this country should not depend on what is done by others. After all, we have a longer tradition of democracy, natural justice and the rule of law than any of the countries I have mentioned.

My amendment is extremely simple and modest. If it is accepted, it will mean that an asylum seeker is to be detained for no more than seven days, other than when that further detention is authorised by an immigration adjudicator. In other words, the Home Office will have to go to an adjudicator and put its case if it wishes to detain an asylum seeker beyond seven days. An adjudicator, well-experienced in matters of asylum anyway, will then have to decide whether the Home Office has justified the detention.

Therefore, the amendment does not challenge the principle that asylum seekers may be detained; it simply says that there should be judicial safeguards. When this matter was raised at Committee stage, the Minister suggested that such a safeguard would impose more burdens on the Home Office and be excessively bureaucratic. The answer to that is this. I am aware that the Home Office already carries out detailed reviews of persons detained and that authority for detention beyond a certain period has to be decided at quite a senior official level. Therefore, my amendment would not significantly increase the burden on the Home Office. It simply means that the judgment about an individual case as regards continued detention, which is now made by Home Office officials, will have to be considered and approved by an immigration adjudicator. But even if my amendment, if accepted, were to increase the burden on the Home Office, I argue that there is a price to be paid for justice and the rule of law. It is surely wrong that asylum seekers have fewer rights than criminals and fewer than suspected terrorists. That cannot be the way in which we wish to treat these people. I ask the House to support this amendment. I beg to move.

3.45 p.m.

Earl Russell: We are dealing here with detention without cause shown. The main reason why detention without cause shown is egregious is that it is detention which cannot be judicially controlled by any legal process. If no cause is shown, one cannot decide whether the cause is sufficient. If it is done to British subjects it is illegal by a long tradition of measures stretching back to the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 and The Petition of Right of 1628. The question is whether it is also in any sense illegal if it is inflicted on people within our shores who are not British subjects.

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There are two legal authorities which might possibly bear on this point. The first is Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights:

    "Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be deprived of his liberty ... save in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law".
I am aware that the present Home Secretary does not have a great affection for the European Convention on Human Rights. That is a debate which we need not enter now. For the time being it is a legal obligation accepted by this country. It seems to me that there is good sense in the view that, so long as we agree to be bound by a legal obligation, we should keep it. As recently as the beginning of this Parliament that was an observation which Ministers used to make frequently. So I ask the noble Baroness: has the Home Office taken any legal advice on the question of whether its policy of detention infringes Article 5 of the European Convention?

The second authority to which I wish to refer is Article 16(1) of the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees. I remind the House that that is not merely an international obligation. It is incorporated in British law by Section 2 of the Asylum Act 1993, which your Lordships may remember we passed not that long ago. So it is binding on us by our own authority. We agreed with it.

Article 16(1) provides,

    "a refugee shall have free access to the courts of law on the territory of all contracting states".
I am aware that a case can be argued on both sides as to whether that clause condemns what the Home Office does at present. I am aware that in certain circumstances access to the courts exists and is valued. But the question is whether the effect of this procedure of detention without cause shown is to exclude such access in relation to the causes of the detention and whether, therefore, it is contrary to Article 16(1) of the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees.

I am not a lawyer. I would not wish to give any ex cathedra opinion on this point. But I would like to know whether the Home Office has taken legal advice on this point and, if it has, whether we can discover what the advice says.

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