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Lord Renton: My Lords, no doubt my noble friend Lady Blatch will be answering that particular question and others. Meanwhile, perhaps I may venture to point out that although these amendments are moved with good intentions, there are various fallacies underlying them. I come first to the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, about Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights. I confess that I am one of those who has wanted it to become part of our law and administered by our courts. I shall just repeat what the noble Earl said and hope I have got it right; namely, that nobody should be detained except by a procedure
I return to the point I was making. We have a procedure here which Parliament has prescribed. It is prescription by law. That brings me to the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who said that asylum seekers can be detained merely by immigration officers instead of by judicial process. I wonder whether he is aware, because he made a tremendous amount of party protest over this matter, that it is a procedure which has been followed by Labour governments for years as well as by Conservative governments.
When people come here as immigrants, the immigration officers do not have an easy task. There is a great variety of people to be examined. Some have passports; others do not. Some want to stay here for a long time, perhaps to obtain employment; others do not, and want to come merely to visit. Their passports may have to be marked for a particular period when they remain. But if someone comes here seeking asylum and happens to have no justification for it, or the reasons are very doubtful, under the present law--as I say, it has been the case for a long time--the immigration officer has to detain the person.
Eventually, under the 1995 Act and previous legislation, a judicial process can be invoked. The Bill is largely concerned with strengthening and improving that judicial process. But, fundamentally, it is not something that ought to be changed. Indeed, it is rather significant that the amendment says that there may be detention,
The suggestion that this matter should be handed over to adjudicators--it is assumed that they will have a quasi-judicial function to perform--brings one to the question of whether there would be enough adjudicators to deal with the very large numbers of people who now come here trying to claim asylum. I confess that I do not know how many adjudicators there are, but I know that they are not numerous. In the nature of things, we would not expect them to be numerous. But their numbers would have to be increased if there were an appeal after seven days to an adjudicator. That would perhaps hold up the whole process of getting the matter
The Lord Bishop of Ripon: My Lords, this amendment does not challenge the principle that asylum seekers should be detained but there are many people, in the Churches particularly, who are concerned about lengthy periods of detention without trial and without time limit. There is nothing more hopeless than someone being detained with an uncertain future. My own experience as bishop to prisons teaches me that despair is both psychologically damaging to the individual and extraordinarily stressful. So the Churches would want to support the amendment. Of course it will cost more, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, but justice is at stake here and we believe passionately that it should be observed.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, at the Committee stage I moved and withdrew two small amendments bearing on this point. It seems to me that Amendment No. 1 is a far, far superior one, and I very much welcome and support it.
Lord Milverton: My Lords, I rise to say how I feel about this amendment since the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, kindly wrote me a letter. Although I would like to, I am afraid that I cannot support it. Therefore I am a churchman who would perhaps be in a minority. I am afraid I do not agree with the right reverend Prelate. On the whole, I believe that Her Majesty's Government are doing their best to put right a situation and therefore my noble friend the Minister would have to answer very badly for me to agree with the amendment. I am sure she will not.
I do not believe that people from abroad, whatever their situation or condition, should feel that they can just come to this country and take up residence ad hoc before a final decision is made on whether they should be able to stay. I do not believe that an immigrant or asylum seeker coming here is in the same position as anyone in this country who has found him or herself in criminal proceedings. Let other countries do how they think, but there are only so many human beings a country can absorb, whether here or elsewhere. There are our own people to consider, whatever their origin--not just us whites, Europeans, but whether they be Asian, African or from other ethnic groups. They must be considered too. I believe that Her Majesty's Government have not been narrow, awkward or difficult in this Bill. I am afraid that I cannot respond in a way that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, would like me to respond.
Under the current powers in the 1971 Act a passenger who is required to submit for examination by immigration officers may be detained on the authority of the immigration officer pending the examination or a decision on whether to grant him leave to enter. Once seven days have elapsed from the date of his arrival in the United Kingdom it is open to the detained passenger to apply to an adjudicator for release on bail--so there is the right of challenge. With the exception of my noble friends who have spoken in this debate, most people have spoken as though there is no right to challenge and no right to apply for bail. But there is, and in the same timescale as suggested by the amendment. The adjudicator will review the case in accordance with tried and tested procedures and will decide whether release on bail is appropriate in all the circumstances of the case.
I am aware that a number of noble Lords are concerned that asylum seekers in particular will be deprived of their liberty for an indefinite period without judicial process. That is simply not the case. I make no apology for repeating that since the coming into force of the 1971 Act--my noble friend Lord Renton made the point that it has been on the statute book for a long time and has been administered by many governments, including the government of noble Lords opposite--a passenger detained pending further examination has been able to apply for bail after he has been detained for seven days. That will remain the case and provisions which the Government have included in the Bill will radically expand the opportunities to apply for bail.
The amendment seeks to remove that established procedure and replace it with a completely new arrangement. Instead of the detained applicant seeking bail from an adjudicator, the immigration officer would have to seek an adjudicator's authority to maintain detention.
I mentioned earlier that this amendment is similar in intent to amendments tabled in Committee. However, it differs in the way that it is expressed, and the wording of the amendment would cause me some difficulty even if I was sympathetic to the intentions behind it. It provides the immigration officer with a power to authorise detention of a period of seven days, but it does not make clear whether this is the initial period of seven days following arrival in the United Kingdom, as is currently the case in the 1971 Act, or any period of seven days. That is not made clear in the amendment. That ambiguity is mirrored in the authority which is granted to the adjudicator to confirm detention "for any other period".
I have already asked for the indulgence of the House in repeating comments I made during Committee, and I will now do so again because this is an important point. Decisions to detain are not taken lightly and are subject to regular review by the Immigration Service. Requiring an immigration officer to seek the authority of an adjudicator to maintain detention would undermine the integrity of the on-entry control and
We have recognised that there are difficulties with the current arrangements for detaining people under powers in the 1971 Act. The principal difficulty is that certain groups of people detained under those powers are denied the right to seek bail. It is for that reason that we have taken measures in this Bill to ensure that the right to apply for bail is available to all. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, made reference to guidelines on the detention of asylum seekers issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees when we debated the question of detention in Committee. The noble Lord focused on the second of those guidelines and I hope he will bear with me while I quote it. It refers to,
I turn now to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, about the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. The period of up to seven days may be necessary to allow inquiries to be made of embassies and other sources of information, but that is a maximum. It may not be necessary to use all of those seven days. Very few asylum seekers are detained--in fact, just 1 per cent. are detained and they can apply for bail at any time after the seven days.
I refer now to the European Convention on Human Rights. I know that my noble friend has a view on such things, but the convention is not part of domestic law. However, the Government are satisfied that the Immigration Act 1971 conforms to the provisions of the convention. We are satisfied that the detention of asylum seekers under that Act is compatible both with the European Convention on Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees. Perhaps I may advise the noble Earl that it is not the normal practice of government to disclose the content of legal advice that they have received or sought. The right to challenge after seven days is provided for in the Bill. I therefore regard the amendment as unnecessary.
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