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The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, the Government have stated that they are to base their whole policy on science. In view of that fact, will they examine the whole issue again, considering that Dr. Robert Will, of SEAC, was quoted in The Times last week as saying that the clinical basis for the 10 new cases is now in grave doubt, so therefore there are almost certainly no further doubts about CJD? Secondly, SEAC also said that there was nothing wrong in eating beef over 30 months old provided it was on the bone. Thirdly, considering the grave doubt that is now put on the food chain theory as to the cause of BSE, will my noble friend please make sure that all the science is examined again with a far more rational mind and a much more open approach?

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. Looking at the science in a rational manner is precisely what we are doing. In fact, I repeat that there is probably a more concentrated and expensive programme of research into BSE being carried out in this country than in any other country in the world, for reasons that must be obvious to the House. It is far too early for us to come to certain conclusions about the origins of BSE, its cause and its transferability into humans. Also, so far as I know it is still not proven that

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transferability is a fact. The sooner the research can come to solid conclusions on that, the happier I shall be, as will my noble friend.

Asylum and Immigration Bill

4.43 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

Lord Brightman moved Amendment No. 58:


Before Clause 8, insert the following new clause--

("Young unaccompanied asylum seekers
Young asylum seekers: special appeals procedures

. Section 1 of this Act shall not apply to an appeal by a young unaccompanied asylum seeker and accordingly paragraph 5 of Schedule 2 to the 1993 Act (special procedures for claims without foundation) as heretofore enacted shall continue to apply to such an appeal.").

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, with this amendment I speak also to Amendment No. 101 which defines what is meant by a young, unaccompanied asylum seeker. So far as I am aware, nothing turns on the definition, and I can leave it unless anything arises at a later stage.

The amendment disapplies Clause 1 of the Bill in the case of a very vulnerable category of asylum seeker; namely, children who are 17 years old or younger and completely on their own in this country. The special case of these children was, to the great credit of the Government, recognised by the establishment, in 1994, under the auspices of the Home Office of the panel of advisers with a particular commitment to unaccompanied refugee children. With this amendment, I ask the Government to recognise the special problems of these unfortunate youngsters by leaving the law as it now stands in their particular case without subjecting them to the tighter disciplines of Clause 1 of the Bill.

Perhaps I may take up a few moments of your Lordships' time to explain briefly what the law now is and how Clause 1 of the Bill will change that law, so that your Lordships can decide whether you wish to see unaccompanied child refugees subjected to that change.

Under present law, when an asylum seeker arrives in this country his application for asylum is first considered by the Home Office. If entry is refused by the Home Office, the asylum seeker can appeal to a "special adjudicator". If the special adjudicator decides against the asylum seeker, the asylum seeker has an unrestricted right to appeal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal. All that is laid down by the 1971 Act.

The 1993 Act added a restriction on the right of an asylum seeker to appeal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal. The restriction is this. If both the Home Office and the special adjudicator agree that the claim of the asylum seeker is "without foundation", there is no right to appeal from the special adjudicator to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal. The decision of the special adjudicator is final. "Without foundation" is defined as meaning "frivolous or vexatious". I do not

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seek to change that law in any way. I am content that unaccompanied refugee children should continue not to have a right to appeal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal if their claims are frivolous or vexatious.

However, Clause 1 of the Bill seeks to impose a far greater restriction on appeals, whether by adults or children. First, the clause provides that if the asylum seeker comes from a designated country--that is, a country that has been designated by the Secretary of State as substantially persecution free--then and in that case the Home Office and the special adjudicator can agree that there should be no appeal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal.

Secondly, Clause 1 gives an extended meaning to the phrase "without foundation". It means not only a claim that is frivolous or vexatious; it also covers this sort of scenario: unexplained failure to produce a passport; production of a false passport without disclosing its validity; delayed claims to asylum; or making untrue statements.

Taking into account the fact that we are dealing with children who may have fled from horrors that we can scarcely imagine, and who may be traumatised at finding themselves without parents or friends to accompany them in a country whose language they almost certainly cannot speak, is it right to add to their problems by subjecting them to the stricter regime imposed by Clause 1? Would not it be more humane to leave those children subject to the existing rule laid down by the 1993 Act and deny them a right to appeal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal only when their claim is without foundation; that is to say, frivolous or vexatious?

We know from the Minister's own words at Committee stage that the objects of Clause 1 of the Bill are twofold: first, to bring down "the large backlog of unresolved cases"; and, secondly, to,

    "send a strong signal that unfounded claims will be met by robust procedures".--[Official Report, 30/4/96; col. 1540.]
Will those two objects be furthered by impeding the right of appeal of a mere 600 children? Do we want to be seen applying robust procedures to children aged 17 and under who are here on their own?

Your Lordships may wish to know how this matter was dealt with by the Government at Committee stage. An amendment similar to this one was the first limb of an amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady David, and ultimately withdrawn. I have carefully scrutinised the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Batch, and only three arguments were submitted against the exclusion from Clause 1 of 17 year-olds and younger children who arrive here unaccompanied. First, Clause 1 does not change the special arrangements for considering applications from unaccompanied children put in place by the Home Office in May 1995. Their cases will continue to be given special priority and care by the Home Office. That is a reference to paragraph 350 of the Immigration Rules. Secondly, unaccompanied children 17 and under will continue to have the services of the Refugee Council's panel of advisers, the local authority and the Red Cross. Thirdly,

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the Home Office will take into account the child's particular circumstances and each case will be considered on its merits.

Those were the only arguments advanced by the Government at Committee stage. I do not see how they support the proposition that it should be made more difficult than it is already for unaccompanied 17 year-olds and younger children to appeal from the special adjudicator in a case which is not frivolous or vexatious.

To sum up, a child (like an adult asylum seeker) under existing law is barred from appealing to the tribunal if the claim is without foundation; that is to say, frivolous or vexatious. Do we want the claim of a child of that young age who arrives here alone also to be barred because, for example, it comes from a country designated by the Secretary of State as substantially persecution free, or has a false passport without disclosing its invalidity, or makes a false statement to an immigration officer? There are only about 600 children a year involved compared with a total tally of about 44,000 asylum seekers each year. I ask your Lordships to leave the law as it now stands with regard to child asylum seekers who are on their own and not to increase their problems.

Finally, this amendment is strongly supported by the Refugee Council, which is a government funded concern and is probably as well informed as anyone about the plight of children who are here on their own. I beg to move.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: My Lords, I am glad to support the amendment in the name of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman. I thank him for moving it. It is good to see him in his place. We missed him sadly at the Committee stage of the Bill.

Children are among those who, at every stage in history, have been most vulnerable in situations of conflict. One has only to remember the Biblical story of the Massacre of the Innocents under Herod the Great. Children are always at risk during conflicts. They are particularly deserving of our close attention.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, made clear the legal consequence of this amendment. Particularly at stake is the right of somebody seeking asylum to have a right of appeal. Were the Bill to be made law as it stands, those young unaccompanied asylum seekers who fall under the provisions of Clause 1 would not have the right of appeal.

I want to add only one or two points to the noble and learned Lord's argument. Those of us who read the applications and determinations of asylum seekers realise how easy it is for all asylum seekers at times and in certain circumstances to be confused, disoriented and unable to present immediately a clear story. Time and again that comes through the papers that many of us read. If that is true of all asylum seekers, how much more true is it of those who are young, under the age of 17, particularly if they are unaccompanied and separated from their families, finding themselves on their own in an unfamiliar country, in an unfamiliar culture and

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among people whom they probably do not know. Also, they may have all kinds of difficulties in articulating the reasons which made them come to this country.

What will happen if the right of appeal is removed, even if only for those in certain circumstances? It might well be the case that such young children find difficulty in presenting their full case before the appeal stage is reached. I know that the Minister will say that those coming from countries declared safe will surely not be in situations where they suffer trauma. That may be true in general but it is not always true in particular circumstances. It is the case that children who arrive with false documents will fall under the provisions of Clause 1 and there may be many who arrive with false documents for perfectly good reasons. That may be the only way in which they are able to get into the country; they may not be able to obtain any kind of document until they reach the age of majority; or there may be a very inadequate system of registering births. There are all kinds of reasons why children arrive with false documents. Of itself, that does not meant that their cases should be given less attention.

It seems to me that our own legislation on the need to pay attention to the rights of children, together with those international obligations to which we are a signatory--for instance, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child--should make us pay the sharpest attention to the situation of young, unaccompanied, asylum seekers. I am glad to support the amendment.

5 p.m.

Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, whom I am delighted to see back in his place, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon, in supporting this amendment. They have said so much that I can be relatively brief in expressing further support for it.

The amendment and associated amendments--the House will bear with me if I refer to the group of amendments which deals with the issue of unaccompanied children--are extremely carefully phrased and try to deal with all the legitimate objections which might be raised. This amendment deals with the legitimate objection that some people may pretend to be younger or older than they are and therefore makes provision for reference to a panel of paediatricians to determine that issue. It may be that some young, unaccompanied asylum seekers will not have any knowledge about how to handle the issues before them. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, pointed out, the amendment makes provision for them to be referred to the panel of advisers to the Refugee Council--the government-financed expert body.

The amendment tries to deal with the issue of placing young people in detention if they might abscond as distinct from placing them elsewhere in detention if they are likely to abscond. It recognises that it is better for young people under the age of 18 not to be detained with much older people and in conditions where they cannot receive continuing education. Our understanding,

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as the proposers of the amendment, is that children kept in detention, sometimes for weeks and even months, do not have access to education and in most cases are being held together with others.

The amendment tries to express its qualification to the Bill in the most moderate and carefully thought-through terms. At the end of the day it argues that young people under the age of 18 who are not accompanied by any responsible adult should be treated in more merciful and careful ways than those who are over that age or who are accompanied by a responsible adult.

As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon argued, many young people will need to obtain records from their home country to establish their position; in some cases they may need to go through a medical examination to establish their age and in some cases they are so traumatised that it is difficult for them to put their case together. The amendment pleads only that they should not be treated via the fast-track procedure; that they are rightly judged as being in a separate category and one to which we should show a more extensive understanding than we do in the case of adults. It gives me not only great pleasure, but also a sense of great honour to support the amendment moved by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, and spoken to by the right reverend Prelate.

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