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Asylum and Immigration Bill

6.20 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 1 [Extension of special appeals procedures]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 2, line 2, at end insert ("without giving a reasonable explanation of his failure to do so").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 1 I wish also to speak to Amendment No. 5. I shall do so briefly, but there is a Motion now before the House, or there will be, and if the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits, wishes to intervene after I have introduced Amendment No. 1, it would be appropriate for him to do so. I am sure that he will find a way of relating his remarks to my amendment.

We debated Amendment No. 1 at an earlier stage, but the Government gave a quite inadequate answer on it and the issues are still far from clear. Clause 1 is concerned with the special appeals procedures, the so-called fast-track procedure. Subsection (3) deals with the issue of whether the appellant produced a valid passport. Subsection (3) applies if the appellant,


    "produced a passport which was not in fact valid and failed to inform the officer of that fact".
In Amendment No. 1, we propose that the proviso:

    "without giving a reasonable explanation of his failure to do so",
should be added to subsection (3)(b). In other words, the same proviso as is contained in paragraph (a) should also be provided in paragraph (b).

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Without going over all the ground which was debated at an earlier stage, I wish to make a point which may be helpful to the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits. It is a matter on which the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has given us specific advice and I hope that the noble Lord will feel that the issue of adherence to the United Nations convention on refugees of 1951 and, from time to time, the views of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is of enormous importance and pervades the whole of the Bill. The UNHCR specifically allows that genuine refugees may have false papers, they may break the law and may lie at the port of entry. That is relevant to the decision which the Committee has just taken about applications at the port of entry. People who are perfectly genuine refugees may find it necessary to produce false papers; they may have a reasonable explanation of their failure to produce a valid passport, but they fail to produce it.

The all-pervasive point, which relates to the decision which the Committee took on Amendment No. 6 which we have just debated, is that using such methods--in other words, lying at the point of entry, having false papers and breaking the law--is often an indication of genuine fears. If you wish to come to this country you do not come and produce a fake passport unless you have fears about being returned to your own country. You do not try to talk your way in if you wish to be an asylum applicant, unless you have the kind of fears which are often shown by prevarication or even lying at the point of entry. So genuine fears should only count if no reasonable explanation can be given.

I do not deny that there are people who come to this country who tell lies in order to get here and seek entry for economic reasons. It is not our concern to deny the Government's intention that there should be a fast-track procedure for such people. However, the clause as drafted provides so many other ways of excluding the possibility of people's claims being given full consideration that it would be reasonable to make this modest change and to provide that there could be a reasonable explanation for having a passport which is not valid and failing to inform the officer of that fact. That is not a way of telling whether a person is a genuine applicant. I fear that the fast-track procedure could, under those circumstances, work to the disadvantage of genuine applicants. I beg to move.

Lord Jakobovits: My Lords, I am intensely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, for giving me a reliable peg on which to hang remarks which, for reasons I shall now explain, I could not make earlier. I have only just returned from a seven-week academic assignment in Australia and New Zealand. Therefore, I could not participate in earlier debates on this important Bill. With the leave of the House, perhaps I may be permitted to speak briefly at this stage. This may be as good a slot as I am likely to find for remarks on a Bill of deep and profound concern to me.

Let me say at once that I must declare my interest. I myself entered this country as a refugee from Nazi oppression about 60 years ago. How lucky I was to arrive before refugees were renamed "asylum seekers"

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with, I think, overtones or connotations of being mentally unbalanced. I owe my life and the lives of my immediate family to Britain's hospitality and magnanimity in offering us a home and a refuge, not to mention the undreamt of opportunities which have come my way. I am obviously keen to see similar blessings made available to others in need.

Permit me to recall my maiden speech just over eight years ago on the Immigration Bill of 1988. I concluded with a plea:

    "to remember that we are all, each one of us, temporary residents on this planet where we have to learn the art of living together in harmony before our visa expires and we are called to migrate to another world".--[Official Report, 4/3/88; col. 377.]

In the present debate one cannot but deplore the deep divisions, passions and antagonisms aroused on both sides of the argument, inside as well as outside this House. It is surely a thousand pities and an irony that a measure designed to encourage and regulate the practice of kindness and charity should sow so much bitterness among ourselves.

In my remarks I want to attempt to narrow the divisions and find some common ground likely to command maximum agreement and consensus. On the one hand, surely as a nation nurtured in the biblical heritage we ought to be united in submitting to the precept in the Book of Leviticus:

    "And if a stranger sojourn with you in your land, you shall not oppress him. The stranger ... shall be with you like the home-born among you, and you shall love him as yourself".
Other injunctions, too, call on us to extend social benefits to the native-born and the stranger alike.

Once an alien finds himself on these shores, whatever his legal status on arrival, it would be quite wrong and cruel to deny him the elementary claims to food and shelter granted to any native citizen. It would be morally unacceptable to expose him to hunger or homelessness. One hopes that, by decisions made in the course of this debate and the one earlier, that will indeed be effected.

On the other hand, whether such an alien alighting on our shores should be admitted or allowed to stay is a different matter altogether. Clearly there are grave and widespread abuses. Many plead political persecution when, as we heard, what draws them to this country is economic advantage rather than escaping from some threat to their lives or their freedom.

Britain is among the world's most densely populated countries. It is only realistic to accept some limit on fugitives from countries with populations numbering scores of millions or more, if the social health of our society is to be maintained and especially if the innate tolerance of our citizens is to be preserved against excesses and prejudices born of fear or deprivation.

In an unstable and increasingly hungry world, drained by civil wars, famine and over-population in many countries, the pressures of migration could mount dramatically and far beyond the capacity of a single country to absorb. An equitable balance, based on existing economics and populations, ought to be worked out on an inter-European or global basis to determine how any anticipated or actual flow of refugees is to be allocated in a manner that does justice to hosts and refugees alike.

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Moreover, in our own minds we should convert the country from appearing to be an asylum into becoming a sanctuary. That will turn us all in the end into beneficiaries, being, as we hope, advantaged rather than impoverished by the newcomers and by their culture, and perhaps even by their economic contributions, as happened notably in the United States of America. To the degree that new arrivals feel welcome and appreciated, they will work harder to become an asset rather than a liability. Successful integration depends on hosts and newcomers alike. And that success is a true measure of our civilisation.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am in some difficulty. I have enormous admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits. He has made a wide-sweeping speech but, I believe, a Bill do now pass speech. He was invited personally by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, to make that speech. At this stage of the proceedings I am charged to respond to an amendment to the Bill. Therefore I shall respond to the noble Lord's remarks when I come to wind up the debate. He made some important points and it would be right for me to respond to them. However, if the House will forgive me, I shall reply to the amendment on the Marshalled List.

Identical amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and his colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, were debated fully in Committee and on Report. I am therefore very surprised that the noble Lords have again decided to return to this issue at Third Reading. I explained in detail in Committee and on Report why the amendment was unacceptable. Therefore I shall have to be repetitious; the amendment has not changed, nor has my retort to it.

We have consistently made clear that we expect asylum seekers to be completely honest and frank with our immigration authorities on arrival in this country. Dishonesty and concealment damage credibility. Of all people, they damage the credibility of the asylum seeker himself. We accept that there might be circumstances where a genuine refugee would need to use false papers in order to flee a country in which that person had a genuine fear of persecution. Under the Bill, no adverse consequences arise for the asylum seeker merely because that person presents an invalid, forged or stolen passport on arrival here, provided that the applicant declares the forgery to the immigration officer. But what is unacceptable, and casts doubt on credibility, is an attempt to pass off a fake identity or forged passport as genuine. It is the dishonesty inherent in such an attempt which triggers the accelerated appeal procedure. That is why we are unable to accept this amendment.

Those presenting false papers to our immigration officers are, after all, not doing so out of necessity. By definition, they have already fled the country in which they claim to fear persecution and have arrived at their chosen place of safety. Such deception cannot be condoned. They have even been asked about the forged document or the papers that are not in order. In order to answer that question they will have to be dishonest if they choose deception rather than honesty at the point of entry. I regard that as needing some courage, too.

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Like the rest of Clause 1, sub-paragraph (3) will not prejudice the consideration of the asylum claim on its merits. If the claim is valid, asylum or exceptional leave will be granted regardless of document deception used on arrival. And the Bill will not penalise the genuine asylum seeker who has to travel on false papers, provided he is honest and declares the false papers on arrival.

I reject the argument that sub-paragraph (3)(b) as currently drafted is contrary to the terms of Article 31 of the 1951 United Nations convention, as hinted by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. Article 31 states that refugees shall not be penalised on account of their illegal entry provided they present themselves without delay to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry and presence.

First, the issue of a certificate only comes into play after the claim has been considered fully and on merit and has been found to be invalid. By definition, therefore, the Secretary of State has concluded that the applicant is not a refugee under the terms of the convention.

But, secondly, applying a certificate to a refused asylum claim, thereby triggering an accelerated appeal procedure, cannot be construed as imposing a penalty in terms of Article 31. As I have just said, repeating what I have said on many occasions, all claims will still be considered on merit in the usual way. All applicants will still have an appeal to an independent adjudicator if the claim is refused. This is a perfectly adequate procedure in such cases and cannot be termed a penalty. Moreover, those who enter or attempt to gain entry using false papers would have had ample opportunity to present themselves to the UK authorities to apply for asylum when examined by an immigration officer on arrival. It is the dishonesty inherent in deceiving the immigration officer that triggers the certificate if the claim is refused.

I confirm that the noble Lord coupled Amendment No. 5 with this amendment. That was my understanding. As I understand it, Amendment No. 5 appears to proceed from the misapprehension that any asylum seeker who uses deception in order to secure his passage to the United Kingdom will automatically and consequently fall within the terms of the offence which would be created by Clause 4. That is simply not the case.

As I have said during consideration of the Bill, we recognise that asylum seekers may have to practise deception in order to leave their own country and travel to this country. I say again that what we do not accept is that having arrived in the United Kingdom, the deception, such as reliance on false travel documents, is maintained in an effort to secure entry in a capacity other than as a refugee. An asylum seeker who has employed deception in order to reach the United Kingdom but then presents himself at the control and seeks asylum will have absolutely nothing to fear from the offence in Clause 4.

However, the effect of the amendment would not only be felt on entry. It would also completely remove a criminal sanction when an asylum seeker practises deception in order to secure leave to remain. It is

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difficult to imagine any circumstances where an asylum seeker would need to employ deception in order to secure leave to remain as a refugee or on an exceptional basis unless he actually had no claim to such status and his asylum claim was a work of fiction or deception. I am unclear why the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and colleagues who support him in the amendment wish to see such people free from the threat of criminal conviction and punishment, but I have to accept that that is what the noble Lord does mean. For all of those reasons, I hope that the amendment will not be accepted.

6.45 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Minister quoted, entirely properly, from Article 31 of the 1951 convention. However, I should remind her--I am not entirely clear whether the point was made at an earlier stage--that the UNHCR in April this year produced guidelines on detention which explain the provisions of Article 31 in more detail. It is not that I am concerned with detention. I am concerned with the interpretation which is to be placed on Article 31. The document says:

    "Given the special situation of a refugee, in particular the frequent fear of authorities, language problems, lack of information and general insecurity, and the fact that these and other circumstances may vary enormously from one refugee to another, there is no time limit which can be mechanically applied associated with the term 'without delay' ... Along with the term 'good cause'... it must take into account all of the circumstances under which the asylum seeker fled (e.g. having no time for immigration formalities)."
That places a slightly different complexion on the issue from that the Minister put on it. However, this is not a matter which I wish to pursue to a Division.

Before I seek leave to withdraw the amendment, perhaps I may say that I quite understand the difficulty which the Minister had in responding to the more general comments of the noble Lord, Lord Jakobovits. I am sure he also understands the position. Of course, the problem is that the normal time to intervene is on the Motion that the Bill do now pass. That will not actually happen until tomorrow. I am sure that honour is satisfied by having allowed the noble Lord to make his very valuable remarks at this time without blaming the Minister for not responding to them. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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