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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can certainly tell the House that Mr Putin did discuss the issue with my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. Mr Putin made clear the Russian concerns about the US national missile defence plan. The Prime Minister made clear our view that this is a matter best pursued through patient negotiation between the US and the Russians. The concerns of both sides need to be fully addressed. That issue was discussed and it will continue to attract much attention in Russia and America which are aware of each other's respective positions and concerns.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, one of the main actors on the US stage in this area, former Secretary of State for Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, says that one of the biggest threats comes--several noble Lords have mentioned this--from the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Has Mr Hoon pledged our support, not just held regular dialogues as he said in the other place yesterday, for the US ABM treaty, even if President Clinton said he was committed to development and not deployment, so that we too can benefit from it?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have not had a formal request. As I believe I have said on a number of occasions from this Dispatch Box, the situation is not fixed. If the matter goes forward and the Americans are determined upon it, further discussions about merits, demerits, and where we would fit in, would, of course, take place.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have no plans to advocate revision of the convention which, with its 1967 protocol, continues to provide a vital framework for the international protection of refugees. However, we are concerned at abuse of the asylum system by unfounded applicants and traffickers. We aim to act against the traffickers and return quickly those who have no right to stay in the United Kingdom. We shall continue to work with EU partners and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to develop an approach to international protection in line with today's requirements.
Lord Renton: My Lords, while thanking the noble Baroness for that largely helpful reply, perhaps I may remind her that, when the 1951 convention was negotiated by the United Nations 50 years ago, it was contemplated that if there was a change of circumstances it would be necessary to revise the convention; and that is why Clause 45 of the convention enables revision to take place. In view of the tremendous change of circumstances and the vast numbers of people involved causing expense and trouble of various kinds to the countries concerned, would it not be wise now to have it properly revised?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we have considered whether it would be appropriate to revise the convention. The clear view expressed was that it was not. The convention is an important instrument. We still feel that it has great value in its current unamended form.
The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Does not she agree that the complexity and scale of the refugee situation have so escalated since 1951 that there is a case for revising the Geneva convention along more inclusive and humanitarian lines? I refer to some of the habits into which we have slipped in the past years in this country by detaining refugees in moderately adapted prisons.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we certainly accept that there is a need for a greater degree of international discussion in relation to this matter. We are working with our other partners to reach an agreed position. We shall continue to pursue that. We have in no way sought to water down our commitment to genuine refugees, who have for many years obtained proper succour from this country. We are deeply proud of that history and will do nothing to besmirch our position in that regard.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I certainly agree with the sentiment that has been expressed. As a point of fact--I always tremble when I correct the noble Earl--Article 63(1) of the treaty establishing the European Community requires the Council to adopt within five years of the entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam measures on asylum which are in accordance with the Geneva convention. Therefore Article 63 does not incorporate the 1951 Geneva convention on refugees into Community law; it merely requires the new EU measures on asylum to accord with the convention. The 1951 convention could therefore be amended without requiring EC treaty change. The noble Lord is right in terms of the import of his question; namely, that our EU partners have made a commitment to us on this matter. Whether the 1951 convention is revised or not, the sentiment which underlies it will remain in being.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, when talking about discussions with partners, does the Minister include the possibility of a revision of the Dublin convention? Given that France and some other countries are now officially regarded as unsafe in terms of returning asylum seekers to them from this country, although France operates under the same 1951 convention, does that not seem an extremely unsatisfactory situation?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, it is somewhat ironic that the party opposite signed the Dublin convention in the first place. We are already involved in negotiations within the EU on a replacement for the Dublin convention. We shall press for a quicker and more robust mechanism for returning asylum seekers to the member state which is responsible for them. In the meantime the 1990 Act strengthens the operation of the Dublin convention by providing that all EU member states will be considered as a safe destination.
Lord Dubs: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that three principles should underlie our approach to asylum and refugee policy: that we should have calmness rather than hysteria; that we should have a fair way of determining each individual application; and that these decisions should be made quickly? I hope that my noble friend will confirm that the Government are applying those principles.
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I have great pleasure in confirming that that is precisely the Government's approach. Speaking for myself, I am becoming increasingly concerned at the tone of some of the rhetoric which is being voiced in relation to
The noble Lord said: My Lords, Clause 17(2) defines the prohibition contained in Clause 17(1) as the "general prohibition". As your Lordships are aware, the Bill provides in Clause 36(1) that exempt persons are,
It is quite clear what is meant; but, given how long the Bill has been in Parliament and how complicated it is, we ought at least to get this part of it right. This is what the amendment seeks to achieve. I beg to move.
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