|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The key issue facing us and other member states is therefore to distinguish quickly and fairly between those who have well founded claims and those who do not. Sadly, our initial assessment is that the directives will make it harder, not easier, to achieve that aim. That is the hard-headed view we have taken. It is not fear of the Daily Mail, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said.
The procedures directive is perhaps the more radical of the two. We have real concerns about many of its proposals, particularly restrictions on accelerated procedures and non-suspensive appeals. I know that the European Union Committee has, in the past, expressed concerns about the use by member states of accelerated procedures, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Jopling. An accelerated procedure is really nothing more than a way of deciding asylum claims more quickly than normal. Provided those subject to it have access to all the usual guarantees, there is no reason why an accelerated procedure should not be applied to any claim, as the current procedures directive
12 Jan 2010 : Column 496
Non-suspensive appeals are a key tool that allows us to manage unfounded asylum claims. They are not given lightly. We have to be satisfied that an application is clearly unfounded-that is, so weak as to be bound to fail-before we can make the appeal non-suspensive. The directive would place additional and unnecessary restrictions on these appeals which would place an unnecessary burden on our asylum system and encourage unfounded claims. Other parts of the directive would create further restrictions. For example, more generous rules on translation will cost us probably in excess of £3 million a year. The attempt to specify in European legislation the training curriculum that asylum decision-makers should follow is a classic example of overregulation.
Overall, the directive, as drafted, strikes us as overcomplicated and overambitious. We have real doubts about whether it would be sensible to opt in in its present form. The new qualification directive makes fewer changes but three in particular cause us concern. The first and most worrying is the amended definition of a family member-in particular, its extension to include the parents of unaccompanied minors. This carries an unacceptable risk of requiring us to admit the parents of unaccompanied minors who are granted status. We fear that this would create an incentive for children to be sent on ahead to member states in the hope that they will be granted status and their parents will be able to join them later. That would introduce a new threat to the welfare of children by incentivising their separation from their family units. We are already extremely concerned about the number of children and young people sent to the United Kingdom and the risks they face in making the journey, in particular those who are trafficked. We believe that the proposals for family reunion would simply lead to more children being put at risk. We also fear this would lead to a big increase in the number of applications we receive from minors-currently about 3,500 a year or 12 per cent of our intake-with very serious financial implications, given that at the moment the Government spend more than £140 million a year on caring for these people.
We believe that the technical changes to asylum law that appear in Articles 7 and 8 referred to by a number of speakers risk leading to a big rise in the proportion of asylum claims that are granted. Of course, we have no problem with granting protection to those who need it-quite the reverse-but the people who may benefit from this would be those who do not need asylum because they can be protected adequately in their own country, either by a non-state agent or by relocating to another part of that country. We know that asylum intake is very sensitive to policy change in
12 Jan 2010 : Column 497
Both directives are bound to be amended during the course of negotiations-as referred to by a number of speakers-both by member states in the Council and by the European Parliament. The debate is whether we should be inside or outside the tent. It is not, at this stage, possible to predict the outcome of these negotiations. Even if we were able to convince other member states to agree to remove those parts of the directives that we do not like, the European Parliament's approach to the asylum proposals to date indicates that it would be very likely to want to keep most of the original proposals, or even to go beyond them, and a compromise would need to be reached. This, in our view, means that there is a real risk that the directives eventually agreed will contain measures that we do not feel we can accept. Because of this, although we will reflect on the arguments that have been made tonight, we are minded not to opt in to the directives at this stage. That would not mean that we would be out of them permanently.
Under the treaties, we have the right to apply to take part in an instrument after it has been adopted if we have not opted into it from the start. If we did not opt in to these proposals, we would therefore remain engaged in the negotiations-not as fully as we could be, as has been said, but still able to influence them-and make our concerns known.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: Can the Minister confirm that under that process we would ensure that we had much less influence over the final form of the directive, and would then have to accept what others have negotiated out of a process in which we had taken no part?
I can assure the House that we remain committed to our international obligations towards refugees and asylum seekers, and to providing those who seek our protection with fast and fair decisions on their claims.
Whatever happens, we will also remain deeply involved in practical co-operation with other member states. We have already played a leading role in projects such as the European Asylum Curriculum, which helps to improve the training of caseworkers in Europe, and have provided bilateral support to member states experiencing pressures, such as Malta. We will continue to do that and, indeed, will seek to step up co-operation through our involvement in the European Asylum Support Office.
The noble Lord, Lord Jopling, and a number of other speakers mentioned the point about what happens to existing directives. Legally, our view is that if we do not opt in to the new directive, the old ones are repealed and will cease to bind the United Kingdom.
12 Jan 2010 : Column 498
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, suggested that an asylum seeker in France could claim a right to move freely to the United Kingdom. This is, of course, not correct. Asylum status in France or any other EU country does not confer the right to free movement. Only European Union citizens and their families have that right.
Lord Avebury: Perhaps I may clarify that by saying what I meant, which was that once the asylum seeker in France had obtained permanent leave to remain there, and had applied for citizenship, he would be free to move anywhere in the European Union.
The Government's approach to these directives is well balanced and in the national interest. However, we have not yet taken a final decision on the opt-in and will reflect very carefully on the points that have been made tonight. We will also, of course, communicate our decision to the European Union Committee-
Lord Dykes: Would the Minister not agree that that is not the real motivation-it is actually to keep the Conservative Party at bay in the coming weeks and months? There are, after all, only three Tories in the Chamber. Why is he so worried?
Lord Roper: I thank all noble Lords for their useful contributions to the debate. I believe that the report prepared by the sub-committee under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, has provided a good basis for what has been a useful debate, and I thank the Minister for his reply, particularly on procedural matters. I suspect that the committee and the sub-committee would be rather less happy about some of the points he made on substantial matters, but nevertheless we are grateful that he has said that he will be taking our points into account in the Government's further consideration of these issues.
On this occasion I do not think it appropriate to test the opinion of the House, in view of the fact that the Procedure Committee has not yet completed its consideration of the House's procedure on these matters. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|