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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, it is not in doubt that Dr. al-Mas'ari is an illegal immigrant. He left Saudi Arabia and obtained a false passport in the Yemen. He then obtained a visa to enter this country. He entered this country as an illegal immigrant. The noble Lord may shake his head, but that is a fact. Dr. al-Mas'ari left Saudi Arabia for the Yemen. Under false pretences he obtained a passport in the Yemen and then obtained a visa to enter this country and entered as an illegal immigrant. I have to say in addition, that there is no right under any law for an asylum seeker to pick and choose the country in which he wishes to reside. Therefore, it is entirely within the law for my right honourable friend to secure a safe place even if that is in a third country.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, there is no doubt that this asylum application is being accepted and treated seriously. There is no question of this gentleman being sent back to the place where he perceives his life will be in danger. We are honouring our obligation to find a secure place for him; that we have done. The legal basis on which that decision was reached is paragraph 345 of the Immigration Rules which provides that an asylum application may be refused without substantive consideration if there is clear evidence of admissibility to a safe country.
Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, for what reason was Dominica selected? By what process was Dominica selected as the place where the Government could take action to get rid of Dr. al-Mas'ari? It is a process which is considered by many on both sides of the House as being discreditable to the Government.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am fairly confident in saying that the Members of this House who sit behind me believe that it is not right that we should give harbour to someone who acts against the British interest. However, we have an obligation under international law. That obligation is to secure a safe place. We asked Dominica; it accepted. We believe that it is the right place for this gentleman.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I believe that I have said that, but I am happy to reassure my noble friend that that is our understanding. Dr. al-Mas'ari has the right of appeal. We do not know whether he has yet exercised it. He has 10 working days from 3rd January. If he does so, we will stand judgment. However, our understanding is that we have acted entirely within the law and under our obligations to international law.
Earl Russell: My Lords, perhaps I may hope to command agreement on both sides of the House by saying this. If the Government of Saudi Arabia were to require, as a condition of future contract, that we ban the consumption of alcohol in this country the Government would say, "No", no matter how many jobs were
Baroness Strange: My Lords, would my noble friend agree that if you took into your house a stray dog which persists in biting the postmen, you are entitled to find another home for that dog where it has fewer postmen to bite?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, if I have to concede to equality of treatment, I have to say also that in the context of this Question that was frivolous. I also believe that the law well covers the issue of dangerous dogs.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, in a number of answers the Government have relied on the general interests of this country. The Minister will know that we on these Benches recognise the obligation of the Government in general to protect the interests of this country. However, is not the issue of an asylum application a quasi-judicial function rather than a political question? Is it not wrong, therefore, for the Home Secretary to rely so heavily on the country's interests in considering an individual question of this kind?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, no, I entirely support the activities of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary in this matter. It is absolutely right that he should consider British interests. When someone is actively working against British interests, damaging both economic and strategic interests, and international relations between this country and another, it is right that my right honourable friend considers two issues: his obligation under the law to secure a safe place for an asylum seeker; and his obligation to protect the British interest.
Lord Brabazon of Tara: My Lords, how many jobs are at stake from Saudi Arabia at present? Can the noble Baroness tell me how those who oppose the Home Secretary's actions propose to replace those jobs?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, those who have spoken in favour of Dr. al-Mas'ari staying in this country should address themselves to the second point of my noble friend's question. It is not a matter for me.
Trade with Saudi Arabia amounts to about £1.5 billion. That represents many thousands of jobs in this country, all of which would be at risk if we pursued giving harbour to people who were actively working against our commercial and strategic interests in the Middle East.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, have the Saudi Arabian Government stated what she has said in this House: namely, that defence contracts would be cancelled were this man not to be removed from this country?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, no, it is not frivolous. In the context of the Question, I believe that my noble friend Lady Thatcher, and my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have at the heart of their policy making the economic well-being of this country, and strategic interests between this country and abroad. I believe that it is one of the legacies that we are happy to carry. In view of some of the remarks of noble Lords opposite, I wonder where they stand on the issue.
Lord Mayhew: My Lords, what action are the Government contemplating, by legislation if necessary, to ensure that in future refugees who are granted asylum in this country are not able to campaign politically against the overseas interests of this country?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point. We have an honourable tradition in this country of giving safe haven to people who are in fear of their lives abroad. However, if their activities act against the British interests, and put the British interests at stake, and if there is an alternative safe place in a third country, it is entirely legitimate for my right honourable friend to consider that option.
Lord Howell: My Lords, as regards people seeking political asylum, are there any rules which govern political activities which can take place? Most people believe that there should be such rules. People who seek asylum should receive an explanation about what they can or cannot do until their application has been determined.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, no. In fact even the activities of Dr. al-Mas'ari were not illegal as such. However, what he was doing was to act against the British interest. When my right honourable friend had to make a decision about whether he should be given safe haven here or in a third country, he thought that it was in the British interest that he should go to a third country.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, if there is a conflict between Article 345 of the Immigration Rules and Article 32 of the convention, will the noble Baroness confirm that our treaty obligations to the convention would prevail?
Will the Secretary of State, whose father would have been an illegal entrant if the law now prevailing had operated at the time he came here, bear in mind that by giving way to the blackmail of the Saudi Arabian medieval autocracy we have now opened ourselves to similar treatment from every other country in the world
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