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Lord Hylton: It seems that a probable case has been made out that solicitors and barristers may be caught by provisions aimed at racketeers. When the Minister replies, will she also say whether or not voluntary and volunteer advisers working mainly for voluntary organisations and often for charities will also be in the same plight?
Lord Avebury: The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, raises an important point. I should like some assurance on it. I find myself on numerous occasions being asked for advice by someone in a country of origin who wishes to claim asylum in the United Kingdom.
Perhaps I may cite an instance to the noble Baroness. A lawyer in Sri Lanka received death threats. Five of his colleagues had been murdered. He was advised that the best thing to do would be to leave the country. We facilitated his entry into the United Kingdom. Under this provision, should I have committed an offence and been liable for the penalties? In her initial remarks I believe the noble Baroness said that a condition had to be that the assistance was given for reward. In that case, the volunteers mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, or Members of this House and another place
Baroness Blatch: The noble Lord will see that under Clause 5(2)(a) volunteer advisers are not caught in relation to asylum seekers because they operate "otherwise than for gain". That is partly the answer I gave to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, a moment ago.
The noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, asked about seeking exemptions that could apply to solicitors. It is very difficult to justify that. Unfortunately, some solicitors become involved in this evil trade and bring people here illegally. The noble Lord expressed some concerns on the part of the Law Society. As is my custom, I always reflect on everything that is said in the course of debate at any stage of a Bill and will reflect on those particular points.
The principle relates to the racketeer who, for gain, assists illegal entry--a practice that is very, very common--and assists by deception an illegal entrant to remain in this country. We believe that they are appropriate offences, and I should like to think that they are supported on all sides of the Committee.
Earl Russell: The noble Baroness needs to explain a little further what is meant by the words "for gain". Let us assume, for example, that a Member of another place with a large ethnic minority representation in his constituency and a very small majority assists asylum seekers to enter, believing that that will forward his re-election. Is that done for gain, or is it not?
I wish to make another point, I hope with the capacity to get attention, because it is a matter of very great personal importance to me. The noble Baroness has conflated two matters, one of which we agree is an evil trade, the other of which we on these Benches believe to be perfectly legal; namely, assisting people to pass by deception through the port in order to claim asylum in the country. We believe that that is part of our international obligations. Were any of us to criminalise ourselves by doing that, we should be placed in very great difficulty. I hope the noble Baroness will take that point on board.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: I have one further question before the Minister replies. In addition to the extremely serious point made by my noble friend, will she say another word or two about the reference to bona fide organisations? The phrase in the Bill is:
Will the noble Baroness let us know whether a bona fide organisation with several purposes, one of which is to help refugees, would meet the meaning behind this part of the clause? As she will appreciate, there are a number of organisations whose main purpose may be, for example, to discover whether human rights are being breached in other countries but whose secondary purpose is to assist refugees. The phrasing is rather broad. She may be able to help me on that point.
I have to say to the noble Earl that I am astonished at some of the insinuations that underlined the comments he made a moment ago. If a Member of Parliament advises people in the normal course of his duties, first, I do not make the assumption that he is doing it for electoral purposes, since it is the duty of a Member of Parliament to offer advice. If he is doing it as a Member of Parliament in those circumstances and not for gain--that is, taking some payment, whether in kind or in money--then he will be entirely free from being caught by these provisions.
In answer to the noble Baroness, I am advised that bona fide organisations with several purposes would qualify, if they were indeed bona fide. That has to be the assumption; but that was the point made by the noble Baroness. Again, there is no need to deceive immigration control in this country because it is not an offence to claim asylum. One can deceive to get out of the country but not to get in. So we are talking about deliberate deceit.
Baroness Blatch: Oh, yes, noble Lords do. Amendments Nos. 58 and 61 ask to remove those two offences from the Bill: remove existing illegal entry and remove assisting by deception an illegal immigrant to remain in this country. I have read those two amendments, although they are not being moved this evening.
I want to give the example of a racketeer convicted in May last year--one of the rare successes, I have to say, in the current fight against such people--who was estimated to have earned £1.25 million in five years through his immigration activities. Police who investigated the case estimated that the racketeer had handled over 1,000 cases and had arranged about 650 marriages, in addition to submitting countless bogus asylum applications, where he had invented the substance of the claim. Once again, failure to act--which is what deleting the offence from the Bill means and that is to what the noble Lords have put their names; that is what deleting the offences from the Bill would amount to--would provide an open invitation to racketeers and facilitators to profit by ruthlessly trading on the aspirations of others. The noble Lords can wriggle all they like, but those amendments are down on the Marshalled List today.
Lord Clinton-Davis: The noble Baroness has made a very serious allegation and I must rebut it immediately. She has attacked a number of us tonight and she is very testy. But the fact is that she said that in effect we intended to aid and abet the racketeers. That is offensive. She has all the armoury of the draftsman and she is able to do that perfectly well. She can draft; and she sometimes makes a lot of mistakes herself in the drafting. She frequently has to come back to the House with a massive number of amendments to the legislation that the Government bring forward. It is much more difficult for us to draft.
I made it very clear--did I not?--over and over again, that we have no time and no room for racketeers. She knows very well the inadequacies that affect any Opposition. She will find that out in a year's time, anyway. But she has not begun to deal with the broad brush approach which will attack the bona fide practitioner. In no other field is a solicitor required to investigate whether his client has committed an offence. If the client says that that is his defence to something, the solicitor has to accept it. The solicitor can say, "Look, I don't think you'll stand much of a chance in court; but if that's what you want me to represent to the court, I must do that." It is his (or her) duty to say that. This particular provision goes far beyond that and creates a situation where solicitors will be very rueful about acting in this sort of case. That would be a tremendous disadvantage not only to the client and the solicitors alone but to the country, because people are entitled to proper representation.
Earl Russell: On behalf of these Benches, I should like to associate myself with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, said. This is a matter of intense personal importance to me. If the noble Baroness could draft a clause which would catch the racketeers and separate them from those who wish to continue to assist those who claim asylum in the country, she would find no one on this side of the House who would support racketeers. I am a great enthusiast for keeping the law, as the noble Baroness knows. But when I talk of observing the law, I include our international obligations, especially if they are reinforced by an Act of Parliament as recent as 1993.
The noble Baroness knows how I interpret the UN Convention. If she were to place me under an obligation in relation to the Bill, in conflict with what I regard as my legal obligations under the UN Convention, I would be placed in severe difficulties. The noble Baroness knows, and will remind herself if she walks down the corridor to Central Lobby, that I come of a family which has made a cult of political martyrdom. I think that that can be overdone. I now agree with St. Augustine that martyrdom does not deserve the name unless one makes an attempt to avoid it. It is that attempt in which I am now engaged.
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