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The Duke of Norfolk: My Lords, I too put my name to the amendment. I did so because I recognise that there is the problem of enormous population explosions in places such as China, which I toured for three weeks. As was said most ably by those who have spoken so far, I believe in man's freedom of action and conscience. If a government are going to force population control, they must obtain the willingness of the people.
China brought in population control in 1979. Apparently it reached its peak in 1983 when there were 21 million sterilisations and 14 million abortions. I believe that that is the most disgraceful and inhumane way of allowing a nation to live. I thoroughly support the amendment.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, I believe that we should not select our forms of human injustice. The noble Lords, Lord Ashbourne and Lord Braine, and the noble Duke the Duke of Norfolk are right in seeing the issue as part of a spectrum of unacceptable behaviour against the individual. Let us admit that in respect of this matter all of us are to some extent hypocrites. The scale of the population challenge which threatens the world makes us hypocrites. However, as the noble Duke said, there is a sharp distinction between the education of people in controlling the size of their families and the use of violent methods to compel them not to bear to full term the children which they fully intend and wish to have.
I might not have intervened in the debate had I not attended the fourth World Women's Conference of the United Nations at Beijing last autumn. I cannot and will not give your Lordships chapter and verse because I am not prepared to put certain people in that country at very grave risk. I can say that I am absolutely certain that what has been described by the noble Lords, Lord Ashbourne and Lord Braine, is consonant with what is happening in that country.
I understand and sympathise with the great difficulties that the Government might have in accepting the amendment. But I wonder whether they can give us the assurance that if people flee to this country on the grounds that they have been, effectively, tortured--that is the proper word--by having their full-term child ripped from them and killed, sometimes before their very eyes, they will consider that as coming within the definition of torture. I believe that any woman, certainly any mother, will understand that to see her baby killed before her eyes is a form of torture as profound in its psychological and other effects as the kinds of torture that we shall be discussing in the next group of amendments.
Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, as a mother I am appalled by the atrocities that have taken place and I am grateful to noble Lords for bringing them before the House today. However, my understanding is that there are procedures in place which would pick out such cases. I would be grateful if my noble friend the Minister would confirm that. Does she believe that isolating such cases on the face of the Bill will make for more difficulties?
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I believe that the Bill must already cover this situation. I believe that we all feel sympathy for the cases which have been outlined and I certainly agree that it would be a form of torture and should be so considered.
The other side of the coin is that if anyone were able to have an abortion voluntarily in an entirely different country, she may then come here and complain that she was forced to have that abortion. That would be a different situation because the Government would have to be satisfied that the abortion genuinely took place against that person's will. But if it has been done forcibly, it must qualify as a form of torture and must be already covered by the Bill. While I have every sympathy for the case that is being put forward, I think that the amendment is unnecessary and I hope that the Minister will confirm that that is so.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, I believe that the definition of torture extends to cruel, inhuman and unusual treatment or punishment. If that is the case, surely compulsory sterilisation and abortion are included within that definition. A person who has been subjected to that inhuman treatment would thus qualify as an asylum seeker and be given refuge in this country.
I hope that that is the case because I believe that the evil to which noble Lords have drawn attention is very real. While I share with my noble friend Lady Williams anxieties about the population explosion, I am equally at one with noble Lords opposite who say that any form of compulsion in this matter is a gross violation of human rights. I am sorry to say that it is one of the matters of which the People's Republic of China has been guilty over the years and which has been overlooked by the West and by those who are so keen to cast aspersions on the human rights performance of many other countries.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Braine, will agree with me about the case of Tibet where there has been, over the years, an attempt to commit the gross crime of ethnicide; that is, to remove the cultural, religious, ethnic and other distinctions between the Tibetans and their Chinese
I know that evidence has been presented on that matter to the Select Committee of another place. It was difficult for it to investigate the matter because the Chinese do not want anybody to know what is happening there. But in the long run, the danger is that by policies of migration and enforcement of special birth control procedures within the autonomous region of Tibet, the existence of the Tibetans as a separate people will ultimately be extinguished, in the same way as the Mongolians have already been and the East Turkestanis are on the way to being extinguished.
Therefore, noble Lords have raised an extraordinarily important feature of human rights violations in China. I hope that the Minister will give us the assurance which is sought in relation to anybody who appears on our doorstep claiming to have suffered either from compulsory abortion or sterilisation, whether it be in the People's Republic of China or elsewhere.
We must not forget that a few years ago, a vast programme of compulsory birth control was instituted in India. People were forcibly sterilised in that country and that ultimately led to the fall of the government. Therefore, it is not the People's Republic alone which should be put in the dock, although it is by far the greatest culprit regarding that crime in the world today. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will be able to give us the assurance for which she has been asked.
Lord Carr of Hadley: My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, when she says that to categorise the evils referred to in this amendment as torture would be both effective and the best way in which to deal with the matter in this Bill.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, of course no one could question the horror of forced abortion and sterilisation. We have heard of those horrors from my noble friends Lord Braine and Lord Ashbourne. However, it may be that we should not use this Bill in order to condemn the law of China. Should the UK and other countries feel that the Chinese human rights record in that area is unacceptable, that should be dealt with by international bodies which could have a real effect on the Chinese Government to change their policy.
Do we really want those horrors dealt with? I genuinely believe that we do; and I know that I do. Therefore, I urge the Minister to have this matter raised in an international forum so that something can be done. But I repeat that I do not think that this Bill is the most effective method by which to do that.
Viscount Caldecote: My Lords, if the Minister can give an assurance that this appalling situation is already covered in the Bill, then I could not support the amendment. On the other hand, if it is not covered, I would strongly support the amendment and I believe that it should be inserted into the Bill.
The problem of numbers could be covered by inserting an amendment at a later stage to give the Secretary of State power to have a quota or to include in the Bill an amendment with the numbers involved.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Ashbourne who kindly wrote to me after he tabled the amendment, providing some background information on the reasons behind the amendment. Of course, I have written to him to explain our approach to those issues.
The subject of this debate--people who against their will undergo abortion and/or sterilisation or who have been persecuted for their failure or refusal to undergo such dreadful procedures--is one which touches everyone in this Chamber.
I begin by setting out our general approach to asylum claims based on these grounds. The first point to make is that forcible abortion or sterilisation would in most circumstances constitute cruel and inhuman treatment. Obviously each case has to be considered on its merits. But subject to that, I can confirm that we would not remove a pregnant woman in circumstances where there was a likelihood that she would be subject to forcible abortion, until after the birth of the child.
Nor would we remove an asylum seeker if it was likely that he or she would be subject to forcible sterilisation. In such cases, we would be likely to grant either asylum or, if it was not entirely consistent with the United Nations convention, exceptional leave, depending on whether the fear was based on one of the reasons specified in the 1951 Convention, and thus amount to persecution; that is, for reason of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. I am sure that all noble Lords would agree with me that a particular social group is probably the criterion under which these offences would fall.
Secondly, treatment inflicted on an asylum seeker in the past would obviously be an important clue to what might happen to them in the future. So if there was convincing evidence that a woman who was now pregnant had previously been subjected to forcible abortion, that might well tend to lend credence to her claim that this would happen to her again if she returned to her country.
Thirdly, forcible abortion or sterilisation might well be regarded as amounting to torture. So if it was likely that an asylum seeker had been treated in this way they would be very likely to qualify for the exemption from the accelerated appeal procedure, under the terms of the safeguard on torture which the House will be debating today.
Fourthly, the 1993 Act makes clear that a well-founded fear of persecution on grounds of political opinion qualifies an applicant for asylum. Opposition or resistance to a population control policy may qualify as a
Having said all that, however, I must make clear that cases of the kind I have just discussed are at present not often encountered. What is more common is for people to claim asylum on the grounds that their country has a strict population control policy; that they wish to have another child; and that they would face difficulties in doing so if they returned home.
However, perhaps I might also say that all of us in this House have views about abortion. My views are much closer to those of my noble friends Lord Braine and Lord Ashbourne, but there will be noble Lords in this House who would take another view. However, this is not the appropriate Bill; nor do I believe it is the time to use the Bill for changing our policy on abortion. What we are talking about here are people who undergo the most horrendous ordeal of being subjected to having to lose a baby in these awful circumstances against their will and it is claimed that that is an activity which is widespread within that country and possibly condoned by the authorities.
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