|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The Duke of Norfolk: My Lords, when the Minister replies I hope that she will cover the case to which the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, referred. The noble Baroness referred to the case of the Nigerian, Abiodun Igbinidu, who has been detained in Oxfordshire for over a year. His medical examination has been carried out by Oxford and Cambridge dons who agree that he shows terrible signs of having been tortured. Why can he not be given asylum here? Why is he still detained? I hope that the Minister will cover that case.
The situation in south east Turkey is an illustration of that. There are many people who have knowledge of the atrocities that have been committed in villages of Kurdistan, where 3 million people have been displaced from their homes, many tens of thousands have been killed, and thousands more have been taken into custody and tortured. There are people there who have knowledge of those incidents. Those people sometimes manage to escape to the outside world. Is it not fairly clear that if those people were sent back they would be
I have been thinking about a matter as my noble friend spoke. I hope I may suggest that we might ensure that immigration officers and other people who have to deal with these matters possess a much more thorough knowledge of the situations in the countries of origin than they have at present. I know that frequently those who come from the countries which yield refugees claim that the Home Office briefings are inadequate. Just the other day I received a letter from someone in Somalia who said that the situation in his country had been distorted. However, I must add that he did not explain his criticisms in detail. I hope that we shall have an opportunity to deal with this issue at a later stage when those matters have been properly explained.
The other day I asked the Foreign Office for a copy of the latest report of the UN rapporteur on torture, and to my great surprise--I already had a copy but I wanted an additional copy to lay on the table at a reception that the Parliamentary Human Rights Group was giving for the UN rapporteur--after some weeks' delay I was sent a copy of the 1995 report which he issued in January of that year. Every single year when we ask for the reports of the UN rapporteur we have great difficulty in getting them from Geneva. There seems to be some hang-up in the transmission of those documents from the UN human rights centre in Geneva to the Foreign Office and then to the Home Office in London. If we have great difficulty in obtaining the documents, those who have to use them must experience an even greater problem. I suggest that copies of the annual report of the UN rapporteur on torture be made available to those who have to consider those applicants who claim to suffer from torture to enable them to refer to what the rapporteur has said about a particular country, whether it be Turkey, Burma or Nigeria. I am afraid that most of them are extremely ignorant of the circumstances in the country of origin, and that might be a step towards what my noble friend is trying to achieve.
It seems particularly curious in the light of the debate on the previous amendment. If--as they obviously are--the appalling abortions that have been mentioned are torture, the lady who has been aborted or sterilised in the past comes within the terms of the provision, even though she now has no baby to be aborted and cannot be sterilised if she returns. The lady who is currently pregnant but never had an abortion forced upon her in the past is not someone who was tortured in the past and therefore has to be returned to have the new abortion. It is very curious that we are concerned only with past torture, not with the present, certain, lively risk of torture if a person is returned.
Lord Carr of Hadley: My Lords, for the past 10 years I have had some connections with the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. Those connections led me, first, to be moved with great admiration for the amazing work done by members of the profession in seeking to heal the bodies and minds of victims of torture. But, more relevant to our discussions today, it made me realise as I never had before the full dimensions of what it means to have suffered torture and the effects on both the mind and the body. I suspect that people who have not been near to torture do not appreciate, as I previously did not, that one of the effects is an inability on the part of the person to talk about the experience or to act quickly in relation to it. If there is one class of people who should never be subjected to any sort of fast-track procedure, it is the victims of torture.
Therefore I most warmly welcome these amendments, and I praise my noble friend Lady Blatch for bringing them forward. It is absolutely right that torture should be on the face of the Bill in the way it now is, although it was not included in the Bill as first drafted. I am deeply grateful, as I am sure is the whole House.
I want to say to my noble friend that I believe there are matters of substance in the amendments raised by the noble Lord on the Front Bench opposite and by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. It is not clear whether the exact form of the amendments is appropriate. I find it very difficult to see how they all fit together.
One aspect of my noble friend's Amendment No. 14 worried me the moment I saw it; namely, the reference is to torture in the past. The words used are: "has been tortured". It means that the person concerned could not be returned to any territory in which he or she had been tortured in the past, but on the face of it gives no safeguard that someone will not be sent back to a territory where there would be a real danger of their being tortured even though they had not previously been tortured in that territory. That point needs to be dealt with, either in the terms proposed or in other terms that my noble friend may consider more effective.
My concern was increased on reading the letter in The Times from Sir Richard Doll and others, to which reference has been made. It underlines that, whatever may be the intentions of officials in this area, the pressures upon them are very great. It is over 20 years since I was Home Secretary. I remember then being extremely worried at the sheer pressure of the huge number of cases that we struggled to deal with. It still happens in the office in Croydon. It seemed to me that, even given the conscientious attempts of the most dedicated officials in the world, under such an enormous volume of work mistakes could easily occur. Therefore we have to examine the issue very carefully and provide what safeguards we can.
While I most warmly welcome the amendments in the Minister's name, I hope that she will give serious attention to the further doubts that have been raised. I suspect that her intention is to cover the worries that we have; however, I am not altogether satisfied that they are fully covered in her amendments as they stand at the moment.
The Lord Bishop of Southwell: My Lords, I agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Carr. It seemed from my reading of the debate in Committee that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool spoke very strongly on the question of a person being returned to a country where he fears persecution. That was the very nub of his remarks. That reference does not occur in Amendment No. 14.
Many of us greatly appreciate the intervention of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in bringing this amendment before the House. However, there is concern that it should be interpreted along the lines of the earlier debate. I hope that the Minister will be able to give the House that assurance so that we are able to support the amendment that stands in her name, alongside that of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool.
It is also important to bear in mind all that has been said about the tragic case of Mr. Igbinidu, who has now been in detention for over a year. Most of us are concerned about a person who is proven to have been tortured. That is now without doubt. In spite of overwhelming and expert evidence as to the truth of his story, the long-standing and accepted practice in our nation of receiving and supporting those who legitimately seek asylum on account of torture and repression may well be in jeopardy. In the light of that concern it is appropriate that an objective test of a record of torture, independently authenticated by the United Nations, as is included in Amendment No. 4A, is very much to be welcomed. I hope the Minister will be able to give us an assurance that all that was discussed and agreed at Committee stage in this House will be covered by Amendment No. 14.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page