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The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised the issue of Pakistan and the use of the blasphemy laws there. It has been well documented world-wide by organisations such as the Jubilee Campaign and Christian Solidarity. It would by no means be a safe country to return people of that religious minority to that country. We should therefore be most careful about putting such power into this legislation.
If Clause 9 raised concerns in the context of the EU and states which might wish to join, how much more pernicious it is to give the Secretary of State the power to designate other countries as safe third countries outside the EU or North America? The arguments which were deployed earlier can be deployed here, but to an even greater extent. To enshrine in statute the presumption of a country's safety can take no account of rapid changes in the political and social climate in those countries. Before justifying such changes in Clauses 9 or 10, the Minister owes it to the Committee to describe how formidable are the problems by enumerating the number of attempts to challenge the Secretary of State at law during the past 12 months, since the 1996 legislation, where it was considered that there have been injustices. If that has not been a massive problem hitherto, I can see no justification for extending the powers and diminishing the right to go to law for those who feel that such clauses may adversely affect them.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: I shall not enter into the general questions raised by the debate, although they are pertinent. They have been covered thoroughly. I want to draw attention to the fact that the power, whether Henry VIII or otherwise, is very wide. The power in Clause 10(1)(b) appears to be circumscribed only by the negative procedure in Parliament. It will not be used all that often and therefore it would not be too great a burden on either House if the power were subject to affirmative resolutions. In view of the potential importance of the power, that would seem to be appropriate.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: It does not make it any better, but it does not describe itself sensibly, accurately or appropriately as "this new power". That is the phrase with which I am dealing. It is important to remember that although one does not want to go around stirring up apathy, one does not want to stir up things which are factually incorrect. Of course that does not make it any better. I am simply saying that it is not, not, not a new power.
Clause 10(1)(b) says that even once an order is made designating a country as safe, the Secretary of State still has to certify in each case that removal is safe. Removal will also still be subject to the current judicial review challenges. There are at least two ducks that should now be dead.
Only four states outside the European Union have ever been designated as safe under the 1996 Act. They do not include Pakistan or any of the other countries that have been mentioned tonight. They include countries that, curiously, were not mentioned tonight, except in the context of one homophobic murder to which the noble Earl, Lord Russell, referred. The safe countries designated are Canada, Norway, Switzerland and the United States. That is a good illustration of the proposition that I have been putting.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: That supports my argument. Proposals can whistle. I am talking about what happened, not what your noble Lordships say is likely to happen, with the collapse of civilisation when the clause becomes law. That has not happened because there has been a good deal of cautious scrutiny. I repeat, however disagreeable the fact may be, that the only four countries involved are Canada, Norway, Switzerland and the United States. It is right to be cautious. Clause 10 reproduces the existing power without substantive change. Caution will continue to be applied.
The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, asked about an advisory committee--perhaps even an informal one--or at least some mechanism to provide a basis of coherent thought for any judgment that might be arrived at. I am more than happy to give that idea consideration.
Lord Avebury: In giving the matter appropriate thought, will the Minister also undertake that such an advisory committee would be able to review the assessments that are published by the Home Office of individual countries and their human rights performance? I congratulate the Home Office on producing those assessments, which are a great advance on previous practice because they give references for all their statements whereas we used to get ex cathedra statements about the human rights performance of various countries. Every assertion in the assessments is referenced back to a document from sources such as the US State Department, Human Rights Watch reports or Amnesty International reports. However, there are still errors in the assessments. If the Secretary of State sets up such a committee, it would be useful if it could also review the factual content of the Home Office country assessments, covering not just what they contain, but what they sometimes omit, which is equally important for determining asylum applications.
Lord Williams of Mostyn: I have simply said that I shall consider the ideas that have been put forward. One of the advantages of the late Henry VIII that has not been mentioned is that since his death ex cathedra announcements have not formed a significant part of the administration of the bureaucratic system in this country.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: I thank the Minister for agreeing to consider my suggestion. I hope I am not being too tedious in returning to what I believe is a point of misunderstanding between us, which I shall seek to clarify.
My understanding was, as the Minister said in his previous answer, that there would remain a right of judicial appeal from Clause 10 under certain considerations; in particular, if the person concerned argued on European Convention grounds that he should not be returned to a designated safe third country. My understanding was that no in-country appeal in this country still exists other than judicial review to a higher court with regard to being returned to a third country. That understanding was based on the case of Clause 9, on the similarity of EU structures to those of this country. I was pointing out that in the case of Clause 10, one could not make that argument. Am I
Lord Williams of Mostyn: It is the answer, because it is quite important to get it right. There is no derogation from judicial review between Clause 10 and Clause 2(3) of the 1996 Act. The human rights appeals are to be found in Clause 55, where it is stated: