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This country is far too ashamed of being anything other than an isolated rockpool into which the tide does not flow. But in isolated rockpools the water turns brackish, life dies and quality fades away. Like Jane Austen's Mr Woodhouse, we cry to "live much out of the world". As a result we are often much surprised by what we find in it.
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this important debate on the order. Let me start by saying a few words again to put in context why we think that this order is necessary, timely and proportionate.
The asylum system and the principles of the 1951 convention matter greatly. As a country and as a government we want to be able to continue to offer refuge to those who genuinely qualify under that convention. But, as we know, economic migration is a fact. Illegal economic migration is a problem and it has vastly increased in scale because of improvements in transportation, disparities in wealth around the world and criminal gangs which try to promote it.
Without going over the detail again, non-suspensive appeals play an important part in the process. They were a contentious element in our discussions on the Bill and, for that reason, a number of careful procedures were put in place to try to ensure that they were considered and neutralised safely and proportionately.
As is his wont, the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, made a powerful speech concerning a number of the countries listed on the order before the House. The world is by no means perfect in all those countries. Indeed, there are very few countries about which one could say that there are no issues of concern, but of course that is not the test of the order. The test is that in general a country is safe for its citizens. The word "general" was put into the legislation for a purpose. It enabled the application of the practice of non-suspensive appeals to be triggered, but still left the responsibility to reach a decision on whether it would be safe specifically for the individual concerned. So it is not a process which states simply that because X country is safe all applicants from that country are therefore automatically not valid asylum claimants. All it does is bring in a difference of process, on which I shall speak in more detail later in my remarks.
For reasons of time and because I am not expert on all the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, I shall do what I did on the last occasion and write to the noble Lord with specific governmental responses to all the questions raised and the points made on information about specific countries. By so doing I shall be able to set out the reasons for our responses and why we consider that the tests set within the statute are nevertheless met in the judgment taken by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. That is not to duck the issue, but I can offer a better response if I follow the procedure of the last occasion and write to the noble Lord. Of course I shall copy the letter to Members of the Front Benches.
That is not to dismiss or in any way belittle the importance of being thoughtful, proportionate, concerned and well informed when making judgments and decisions about designation. That is a proper challenge to the Government. All I would emphasise is that the Bill places the two tests before countries can be put on the list, and that those tests are applied generally rather than in all circumstances.
That then turns to a consideration of the circumstances of an individual person, without presumption. Because the country from which they came may in general be thought to be safe, that does not mean that their individual application should be considered to be unfounded, unsafe and inadequate. It is the challenge of the case workers to hold that test before them. That is why they have gone through a specific and specialist training process and why there is a second pair of eyes.
As to the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, of why not wait, the reason we should not wait is that, essentially, we believe these countries now meet the test; and, secondly, there are a substantial number of applications from these seven countries. For example, there were 5,000 applications to the United Kingdom from these seven countries in 2002.
Let me give the most recent figures for the first quarter of 2003. I give these figures with some caution because there is a process of very careful checking of data. We believe the figures to be true. They may move up or down slightly but, nevertheless, they are broadly true. In the first quarter of 2003 we had 1,150 applications from these seven countries, of which 20 people were granted asylum as a result of their applications.
If we wait another three months or so it is likely that we will have another 1,000 or more applicants coming into the United Kingdom, of which, on the evidence we have to date, very few will meet the test to qualify under the Act and under the Geneva Convention. That would not matter so much were it not for the fact that
Lord Filkin: My Lords, I cannot. I can, perhaps, extemporise from the figures that apply generally between initial applications and appeals. My recollection is that, in general, when one looks at the totality of applicationsthe comparison may not be exactly correctbetween 9 and 10 per cent of applicants were granted asylum on initial application; and, again from my recollection of previous data, 6, 7 or 8 per cent were granted asylum on appeal.
I was seeking to address the question of why now; why not wait. As your Lordships know it is not simple to removein fact it is extremely difficultand there are substantial burdens on the state in terms of supporting people through the process when they are not removed. I shall not go into detail on that.
I was challengedcourteously by some but less courteously by othersas to whether it was part of the Government's intent to delay the setting up of the advisory panel to get these orders through. It is the first time my integrity has been directly challenged in the House. Nevertheless, I shall put that to one side because it seems to me that the issues that underpin these considerations of asylum and human rights are so profoundly important that we should concentrate on them rather than on trading insults about each other. So I shall let that pass.
As to my investigations in March when I discovered that I was to make an order in this respect and that the advisory panel was not in place, it was not a pleasant experience to find that the commitment I had given to the House that we would set up the advisory panel had not been implemented. I have had vigorous discussions in that respect. I am convinced that the delay was a result of pressure of work on officials, not of malice on their part. It was not a result of Ministers or officials seeking to take a position. It was something that was not done as quickly as we would have wished. As a consequence of 31st March, the process has moved forward rapidly and it is only a matter of timeI am told early Septemberbefore the panel is in place. It needs to be, because that is part of an informed process as to whether we are making fair judgments as a government on those countries and that process. I am not pleased that we do not have the advisory panel establishedquite the reverse.
I turn to the question of whether it is possible to have an effective out-of-country appeal in this respect. It is an important issue, although it is clearly not what we are specifically debating today. We are debating the order, but the issue is germane to it.
The process allows the applicant in the country, whose claim has been rejected, to ask to make an appeal to a British lawyer as part of the consideration of the application, and the British lawyer to lodge the appeal as soon as the person has left the country. In fact, some 25 per cent of people who have been certified and removed have made appeals under that process and under the Act. One can argue that two ways. One could say that 100 per cent did not make appeals and that therefore there is some flaw in the process. On the other hand, one could take the view as we do that the fact that 25 per cent have done so shows that the system is effective, and that many have had a go at the system to get in and then not bothered to take it further.
The nature of the out-of-country appeal and whether it is possible for an appellant in those circumstances to have justice was the thrust of a number of questions. The appeal in those circumstances is essentially against whether certification and designation of the country as meeting the tests in the legislation was reasonable. It was not about the circumstances of the individual person. It was not an appeal as to whether that person should have been granted asylum but whether or not the country should have been certified as a non-suspensive appeal country. For that, a British lawyer supported by other excellent non-governmental organisations is well able to bring a case before the courts without the individual person who has been the subject of that wider general decision present before them. Therefore, there is an effective possibility of making out-of-country appeals, because it is a focus on that issue rather than the circumstances of a person's individual case.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked about the position of Zimbabweans pretending to be South African. There would definitely be an opportunity for a person on a false South African document to show us that they were in fact Zimbabweans. The noble Lord asked also about the potential successes of out-of-country appeals. I explained the nature of that appeal, and why it is different.
I should signal the position on appeals and judicial reviews. There have been 83 appeals so far from people who have been certified and removed as a consequence of the non-suspensive appeal process. Sixty of those have been heard and, of those 60, all have been dismissed. Forty-seven judicial reviews have been lodged for people in those circumstances, none of which has as yet been successful.
I turn to the query of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about the Justice report, which referred to the question of appeals being allowed on the basis of credibility. In non- suspensive appeal cases, certifications are not made on the basis of credibility. A claim is not certified as clearly unfounded simply because we do not believe what they sayin other words, because of doubt about credibility. A claim is certified as clearly unfounded only if objective information shows it clearly to be the case.
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