HL Deb 23 April 1996 vol 571 cc1027-90

3.36 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Blatch.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Extension of special appeals procedures]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 1:

Leave out Clause 1 and insert the following new Clause—


(". For paragraph 5 of Schedule 2 to the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993 ("the 1993 Act") there shall be substituted the following paragraph—

"5.—(1) This paragraph applies to an appeal by a person on any of the grounds mentioned in subsections (1) to (4) of section 8 of this Act if the Secretary of State has certified that, in his opinion the person's claim on the ground that it would be contrary to the United Kingdom's obligations under the Convention for him to be removed from, or be required to leave, the United Kingdom is one to which sub-paragraph (2), (3) or (4) below applies.

(2) This sub-paragraph applies to a claim it the country or territory to which the appellant is to be sent is designated in an order made by the Secretary of State by statutory instrument as a country or territory in which it appears to him that there is in general no serious risk of persecution.

(3) This sub-paragraph applies to a claim if, on his arrival in the United Kingdom, the appellant was required by an immigration officer to produce a valid passport and either—

  1. (a) he failed to produce a passport without giving a reasonable explanation for his failure to do so; or
  2. (b) he produced a passport which was not in fact valid and failed to inform the officer of that fact.

(4) This sub-paragraph applies to a claim if—

  1. (a) it does not show a fear of persecution by reason of the appellant's race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion;
  2. (b) it shows a fear of such persecution, but the fear is manifestly unfounded or the circumstances which gave rise to the fear no longer subsist;
  3. (c) it is made at any time after the appellant—
    1. (i) has been refused leave to enter under the 1971 Act,
    2. (ii) has been recommended for deportation by a court empowered by that Act to do so,
    3. (iii) has been notified of the Secretary of State's decision to make a deportation order against him by virtue of section 3(5) of that Act, or
    4. (iv) has been notified of his liability to removal under paragraph 9 of Schedule 2 to that Act;
  4. (d) it is manifestly fraudulent, or any of the evidence adduced in its support is manifestly false; or
  5. (e) it is frivolous or vexatious.

(5) Rules of procedure under section 22 of the 1971 Act may make special provision in relation to appeals to which this paragraph applies.

(6) If on an appeal to which this paragraph applies the special adjudicator agrees that the claim is one to which sub-paragraph (2), (3) or (4) above applies, section 20(1) of that Act shall not confer on the appellant any right to appeal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal.

(7) The first order under this paragraph shall not be made unless a draft of the order has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

(8) A statutory instrument containing a subsequent order under this paragraph shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.

(9) In this paragraph—

'immigration officer' means an immigration officer appointed for the purposes of the 1971 Act:

'passport', in relation to an appellant, means a passport with photograph or some other document satisfactorily establishing his identity and nationality or citizenship.").

The noble Baroness said: During the Second Reading debate, I agreed to reflect on the criticism made by my noble friend Lord Renton, and agreed to by others, of the drafting of Clause 1. Clause 1 operates by amending paragraph 5 of Schedule 2 to the 1993 Act.

As I said at Second Reading, it is not practicable always to proceed by re-enacting the provisions of previous statutes in a revised form. Nevertheless, we accept that, as a result of government amendments made at Report in another place, Clause 1 is now particularly difficult to read. We therefore propose to replace Clause 1 with a new version which re-enacts paragraph 5, with the amendments we proposed incorporated.

I ought also to record that Amendment No. 1 is grouped with Amendments Nos. 24A, 25A and 26. It is my intention to respond to them after they have been presented by the proposers. I beg to move.

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham)

The amendment proposed is to leave out Clause 1 and insert the new clause as printed on the Marshalled List. I call Amendment No. 2, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, and Lord McIntosh of Haringey.

Lord Renton

I wonder whether it would be better if we were to follow what my noble friend Lady Blatch indicated and obtain agreement about the replacement of Clause 1 in the way that she proposed, before we consider any amendments that we might make to the replacement clause.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I should like to support that suggestion. We do not wish to take a final decision on Amendment No. 1, as clearly that cannot be done until Amendments Nos. 2 to 30 have been considered and decided upon one way or another. Particular amendments have been grouped with Amendment No. 1 because they refer to the only substantive changes which the Government have made to the clause in the course of the redrafting exercise. If it were for the convenience of the Committee, I should like to speak to my amendments which have been grouped with Amendment No. 1 before going on to propose Amendment No. 2.

The Chairman of Committees

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. Perhaps I should just indicate, for the convenience of the Committee, that it would be the normal procedure to deal with the amendment in the way in which I have just put the Question. But, as always, it is in the hands of the Committee and, if it is for the better convenience of the Committee to deal with it in that way, of course it is not for the Chairman to stand in the way of such a proposal.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I am grateful to the noble Lord, the Chairman, for that observation. Clearly, I only speak to the grouped amendments rather than move them. They will be reached in due course.

I am grateful to the Government for taking account of the objections which the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and I, and others, raised to the drafting of Clause 1. I was so confused—I will not say incensed—by Clause 1 as drafted that I went away immediately and redrafted it in the terms which have now appeared on the Marshalled List. I am glad to see that, apart from a minor question of numbering, my interpretation of what Clause 1 did to paragraph 5 of Schedule 2 of the 1993 Act was correct. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, had also taken the initiative of preparing a new version of Clause 1 as a Keeling schedule which was, I have no doubt, a more appropriate way of dealing with it than the way in which I dealt with it.

We now have Amendment No. 1 on the Marshalled List and we can now deal with amendments to it properly and seriously. We are grateful to the Government for that.

This is an opportunity to refer to the substantive change which the Government have made by way of subsections (7) and (8) of Amendment No. 1. The Committee will recall that the original Clause 1 provided that the order designating countries under what is commonly called the white list should come into effect using the negative resolution procedure. The Committee will also recall that, as was referred to on Second Reading, the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee criticised the procedure and said that the affirmative resolution procedure was more appropriate.

I am glad to see that the Government have taken some account of that and that they have continued their welcome practice of taking serious note of what the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee says and, on the whole, of incorporating its conclusions into legislation. However, they have not applied the affirmative resolution procedure to all orders under this clause, but only to the first order made under the paragraph. Subsequent orders are to be made by annulment; in other words, by the negative resolution procedure.

The procedure that is proposed is unsatisfactory in two ways. First, it is unsatisfactory that only the first order should be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure. It is a terrible temptation for any government to use the first order only to put on the list those countries, if there are any, about which there is no controversy and to leave the more controversial countries to subsequent orders, which will have a lesser level of parliamentary scrutiny. There arc some indications from leaked documents that that may be the case, so the status of countries added to the list is surely no different whether they are added now or later.

Secondly, the Government's proposals arc too prescriptive. They allow for too much parliamentary scrutiny in uncontroversial cases involving when a country might be removed from the list. A country might be removed from the list when, for example, through a coup d'etat, other internal disturbances or any serious, changed political circumstances, such as the outbreak of civil war or anything of that sort, it suddenly becomes dangerous, so that applications for asylum might justifiably be made and be made very quickly. In such circumstances it is surely important that the Government should have the power to remove that country from the list very quickly. I suggest that it is appropriate for that to be done not by a negative resolution procedure, which would take 40 days or whatever, but by administrative order by the Secretary of State. There is no need for parliamentary scrutiny when we are looking for swift protection for those who are at risk of persecution or torture in their own countries.

The proposed amendment to the clause is unsatisfactory in two ways. It does not provide for enough parliamentary scrutiny where parliamentary scrutiny is needed, and it provides for too much scrutiny when the prime need is for direct action. It is for those reasons that we are not satisfied with this amendment to the clause which has been made in the course of the redrafting. We hope that the Government will reconsider the way in which they have approached this issue.

Baroness Blatch

The noble Lord gave the impression that we have not gone as far as the Scrutiny Committee invited. We have fully accepted the recommendations of the Scrutiny Committee; putting to its members the case why there should not be affirmative resolution of subsequent additions; they accepted our case and we have accepted their recommendation in full.

3.45 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I did not mean to suggest they had not. I meant to suggest that the result is still unsatisfactory.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

These amendments were originally tabled in my name. They were intended, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said, as an attempt to involve the affirmative resolution procedure for every order—not just for the first order, but for all subsequent orders also. May I briefly add to what has already been said about the reasons for these amendments?

We know that the Bill suggests that people who satisfy certain conditions shall be subject to a fast-track procedure. One of those conditions is that they come from a country which, in general, is not likely to persecute them. There are certain other conditions that we shall be discussing later in today's debate which concern, for example, the lack of a passport, or possession of an invalid passport or invalid papers, or other factors which suggest that an appeal for asylum status might be fraudulent.

I turn now to the provisions on the so-called white list. The Government are suggesting that those who come from countries on the white list, countries not normally associated with persecution, will be subjected to a fast-track procedure which is a very fast-track procedure indeed. It would involve 10 days in total for the consideration of an application and seven days for its preparation.

What is more troubling is that that might be associated with what is called "the immediate arrival procedure", which means that in future asylum seekers may be interviewed on the day of their arrival. Somebody coming into this country seeking asylum from, say, a country like Pakistan or Ghana would have an immediate interview, possibly within hours of his or her arrival, and would then have seven days in which to prepare a case. As far as we know, the only information about the procedure for preparing a case is in a leaflet, provided by the Home Office in the English language only. Many of those seeking asylum will not speak English. One might say that probably most will not. They are therefore at a huge disadvantage. They are unlikely to have the time to find people to help them. They are supposed to produce evidence within seven days. Those who are victims of torture will find obtaining adequate medical evidence in a short period of time next door to impossible. Those, the most serious of all asylum seekers, may be the worst off under the fast-track procedure. Therefore, we have tabled this amendment in the hope that each of those cases will be considered separately and carefully.

I do not want to make much reference to countries on the so-called white list because many of them are countries in the Commonwealth, but I am obliged to refer to two, one on the white list and one not. The country on the white list at the present time to which I am referring is Pakistan, a close friend of this country and a country with many things to its credit, but one of the things not to its credit is its record on human rights. There is a great deal of evidence most recently from Amnesty International's report on Pakistan for 1994–95 to say that torture and other forms of inhuman treatment are still quite frequently used in Pakistan. Amnesty International documents 67 cases in 1994 through to the end of that year.

In addition, there is a specific level of persecution directed at those who have a religion other than that of mainstream Islam; namely, Awami Moslems and Christians. Awami Moslems and Christians in certain areas of Pakistan are subject to considerable persecution, sometimes amounting to torture and other inhuman behaviour, and yet that country is on the white list at the present time. Frankly, once a country is on the white list it is not easy to take it off, though it raises difficult diplomatic problems for our Government which would be clearly overcome if the matter was subject to Parliament. It is easier for this House or another place to raise questions about the white list status of another country than it is for Her Majesty's Government to do so because it does not arouse the same diplomatic problems.

The other country to which I want to refer briefly is no longer on the white list. There were rumours that it might have been. The noble Baroness may tell us that that is not so, in which case I do not want to suggest it. I am referring to Nigeria where, currently, people who worship as Christians are under the most extreme forms of pressure and persecution, as many right reverend Prelates in this Chamber will know. Most recently the case arose of a man who, while attempting to conduct a church service, was seized, taken into custody, so seriously beaten that he was almost unable to retain his reason afterwards and only with a great deal of difficulty and by bribery was able to leave the country. In the past some of those people have been returned to their countries of origin, with well attested cases of extreme pressure being brought to bear upon them.

Because I do not want to delay the Committee, let me say that the purpose of Amendments Nos. 24A and 25A—amendments which will make all orders subject to affirmative procedure—is to allow this Chamber to consider with care and in detail the case for putting countries on the so-called white list. The arguments in relation to the other sub-paragraphs which relate to invalid passports and fraudulent papers are subject to being upheld.

It is my concluding thought that it is one of the fundamental obligations of this place in upholding the traditions of this country as a beacon of liberty throughout the world to ensure that every last man or woman who wishes to worship freely, who wishes to stand up for freedom in his or her own country, is treated as genuine. We should therefore have procedures which do not allow us to negate their appeal if they are among those who deserve to be asylum seekers; they are heroes in their own country and we should respect them.

Lord Renton

Before dealing with the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, I should like to refer to the Government's replacement of Clause 1 and say how much I welcome it. As it stands in the Bill, the present Clause 1 is a notorious example of legislation by reference. It would have taken hours to go through all the previous legislation and redraft the clause in our own mind. Attempting to understand amendments to it would have been formidable. I am grateful to my noble friend as, I am sure, are others.

As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh said, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brightman, drafted a Keeling schedule which would have been extremely valuable. But of the two alternatives—the one the Government have chosen and the Keeling schedule—the Government's choice is the better.

Though I disagree with the amendments tabled to the new Clause 1, we are now able to understand them. We would have had an awful time disentangling their effects if the new clause had not been introduced. In the broad, what the grouped amendments seek to do is fairly straightforward. I draw attention to the fact that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, have different methods of dealing with the situation. I do not believe that there is much difference between their methods and that of the Government.

I was fascinated by the complaint of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, that there would be too much parliamentary consideration which may involve delay. It is unusual to hear the Opposition complaining that Parliament is being given too great an opportunity. I hope that, on consideration, he will not press that view.

I was rather surprised to hear the designated countries referred to as "white" countries; that could be misunderstood. However, if we are to have designated countries, we must give careful consideration as to which countries should be designated and which should cease to be designated. The feelings not only of the governments, but also of the peoples in each of the countries concerned are extremely sensitive in relation to whether or not they are included on the list. We must not rush the issue.

I prefer the Government's method of dealing with the situation. It gives a certain flexibility and opportunity for quick action. Annulments can be obtained, if there is a will to expedite, without waiting 40 days, which is the maximum period allowed. That may give some consolation to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh. However, on the whole question of allowing immigrants into this country perhaps I can make a broad point.

There are too many countries in this world in which there is too much oppression affecting not merely a few thousand people, but many hundreds of thousands of people and perhaps more. To say that we ourselves, among all the countries of the world, will be the most hospitable, the kindest and the most receptive of all those who are oppressed in their own countries, will lead to this country being flooded beyond what is reasonable for the people who already live here.

I address those remarks—with the deepest respect because I am a churchman—to the right reverend Prelates on the episcopal Bench. I understand their feelings as Christians. But we have a duty to be sensible in this matter and not to allow a flood of immigrants to deprive our own people of some of the government services and financial help to which they are entitled. That is what will happen if we are over-benign in this important matter.

Earl Russell

First, I join with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, in relation to the drafting of this clause. I also thank him for his remarks at Second Reading on that point, to which I believe the Government listened.

The changes which have been introduced are very much in the spirit of the Renton Report on the preparation of legislation, to which we are all indebted. Therefore, in thanking the Government, I thank the noble Lord also.

I am also happy to confirm what the noble Baroness said; that is, that the Government have adopted the changes recommended by the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, for which I thank them. I thank the committee also; we are always deeply in the debt of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. It does a job for which the House is very much the richer. I am happy to say that it is beginning to make us the envy of another place.

However, it is fair to say that there is no committee in the House with which any of us will agree on absolutely every point. The procedure that the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee has recommended for the first order referred to in the Bill is the affirmative procedure. The Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee is expert on procedure. However, inevitably, it cannot be deeply expert in the subject matter of every single Bill that comes before it. I say that without the least suggestion of criticism because it cannot possibly he otherwise.

The affirmative procedure which the Committee has recommended for the first order is appropriate for a case where there is doubt in the mind of the House as to how the powers will be used in a general procedural way. I think I am right in saying that there is very little doubt in the mind of the House on that point. It is all too clear exactly what it is intended these powers should do. The doubt which will arise in respect of orders under this clause is a rather different one. It is a doubt about the appropriateness of the Home Office's assessment of the country concerned.

Before I deal with that point I should like to refer to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Renton, about numbers. It is not appreciated as widely as it should be that in the past year the number of people leaving this country exceeded those entering it by 5,000, and of those entering the country 30 per cent. were British subjects returning home. Therefore, the question of a flood of applicants—whatever one may think about it—for the time being must remain hypothetical.

4 p.m.

Lord Renton

I am reluctant to interrupt the noble Earl, but it is important to get this straight. The noble Earl is dealing with the situation as it is now; the amendments deal with the future and, potentially, will increase the number of people seeking asylum here by a very considerable amount. The comings and goings in the past are interesting, yes, but it is necessary to consider what will be the effect of these amendments on comings and goings.

Earl Russell

These amendments would extend the ability to make an application to what the Government believed to be appropriate in 1993. I do not believe that in 1993 the Government were quite as careless of this point as the noble Lord, Lord Renton, has suggested. He has, however, by his intervention, given me a moment to find some figures that I was trying to lay my hands on.

A Written Answer which I received from the noble Baroness last December gives the number of applicants per million of population. Those were: the United Kingdom, 1,000; the Netherlands, 1,900; Germany, 2,100. Therefore, it would be a mistake to suggest that if there is a flood we are in any way unique in being its recipients. There are others who are receiving, and indeed accepting, a great many more applicants than we are.

One can go too far on the hypothetical principle. It always used to cause my father intense panic that although we could know that the sun had not exploded seven minutes ago we could not know it had not exploded now. That always struck me as a little theoretical, and so, frankly, does that intervention.

We are concerned here with the Home Office's assessments of countries. Designations for the list—and I share the reservations of the noble Lord, Lord Renton about calling it a white list—will depend on the assessment of the Home Office as to how safe a particular country is. Since, also, in dealing with asylum claims, people are sometimes taken to be lying because they do not share the assessment of the Home Office about the safety of the country, it is important that there should be parliamentary input into assessing the accuracy of the designation, especially as there are many people—some of them present in the Chamber now—who have a depth of knowledge of other countries to which the Home Office collectively does not aspire.

For example, in the case of Turkey the Home Office wrote in a refusal letter: The Turkish Government is exploring ways of allowing greater expression to the Kurdish cultural identity". That may cause great surprise to my noble friend Lord Avebury.

Take the case of Nigeria, to which my noble friend Lady Williams referred. Another Home Office refusal letter stated: There have been no reports of persecution or atrocities against the civilian population". I really must say, "tell that to the Prime Minister". The Prime Minister—and I heard him myself—described the death of Mr. Ken Saro-Wiwa as "murder committed with the sword of justice". I have listened in this Chamber to the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey, replying to a Private Notice Question from the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan of Cardiff, that that was not the Foreign Office's assessment of Nigeria. I cannot help thinking that the Foreign Office is rather more competent to assess the safety of foreign countries than what is, by definition, a "home" office.

Take the case of Zaire. Another refusal letter states: The Secretary of State is satisfied that these factors and the continuing inter-party negotiations strongly suggest that opposition parties are allowed to function freely". That is not the account of Zaire that I hear from most quarters.

It is important that we in this House should discover what the assessments of countries are and should be able to give them critical scrutiny. For that reason I support these amendments.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

I too would like to offer my thanks to the Government for the redrafting of Clause 1, which now stands in a very much better form. I also welcome subparagraph (7) which allows for an affirmative order in the initial determination of those countries which are to be designated.

However, I must question the logic of an affirmative procedure for the first order but not for subsequent orders. Both the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, have pointed out the importance of scrutiny of any countries which go on this list. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Renton, made the same point. If it is important that they arc scrutinised under the first order surely it is equally important that at any subsequent stage countries which go on the list should be subject to the most careful consideration by this House.

The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, has my support for that reason. I cannot understand an argument which says that scrutiny is important in the one case but not in other cases. It is perfectly possible that the Government will, at a future stage, want to place a country on the designated list. There may he a number of reasons for that. One reason could be that the number of applications for asylum from that country have a high level of rejection. That is one possible reason for a country being included on the list.

For precisely the reasons given by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, it is important that in those cases a country should receive very careful scrutiny. I would hope that the Committee would look Very carefully at the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and ask why there should be this distinction between the first order and any subsequent orders. While I am on my feet, perhaps I may respond to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, not least because some of them were addressed to this Bench. I speak with the greatest respect for the noble Lord who served with distinction in another place for a constituency in which I served as archdeacon. Therefore, we have many shared experiences from that time. I ask him to reconsider the use of the word "flood" to which the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has already made reference. The figures that I have in front of me of applications for 1995 show that some 27,000 applications were decided, of which 21,300 were rejected, leaving (if my arithmetic is right) some 5,700 which were accepted—that is to say, granted either full recognition of refugee status or given exceptional leave to remain. I cannot accept that a figure of 5,700 in one year can in any way be regarded as a flood. I take the point that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is making that we need to look at the effects of this legislation on future numbers.

The anxiety of this Bench, as I know of others in the Chamber, is that this legislation should continue to afford the most careful scrutiny to every applicant for asylum. That is the heart of our anxiety. We do not believe that this legislation in any way is going to open floodgates: if anything, it is closing such gates as they are, a little more tightly. Our anxiety about this is that the most careful consideration should be given to each individual case. If we express resistance to certain clauses in this Bill, it is on those grounds.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Avebury

My noble friend Lord Russell tempted me to intervene in this debate by mentioning two countries in which the Parliamentary Human Rights Group (of which I have the honour to be chairman) have taken a particular interest, and they are Turkey and Nigeria. I have visited Turkey on four occasions in the past five years until the Turkish Government banned me from entering the country in August 1994. I have been unable to get back there since despite writing to the new Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz who is credited with a greater degree of transparency by the Government, as exemplified by the quotation from the letter which my noble friend read out in which the Home Office claimed that the Turkish Government were exploring ways of extending greater cultural identity or privileges to the Kurdish minority.

I sent an analysis to the Minister in the other place, Mr. David Davis, who deals with Turkey, drawing his attention to the similarity between the remarks that were made by Mr. Yilmaz when he presented his government's programme to the Turkish Grand National Assembly, and the remarks that were made by his predecessor, Mrs. Tansu Ciller in her speech to the Turkish Grand National Assembly on 30th June 1993. I asked him whether he thought that it was more or less likely that Mr. Yilmaz would be able to give effect to the undertaking which he had given; for example, on freedom of expression and greater observance of human rights, than Mrs. Ciller had when her Government possessed a majority in the Grand National Assembly, whereas Mr. Yilmaz, who is dependent on the votes of the two Opposition parties of Mr. Ecevit and, the largest of all the parties; namely, that of Mr. Erbakan, the Islamist Welfare Party, neither of which are particularly disposed towards the liberal parts of the government's programme.

The opposite is happening. Writers are still being imprisoned, and on 31st May one of the largest trials ever of intellectuals is taking place at the state security court in Istanbul, where 94 writers and intellectuals are to be put on trial for thought-crime offences. Mr. Yasar Kemal, the most famous writer in Turkey, was recently on trial; Mr. Besikci, has had extra years of imprisonment added to those already imposed on him. At yesterday evening's meeting of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group, we heard from two very distinguished intellectuals from Turkey, Mr. Haluk Gerger, the writer, and Mr. Yurdatapan, who has recently been down in the south-east of Turkey investigating the present situation there.

He spoke in particular about an incident in which 11 people were murdered in a minibus, which is alleged by the Turkish authorities to have been committed by the PKK, the armed opposition. But on investigation, it turned out to be almost certain that it was committed by the state security forces themselves. I shall not go into detail about the evidence, but it is fairly substantial. I believe that it is going to be presented to the European Convention on Human Rights by some of the next-of-kin, who, very courageously, attended press conferences and who gave evidence to Mr. Yurdatapan.

So very far from Turkish human rights showing any sign of improvement, it is in fact deteriorating. I personally cannot understand why, if one looks at the figures of Turkish asylum seekers coming to the United Kingdom, the rate of refusal has increased from 6 per cent. in 1990, to 92 per cent. in 1995 and that is without any designation.

What are we to do? Are we to say that nobody from Turkey is ever going to he granted asylum here irrespective of the nature and extent of the violation of human rights in that country? I shall certainly be devastated if there is an intention of putting Turkey on the list for designation. I hope that the noble Baroness can assure us that the Government have no such intention.

I now turn to Nigeria, which is the other country which my noble friend mentioned. I was equally astonished that there was ever any intention of putting Nigeria on to the list except that we knew from the internal briefing document which had been produced by the Home Office for assessing applications by persons coming from Nigeria, how far short of reality its perception was in looking at the political and human rights condition of the country. There were so many glaring omissions in the document which we pointed out to the Home Office, and as a result, it was withdrawn and replaced by one which was slightly more accurate.

If one is going to produce documents of that kind, it would be better to look at the experience of other countries who seem to be more efficient at it than we are, particularly the Canadians and Americans, whose documents are always well referenced, whereas those from the Home Office are full of mere assertions and generalities. I appeal to the noble Baroness, quite separately from this debate, to have a look at the matter and to see whether, if the Home Office is to give advice of this kind, it should be based on much more accurate assessment of the human rights conditions in the countries of origin which, as my noble friend said, is more reliable when it comes from the Foreign Office than from the noble Baroness's department. I cannot understand why it is not possible for information to be transferred across in that way or why the noble Baroness and her department cannot look at some of the evidence which is available from other sources, such as the US State Department, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and so on.

In Nigeria at the moment we have a situation where not only have very serious human rights violations been taking place, but when the Commonwealth attempts to send a group of very distinguished Ministers to see General Abacha to discuss these matters with him, he refuses to admit the delegation. The British High Commissioner returned to Abuja at the end of January. He has not seen the Head of State since that point, as the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, told the meeting of the Parliamentary Human Rights Group the other day. I believe that none of the other representatives of the European Union gets to see General Abacha. He does not want to listen to representations on human rights. I understand that the only British authority who has been able to get an audience with him since the beginning of this year was the local representative of Shell. That tells one something about the relationship between that company and the Nigerian regime.

I entirely share the view that the powers that we are granting here to put any country on the designation list are extraordinarily broad, and we should safeguard the position of the House and another place by looking very carefully at these proposals if they come before Parliament in future. If Turkey or Nigeria were ever considered to be suitable countries for designation, I would certainly wish to be here and to speak extensively on that subject.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

Perhaps I may say a brief word on procedure. Clearly, I have caused some trouble by grouping my later amendments with this one. My intention in grouping Amendment No. 26 with Amendment No. 1 was to draw attention to the only point where the redrafting of the amendment had been substantially changed. It was my intention to persuade your Lordships that we should debate now only the redrafting of Clause I and the issue of parliamentary scrutiny. All the other issues which noble Lords have debated, with the exception (I am glad to say) of the right reverend Prelate, can much better be debated in later amendments. I suggest humbly to the Committee that, having made this mistake, it would now be best for the Minister to wind up on those two issues.

Earl Russell

Does the noble Lord understand that the points we have been making necessarily arise from what we see as the insufficient nature of the Government's concession on the affirmative procedure?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I do not believe that I do. I believe that the noble Earl has, very properly and honourably, moved on to substantive issues relating to Clause 1 which can be debated in considering later amendments or that Clause 1 shall stand part of the Bill. I am afraid that on this occasion I do not agree with the noble Earl. But I have caused confusion by the grouping that has been agreed, and therefore I am utterly humble about this matter. I "suggest that when other noble Lords have said what they wish to say about those two issues, it is better for the Minister to wind up on those matters and to move straight on to Amendment No. 2. Contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Renton has said, neither I nor the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has moved any amendments. We cannot do so. Only one amendment is before the Committee, and that is Amendment No. 1.

Lord Shepherd

As a member of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, I should like to speak in response to what has fallen from the noble Earl.

The support received by that committee from every quarter of the Chamber is very helpful in its approach to what may occasionally be complicated and difficult legislation. The fact that now the Government more often accept its proposals is even more gratifying. The committee has to operate within a very short period of time. Following Second Reading, the committee obtains the first memorandum from the department and has to put it before the House within two or three days of the Committee stage. Therefore, it is not able to look at the Bill in very great detail. It can go only to the heart of what concerns it.

In this particular case, what concerned the committee was the very wide power sought by the Secretary of State. The policy of the Bill is not a matter that enters into the deliberations of that committee. Therefore, the kinds of points raised by the right reverend Prelate do not enter into the thinking of that committee.

When the committee looked at the Bill, apart from the powers, it wanted to know what it ought to say to the Chamber. That committee reports to this Chamber, not the Government. The Government have responded on the basis that the noble Baroness is a Member of the House and no doubt has been able to obtain a copy. But it is a report to the Chamber, not the final word. Noble Lords who are members of that committee can vote according to their views as a consequence of the debate.

The reason why the affirmative procedure was recommended in regard to the initiation of first orders was that at least the Chamber would have some idea of the countries that would be placed on one list or another. If there are additions, on that basis one may say that an affirmative order should equally follow. We thought that, having established the basic principles, that would be enough. However, I remind your Lordships that that committee was reporting to this Chamber. It seems to me that over the years there has not been much difference between the affirmative and negative procedures. Here, one can obtain a negative procedure debate fairly quickly. I am not aware of any occasion when the business managers have found reasons to prevent a debate subject to the negative procedure. Of course, in another place the position is very different. It is not for the committee to do anything in regard to procedures in the House of Commons. As far as concerns this Chamber, the negative and affirmative procedures are basically the same in terms of debate.

The fundamental problem that has become clear in this Bill is that whatever one does between the negative procedure and the affirmative procedure, one will not be able to amend the measure. For example, one will not be able to remove Nigeria, Pakistan or Turkey from one list. One will have to reject the whole order in order to eliminate one country. I can see grave difficulties in terms of relationships with some countries who we recognise do not have as good a procedure as we have in order to deal with their problems but progress is being made. We do not wish to aggravate it perhaps by asking a Minister to say something that might put our friends in those countries at risk.

I wonder whether, before an order is made in this Chamber, the matter should be sent to a committee appointed by the Leader of the House. It will take evidence why the names are on the list, satisfy itself as to that matter, and report to the Chamber that it has conducted an investigation whether those countries should go on the list. I believe that the procedure for debate, be it affirmative or negative, will prove to be very difficult, certainly to get to the truth. In view of our great history, I believe that we should look at a procedure whereby these matters, which may be very delicate, can be considered quietly and perhaps in privacy, with a report to the Chamber on its views on the matter.

I shall support this matter. I believe that whatever is done in this field should be done with as much parliamentary surveillance as possible. But one recognises that whatever one does, one will be hamstrung. One may have a debate and speak one's mind, but at the end of the day if the Government will it, the particular order will be passed, whether it should or should not. If a committee were appointed by the Leader to look at these matters, perhaps not too formally, we would be discharging our duty to a greater extent than is now proposed.

Lord Dean of Harptree

I also welcome the new clause, in particular subsections (7) and (8), which have just been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. I am also a member of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. I find it encouraging that the Government have accepted in toto the recommendations made by that committee.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon said he did not understand the logic of adopting the affirmative procedure for the first list and the negative procedure for any changes. I suggest that there is very good logic here. One is dealing with the concept of designated countries that move into a fairly new area. It is important that this Chamber should have an opportunity to discuss the principles that lie behind the designation. The adoption of the affirmative procedure for the first list gives the Chamber an opportunity to discuss these matters. It also gives Her Majesty's Government an opportunity to explain to noble Lords the logic and reasoning behind the placing of countries on the list.

When it comes to changing the list, as the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has said, quick action is very often required. There may be a coup d'etat or a change of circumstances in a country which could endanger the life of an individual or a group of individuals. Quick action would certainly be needed, but I suggest to the noble Lord that this would be a very significant matter for the country concerned and Parliament should have the opportunity, if it so chose, to discuss the matter. Of course, the negative resolution procedure would give this House that opportunity.

4.30 p.m.

Baroness Blotch

It is my intention to speak to Amendments Nos. 24A, 25A and 26, mainly on the understanding that that is what I believe we have been discussing for 50 of the last 54 minutes, and in the hope that when we come to Amendments Nos. 24A, 25A and 26, we will not have this debate all over again.

As has already been said, we have accepted the reasoning put forward by the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee for the initial order under Clause I to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, with subsequent orders by the negative resolution procedure. The new version of Clause I implements that recommendation in full. I am grateful to my noble friends for what they have said about that. I can assure the House that the first designation order will be comprehensive and will contain all the countries considered suitable for designation at that time. To remind the House, the countries we are currently considering as being suitable for designation arc Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ghana, India, Pakistan, Poland and Romania.

Amendments Nos. 24A and 25A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, and Amendment No. 26, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, go much further. Amendments Nos. 24A and 25A propose that the affirmative procedure is adopted for all changes to the designation order; namely, whether countries should be added to the list or removed from it. Amendment No. 26 is similar. That amendment would prescribe the affirmative procedure for the first and all subsequent designation orders which add countries to the designated list.

The designation procedure must he sufficiently flexible for us to be able to make amendments quickly. If I may be forgiven, I should like to employ an argument which I believe was used by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and with which I wholeheartedly agree. There may well be occasions when we want to remove a country from the list very quickly indeed. There is a slight difference between us, because I am tempted to accept that there should be no procedure at all; but I believe that Parliament would still like to know whether a country was to be removed from the list. However, it can be done quickly, particularly if the case for removing the country from the list is uncontentious. But to subject this procedure to the affirmative procedure would—or could potentially—cause very real problems in the future. I believe that this argument was an argument accepted by the scrutiny committee, and I am grateful for what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said about that. As I have said, there may be sound reasons for needing to add a country to the list quickly—for example, as a result of a sudden influx of unfounded applications. That is another reason we put to the scrutiny committee, which agreed that flexibility was important.

The negative procedure is already used for extending visa requirements to additional countries and for making other changes to the Immigration Rules. As the debates in both Houses on the benefit changes earlier this year demonstrated, the negative procedure is capable of providing effective parliamentary scrutiny.

Designation will not of course result in automatic refusal of asylum claims, and it will not result in the denial of an appeal right. That is a very important point to be made.

As I have said, I would have no objection to the proposal in Amendment No. 26 that the Secretary of State should be able to remove a country from the designation list without any parliamentary approval, but I simply cannot accept the amendment as a whole.

As I have said, the Government have implemented in full the recommendations of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. However, Amendments Nos. 24A, 25A and 26 depart from the committee's report and are, for the reasons I have given, undesirable and unnecessary.

On some of the points that have been made during the course of debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, referred to procedures for considering claims from designated countries. I hope that we shall actually resort to accuracy in the course of our debates. I said it at Second Reading, but I shall say it again now: we envisage that applications from nationals of designated countries will be considered under the short procedure, and in relation to those who apply on arrival, they will be interviewed on the day of arrival if the applicant is fit and well enough to be interviewed. The applicants then have a month—not a matter of days, but a month—in which to submit additional information before the case is considered. It is not the case that the case will be completed from the start to the end of appeal within 10 days. Cases are unlikely to take anything less than two months, even under this new procedure.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, has played with figures—and I suppose that one can make almost anything of the figures—but it is irrefutable that, in 1988, there were 3,998 applications for asylum in this country. In 1995, there were 43,965. We can talk as much as we like about how many leave the country, how many are dealt with in this way, that way or the other way; the truth is that when 43,965 applications are made, they have to be dealt with; they have to be processed; and they go into the appeal system. Noble Lords will remember that I said there was a backlog of 84,000 cases. That is the arithmetic. That is the time-consuming part, and that is why we have increased by eight times the number of people dealing with applications. That is why we have made available a great deal more money to speed up the process. However, it is not just to be tackled from one angle; it actually needs to be tackled by the system for dealing with the asylum applications as well.

Earl Russell

I am very sorry that the noble Baroness thinks that I have played with figures, since the figure on which I relied most heavily was supplied by herself.

Baroness Blatch

What I was saying was that the noble Lord used figures in a context which I believe was quite different from the context in which my noble friend Lord Renton used them. My noble friend Lord Renton said that we have a problem. My noble friend Lord Renton, in the way in which he used the figures, said that the numbers were escalating and that it was causing a problem. That is why we have a Bill before the House. If the noble Lord is taking issue with the fact that the asylum applications are running at around about 43,000, 44,000 or 45,000 applications a year at this moment, then I would be pleased to hear his evidence for that.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

Perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness for a little illumination. My understanding is that a case has to be prepared and dealt with within 17 days of receiving the Home Office notice of refusal of an application. If that is incorrect, would the noble Baroness tell me on exactly what grounds it is incorrect? That is the information I have received from a number of quarters.

Baroness Blatch

I am saying that the Home Office, in that sense, will be dealing with them. Under the new system, the first substantive appeal will be heard, and people, on arrival, as I have said, will have their cases heard and they will be given a month to provide the information before their cases are properly, fully considered. Then the timetable starts, and if they go into the accelerated procedure, then the time table starts to count; and if they go into the other part of the procedure then of course the accelerated time table will not apply.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

For the clarification of the Committee, perhaps I may say that the understanding is that the 30 days to which the noble Baroness was referring apply from the moment when somebody first attempts to get asylum. The 17 days that I was referring to are when the procedure for appeal starts. I just want to make it clear that I believe there was a misunderstanding between us. I was not deliberately using an inaccuracy; I would not wish to do that, and it would be inaccurate and impolite to the noble Baroness to do that. I hope that I have not done that.

Baroness Blatch

The noble Baroness is talking about the appeal stage, and I am talking about the fact that there will be a substantive consideration of the case following arrival and, in preparation of that case, they will be given a month in which to provide information in relation to that case. Then of course it goes, if it is appropriate, into the accelerated appeal procedure. In speaking to the amendment, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said that the designated list would be a matter for the opinion of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. It will not be a matter for his opinion. He may well have a view that a country should be added to the list but whether or not it is added will be a matter for Parliament.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and his committee took into consideration the fact that we intend to put together all those countries which we consider to be potential candidates at the first stage under the affirmative resolution procedure. Therefore, it is highly probable that following that, single countries will come forward for consideration.

Earl Russell

I am most grateful to the noble Baroness. Perhaps I may ask her for some clarification. She said that the decision about countries will be a matter for Parliament and I am very grateful to her for that. She then went on to say that all the countries will be dealt with together in one order. How then could Parliament exclude one country but not another?

Baroness Blatch

I have given the names of the countries which we are considering at the moment as candidates for the affirmative resolution procedures following Royal Assent of the Bill. The order will then come before this Chamber and another place. If either House then has very serious reservations about the case being made for any one of those countries, so serious that there is grave concern about the whole package being allowed to go through, although it is not normal and usual I suggest that the House should think seriously about its power to reject the list until it comes forward in a form which is acceptable to Parliament.

It is open to Parliament to do that. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is right to say that it will not be possible to cherry-pick off the list and say, "We do not like this", or, "We do not like that", but it will be possible to say that the list is not acceptable to Parliament until something is done in relation to the country which Parliament finds is an unacceptable entry on the list.

Earl Russell

Before the noble Baroness sits down, I thank her very warmly indeed for those remarks.

Baroness Blatch

I reinforce the point that it will not be a subjective matter for my right honourable friend to make a decision as to whether or not a country is added to the list.

It would appear, certainly in the minds of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that they believe that somehow or other the Home Office is not liaising effectively with the Foreign Office. That liaison goes on all the time. Certainly in the course of drawing up the list, we have liaised with the Foreign Office. I have named the current candidates for the list. Earlier candidates which were also considered for the list were Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia, all of which have been dropped from it. I should put on the record that Nigeria, Algeria, Sri Lanka and Turkey have never been considered for that list. Using the expertise, information and intelligence of the Foreign Office, we shall update continually our views on those countries. Therefore, if it is proposed to add a country on to the list following the initial group of countries that Parliament will be invited to agree, it will be important that the Home Secretary puts to Parliament written assessments of those countries which in his opinion are suitable candidates for addition to the list.

I advise the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that we are liaising very closely with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about the very complex situation in Turkey.

In conclusion, perhaps I may read from the report of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. I was privileged in that a Bill which I took through Parliament was the first candidate for the services of that committee. I have always found it hugely helpful, as I am sure does the House, to have the benefit of its work. Page five of its report states: We believe that in order to ensure the maximum flexibility, only the first exercise of such powers should be subject to affirmative resolution. Subsequent uses of the powers should be subject to negative procedure". The next part is very important and I am extremely happy to respond to it. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has made the point that it is the House which is being informed about these matters. The report continues: The House may wish to seek an assurance from the Minister that the first list of countries under each power (which alone will, if our recommendation is adopted, be subject to affirmative resolution) will be as comprehensive as possible, so as to facilitate debate on the principles governing the compilation of the list. Subsequent negative procedure would allow the House to debate the issues again when necessary". That is a very important point which I take extremely seriously. When the first list is brought before Parliament, we shall debate all the issues and present information to Parliament to try to persuade it that countries should be added to the list. The criteria and principles which underlie our reasons for compiling the list in the first place will be an important pointer in relation to any subsequent additions to the list. I hope that the Committee will not accept Amendments Nos. 24A, 25A and 26.

4.45 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. I, Amendment No. 2: Line 7, after ("in insert ("individual consideration has been given by the Secretary of State to the merits of the person's claim for asylum and")

The noble Lord said: I preface my remarks on this amendment by saying how grateful I am to the Minister for the way in which she wound up the debate on the original amendment, in particular, for her comments on the possibility of finding an accelerated procedure for removing countries from the list and, indeed, if I heard her correctly, for her suggestions about the way in which this Chamber may wish to consider individual countries within the affirmative resolution procedure.

Amendment No. 2 returns to the substantive clause as now redrafted and refers to a particular point which is not covered elsewhere. I am not sure that it was dealt with during consideration of the Bill in the Commons. In my later amendment, Amendment No. 4, which refers to the possibilities of persecution in one part of a country, we criticise the use of the words "in general" as a criterion for inclusion in the designated list. Of course, other considerations are included in the Immigration Rules which we must make sure are included in the consideration of each individual case.

I remind the Committee that the Immigration Rules, which have been published and debated in this Chamber, are, according to the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993, required to be in conformity with the 1951 convention. Therefore, any question of changes to the Immigration Rules must be taken very seriously. They are not statutory, but they have an independent authority which makes it impossible for the Government to change them if there is any conflict with the 1951 convention.

In addition to referring to the possibility of persecution in one part of a country, the Immigration Rules refer also to the need for consideration of age, beliefs, way of life and/or medical condition. The important point is that the Immigration Rules require that the particular facts of the individual case should be taken into account.

Our concern throughout the whole of the consideration of Clause 1, with its fast-track procedures, designated list of countries and the vast extension of what used to be the definition of applications which are without foundation, is that it is not possible for there to be individual consideration of particular cases or the particular facts of the case.

The Immigration Rules provide that the consideration of an application should take into account the practicalities of an individual case. Account should be taken of the fact that persecution may not simply be carried out by the government in the originating country but could be carried out by forces which that government cannot control. That could happen, for example, in Kashmir; it is certainly happening in Liberia at the moment, and probably in a large number of other countries. Therefore it is essential that we should not have the criterion, which is implied in the whole concept of the designated list, of general political stability, but that there should be the option of consideration of the particular facts of the case. Amendment No. 2 states that we have to be sure that, individual consideration has been given by the Secretary of State to the merits of the person's claim for asylum". I do not believe that is covered in any other amendment. I do not believe that it has been considered before, but I believe that it is an essential safeguard for the individual consideration which is a requirement of the 1951 convention and is indeed an essential element in a civilised and humane policy for the consideration of asylum appeals. I beg to move, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, Amendment No. 2.

Baroness Blatch

I hope that I can help the noble Lord as I believe that his anxiety is unfounded. In support of Amendment No. 2, it has been suggested that an explicit provision is required to make clear that a certificate cannot be issued under paragraph 5 of Schedule 2 to the 1993 Act unless an asylum claim has been individually considered. The amendment is superfluous. It is already the case, in the 1993 Act and in the Bill as drafted, that an asylum seeker can only have his application refused if he does not meet the criteria set out in the 1951 convention. Those criteria have been incorporated into immigration law under Sections 1 and 2 of the 1993 Act. Nothing in the 1993 Act, or in this Bill, detracts from that principle.

It follows, therefore, that the application has to be considered against the convention criteria before a decision can be taken on whether the applicant is or is not a refugee. The certification procedure, which is the subject of Clause 1, comes into play only after the Secretary of State has concluded in the light of such an assessment—that is, against the convention criteria—that the applicant is not a refugee. It is at that point that the 1993 Act provides a mechanism for assigning manifestly unfounded applications into an accelerated appeal procedure.

Therefore, the Secretary of State first examines the application against the convention criteria. Only if it fails those criteria does he go on to consider whether it falls under any of the criteria for certification set out in the expanded version of paragraph 5 which Clause 1 of the Bill will insert into the 1993 Act. Given that the amendment seeks to correct a non-existent problem, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I do not think it is a non-existent problem; indeed, later amendments refer to the necessity for us to have regard to international obligations other than the 1951 convention. We shall debate those in due course. I do not wish to trespass on that. However, in so far as we have so far only been considering our obligations under the 1951 convention, I am prepared to say that I shall read carefully what the Minister has said and consider what action to take at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 2, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, by leave, withdrawn.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, Amendment No. 3:

Line 11, at end insert—

("() Nothing in this paragraph shall be construed as applying to—

  1. (a) a person who can show a reasonable claim that he has been the victim of torture in a country in which he is to fear persecution; or
  2. (b) a person who is claiming to fear persecution in a counts which has a recently documented record of torture.").

The right reverend Prelate said: Amendment No. 3 asks that nothing in the relevant paragraph should apply to those who have been tortured, or might reasonably expect to be subjected to torture. At the Report stage in another place an all-party amendment was moved to take torture victims out of the scope of the proposed legislation. The amendment was narrowly lost. Following that debate, an all-party group met Home Office Ministers. Subsequently Home Office officials met the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. I know that nothing was said at those meetings to offer reassurance that torture victims would not be disadvantaged by Clauses 1 and 2. I very much hope that the Minister will accept this amendment, or perhaps find more effective words to meet its intention.

The continued practice of torture is one of the most shocking examples of the fact that evil and barbarity continue to flourish in the world. The comfortable world owes those who have suffered torture the chance to rebuild confidence and health and to find fresh opportunity to live in a peaceful and just surrounding. We are part of that comfortable world and we should take our proper share of the neediest who seek asylum. I regretted that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, used the emotive word "flood". To refer back to a famous remark of Mr. Reginald Maudling, the numbers that we have heard about today hardly constitute the difference between a flood and standing on dry land.

The Committee should take seriously the consistent evidence of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture which states, It is impossible to help rehabilitate survivors of torture if they are frightened and uncertain whether or not they are to be returned to face further persecution". I have led five ecumenical delegations to the Home Office on these subjects. Last autumn we met Mr. Howard. He told us that he believed that asylum seekers saw Britain as a soft touch. It became clear to me that a major motive in introducing this Bill was to run up a signal that Britain has a harsh regime which will make it difficult for asylum seekers to find refuge here; in other words, to stop them applying here at all.

The argument that Britain is a soft touch would persuade us that the number of applications for asylum in the United Kingdom has risen because other western European countries have strengthened their asylum procedures. I believe it is more likely to be true that the increase in applications here is due mainly to the close historical or cultural ties that the applicants' countries had through the years of the British Empire. Six countries accounted for almost half the asylum applications in Britain in 1995: Nigeria, Somalia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Ghana. Those are countries where serious questions about human rights have grown in the past few years. Canada takes asylum seekers from mostly those same countries. In Canada 70 per cent. of such applications are recognised but in Canada the first decisions are taken by an independent body. Those historical ties may result in some substantial costs to this country in receiving asylum seekers. However, it is worth remembering that the same historical ties played a large part in making this country rich.

I asked Mr. Howard how an asylum seeker could pursue an appeal if benefit were withdrawn. He replied that an asylum seeker could pursue an appeal from outside the country. For asylum seekers an appeal right from abroad is useless. It is useless to those in most need of it; those who have already been returned to a country in which they fear persecution. We are talking about many of the most vulnerable people in the world. If one had suffered torture, one would use whatever means one could to escape, including obtaining false documents, and one would have a natural fear of officialdom. That would inhibit one, on the day of arriving in a strange country, where people spoke a language one might not understand, from telling one's whole story truthfully. In other legal fields such trauma is allowed for. I think of rape cases where it is quite properly understood that trauma will prevent someone from telling the truth, perhaps for a long time, until the victim feels much more secure with the people to whom she is speaking.

I hope that Members of the Committee will take seriously the report of the Glidewell Panel. The panel has received evidence from a wide range of those individuals who have close experience of immigration and asylum matters. Here are two of its comments: We are not convinced that the clauses, when implemented, will guarantee protection for those asylum seekers with a well-founded fear of persecution. We urge the Home Office to take account of other human rights criteria when determining claims for exceptional leave to remain, particularly the 1984 UN Convention against Torture".

One of the points the Glidewell Panel makes deserves close attention. It states that the 1993 Act had effectively created a "culture of disbelief' in the whole Home Office machinery—a culture of disbelief about the legitimacy of claims to asylum. It states that that is the reason for the rapid and dramatic decline in the proportion of asylum seekers granted refugee status or exceptional leave to remain. Those figures are then used to justify the belief that most asylum seekers are "bogus".

I take exception to the word "bogus" whenever it is used in this context. I feel very angry when I read that word in a newspaper like the Daily Mail. I feel even more deeply disturbed when I read in Hansard of another place the Secretary of State for Social Security using the word "bogus" repeatedly, unsupported by any evidence. I have been glad to note that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has avoided using that word in your Lordships' House. The word is finding its way into a wider and more damaging situation. One of the submissions made to the Glidewell Panel was from Newham, a borough that I used to know well. Sajida Malik of the Newham monitoring project told the panel of her own experience of that climate of fear while working with children in schools in the borough of Newham. She says: I was horrified by the things I heard young children talking about. For example, when we raised the issue of asylum seekers and refugees they talked about them in the context of being bogus—welfare scroungers, beggars, dirty and disgusting". Home Office figures for 1990–95 show the total number refused both refugee status and exceptional leave to remain. In 1990 the figure was 17.5 per cent. of the applicants. In 1995 it was 78.9 per cent. Those figures do not prove that there have been more bogus applicants. Rather they prove that the gateway to entry has been drastically narrowed by deliberate policy and by encouraging the culture of disbelief.

One further comment seems to me to be relevant to the amendment. I believe that the use of the categories contained in Clause 1 is likely to be self-defeating. Rather than speeding up the process it is highly likely to increase the time spent on cases which require substantive consideration. I hope that noble Lords will read the evidence presented to the Glidewell Panel by the chief adjudicator on page 13 of the report. If most of the initial listings on the fast track have to be adjourned, it will take longer overall. The Bill obliges the adjudicator to take fast track cases first. If a large number is adjourned, other asylum cases will be put back. So will standard immigration cases. The adjudicator is obliged to set a date for hearing within five days, but a log-jam could easily mean that the date he has to set will be 12 months or more away.

This debate should not be about numbers but about justice. The Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture insists that individual cases must be dealt with on an individual basis with thorough examination of statements and claims. The fast track approach is inappropriate for those who claim to have been victims of torture or in danger of torture. Such cases should explicitly be taken out of the scope of the Bill. I beg to move.

5 p.m.

Lord Dubs

I support the amendment. It seems to me that torture, inhuman or degrading treatment, or the threat of it, are the ultimate and appalling acts that people do to their fellow human beings. I should declare an interest. Until a year ago I was director of the Refugee Council.

Anyone who has met persons seeking safety in this country who may have suffered from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment will know that the normal human reaction is not to be able to talk about it—certainly not immediately, and possibly not for quite a long period of time. I remember meeting some of the Bosnians who had been held in Serb detention camps. They came to Britain under a Home Office scheme. One or two felt able to talk about the most terrible things that had happened to them. Many others were not able to speak; and sometimes weeks later they felt more confident and could talk about their appalling experiences. Some of the victims of such treatment may feel that they can never talk about it because it is too awful; they may have difficulty in coming to terms with it.

One has to envisage that background against the intentions of the Bill. My fear is that anyone who finds it hard to describe his experiences will have difficulty in obtaining justice under the Government's procedures. For the reasons I have given, if an individual cannot say, "This is what happened to me. This is the threat. This is the reality of what I suffered", it will be difficult for him to persuade officials of his circumstances in such a way that the decision is made for him to stay in this country.

There is a dilemma there. I appreciate that in the fullness of time those individuals may suffer simply because of their inability to describe and express their experiences. However, in a number of instances, given time and less pressure to state their situation quickly, they may find it possible, perhaps through a professional adviser, a lawyer or another adviser, to begin to explain what has happened to them so that their case may be put for them to the Home Office by their lawyers or advisers.

I am anxious that anyone who has been subjected to torture, or the threat of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment, be given enough time to have his case put for him and properly considered. If we are to subject to further problems people who have already suffered in this way, I fear that a fast track process will deny justice to those victims of torture, or those who fear torture, even more than that process will deny justice to other people. It is for that reason that we must be enormously concerned about the Bill's implications.

The amendment may apply quite properly to persons fearing torture or inhuman or degrading treatment who may not otherwise qualify under the 1951 Geneva Convention. Nevertheless, this country has properly signed other international instruments concerned with torture and inhuman or degrading treatment. An individual may fear torture or inhuman or degrading punishment, even if he is outside the convention. In such instances it is surely proper that other international conventions that we have signed should be brought to bear. That is one of the aims of the amendment.

I trust that as a country we would not willingly send anyone to another land where there is a high risk that he may suffer in some of the ways suggested in the amendment. My fear is that the procedures which the Home Office adopts and which are in the clause may well have that outcome, even if it is not intended. That is why I see the amendment as at least one safeguard to prevent that happening.

The Duke of Norfolk

I put my name to this amendment because more and more torture is experienced and takes place in the world. The provision should be spelt out in the body of the Bill. The right reverend Prelate moved the amendment extremely well and I have nothing to add.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

This is an important short debate and I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for the way in which he moved the amendment. I wish to add two thoughts to what he and the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said. First, victims of torture are often those most likely to fall victim to two of the subsections of Clause 1; that is, they are likely to travel with fraudulent or false documents. If they come from countries so savage that they are willing to use torture for judicial reasons, it is unlikely that they would he able to leave with their documents in proper order. Almost by definition, they are likely to be the most genuine of refugees when they fall short of the provisions of the subsections of Clause 1.

Secondly, I urge the amendment on the Committee because, as the noble Duke said, it is crucial that the provisions in the amendment he spelt out on the face of the Bill. We may receive well intentioned assurances, but the Bill will go forward into legislation and be with us for all time, as governments, administrations and Home Secretaries change. Therefore, it is crucial that we single out victims of torture as a special category, if only to give a lead to other countries to treat them as special cases. I add that many of those who suffer torture do so for upholding the very ideals in which we most believe.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

I rise to underline the point that behind the amendment is the contrast with the shortness of time allowed under the fast procedure. The noble Baroness gave us an indication of that: a month to first determination and a possible 17 days afterwards. There is a contrast between that shortness of time and the difficulty that people who have been tortured have in expressing experiences that they have been through. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has already made the point, but it came home to me particularly as I was recently reading an account written by one of the hostages in Lebanon. In the preface to his book he mentions the intense difficulty he had in articulating his experiences. If that is true for someone who is well educated and articulate, it is likely to be just as true for someone who is less well educated.

In looking through the briefings, I was struck by an account of a young Tamil who had been tortured. I was struck not least because I know Colombo and Sri Lanka well and was in Colombo last November when Tamils were being rounded up and taken to local police stations. The account describes how a young Tamil was rounded up by the local police, in an earlier event. He was detained, kicked, punched, his hands stamped on; his body repeatedly burned with cigarettes; his head frequently smashed against a wall; he was hit with rifle butts and with a PVC pipe filled with something weighty; he was stabbed with bayonets and on some occasions tied to a door and beaten. That is what one means by "torture". That victim's brother bribed the police to free him and he eventually escaped to the UK. His first claim for asylum was refused and it was only after that refusal that medical reports were received. The medical and psychiatric reports brought out the torture to which he had been subjected. Had he been put through the fast-track procedure, time would not have allowed all that to emerge.

Behind the amendment lies the fact that people who are the most likely of all to be returned to situations of immense distress are those who may find it most difficult to articulate their case in the short term and with the fast-track procedure. That is why we press the amendment. I support the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Winston

I wish to add my personal experience to the debate. Sometimes when one sees first-hand accounts of such experiences, they strike a deep chord. This is a crucial amendment. I can think of three people whom I know to he particularly articulate; one is a practising physician and scientist; one a pure scientist working in my field and one a university teacher. All are highly intelligent. Of the two women, one was subjected to rape and one to sexual abuse. The third was simply tortured. What struck me about all three individuals is that it took them many months before they were able to come to terms with any of the aspects of their treatment and before they could talk about it. It is interesting that one of the people who went on to do a PhD with me ended up publishing over 70 internationally recognised papers. She has proved to be an extraordinarily useful member of society and I wonder what would have happened had she not had the opportunity of asylum. Had she been "fast-tracked", I am sure that it would have been impossible for her to seek refuge as she did.

Baroness Seccombe

Members on all sides of the Committee are, I am sure, keen to have a system that welcomes asylum seekers to this country in a sensitive way, particularly those who have suffered or fear torture. It must be a terrible experience. I am sure that that is constantly in the Minister's mind as we go through the Bill. So it was with great sadness that I listened to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool because I feel that the Government's motives are truly honourable.

Earl Russell

The noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, is right that it is important to have these provisions on the face of the Bill. One reason I believe he is right is that drawing attention to the subject may do something to improve the standard of burden of proof that is at present required by the Home Office. The proper standard of burden of proof is, I understand, that set out in the judgment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keith, in Siva Kumaran: that the applicant's fear of persecution should be well founded means that there has to be demonstrated a reasonable degree of likelihood that he will be persecuted for a convention reason.

At present, the adjudications that we are getting on the subject of torture require a good deal more than that. Take, for example, this refusal letter: The Secretary of State has considered the medical report — submitted in support of your claim, but he does not consider that this provides conclusive evidence that you were tortured". It is the word "conclusive" that clearly indicates a mistaken requirement of the standards of burden of proof. Again, let us take this letter of refusal: The scarring on your back shows evidence of injury, but the Secretary of State is of the opinion that this does not show the cause or reason". I am afraid that it is literally as well as proverbially true that scars do not speak. Scars cannot by themselves show the reason for which they were inflicted. The normal formulation of expert witnesses is that the scars are entirely compatible with the applicant's story. That satisfies the standard of proof set out in Siva Kumaran. That seems to me to be the appropriate standard for which adjudicators should look. I hope that the passing of the amendment will make that clear.

It is well known to the Committee that I do not believe that the Department of Social Security is a soft touch. I believe exactly the opposite. But its requirements on believing an applicant on burden of proof are a great deal more appropriate than those we find in the refusal letters. The following is a commissioner's ruling of 1985: The tribunal may reach this conclusion even though the only evidence is that of the claimant himself. There is no rule of English law that corroboration of the claimant's own evidence is necessary. In some cases a tribunal may rightly think that they cannot act on the claimant's uncorroborated evidence, either because it is self-contradictory or inherently improbable, or because the claimant's demeanour does not inspire confidence in his truthfulness. It is seldom safe to reject evidence solely for this last reason". One reason for passing this amendment is to tell that to the Home Office.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

I hope that the amendment will be given careful consideration. I am not sure whether its drafting is perfect—indeed, I have some doubts as to that. But the important point, as was stated by the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, is that if we accept this amendment or something like it, we insert the word "torture" into the Bill, and thereby draw the attention of those who will have to administer the legislation over the years to the significance of cases of torture. Therefore I hope that, whether or not the Committee decides to accept the amendment as it stands—on which I am more than prepared to listen to the argument of my noble friend the Minister—I hope that she will look very sympathetically indeed upon an amendment that includes the word "torture".

Baroness Rawlings

Several noble Lords have cited tragic situations involving the torture of asylum seekers. We are debating Amendment No. 3, which has two parts. If I understand it correctly, sub-paragraph (b) would allow claims not from those asylum seekers who have suffered torture but from those from countries with a "recently documented record of torture". I wonder why those people are included in Amendment No. 3.

On another point, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool inferred that Canada took many more asylum seekers than we do in this country. I suggest that that country is somewhat larger than ours, and that the population is considerably smaller. I wonder whether we should be comparing this country with Canada.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, asked a question about the second part of the amendment; namely, where these people would be if the amendment were passed. The answer is that there would still be very good protection to make sure that only genuine applicants for asylum are accepted into this country. All the amendment states is that the procedures in Schedule 2 to the 1993 Act, which extend the range of fast track procedures, would no longer apply to such people. Therefore I do not think that the noble Baroness's intervention in any way diminishes the case that has been made for this amendment.

The Duke of Norfolk

There is no need to go into matters such as scars and the medical evidence of torture. When I served with a group of Soviet forces in East Germany a well-known torture was to stand the prisoner outside, pour a bucket of water over him and let him freeze for a bit. That is torture, just as much as whipping and bashing.

Baroness Blatch

Torture is a difficult and emotive subject on which to exercise judgment dispassionately. It is an abhorrent practice and one which we all condemn.

There is nothing between ourselves and the supporters of these amendments on what the object of our policy should be. The Government attach very great importance to ensuring that victims of torture who come here for refuge should receive protection. Moreover, such people engage our international obligations. That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. Torture is almost by definition a form of persecution and a person who has a well-founded fear of torture is very likely to qualify for asylum under the terms of the 195] convention. If, exceptionally, he does not meet those criteria, he may well engage our obligations under other instruments, such as the European Convention on Human Rights. In short, a person who has a well-founded fear of torture is granted either asylum or exceptional leave.

Amendment No. 3 relates to Clause 1. We do not believe that it will help to identify and deal speedily with genuine victims of torture. But we do believe that it could be widely exploited by people seeking to evade the accelerated appeal procedure.

Amendment No. 3 would prevent a certificate from being issued if the country of origin has a recently documented record of torture. But what does a "recently documented record of torture" actually mean? There are, for example, very few countries indeed where there are not from time to time allegations of brutality by members of law enforcement agencies. But that is very different from saying that torture is systematic and widespread, or that a particular asylum seeker would be at any risk of torture if removed. On the face of it, that part of the amendment alone would suffice to prevent the issue of a Clause 1 certificate in a high proportion of cases and without any real basis in a substantial risk to the applicant.

The amendment would also prevent a certificate being issued if the applicant "shows a reasonable claim" that he has been tortured. The meaning of these words is very unclear. We believe that that formula would open up a claim of torture to exploitation by the unscrupulous, in the same way as our asylum procedures in general are at present exploited by those whose claims are not genuine. For example, asylum seekers from designated countries would have an incentive to include a claim of torture in their application as a mechanism for circumventing Clause 1, and that would considerably reduce its effectiveness.

I turn to Amendment No. 16. Sub-paragraph 4(a) allows a certificate to be issued under Clause I if a claim does not show a fear of persecution on one of the grounds specified in the 1951 convention. The amendment would prevent a certificate under sub-paragraph 4(a) if the claim showed a fear of torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment. We agree that a person who claims a fear of torture will normally have done enough to avoid a certificate under sub-paragraph 4(a). However, we oppose the amendment because it departs from the precise wording of the 1951 convention. It is that convention which has been incorporated into United Kingdom immigration law and which should he reflected in the drafting of this Bill. We do not consider it would be appropriate to import terminology not contained in the 1951 convention.

It is important to remind the Committee that the Bill deals with asylum procedures. It is quite true that if people do not qualify under the asylum procedures, we still have an obligation to conform under other international obligations.

Baroness Seear

Is the noble Baroness saying that under other rules in the proposed legislation tortured people will be adequately covered? Have we not received abundant evidence of people who have quite clearly been tortured but who have been sent back to their own countries? In the light of all that evidence, it is surely not sufficient to say that the provisions here will be adequate.

Baroness Blatch

We want to do everything possible to make sure that genuine applications are properly considered. Indeed, one of the problems that we have at the moment is that many applications are not genuine from the very beginning. Such applications make it difficult to give time to genuine victims of torture.

Much has been said during the course of this debate about people who simply cannot express their claim of torture. If they do not, or will not, express it, it is impossible to consider it. Unless a claim of torture is made, it cannot be properly considered. We are trying to arrive at a situation whereby a genuine claim of torture is properly considered and, if genuine, is well-founded at the first stage of consideration. A substantive claim will then go on either to receive asylum or to be considered if it does not conform precisely to the 1951 convention.

That was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, who is attempting to transport other international obligations into the Bill to widen the criteria of the Bill itself. We want to keep the criteria of the Bill totally and absolutely consistent with the 1951 United Nations Convention, so that exceptional leave to remain or other international obligations are invoked if the case does not fit entirely within the asylum procedures. The intention is that genuine victims of torture should be picked up by the system. I hope that nothing I have said detracts from our genuine desire to see that such cases are properly considered.

One has to say that mistakes have been made in the past, and no doubt will be made in future; but we want to minimise the possibility of mistakes being made. The term, torture or other inhuman or degrading treatment", which the amendment would insert into sub-paragraph 4(a), is taken from the European Convention on Human Rights. We are of course bound by our obligation under the European Convention in the asylum field, as in other areas. If an applicant's case engages our obligations under the European Convention but not the 1951 Convention, then it is our policy to grant exceptional leave. The European Convention already provides an avenue of redress for the individual through the European Commission and Court of Human Rights. For those reasons we believe the amendment to sub-paragraph 4(a) to be both unnecessary and inappropriate.

All sides are agreed about the aims of the policy. We all agree that the objective must be to identify genuine victims of torture. Achieving that objective depends on having in place proper practices and effective training for our caseworkers and our interviewers. We need to concentrate on these practical issues rather than on legislative measures.

In my written response to the Second Reading debate I referred to the very great importance and weight which is attached to any evidence of torture, especially when supported by a medical certificate. Caseworkers already have access to the guidelines for the examination of survivors of torture which have been prepared by the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture. But we want to be absolutely sure that our arrangements are as effective as we can make them and that they attract confidence.

That is why, following a meeting between my honourable friend the Minister of State at the Home Office and a cross-party group of parliamentarians, we asked officials to meet the Medical Foundation to discuss ways in which our procedures may be further improved. The meeting which took place recently was constructive. We are following up a number of suggestions made by the foundation, and I hope that we shall be able to report more fruitfully at a later date. The Government believe this to be the right response to concerns of this nature, and one which will achieve the results we all desire.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool talked about the Glidewell Report and referred to a lack of belief. First of all, I do not accept what the right reverend Prelate says. The fall in the recognition rate in the late 1980s, which was referred to, and in the early 1990s, coincided with a massive rise in the level of exploitation of the asylum system by people who were not refugees. The level of claims rose from 4,000 in 1988 to 45,000 in 1991. Since 1992, the recognition rate has remained reasonably stable at between 3 per cent. and 7 per cent. But the number of cases granted asylum in 1995 was more than double the number granted in 1979–1,295 compared with 525. And the number of cases granted asylum or exceptional leave in 1995 was 5,705—the fourth highest annual figure ever recorded.

It would be equally wrong to suggest that we have tightened up our interpretation of the 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees which, in any event, is determined ultimately by the courts, not by the Home Office. We also use a discretionary grant of exceptional leave where the convention criteria is not met in individual cases but where there are compelling compassionate circumstances to justify leave to remain outside of the normal immigration rules. In 1995 16 per cent. of all decisions were grants of exceptional leave to remain.

Other reference was made to time constraints. The time constraints only come into play after there has been substantive consideration of the claim when time is given to gather evidence and to collect evidence such as medical certificates. The concerns expressed could be an argument: what does one do if somebody does not talk, does not make the claim for torture or does not explain why they believe they have been tortured? If they do not do it, the concerns expressed could be an argument for never reaching a final decision, never actually coming to a decision in a case for a refused asylum seeker, just in case, at some time in the future, when they do feel more at ease, they are able to reveal that they had been a victim of torture.

I have to suggest that that particular suggestion and that particular system would be unworkable given the number of people who claim a fear of torture and a fear of persecution, and those who have a well-founded fear of it once the substantive case is heard and it is heard again at appeal.

The Lord Bishop of Liverpool

I believe that on all sides of this Committee there is a wish that torture should be on the face of the Bill. That is an important issue and principle. I am certain that the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has a genuine intention to protect. But I remind her that she said no doubt mistakes have been made. It is precisely our concern that the fast-track procedure makes it more likely that mistakes would be made in the future. If the Government are concerned at the drafting of sub-paragraph (b) of the amendment, it is open to them—if the Committee agrees to the amendment—to bring an amendment to that to find a more effective wording, but I believe it is right that we should seek the opinion of the Committee and I ask that the amendment be put.

5.37 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (Amendment No. 3, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 143; Not-Contents, 124.

Division No. 1
Ackner, L. Bruce of Donington, L.
Acton, L. Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.
Addington, L. Carter, L
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Castle of Blackburn, B.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Chichester, Bp.
Avebury, L Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E Cornwallis, L.
Bancroft, L. Craigavon, V.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Dahrendorf, L.
Birk, B. David, B.
Blackburn, Bp. Dean of Beswick, L.
Blackstone, B. Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Blease, L. Desai, L.
Bledisloe, V. Diamond, L.
Borrie, L. Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Donoughue, L.
Brentford, V. Dormand of Easington, L.
Bridge of Harwich, L. Drogheda, E.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Dubs, L.
Ellenborough, L. Molloy, L.
Ewing of Kirkford, L. Monkswell, L.
Ezra, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Falkland, V. Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Fitt, L. Nicol, B.
Gainsborough, E. Norfolk, D.
Gallacher, L. Ogmore, L.
Geraint, L. Peston, L.
Gladwin of Clee, L. Phillips of Ellesmere, L.
Glasgow, E. Plant of Highfield, L.
Glenamara, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Rea, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller] Richard, L.
Gregson, L. Ripon, Bp.
Grey, E. Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Hamwee, B. Rochester, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Harrowby, E Russell, E.
Haskel, L. St. John of Bletso, L.
Hayman, B. Sandwich, E.
Healey, L. Seear, B.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Sefton of Garston, L.
Hilton of Eggardon, B Serota, B.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Sewel, L.
Hooson, L. Shepherd, L.
Howie of Troon, L. Stedman, B.
Strafford, E.
Hughes, L. Swinfen, L.
Inchyra, L. Taverne, L
Jeger, B. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L. Taylor of Gryfe, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Tenby, V.
Judd, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Kilbracken, L. Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Kinloss, Ly. Thurso, V.
Kirkwood, L. Tonypandy, V.
Kissin, L. Tope, L.
Lawrence, L. Tordoff, L.
Liverpool, Bp. [Teller.] Turner of Camden, B.
Lockwood, B. Varley, L.
Longford, E. Wallace of Coslany, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. Warnock, B.
McNair, L. Weatherill, L.
McNally, L. Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Mallalieu, B. Wharton, B.
Masham of Ilton, B. White, B.
Mason of Barnsley, L. Wigoder, L.
Mayhew, L. Williams of Crosby, B.
Merlyn-Rees, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Meston, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Milner of Leeds, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Mishcon, L Winston, L.
Addison, V. Carnegy of Lour, B.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Carnock, L.
Ashbourne, L. Chelmsford, V.
Astor of Hever, L. Chesham, L. [Teller]
Barber of Tewkesbury, L. Clanwilliam, E.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Clark of Kempston, L.
Bethell, L. Courtown, E.
Biddulph, L. Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal]
Blaker, L. Cumberlege, B.
Blatch, B. Dacre of Glanton, L.
Boardman, L. Dean of Harptree, L.
Bowness, L Denton of Wakefield, B.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Digby, L.
Bridgeman, V. Eden of Winton, L.
Brookeborough, V. Elles, B.
Brookes, L. Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Fraser of Carmyllie, L
Burnham, L. Gardner of Parkes, B
Cadman, L. Geddes, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Gisborough, L.
Goold, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Grimston of Westbury, L. Munster, E
Harding of Petherton, L. Murton of Lindisfame, L.
Hardinge of Penshurst, L. Nelson, E.
Harris of Peckham, L. Northesk, E.
Harvington, L. Orkney, E.
Henley, L. Orr-Ewing, L.
Hertford, M. Oxfuird, V.
Holderness, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
HolmPatrick, L. Pender, L.
Hooper, B. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Howe, E. Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Huntly, M. Plummer of St. Marylebone, L
Hylton-Foster, B. Quinton, L.
Jenkin of Roding, L. Rankeillour, L.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Rawlings, B.
Kimball, L. Rawlinson of Ewell, L.
Lane of Horsell, L. Reay, L.
Lauderdale, E. Rees, L.
Leigh, L. Rennell, L.
Lindsay, E. Renwick, L.
Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Romney, E.
Long, L Saint Albans, D.
Long, V. Seccombe, B.
Lucas, L. Sharples, B
Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Sherfield, L.
Lyell, L,. Skelmersdale, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L. Stodart of Leaston, L.
McConnell, L. Strange, B
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L. Strathcarron, L.
Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor] Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Sudeley, L.
Mackay of Drumadoon, L. Tebbit, L.
Marlesford, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Massereene and Ferrard, V. Tollemache, L.
Merrivale, L. Trumpington, B.
Mersey, V. Ullswater, V.
Miller of Hendon, B. Vivian, L.
Milverton, L. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Monckton of Brenchley, V. Whitelaw, V.
Montgomery of Alamein, V. Wise, L.
Mottistone, L. Wynford, L.
Mountevans, L. Young, B.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

5.46 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, Amendment No. 4: Line 15, leave out ("in general").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 4 is the third of the amendments to the redrafted Clause 1. It is an attack on the wording which is central to this part of the Bill; namely, that in the judgment of the Secretary of State: there is in general no serious risk of persecution".

We debated this point on Second Reading. I am aware that the wording has not been invented by the Government but is part of an international agreement between officials in the European Union. However, that does not make it any less dangerous. It is extremely dangerous for us to accept that the judgment as to whether there should be a fast-track procedure for an asylum application is that there is "in general" in any particular country a risk of persecution.

Persecution does not happen in countries in general. It happens to people in particular. It happens particularly to minority groups in countries in which there is no risk of persecution in general to the majority but where there is a very serious risk to the minority.

Before I start to give examples, let me ask the Minister these questions. What does "in general" mean? How would it be interpreted? Does "in general" mean that 75 per cent., 90 per cent. or 95 per cent. of the people in a particular country need fear no risk of persecution? Is it a matter of the severity of the persecution? Would it mean that the risk could involve detention but not torture? Is it a matter of whether there is persecution not of groups but of individuals? All those questions, to which there are and can be no adequate answers, reveal the inadequacy and danger of the phrase "in general".

A number of noble Lords on earlier amendments—indeed in the debate on the clause itself—referred to particular countries in which there is severe persecution of minorities. Perhaps I may give just a few examples. I refer to Pakistan and to the persecution of the Ahmadi population, and, in parts of that country, of the Christian population. In India people in Kashmir and people of the Sikh nation risk persecution, detention and even torture. In Romania, Bulgaria and unfortunately several Eastern European countries, there is persecution of the Roma or gypsy people. All of those are examples of persecution of minorities in countries of which it is fair to say that there is in general no serious risk of persecution. Yet for those people who are in the minorities who are persecuted the issue is as severe as it could be.

I appreciate that the difference here is not between an application being rejected outright and being dealt with properly, but between the fast-track procedure and the more normal procedure. Of course, as soon as we have declared that there is in general no serious risk of prosecution in a particular country that starts to he believed by the immigration officers and it sets the state of mind with which they look at applications from that country. Inevitably, that means that people who are genuinely being persecuted in those countries will he less likely to gain asylum.

Look at the effect on appeals of the designation of such countries. It is still true of course—I acknowledge this, and thank the Government for it—that there must be individual consideration by the adjudicator on appeal, but if that is the case, surely there are going to he that many more appeals. Where then do all the arguments for the saving of time and staff, which lie behind the whole thrust of this Bill, find their justification?

Judge Pearl, the chief adjudicator, giving evidence to the Glidewell panel, pointed out the possibility of a perverse effect, and said that the provisions might actually make things worse. He described to, the Glidewell inquiry the situation with regard to appeals— as I was there I heard him myself. There arc 2,200 appeals into the system every month and they arc settling no more than 700. In other words, there is a net addition of 1,500 appeals every month to the numbers under consideration. He said that if we are going to prioritise, as we are required to do, appeals by those who fall under the categories described in Clause 1 of this Bill—they are very wide categories, much wider than the phrase "without foundation" which was used in the 1993 Act—not only will there be a slow-down in the number of appeals; there will be a standstill. They cannot go backwards, but there could be a standstill in the consideration of appeals for those not subjected to the fast-track procedure. That cannot be a sensible way to deal with the undoubted problem of an increase in the number of applications and an increase in the number of appeals.

On Second Reading we had a very considerable debate on the issue of delays and who was responsible for them. I do not think it appropriate, although I have many answers to the Government's arguments, to embark on that debate again in Committee and on a specific amendment. For the practical reasons that it will not save time or money, or solve the delay problem that the Government have identified, and for reasons of principle in that there is a real distinction between actual persecution of individuals and a general risk of persecution in a country as a whole, I believe that the amendment deserves the favourable consideration of the Committee. I beg to move.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

I rise to support the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and to explore, if I may, the Government's intention with regard to the words "in general". The noble Lord referred in particular to India. Perhaps I may detain the House for a moment with one or two personal reflections about when I was in India at a conference conducted by the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation with regard to the launching of the new Indian Commission on Human Rights. That is a very welcome development and many of us are pleased that there is such a commission.

One of the issues which has particularly concerned the Indian Commission on Human Rights is the number of people involved in peaceful and non-violent activities—there are also violent activities—with regard to the issue of the future status of Kashmir. In a public report the Indian Commission on Human Rights drew attention to its concerns about the way some people who supported the different constitutional settlement in Kashmir had been detained and in some cases very badly treated in police stations in that area. That is not a piece of evidence from somebody from outside that country, but from a concerned local citizen—someone, if I may say so, at a high level of standing in the country.

The other personal observation I want to make concerns a country also on the white list; namely, Romania. Perhaps the Minister will tell us a little more about the force of the words "in general" in that regard. In my capacity as a director of an organisation called Project Liberty, which is concerned with building democratic institutions in Eastern Europe, I have visited Romania on many occasions. Unquestionably, it is a country which is struggling its way towards democracy, and I would not want to suggest anything that would discourage that, but there is one substantial group of Romanian citizens which it is widely agreed has suffered serious disadvantages and in some cases extremely bad treatment at the hands of the Romanian police. That is the so-called Roma, the gypsy minority population in Romania.

Many organisations in this country, specifically Amnesty International, the Refugee Council, and others, have been concerned about the treatment of Roma people in Romania. This is a matter that has been raised also, as the noble Baroness will know, in the Council of Europe on more than one occasion with regard to the attempt to try to build up a new treaty on the treatment of minorities. I would therefore be extremely grateful if the noble Baroness could say something about countries which are "in general", I agree, countries which cannot be associated with systematic persecution, but where there may be a particular minority, religious or ethnic, which cannot be regarded as being treated in a way that we would regard as appropriate for full citizens. I would particularly like to draw her attention to the cases of the Kashmiri dissidents in India and the Roma people in Romania, without delaying the House by giving details of some extremely harrowing instances of treatment in both cases.

Lord Avebury

Perhaps it might save time if I spoke on this amendment to the question of Bulgaria on which I have a separate amendment later. It relates to the problems of minorities, which the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, has raised and upon which my noble friend Lady Williams has now expanded in referring to the particular case of the Roma, which is not unique to Romania but also extends into Bulgaria.

I could not understand why Bulgaria should be put on the designation list when I thought about the human rights problems that exist there. They have been clearly identified by the US State Department and by Human Rights Watch and many others. I remind the Committee that Human Rights Watch said: ethically motivated violence and the failure of the authorities to provide redress for victims of such crimes continued to he a dominant human rights problem in 1995. The Roma minority continue to be the target of much police violence. Reports of xenophobic attacks and mob violence intensified during 1995, and the police and prosecutors failed to take forceful steps to bring the perpetrators to justice". Human Rights Watch drew attention also to the restrictions on the free expression and association of people identified as ethnic Macedonians. The leaders of the United Macedonian Organisation, OMO Ilinden, were banned from meeting and that ban was upheld by the courts. It mentioned that 45 religious organisations have been refused registration since 1994 when a new law was passed forbidding non-profit-making organisations from operating without official permission. The Bulgarian Helsinki Committee says that there is a "religious witch-hunt" against certain minor sects. It cites cases of police searches for religious literature and even of individuals being dismissed from their posts because they belonged to the wrong faith.

Judge Alexey I Ivanof of the Regional Court of Sofia. testifying before a congressional committee on 27th November 1995, said that although Protestants had been part of Bulgaria for over 150 years, they often feel as though they are second-class citizens.

When I sent a copy of the annual report of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee to the Minister who deals with human rights, Sir Nicholas Bonsor, asking for his observations and drawing his specific attention to the closure of a Moslem group, the persecution of the Roma and the restrictions placed on religious groups, and suggesting that the OSCE's High Commissioner for National Minorities should take a look at the position, he made no comments about the substantive allegations that appeared in the report. He remarked that, since the HCNM's mandate was to give early warning of minority problems which may lead to conflict, his omission to visit Bulgaria made it appear that he did not consider that it was the case; that there was no likelihood of the persecution of minorities there escalating into an actual conflict.

I pointed out that the HCNM took a much broader view of his mandate; that he had visited 11 countries in the spring and summer of 1995 and that he went to Bulgaria in 1994. I emphasised too that the important question was whether or not the allegations made by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee of discrimination against minorities such as the ethnic Turks and Roma were true and whether the perpetrators of racist violence were seldom, if ever, prosecuted, as alleged.

The Minister replied that he did not wish to cast doubt on the committee's findings, nor to dismiss as insignificant the problems that minorities experienced in Bulgaria. He suggested that I pass the information on to the HCNM which would pursue it in confidence. In other words, he was saying that the case made out was not proven and needed to be examined. If that is the case, it is difficult to imagine why Bulgaria should be included on the list and whether or not the proposals should have been kept in abeyance until further and better particulars were obtained.

Some of the matters raised are susceptible to verification without a great deal of research. The facts in regard to the persecution of the original Moslem community under their chief mufti, Fikri Sali, are that he was unceremoniously dismissed by the government and replaced by a gentleman called Nedim Gendjev, who had been the leader of the Moslems during the communist regime and the faithful stooge of the dictator Tordor Zhivkov. He did not dare put his own name forward as the chief mufti, but was appointed as the President of the Supreme Religious Council by a national conference convened by irregular means on 3rd November 1994. A former sergeant major of the Labour Corps, Hadji Basri Hadjisherif, was appointed chief mufti. Those people had no religious training whatever and neither did the journalist named Dobroudjaliev who was appointed director of the Islamic Institute.

The government therefore swept away the hierarchy of the Moslem faith that existed after religious freedom had been restored in 1989, and replaced it with the people who had been the stooges of the old communist dictatorship. I should like to know whether the kind of situation that we face in Bulgaria, where there is no doubt at all that religious and ethnic minorities suffer serious persecution, means that there is no persecution "in general". Because the persecution applies only to the ethnic Turks, the Roma, the Sinti, to certain Moslem groups and Protestants, does that mean that the persecution that they suffer is specific and not general? Have the words "in general" led to the placing of Bulgaria on the list?

It would be helpful if the Minister could deal with that point in her reply. It may save time later on if we know precisely what the connection is between the words "in general" which appear on the face of the clause, and the decision to place specific countries like Bulgaria on the designation list.

Baroness Blatch

One of the difficulties, I suspect, that we shall encounter as we go through the course of the day, is that there is a great deal of repetition in relation to some of the subjects. Specific amendments are tabled discussing specific countries, and I shall do what I can not to continue to go over that ground for the purposes of responding to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, with regard to the point made about oppressed minorities within a country. However, for the moment I shall address the argument in relation to the words "in general".

Clause 1 provides for the designation of countries where it appears to the Secretary of State that there is in general no serious risk of persecution. That involves making a judgment as to whether the general risk of persecution in a particular country is sufficiently low to warrant designation. Amendment No. 4 would delete the words "in general". However, those words are necessary in order to make clear that the assessment being made is of the level of risk in a country rather than the risk to an individual. As the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, said, there may be individual cases in which a serious risk is established. Indeed, although there is currently a very high refusal rate for the countries we regard as candidates for designation, asylum or exceptional leave have been granted in a small number of cases. It does not follow from this that designation is inappropriate. The words "in general" are needed in order to make that clear.

It is entirely right that applicants from countries where conditions are not in general unsafe and which produce large numbers of asylum seekers but very few genuine refugees should be asked to show that there are exceptional circumstances in their case.

It has been suggested that the words "in general" would allow the Secretary or State to designate a country where a majority of the population was not at risk but which was seriously persecuting minority groups within it. That is patently not a tenable interpretation of the Bill. The wording clearly rules out designation of any country where there is a significant level of persecution, even if it is targeted at minorities. Our list of candidates for designation excludes a number of countries which generate large numbers of unfounded asylum claims, but in which there arc nevertheless sufficient concerns about human rights that the requirement of the Bill is not met. Nigeria is an obvious example.

The criteria that we use are that the country generates a significant number of asylum applicants; that the applications from that country prove to be unfounded in a high proportion of cases, but that there is, in general, no persecution. We would use again as factors, stability of the country, the state's adherence to international human rights instruments, its democratic institutions, elections and political pluralism, freedom of expression by individuals and the media, and availability and effectiveness of legal avenues of protection and redress. It must be said that every individual case, irrespective of whether or not it is a designated country, is still considered on its merits.

I turn to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. The situation in the countries we intend to designate is one of substantial safety and security. That does not mean that they are entirely without problems or that genuine cases of persecution will never arise. It would be unrealistic to insist on universal safety and, indeed, such a requirement is unnecessary given the safeguards which will continue to apply under the Bill.

Designation will allow us to deal more quickly and more effectively with the great majority of applicants who do not qualify for asylum. That must be in the interests of genuine asylum seekers. But the procedures used will allow exceptional cases, such as the small number from the seven countries who qualified for asylum last year, to be selected for more detailed consideration. Of course, all refused claims will continue to attract a right of appeal to an independent adjudicator.

Baroness Williams of Crosby

I thank the Minister for giving way. Can we, between now and the Report stage, look at the specific issue I raised? I take the point that we cannot ensure that every individual would be free of persecution—that would not be true of any country in the world—and I also take the point about the general level of persecution, but the particular cases I mentioned concern groups which are targeted specifically and individuals who are part of such groups. That is to say, it is not really individuals but a specific minority that is at risk. Will the Minister give some further consideration to that issue because it is a special case? It is not the same as a case of a country which has a generally good record but there may be one or two individuals who have been unfairly treated.

Baroness Blatch

I was going to give an example to address that point. Without pre-empting too much of the debate which may come later, I intended to use India as an example because it was mentioned by the noble Baroness.

India is an established, pluralist democracy—as the noble Baroness would agree—with well-developed legal institutions. Most of India is generally peaceful and there is no evidence of significant persecution or abuse as defined in the United Nations convention. In 1995, 98 per cent. of asylum applications from Indian nationals were refused. We accept that two particular areas of India—the Punjab and Kashmir—have experienced human rights abuses. However, militant unrest in the Punjab has now largely subsided, and many fleeing the troubles in Kashmir have gone to other parts of India, as we would expect under the internal flight principle.

Applications from Kashmiris in this country are rare. Moreover, there are signs of improvement in Kashmir. The Indian Government intends to hold elections in the state, militant leaders have been released from prison, and the International Red Cross has now begun its first substantive visit to detention centres. India has a national Human Rights Commission to investigate allegations of human rights abuses.

So it is the case that generally the country is peaceful, it has democratic institutions in place, but within that great country there are groups of people who, for one reason or another, are subject to human rights abuses. I like to think that the way in which we have approached that question answers, in part, the point raised by the noble Baroness.

Reference was again made to the Glidewell Report, and to comments made by Judge Pearl, by the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. Judge Pearl is reported to have told the Glidewell panel that the intake of the appellate authority currently exceeds its output, and that while this remains the position the need to give priority to increased numbers of certified cases will lead to longer waiting lists for other appeals.

We listen very carefully to the Chief Adjudicator's advice. The Chief Adjudicator has presided over a remarkable expansion of capacity and output since his appointment, with the assistance of a major investment of resources, which is continuing. It is not the Government's position that wider use of the accelerated appeal procedure will of itself reduce overall delays, but we are convinced that it is a necessary part of a wider programme of measures. The package also includes major additional resources now being invested in the appeal system and the improved procedural rules on which the Lord Chancellor has just published proposals after consulting the Chief Adjudicator.

It is important to send, as a deterrent, a signal that unfounded claims will he dealt with speedily—fairly, but speedily—and if fewer such claims are thereby made overall delays will be reduced and genuine refugees will then receive asylum more quickly.

It has to be said that Judge Pearl also told the Glidewell panel that the number of special adjudicators was being increased substantially, that the number of hearing rooms was being increased, that the asylum appeal procedure rules were being strengthened, and that there were government proposals that the adjudicator should be given important new powers to determine preliminary issues and issue procedural directions. These new measures were welcomed by Judge Pearl, and Clause I must be seen in the context of a wider package of measures.

I hope that I have given an explanation of the importance of the words "in general", of how we arrive at the view that countries should go on to the designated list, and some of the factors that we take into account. We also recognise the existence of the examples given by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams. But underpinning all of this is the fact that, whatever country they come from—designated or otherwise—cases will be considered individually.

6.15 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

As to the last point that the Minister made about the evidence of Judge Pearl, as I said earlier, I was there and I heard his evidence, and I can confirm that what she said is right. He reported to the panel on the increase in the resources being made available to him, both in terms of numbers of adjudicators and space, and his hopes for improvement in the procedural rules. All that is true; it is very valuable and we welcome it.

That leads me to say, however, that it is a pity that, as that session was so helpful, Ministers and officials of the Home Office—presumably on the instruction of Ministers—declined the invitation to appear before or provide written evidence to the Glidewell panel. The quality of our consideration of the Bill—certainly my consideration of the Bill—would have been better if Ministers had participated in what, after all, was a very effective and, as we shall see in the course of our debate, a very persuasive consideration of the issues raised by this Bill.

It still does not really answer the fundamental questions. The Minister's answers are summed up by her remark that the Bill deals with the level of the risk—and I interpret that as in a given country—rather than the risk to an individual. That is the key. It is a risk to an individual that we are concerned with.

though of course the Minister is technically right in saying that every individual case will be considered, there is and must be a difference in the quality of the consideration between those under the fast track procedure and those under the normal procedure. That must be the case. If more time and effort is spent on determining whether the application or the appeal is justified, then there must be a higher quality of consideration.

Baroness Blatch

I am grateful to the noble Lord. There is absolutely no distinction whatsoever in the quality of the consideration of the substantive case. The distinction arises in the length of the appeal process once a determination as to whether somebody qualifies for asylum or refugee status has been made. But the distinction is not there at all; every single asylum application is considered substantively in exactly the same way, whether the applicant comes from a designated or non-designated country. It is only following the decision resulting from that substantive consideration that there is a distinction in the appeals system.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

In that case it is very difficult to see what is being gained. We have to distinguish between the original application and the appeal. It is true that everybody is still entitled to an appeal—and we will come on to the issue of the further appeal to the Immigration Appeal Tribunal in later amendments.

In the case of an individual applicant, the whole process, as far as that applicant is concerned, consists of the way in which the application is considered and the way in which any appeal is considered. Taking those two together, there is a difference—and there must be a difference—in the quality of consideration.

The Minister did not answer my questions about what was meant by "in general". She did not say whether it meant that the minorities were isolated, or that it related to individuals rather than groups. She did not say whether it was concerned with the severity of the persecution. None of that was answered, either in her general response to what I said or in her response to the particular issues which other noble Lords raised.

The words "in general" are designed not to clarify but to obfuscate the issue. They are designed to make the distinction between the countries which are on the list and those which are not easier to manipulate rather than more just.

The Minister went so far as to say that the words "in general" were needed in order to justify the designation. If that is the case, it is the classic circular argument. If one has decided to have a designation and then one decides to make a distinction between countries which are designated or not, then one has to find a form of words which justifies making a distinction. I listened to what the Minister said about the general political considerations. I understand them and, to some extent, I respect them, but site has not justified the words "in general". Those words are dangerous for individual applicants because they generalise the position in individual countries and they should be got rid of. I seek the opinion of the Committee on this amendment.

6.21 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (Amendment No. 4, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1), shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 104; Not-Contents, 127.

Division No. 2
Acton, L. Dubs, L.
Addington, L. Ewing of Kirkford, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Falkland, V.
Avebury, L. Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Bancroft, L. Gallacher, L.
Birk, B. Geraint, L.
Blackstone, B. Gladwin of Clee, L.
Borrie, L. Glenamara, L.
Broadbridge, L. Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.]
Bruce of Donington, L. Gregson, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Grey, E.
Carter, L. Hamwee, B.
Chichester, Bp. Harris of Greenwich, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Haskel, L.
David, B. Hayman, B.
Dean of Beswick, L. Healey, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B. Henderson of Brompton, L.
Diamond, L. Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Hollis of Heigham, B.
Donoughue, L. Howell, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Howie of Troon, L.
Hughes, L. Rea, L.
Inchyra, L. Ripon, Bp.
Jay of Paddington, B. Ritchie of Dundee, L
Jeger, B. Rochester, L.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Runcie, L.
Judd, L. Russell, E
Kilbracken, L. Sandwich, E.
Kinloss, Ly. Seear, B.
Kissin, L Serota, B.
Liverpool, Bp. Sewel, L.
Lockwood, B. Shepherd, L.
McGregor of Durris, L. Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. Stedman, B.
McNair, L. Taverne, L.
McNally, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Mallalieu, B. Tenby, V.
Mason of Barnsley, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Mayhew, L. Thurso, V.
Merlyn-Rees, L. Tonypandy, V.
Milner of Leeds, L. Tordoff, L.
Mishcon, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Molloy, L. Varley, L.
Morris of Castle Moms, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L. Wedderbum of Charlton, L.
Nicol, B. White, B.
Ogmore, L. Williams of Crosby, B. [Teller.]
Peston, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Phillips of Ellesmere, L. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Plant of Highfield, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Prys-Davies, L. Winston, L.
Ackner, L. Fraser of Carmyllie, L.
Addison, V. Gardner of Parkes, B.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Gisborough, L.
Arran, E Goold, L.
Ashbourne, L. Goschen,V.
Astor of Hever, L. Gray of Contin, L.
Barber of Tewkesbury, L. Greenway, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Grimston of Westbury, L.
Biddulph, L. Harding of Petherton, L.
Blaker, L Hardinge of Penshurst, L.
Blatch, B. Harmar-Nicholls, L.
Bledisloe, V. Harris of Peckham, L.
Boardman, L. Henley, L.
Bowness, L. Hertford, M.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Holdemess, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. HolmPatrick, L.
Brentford, V. Howe, E
Brookeborough, V. Jeffreys, L.
Brookes, L. Jenkin of Roding, L.
Burnham, L. Johnston of Rockport, L.
Cadman, L. Kimball, L.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Kingsland, L.
Camegy of Lour, B. Kinnoull, E.
Carnock,L. Lane of Horsell, L.
Chelmsford, V. Lauderdale, E.
Chesham, L [Teller.] Leigh, L.
Clanwilliam, E. Lindsay, E
Clark of Kempston, L Lindsey and Abingdon, E
Colwyn, L. Long, V.
Courtown, E Lucas, L.
Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.] Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Crathorne, L. Lyell, L.
Cumberlege, B. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Dean of Harptree, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor]
Denton of Wakefield, B.
Devonport, V. Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Dilhorne, V. Mackintosh of Halifax, V.
Drogheda, E. Marlesford, L.
Elles, B. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Merrivale, L.
Elton, L, Mersey, V.
Miller of Hendon, B. Rees, L.
Mills, V. Rennell, L.
Milverton, L. Renwick, L.
Monson, L. Romney, E.
Montgomery of Alamein, V. Saint Albans, D.
Mountevans, L. Seccombe, B.
Mowbray and Stourton, L. Sharples, B.
Moyne, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Munster, E. Stodart of Leaston, L.
Mutton of Lindisfarne, L. Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Napier and Ettrick, L. Strathcona and Mount Royal, L
Nelson, E. Sudeley, L.
Northesk, E. Tebbit, L.
Orkney, E. Teynham, L.
Oxfuird, V. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Park of Monmouth, B. Ullswater, V.
Pender, L. Vivian, L.
Pilkington of Oxenford, L. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Rankeillour, L. Whitelaw, V.
Rawlings, B. Willoughby de Broke, L.
Rawlinson of Ewell, L. Wynford, L
Reay, L. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6.29 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, Amendment No. 5: Line 16, at end insert ("for the reasons stated by the appellant").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 5 is a comparable but different approach to the same problem of the imprecision of the designation procedure. I shall not be very happy if I am told in response to the amendment that the designation procedure requires imprecision if it is to take effect at all. It' the Government required imprecision as a precondition of having the designation procedure, it would be much better if they gave up the designation procedure, because imprecision in designation is the key to injustice so far as concerns individuals.

We suggest that in line 16 of the new clause there should be inserted, after the phrase "in general so serious risk of persecution", the words "for the reasons stated by the appellant". It may not he immediately obvious what that means. It means that the appellant has to state the reasons, but the precondition of the appellant stating reasons is that the Government have to state reasons. It is not enough for them to designate a country in the list; they have to say that it is based on an issue in the country rather than the country itself.

I give an example. A number of noble Lords have referred to Pakistan. It may be that an appellant from Pakistan says that he is a supporter of the Pakistan People's Party, which is the opposition party in Pakistan, and that he hears threatening noises. I believe that a great number of us would say that if an individual was a member of an opposition party—noble Lords opposite should listen to this because they will experience it—he might be discriminated against in all kinds of ways. In certain circumstances such an individual may be persecuted or even prosecuted. However, that is not the same;.s justifying refugee status. If as a Member of the Opposition in this country I went to another country and said that I being persecuted, I do not believe that too much attention would be paid to me. Of course, there are reasons why people in Pakistan can be persecuted. Reasons have been given. Membership of religious minorities is the classic example. Another example is membership of the Roma people in eastern Europe.

What we say in this amendment—which we believe is helpful to the Government—is that they can be more precise in their designation because they can say that a country is on the list not just tout court because it is on the list, but that there are specific reasons for it. On that basis, it may be possible for them to extend the list. They may say that Pakistan, which would not normally be on the list—we have the Minister's assurance that it would not be—could be included provided the reason for an application reflected genuine persecution, but not for other reasons. One would have a much more sensitive list, and perhaps a longer one, that paid more attention to the needs of individuals. The appellant would have to show that he was appealing not only because of the country he came from but because the reason did not fall in with the Government's grounds for exclusion. Otherwise, we would face the same problem discussed on the last amendment. Complex cases will clog the fast track and the appeal system.

One of my objections to the whole designation procedure is that it has a built-in inaccuracy and tendency to generalisation. That inaccuracy may appear to be justified on the ground that the cost of the original applications under the fast track will be less than they would otherwise be. I suggest to the Committee that in the end the adjudicators would have to rule whether the procedure was correctly dealt with under the fast track. That in turn will give grounds for more appeals and expenditure on the appeal procedure. I cannot say whether it would cancel out any other savings, but certainly it would seriously reduce them. Above all, the generalisation involved in the designation procedure will produce injustice for individuals. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

Amendment No. 5 envisages that the Secretary of State should produce a list of grounds which do not give rise to a serious risk of persecution in a particular country. If an applicant then based his claim on one of those grounds, a certificate could be applied on refusing the application, but certification would not be available if the claim was based on a ground not contained in the order. The scope for abuse would be enormous. We consider that such an approach would be unworkable. First, it would not be feasible for the Secretary of State to specify in his designation order an exhaustive list of grounds or scenarios which would not give rise to a serious risk of persecution. Every single case is different and must be considered on its merits. Secondly, the Bill as drafted prevents designation if there is a serious risk of persecution for any of the reasons specified by the 1951 convention, namely race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. Thirdly, the designation concept would be undermined and present real scope for abuse if applicants could bypass it simply by including in their claim a spurious ground which was not specified in the Secretary of State's order. Even if he could not demonstrate that the ground applied in his case, the applicant could prevent the Secretary of State from issuing a certificate. Under our approach there would be no opportunity for such evasion. Therefore, I hope that the amendment will not be pressed.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

That was a very short reply. I believe there were two critical words in the Minister's reply, the first of which was "exhaustive". I certainly did not claim that the Secretary of State could produce an exhaustive list of grounds for application which would be included in a designated list. Even if it were exhaustive at one time, it would not be exhaustive over a period of time. Anything which improves on the blanket consideration—one is either in or out of the country—is better than the existing situation, or the situation as proposed by the Bill. The second significant word used by the Minister was "spurious". The noble Baroness said that it would he easy for an appellant to put forward a spurious ground because of knowledge of the list which had been produced by the Government in relation to that country. If one devises a scheme entirely on the basis that people will tell lies, either one needs an extremely simple system which excludes everybody or a rather complicated one which attempts to anticipate the lies and deal with them. I suggest to the Minister that the word "spurious" does not mean that anybody can just claim anything that he likes on a spurious basis and expect to get away with it. That would not be possible. It would be possible immediately to identify that the ground specified by the appellant did not bear any relation to reality. The Secretary of State could then genuinely refuse a certificate. I am not convinced by the answer.

Baroness Blatch

I am grateful to the noble Lord. The noble Lord is wrong about that. If an applicant, whether it applied to him or not, could find a reason that was not specified by the Home Secretary, then he could claim that reason. It would mean that he could not be given a certificate. So the reason could be used, and the scope for using it would be considerable, because it actually by-passes and short-circuits the system.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

I find that answer to' be in conflict with what the Minister said in her first reply about the protection which already exists under the 1951 convention. This is an issue which is relatively close to that which the Committee has already decided. So I do not believe that it is appropriate to seek the opinion of the Committee. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 5, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Avebury moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. I, Amendment No. 6: Line 16, at end insert (", but no such order shall include Bulgaria").

The noble Lord said: I had rather hoped to cut this discussion short by speaking about Bulgaria on the earlier amendment, but, since the noble Baroness did not so much as mention Bulgaria in her reply to that amendment to leave out the words "in general". I shall have, not to repeat what I have already said, but to underline some of the points that I was making and show how they conflict with the answer that she gave on that occasion.

I would remind the Members of the Committee that this is the only occasion we have for discussing individual countries, because, when the first designation order comes before the House, we will have to vote on them altogether, even though we might make speeches which are directed towards the inclusion on the list of particular countries. One way of cutting short the next sequence of debates would be for the Minister to say that, instead of having an omnibus designation order when the time comes, the Secretary of State will introduce individual designation orders country by country, even if they are all tabled for debate on one occasion. That would be a way in which the Members of the Committee would be able to vote against the inclusion of a particular country on the list, something which otherwise will not be possible.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, the Minister gave some general criteria which would be applied in deciding whether to include a country on the list. Two of them that I noted particularly were: adherence to international obligations and the availability of avenues of redress. In the case of international obligations, I should like to draw the attention of Members of the Committee to the OSCE's Copenhagen Declaration which goes beyond conferring individual rights on members of minorities and actually places a positive obligation on the participating states of the OSCE to promote the identity of their minorities, to allow them to form associations, to link up with corresponding minorities of other countries, to create institutions, and so on. None of that happens in the case of Bulgaria. I mentioned the disallowance of the religious registration of a number of sects—a point which the Minister has not yet covered—and, in particular, the persecution of adherence of the original chief mufti, Fikri Sali and his replacement by a person who was a stooge of the old communist regime.

I do not know whether the Home Office is aware of that, because it seemed to be a matter that was not familiar to the Foreign Office. As my noble friend Lady Williams said on an earlier amendment, there seems to be some lack of communication between the Foreign Office and the Home Office, whatever the Minister may have replied to that point. In the case of Bulgaria, there was a distinct ignorance about the state of affairs of the minorities, not just of the Roma, who have been at the centre of attention so far. They do not actually know about the position of the religious minorities, or of the others, such as the Turks and the Sinti, who are equally subject to persecution.

On the question of the availability of avenues of redress, specifically, the former chief mufti, Fikri Sali, did go to the Supreme Court. His application for restoration to his position was rejected on the ground that the creation of the new Supreme Council and the appointment of a chief mufti by the government was a matter within the discretion of the government and was not a matter for the Moslem community to settle on its own.

The criteria described by the Minister have been seriously violated in the case of Bulgaria, and it ought not to appear on any list. As this is the only opportunity we shall have to debate the matters specifically, in distinction from any other country that may appear on the list, I venture to suggest that the Committee should take the opportunity of striking it off the list at this stage. I beg to move.

6.45 p.m.

Earl Russell

Anyone who considers Bulgaria in the context of this Bill will almost immediately think of the Bulgarian atrocities. Of course, the point is that now the boot is on the other foot, but that does illustrate that there are some very long-term tensions in Bulgaria—long-term tensions on a level such that one does not expect them to disappear instantly. One hopes to see them diminish, but it is perfectly possible to imagine a situation in which Bulgarian Turks could have a well-founded fear of persecution, even if there might be, in general, no well-founded fear of persecution in Bulgaria as a whole.

My noble friend was quite right to draw attention to the relevance of this case to the misguidedness of the words "in general". I am glad that he has tabled the amendment, and I hope that it will receive attention.

Lord Dubs

I am a little puzzled about something that the Minister said in reply to an earlier amendment, but it is equally relevant to this one. What I have in front of me is a Home Office document called Asylum and Immigration Bill Background Notes by the Home Office. The Minister said that even if people are on a fast-track procedure, their case is still considered in the same detail—I am not sure that those were her exact words—as people who are not on the fast-track procedure. That is the substance of what the Minister said. Obviously, it is as relevant to this amendment as to others. I am therefore puzzled that, in this background paper by the Home Office, it says in the paragraph headed, "Introduction": Applications for asylum from citizens of designated countries would be subject to streamlined substantive consideration and to an accelerated appeals process". I am puzzled as to what the words, "streamlined substantive consideration" mean. I should have thought that they mean that, in some way, the consideration on that basis is less thorough than for other cases; otherwise, there would be no point in using those three words, and there would have been no point in putting them into this particular paper. I say that I am puzzled because the Minister suggested that it was only the subsequent stages that were speeded up under the fast-track procedure, and it was not the way in which the full case would be considered. I hope that we can have some comment from the Minister as to whether I am right in saying that there is an inconsistency between what she said earlier and what the document says.

Baroness Rawlings

Bulgaria is a civilised country. It is civilised enough to have been accepted as a member of the Council of Europe. We should not forget that. After all, there are many minority problems and we cannot be the conscience of the world.

Baroness Blatch

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, wishes to prohibit the Secretary of State from designating certain countries. We think that that is wrong in principle and because we disagree with his assessment of the four countries concerned. We have heard about Bulgaria and, no doubt, we shall hear later of the other countries.

I have to say, as somebody handling the Bill, that I have had something like five different sets of groupings for the amendments today. I find it extremely difficult that only part-way through the proceedings this afternoon did I know that we were going to deal with these amendments singly.

Lord Avebury

I am very sorry about the way in which this matter occurred. As the noble Baroness knows, until I walked into the Chamber this afternoon, I was not aware that the four amendments had been grouped together. I tabled them individually and it was clear that my intention in doing so was to have a separate debate on each of the countries concerned because it will not be possible to do so later.

Baroness Blatch

I accept entirely the personal explanation which the noble Lord gives. We have been in touch constantly with the noble Lord's parliamentary office and until I walked into the Chamber today I thought that the groupings had been agreed. I am afraid that the noble Lord must take up the matter with his office.

I do not accept that the Bill should list countries whose designation is prohibited. If the Secretary of State considers a country unsuitable for designation, he will simply not designate it. If Parliament is not content with an order tabled by the Secretary of State, as I said earlier, it can vote against it.

We have accepted the recommendation of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee that the initial designation order should be by affirmative procedure in both Houses. Therefore, we shall have an opportunity to debate the suitability of the countries listed and to vote on the order. Any subsequent order will be laid before Parliament under the negative procedure.

The noble Lord's proposal would also undesirably blur the distinction between primary and secondary legislation. Conditions in countries of origin may change over time. Countries which are unsuitable for designation at present may become much safer in the future. That is why we need the flexibility provided by secondary legislation.

If we did construct a list of countries where there are at present significant risks of persecution or danger to people living in them, it would not be the list suggested by the noble Lord. Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan are examples of countries where repressive regimes or major upheavals have made it necessary to grant asylum or exceptional leave in significant numbers of cases. Yet they do not appear on the noble Lord's list, which studiously avoids genuinely dangerous countries.

The situation in the countries we intend to designate is one of substantial safety and security. That does not mean that they are entirely without problems, as I said earlier, or that genuine cases of persecution will never arise. It would be unrealistic to insist on universal safety and, indeed, such a requirement is unnecessary, given the safeguards which will continue to apply under the Bill. Designation will allow us to deal more quickly and effectively with the great majority of applicants who do not qualify for asylum. But the procedures used will enable exceptional cases, such as the very small number from the seven countries that qualified for asylum last year, to be selected out for more detailed consideration. And, of course, all refused claims will continue to attract a right of appeal to an independent adjudicator.

I do not accept that Bulgaria is unsuitable for designation. Considerable progress has been made in the establishment of democracy, particularly following the April 1990 Law on Political Groups and Parties. Bulgaria's National Assembly is a democratically elected body and recent elections have been declared free and fair by international observers. Bulgaria is a party to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees and the European Convention on Human Rights. The Bulgarian Government are committed to obtaining membership of the European Union, as my noble friend said. We do not accept that past mistreatment of minorities by the former communist regime justifies a presumption of future mistreatment. We recognise that there is discrimination against some minorities within local communities, including the Roma minority. But the Bulgarian Government have taken steps to address these problems and to prosecute offenders. Last year, 99 per cent. of applications for asylum were refused. Although the vast majority of Bulgarian asylum applications are unfounded, each application is considered individually and asylum will be granted when the circumstances warrant it.

Bulgaria's present problems are mainly economic, with fairly high unemployment and inflation, a high budget deficit, foreign debt problems and a rising level of crime. It would appear that the economic situation coupled with greater freedom of movement has contributed to the number of asylum applications.

Considerable progress has been made in the establishment of democracy in Bulgaria, particularly following the April 1990 Law on Political Groups and Parties. Chapter 2 of the constitution, which took effect on 13th July 1991, establishes the basic provisions for Bulgarian citizenship and fundamental human rights. Furthermore, it commits the state to the provision of basic social welfare and education and to the encouragement of culture, science and the health of the population.

Freedom of movement within the country and the right to leave it are constitutionally enshrined and not limited in practice. Every citizen has the right to return to Bulgaria. A number of former political emigrants were granted passports in 1994 and returned to visit or live there.

There are many ethnic minorities in Bulgaria. In July 1991, the country adopted a new constitution which provides for individual rights, equality and protection against discrimination. Bulgaria still has some progress to make in its treatment of minorities (particularly the Roma/gypsies), and racism and xenophobia still exist, but much progress has been made across the whole range of human rights since the fall of the communist regime.

There is some resentment of gypsies and incidents against them such as illegal detention, search and seizure and general harassment are known to occur. It has been reported that the police are frequently either the perpetrators of violence against such people or fail to intervene when attacks are instigated. However, the Government have introduced reforms in order to address many of these problems, including investigating and prosecuting charges of excessive use of force by police; programmes to hire gypsies as police officers; programmes to improve relations between the Romany community and local police, and job and literacy training for gypsies. Where ill-treatment by local authorities and communities continues, there is no evidence that this is condoned at a national level. Popular feeling does exist against gypsies but this is not condoned at a national level and perpetrators of attacks are prosecuted if caught.

I could go on about Bulgaria. As we have said, there is certainly a case for individuals to prove their case and provision is made for them in the proposed system, but to say that Bulgaria is as bad as the picture painted by the noble Lord is rather over-stating the case.

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, asked about the streamline consideration. That refers to the short procedure introduced by the Home Office last year. It does not require legislation and does not detract from full consideration. It involves shorter intervals before interview and between interview and decision. That is consistent with all that I have said previously on the amendment.

Baroness Elles

Before my noble friend sits down, will she confirm that Bulgaria is a member of the Council of Europe and is now a high contracting party to the European Convention on Human Rights? Anybody persecuted in Bulgaria has the right to go to the European Court and appeal against any persecution or violation of rights against individuals.

Baroness Blatch

I am grateful to my noble friend for making that point because she is absolutely right. I made the point that Bulgaria is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights. That is a point very well worth making.

Earl Russell

The noble Baroness is correct about the Council of Europe. It is true also that Russia is now a member of the Council of Europe but I might be anxious if I were a Chechen living in Russia. I am perfectly well aware that we have not designated Chechnya. But the point to which I return over and over again, because the point in logic keeps recurring, is that the fact that a country may be safe for the majority of its citizens does not mean that it is safe for all of them. I should like to know whether the noble Baroness accepts the view of UNHCR that it should never be presumed that any country is totally safe for all its citizens.

Baroness Blatch

I must say unequivocally that we have never stated that any country is absolutely safe for all its citizens. That is one reason why we have used the words "in general". We make a presumption that even those countries which are designated will necessarily have well-proven cases of people who have a well-founded fear of persecution. The system is geared to sort out the genuine asylum seekers from those who have come from countries where there is in general no threat to the population. However, we have never claimed that there is any country which is wholly safe for all of its people.

7 p.m.

Earl Russell

If the Committee will forgive me, I have nearly wound up. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for those comments because they advance the job of defining the points at issue. But we are here subjecting the nationals of some countries to a different procedure from those we use for the nationals of other countries. I think that on Second Reading the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, used the phrase I am about to use. We have a rebuttable presumption that claims from those countries are less likely to be well-founded than those from others. I should be grateful if we could have an explanation of how that is to be squared with Article 3 of the UN convention which states, The contracting states shall apply the provisions of this convention to refugees without discrimination as to race, religion— That, I think, is not a problem at present—" or country of origin". Surely two different procedures discriminating by country of origin must risk being interpreted as infringing Article 3 of the UN convention.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

I am a little worried that pragmatism—which I realise is rather a dirty word in these debates—seems almost to have been forgotten. For example, the right reverend Prelate referred to the generosity of Canada. I happen to know from visits I have had from Vancouver in connection with educational matters that there is considerable resentment of Chinese people in Vancouver, to the extent that a number of schools are imposing quotas. I was even more alarmed when the noble Earl, Lord Russell, started to extend the provision to almost—dare I say?—every minority in the world. I do not think that anyone in this Chamber, Christian 'though many of us are, envisages this country becoming a refuge for minorities who suffer certain problems.

Lord Avebury

The noble Lord appears to he speaking to an amendment that we discussed earlier which proposed to strike out the words "in general". We are now supposed to be discussing Bulgaria.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

I thought that Chechnya was mentioned in the debate. However, as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, knows as well as I, historically Bulgaria has had problems. There is a Turkish minority there. In no sense is it envisaged that if a problem arises—such as has arisen in Cyprus—we should admit large numbers of that Turkish minority into this kingdom. If the party opposite were in government, I prophesy that it would not open the frontiers of this country to the Turkish minority in Bulgaria. Please let us not forget pragmatism. Let us talk about morality, but let us mean to implement that. Does the party opposite intend to repeal this legislation? Does it intend to follow the noble Lord's proposal, and, if there is a problem in Bulgaria—or, dare I say, in other parts of the Balkans—to open the frontiers of this country? Would the party opposite stand for election on that platform? These are matters that we must think through before we talk about them.

Lord Avebury

I do not know whether the noble Lord listened carefully to the earlier part of this debate. No one is proposing to open the door to minorities. What we are discussing now is the proposal to delete Bulgaria from the putative list designating certain countries as subject to the fast track procedure which is to be published by the Secretary of State. If I may say so, I thought that it was disingenuous of the Minister to accuse me of not tabling similar amendments on Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan when she knows perfectly well that those are not the countries which the Secretary of State intends to place on the list. The four countries which are the subjects of these amendments are countries in respect of which the Secretary of State has notified his intention of dealing with by means of the list. That was why I thought it wise to allow the Committee the opportunity to at least consider each of them individually to see whether it was our intention that such countries should be placed on the list, or at least to give some warning to the Secretary of State that he should consider these matters a little more carefully.

The Minister is naive as well as disingenuous in thinking that because a country holds elections and has a constitution it necessarily respects human rights, either in a domestic or an international context. I refer her to the United States Department of State report on Bulgaria of 1995. I shall read a couple of sentences from that report. It states, The constitution provides for freedom of religion. However the Government restrict this right in practice. The ability of a number of religious groups to operate freely continues to come under attack both as a result of Government action and because of public intolerance". As for the measures in the constitution which allow political parties and other groups to function freely, I asked the Minister in an earlier debate whether she would comment on the government's refusal, since 1990, to allow a Macedonian rights group to be registered, as an example of the incompatibility of Bulgaria's actual behaviour with what is stated in the constitution. I can point to examples all over the world where governments have fine constitutions but they do not bother to abide by them. One should take a look at the old Soviet constitution which was full of material about its citizens' human rights but it did not bother to observe those human rights. The Minister and her right honourable friend ought to think about this matter carefully, if the principal argument for placing a country on this list is to be that it has a constitution, that it runs elections, or even that it has been allowed to enter the Council of Europe. There are many states in the Council of Europe which I would not have admitted. We discussed Turkey earlier. Turkey is a member of the Council of Europe, and yet no one would conceivably suggest that Turkey should be placed on the list for designation. I think the noble Baroness has said that there is no such intention.

I had rather hoped to receive a better explanation of the reasons why Bulgaria appeared on the list, and that the Minister could have addressed the problems of the religious minorities, which she totally ignored. She mentioned that some measures had been taken to address the matter of the Roma minority. I think that she did not refer to the Turks or the Sinti, let alone the Macedonians. However, the religious minorities are one of the most important subjects as regards the complaints that are made by the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, as I said in my earlier speech. I am not at all satisfied with the Minister's remarks. She has not justified placing Bulgaria on the list. However, for the time being, I shall not ask Members of the Committee to accompany me into the Division Lobby because we all need to reflect on what has been said by the Minister and to decide whether we want to pursue this matter at a later stage in the Bill.

Baroness Blatch

Before the amendment is withdrawn, if that is the intention of the noble Lord, I should say that I responded to this amendment. The noble Lord wishes to put on the face of this Bill, which is primary legislation, the names of four countries which should not be considered for designation. I am simply saying that there are better candidates, if one were going to do that. We do not believe that this is the place for that provision because we have said what procedure we intend to put in place for considering designated countries. However, if we thought that there were four countries that were of such concern to the Committee that it wished to state on the face of the Bill that those countries should never be considered for designation, we should not have chosen those particular four countries. I have named other countries that I believe would rank rather higher.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, asked about the UNHCR. The UNHCR has made clear that it does not regard designation as inherently incompatible with the 1951 convention provided that claims are still considered on their merits. I have said many times today that claims will be considered on their merits. We are satisfied that there is no inconsistency with Article 3 which is concerned with the treatment of persons who have been granted refugee status. In the particular case to which I have referred, certification applies only after a refusal has been given to an asylum seeker. That means that we are entirely consistent with our obligations under the convention.

Lord Avebury

I do not know whether the Minister is being deliberately obtuse, but I have just explained why I put these amendments down, and not amendments concerning Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan. It is because the Home Secretary intends to designate these countries; and there is no question of him doing so as regards the other three countries to which she referred.

I am at a loss to know how the Minister suggests that the Committee would have had an opportunity to discuss the matter if I had not put down these specific amendments, although technically primary legislation may not be the right way to deal with the matter. I am giving the Committee an opportunity to say whether we consider that these specific countries should be included in the list to which the Home Secretary has already referred.

The explanation given by the Minister as to why Bulgaria should be included in that list falls well short of what I would expect. She did not once refer to the religious minorities who were at the centre of the remarks that I made on an earlier occasion.

With that expression of dissatisfaction, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 6, as an amendment to Amendment No. I, by leave, withdrawn.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Avebury moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, Amendment No. 7: Line 16, at end insert (", but no such order shall include Ghana").

The noble Lord said: I hope that we shall have a better explanation of the reasons why Ghana was included in the list than we had as regards Bulgaria.

In Ghana there is no question of the discrimination or the persecution being particular, although there are, of course, ethnic minorities in Ghana. I shall come to those later. Ghana is a state which has been ruled by President Jerry Rawlings for 15 years. He took power, unelected, as head of state. That was a position that he occupied for 11 years, until he finally allowed the people to vote him back into power in an election which was denounced as fraudulent by four opposition parties. Those parties then withdrew from the parliamentary elections of December 1992 giving Rawlings' coalition a walkover. It is, in effect, still a one party state, despite the elections to which the Minister attaches so much importance.

According to the US State Department, the Government dominate the print and electronic media, and control the radio and television stations and the two daily newspapers. The media never criticise President Rawlings or government policies. Although independent broadcasting is allowed in theory, bureaucratic delays in processing applications are used to prevent it in practice. When the Independent Media Corporation of Ghana started broadcasting without a licence, having waited for a year to obtain one, the police seized the transmission equipment and hung on to it in defiance of a High Court ruling that they had acted illegally.

There is an independent newspaper sector, but the circulations are small and confined to the major cities. The papers do criticise, but are vulnerable to the law on criminal libel—it is applied with particular severity in Ghana—under which a person may be prosecuted for publishing a false report which injures or damages the credit or reputation of the state. One victim of that legislation at present is my friend Mr. Kwesi Pratt, editor of the Weekly Insight and General Secretary of the Popular Party for Democracy and Development. He has been charged and faces either a prison sentence or a huge fine which could bankrupt him.

In May 1995 the Minister of Youth and Sports organised a gang of thugs who killed four people taking part in a peaceful demonstration against the new value added tax. The Government refused to commission an independent inquiry into the deaths, but in September they announced that a police committee had been unable to identify the murderers. The committee's report was not published.

It is reported that ethnic violence, which resulted in 20,000 deaths in the northern region in 1994, continued into 1995, though in the latter year only 150 people died. One reason for that lower death toll was that the Konkomba people—they were the principal victims of the ethnic conflict—were no longer going into the larger towns and cities where the conflicts had occurred, and had fled into Togo. According to the UNHCR's report, The State of the World's Refugees 1995. there were 97,700 refugees from Ghana in Togo and another 15,900 elsewhere in the region. Some of those people were victims of ethnic violence, but many others arc conscientious objectors and political dissidents, as well as people from the Eze tribe of the Volta region which straddles the frontier between Ghana and Togo. Many of the refugees do not bother to register—there are probably far more than the official figure of 113,000 given by the UNHCR—as happens elsewhere in Africa. So how can it be said that Ghana is a country where there is in general no serious risk of persecution if at least 113,000 people are officially classified as refugees by the UNHCR?

If one considers the mainstream politics of Ghana as opposed to the ethnic conflict, the UNHCR noted in November 1995 that although it was asserted that the achievement of a "controlled" transition to a democracy had been extensive, it was less clear whether the transition would continue in view of the precarious political and social foundation on which it was based. Ghanakwambo, the Refugees and Migrants Community Action Group in the UK, points out that, Rawlings' change from chairman of the coup d'etat provisional council to constitutional President of the Fourth Republic had not stopped the intimidation and violence against political opponents". On the date that the group published a memorandum about the inclusion of Ghana in the list, two journalists and a publisher were on trial for "bringing the state into disrepute". According to the Ghanaian Chronicle of 26th February, when the three appeared at a circuit court on 23rd February, there was a display of thuggery in the precincts of the court, with armed men hurling insults and abuse at anybody they perceived as being anti-NDC (the governing party). Miss Ruby Ofori, a BBC correspondent, had to be rescued by the police and Ms. Adwoa Yeboah-Afari, another BBC correspondent, was also chased by the same thugs.

Mr. Rawlings himself can be aggressive and violent. I spoke to a man this morning who has been in the UK since 1989 waiting for a decision on his asylum application. He told me that in November 1992, when he was at the house of the then Minister of Youth and Sports, Rawlings arrived in a helicopter with a group of men armed with AK47s. There had been an attempted coup the previous day. Perhaps Mr. Rawlings thought that a plot against his rule was being hatched in that building. He came in shouting and screaming at the inmates of the house. My informant says that Mr. Rawlings threatened them all, making them kneel down at gunpoint, shouting "On your fucking knees". That is the conduct of the head of state of Ghana. Members of the Committee may have some difficulty in believing that a person in that position could behave in such a crude and vicious manner. But there are many similar stories about his irrational conduct, and the unceremonious treatment of anyone who gets in his way.

The most recent event of that kind about which I know personally was Rawlings' attack on his own vice-president, Dr. K.N. Arkaah, at a cabinet meeting on 28th December 1995. Dr. Arkaah telephoned me on 1st January this year to give me details of what had happened. He said that the president was angry because Dr. Arkaah's National Convention Party had held a very successful meeting at Kumasi two weeks earlier at which it was decided to bring the alliance between his party and the Government to an end. At that cabinet meeting, everyone was in his place at 10.20 waiting for the president to arrive. They stood as the president came in at 10.30. He went to the chair next to Vice-President Arkaah and started speaking from behind his chair. Suddenly Dr. Arkaah felt a tremendous blow from behind which knocked him to the ground. The president started to kick him as he lay there, screaming epithets at him such as, "You bastard". Dr. Arkaah did not reply or retaliate in any way. He is a much smaller man than the president.

According to Amnesty International, five Ghanaians who had recently returned to Ghana from the UK were arrested on 2nd September 1994 and charged with plotting a coup. I wrote to the Minister about this case. The noble Baroness, Lady Chalker, said that in deciding to refuse those people bail after they had been 17 months in custody the authorities would no doubt have taken into account the seriousness of the charges. But the Minister seems to have accepted that it was normal that evidence was still being collected after such a length of time. Relatives trying to visit two of the people in the Usher Fort, where they had been detained previously, were told that they had been transferred to Mwasam maximum security prison. When they went there, the authorities said that they had never heard of the detainees. So we must assume that they are missing. The brother of one of them was taken into custody and interrogated in connection with the plot. When he was released, the family saw that he had been tortured: all his teeth were missing, he had bruises all over his face and he was bleeding from his mouth. They took him to hospital and he died there two days later.

The atmosphere of paranoia in Ghana is indicated by the fact that two other groups of people are also in custody for alleged coup plots. One was a group of soldiers and a Captain Mumuni Seidu; the other a group of five farmers who had been living in exile in Togo. According to the Refugee Council, the farmers had been beaten and tortured.

Ghana has been described by the Home Office as a fledgling democracy. If its research is as slipshod and selective on Ghana as it was on Nigeria, it is no wonder that it misses so much of what is going on there. Sometimes, when we raise concerns over human rights with Foreign Office Ministers, we are told that it does not have the resources to investigate most of the allegations received. That may be part of the problem. We are getting an inadequate and incomplete picture of human rights in many of the countries which allows us to say that no risk arises in a particular country. In the case of Ghana, that is manifestly untrue and the Secretary of State should indicate that he does not intend to place that country on the list. I beg to move.

Baroness Blatch

I make the point that we need to make the distinction between the country in general for designation purposes and the individual case. The noble Lord has spoken almost exclusively on individual cases and those will have a proper and fair hearing. That is as it should be.

Specifically on Ghana, major constitutional changes in 1992 returned the country to democratic civilian rule. The constitution now guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms and the rule of law. Membership of political parties is widespread and open. Most recent reports, including the 1995 US State Department report, indicate that there are no known political prisoners or detainees. Amnesty International has confirmed that there is no evidence of politically inspired disappearances since the return to democracy. We recognise that there have been outbreaks of friction between Christians and Moslems and longer standing friction between tribes in the northern region of Ghana. But the authorities have reacted promptly to contain the disorder and to restore peace and the rule of law. Despite those conditions, 1,900 asylum claims were received last year, almost all of which were unfounded.

I wish to comment on all the aspects referred to by the noble Lord. Government economic policies in Ghana since the mid-1980s have resulted in financial stringencies for most of the population. It has to he said that the average per capita annual national income is still only about £300. Employment opportunities are scarce and qualified professional workers can expect salary levels which compare badly with remuneration for even menial jobs in the developed world.

Our assessment is based on independent monitoring. In addition to reports from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, we take account of the views of other western governments, independent press reporting and reports from organisations such as Amnesty International.

President Rawlings has been mentioned. He received 58 per cent. of the vote in the November 1992 presidential election which was assessed as being largely free and fair by international observers. Parliamentary elections were boycotted by the main opposition parties, with the result that the present government were elected almost without opposition.

International monitoring of the 1992 elections by teams of observers, including representatives from the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and the Carter Centre, concluded that despite some irregularities, largely caused by the out-of-date and inaccurate voters' register, the elections were free and fair. A new voters' register has been compiled for the 1996 elections.

Membership of political parties is widespread and ordinary Ghanaians are not discouraged from joining the party of their choice or harassed for their political opinions. The constitution was introduced in January 1993, but political change had begun before that. Registration of voters to a new electoral roll took place in October 1995 and there has been considerable activity by opposition parties to select candidates to contest the elections which will take place in November and December this year.

The 1992 constitution, adopted on 7th January 1993, guarantees the fundamental human rights and freedoms of every Ghanaian citizen. There is no convincing evidence of widespread, systematic abuse of individuals' constitutional rights. Although there have been isolated reports of individuals abusing their authority, there is evidence that appropriate disciplinary or legal action has been taken against them and that victims who have suffered abuse of their human, civil or constitutional rights have received compensation.

The 1995 US State Department report cited two instances which it described as extra judicial killing of suspects in police custody. That was referred to by the noble Lord. In one case, the officers responsible have been suspended from duty pending the result of an investigation. In the other, the police were exonerated. It is not known whether a further reported death in custody is under investigation. Amnesty International has reported no politically motivated killings in its 1995 report.

The constitution of Ghana specifically guarantees respect for human dignity and prohibits torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Our assessment is that such treatment is neither systematically practised nor condoned by the authorities. Again, Amnesty International has reported no politically motivated disappearances since the introduction of the constitution. Our most recent information, including the 1995 US State Department report, indicates that there are no known political prisoners or detainees.

One could go on, but the last point with which I wish to deal was touched on by the noble Lord. It concerns the independence of the media. The constitution guarantees the freedom and independence of the media. The National Media Commission was established to ensure and oversee that. The commission has a majority of members appointed by non-governmental interests, such as the Ghana Bar Association which has traditionally campaigned for civil rights, and the press, writers, educationists and religious groups. Although television and radio were state-owned, about 30 licences were granted in 1995 to establish free TV and radio stations. The government control the two main daily newspapers, but there is a lively free press. Some publications are owned by opposition parties. All, however, freely publish views highly critical of the government and individuals in it, often verging on the libellous. Foreign periodicals are freely available in Accra and in other major centres.

My final point is that Ghana has already been included in the list of countries designated by Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Denmark. The noble Lord referred to many individual cases, all of which, if they came through the system, would be considered on their merits. If the individuals qualified for asylum under the 1951 convention, it would be granted. But for those who come seeking asylum, the practice is that the majority have not qualified.

Earl Russell

I do not know whether the noble Baroness is aware that she has erected an entirely circular argument. She has given us a country assessment which, at this time of night. I shall confine myself to calling "unexpected". Can she say who were the independent monitors to whom she referred? The Minister then advanced the fact that the vast majority of refugees from Ghana had not been accepted. She advanced those as if they were two entirely unconnected facts. The question is: are they two entirely unconnected facts or are they two entirely connected facts? The credibility of applicants is judged in relation to the country assessment. If the country assessment should by any awful chance be mistaken, many more applicants from that country will be found to be incredible than would otherwise be the case. That illustrates why we need the country assessments published so that we can consider and discuss them with people who have independent sources of information.

7.30 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

On the final point, I have already given an assurance that when the designation list comes forward assessments will accompany it. The House will then have an opportunity to consider them.

I mention just three of the independent sources of advice: the United States State Department; the Carter Centre; and Amnesty International. I do not know whether the noble Lord has any criticisms of those organisations. I certainly believe that they are highly reputable in this field.

Lord Harris of Greenwich

My noble friend did not say that he had any criticisms. He merely asked who the independent monitors were. That is a perfectly reasonable question.

Baroness Blatch

The noble Lord, Lord Harris, does not have the advantage that I have. I have listened to this debate from the beginning. There was an implied criticism that the independent monitors were not very independent. I am simply saying that I believe the three I cited—and there are others—are highly reputable in the field as the eyes and ears of the democratic world to make sure that where there is this kind of persecution it is rooted out.

Viscount Waverley

I recently visited both urban and rural areas in Ghana. I spoke with parliamentarians and persons at grass-roots level. I listened carefully to the Minister's explanation and I shall support the Government on this particular issue.

Lord Avebury

Without knowing where the noble Viscount went, it is very difficult for me to comment. I draw his attention to a comment I made earlier, which the Minister totally ignored; namely, that there are 97,500 refugees from Ghana in Togo, and 15,000 elsewhere in the region. Those people are recognised by the UNHCR as refugees.

I asked the noble Baroness this question earlier, but I am afraid she did not address it. How can it be that UNHCR has recognised 113,000 refugees in the region—a fairly large number in relation to Ghana's population—if, as she says, no general risk of persecution arises in Ghana and that we can therefore legitimately place Ghana on the special list of countries that are not supposed to give rise to any refugees? I believe the term used by lawyers in such cases is: res ipsa loquitur—the facts speak for themselves. If there are 113,000 refugees in neighbouring countries, that means that Ghana must be a country that gives rise to a flow of people recognised by the UNHCR as coming within the 1951 convention.

To repeat my remarks in relation to the earlier amendment, the noble Baroness again places far too much reliance on the existence of elections and constitutions. There are plenty of countries all over the world where elections are held but which do not observe human rights. Ghana is not the only one in that category. The Minister's quotations from the State Department report were selective. The State Department said that the elections were controversial; that the international monitors acknowledged irregularities; and that the four opposition parties claimed massive fraud in the elections and subsequently boycotted them.

Baroness Blatch

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I did say that the elections were controversial and that the opposition parties boycotted them. I also said that there were irregularities, mainly stemming from the very inaccurate and rather outdated register. I properly made both those points in the course of my remarks about Ghana.

Lord Avebury

That was not the only subject of irregularity. Certainly I concede that the noble Baroness mentioned the registers. They were a source of vehement complaint by the opposition parties. However, it was by no means the only case that was made against the validity of the presidential elections, as the noble Baroness said.

With regard to the rest of her comments, we rely on the State Department and Amnesty International. I was interested in her comment that both said that there were no known cases of disappearance in Ghana. I know that that was the case in relation to the State Department report. However, I am not familiar with the reference to any statement made by Amnesty International. Its annual report for 1995 has not yet appeared, and I believe will not do so until July or August of this year. I should therefore be very interested to know from where the noble Baroness received that information.

I spoke to the Ghana researcher from Amnesty International earlier today. Certainly that person did not tell me that, in the opinion of Amnesty International, there had been no disappearances. I quoted a case that came to my notice only today of two people alleged to have taken part in the coup plot who had been in custody for something like 20 months. They appear to have vanished while being moved from one prison to another. So at least one case of disappearance was drawn to the Minister's attention during the course of this debate.

Clearly my earlier remarks made no impression on her; nor did they in the case of Bulgaria. I shall have to leave the comments made this afternoon to speak for themselves, and for the Committee to judge, in the light of cumulative evidence that has been and will be presented on the four countries with which we are dealing now, whether we shall seek to overturn the order to designate these countries when it is placed before the House. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 7, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Courtown

I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving this Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before 8.35 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.