§ Lord Avebury
asked Her Majesty's Government:
What is their response to the allegation by the Medical Foundation that the publication of the Immigration and Nationality Department's Country Information and Policy Unit's country assessments "has served to expose a lack of objectivity, amounting in some cases to misrepresentation, in the Home Office treatment of country background information"; and what is the time-scale for the consultative group which has been appointed to advise on the costs and benefits of an independent documentation centre. [HL3805]
§ Lord Williams of Mostyn
This Government have sought to open up the whole process of country assessment and sought to engage refugee and other asylum interest groups in creating improved and objective country assessments. We have a developing agenda in this area which may in the long term lead to more independent country assessments.
Our current assessments aim to present a neutral, balanced picture as background information for caseworkers deciding asylum applications. They are regularly updated in the light of new information, and in 166WA the light of comments from external bodies, including the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture.
The criticism by the foundation is unfair and misrepresents the aim of our assessments. We do not accept that the assessments lack objectivity or that they fail to set out conditions in the countries concerned. We are committed to developing the assessment process in an open, transparent way and our consultative group has helped the key organisations involved in this area to exchange views and learn from each other.
The first revisions of our country assessments will reflect, in particular, comments from group members on the format and content of the human rights section, as well as other more general comments, including on the attribution of source material. The consultative group's report on country information issues, including the merits of an independent documentation centre, is expected to be completed before the end of the year. In view of the open and more constructive engagement which the Government are seeking to build in this area, we would hope that the foundation would be more balanced and fair in its approach in the future.