HC Deb 21 February 1996 vol 272 cc409-25

1A. Nothing in this Act shall apply to a person who has made a claim for asylum where a registered medical practitioner (within the meaning of the Medical Act 1983) has issued a certificate, in a form to be prescribed, stating in good faith that he is of the opinion that that person has been tortured.".'.—[Mr. Alton.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Alton

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I am grateful to those hon. Members from other parties who have added their names to the new clause, because that demonstrates the breadth of concern about victims of torture and the way they are treated. That concern extends to the attempt to have them excluded from the fast-track procedures, which is the purpose of new clause 5. The issue has excited interest during the passage of the Bill, and most of us have received letters about the treatment of victims of torture who have sought asylum in the United Kingdom. The issue is consistently raised by the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture, and that is why I have tabled new clause 5.

There is always a danger in debates about immigration of over-exaggeration, and expressions such as "being swamped" and "millions of people" are used. I wish to put the matter into perspective. During 1995, the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture provided physical, psychological and practical help to approximately 1,600 survivors of torture from 65 countries. The great majority of those people were asylum seekers who had fled persecution, imprisonment and torture, and who had arrived in the United Kingdom to seek a place of safety. They had left everything behind, including families, homes and jobs.

It is impossible to rehabilitate survivors of torture if they are frightened and uncertain about whether they will be returned to their country of origin to face further persecution. The safety and welfare of those people, and anything that affects that, is therefore the paramount concern of organisations such as the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture.

The foundation is a dispassionate, impartial body that has an extraordinarily good track record which is admired by hon. Members from all parties. It says that it is extremely alarmed at the Government's decision to introduce this new legislation". It claims that the legislation would adversely affect asylum seekers' access to a fair and just determination procedure. Who are the survivors of torture? Studies, including the Home Office's document "The Settlement of Refugees in Britain", which was published in 1995, confirm that torture victims are, first, people who did not want to be refugees. Secondly, the vast majority have left behind far more in terms of jobs, homes and futures than they will ever gain by coming to this country.

A debate of this kind should centre on justice, not numbers. We often lose sight of the scale of human suffering. I shall give an example from northern Cyprus of the type of people we are talking about. I shall quote Amnesty International and the American State Department, because their comments about Cyprus relate directly to my example. Amnesty International, in its 1995 report, described the imprisonment of conscientious objectors to military service, documented cases of alleged ill-treatment and torture of detainees and the apparent absence of thorough investigation into these allegations. The American State Department, in its country reports on human rights in 1994, said: in both Turkish and Greek Cypriot territories, there were 'instances of police brutality."' Those quotations are significant, because Cyprus now appears on the so-called designated list.

The example I wish to mention is a Cypriot opposition politician. In 1990 and 1992, he was put up as a candidate for Parliament. He was working on a federal solution to the Cyprus problems. He was arrested in 1992, and kept in the police station for four days. He was interrogated and accused of illegal activities. He was beaten, and suffered felaka with black plastic truncheons. His feet were swollen and very painful for three weeks, in spite of salt water baths. His daughters were beaten at school.

In October 1993, he fled to the United Kingdom with his family and applied for asylum at the airport. In 1995, his asylum application was refused, and he was deported. On his return to Cyprus, he attempted to leave and go to Turkey. At the airport, the civil police arrested him and took him away. Three police officers and another armed man interrogated him in a small room, and beat him severely on the back and shoulders.

I will not weary the House with all the details of what followed, but I shall quote the view of Dr. Gordon Barclay, who treated that man. Dr. Barclay is a senior fellow of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland and a senior member of the British Association of Urological Surgeons. He said about the man in question: After 16 days, he decided he must go to Turkey where he could hide. However, he was picked up at the airport and detained, interrogated and tortured. This included, he says, burning his back with heated iron rods. He has about 100 scars, which bear out his story, though the number and severity are stupendous. I could see no other explanation for them. Dr. Barclay added: His other complaints are those associated with severe post-traumatic stress syndrome still in an acute phase". I have emphasised this case because, on 17 January, only a few days ago, the immigration and nationality department of Lunar house sent a letter to the individual concerned telling him that he was being deported from the United Kingdom. The letter was signed by Lynn Parsons of the asylum division.

I found the letter extraordinarily brutal, disingenuous and entirely lacking even in common courtesy, let alone compassion. An official who has probably never even met the man concerned, writing on behalf of the Secretary of State, who certainly had not met him, had this to say: Taking into account your appalling lack of credibility the Secretary of State considers that … these wounds were inflicted at your request in an attempt to strengthen your claim. We are talking about 100 scars on the man's back. The letter continues: There is no evidence to suggest that North Cyprus is anything other than a democratic country with respect for human rights. I have only recently mentioned the reports of Amnesty International and the American State Department.

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The letter then states: He"— the Secretary of State— does not accept that your injuries were sustained in the manner that you claim. He is of the view that the claimed beating is all part of a cynical attempt to circumvent normal United Kingdom immigration rules and to secure your stay in this country. I do not believe that anyone listening to the account—validated by an eminent doctor—that I have read would believe that anyone would go to such lengths, even if it were possible, to try to obtain the right to stay in the United Kingdom.

The letter adds: As such, he places no weight on this alleged evidence. Overall the Secretary of State is of the view that your claim is a mixture of lies and embellishment. He places no weight on your claims and finds them completely lacking in credibility … Your application is now formally refused. I have never read such a brutal and offensive letter from a Government official, who presumably feels that she can write with impunity and even approbation. It was sent to someone who has suffered in the manner that I have described.

I shall refer to one more case before I turn to the substance of the clause. It is the story of a Nigerian, a man called John. He is a Nigerian pastor. He was a Christian minister in Nigeria, as was his father. His father was critical of the Government's handling of oil deposits in the area, and the family was persecuted in consequence. John was arrested and beaten with whips and batons on many occasions between 1990 and 1992. He was accused of inciting people to oppose Government policy.

In December 1993, John was arrested while conducting a church service. He was arrested along with his mother, brother and sister, and almost everyone else in the church who had not already been shot. Almost unconscious from the beatings that he had received, he was stripped, handcuffed and beaten further with a whip, a metal rod and a chair leg. He was suspended by his wrists and beaten on his feet. The following day, he was brought into a room with his mother. Both of them were stripped and abused in front of each other. His interrogators then shot his mother in the legs. She collapsed bleeding, and was then killed in front of him. He was threatened with the same treatment.

In the days that followed, John was subjected to further torture, including being forced to sit on a broken bottle. He also had a large needle passed through him. There followed sexual torture. He eventually escaped detention through bribery. He was assisted in fleeing to the United Kingdom in exchange for a large sum of money, notwithstanding that he was a wanted man. A substantial reward was on offer for his capture.

John was escorted to London, where he was left after one month. He had no idea what to do about claiming asylum. He knew no one in the United Kingdom. After a while, he met people at a church, including other Nigerians and a lawyer, who helped him to apply for asylum.

Initially, the Home Office proposed to consider his case under the short procedure—that is central to the new clause. However, John found good legal advice from an experienced asylum lawyer, and support from the medical foundation. Following representations, the Home Office agreed that his case needed to be dealt with in more depth, including the submission of medical and psychiatric evidence.

John is obviously in a vulnerable and psychological state. He is being aared for in a special hospital. He will probably need surgery for his injuries. Without the benefit of legal advice and help from the foundation, it is likely that his case would have been dealt with rapidly, and he would have been removed almost forthwith from the United Kingdom. It is most doubtful whether the full horror of what he had suffered would have emerged.

It took medical staff who worked with John considerable time to extract his story from him. Hon. Members, having heard his story, will understand the trauma and distress of anyone in such a situation, and appreciate the time it would take for someone to be able to talk about such an experience.

John's case and the north Cyprus one are not unique. Most people who flee for genuine reasons from countries with despotic and appalling regimes have had similar experiences. If people like John are sent out on the first plane under the fast-track procedures, it will be a crime against humanity and manifestly against the spirit of the 1951 convention, to which we all subscribe and adhere.

I shall take up one of the arguments that has been deployed by Home Office officials against the acceptance of the new clause. It is one of the most risible, ridiculous and desperate arguments that I have ever heard put to Members of this place. It has been suggested that, because people might inflict injury on themselves, the provisions of the new clause could be abused by those seeking to enter the United Kingdom.

I took the trouble to obtain a statement from Professor Bernard Knight, CBE, MD, BCh, MRCP, FRCPath, DMJ, barrister, who has 41 years of experience as a pathologist. He is a Home Office pathologist. He has spent 37 years in full-time forensic medicine, and has published articles in journals and textbooks. The professor says that, although it is impossible always to be certain about a single injury, most self-inflicted injuries are instantly recognisable by an experienced medical observer. He wrote: Self-inflicted injury, either for deliberate gain of some type or from psychiatric or emotional disturbance, usually has a well-recognised pattern which can be distinguished by experienced medical examiners. Self-inflicted injury tends to be repetitive, superficial and placed in areas easily accessible, and usually avoids vital structures. I remind the House of the case of the northern Cypriot who is to be deported as a result of a decision taken by the Home Office. He has 100 scars on his back. We should all be deeply concerned about the suggestion that he inflicted his wounds on himself to remain in the United Kingdom, and that people believed that it was possible to do anything like that.

I am not proposing an open door. I am saying that there should be in place a system that accepts the United Kingdom's moral and international obligations—in other words, a just system that prevents the survivors of torture and repression from being returned to face further imprisonment and even death.

I am grateful to hon. Members from all parties who have supported the new clause. It is not a partisan proposal. I therefore hope that it will be possible for its terms to be incorporated in the Bill. If there are flaws in its wording and the Minister says that it is defective in some respects, I ask the Government at least to accept the principle that lies behind it. We can always ensure that a similar new clause is introduced in another place. My fear is that Ministers will not even accept the principle, on which I hope hon. Members will concentrate their remarks.

Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) has performed a real service to the House by bringing this important issue before us. When he asked me whether I would support and sign his new clause, I gladly did so, not because I thought it was necessarily a model of parliamentary draftmanship—I am quite prepared to accept, as is he, that it may well be deficient in that respect—but because it is an important issue.

I should tell my hon. Friend the Minister of State, that one occasionally comes across a group of people who are manifestly deserving of the House's concern and—I shall use the word—compassion. I shall give an analogy.

Some years ago, I was involved, along with hon. Members from both sides of the House, in the campaign to give proper aid to haemophiliacs who had contracted the AIDS virus as a result of transfusions. The Prime Minister responded to that campaign within a few days of his taking that office. That particularly deserving group of people were singled out, very properly, and given help, and I doubt whether any hon. Member thought that that was a wrong decision.

This evening, the hon. Member for Mossley Hill has pointed to another group of people who are especially deserving. Torture is a most horrible crime. To inflict physical and mental torment on another human being who is in one's charge is as despicable a thing as one can possibly do. We must, however, reluctantly accept that there are all too many countries in the world where torture is an almost everyday occurrence. We have to accept that there are regimes that are so odious and so precarious that they feel they must inflict suffering on those who express opposition to their diktats.

This century has been defiled by those who have behaved with barbarity towards their fellows. We are within days of celebrating the 50th anniversary of marking the holocaust, and I do not need to dwell or expand on that. During the past few years, I have on occasion, as have others, brought to hon. Members' attention the appalling suffering that has been inflicted on people in the former Yugoslavia. As we speak, a war crimes tribunal is quite rightly seeking to prosecute those who are guilty of those crimes.

Anyone who flees to this country and who has been a victim of torture deserves every possible help and assistance. I do not for a moment think that my hon. Friend the Minister would dissent from a word that I have said. Of course I accept that she has a difficult job, as do her colleagues, in drawing up rules that police the system and try to ensure that it is not abused. However, I would rather that the system were abused by one perverse individual who had mutilated himself—I am prepared to concede that there could be such individuals—than that someone who had been tortured were sent back to further torture or torment. I believe that there are occasions when one must give the benefit of the doubt.

The hon. Member for Mossley Hill spoke of justice. I was reminded of an artist friend of mine who, approached by the husband of the sitter, was asked, "I hope you will do my wife justice." "No," he said, "it is not justice she needs: it is mercy." That is really what we are talking about this evening: showing mercy to those who have suffered and who are, perhaps above all others, incapable of making rational decisions and following rules in the wake of their suffering.

I should tell the Minister that I understand what lies behind this Bill. I have not sought to inflict my presence on the House during its discussion so far, because I know that it is a difficult problem. I understand that there are those who seek to abuse the system, and I know that that understandably arouses feelings of anger in many parts of the country, particularly among our own countrymen and countrywomen who are among the poorest. I know all that. However, we are speaking of a small group of people—the hon. Member for Mossley Hill sought to quantify it, and said he thought that it was about 1,600.

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This is a great country. This is a country that can afford to pay the price of greatness. We cannot and we must not turn anyone away from our shores if there are reasonable grounds to think that his story of torture is true. Yes, perhaps the odd rogue will stay as a result, but I would far rather that than that the man with the 100 lashes or the 100 stripes be sent back.

I thought that the letter read out by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill was incredibly heartless. No civilised Department of State in any civilised country should allow any official to write such a letter. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will obtain the letter, see the official and deal appropriately—as only she knows how, because she is a formidable woman—with him or her. Nobody should write such things in the name of our Government.

I shall conclude, because I do not wish to detain the House further, by saying that this new clause is about a small group of people for whom we must do everything to give them the benefit of the doubt. Our country has a proud tradition of helping those who have fled from persecution. No group is more deserving of help than that which comprises the victims of torture.

Mr. Madden

I congratulate the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) on his new clause, and agree thoroughly with what the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) said. I take issue with him, however, on the letter that was written by the Home Office official, to which the hon. Member for Mossley Hill has drawn the attention of hon. Members. The letter was not written by a maverick official expressing personal views; the official was reflecting well-founded Home Office policy on asylum issues.

I note from the letter, which the hon. Gentleman has kindly passed to me, that it was the Cypriot gentleman's second application. He made his first application on arrival in the United Kingdom, in 1993, with his wife and children. He made his second application in October last year. I ask the Minister of State not only to rebuke the official for writing that terrible letter, but to give us an undertaking now that, whatever has happened in the past, the Minister will ensure that this applicant has a right of appeal to an independent body so that his case can be independently assessed. I think that that is the minimum undertaking that the Minister can give.

The new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill would ensure that Nothing in this Act shall apply to a person who has made a claim for asylum where a registered medical practitioner … has issued a certificate, in a form to be prescribed, stating in good faith that he is of the opinion that that person has been tortured. As the hon. Members for Mossley Hill and for South Staffordshire have already said, it is clear that the number of tortured persons who seek asylum in this country in any year is extremely small. For the sake of our reputation, or what is left of our reputation, as a country in which to seek asylum, the least that the House can do is to accept the new clause.

The hon. Member for Mossley Hill referred to designation. Hon. Members will be aware that clause 1 empowers the Secretary of State to designate by order countries where there is in general no serious risk of persecution. It makes the special appeals procedure for claims without foundation available for a wider range of claims, including those by nationals of designated countries. The purpose of the new clause is to give to those who are clearly victims of torture an exemption from that procedure.

A restricted letter was written on 27 October by the Foreign Secretary and circulated to all parts of the Foreign Office and overseas posts. In that letter he stated: UK press has speculated on possible introduction of a 'white list'. This would require primary legislation … Cannot anticipate announcement. If it were adopted, careful account would need to be taken of human rights and other relevant conditions in a country before it could be listed … However, Home Office has been piloting since May a short procedure for deciding straightforward asylum claims likely to prove unfounded. Procedure limited to selected cases from nationalities which experience has shown generate very high refusal rates … These are Ghana, Nigeria, India, Pakistan, Romania and Poland. Consideration being given to possible expansion to other nationalities. I should like the Under-Secretary to explain why Nigerian nationals are included as part of the short procedure, given the gross human rights violations in that country, which are of concern to many hon. Members, and which have led to international action being taken by Her Majesty's Government and other European Union countries.

Under the heading Background—Restricted—Not For Use the letter of 27 October reveals: The countries listed below, which are the leading nations giving rise to large numbers of unfounded asylum claims, are candidates for a designated list. We agree with the Home Office that countries nos. 1–5 may be designated". Those countries are Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ghana, Poland and Romania. The letter continues: we have yet to come to a decision on the others. Those are Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Pakistan and Tanzania.

There are no plans (as suggested in the UK press) to designate Nigeria, Sri Lanka or Algeria. We now know as a result of the Home Secretary's speech on Second Reading in December that the countries to be designated by order are the first five to which I referred, plus India and Pakistan. I would like to know from the Under-Secretary, if he can desist from chatting to the Whip on the Front Bench, what has happened since 27 October, when the Foreign Secretary wrote: we have yet to come to a decision on the others. The others specifically included are Pakistan and India. That decision enabled the Home Secretary to announce in December that India and Pakistan would be part of the designated list.

I hope that the discussion in which the Under-Secretary seems now to be engaged with the Minister of State will enable him to reply to the specific questions that I am now asking. I would very much like to know from him whether the Foreign Secretary communicated with the Home Secretary before December that he supported the inclusion of Pakistan and India in the proposed designated list. I very much hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to say that he accepts the new clause. It is an extremely important safeguard to the victims of torture and will ensure that they are not subject to certain provisions, including those on designation.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent)

This subject is one which any citizen of a rich, comfortable country must find difficult. Whether people come here as economic migrants from countries where they do not get enough to eat and where their children and families are riddled with worms, or whether they come as asylum seekers in the genuine sense of the word, to send any of them back is an unattractive thing to do. We realise, however, that we live in the real world, and however much an individual conjures up our compassion, the national response must be to limit numbers.

There is absolutely no doubt that people who have been subjected to torture are in a different category from other asylum seekers. I was pleased to put my name to the new clause, although I am not particularly enamoured of the idea that any medical practitioner should be able to sign a certificate. We know that some practitioners are less careful, less scrupulous and busier than others and would soon be identified as the ones to whom asylum seekers may go. I believe, however, that we must have an unequivocal statement from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary that this country will not send back to the likelihood of further torture people who, when they came here, had, in all probability, already been tortured. I do not mind how the thing is arranged, provided that it is arranged with that result.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) has asked for that arrangement to be included in a clause in the Bill because all of us are uneasy about the effect on conscientious, devoted civil servants of what I would describe as battle fatigue. When they have seen enough cases of people trying to pull the wool over their eyes, or people who they think are trying to do that, they become battle-hardened and cynical, and less careful. When people who have suffered torture come up against an official whose compassion barrier has been raised because he has been in that post a long time, one ends up with the kind of story that the hon. Member for Mossley Hill told us about the man from north Cyprus. For that reason, the inclusion of an automatic safeguard in the Bill becomes very attractive.

I urge upon Ministers that hon. Members must be assured that where there is a reasonable belief that someone has suffered torture, he or she will not be sent back. If we can have that assurance, I will not feel wedded to the wording of the new clause.

Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and West Devon)

I am honoured to support the new clause and am very glad to be on the Benches of the hon. Members who sponsored it, and to support my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) and other hon. Members.

I am not at all surprised by the harshness of the phrases in the letters that have been read out, because they were taken from paragraphs in the reasons for refusal letter— the standard refusal letter. It is relatively new and it has resulted in very harsh statements. Indeed, as the paperwork states: Judicious use of stock paragraphs greatly cuts down on the time taken to prepare rfrs. Therefore, increased use of stock paragraphs across the Division is highly desirable in all but the most unusual of cases. I shall not detain the House by reading out the stock paragraphs, but they have a harsh and sharp result, as my hon. Friend stated.

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I am concerned about the decisions that are made from those paragraphs. In one case, an African had been beaten by Government employees for many months in his country of origin, which is a place of massive instability and successive revolutions. His senior family members had been killed because they supported the wrong side for a time. The Home Secretary, in his refusal of this man's claim for asylum, stated: During the period of alleged torture, when not in detention you made no attempt to approach the authorities in your country. You have stated that you did not believe that the authorities could have provided a solution to the problem. However, the Secretary of State believes that in the light of facts you have provided it would have been an appropriate course of action for you to seek assistance from the authorities. The futility of that statement is beyond belief. If Government employees are beating somebody, what possible hope is there that that Government would assist that person? The Secretary of State's lack of understanding and his sheer determination to keep these people out concerns me more than anything. We are talking about a victim of torture, who managed to flee to a second African country—another country of turmoil, with a dreadful track record on human rights, as the United Kingdom well knows. The Secretary of State wrote: The Secretary of State knows that on your arrival … you did not claim asylum there. The Secretary of State considers this is not consistent with someone in need of international protection, whom he believes would apply for asylum at the earliest opportunity. How can one possibly apply for asylum in a country from which other people are already fleeing? The Secretary of State does not want these people here at all. That is the key to everything.

The letter continued: Therefore the Secretary of State considers that you have failed to establish a well-founded fear of persecution as defined by the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to Status of Refugees. That was because he did not seek assistance from the authorities who were torturing him, and because he did not seek asylum in a second country. The only country that he could reach already has a revolution and has had a history of revolutions.

In a letter to another asylum seeker, the Secretary of State remarked that there had been a very high proportion of unmeritorious applications. If it was an unmeritorious application, this is indeed "Alice in Wonderland". It was an application from somebody in the greatest need. The Secretary of State made the point that the applicant had not sought asylum in another country, but the Secretary of State simply does not understand that a number of countries are infinitely more open-hearted than the United Kingdom in their acceptance of people in trouble.

Some 2.5 million displaced people are in Iran, but they do not apply for asylum. Iran cannot give 2.5 million people asylum, because of all the rights and obligations that it would create for those people and Iran, but it gives them shelter, house room, ability to work, food and clothing—the basics of life. Those people will not get asylum there, so for the Secretary of State to refuse an application because somebody had not applied for asylum in another country or in a country like Iran, which accepts vast numbers of displaced people and refugees, is unbelievable.

Iraq was branded a legitimate trading partner in 1988—the same time as Saddam Hussein was bombing the Kurds with chemical weapons. Presumably, Iraq would be on the white list now. A torture victim, Dr. Hassan, is a friend of mine. He was the doctor who certified death after the executions that were carried out regularly on hundreds of people every week in Al Gahraib prison, where the Kuwaiti prisoners of war are kept. After that, he was placed in a factory, to look after the health of the people creating chemical weapons. They were known to have high health needs. While there, he saw British-labelled supplies coming in to create the chemical weapons. His purpose was to maintain the health of the staff. Then, because he was not seen to be sufficiently sound, he was tortured very heavily for two years.

It took Dr. Hassan a long time to admit that he had been tortured. He was a surgeon, a man of high professional ability, and the feeling of degradation, the inarticulacy that followed that degradation, the shame at having been physically violated in every conceivable corner of his body and being unable to withstand it on his terms, had stopped him talking about it for a very long time. He felt a man apart. He and others whom I know who have been tortured are indeed a race apart. They are a race of the strongest and most wonderful men and women alive today. To put such people on the fast-track system and assume that when they turn up at Heathrow or another airport they can unload all of that immediately is just plain cruel.

I feel ashamed that we should consider enacting the proposed legislation. I beg the Minister to consider the plight of the victims of torture. Several hon. Members have read out the treatment that those victims are receiving under the current legislation. The Bill will worsen their situation dramatically.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Timothy Kirkhope)

There is no doubt whatever that this is an issue of great concern. I listened with particular attention to the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) and for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), who expressed deep feelings about humanitarianism. I hope that I will be allowed an opportunity to explain why I believe that this country's position is an honourable one, and why our application of humanitarianism is second to none.

Although comparatively, in percentage terms, few of the applications for asylum that are made to this country meet the criteria that we apply in accordance with the United Nations convention of 1951, we have—this is unusual to this country in many respects—exceptional leave to remain, which takes care of a great number of cases that would otherwise not meet the basic criteria, which are used where we believe that there are compassionate or humanitarian reasons to allow someone to remain in this country.

Miss Emma Nicholson

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Kirkhope

Not at the moment.

That is very important.

We all know how appalling torture is when it is used on an institutional basis by a nation or a particular regime or when it is used by individuals or criminals against others. Who could forget the appalling television pictures of our RAF service men who had been tortured by the Iraqis after capture and were paraded in front of our screens for political effect? No one could ever forget that, and no one ever should.

If we did not adopt a particular approach to victims of torture, I should be able to recommend further consideration of the proposals advanced by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton). However, we are signatories not only to the 1951 United Nations convention—which we apply properly and fairly to asylum applicants—but to article 3 of the UN convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, which was concluded in 1981.

The parts of the convention that we observe include the provision that No State Party shall expel, return … or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture. For the purpose of determining whether there are grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights. There may be circumstances in which a person would face torture if returned to his country of origin, but would not have a well-founded fear of persecution on grounds of race, religion, nationality, membership of a social group or a political opinion. In those circumstances, the United Kingdom meets its international obligations by granting exceptional leave to remain.

Miss Nicholson

I understand that those with exceptional leave to remain will indeed be at risk if the Bill is passed unchanged, under a number of clauses. Will the Minister clarify that?

Mr. Kirkhope

I can state categorically that that is not the case. I am proud that this country is able to provide such leave, and will exercise its powers to do so when there is evidence to suggest that applicants would be tortured if they were returned to their countries. Let me give a clear undertaking—virtually repeating the article that I quoted a moment ago—that we will not send people back when there is a reasonable belief that they will face torture. I hope that that helps my hon. Friends, and others who have raised the question.

Let me make a technical point. If new clause 5 were accepted, it would have the direct result of putting all alleged victims of torture entirely outside normal immigration control—not just in respect of the Bill, but in respect of the Immigration Act 1971 and the rules attached to it and the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993. In effect, such people would have the same rights immediately, on a medical certificate, as any British national.

Sir Patrick Cormack

I accept—as I did earlier—that there may be deficiencies in the new clause, but people are very worried. Will my hon. Friend undertake to receive those who have spoken tonight, and who are acutely concerned, and is he prepared to consider an amendment in the other place if the Bill does not cover torture victims adequately?

Mr. Kirkhope

Having clearly set out the humanitarian position that we already hold and intend to continue, I see no reason why we should not consider representations of the kind that my hon. Friend suggests. Indeed, I can say on behalf of my hon. Friend the Minister of State that we should be pleased to do so.

Sir Patrick Cormack

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's response to the first part of my question, but he did not deal with the second part. I asked whether, in consultation with his ministerial colleagues, he would be prepared to table an amendment in the other place if it were felt that victims of torture were not covered adequately.

Mr. Kirkhope

It would be up to my hon. Friend to convince us of the need. [Interruption.] I consider that a reasonable proposal, and, having set out the other circumstances, I think it fair to introduce such a tiny caveat.

We all know what we want to achieve. We all deprecate torture, and want to deal with it. We in the Government believe that we are dealing with it, but, if my hon. Friend and others persuade us otherwise, the natural conclusion will of course be the consideration of an amendment in the other place. I am happy to give that undertaking, along with the one that I have already given. On that basis, I ask the hon. Member for Mossley Hill not to press the motion to a vote: if he does not, it will help everyone who is concerned with this difficult matter.

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Mr. Alton

With the leave of the House, Madam Speaker.

I am grateful to the Minister for the tone that he adopted. The debate has demonstrated that there is no monopoly on compassion in any part of the House: it has united opinion. Hon. Members on both sides of the House made eloquent speeches in support of the principles enshrined in the convention. There is no doubt that we all subscribe to those principles; the question is how they are implemented.

In fact, we should be concerned not about the Bill but about existing Home Office practices. When questioned directly by the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) about what would happen in a specific case, the Minister was unable to reply; but a man had been tortured, and had 100 lacerations on his back. According to a Home Office letter dated 17 January, that was all part of a cynical attempt to circumvent normal United Kingdom immigration rules". In sharp contradiction is the view of a senior fellow of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland—not just a run-of-the-mill GP hired by an immigration advisory group. Dr. Gordon Barclay stated that the man had 100 scars, which bear out his story, though the number and severity are stupendous. I could see no other explanation for them. His other complaints are those associated with severe post-traumatic stress syndrome still in an acute phase". Cases of that kind are already manifesting themselves, even before the enactment of the Bill. I do not think that it is enough to say that we hold to a reasonable belief—a phrase used earlier by the Minister; we need more than assurances on the Floor of the House. Although I hope that there will be a debate in the other place and that amendments will be passed there, we should stress the importance of the principle. I believe that that can best be achieved by a Division.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 265, Noes 279.

Division No. 58] [7.18 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Corston, Jean
Adams, Mrs Irene Cousins, Jim
Ainger, Nick Cox, Tom
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Cummings, John
Allen, Graham Cunliffe, Lawrence
Alton, David Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Cunningham, Roseanna
Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale) Dafis, Cynog
Armstrong, Hilary Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Davies, Chris (L'boro & S'worth)
Ashton, Joe Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Austin-Walker, John Denham, John
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Dewar, Donald
Barnes, Harry Dixon, Don
Battle, John Dobson, Frank
Beckett, Rt Hon Margaret Donohoe, Brian H
Beggs, Roy Dowd, Jim
Beith, Rt Hon A J Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Bell, Stuart Eagle, Ms Angela
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Eastham, Ken
Bennett, Andrew F Evans, John (St Helens N)
Benton, Joe Ewing, Mrs Margaret
Bermingham, Gerald Fatchett, Derek
Betts, Clive Faulds, Andrew
Blair, Rt Hon Tony Reid, Frank (Birkenhead)
Blunkett, David Fisher, Mark
Boateng, Paul Flynn, Paul
Bradley, Keith Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Bray, Dr Jeremy Foster, Don (Bath)
Brown, N (N'c'tle upon Tyne E) Foulkes, George
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Fyfe, Maria
Burden, Richard Galbraith, Sam
Byers, Stephen Garrett, John
Caborn, Richard George, Bruce
Callaghan, Jim Gerrard, Neil
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Godman, Dr Norman A
Campbell-Savours, D N Godsiff, Roger
Cann, Jamie Golding, Mrs Llin
Carlile, Alexander (Montgomery) Gordon, Mildred
Chidgey, David Grant, Bemie (Tottenham)
Chisholm, Malcolm Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Church, Judith Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Grocott, Bruce
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Gunnell, John
Clelland, David Hain, Peter
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hall, Mike
Coffey, Ann Hanson, David
Cohen, Harry Hardy, Peter
Connarty, Michael Harman, Ms Harriet
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Harvey, Nick
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Henderson, Doug
Corbett, Robin Heppell, John
Corbyn, Jeremy Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Hinchliffe, David Mowlam, Marjorie
Hodge, Margaret Mudie, George
Hoey, Kate Mullin, Chris
Hogg, Norman (Cumbernauld) Murphy, Paul
Home Robertson, John Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hoon, Geoffrey O'Brien, Mike (N W'kshire)
Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A) O'Brien, William (Normanton)
Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd) Olner, Bill
Hoyle, Doug O'Neill, Martin
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Parry, Robert
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Pearson, Ian
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Pendry, Tom
Hume, John Pickthall, Colin
Hutton, John Pike, Peter L
Illsley, Eric Pope, Greg
Ingram, Adam Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Jackson, Helen (Shefld, H) Prentice, Bridget (Lev'm E)
Janner, Greville Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Johnston, Sir Russell Primarolo, Dawn
Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side) Quin, Ms Joyce
Jones, leuan Wyn (Ynys Môn) Radice, Giles
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Raynsford, Nick
Jones, Lynne (B'ham S O) Reid, Dr John
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd, SW) Rendel, David
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Robertson, George (Hamilton)
Jowell, Tessa Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)
Keen, Alan Roche, Mrs Barbara
Kennedy, Charles (Ross,C&S) Rooker, Jeff
Kennedy, Jane (L'pool Br'dg'n) Rooney, Terry
Khabra, Piara S Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Kilfoyle, Peter Ross, William (E Londonderry)
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Ruddock, Joan
Liddell, Mrs Helen Salmond, Alex
Litherland, Robert Sedgemore, Brian
Livingstone, Ken Sheerman, Barry
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Llwyd, Elfyn Short, Clare
Loyden, Eddie Simpson, Alan
McAllion, John Skinner, Dennis
McAvoy, Thomas Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
McCartney, Ian Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Macdonald, Calum Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
McFall, John Smyth, The Reverend Martin
McKelvey, William Shape, Peter
Mackinlay, Andrew Soley, Clive
Maclennan, Robert Spearing, Nigel
McMaster, Gordon Spellar, John
McNamara, Kevin Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
MacShane, Denis Steinberg, Gerry
McWilliam, John Stevenson, George
Madden, Max Stott, Roger
Maddock, Diana Strang, Dr. Gavin
Maginnis, Ken Straw, Jack
Mahon, Alice Sutcliffe, Gerry
Mandelson, Peter Taylor, Rt Hon John D (Strgfd)
Marek, Dr John Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Timms, Stephen
Marshall, Jim (Leicester, S) Tipping, Paddy
Martin, Michael J (Springburn) Touhig, Don
Martlew, Eric Trickett, Jon
Maxton, John Trimble, David
Meacher, Michael Turner, Dennis
Meale, Alan Tyler, Paul
Michael, Alun Vaz, Keith
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Wallace, James
Milburn, Alan Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Miller, Andrew Watson, Mike
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby) Welsh, Andrew
Molyneaux, Rt Hon Sir James Wicks, Malcolm
Moonie, Dr Lewis Wigley, Dafydd
Morgan, Rhodri Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Morley, Elliot Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)
Morris, Rt Hon Alfred (Wy'nshawe) Wilson, Brian
Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Winnick, David
Wise, Audrey Young, David (Bolton SE)
Worthington, Tony Tellers for the Ayes:
Wray, Jimmy Ms Liz Lynne and Mr. Archy Kirkwood.
Wright, Dr Tony
Aitken, Rt Hon Jonathan Duncan-Smith, Iain
Alexander, Richard Dunn, Bob
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby) Durant, Sir Anthony
Allason, Rupert (Torbay) Dykes, Hugh
Amess, David Eggar, Rt Hon Tim
Arbuthnot, James Elletson, Harold
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv) Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)
Ashby, David Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)
Atkins, Rt Hon Robert Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Atkinson, David (Bour"mouth E) Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Evennett, David
Baker, Rt Hon Kenneth (Mole V) Faber, David
Baker, Nicholas (North Dorset) Fabricant, Michael
Baldry, Tony Fenner, Dame Peggy
Banks, Matthew (Southport) Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Fishburn, Dudley
Bates, Michael Forman, Nigel
Batiste, Spencer Forth, Eric
Bendall, Vivian Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Beresford, Sir Paul Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Biffen, Rt Hon John Fox, Rt Hon Sir Marcus (Shipley)
Body, Sir Richard Freeman, Rt Hon Roger
Booth, Hartley French, Douglas
Boswell, Tim Fry, Sir Peter
Bottomley, Peter (Eltham) Gale, Roger
Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia Gallie, Phil
Bowden, Sir Andrew Gardiner, Sir George
Bowis, John Garnier, Edward
Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes Gill, Christopher
Brandreth, Gyles Gillan, Cheryl
Brazier, Julian Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
Bright, Sir Graham Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Gorst, Sir John
Browning, Mrs Angela Grant, Sir A (SW Cambs)
Burns, Simon Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Burt, Alistair Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Butcher, John Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Butterfill, John Grylls, Sir Michael
Carlisle, John (Luton North) Hague, Rt Hon William
Carlisle, Sir Kenneth (Lincoln) Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archibald
Carrington, Matthew Hampson, Dr Keith
Carttiss, Michael Hanley, Rt Hon Jeremy
Cash, William Hannam, Sir John
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hargreaves, Andrew
Chapman, Sir Sydney Haselhurst, Sir Alan
Churchill, Mr Hawkins, Nick
Clappison, James Hawksley, Warren
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ru'clif) Hayes, Jerry
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Heald, Oliver
Coe, Sebastian Heath, Rt Hon Sir Edward
Colvin, Michael Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Congdon, David Hendry, Charles
Conway, Derek Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st) Hicks, Robert
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Higgins, Rt Hon Sir Terence
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Couchman, James Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)
Cran, James Horam, John
Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire) Hordern, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon) Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Davies, Quentin (Stamford) Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Day, Stephen Hunter, Andrew
Deva, Nirj Joseph Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Devlin, Tim Jack, Michael
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Dover, Den Jenkin, Bernard
Duncan, Alan Jessel, Toby
Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Jones, Robert B (W Hertfdshr) Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Key, Robert Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
King, Rt Hon Tom Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Kirkhope, Timothy Ryder, Rt Hon Richard
Knapman, Roger Sackville, Tom
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash) Sainsbury, Rt Hon Sir Timothy
Knight, Rt Hon Greg (Derby N) Scott, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n) Shaw, David (Dover)
Knox, Sir David Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Kynoch, George (Kincardine) Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Shepherd, Sir Colin (Hereford)
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lawrence, Sir Ivan Sims, Roger
Legg, Barry Skeet, Sir Trevor
Leigh, Edward Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Lennox-Boyd, Sir Mark Soames, Nicholas
Lidington, David Spencer, Sir Derek
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Spicer, Sir Michael (S Worcs)
Lord, Michael Spink, Dr Robert
Luff, Peter Spring, Richard
MacKay, Andrew Sproat, Iain
Maclean, Rt Hon David Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick Steen, Anthony
Madel, Sir David Stephen, Michael
Maitland, Lady Olga Stern, Michael
Malone, Gerald Stewart, Allan
Mans, Keith Streeter, Gary
Marland, Paul Sweeney, Walter
Marlow, Tony Sykes, John
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel) Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Mates, Michael Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian Temple-Morris, Peter
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Thomason, Roy
Mellor, Rt Hon David Thompson, Sir Donald (C'er V)
Merchant, Piers Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Mills, Iain Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Thurnham, Peter
Mitchell, Sir David (NW Hants) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Moate, Sir Roger Townsend, Cyril D (Bexl'yh'th)
Monro, Rt Hon Sir Hector Tracey, Richard
Needham, Rt Hon Richard Tredinnick, David
Nelson, Anthony Trend, Michael
Neubert, Sir Michael Twinn, Dr Ian
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Nicholls, Patrick Viggers, Peter
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Waldegrave, Rt Hon William
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley Walden, George
Oppenheim, Phillip Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Ottaway, Richard Waller, Gary
Paice, James Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Patnick, Sir Irvine Waterson, Nigel
Patten, Rt Hon John Wells, Bowen
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Whitney, Ray
Pawsey, James Whittingdale, John
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Widdecombe, Ann
Pickles, Eric Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Wilkinson, John
Porter, David (Waveney) Willetts, David
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Powell, William (Corby) Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'fld)
Rathbone, Tim Wolfson, Mark
Redwood, Rt Hon John Yeo, Tim
Renton, Rt Hon Tim Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Richards, Rod Tellers for the Noes:
Riddick, Graham Mr. Timothy Wood and Mr. Patrick McLoughlin.
Robathan, Andrew

Question accordingly negatived.

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