HC Deb 13 July 1998 vol 316 cc6-7
6. Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

If he will list the proposed changes to the Dublin convention on the treatment of refugees which he has made to the European Union. [48398]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mike O'Brien)

On 29 May, member states agreed a series of measures—including a comprehensive programme of action put forward by the British presidency—designed to improve the practical operation of the Dublin convention. Our measures address both the difficulties of establishing responsibility for asylum seekers who are undocumented and the need for better co-operation and liaison between member countries.

Mr. Wilkinson

While it is laudable that the Government have followed the excellent example of the previous Conservative Administration and extended the Immigration (Carriers' Liability) Act 1987 to international train operators who run services through the channel tunnel, why have Her Majesty's Government not been able to prevail on the French—France is a signatory to the Schengen convention—to make the channel tunnel carriers' liability order apply to SNCF train services? The Belgians comply, so why not the French?

Mr. O'Brien

Some legal defects in the treaty make it difficult to extend. However, we have had discussions with the French—and received much co-operation from the French Government as a result of the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary—to ensure that we reduce the number of refugees who enter the country from Paris. It is correct to say that there are practical difficulties, but we are receiving the co-operation of the French in seeking to resolve them.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)

The Minister chose to refer to the Government's review of asylum and immigration appeals in his answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames). Can he tell us a little about the background to that review? Do the Government acknowledge the problem caused by the increased number of such cases? Does not the Government's proposed single right of appeal amount to an extension of the principle behind the so-called white list cases, which Labour opposed in opposition? Will the Minister say specifically whether, in initiating the review, the Government are paving the way for some form of general amnesty for asylum seekers?

Mr. O'Brien

The white list has little or nothing to do with the Dublin convention or the other issues that we have discussed. We have made it perfectly clear that we do not intend to have a blanket amnesty; we have given that reassurance on many occasions. However, I draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the previous Government's actions in 1993, when more than 50 per cent. of exceptional leave to remain cases were granted the right to stay in a one-off process. It ill becomes the hon. Gentleman to start talking about amnesties now.

Mr. Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow)

Does my hon. Friend accept that there are 10,000 outstanding cases that predate the Asylum and Immigration Appeals Act 1993? We inherited that problem, the Dublin convention and the difficulties of dealing with undocumented asylum seekers. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that he will see what he can do to deal with that backlog, so that those who have waited for years may finally receive a fair decision on their cases?

Mr. O'Brien

My hon. Friend is right; the Dublin convention and the pre-1993 backlog are another fine mess that the Conservatives left the country in. We will clean it up as fast as we can, but the Tories left us quite a mess.