§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Lord Bethell rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will explain the circumstances under which Mr. Stancu Papusoiu was deported to Romania.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I cannot recall having risen to my feet to discuss a more disturbing matter than this in my membership of your Lordships' House. It touches, in practical terms, only one individual, Mr. Stancu Papusoiu, a citizen of Romania. Going deeper, it touches our country's deepest traditions and moral values. Our tradition of political asylum goes back many centuries. One can recall that asylum was given in this country to the French Huguenots, who were persecuted for their religion, and to the victims of the French Revolution. Asylum was given in London, rightly, to Karl Marx and to Vladimir Lenin. Later in that century, asylum was given from persecution to many of the Jewish population of Tsarist Russia and, 30 years later, to many refugees from Hitlerism in Germany.
§ In our generation, we have seen the welcome given to refugees from Right-wing authoritarian dictatorships such as those of Chile and South Africa. No one has questioned the duty of successive Governments of this country to maintain this tradition of granting political asylum to those who have a well-founded fear of persecution for political reasons in the countries that they have fled. Rightly, we have viewed with abhorrence the idea of returning a person to his own country where he is liable to be persecuted for political reasons.
§ I recall some five years ago in this House the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, raising this matter over the question of several million Soviet citizens who were forcibly returned to their own country in 1945. A notable speech on that occasion was made by my noble friend Lord Saint Oswald. It was the first time that the British Parliament had paid attention to this matter. Subsequently, it was raised in another place on some dozen occasions. I am therefore pleased that 1524 your Lordships have found time to assist at the first detailed discussion of this case that touches, it is true, not millions of people but one individual who has been returned by force to a country that he fled and that he had a genuine fear of returning to, where he now is and where he is now suffering a fate of which we know very little.
I believe that what happened to Mr. Papusoiu is contrary not only to British traditions but also to many of our international obligations. I shall mention at this stage Article 14 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states in paragraph 1:
Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution".
I shall return to that document later.
§ Mr. Stancu Papusoiu was a man without sophistication, without great education, speaking only one little known language, a person who had previously been imprisoned for attempting to leave Romania and a person who went to great lengths to leave Romania. I wish to emphasise this point. It was put to the Home Office by the secretary general of Amnesty International, Mr. Hammarberg. I do not believe that Mr. Papusoiu would have gone to such lengths and that his motivation would have been so deep as to induce him to go to prison at least once and to risk further imprisonment simply in order to improve his material situation, to lead a materially better life and to increase his wages. Such an idea is absurd. I believe that the Home Office has been, let us say, naive in suggesting that Mr. Papusoiu's motives were mainly commercial when he came to this country.
§ I believe that many of us here are familiar with this case. Mr. Papusoiu surrendered to the police. He did not try to evade the authorities of this country. He was imprisoned, or detained, in Ashford Remand Centre. He said that he found life unacceptable under Romania's Communist régime and that he did not wish to work 10 hours a day in order to find a bare wage for his family. Four months elapsed in Ashford before he had a chance to discuss his problem with anyone other than officials of the Home Office and the officers of Ashford. It is true—no doubt my noble friend Lord Elton, who has no personal responsibility for this matter, will point it out—that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' representative, Mr. Landau, was informed of Mr. Papusoiu's arrival. But, so far as I can see, no action was taken and no person saw Mr. Papusoiu outside British officialdom until 2nd September when he was visited by a member of the British-Romanian Association.
§ My first question to Lord Elton is this. Would it not have been better—I know that it is contrary to practice at the moment—but would it not have been advisable for at least the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service to be informed of Mr. Papusoiu's arrival in Ashford? Under present regulations, because he entered this country illegally, I appreciate that he is not obliged to inform the UKIAS about such an arrival. I believe that there is a case here for reviewing the present custom and for informing the Immigrants Advisory Service of the arrival of any person who enters this country and whose case is being considered by the Home Office.1525
§ Another subject of deep concern is the circumstances of Mr. Papusoiu's detention. It is true that he was penniless and friendless. He had no means to provide himself with accommodation. Is that really sufficient reason for his detention in Ashford for more than six months? While his case was being considered—the evidence seems to suggest that he had trust in the United Kingdom and that he believed that England was a country that would show some sympathy—was it really suspected that he would abscond? Would it not have been possible for him to be found accommodation, for instance, in the place where he was eventually allowed to reside in a YMCA hostel in South-East London? Was it necessary for him to be kept under the unfamiliar and disorientating conditions for someone so unfamiliar with British reality as Ashford Remand Centre for such a long time?
§ I also wonder whether my noble friend can say something about the general question of refugees from Romania. I note from statistics recently put out by his department that last year 26 individuals asked for political asylum from Romania. Is that really the figure? Can he say what has happened to those 26 individuals? Has any one of them, other than Mr. Papusoiu, been forcibly removed back to Romania? Could my noble friend please tell us that? Could he indicate, please, starting from a base period of 1950 (and I have given him notice of this question) how many individuals from Soviet bloc countries—from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania and the Soviet Union—have been forcibly removed back to their own country since 1950, since the policy of forcible removal initiated in 1945 finally became dead and buried? I think that public opinion would be interested to hear the answer to that fundamental question.
§ Many people have been revolted by the idea of a person being sent back to Ceausescu's Romania. People cannot understand that such a thing can happen in our country. We wish to know whether it has happened before. We know that seven Poles were made to return to Poland in 1981, it is true before martial law was declared. We have heard, perhaps, that some Hungarians were made to return last year. But when it comes to the two countries in the bloc with the harshest regimes, with the harshest laws against immigration, where slave labour is practised—Romania and the Soviet Union—have any people been forcibly returned to those two countries before? Or is Mr. Papusoiu the tragic first person to have been so sent back?
§ I would mention that of course this is a matter which also touches the United Nations' laws against slavery, because slave labour is employed both in the Soviet Union and in Romania. This is the 150th anniversary of the year when we abolished slavery in this country and the death of William Wilberforce. Did we really make the right decision in sending a person back to where he will most probably be sentenced to a term of slave labour, in this year of all years? I look forward to my noble friend's reply.
§ I hope that this whole unfortunate incident will lead to a total reappraisal of our policy vis-à-vis refugees from Eastern Europe. Figures recently released show that the number of refugees from the Soviet bloc who 1526 are accorded political asylum has declined in percentage terms over the past few years. In 1982 only 11.4 per cent. of those from Soviet bloc countries who applied for asylum were granted asylum—that was the figure quoted in the Sunday Times two days ago—whereas of those who applied for asylum across the board from other countries, mainly Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, 56 per cent. were granted asylum. This is a most alarming discrepancy. Why is it that those persons who seek asylum from the Soviet bloc seem to be treated far less generously than those who come from Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan?
§ I believe that my noble friend should also answer certain practical questions about Mr. Papusoiu's fate. Why, for instance, after he was peremptorily arrested two days before his removal, was it not found possible for someone at least to collect his few belongings from the YMCA and to give them to him before he left this country? What measures have now been put in force to send them on to him? Will he receive his belongings now through the favours of, I suppose, the Foreign Office and our embassy in Bucharest? Could my noble friend please also indicate the details of the approach made to the Romanian foreign ministry a few days ago by our ambassador in Bucharest? It seems, on the face of it, unusual for an ambassador to make such an approach, and I think that your Lordships would be glad to have further information about this approach in the Romanian capital and about the answer that was given to our ambassador by the Romanian foreign ministry.
I believe that my honourable friend Mr. David Waddington made an honest mistake, but a tragic mistake. He wrote to my honourable friend Sir Bernard Braine, apropos the Romanian laws that prevent and deeply inhibit citizens from leaving their country contrary to United Nations declarations, that, "Such laws in my mind are deplorable but they do not constitute persecution". I believe that in making this judgment he did not take account of Article 13 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says:
Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country".
The United Kingdom voted for that declaration, and, surely, it must recognise that Mr. Papusoiu had the right to leave his country if he wished to do so; that the Romanian Government, his own Government, in denying him that right, were persecuting him; that he was therefore a persecuted person as well as a prosecuted person; and that, therefore, he was entitled to sympathetic consideration by my noble friend's department. I wish to make no criticism and to cast no aspersion on the integrity of my honourable friend Mr. David Waddington; but I believe that he made a disastrous error and that public opinion believes that he made a disastrous error.
§ I have spoken of the British tradition of political asylum. There is another very important British tradition—one which came to the fore most strikingly almost exactly a year ago when the conflict in the Falklands took place—and that is the tradition of ministerial responsibility. My noble friend Lord Carrington, a man of the highest honour, took the view that he was seen by the country to have made an error—a serious error. He therefore decided, in all 1527 honour, that he had to give up the seals of his office. I believe that the Minister of State in the Home Office who took this decision must conclude that, while he behaved honourably, he made a serious and tragic error which will have even more tragic consequences for an individual, Mr. Stancu Papusoiu; and I can see no possible alternative open to him than for him also to resign his office.
§ 7.59 p.m.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, it is late in the evening but the business that we are discussing tonight is so miserable and of such importance that we are extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, for raising it. Practically every newspaper of whatever political view going straight across the spectrum—The Times, the Guardian, the Mail, the Telegraph, the Mirror and the Express—has come out on the same side, and that is in criticism of the action that was taken by the Government, the Home Office or individual Ministers in this tragic case.
This is the first debate on this matter that has taken place in Parliament. The honourable Member in another place, Sir Bernard Braine, raised it most vocally there, and Questions have been asked. However, as I say, this is the first time that this has been debated. What is it that we are discussing? As the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, said, we are discussing a man who arrived in this country illegally in April 1982, who went to a police station not really to give himself up but in order to ask for asylum in the hope of being treated kindly in this free country. But, my Lords, what transpired? He was kept in a police cell for a few days which, due to our prison overcrowding, must, unhappily, have seemed reminiscent accommodation of his own home detention conditions. He was then sent to the Ashford Remand Centre and released from there on 5th December, when he went to a YMCA hostel, from where he reported to the immigration authorities once a week. He was then arrested and speedily sent back very much against his wishes—to put it mildly.
Many questions arise. The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, has raised some, but there are others as well. Why was not the British Romanian Association or one of the refugee bodies alerted?—especially as Mr. Papusoiu is not well educated. I understand that he speaks Romanian with a regional accent and had problems in being interpreted properly. Why did he not have access to advice and assistance, as recommended by the Council of Europe? One cannot help feeling that if he had been a writer, a professional man or a sportsman, he would very likely have received rather different treatment. I do not like to say that, but I think the facts show.
As it is the declared policy of British Governments to grant asylum to refugees if there is reason to assume that they will suffer persecution if they are sent back, does this mean that the Home Office was convinced beyond reasonable doubt that he was not in danger of persecution? If the Government were so convinced, then on what grounds were they so convinced? This is what we should like to hear from the Minister tonight. If not, why was he imprisoned at all; and why was he not given the benefit of the doubt, and at least given 1528 some form of asylum or treated as a refugee? He could have been a refugee without being given political asylum. He could have had asylum and we need not have become bogged down in the whole concept of politics in this case.
However, is it not true that under the harsh régime existing in Romania, to escape from that country is labelled a serious crime which merits very severe punishment? I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, and with Amnesty International, that in the case of a man who has been imprisoned for nine out of the past 10 years there is surely evidence that he is really doing more than trying to improve his standard of living. Is it not also true that unofficially, given time, organisations like the British Romanian Association could have arranged to send him to a country which would have taken him in? This is especially so since the international convention relating to the status of refugees, by which the United Kingdom is bound, peremptorily forbids deporting someone to a country where his life or liberty will be in danger for reasons other than the commission of "common crimes". This was pointed out most succinctly in a letter to The Times by Mr. Paul Sieghart. But none of these courses was open.
We know of other people in this situation who have gone to France or to Holland and the Government here have been quite happy—and I am sure relieved—to see them just disappear and go. But not in this case. The statement of the Minister of State, Mr. David Waddington, that he was not a Romanian seems to me to have been both post facto and also not very positive.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, for the record, I should state that I think the noble Baroness meant that my honourable friend suggested that he was not a refugee; not that he suggested that he was not a Romanian.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, I just put it forward that it was reported in the newspapers that the Romanian Embassy here said that he was not a Romanian.
Nevertheless, my next point, that he had said that he was not a refugee, seems to me not to have been backed up by any specific evidence or any evidence which was good enough for the action to be taken which resulted in this man being forcibly ejected from this country.
There also arises here the question of rights of appeal, which are very unsatisfactory. An illegal immigrant has no right of appeal until after deportation. There may be a little stretch in this if someone is sent back to a country from where they can make representations to a high commissioner in that country and from where they can make representations if the country is part of the larger Commonwealth. But to imagine that someone can appeal from Romania is absolute nonsense. One hopes that one of the results of this very unhappy case will be that something will be done about the question of appeals, which I believe the Home Office have been examining.
In a fairly recent judgment in the House of Lords in the cases of Khawaja and Kera the Law Lords said:The right of appeal is virtually valueless.Would it not be preferable for the Government to admit that there had been a dreadful series of 1529 misunderstandings, lack of communication and great insensitivity resulting in a human tragedy, rather than for the Government to stand by whatever they consider to be their rights, or the right as they see it, which does not appear to be recognised by anybody else, and to defend the indefensible?
The only encouraging aspect of this depressing drama is that so much outrage has been expressed. We live in a country which values freedom enormously and which considers it something very precious. It is imperative that our actions should always equal our beliefs.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Lord Avebury
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, for raising this important matter and for enabling us in particular to discuss the way in which the Home Office reached the decision in the case of Mr. Papusoiu, and in general the way in which it evaluates claims to refugee status by persons arriving at ports of entry or who may already be in the United Kingdom in some other capacity.
I think that we should also pay tribute to the work of the honourable Member, Sir Bernard Braine, not only in this case but in so many other cases of refugees and of human rights in general on which he works so hard. So far as I can ascertain we last debated the question of refugees in this country five years ago in May 1978. As the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, has done this evening, we were then paying tribute to the generous treatment which is accorded to refugees by this country. I think we should repeat now that, on the whole, we can be very proud of our record.
We have done our share in taking in the victims of mass persecution—people rendered homeless and destitute by the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, the Asians from Uganda, the Vietnamese boat people and now those fleeing from the atrocities committed by the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. I believe that we have honoured our obligation under the United Nations convention to admit persons fleeing their own country owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
Indeed, we go further, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, has reminded us, in a time-honoured tradition we offer hospitality to those who cannot establish a claim to refugee status. We give asylum when, on the balance of probability, a person's fear is well-founded, and we give exceptional leave to remain where the fear is not individual but arises from extensive and random violations of human rights by the régime concerned, as in the case of Iran, and generally speaking Romania as well.
My own experience of taking up refugee cases with the Home Office is that Ministers look at individual cases with enormous care and sympathy. I have ascertained that since the last general election I have taken up 75 such cases with the Home Office and in 48 of those submissions the persons have been allowed to remain, only seven have been refused, and 20 are still under consideration. But there have been some general cases which have caused anxiety. I wonder, as I do in all cases of refusal of leave to enter or remain, whether 1530 the experience of those who do not have someone to make representations on their behalf to the Minister is as favourable as mine.
I am worried, for example, about the case of Iranians sent back to their country. A young girl of 16, for example, was very nearly sent back recently, and only after my honourable friend the Member for Inverness intervened with the Minister was it finally agreed that she should be allowed to stay. Another young man is in the Ashford Remand Centre—not a very pleasant place, as the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, said—awaiting his fate at the moment, having been convicted of a series of minor offences culminating with criminal damage to the value of £50, and it is proposed that he be sent back to take his chances under the Ayatollah Khomeini.
Secondly, I am concerned at the treatment of asylum seekers from Pakistan. It seems to me that in those cases the Home Office takes far longer to decide their applications than those of any other nationality. In the case of one refugee whose interview was conducted on 8th June 1981 consideration is still being given to it, and the Minister's office told me in a letter the other day that it had not been possible to reach a decision as speedily as they would have liked. That goes for the applicant himself as well.
Thirdly, there have been problems with Eritrean refugees who come here via Sudan, and the Home Office always tries hard to return them. In this, I am sorry to say, it is abetted by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. It seems wrong to me that these young people should be barred from the chance that they have in life through establishing themselves in this country, when the Home Office decides to send them back to rot in a refugee camp, as they would in Sudan. I hope that consideration can be given to these cases.
We have made some progress in the last few years. The immigration rules have been amended so as to require that full account be taken of the provisions of the Convention and Protocol in deciding on an application for asylum at ports of entry, while for somebody who is already in the country the rules say that a person may apply for asylum in the United Kingdom on the ground that if he were required to leave he would have to go to a country to which he is unwilling to go owing to "well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion". The rules now repeat the phraseology of the Convention.
Therefore, if a person arrives at a port of entry without a visa or an entry certificate, as refugees almost invariably do, the application nevertheless falls to be considered on its own merits, and the same goes for a person who applies, having entered the country illegally, or having overstayed, as was the case, I understand, with Mr. Papusoiu. May I remind your Lordships of what was said by the then High Commissioner for Refugees in a note to his executive committee in October 1977, and repeated in the United Kingdom representative's note to Her Majesty's Government shortly after that. He had this to say:It should be mentioned that an applicant for refugee status is normally in a particularly vulnerable situation. He finds himself in an alien environment and may experience serious psychological difficulties in submitting his case to the authorities of a foreign 1531 country, often in a language not his own. Hence the need for his application to be examined within the framework of specially established procedures by qualified personnel having the necessary knowledge and understanding of the subject matter and of the applicant's particular difficulties and needs".What was required, according to this memorandum, was that six principles should be satisfied by the procedures; that border officials should have clear instructions; that they should refer cases to higher authority; that the applicants should receive guidance on procedures; that there should be an identified authority to take the first decision; that the applicant should be granted the necessary facilities for submitting his case; and that the unsuccessful applicant should be able to appeal to judicial or administrative authority as appropriate, and should be allowed to remain pending the determination of his case unless the request was clearly frivolous.
In the debate we had five years ago the Minister who answered said that he thought our procedures were broadly in line with those recommendations. But, with respect, they are not. They were not then; they still are not today, as the case of Mr. Papusoiu illustrates. On the instructions given to immigration officers, of course, we are still in the dark because the Home Office, under both Tory and Labour Administrations, refuses to publish them. But I believe that they require the immigration officer to refer to higher authority; and it would be useful to know whether that is still the case, whether the Minister could confirm this, and whether any instructions are given to immigration officers about referring to the applicant's embassy for information about him, as I believe was done as long ago as last November in the case of Mr. Papusoiu.
Obviously there are cases where the applicants are not given any guidance, but there is no obligation on the immigration officers to inform them of the agencies which could help them, or to give them facilities for using the telephone for this purpose. Nor can it be said that they have the necessary facilities for pursuing their cases if they are held in detention, as was Mr. Papusoiu. Generally speaking, temporary admission is granted, but there have been cases where an applicant is held quite unnecessarily for months on end. I should be grateful if the Minister could tell the House—and I gave him notice of this question—how many asylum seekers have been held at ports of entry for more than a week over the last five years, and of the asylum seekers who were granted temporary admission over this period, how many absconded. I believe that the number would be very small, and that therefore normally we should give temporary admission generously to people seeking asylum.
I believe that in this particular case the immigration authorities held Mr. Papusoiu in detention because no request had been made for temporary admission on his behalf. This, in turn, may have been because the British Romanian Society were not aware of their rights to make such representations. I was told that the Minister, in answering a question at the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service annual conference over the weekend took credit for notifying the society at some point in these proceedings. He did thus concede that the Home Office had a responsibility to alert some outside agency when a refugee is held. But the proper authority in these matters is the UKIAS 1532 Refugee Unit, which has the competence to deal with cases expeditiously and properly. I would like to pay tribute here to Ms. Maureen Connelly and her staff for the effective work they always do on behalf of asylum seekers.
Coming to the last of the six principles, where the UKIAS considers the applicant's case is not entirely frivolous, there ought to be an independent procedure for testing the claim. If the applicant was previously in the United Kingdom in some other capacity and applied for refugee status while he was still within his permitted leave to remain, for example, as a student, then of course he would have access to an independent adjudicator under the immigration rules.
In the Home Office's discussion document, of which the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, reminded us, Review of Appeals under the Immigration Act 1971, it was proposed two years ago that illegal entrants should be given a right of appeal if they have been in the United Kingdom for more than a certain period, and I think that would be desirable. If the applicant only had a right of appeal which was exercisable from overseas, as would be the case with overstayers and illegal entrants, then of course, as the noble Baroness reminded us, it would be too late because they would have some difficulty in applying from a Romanian prison, and perhaps even more so from an Iranian cemetery.
To be fully in conformity with the convention we ought now to grant a right of appeal to all non-trivial claimants for asylum, and this right ought to be a right of appeal to the adjudicator who might seek the advice of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' representative to help him in determining such claims. Then, arguments such as those deployed tonight by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, could be put to an impartial tribunal.
Because we have such a long tradition of civilised behaviour towards people fleeing persecution in their own lands, we have been prepared in the past to leave this matter entirely to Home Office Ministers and, on the whole, that system has worked because successive Ministers, including Mr. David Waddington, have continued to uphold that tradition. But it is wrong in principle for the Secretary of State, whose policy is to limit the entry of foreigners into Britain, to be in charge of these sensitive decisions. Whatever the merits of Mr. Papusoiu's case, it has focused our attention on a serious flaw in our procedures for evaluating claims for asylum, and I hope that it will now be remedied.
§ 8.21 p.m.
Lord Saint Oswald
My Lords, this is a sorry occasion. Although the Minister may mitigate our sorrow in some small degree, that is, I calculate, the best he can hope to do. I am in a personal difficulty because I have known the Minister most closely concerned—my honourable friend Mr. David Waddington—even longer than I have known my noble friend Lord Elton, and that acquaintance has led me to like, admire and feel affection for them both. That cannot prevent me from stating as a parliamentarian that on the morning of Monday 14th March something pretty foul was done at the hands of their 1533 ministry, a department which acts in the name of the British people.
My noble friend Lord Bethell has been painfully but incontestably justified in setting down this Unstarred Question, backed, as he has been, by sensitive and highly informed speeches from the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. Part of the formula of the Unstarred Question in your Lordships' House, is that the Government have the last word and the questioner has no right of reply. In some cases this provides solace and a quiet night for the Government spokesman, but I doubt if it will do so in this case. Unless some unexpectedly convincing reply is provided, the Minister, his colleagues, his department and the Government whom that department advises will be pursued day beyond fearful day and night beyond sleepless night by such of us as feel ill-supplied with the facts or still hostile to the action taken in the face of those facts. We may be fairly numerous. We may be persistent. We may be intolerable. But in no way can our views and convictions easily be shrugged off.
The matter to which I shall in particular address myself is directly related to the present circumstances of the wretchedly treated Romanian whose wretched treatment has incited this debate. I shall address myself to the anguish and panic which this act has caused to other refugees from central and eastern European countries at present living in this country. The majority of them are Poles and although I am not claiming that the Poles have a unique claim on our hospitality and protection, there are many factors which make our debt to them even clearer than our duty to other oppressed fellow Europeans.
I believe there are about 900 Poles living in this country, having sought refuge from Poland during the period of martial law. They suffer through an intense fear of being forcibly deported and returned to their own country, as was the hapless Romanian victim 13 days ago. It is ironic to consider that the Poles, so prodigiously valiant in the face of the enemy, should be rendered fearful by their friends and fellow countrymen. Of course we cannot tell, without being Members of the Government, how justified or otherwise their fear may be, but let there be no doubt that that fear exists.
The present Home Secretary is as kindly a man as I have ever known in political life. A few weeks ago he sent a message, through a Member of another place, to a press conference in which I took part. The message contained an assurance that the Government had no intention for the time being of forcibly returning Poles who have been living in this country to Poland. Because they have learned to live with fear, many Poles have found the term"for the time being" suspect. Indeed, it cannot be measured in English, let alone transalated into Polish. It would be wrong in this debate to introduce at great length the forms of repression which still exist in Poland after the apparent lifting of martial law, and it may be necessary to hold a separate debate in one form or another to spell out the cynicism which underlies the public relations exercise—for it was little more than that—of removing martial law.
1534 I feel no compunction at having introduced into this debate the inflexion of fear which has spread through refugees of many countries, bred by the deportation of Stancu Papusoiu. In the past week, instigated particularly by men fleeing from the "Stefan Batory", the Polish ship, the Poles have been recognised as persecuted for the first time since martial law ended, and the media in general have taken the matter up in a fine and reasonable manner. They have recognised the agony and injustice which, I believe, may merit another debate on Poland. But for the moment, at this hour, we are debating the Romanian tragedy which my noble friend Lord Bethell has raised.
There is an illusion—widespread, unrealistic and unhealthy—that Romania is the most independent of the satellite nations. That is intrinsically false for the people concerned. The Government of Ceaucescu give the impression of acting independently of the Soviet rulers. That is possible only because that Government are the most Stalinist of those which now dominate those nations beyond the Iron Curtain which share with us the European heritage without sharing the freedom which should be inseparable from that heritage.
The deportation two weeks ago of that frightened man of 29 was a beastly act. So we must perceive it, unless the Minister can astonish us this evening with some contradiction of which nobody so far has seen the faintest evidence. Unless he can do so, some promise must be offered or extracted that we are aware of the ill which has been wrought and that it will never willingly or knowingly be repeated.
§ 8.29 p.m.
§ Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge
First, my Lords, I must say how much I was moved and impressed by the introduction of the noble Lord, Lord Bethell. He covered the situation in the greatest detail, and I have little to add to what he said except that I promise solid support from this Bench for the implications of all he had to say. Secondly, the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, made an excellent speech, and in particular raised the point, which was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about appeals. That is an issue to which we shall have to return, although it is not a subject with which we need deal tonight.
Thirdly, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who knows a great deal more about immigration problems than I do, and more than most people do, gave us a most interesting dissertation on the dangerous implications of what is going on at the moment in spite of the fact that he gave quite generous acclaim to some of the actions of both this Government and the previous Government in relation to refugees. Lastly, the noble Lord, Lord Saint Oswald, brought up something which has always been quite near my heart, which is the troubles of the Poles. I am not going to talk about any of these things. I do not think that any of them is irrelevant, however. They have all added to the discussion that we are having.
I want to say that it is quite evident—and in my opinion it is obviously justifiable—that there is great hostility in the House to this action by the Government, both in general and in certain of its particulars. To send somebody innocent of anything which we can admit to be a crime, and in breach of 1535 Article 13 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to certain imprisonment behind the Iron Curtain seems to be almost impossible to defend. But some of the accompanying details appear inexcusable. What right had the police to arrest this man when he had committed no crime? It is not a crime to say that you will not obey a Home Office ruling to go back until you have actually failed to turn up at the airport at the time stated. On whose authority was this uncriminal man handcuffed in the immigration office? Handcuffing is an assault on human dignity which should be permitted only in serious criminal cases. Can the Minister tell us at what level of police authority this order was issued?
I see from the papers that the Home Office denies that he was frogmarched to the aeroplane. Was he, nevertheless, led there reluctantly and in handcuffs; and, if so, what is the difference? To whom was he presented in this sad condition—to the Romanian secret police? Did they give back the handcuffs to Securicor and put their own on, as happened to Bakunin's fetters at the frontier when he was transferred from a Hapsburg to a Tzarist jail? That was noted by Herzen, who also noted particularly the meanness of the Austrians, who would not even let their pair of fetters go. Did he fly all the way to Romania in handcuffs? I am sure that the Minister cannot answer these questions, but the very asking of them highlights the cruelty of the operation.
I, too, like other speakers, have a high appreciation of the liberal attitude of the Home Secretary and the difficulties under which he operates, and I will not specify further. I appreciate that he cannot do less than stand behind his junior Minister and his department, on whom the real blame rests. But as the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, pointed out, he has made a great hole in our reputation as a country which will accept all sorts and conditions of refugees.
Our steady retreat from being such a country where any refugee would be welcome—and this is not within the term of office of this Government only; it has been going on for some time—to one where we will not even allow an extra fortnight for the victim's friends to find a home for him elsewhere (as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, was told by the British-Romanian Society) is lamentable. There will, of course, be a technical justification of this harsh action which the noble Lord will have to give us; but it was certainly a very marginal case. I believe that no one would have criticised the Minister or the Government if he had had the patience and the decency to give a few weeks' grace before sending a man, innocent in our law, to certain imprisonment under a regime he hates and which can be expected to punish him severely.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Lord McNair
My Lords, I came to this debate equipped not with a speech but with a list of questions. I have been ticking them off as other noble Lords have asked them until I think only three or four remain. Before I put my questions to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, may I make one general point? Like other speakers I feel an infinity of pity for this unhappy man. If half of his life story, as I have been given it, is true, 1536 he clearly has an incontestible claim on our compassion. He obviously detests life in Romania à la Ceauçescu and who will blame him? There are—and the noble Lord, Lord Saint Oswald, touched on this—certain misconceptions about Romania in some people's minds. Just because the president occasionally displays a certain cautious independence in foreign policy, it does not follow, as some people outside this House seem to think, that, should he miraculously be translated into this House, he will automatically gravitate towards these Liberal Benches. I do not think that this is so. All the information that I can gather is that he runs what his Kremlin boss might approvingly describe as "a good tight ship"; in other words, as oppressive a régime as any in the Soviet sphere of influence.
I am sorry—we are all sorry—for Stance Papusoiu; I am sorry for all Romanians outside the party apparat. In Utopia, perhaps, we could offer refuge to them all. But Utopia, by definition, is not where we live. In the real world, in which, perforce, we live, refugees have to fulfil certain conditions. I have consulted people who live and work with refugees all the time and who know far more about the regulations than I ever could. If I am to be honest—and on this very important matter one must be honest, as, I hope, on others—I have to say that I am persuaded that this man did not fulfil the necessary conditions and did not have a valid, legal claim to refugee status. I do not enjoy saying this. It would give me far more emotional satisfaction to go all the way with the noble Lords, Lord Bethell and Lord Saint Oswald; but in honesty, I cannot.
It follows that it is not the fact of his repatriation which has brought me to my feet, but the manner of it and the way he was treated beforehand; and certain gaps which his case seems to me to have shown up in our procedures for dealing with these matters. These are the things which have prompted the questions which I wish to put to the noble Lord, Lord Elton. I have no doubt that he will deal with the allegations of the beating up in the Ashford Remand Centre. Of course, he will; he has to do so. But my question is specific. Is it the policy of Her Majesty's Government to resort to forcible feeding of detained asylum seekers who refuse to eat? This is an abominable prison practice which I thought we had abandoned. Am I right or wrong? My second question is this. Was this man informed at an early stage that he had a right to make contact with UNHCR?
Thirdly, is the noble Lord satisfied with the quality of the interpreters available at the Immigration Department at the Home Office? If he is not, what will be done to improve it? Lastly, and the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, more or less put this question but perhaps I may be forgiven for putting it again in case Lord Elton has not fully grasped it, can he suggest to his right honourable friend the Home Secretary that it should be standard practice that, whenever an asylum seeker is detained, the Home Office will immediately inform UNHCR, the British Refugee Council or the United Kingdom Immigration Advisory Service? Their London addresses are well known to the Home Office. If that suggestion could be implemented and built into the procedures, it would greatly reduce the inevitable stress, fear and anxiety of future newly- 1537 arrived asylum-seekers, of whom I fear there will be no shortage.
§ 8.40 p.m.
§ Lord Hale
My Lords, of course we all wish to thank the noble Lord who opened the debate and those who have followed him. I propose for a few minutes just to state my own limited connection with the matter because I think things can get a little out of perspective. On 5th November last, the then acting chairman of the Anglo-Romanian Association—an organisation of high repute—wrote to the Prime Minister calling attention to the problems of Romanian refugees. There was then no question whatever of hiding their own views and those who are determined or desperate enough will find in the end the means to escape, even if they endanger their lives in the process or risk brutal treatment or imprisonment if caught.
The British-Romanian Association, through a personal friend of mine who is well known to many parliamentarians and a man of absolute probity, rang me up and asked whether I could take any essential measures because the British-Romanian Association were worried about two men then in Ashford Centre, about whose legal position there was great doubt.
I was consulted on the 13th November; I saw the noble Lord, Lord Elton, at a most inconvenient time for him, when he was about to answer Questions. I put the problem to him in a second or two and was immediately and most courteously given the name and address of his secretary. The noble Lord said the secretary would give me all the help he could; and, roughly speaking, that is what followed. The next thing that happened was perhaps the appearance on the scene of the man higher up. There is no question, when they talked about Sir Timothy Raison being appointed to take over all the cases so far as that particular classification of refugees was concerned, that the instructions came from the Prime Minister.
I waited to see whether Sir Timothy Raison was going to introduce a new régime of toughness. I was rather surprised that he did not. So far as I am concerned, the letters which I have here were courteous and helpful. Sir Bernard Braine, who had been instructed a day or two before me, was writing on the same lines and in fact they were replying at that early period with the same sort of letter saying, for example, "We have had a letter from Sir Bernard Braine." I saw no difference whatever so far as Sir Timothy was concerned.
One point did arise, In the course of making representations I was told that Mr. Papusoiu had commenced a hunger strike. I passed that to the authorities and about two days later I had a note—this time from Sir Timothy Raison's secretary—to say that he had indeed commenced a hunger strike but had given it up. He apparently gave it up absolutely peacefully after four days. It is a serious matter and it is strange that the Ashford Centre had not called the attention of the Home Office to this matter until I sent the message through that something was serious.
The letter to which I wish to draw attention is dated 8th December. It was from the Home Office to me and I think an almost identical one was sent to Sir Bernard Braine. It is signed by Sir Timothy Raison and finishes by saying: 1538Consideration was given to the temporary admission of Mr. Milea and Mr. Papusoiu but they were without funds and had no friends or relatives in this country who could accommodate them. Moreover, because of their deliberate evasion of the immigration control of this and other European countries we could not be satisfied that they would comply with the terms of temporary admission. However, the UKIAS has now offered to arrange to look after them, and in view of the length of time it is taking to resolve this case I have agreed that they should be granted temporary admission. I must emphasise, however, that this does not affect my decision that neither qualifies to remain in this country".I took advice and plainly that was an intimation that there was a possibility of drastic steps being taken. I do not believe anyone can feel that that paragraph itself conveys more threat than hope; and indeed Mr. Milea, whose interests were in the hands of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, was able to make arrangements for his own protection in France where he had friends and where a political organisation arranged for his reception. So this was not a final termination but it was a warning that something might happen. I have only undertaken to deal with the aspect of two men in previous danger who now have been released.
I immediately saw Miss Connelly of the UKIAS. I saw my client and pointed out the impossibility of my going further with the case after a prolonged illness, when I had no means of transport, could not speak the language and had no special knowledge of the law. I arranged that the matter should be handed over at once to a firm of solicitors—I am not myself a solicitor—and that was done. From that moment, although I indicated that if there was any assistance I could give I would do so, the matter was put in other hands and I certainly took no further part in it; nor, indeed, could I usefully have done so. I think that the course I took was right, and other people think that way.
I must repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said. Miss Maureen Connelly said that in this highly complicated law she became functus officio, by the release from detention of the two Romanians, because her ambit of rule applied only to those in the very limited circumstance of people detained in that way, but, notwithstanding that, she went on to do all she could, and indeed displayed some of the qualities of Florence Nightingale in doing so.
I am therefore extremely sorry to appear ungenerous in my remarks about Mr. Waddington, however great a friend he may be of the two noble Lords opposite, who have bravely said that, for all practical purposes, he ought to go. I would remind the House that Mr. Waddington took over the constituency of Nelson and Colne on the death of a Romanian Jew Member, who had served them for 30 years and whose name had become famous throughout the world as a personal sanctuary of justice for all suffering trouble. Do not let me contribute to the pleasure of noble Lords opposite in that way. Sydney Silverman was a man of very great fame. His father was a Romanian refugee who came to this country in the 'nineties of the last century and his name will live in political circles for many years to come. Mr. Waddington had the chance of learning a little about the right of asylum and the duty of asylum.
I do not quarrel with the noble Lord, Lord McNair. It is possible to say, in dealing with this highly complicated matter, that it may be that there was a case for 1539 saying there was no automatic right against deportation. Mr. Waddington chose to add sneers—an infamous thing—to his criticism of this young man. He really does not appear to have put forward any reasons, and, in the mass of material that has appeared in the newspapers since then, with The Times and the Sunday Times in the van, the expression of indignation has been such that it must be accepted that it is, very largely, the view of the country.
I had hoped to give particulars of some of the grievances. The country will demand to know what were the negotiations with the Romanian Embassy which, if it be true, poured out information about how this Government tried to get permission to put these men through the Embassy. I am not quite clear why that could not be done under the law. Almost laughingly they said, "We were never asked for them". Did they ever ask for them? Did they say that they would take them? Were they asked to take them? Were they asked whether they had any alternative suggestion for disposing of these men, whom they did not want? How many other people were asked? I am afraid that the questions must go on.
If the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will forgive the familiarity, I personally acquit him of any blame whatsoever in the matter. I think that he was one of a series of Ministers dealing with this matter. It started with the noble Lord who was handling this matter at the time of the last Labour Government, and with a famous debate which was initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury. In those days the debate was free and pleasant. There was a feeling that justice was being done in a very difficult field and there was no controversy. But the story since then has been of the introduction of complicated measures, each and every one of which was subjected to criticism. Each and every one has made the situation more complex.
Finally, I like the use of fairly commonplace words but the doctrine of refoulement is not new. It has been known for a long time. It is a very simple French word and need not even have troubled our thoughts. It merely means that when a man escapes from his suffering we do not shove him back on the fire. We do not send him back to the place from which he has won his freedom. In the main, I find myself in complete agreement with what has been said about the circumstances of this expulsion. No thought whatsoever seems to have been given to this unfortunate man.
§ 9 p.m.
§ Lord Kagan
My Lords, on this occasion I rise with some passion and some anxiety. When Ribbentrop and Molotov concluded their pact and handed over Lithuania to Stalin they introduced their régime. One of their first tasks was to remove any potential opposition or leadership to the dictatorship. I well remember the senior NKVD man who was sent in to organise the deportation of 300,000 people. He was going to operate through the existing bureaucracy. When one of the officials asked him how he would go about arresting and deporting to the Gulag a man who was on their list, he said, "Give me a name and I shall find something to pin on him". So much for the security and justice which a citizen behind the Iron 1540 Curtain has. We have given them a name. We have also given them a body.
However, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to the fact that this country has not just sent back Mr. Stancu Papusoiu. This country has sent back a message to thousands and thousands, perhaps millions, of people behind the Iron Curtain about the hopelessness of their case. This is perhaps the most tragic wrong. It is not only a wrong against them: it could eventually be a wrong against us. If any one of Mr. Andropov's functionaries had succeeded in contriving the situation of having a man sent here and the British authorities then sending him back, he would have deserved the Medal of Lenin for services to the KGB. I am very sorry for the officials in the Home Office. I exclude the noble Lord, Lord Elton, from any responsibility. But I am very sorry for those people who, by right, though not in honour, could share that medal for services to the KGB.
If one thinks ahead to the time of our children, there are three possibilities. The first is that, through subversion, the Soviet dictatorship will sweep over Europe without a shot being fired. The other possibility is that there will be a fight to the finish. The third possibility, for which we hope, is that the flame of freedom will ignite from within their empire and make a fight unnecessary. We have seen what has happened in Poland. That is where our hope is.
I should like to ask your Lordships to think for a moment about how this story concerning Mr. Stancu Papusoiu will be received in Poland. The BBC has been proud of the fact that it has a bigger audience in the Soviet Union than it has even in this country. The Soviet people and everybody behind the Iron Curtain have learned to listen with interest to the BBC and to read both the lines and between the lines. What is the message that they will read in this story? It is the biggest Easter gift we could have sent to the propaganda machine behind the Iron Curtain.
I have heard it suggested that economic improvement was the motive behind Mr. Stancu Papusoiu's escape. I was in a dentist's surgery in Stalin's days when a person refused to accept an anaesthetic because he was afraid of what he might say under that anaesthetic. We have seen many people give up high positions in the Soviet Union—well-paid jobs—in order to breathe fresh air. It is absolutely deplorable that this suggestion could have been made. It is also absolutely naïve.
I would suggest, first, that it was a mistake, if not a crime to ourselves and to any hopes for freedom here. Secondly, I would suggest to the noble Lord the Minister that in the weeks to come we should monitor accurately the manner in which this Stancu Papusoiu event has been beamed to the Soviet people and to the people behind the Iron Curtain, and what prominence have they given to it. Poland should be included in that. Then, perhaps, we shall realise what terrible damage has been done.
§ 9.6 p.m.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, in official form I am required to answer on behalf of Her Majesty's Government the Question which my noble friend has placed upon the Order Paper. But none of your Lordships is in any 1541 doubt that what I am answering is not a Question but a charge—and a serious one at that. There were a number of matters subsidiary to it, but the principal charge is that the Government have knowingly and callously returned to his country and to certain retribution a political dissident who had fled to England in search of freedom. I shall pursue that principal charge and will endeavour to take up the subsidiary ones to the extent that the time which your Lordships will allow me permits.
I can best start my reply by giving a chronological account of the relevant events from the moment when Mr. Papusoiu first presented himself to our authorities until the moment when he finally left this country.
§ Lord Bethell
Before he starts, could my noble friend accept that no-one in this debate has suggested that Mr. Papusoiu was a political dissident?
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I may have chosen the term wrongly, but I understood that it was political motivation which the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, attributed to this man which distinguished him from an economic migrant.
§ Lord Elton
I have used the term "dissident", my Lords, and if it is in any way inaccurate I withdraw it, because we all know what I mean; I mean a man who has to leave his country for political reasons and cannot go back for political reasons. If the noble Lord will accept that, I hope he will accept that he has had his ration of interruptions, because I have such a long tally of questions to answer.
As I say, I think I can best start my reply by giving a chronological account of the relevant events from the moment when Mr. Papusoiu first presented himself to our authorities until the moment when he left this country. Mr. Papusoiu is believed to have arrived in the United Kingdom as an illegal entrant concealed in a lorry on or about 16th April 1982. On 19th April he reported to Limehouse police station, where he was given an initial examination and where he asked for asylum. He was without any travel or identification documents, and without any visible means of supporting himself.
He received his first substantive interview at Limehouse police station on 21st April 1982. This was carried out through an interpreter who, I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, was both born and educated in Romania. At that interview he claimed that he had twice previously attempted to leave Romania illegally. He said that on the first occasion he had been given, in either 1969 or 1970, a sentence of five months' imprisonment but that the sentence had been suspended. He further said that on his second conviction he had been sentenced to 12 months' immediate imprisonment, but that after serving only 1542 two months he had been released under a general amnesty. In the account of himself he presented at this interview, with fully effective interpretation, he claimed, therefore, a total of two months' imprisonment. Following this interview Mr. Papusoiu was transferred to Ashford Remand Centre.
At this point the case of Mr. Papusoiu becomes involved with that of another Romanian, a Mr. Milea, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Hale. Mr. Milea arrived illegally in the United Kingdom at the same time as Mr. Papusoiu, and he was also detained at Ashford Remand Centre. Because there were many similarities in the circumstances surrounding the arrival of the two in the United Kingdom the two cases were considered together. A number of representations were made on Mr. Milea's behalf which delayed further action on both cases. Both cases were submitted to the Minister of State in July. Further representations were then received, and it was decided that both detainees should be interviewed again to give them every opportunity to explain their circumstances in detail.
Mr. Papusoiu was given a second interview on 6th September. The same interpreter, born and educated in Mr. Papusoiu's own country, was again present. But the story he then heard was strikingly different. On this occasion Mr. Papusoiu recalled not two previous attempts to leave Romania, but five. He also claimed that he had served not just two months in prison but nine years and two months. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Hale, will not think that I am attempting to sneer—I think was the term he used—at Mr. Papusoiu, but it is necessary to put before your Lordships all the considerations that were before my honourable friend and the department throughout this case.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I must try not to give way too often. I am giving an account of the events that took place in chronological order, as I undertook at the beginning. As to which pieces of it should be revealed to whom and at what stage when the matter is under consideration, that is perhaps for later reflection.
Mr. Papusoiu could give no explanation of why he had not previously mentioned either the three extra attempts or the three sentences, each of three years' duration, and separately served. The rather startling discrepancy between the accounts which he gave of his past on these two occasions did not exactly help his credibility. I shall be concerned with his credibility again later. But it has little bearing on another matter elicited in these interviews.
In these interviews officials, of course, had a prime interest in the reasons Mr. Papusoiu gave for wishing to settle outside Romania. The only substantive reasons which they could elicit were that he disliked the long working hours and that he also disliked the frequent shortages of food. Whatever the credibility of the applicant, he has to have a reason for applying for asylum which would warrant our granting it to him. 1543 Perhaps I ought to enlarge on that point. It is surely accepted that one cannot describe everyone who is discontented with economic conditions in his home country automatically as a refugee. It may not always feel like it at the end of a long recession, but our standard of living in this country is the envy of a large part of the population of the world. It is against that background that it is agreed—and is the clear policy of the Government—that we must have a policy of firm and fair immigration control. This can admit to this country, and offer to protect in it, only people satisfying criteria specifically laid down in immigration rules. To put it at its bluntest, if we waived our immigration rules for everyone who felt that he would be better off here than he would at home we would very rapidly find ourselves hosts to enormous numbers of people from all over the globe. That would be folly, and nobody is suggesting it. What would be equally impracticable—and highly invidious as well—would be to indulge in that sort of hospitality but to reserve it to people who lived in only one part of the world. Whether that part was in Asia or Africa or Europe, it would be invidious to accord to its citizens the right to become refugees for purely economic reasons and to deny that right to everyone else.
Indeed, the United Nations Convention on Refugees, implemented for this country in our Immigration Rules, makes it quite clear, as my noble friend in asking his Question has endorsed, that the criterion for the status of refugees is a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, or membership of a particular social group or holding particular political opinions. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees himself distinguishes emphatically between refugees and economic migrants. To abandon that distinction would undermine the convention and reduce our ability to accept genuine refugees.
§ Baroness Birk
My Lords, is the Minister really saying that someone who has spent nine out of 10 years in prison in Romania has motives that are entirely for economic improvement? It just does not make sense to us or to anyone else.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, the noble Baroness will appreciate the relevance of what I am to say a little later on that point. What I am doing now is establishing what I would have thought are the eminently reasonable grounds on which our immigrations are by general accord based. A person who comes here for asylum as a refugee must have reasons—other than economic reasons—that are valid.
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, it has been suggested that there were political motives in this case. I have looked at the papers we have received. I have noted that, at his interviews, Mr. Papusoiu was given ample opportunity to alter or elaborate his claim to asylum; and I have to say that at no time was anything written or said that gave him any sufficient claim to refugee status.
It was as an illegal entrant that Mr. Papusoiu had been detained in Ashford Remand Centre. In August 1982 the London representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who had received details of the case, undertook inquiries in France—through which Mr. Papusoiu had claimed to have travelled—to see if they would have him back. In early November the Home Office was informed that they would not. The French authorities did, however, indicate that they were prepared to consider accepting Mr. Milea to continue an application for asylum he had already made in that country.
It was also in November, on the 20th to be precise, that Mr. Papusoiu began to refuse to take food. His hunger strike, to protest at his detention and the refusal of asylum, lasted until four and a half days later. He had began to eat again by tea time on the 25th. I shall refer to this episode again in a moment, because very serious allegations have been made about it. But those allegations were not, it appears, made—nor anything like them—on the very next day, 26th November, when Mr. Papusoiu was visited by two members of the British-Romanian Society, which we had informed about his case.
It was in fact the Refugee Counsellor of the United Kingdom Immigrants Advisory Service who, on 1st December, asked whether Mr. Papusoiu might be granted temporary admission on her undertaking to accept responsibility for him. My right honourable friend always regrets the need for lengthy periods of detention and usually some solution is available fairly soon, but this was the first offer by anyone to take responsibility for him and the first opportunity for his release. We were glad to accept it and accordingly he was released on 4th December 1982.
Both the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the British-Romanian Association continued efforts which they had started before his release to find an alternative destination for Mr. Papusoiu. In the meantime Mr. Milea had embarked voluntarily for France before any application had been made for him to do so. Mr. Papusoiu's case was considered by Home Office Ministers on a number of occasions but they remained convinced that he did not qualify as a refugee and that he should be removed. On 10th February 1983 my honourable friend, the Minister of State, decided that arrangements for that removal should be resumed. They had been suspended following representations made to him by, among others, the honourable Member for Essex South-East and the noble Lord, Lord Hale.
Mr. Papusoiu was directed to report to an immigration officer on 21st February 1983 and 1545 advised to bring with him an interpreter and, if he wished, his representative. Mr. Papusoiu reported alone and was, therefore, required to return to the immigration officer on 14th March when arrangements were made for the presence of the same interpreter who had dealt with this case from the start. He was then served with a formal notice that arrangements had been made for his removal to Bucharest by air on 19th March. Mr. Papusoiu said that he would not leave voluntarily and threatened suicide. That placed upon us a very delicate responsibility. It was, therefore, decided to take him into custody both to guard against the possibility of his disappearance and for the sake of his own safety. It was also decided to accelerate his departure in order to reduce the period of his detention.
The question of handcuffing has been raised at this point. I have to say that the responsibility for ensuring that those in their custody do not escape is that of the police and they have to see that they do not endanger the safety of others or themselves. As for the particular circumstances in Mr. Papusoiu's case, I should make it clear that an immigration officer has no power to order that a person should be handcuffed. The decision to handcuff Mr. Papusoiu was made by the police officers to whose custody the immigration officer handed him. Whether police should use handcuffs in a particular case is a matter of operational judgment which has to be taken by the responsible officers on the spot. I recognise of course that many people find handcuffing distasteful. That is why Home Office guidance to the police advises that handcuffing should not be resorted to unless there are very good reasons. I recognise the concern not only of the noble Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge but of the House about the use of handcuffs on this occasion and I shall ensure that it is drawn to the Commissioner's attention.
On 16th March, Mr. Papusoiu was taken from Ashford to Harmondsworth detention accommodation. From here he was escorted by two members of Securicor staff to Heathrow. On the journey to Heathrow physical restraint of handcuffs were neither necessary nor used. He was accompanied to the aircraft steps which he mounted alone and without protest. That is the end of the chronology, but other serious matters have been raised.
The most serious allegations were those relating to Mr. Papusoiu's hunger strike. They were made by Mr. Papusoiu himself, during his release on bail when he was medically examined on 18th December. They were that he had been forcibly fed and that he had been physically assaulted by 10 prison officers. He claimed that during this assault he was repeatedly struck in the lower back and had his arms and legs trodden on. You will recall, my Lords, that Mr. Papusoiu was visited by two members of the British-Romanian Society on 26th November. The allegation recorded in the medical report, a copy of which I have seen, was that this serious assault by 10 people took place on 25th November, the day before this visit. I find it as surprising that Mr. Papusoiu appears to have made no mention of these events on that occasion as that his visitors seem to have noticed 1546 nothing in his appearance or demeanour to suggest he had been so recently and so grossly mistreated.
In that context I cannot help recalling the unexplained contrast between the first and the second account which Mr. Papusoiu gave of his earlier history. That recollection is not offset by the medical report of 17th December. The doctor who wrote the report said that no recent injuries were present on his right arm. He also conducted a careful investigation of Mr. Papusoiu's lower back. He found no signs of tenderness there and examination under ultra violet light revealed no signs of resolving bruises in any part of it. He also examined both his legs and found no sign of recent injuries there either. He did, however, find evidence of two healing bruises on the left arm but was unable to give any opinion as to how these occurred.
I mentioned a moment ago, my Lords, my doubts as to the credibility of Mr. Papusoiu. The independent medical report obtained by Mr. Papusoiu's own legal adviser was the vehicle by which the charges of assault were made known to the Home Office and arose from claims made by Mr. Papusoiu to the medical examiner. It is therefore fair to note that this report records that in giving an account of his past experience Mr. Papusoiu arrives at a third recollection of his imprisonment in Romania which he now puts neither at two months, as in his first statement, nor at nine years, on which the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, fixed as the true total and which he gave in his second statement, but at "some 5 to 6 years". Unlike my noble friend—and I think that I am now quoting what he said not in the debate, but in The Times newspaper this morning—I do not find this degree of inconsistency in a matter of such obvious central importance to the man as in any way lending credibility to the picture of himself that he was seeking to draw.
I can confirm to the noble Lord, Lord McNair, that it is not the practice in Her Majesty's Prison Service to force-feed prisoners who have rationally decided to stop eating. Mr. Papusoiu stopped eating for a trivial length of time, and careful inquiry confirms that he was not force-fed. I would not have expected it; and there would have been considerable repercussions had he been force-fed. The same results attended our inquiry about the allegations of assault. They are, I believe, as ill-founded as the allegations in the press, followed wholesale by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, that Mr. Papusoiu was frogmarched, protesting, and in handcuffs, on to the plane that took him back to his native country. He was escorted to the aircraft by agents of Securicor, who do not have handcuffs, and who have no right to use force to restrain those whom they are escorting. Mr. Papusoiu mounted the steps of the aircraft unaccompanied and without protest. He was received by the cabin staff of the Romanian aircraft, who were told, in accordance with normal practice, that he had been refused entry to the United Kingdom.
I now come to the other specific questions that have been raised. In today's Times my noble friend suggested—and he repeated it this evening—that the anti-emigration laws in Romania are in breach of Article 13 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and Article 12 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. He argues from that that if Mr. Papusoiu is subsequently punished for having 1547 broken those laws, he will be subject to political persecution. But if we follow that line of reasoning, it is to arrive at a reductio ad absurdum, for it would inevitably give a claim to asylum in this country to the entire population of every country—and there are many—in which such laws existed. That is why the United Nations High Commission for Refugees' Handbook on Procedures for Refugee Recognition lays down that considerations of punishment for illegal immigration, or overstaying abroad, are relevant only if a person qualifies on other grounds as a refugee. Those other grounds are the grounds for which, all along, we have been looking, in vain.
The noble Lord asked how many citizens of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Romania have been deported from this country since 1950. The systematic compilation of deportation statistics began only in 1973 with the coming into force of the Immigration Act 1971. Before that the figures were kept on a different basis, and therefore the information requested by the noble Lord is not available. However, I can say that in the 10 years to February of this year, 25 Poles and two Hungarians were deported, but their names are not separately listed, and therefore without examining several thousand case files, it is not possible to say whether any of these nationals were deported to a country other than their own. No Czechs, Russians, or Romanians were deported during that period. In addition to those deported, seven Polish citizens who had been recommended by the courts for deportation left the United Kingdom under supervision, but in those cases no deportation order was signed by the Secretary of State. A table showing the figures in question for each year since 1973 will be placed in the Library of the House.
There are one or two matters which I think your Lordships would not wish me to overlook, and I shall refer to them very briefly. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who I must say is a prolific, determined, and charitable inquirer into these cases, asked a number of statistical questions, of which he was kind enough to give me notice. I fear that the figures that he wants are not available. He also asked about the presentation of asylum cases to an independent authority; he suggested the Appeals Adjudicator and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' representative. The existing procedures are that where a right of appeal exists, a nominated adjudicator deals with cases involving asylum, and the UNHCR representative has the right of appearance as an independent party. Where no appeal rights exist or where appeal rights have been exhausted there is the possibility of review by Home Office Ministers that may be considered of greater scope than a formal appeal. There is also the possibility of recourse to judicial review.
The present procedures conform with the recommendations of the UNHCR executive committee. I am not sure that the noble Lord accepts that, but that is our view. Successive Home Secretaries have considered proposals similar to those put forward by the noble Lord but have concluded that additional procedures would not be justified. I take it from the temper of what your Lordships have said that you would wish me to draw the attention of my right 1548 honourable friend to your Lordships' concern that this should be looked at with the greatest of care.
There were interesting diplomatic exchanges. I can tell your Lordships that the British ambassador in Bucharest, acting on instructions, called on the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs after Mr. Papusoiu's removal from the United Kingdom to inform then that Mr. Papusoiu was removed from the United Kingdom for a breach of the immigration laws and not for any political reason. The Romanian authorities took note of those representations. My noble friend Lord Saint Oswald was concerned about the Poles. I can tell him that since martial law was imposed in Poland no Pole has been returned to Poland against his or her will. My right honourable friend announced today—I do not know whether my noble friend was aware of this—that this exceptional treatment should be extended to the 31 Poles who stayed behind when the cruise liner "Stefan Batory" sailed from this country recently. That will give some reassurance to the Poles, who, the noble Lord, Lord Kagan, feels, will be deeply anxious following the developments.
I apologise to your Lordships for the length of time that I am taking. There are so many questions that I shall need, I think, another four minutes, if your Lordships will bear with me. The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, raised the question of access to Mr. Papusoiu. There is no formal arrangement whereby those seeking asylum are notified to a particular agency such as the UKIAS or the UNHCR. In those cases where a favourable decision is reached and the applicant needs assistance with accommodation or welfare, he is normally put in touch with the British Refugee Council. In cases where there is doubt on the facts adduced or the interpretation of refugee provisions, the refugee unit will consult the local representative of the United Nations High Commissioner. There are, in fact, very few cases that have not already been adopted by an agency before reference is made to the Home Office refugee unit, and even fewer, where detention is unusually involved, wherein the person does not, of his own motion or on advice from fellow detainees, find himself in touch with those who might espouse his cause. I shall, however, recommend to my right honourable friend the suggestion that the procedure for notification should be formalised.
The noble Lord also asked about the 26 applications made by Romanians in 1982. Of the 26 applications 12 were granted, one was withdrawn, 10 were refused and three were outstanding at the end of the year.
No party, and few, if any, individuals, believe that this country could survive with totally unrestricted immigration. Some rules are essential. The rules that we have are rules made by Parliament. They were not casually arrived at; they were made after prolonged, detailed and arduous debate. Any set of such rules will always have hard cases, and even sad cases, at the margin. Such cases take up a great deal of the time of the officials and Ministers of the Home Office. This case has also taken up a great deal of time of officials and Ministers.
This country offers refuge to genuine political refugees. It offers refuge to those fleeing the Eastern bloc just as much as to those from elsewhere. My noble 1549 friend suggests that there has been a change of policy in this area. My right honourable friend has been in office throughout the whole period over which this change is alleged to have taken place. He entirely refutes any suggestion that there has been any change in the policy.
The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, referred to changes in the statistics. There have been changes in statistics, but they are dependent on changes both in the flow of applicants and in the sort of people of which that flow is constituted. To refer in print, as my noble friend has done, to a new Yalta Agreement is a damaging and unwarrantable assertion that my right honourable friend deeply resents.
I accept that this is a case which has aroused strong feelings and raised difficult and sensitive issues. The United Kingdom has an honourable and generous record as far as refugees—that is, "refugees'", as defined in the international convention—are concerned. But Parliament has also approved a strict immigration control which inevitably, and in my view rightly, has to disappoint many people who merely wish to better themselves by settling in the United Kingdom.
The Home Office and my honourable friend have the exceedingly difficult task of doing the job that Parliament and noble Lords themselves want them to do in distinguishing cases. We apply the test of refugee status on the individual merits of the case. I think that it is fair and right to other potential immigrants that we should so do. The experience of other countries shows that blurring the test can and does lead to considerable abuse. To regard every person who comes here from an East European country as a political refugee would be a serious matter which would affect all our immigration policy. The fact remains that this case was given the fullest consideration on a number of occasions; but my right honourable friend is satisfied that the man had not adduced a sustainable claim to refugee status or asylum and that the circumstances of the case did not justify the exceptional grant of leave to remain in the United Kingdom.
That, my Lords, is my answer to the charge made by my noble friend and it renders his suggestion that my honourable friend should resign, strangely and, I think, ungraciously inappropriate.
§ Lord Bethell
My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, can he please finally tell us what has happened to Mr. Papusoiu's belongings?
§ Lord Elton
My Lords, I am sorry that I overlooked the last paragraph of the noble Lord's article in today's issue of The Times, which was sufficient notice—
§ Lord Elton
Yes, my Lords. I was going to say "which was sufficient notice of the question which he raised in his speech". My honourable friend will inquire into the matter of Mr. Papusoiu's belongings and their return.